Palestine

Bedouin Tribal Displacement in Palestine

‘Area C’ in the West Bank is under full Israeli civil and military control, however it is home to hundreds of Palestinians and Bedouins communities enduring harsh living conditions in extreme poverty. Bedouins are an important fabric of Palestinian society, they can be defined as nomadic Arabs of the Desert, people that travels from place to place to find fresh pasture for its animals and has no permanent home. Due to the displacement of people and occupation of land Bedouins have been reduced to live by roadsides in shanty towns with no electricity or running water, no sewage disposal systems and very little infrastructure despite this being their ancestral land.

Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar

We visited the village of Khan al-Ahmar in the Judean desert, where 140 Bedouins live in tents and huts, The majority of these Bedouins have come from the Jahalin tribe who were expelled from the Negev by the Israeli military in 1952 and have lived here for 60 years. They have never been granted building permits, hence they have made do with building with whatever materials they could lay their hands on, it may be an eyesore, but this is home to many familes most of which are children. Any access to markets where meat and milk can be sold for income by the farmers is cut off. Their animals are not allowed to graze on land, many have had to be sold at low prices to help pay the high costs of this legal struggle. It is one of the few villages left in area E1 which connects the north and south of the West Bank making it strategically a very important area, the Israeli authorities are trying to take control of. If the Bedouins where to leave or re-locate it would connect illegal Isreali settlements through expansion.

Khan al-Ahmar is located approximately 0.5 KM away from the villas of Kfar Adumim, very sophisticated illegal Israeli settlement which of course has running water, electricity and has luxurious interiors.  I’ve even seen rooms here for holidaymakers advertised as hotels here online. Just to clarify, these settlements are built on confiscated Palestinian land illegally by the Israeli settlers, yet there are no demolition orders for them.

Among the village there is a famous, ‘Tyre School’ built of plastic bottles and old tyres held together by mud, this school has now become a symbol for Bedouins and their non-violent resistance fighting for their future. It was built by an Italian Non Government Organisation – Vento Di Terra (Wind of Earth) . The purpose of this school was to give children of the neighboring villages a place to go to receive an education, this is the only school in the area, and had to be built without a permit because they were never granted one even though many applications were made.  If this is demolished the children will not receive any education and it will undoubtedly affect their future. The Israeli authorities insist this school has been built for ‘political’ reasons, but I can only see children wanting to learn to read and write. Attacking the right to an education is tactic often used by oppressors to deprive future generations of personal development, this can clearly be seen in Palestine this being one of the most prominent examples. Hearing about the demolition threats on this school was one of the most disgusting for me personally.

Walking through the school, there are paintings of Palestinian flags and peace doves and other Palestinian symbols on the walls, it really does feel like a place of love, a haven in the harsh desert of oppression and solitude, where children can come together and play. The facilities are very basic, I can imagine it getting very hot inside during the summer and cold in the winter months. The children bring us tea and we are a very large group, I’m extremely humbled to be greeted with such a warm welcome from the most vulnerable people I met in the West Bank. Once again people who have very little but give so much, the hospitality was overwhelming.

We are told stories by some of the residence of the village. It’s difficult to hear that even when this school is running, it is hard to find teachers who will travel this far to teach as they can receive the same salary with a teaching job much closer to home. I know the Palestinians want to support each other, but the realities of the occupation make that very difficult when they have to survive and support their own families, though many I met do make these sacrifices in order to never give up hope.

I went for a walk around the school, looking at this empty classroom made me feel so privileged to have an education, to have been able to continue to a higher education. These children are fighting for their basic rights to even learn to read. It’s sad as a child growing up I would complain about having to go to school whereas these children will cry as they will soon have no school to go to. Life is funny like that sometimes, we learn to appreciate what we think are the ‘little thing in life’ which mean so much more to other people in the globe. I feel very grateful for my blessings in life and I feel so much outrage for these children. the school is not perfect but they have done a great job with what little they could get.

There are EU flag stickers on these buildings, international support is clear, but they are often removed. Another NGO called Future for Palestine, donated solar panels to provide the village with electricity. However sadly, the Israeli Civil Administration confiscated these.

I met some of the children who go to this ‘Tyre School’ they smiled at me, happy to see international support and it really saddened me that they will soon be deprived of an education, every child should have a right to an education. I also wondered what will happen to them if this village is displaced, will they be left homeless in the desert between illegal luxurious Israeli settlements? Where is the justice in that?

Mostly girls attend the ‘Tyre school’, and to me it’s very important for women’s rights to empower young girls with an education.

Up until recently these ‘shanty towns’ had been left undisturbed due to the pressure by European and American diplomats, unfortunately this is now changing with more than 40 demolition orders being issued for these villages. Where are these hundreds of families supposed to go? There is no answer for that. Not only are demolition orders being issues but they are expected to pay for it too. This is like rubbing salt into open wounds but nothing can be done, ridiculous legal loopholes are to blame. These actions have been condemned by the United Nations as a breach of International Law under the Geneva convention. These actions have also been condemned by the British government.

We meet Angela Godfrey-Goldstein and Israeli activist and Jahalin Bedouin Advocacy Officer from the Palestinian rights group – Jahalin solidarity. This brave woman is very passionate about the rights of Palestinians, I can only imagine the backlash she receives from Israelis for supporting the cause. Even when we were driving through Palestinian Areas, the guards at the checkpoints all know here and will give her stern looks, they know she knows she is not allowed in Palestinian controlled land. For me meeting this women further confirms this is not a religious war or one about Arabs and Jews, but about colonization and people.

Angela translated a very heartfelt talk from Eid abu Khamis a resident of and spokesperson for the village of Khan al-Ahmar who was born here, this is his home. He has seven children and talks about how they have been denied building permits, and have to deal with settlers coming threatening them with weapons. Eid is a very active in fighting for the Bedioun rights, and was recently invited to talk at the New York Peace Festival to do a Q&A after the screening of, “Nowhere Left to Go.” However he was denied a VISA by the USA. Angela was prepared to talk on his behalf, but Eid was able to talk via Skype.

Angela Godfrey-Goldstein and Eid abu Khamis

I can’t imagine how stressful life is for these Bedouins, not feeling safe or knowing when they will have their homes destroyed without any other solution to re-house them appropriately. The Israeli authorities have suggested a re-location to Nuwei’ma, in the Jordan Valley, however this is too close to Israeli settlements and other tribes for the Bedouin life to continue for the Jahlin tribe it was therefore rejected this forcible transfer. Children fear the sound of cars not knowing if it’s the civil administration coming to close down their school and take their homes. Approximately 60% of land in the West Bank has been taken illegally by Israeli authorities.

Bedouins are denied any building permits so these homes and school are seen as, ‘illegal’ buildings, therefore under threat of destruction. However this seems like a preventative measure to stop any Palestinian occupation of land, and this will cut off any access to Jerusalem for Palestinians. Here is a list of the legal violations:

  • International law on the illegality of settlements (Article 49(6) Fourth Geneva Convention) and
  • Unlawfulness of demolitions of public and private property (Article 53 Fourth Geneva Convention),
  • considered a war crime (Article 8(2)(a)(iv) of the Rome Statute).
  • The UN is closely monitoring the risk of forcible transfer faced by Bedouin communities in the West Bank – which is a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention (Article 49(1) and 147),
  • Crime against humanity for the purposes of the Rome Statute (Article 7(1)(d) and 7(2)(d)).

On returning to England, I heard the ‘village’ we had visited had been given demolition orders and would be destroyed within 5 working days. I was devastated, thinking about the children we had seen and immediately wrote to Boris Johnson at the Foreign and common wealth office expressing my outrage.

I received a somewhat indirect response from the Near East Department at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office not addressing my actual concern for what would be happening to this community but in agreement what is going is illegal. Here is an extract:

The Government is gravely concerned about continued demolition of Palestinian property by the Israeli authorities including proposals to demolish the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar.  The Foreign Secretary expressed our concern about the proposals to demolish Khan al-Ahmar when he met Prime Minister Netanyahu in Israel on 8 March.

The UK position on demolitions in the Occupied Palestinian Territories is clear:  they cause unnecessary suffering to ordinary Palestinians; call into question Israel’s commitment to a viable two-state solution; and are, in all but the most exceptional of cases, contrary to International Humanitarian Law (IHL).  The Fourth Geneva Convention is clear that the destruction of any real or personal property in occupied territory is not justified unless it is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations.  We also make clear to Israel that forcible transfer would be a breach of IHL and would have serious ramifications on Israel’s international standing.

We are extremely concerned by reports of a significant increase in demolitions.  According to the UN, in 2016 Israel demolished 1051 structures in the West Bank displacing 1494 people.  This is almost double the number of demolitions in 2015.

The British Government gives practical support to the Bedouin communities and Palestinians facing demolition or eviction in Area C of the West Bank through our funding to the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) legal aid programme.  This helps residents challenge decisions in the Israeli legal system.  The NRC have secured the suspension of demolitions or evictions in 97 per cent of the cases where they have provided legal assistance, allowing Palestinians to remain in their homes.

The British Government is committed to making progress towards a two-state solution.  We believe that negotiations will only succeed when they are conducted between the two parties, supported by the international community.  We continue to press the parties on the need to refrain from actions which make peace more difficult.  Settlement construction and demolitions are significant barriers to achieving this goal, as are terrorism, incitement to violence and the refusal by some to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist.  We do not underestimate the challenges but if both parties show bold leadership, peace is possible.  The UK is ready to do all it can to support this goal.

The reality of the situation is extremely dire thinking that this nomad culture will soon be wiped out by the Israeli authorities with over 7000 Bedouins being affected. I will continue with my correspondence to the FCO, and keep the Bedouins in my thoughts and prayers.
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Palestine, Uncategorized

Apartheid in Palestine and Israel

I didn’t know much about the segregation in Palestine before I was actually there experiencing and feeling it for myself. There is no doubt in my mind that what I saw can correctly be described as apartheid, as famously said by Nelson Mandela. In fact the Palestinians are using the similar model of non-violent resistance in Palestine as was used in South Africa to achieve freedom in hoping to do so themselves. Nelson Mandela went to prison for 27 years, there are many, many political prisoners in Palestine being held for just as long or even longer. Apartheid was a political and social system enforced in South Africa while it was under racial minority rule. I remember when this ended, I’m amazed it was actually in my lifetime, but then I came to Palestine and saw something VERY similar happening to this date I was even more shocked. There are many similarities – Palestinians and Israelis are restricted from going into different areas, they answer to different laws (civil and military) and even have to drive with identifying number plates on vehicles.

In 1993 the Oslo Accords were formed in the hope to support the peace treaty and allow Palestinians areas of self governance by the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO), however a Palestinian state was never created. Instead the West Bank has been divided into Areas A, B and C which are controlled differently by Israeli and Palestinian authorities. Area A is under full Palestinian control, Area B us under shared Palestinian civil control and Israeli military control and Area C is under full Israeli control. These areas are controlled by military checkpoints with heavily armed soldiers and sometimes even tanks. The Palestinians do not have equal rights as the Israelis, a significant example of this is when it comes to being granted building permits, they are almost never granted to Palestinians yet you will see Israeli settlements illegal built all over Palestine.

Watchtowers and Walls
Sign as we go into Area A

I am not sure if the Oslo Accords were quite envisaged how they turned out to be but I was in a military zone, there were watch towers everywhere and it was very uncomfortable to know you are always being watched. it’s not like CCTV, here you can clearly see the huge watch towers, it feels more like an open air prison, and everyone is guilty of a crime they haven’t committed, including myself.

The first time I crossed the checkpoint was GILO 300 on foot at 1am as I had arrived in Israel, it was crossing from Israel to Palestine and it was intimidating even when no one else but soldiers were there, it was not a pleasant experience. Other times I only crossed in a vehicle, but I heard stories and could envisage during the daytime these checkpoints were absolute chaos, people rounded like cattle to pass through. I also saw depending on the soldiers mood they may or may not let you through. There are many instances where Palestinians have been denied passing through checkpoints, for smiling, how they look and humiliated by being forced to strip naked and left without food and water all because the soldiers felt like it. I myself had a very different treatment as I have an international passport, but I did clearly see many Palestinians being harassed.

The segregation is caused by many factors but one of the major ones is the creation of physical barriers – walls, electric fences, trenches, blockades and military checkpoints. Israeli soldiers are given clear instructions to ‘shoot to kill’ anyone trying to cross these barriers during the night.

Israeli West Bank Barrier

The Israeli West Bank Barrier is the main wall which is huge and runs across ‘The Green Line’ which is the line drawn on the map to outline the border of the state of Israel and Palestine after the Israeli-Arab war in 1967, it was not supposed to outline a permanent border. The Israeli authorities state this wall has been built as ‘protection against terrorism’, whereas to the Palestinians this wall is the creation of racial segregation and apartheid. It is 440 miles long, and more than double the length of the Green Line, 85% of it cuts into the West Bank on Palestinian land, it is aiding the annexation of land in the name of ‘security’. The result is approximately 25,000 Palestinians isolated as they can’t cross it. They are prevented from accessing their own land, employment, visiting family, friends and even lovers. Relationships and marriages cannot take place because of the location of people across the wall. Sick people can not go to the hospital. I was told about an instance where a 6 year old girl in Palestine needed dialysis but the only hospital with the facilities to help was in Jerusalem, Israel granted her a permit to go but not to any of her family, they had to find someone else to take her. I heard similar stories about Palestinian cancer patients being denied access to hospital treatment because of their location.

I want to address a point which I didn’t understand until I spoke to Palestinians. Sometimes Israeli companies illegally build factories in the West Bank on Palestinian land, and this creates jobs for the Palestinians. this is how this idea is sold to us in the outside world as a positive move. In reality it is actually a form of modern day slavery – this is how someone explained it to me, they are not given the same wages as Israeli’s doing the same jobs, by working in these illegal factories it’s giving into accepting them taking their land and most of all it creates serious divides between Palestinian communities by those refusing to work there as a form of resistance and those struggling so hard to survive they have no choice. Jobs are scarce. It really is a form of forcibly compliance, living under occupation is an extremely hard life. Palestinians attempts to be self-sustainable with their own food and water sources for example is prevented, they have to rely on food to come from Israel, this was the saddest thing for me to hear. The BDS (Boycott, Divest and Sanctions) global movement urges people in the rest of the world not to support this by boycotting the purchase of goods from Israel from the West Bank. For more information: https://bdsmovement.net/

In my group there was an American Mexican, and someone jokes, ‘how do you like the wall’ in light of Trump coming into power. Humor is used to address such serious situations, we all laughed but it’s very daunting to stand in the shadow of the wall, esp if you are on the ‘wrong’ side.

The walls reminded me of Berlin but more sinister and a lot bigger in size. I felt offended on behalf of the Palestinians how could such ugly eyesore barriers be placed up on THEIR land. I can’t believe I was standing here in 2017 feeling the way I do.

I’m constantly mocked for being an admirer of Stalin style architecture , but looking at this towering grey structure, I feel completely different, it completely cuts into the beautiful Palestinian scenery, cuts across the blue skies,  it disrupts the peace and cuts tension into the air. It doesn’t look like protection to me it looks like apartheid. A very deliberate barrier to segregate people and land. I love graffiti but I feel as though this canvas is not worth of such beautiful art, because art should be kept and treasured but this wall should go.

Having said that, it is warming to see the wall covered in artwork and messages of hope and support from many people around the world who have been to Palestine to show their love and support for the people. I really wish I had some spray paint!!!

Lots of artwork and images of Che Guevara the Marxist revolutionary and leader.

Standing on the hilltop looking at the walls it doesn’t feel real.There are many, many walls, in one sense it almost feels comical and childish that walls have been built on the other hand it’s a very serious and tragic situation, though somewhat unbelievable one. I felt a real sense of sadness looking over the landscape and seeing these structures, I can’t imagine if I woke up tomorrow and there was a wall assembled preventing me from going to work and visiting my friends and family, having my freedom taken like that.

Banksy, the famous graffiti writer from the UK has been making a statement in the West Bank by creating 9 pieces on this wall, which has drawn international attention to this area of the world. More information here: http://banksyworld.blogspot.co.uk/

Banksy has now opened a hotel here, ‘with the worst view in the world’, any profits will go towards local projects. http://walledoffhotel.com/ I’m very proud to be British and seeing another pararel between an element of Hip Hop (graffiti) and the resistance.

Humorous postcards I bought from a local shop, I love the one with Santa Claus.

Moving around Palestine I felt like I was in an open air prison controlled by a police state, suffocated by having my rights taken away and I was just a visitor with an international passport. On leaving I was apprehensive to go through all the security but once out I felt a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders, I felt free. I really do hope and pray that one day the people of Palestine will also taste the freedom that so many of us around the world take for granted.

Palestine

A Surreal Experience – Leaving Palestine Through Ben Gurion, Israel

It was time to go home. I had mixed feelings about leaving Palestine. On one hand I wanted relief from the heavy burden of  the illegal occupation, flashbacks of all the stories I had heard, injured people and injustices I had witnessed first hand, the paranoia of always being watched. On the other hand I had grown attached to this beautiful country and its Palestinian people so loving and welcoming, most of all I didn’t want to leave my newfound friends. I felt we had bonded through our mutual empathy and respect for all human life. Nevertheless it was time to go and I knew I had to be focused, mentally prepare myself for leaving through Ben Gurion airport in Israel, from what I had heard and experienced myself coming in, leaving was going to be an equally unpleasant  experience.

I left for the airport with a group of other volunteers who were on the same flight as me, we travelled from Palestinian territories in a minibus together, which meant it had Palestinian number plates. On arrival at Ben Gurion airport in Israel, I could see the vehicles with Israeli number plates in front of us, being allowed through the gates to the airport without any questions, but when it came to us, we were pulled to one side by Israeli soldiers. Not only did they ask our driver questions at the window, they actually came into our minibus to look at us and ask us where we were going. It was a tension filled moment as the driver had his papers checked, we weren’t sure if it was better to talk or remain silent, so we didn’t talk unless spoken too. What did it remind me of? – Apartheid in South Africa, I could not believe I was actually experiencing this in my life time, this blatant racism is an everyday occurrence for Palestinians. We were asked where we were going and then allowed in, there was no doubt we were being watched and monitored already on our approach to the airport.

Israeli and Palestinian vehicles have identifying number plates

The airport control tower was reminiscent of the watch towers I’d seen throughout occupied Palestine and it made me feel very uneasy. I felt intimidated, which was strange for me to feel at an airport as I usually enjoy going through them and I have been to quite a few, usually I feel airport security are there to keep me safe, but in this scenario I was the one being made to feel like the threat to safety.

I entered the airport and joined the queue for my airline with my friend and almost immediately security personal approached us and told us to join another queue, I didn’t know why, they didn’t even check my passport or even ask me where I was flying too, they simply looked at ME, this was the racial profiling I had been expecting. The queue I was now in was three times as long and moving very slowly, luckily I had got to the airport early, but not too early. There was a sign in front of the queue to, ‘leave luggage unlocked’ they were very transparent about going through all luggage, even checked in luggage would be searched. It really does feel you have to give up all your privacy rights is you ever want to get through his airport, if you refuse you will only be rejected. The sad thing was that I had bought a few souvenirs from Palestine, but I was advised to ship these home and not carry them in my luggage as they would be taken and destroyed, I’m talking about plates and key rings., nothing threatening at all but it seemed that any sign of being in Palestine was forbidden and looked down upon.

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Checked in and hand luggage is asked to be kept unlocked to be seached.

Eventually my turn came and I was asked a few questions, I felt like my answers were irrelevant as my passport was going to be taken anyway, and indeed it was and returned to me with a yellow sticker and a barcode. I didn’t see anyone else have their passport taken away as I was in the queue. You receive a number 1-6 when leaving through Ben Gurion. I had done some research before traveling, these were indications of your perceived threat level / suspicion to Israel – 1 being the lowest and 6 being the highest, and to my surprise I was given a 6. My friend had a 3 (she did not have a Muslim name on her passport).  She was allowed to go through straight to the gate, I was told to wait there and someone would come to, ‘collect me’. I had no idea what was in store for me, I thought it was ridiculous but I remained calm and confident, I was not guilty of anything and I was not prepared to be treated as though I was, I was going to stand my ground no matter what was going to happen. I put everything I had seen out of my mind not to feel any anger in this situation, after all these people were just doing their job, I had to remain civil. I was taken to another queue…

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Yellow sticker security system at Ben Gurion. 6 = Suspected high security threat level.

I seemed to be the only one who could speak English in this queue, most people were speaking Russian, the Israeli airport staff were having problems communicating if it wasn’t in Hebrew, Arabic or English with mostly everyone else. Our bags were scanned, my coat was taken for extra scanning, we had to empty everything out. It was a very high tension environment, I could see some even more heavy duty X-ray scanners nearby. Suddenly the man next to be began to have a panic attack, I asked him if he was ok, ‘I can’t breathe’ replied gasping for breath, with no one around acknowledging what was happening, I called over an Israeli security officer for help. He just looked at me with little concern and asked, ‘Are you together?’ I said ‘no’, in any other situation I would have tried to be more helpful to ensure the person was ok, but in this case I thought it would be best to back away, I couldn’t afford to have any false associations. I really felt for this man, no one really helped him or looked concerned, instead he was made to finish a drink he had on him, even though he could hardly breathe. There was no compassion, or concern. I guess it could have been an elaborate ruse to trick security or distract from something, you never know.

Next we had to take everything out of our hand luggage for another very through check and I mean EVERYTHING. Every single pocket lining and seam was searched. I was made to sit while I was asked what everything was, and to switch on my camera for them to have a look through it. Then I was asked in a very serious tone if I had any weapons or dangerous items on me, and of course I didn’t. I was then informed I would need to be, ‘body searched’, I dreaded these words, was it just a dress up for, ‘strip search’? I only had 10 mins left before my flight was due to leave, I was hoping this would work in my favor. I was asked to step inside what I would call a ‘box’ at the side of the area, not big enough to be called a room, there was just about enough space in there for the two women and myself, we kept brushing each other as they began to search me. ‘Take off your top and shoes’ I complied, my shoes were taken to be scanned for traces of explosives, they were covered in mud from working in the Palestinian fields, even though I had tried to wash them some still remained, I was hoping I wouldn’t be asked about this. I was dreading being asked to take any more off, but I didn’t want to show it. Knowing I may be subjected to this I had purposely worn several layers of clothing, which I think they found a bit strange.

I was thoroughly searched multiple times, all the seams in my clothing, my hair, inside my ears, I really was trying to work out what I could possibly hide there. Then suddenly the metal detector went crazy because of some metal in my jeans, the both looked at each other as though they had found my concealed weapon, I was dreading being asked to take them off so I frantically tried explained that it was the metal on my jeans and I could quite obviously not have concealed anything as there was no space. I informed them it was almost time for my flight to leave. They took a minute to speak to each other in Hebrew and said they would call the plane and let them know I was running late, but I didn’t see any calls being made, they decided to let me go without saying they were done I was pretty much left, I retrieved my top and my shoes, picked up my coat which had been x-rayed and re-packed my hand luggage then quickly moved on. It felt as thought they would have kept me up until this point no matter what and I would have been there longer if there had been more time. No questions were asked, I was very surprised but I felt as though they just wanted me out of the country as soon as possible as though I was very unwelcome there, it was a weird feeling.

I still had to go through passport control and the queue was extremely long, I didn’t think I was going to make it, I asked the airport officer he told me to use the machines which of course I couldn’t because I’m not an Israeli citizen! I looked around and saw a Jewish women with a British passport in her hand, she has to be on the same flight as me I thought, so I approached her and said I was concerned we were going to miss our flight, she was there late because she had been shopping in the duty-free. She was a very confident lady and she told me to stick with her and we jumped the queue together as she announced we were going to miss our flight if people didn’t let us through, I was grateful for her help. I spoke to her briefly on the other side, she seemed to be a lovely woman, who had never been stopped or questioned and was having a very relaxing experience, I was having the exact opposite. I told her about my extra search and she was very surprised, she had never heard that happen to anyone before. The differences between our experiences was very interesting,

Passport Control

I had made it to the gate, where I met my other friends, we had all had different experiences. Everyone else had seemed to have had a military escort to the plane, whereas I was just left to make my own way and if I hadn’t jumped the queue I would never had made it. Others were stripped down to their underwear and others were even asked to remove theirs. You could see they were in physical shock from this experience, I felt really angry for them, now months later they still feel traumatized from it. I believe the Israeli authorities want to make entry and exit into Israel a very unpleasant experience for anyone they suspect of humanitarian work, so they do not want to return.

We boarded our flight. The majority of the people on our flight were Ultra-Orthodox Jews, coming to the UK to attend a family wedding. They did not acknowledge our presence at all, I’m not talking about a smile I’m talking about not even being looked it, I felt so invisible, like I wasn’t a fellow human being, it was just a very strange feeling but it echoed what I had seen in Palestine.

As I got to my seat, there was a Ultra-Orthhodox Jewish man sitting in it, I got his attention and said, ‘excuse me I think you are sitting in my seat’, he literally jumped up, tried to avoid all eye contact with me and immediately informed the air stewardess who was also female, that he could no longer sit in the seat, as it would be next to a woman (me). I was tired, I had been through a lot I just wanted to sit down at this point and not have any more drama but I couldn’t until this was sorted. I asked my friend a few seats down to swap with the man, but then he said he couldn’t sit there because there was a woman in the next seat, then we found another seat, but another man would have to move, but he said he couldn’t move because then he would be sitting next to a women! It was actually so ridiculous, we had all paid for randomly selected seats on this budget airline, it was comical and we all did burst into laughter.

Just to make a point, a Muslim woman once refused to sit next to my brother on a flight from Asia because he was male, I ended up having to sit next to her. I was extremely annoyed, because we were flying to the UK were there is mass integration what was she expecting to do when she got there?! She tried to talk to me several times, and I was not in the mood for conversation at all.

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Full flight home

We must have spent at least 10 minutes trying to shuffle seats so everyone was happy to sit down, eventually a Jewish man offered to sit next to me, I thanked him. He was a gentleman, even though I just wanted to listen to close my eyes and listen to my music, I could tell he wanted to have a conversation and I didn’t want to seem rude. He told me he was visiting his daughter who was an ‘Olah’, I had to ask him what that was, he said it meant she had taken dual citizenship in Israel as well as the UK. My heart sank thinking she was probably now living on one of the illegally built luxury settlements I had seen on occupied Palestinian land. It also dawned on me that after spending some time talking to this man, he was actually a lovely man, and maybe he did not know about what was really going on? But how could he not? I couldn’t be certain what he knew and what his thoughts on the matter were, I decided I was not going to try to find out either, it wasn’t the time or the place. I told him I had been visiting the Holy Sites of Jerusalem and didn’t go into too much detail.

Our flight was very turbulent, yet half of the people on the flight refused to sit down, there was a group of Jewish men at the front, standing and praying. Now I have no problem with people exercising their faith, but there was a blatant disregard for flight safety here, the seat belts sign was on and everyone was being asked to sit down, in my heart I felt that if they had been Muslim men it would have instantly been seen as an act of terrorism. We live by a lot of double standards in our society. The man I was sitting with told me he had been on several flights from Tel Aviv but never seen anything like this, we laughed about it.

Eventually the pilot made an announcement demanding people sit down or said he would be forced to call the British Aviation Police on landing. No one listened. It was absolute chaos, the flight staff were literally shouting at people and it make it even more strange I could see a man in the front rows making balloon animals and passing them around! The air stewardess had been working for 11 years on this route and said she had never had a flight like this. She was constantly being called for assistance and couldn’t even walk down the aisle as people were constantly in the way, I did feel bad for her but she dealt with it in an amazingly professional manner!

As we landed we were not allowed off the aircraft until the Aviation police actually came to ‘escort’ certain passengers off the plane, it turns out someone had tried to charge their mobile phone using the control panel and they had contacted ground control. I thanked the staff as I left the aircraft, I was happy to be home.

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It was a very surreal experience, a somewhat comical end to a very serious period of time I had spent in Palestine, but it was as intricately layered with emotions as is the situation that’s going on there. It took me months to process what I had seen and felt to accept it and to return to my own reality. I spent about a week trying to avoid anyone who wanted to hear about my trip, because I just couldn’t express how I felt or knew how to describe it, really deep feelings were stirred up in me. I don’t think I will ever be the same person again and now I feel as though I have the confidence after experiencing what I did to stand up for what I believe is right. No one will ever take that away from me. It is true what they say, once you leave Palestine, you leave a part of your heart there and I know I will be back in Palestine one day (iA), there is still much work to be done, and one day Palestine will be free.

Our flight even made the newspapers: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4227922/Orthodox-Jewish-men-cause-bedlam-easyJet-flight.html

Palestine

Resistance in Ramallah, Palestine

Unofficially recognized as the capital of Palestine, Ramallah is a city in central West Bank,  controlled by the Palestinian Authority (PA) with a population of predominantly Muslim Palestinians. I was aware of this when asked where I would be going by Israeli security, upon entry into Israel, but I still stated ‘Ramallah’, and it wasn’t received very well, there was hostility. I wanted to be honest and see the reaction, it wasn’t until I read up on the history and actually visited that I understood the reasons why. I was very interested to visit what I came to assume was the political capital of Palestine.  On entering I could see it’s the business district, very modern buildings, men in business suits, it feels very different from what I had seen so far, almost like a bubble. There is also a very strong feeling of academia and professional heritage here. and Usually I love the city but this time I don’t feel like it represents the Palestine I’ve come to know and love, the fields, farmlands and the children. Despite the modern buildings and city feel, I’m instantly approached by people asking me to contribute money towards local schools and orphans, clearly the occupation was still affecting people greatly here too, and it makes me think once again how Palestine as a state could be thriving and independent if allowed to be so.

We visited the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) negotiations office. I didn’t know what to expect but we are given a warm welcome and everyone is very friendly, the atmosphere is fairly relaxed, which you wouldn’t expect as the PLO has been painted as a ‘terrorist organisation’ in Western media. Rooted from their original belief in achieving results through armed struggle BUT as with any revolution this all changed in 1993 after the Oslo Accords where signed, they now believe only in non-violent resistance. Formed in 1964, their objectives have no reference to religion, but are anti-Zionist in nature dedicated to the, ‘restoration of the Palestinian homeland’. Zionism can be defined as a nationalist, colonial political ideology which is NOT the same as Judaism. These points are very important and clearly dictate this is not a struggle based on religion but political movements. You can read more about Zionism here. I was looking forward to hearing their perspective on the situation, I knew it would be slightly different to other Palestinians I had spoken too up until this point.

Entrance to the Palestinian Liberation Office and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Ramallah

Entrance to the PLO negotiations office together with the ministry of Women’s Affairs, which for me was very nice to see, once again a reminder that all struggles are being fought at the same time, human rights alongside women’s rights. Security is tight, there is a retina scanner on the door.

Xavier Abu Eid, PLO Communications Advisor

We sit at the negotiations conference table and have a talk by communications adviser Xavier Abu Eid, he was born in Chile but of Palestinian, this in itself is very interesting, a good reminder there are many Palestinians outside of Palestine, in fact there are 450,000 Palestinians in Chile. His accent is heavy and he speaks extremely passionately, I’m fully engaged in what he has to say. I see behind him is a photo of the Dome of the Rock, I make a quick reference to this in my head, it’s the same photo as I saw in the Security control office when I was interrogated at Ben Gurion airport, everyone respects this Holy Land.

Photo of the Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem in the PLO office.

I had been in Palestine a few days now and I had seen families at the depths of despair, not being able to stand up other that acts of non-violent resistance, but for the first time I saw someone with a different energy, someone in the political area with a much stronger attitude not willing to actively accept how they were being treated because they did not want to accept that they have no choice. One statement which made me think was, how can there be a two state solution if Palestine has never been recognized as a state itself? A very valid question, consolidating that maybe we are being fed false dreams for a co-existing future, especially in the midst of the rapidly expanding Israeli settlements. It got me thinking, the amount of land that has been taken is insane and there is no sign of it stopping, are we to believe these false words until no Palestine is left? I completely understood their frustrations for me this talk was speaking out against the shadows. I also came to the conclusion that Palestinians themselves had different views on what the possible solution could / should be, or rather what they were willing to accept after so many years of foul treatment and illegal occupation. Palestinian refugees right to return to Palestine is a big debate in this aspect. If the Palestinian state was officially granted but no refugees could return, would this be an acceptable compromise to Israel? Extremely difficult questions, to which even I couldn’t decide what would be the ‘right’ thing to do.

Negotiations conference table at the office of the PLO.

We traveled to the village of Bi’llin Village in Ramallah. The sign outside the village gave this brief overview – Bil’in model in the Wall Resistance: ‘Bil’in is a small promising village surrounded by valleys and mountains, mediates the road between Jaffa and Jerusalem, it’s one of the west side villages of Ramallah city, with 16 km far away from it. It’s population 2000 people, most of whom work in agriculture, and it’s land area (4,000) acre. It’s people known with their simplicity, goodness and good neighborliness, where they love freedom and peace, and reject injustice and oppression.’

The documentary, ‘5 Broken Cameras’ was filmed here, co-directed by Palestinian Emad Burnad and Israeli Guy Davidi (yet another collaboration noted that this struggle is not about religion or race, but that of human rights). When I first saw this documentary I could not believe this was real and now I was actually standing in the very village it was filmed. Watching this I think is what partially compelled me to come here, I would recommend everyone to watch it to get a feel of the situation. The documentary is about Emad filming with 5 different cameras each with their own story, originally he got the camera to film the birth of his son but then used it to document the resistance against the Israeli occupation. 5 cameras were broken as the village tried to resist the bulldozers and construction of the Israeli West Bank Barrier Wall. Just like the Dheisheh refugee camp, the village of Bil’in is prone to military raids at night, where families are shot and children are taken. This struggle has not been a bloodless one, some have lost their lives which has been covered in the documentary, it’s very clear they were not acting violently at the time.

Award winning documentary filmed in the Bil’in Village

There is a very active ongoing battle here to preserve the right to their homes and land. The very ugly separation barrier wall in VERY close proximity, it feels like it is on the doorstep of the home I’m visiting, trees had been uprooted for it’s construction. I’ told this wall was even closer but due tot he regular protests which take place here, the wall was moved back 500 m. A little triumph in an ongoing struggle, small but significant in providing hope and that the resistance can and is indeed working.

Israeli barrier wall, you can see how close the illegal settlements actually are to the village of Bil’in, many protests are held here against their expansive over the village.
The documentary has bought much attention to the area and there is  much international support for the villagers of Bil’in regular protests are held here, often after Friday Prayers. Support from Irish supporters and Israeli’s is strong because of their own history. My internationals come here to show their solidarity with Palestine.
The magnitude of the wall can be seen from the hilltop, it seems endless.
As we walk outside I come across a tear gas canister on the grass next to the Blackspot Horn Poppy flower which is a symbol for Palestine. Tear gas is very commonly used, walking around
Child from the village of Bil’in, happy to meet visitors.

I saw many canisters and again there were many children. I naively thought these were harmless but I’m told in Palestine they are used with a much more sinister agenda – International Law states they should not be launched from less than 500 m, however there they are thrown from a little as 100 m which can and does result in death. They are quite simply used as murder weapons as is documented in, ‘5 Broken Cameras’. The cutest child breaks my chain of thought as he walks up to me and hugs my leg, what kind of life is this for him I thought. This struggle has been going on for over 10 years now and it will continue perhaps into his life as an adult and he wills stand on these front lines, the life of the struggle will be the only life he has known.

Tear gas canister next to Blackspot Horn Poppy a Palestinian flower.
We were invited to Iyad Burnat’s home for lunch, he is the leader of the non-violent resistance in Bil’in. I felt a great sense of determination and passion has we spoke to us in his Kuffieyah in front of a freedom sign. I could very much feel the suffering which goes on here, day after day I can just imagine how tired everyone will be but that is what they cannot succumb too, they can not give up.
Sitting in the house, it felt more like a bunker but without any protection as we watched a slide show on the types of weapons used on the civilians by the Israeli Military, I couldn’t believe I was actually sitting in someone’s kitchen. The monitor was above a kitchen sink we sat on mattresses. I wish I could stay here and resist with the people of the village, especially after the hospitality they showed us with cooking a traditional lunch for us.
Visiting the tomb of Yasser Arafat very surreal for me, he was a figure I prominently saw on the news as a child. Arafat was the chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) from 1964 until his death in 2004. A very controversial revolutionary, love him or hate him, his face is recognized globally.
Portrait of Yasser Arafat on the wall of the PLO office
Arafat helped found Al-Fatah in 1958, an underground advocation for the armed resistance against Israel, he was accused of smuggling arms and staging raids for the freedom of Palestine as an independent state. However, 1998 marked changes in the PLO where Arafat gave a speech at the United Nations declaring all parties could live together in peace, this lead to the Oslo Accords in 1993, allowing Palestinian territory to be governed by Palestinian self rule. Arafat was the president here. he shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Israel’s Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin in 1994.  Soon afterwards the Oslo II was writtien laying the foundation for number of peace treaties between the PLO and Israel, including the Hebron Protocol (1997), the Wye River Memorandum (1998), the Camp David Accords (2000) and the “roadmap for peace” (2002).
Despite all the peace talks, it was still a rocky road he was confined to his headquarters in Ramallah by Israel after the terrorist attacks in the US on 9/11. It is believed Arafat died due to being poisoned with radioactive polonium but this is a controversial belief.
A Palestinian in my group had refused to join this visit to his tomb as she did not agree Arafat was a great man due to all the bloodshed he caused, as indeed do many Palestinians who follow the mantra non-violent resistance. Regardless of the difference of opinion, it can not be denied, Yasser Arafat was a very influential force in the Israel-Palestine struggle and a very recognizable one globally as a symbol of Palestinian resistance.
Tomb of Yasser Arafat (Palestinian political leader) in the Mukata Compound in Ramallah, Palestine.
As we were leaving, two men came and patiently waited for us to leave, as I was walking out I looked back to see them taking photos at the tomb, jumping up and down, dancing with guns, they absolutely saw him as a great leader.
One thing I really wanted to see on my visit was the statue of Nelson Mandela in Ramallah, unfortunately I did not get time to see it, but in a way it’s yet another reason for me to return, inshallah.
20 ft bronze statue of Nelson Mandela in Ramallah, Palestine, symbolizing the shared suffering of the South Africans with the Palestinians.

As we tried to leave Ramallah by the Beit EL checkpoint we were turned away by the Israeli soldiers at the checkpoint simply because our driver was Palestinian and he wanted to make a point, they smiled and waved as they made our lives difficult. What should have only been a 6 minute drive became an additional TWO hours onto our journey back home, but it was just a feel of what is now a daily occurrence for many Palestinians. Even after a very long day, the occupation does not stop, I thought about the Bil’in village and them not knowing if they would have a raid at night, trying to keep their children safe.