21/7/10 - 3/8/10 104 °F
7/26 Day 6 - BADIL, WI'AM and AIDA CAMP in Bethlehem
Forgot to say earlier - if any of you want information about something specific, please let me know. I'll try to get it for you. What do you want to hear about?
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That's me, dithering about where to start, what to say. Days are so long, so jam-packed with activity and information, with amazing people doing so much hard work. We're all on a constant overwhelm. Don't know which is the greatest personal frustration: not having enough time at night to write before I drop of exhaustion, or not being able to upload my pictures to Flickr where you all could see them. I have maybe 30 there now, but they're nowhere near as interesting as the ones I haven't yet been able to get up there. Mostly it's the weakness of the internet connection here, but some of it is the limitations of my netbook. Will keep trying. will point folks to the page if and when, though descriptions will have to wait till I get home.
Also, have thought a lot about how to make these reports not be a "Helen Caldicott" - beating people over the head with awfulness after awfulness and leaving you with a sense of hopelessness. But have decided that I will simply say what we did and what we learned, and because most of it's so awful, what can I do?
The good things - the hospitality of the people, the beauty of Jerusalem, the wonder of being in such an ancient land, the beauty of the children, are all here, all in my heart, some in my camera. But it seems it's more important that I communicate information.
Also thinking that so many things fill the day that it's not possible to capture them anymore in narrative form every night, so am going to have to do it as random thoughts. Apologies, for it may be jerkier reading. Better narrative after I get home.
FIRST - as many of you know, I was feeling anxious about how this trip would affect me and my ability to do this work, and with that, Michael's work, for he will surely be affected by my emotional reaction, that two people active would be removed from this vital issue.
I've carried a great deal of outrage and anger about it for many years and have been able to cope with it through action (always a great healer). But I thought, if I see what I think I will see, I don't know how I'll bear it. I was afraid anger and despair would become so deep as to paralyze me. Hearing sometimes from people familiar with the issue that it's hopeless didn't help, even though before I left, Lauren Booth, who had been kept in Gaza along with Bill Dienst after they entered on the first Free Gaza flotilla in 2008 told me that this would be "an uplifting experience". I could not imagine how she could say that.
I clung to hope only because I knew the Palestinian people could not afford to lose it. To lose hope is to die.
This time here has indeed been hard, but today I'm finally seeing how it is that these amazing people persevere, how they remain steadfast, continue to resist with every fiber of their being. I suppose it's been a compilation of this past week's experiences and talks - in giving us information that is ungodly painful, in telling us things that make us wonder how people remain sane (and we haven't been to the worst of it yet, in Hebron, starting tomorrow), they also told us of their hopes for the future. In the face of overwhelming odds, and some would say all evidence to the contrary, they believe, as they themselves say, "justice will prevail".
They continue to struggle to work, to educate their children, to make their communities safe, and to preserve relationships and their faith whether it be Christian or Muslim. And I want to tell you that I have heard not one word of hatred. I expected to hear it. I would have understood if I had heard it. I find myself wondering how you live with this level of oppression, these daily humiliations and suffering, without hating. Yet I hear no hate. They are too busy trying to survive. I don't fool myself that it doesn't exist. But it isn't evident. These are people who say over and over again that all they want is to live in peace. They can live with the Israelis, they can live with the Jews. They just want to live.
If they can endure, then surely I can endure. And you all can endure. And act.
With that off my chest:
- today was three stops - first was BADIL http://www.badil.org/ Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights where we learned so much about refugees, and I received a bit of a shock. For many years Michael and I have donated to the UN High Commission on Refugees, mostly because of what we thought was the UN's work with Palestinian refugees. They are the ones with the power to respond with arms, which I didn't know - but which means they have enforcement power.
This visit has challenged my support of them, and my decades long support of UNRWA, the UN Committee established in 1950 specifically to help Palestinian refugees. Here Palestinians, even those who are able to avail themselves of the VERY sparse aid now given, or send their kids to UNRWA primary schools, call them the "Camp Maker" because it has normalized the camps.
Am a little fuzzy on how it happened, and will check it out when I return, but here's what I understand. The UN authority responsible for them (he used some initials I couldn't find associated with UNRWA, so unclear here) is nearly defunct (which I do know is the case with UNRWA - we heard that from another source as well), but because that agency is responsible for camps, they cannot receive protection of the UNHCR, which could have intervened decades ago to stop Israel's continual attacks on them.
After what I've always called The Betrayal Called Oslo, the money world governments once gave to UNRWA they now donat to The Betrayal Called the Palestinian Authority, who use it for their own projects but not for the camps. Even if they were inclined to use it for camps they couldn't, for camps are not their mandate. They're to be helped by UNRWA. You see the loop.....
Another interesting piece from this visit. Remember the "Generous Offer" from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak that was offered to Arafat? I've written a lot about it - it was basically a total giveaway of Palestine. What I didn't know was that the main reason Arafat refused to sign it was that it contained no mention of what would happen to refugees (with the "final status" of Jerusalem, the thorniest issue of all), and he knew that if he signed it, he would be dead the next day.
We were reminded that the Nakba didn't end. It is an ongoing crime.
Another statement from Israelis: "if you go to Palestine / West Bank / Arab area you will be cut up". Another fellow related what he had been told by an Israeli, and I realized that because it is such an odd turn of phrase, if it's showing up in more than one place, it sound like part of Israel's Hasbara Project - their propaganda arm. It feeds the fear that helps Jewish Israelis justify the horrors done in their name.
- Palestinians in Bethlehem have access to only 13% the city of Bethlehem.
- the WALL, built far into the Palestinian area of the West Bank, is helping to "create facts on the ground" as each Israeli leader has said, for when a wall goes up that scoops settlements onto the "Israeli side", those Israeli Jews living there become part of Israel in demographic terms, which has everything to do with money, elections, and more. And of course it makes it just that much more unlikely that that large a population would be evacuated - no problem moving that many Palestinians, but that many Jews will never be moved.
The WALL is not for security -follow up this concept. Important piece.
- the WALL is five times longer than the Berlin Wall, and far higher.
- stories of the fear children feel, and how they cope or don't cope with it are absolutely heartbreaking. Some can’t sleep, some can’t sleep alone, can’t be alone, can’t be out of sight of a parent. I will speak more of them when I come home, but can't go there right now.
- when I asked Zoughbi at Wi’Am "what can I tell people at home when they say "you talked with a lot of Christians but what about those Muslims - do they believe in non-violent resistance?", he re-framed the question. He asked why Americans never ask "do Jewish Israelis believe in non-violence?" Of course this question is never asked. Let's think about that for a bit . ....
Oh whew! SO much more! But to the last stop of the day ending with a delicious dinner of Makloub (sp?).
- Aida Refugee Camp, via the Lajee Center (and please check out www.lajeeradio.com) where we had a delicious dinner and tour of the camp. Met Kholoud, whose grandmother was forced from her village in 1948 (another horrendous story), finally ending in Aida where Kholoud's mother was born, as was Kholoud. She was educated in UNRWA schools, and was able to study in England also (I believe she had relatives there).
Aida has a 44% unemployment rate
Aida residents receive water from Israel, pumped into a rooftop cistern, once a week, and can access this water for TWO HOURS A DAY.
Also met Danz, a young Australian woman who is volunteering there - she and I had a wonderful conversation by ourselves as the rest went up to the rooftop (my knee simply wouldn't take me up one single unnecessary stair today - we're staying at the House of Bread in Bethlehem, on the fourth floor walkup).
Wow - lots of singing and music somewhere down the street - lots of celebrating still from families whose kids passed the exams. Lovely sounds.
Will mail all my literature, notes and camera cards home, possibly the netbook (might leave it here with an organization). I had planned to go through return airport security like a fighting Irishman, but realize now that what I have is too valuable to risk it, for they could tear up my notes and make hash of all they can (been told that enough that I believe it now). I could cope with missing my flight, but 7not with losing my pictures and notes and books and literature.
Well, I'm running out of steam. It's 11:40, and another long day tomorrow. Apologies if some of this is a bit incoherent.