Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Two weeks to Change my Life

As some of you know, I spent the last two weeks of my break from studies in Palestine. I was working on a peace farm, Tent of Nations, outside of Bethlehem. The farm offers a variety of programs for the local Palestinian community, including a summer camp for children and training and workshops for the women of the local Palestinian village, that offer alternatives to the violent occupation. I learned so much there about myself and the greater Palestinian/ Israeli conflict. I would like to share some of what I learned with you, reader.

I should begin by saying I met so many wonderful people, both Israeli and Palestinian. Also, Palestine is not recognized as a state. I was technically in the West Bank, known internationally as disputed territory. Israel no longer controls the region, and the Palestinian government is having major problems establishing order and generating infrastructure. Although Palestine is a beautiful country the cities there are modified slums. They lack proper plumbing and trash collection. There is limited access to water in the region.

My first lesson was in regards to the Israeli government, and it was a lesson I learned over and over again on my trip. The Israeli government has a complete disregard for human rights (Please note the distinction between government and citizens). Upon leaving London I was strip searched by El Al, the Israeli airline. From Jerusalem to Bethlehem I passed through a check point. Because I had an American passport the Israeli soldiers didn't even check my passport, whereas I passed Palestinians who would be in line for hours just to get to work.

One day I visited Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem. Before entering the camp we toured the wall around the camp. Israel is actually building a three story wall across the country to separate Israel and Palestine. It is an incredible feat and really unbelievable to see. The year I was born the Berlin wall fell, people said "Never Again." When I was fifteen another wall began being constructed. The wall is effectually turning the West Bank into a cage.

At Aida camp I was fortunate enough to visit with one of the residents. Her family has been in the camp since 1948 when it was founded. For their first ten years there they lived in tents until huts could be constructed. Today she lives in a flat with plumbing. She told unbelievable stories. From her I learned the only justice allowed to Palestinians is a military court. In these courts there is no jury and one judge makes a ruling. The judge can site evidence that is not privy to the lawyers or the defendant. Often thirteen year old boys are sentenced in these courts for "throwing stones". A Palestinian child can be sentenced to up to twenty years in an adult prison for allegedly "throwing stones". I asked my host why these children were put in prison with adults. She told me that, internationally, it would be illegal to establish prisons for children, so they are placed in penitentiaries with adults.

The situation in the West Bank is dire. People have grand misconceptions of the war waging there now. Palestine is not a physically dangerous place to be. Bombs do not fall and police maintain some semblance of order. The war waging there is a psychological war. The sixty-second anniversary of the Israeli state was celebrated April twentieth. For sixty-two years Palestinians have been abused physically and psychologically by the Israeli government. I don't know how much longer a people can take that kind of mental battering. It's beyond an occupation; the West Bank is essentially a cage.

As noted above, Palestine is a really beautiful country. In my last days there I was fortunate enough to hike the Wadi Qalt. It is a beautiful river system running from Ramallah to Jericho. The farm itself sits a top a hill with a view to the Mediterranean. Two weeks that changed my life.

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