Friday, February 25, 2011

"Build Bridges, Not Walls"

Okay so I just reread this blog before officially posting it and it's pretty passionate - but I decided to leave it that way as it is more authentic to the way I am feeling - in fact I think I held back a lot of times just to not freak people out, and so that I may process more of my emotions before documenting them online and deciding how I want to talk with certain people about all this... so just a heads up!!

enjoy :)

The Wall and the entrance to the Bethlehem checkpoint - further explanation below...

Alright so I’ve got a wee bit of a break in between supper and our night lecture and I am already exhausted so I’m taking the opportunity to relay a teensy-weensy bit of all this to you…because I feel that it is important and I am compelled to share (well duh – wouldn’t be writing this silly blog otherwise! ;)).

First, before I begin relaying my own experiences encountering other’s daily experiences here in the West Bank (Palestine), I want to ask that you do not read this thinking that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is something isolated from you personally.  The reality is that this stirring area of the world speaks to an empire that we are all intertwined with, affected by, and a part of whether we want to be, realize it, or not.  So I ask for some empathy to this situation not as a case in and of itself, but as a harsh reality that IS actually linked to your personal sphere.  It is something hard to grasp and makes the pill a little larger to swallow – but it’s true and I needed to be open about that with you.

Before I copy and paste my thoughts from this morning: what a checkpoint is.  If you are not aware (that’s okay, we all start somewhere and this conflict between Israel, Palestine, the United States and other Western and Middle Eastern powers [and everyone else, actually] is incredibly complex – so… baby steps, baby steps).

Much of Palestine is divided into small areas by giant concrete/barbed wire walls – some around towns are completed, some are not; most of the walls divide towns and cities, businesses, farmers from their land, homes – literally separating families and friends from seeing one another (violating the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights multiple times, btw).

In order to get from one side to the other, Palestinians – at the Bethlehem checkpoint in particular; I will be going to others today) must line up and be processed through a couple of gates, showing permits (required for Palestinians to pass through and issued by Israel) more than once, going through a couple of rooms, being scanned by detectors, and being confronted by Israeli soldiers.  Every day.

Line waiting to pass through the checkpoint

Checkpoint line waiting area & the Wall

Locked in the turnstile

We went through the checkpoint this morning, though because we are “tourists” we have a special line that though still took us a while, took no where near as long as the men waiting to get out to try to catch a bus into the city where they are sometimes able to work (Bethlehem unemployment rate since the wall is something like 60/70% or something ridiculous – I’ll find out an exact stat for you though, don’t quote me on that!!).

Inside one stage of the checkpoint, with the Israeli "peace" sign torn
Here are my thoughts from this morning…

…4:45 wake-up today to make it to the check-point in time to watch the daily occurrence of how Palestinians make it in and out of Bethlehem to and from work/school/hospitals/shopping/etc.  The line was already extremely long and many men had been waiting for at least an hour at that point.  These pictures will describe more than what I could about the process of going through…

Later on we went closer to the wall, and at one point we were beside a view of the “unholy trinity”: wall/checkpoint, Bethlehem refugee camp, and just beyond it on the hilltops in the background – an established flourishing Israeli settlement.
Part of the Wall

I feel as though I am in some sort of strange movie – watching everything happen in a virtual reality.  It is eerie how so much hatred and oppression has reached such normalcy while maintaining such desperation simultaneously.  I hated standing there staring in the faces of the men I freely walked past as a Canadian tourist, who’s faces were regular faces of men (I was reminded of my Dad, brothers, and guy friends constantly while here), some laughing with each other while eating breakfast and smoking in line to the checkpoint, and some looking unimpressed with the prospect of another days work.  As much as most of them were friendly back – the guilt I felt was weird.  It shouldn’t be like this. Me being in a place of utter privilege and freedom, and “them” being so restricted, disrespected, and abused – both of us having done nothing illegal.  Almost all faces were full of sheer exhaustion – blood shot and bag-heavy eyes. I don’t know how they do it – day in, day out, having to be let in and out of their confinement for actually doing nothing wrong.  And over the years the prisons get smaller.
Inside the checkpoint - in between different stages of the process
What Chloe, Michael (a British couple who are 2 of the few people here who are my ageish – Ch doing her masters in Int. Dev. and Mikie working on his phd on Historical and political Christ – I can’t even begin to tell you how much I get along with these guys haha but I’m sure you could imagine – so glad they’re here) and I find slightly fascinating is how the graffiti messages sprawling the wall are all messages of love creative positive resistance; sayings of loving and active justice and not of hatred.  We can’t understand how after decades, these people maintain such hope and sound minds towards their condition and love towards their oppressors – let alone the sheer genius we have encountered by the political and intellectual leaders who have spoken at the lectures, led us around the city, sat with us at meals, etc..  I understand all the more the desire not to be seen as victims – an image that can weaken a people; make them appear meek and lesser when they are not – but they are equal – intellect or no intellect, and thus worthy of support.

Wall art
More wall art
Despite media portrayals, the majority of Palestinians are NOT fundamentalists and/or terrorists – this image needs to be shaken - true, the violence not ignored but the terrorism committed not only on the part of extremists from Palestine but also by the State of Israel and the United States needs to be made clear.  The wall is not only “preventing” terrorism from one group but is a very material placement and physical embodiment of terrorism from the oppressors – chokingly complete control. We are baffled by the strength of this population – and interacting with more and more of them all the time is so humbling in learning that those in the very worst situations give everything when they literally have nothing to give – and not just to the warm people around them – but to strangers and those who really quite honestly don’t deserve it.  Not to lump them all in an innocent light – none of us are – but I cannot describe enough the strength and wisdom and love of this oppressed people, and how much I (we) can learn from them.
"Build bridges, not walls!"
Watching the Palestinians be routed like cattle is creepy. I felt like I was watching something out of a Nazi movie – the movement of one group of people being controlled by a handful on power trips with their guns and uniforms.  I can’t help thinking of images of the Warsaw Ghetto, or from the South African Apartheid – realities that so many of us consider past events – which is so incredibly far from the truth. 

But the Palestinians – well some of them anyway – don’t want to be labeled as “victims”. They want shared responsibility. They want all oppressed to have hope; to hear and share stories from all sides; to love, be strong and stand together for justice.  They are not weak or lesser human beings than we are… I am actually amazed at the work that both Palestinians and Israelis who see the need for change accomplish.  Their strength and wisdom to maintain a language of love is no less than brilliant.

Understand the context of this issue on a global scale – perhaps hard for some of you who don’t know about world politics or global corporate power or history… but you don’t HAVE to know it all… compassion and empathy is the first step to sharing this responsibility.  These people are not just “others” but REAL individuals with lives and stories and hope.  But just as we desire full lives… we must not let theirs continue to be snuffed and squeezed out.

Please don’t be overwhelmed (or underwhelmed for that matter) but why I say – don’t let it freak you out….

But... maybe… let it freak you out…

Because it should.

Just because empires have always been oppressing all throughout history does not make it acceptable.  Let’s change things together from the bottom-up up.

You have a place.

International peacekeeping team, EAPPI, who help keep an eye on the checkpoints and record human rights abuses there

Israeli poster just inside checkpoint waiting area


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