MY truth about Palestine – Exploring the Emotional Complexities of Stepping into the West Bank as a Foreigner

I have poured my entire soul into this piece of writing; it was emotional to revisit these points which will never be removed from my heart. We are living through an abomination in world history, ironically during the information age we are trying to be silenced. With some hesitation, but determination to share, this is my most controversial commentary; This is MY TRUTH about Palestine.  


The ‘truth’ is relative to perspective; this is why I call this, ‘MY’ truth based on my travels to the West Bank, Palestine. My journey formulated from very naive beginnings, I had no idea of the plethora of emotions which would bombard me as a result of my experiences. I learnt so much from absorbing the atmosphere, simply by just being there and I can tell you many things were not said with words, but were felt by behavior and expressions.

I debunked many misconceptions. The first thing I learnt in contrary to popular belief was that not all Palestinians are Muslims. I met many Christian and even Atheist Palestinians. There are a high majority of Muslims who reside in Palestine, but it is not a Muslim state. In fact what blew my mind and I felt very ignorant for not realizing was that the Holy city of Bethlehem (birthplace of Jesus pbup) is actually in Palestine. Jesus was Palestinian, this was profound to me as the theme of persecution prevails. Christians speak Arabic and Muslims can speak Hebrew, language and ethnicity is all interchangeable to beliefs.  There were also different degrees to which each individual chose to practice their religion, everyone is given the choice to follow religious doctrine however strictly they want, hence there were Atheists living in the Holy Land. Meeting people from both Israel and Palestine all I really saw was people – men, women and children, all human beings. Religion was never mentioned to me as part of the struggle, not by a single person I talked too. I was in a place where people believed in different things but it was never a reason to not be someone’s neighbor or friend, this was only due to one thing – the enforced occupation. I felt the saturation of religious individuals meant there was a much deeper understanding of each other e.g. everyone knew the streets may be quiet because it was Shabbat, and it was common knowledge mosques painted onto houses means that family had been on Hajj to Mecca. To me in general this seemed like a lot of respect for each other’s faith if left alone to its own devices because there was unification in the belief in the higher power of God. Religion was not something that divided the people, in fact it was something they held onto, to unify them. I personally did not see faith as the cause of rivalry, but in fact a pillar of hope.


I learnt a lot about myself as a person by spending time in Palestine. I saw the occupation taking its toll on vulnerable communities, indiscriminate of whether they were elderly, women or children, Palestinians were not regarded or treated like fellow human beings. This broke my heart. It made me angry, VERY angry, I felt hate. I didn’t know whom I hated exactly, probably the institution. I didn’t know how to deal with my mixed emotions, – disbelief, disgust, anger, shame, helplessness and sadness. At no point did I feel hatred towards the Jewish people I know this is far more complicated than that of religion which I have already stated. I have stood beside many Jewish organizations such as, ‘Jews for Justice’ shoulder to shoulder on rallies for justice of equality. I have many Jewish friends whom I love and respect, to generalize them would be the same as someone labeling me a terrorist for being a Muslim, it does not make sense, those that fall into these categories do not represent the majority of both religions. I felt that these ‘differences’ in communities were being exploited to fuel the fire of disagreements. It is a sad fact that religion is often exploited by political even colonial agendas and used to wedge a divide between the people which never existed, and of course the media is right then often fueling it.

People born in to this environment had been conditioned, which comes back to the point of perception. If children are raised to believe a group of people are the enemy the seed of animosity is implanted in them from a young age and they do not question this because of the constructs of society. I clearly saw this in the young Israeli military personnel I spoke to, they had a God Complex given such power over all things and people. Even young Israeli civilians proudly carried semi-automatic weapons through the streets as though they were invincible and couldn’t be touched. Simultaneously Palestinians have had their land taken, education and livelihood destroyed, family members and friends tortured and murdered, they felt demoralized. I spoke to a young Palestinian lady who managed to study abroad and she told me she never knew what freedom was until she left Palestine, she had been so used to living under the occupation she thought it was normal. I was immediately overcome by a sense of shock at what a privileged life I was living, this really put a lot of things into perspective for me. I realized how fortunate I was for my freedom, I was grateful and asked myself why we should allow their society be governed in such an unethical way? But those who do speak up against actions of the institution of Israel are instantly labeled as Anti-Semitic and this is used to close any dialogue before it’s even started. Similarly anyone supporting the human rights of Palestinians are labelled terrorist sympathizers, it’s a catch 22 situation.


I felt ashamed of being British, the situation today is due to the actions of the colonial regime by the British Empire, or perhaps I was just ashamed to have led such a privileged life and to had not done anything with that privilege to help others. In contrast I was not treated as a British citizen on arrival at the airport because of my Pakistani heritage, which also made me question my own identity, something that I often struggle with. This identity crisis is something the Palestinians also must deal with on top of dealing with the occupation, culture is also contributing factor to their daily lives. I understood the situation a very complex one, and one which cannot be discussed without addressed each factor. I also acknowledged I was merely a visitor to this hell on Earth, and that I would be leaving but the families I met would have to face this reality every day, that was also very difficult to deal with.

By the end of the week something changed within me. I realized the Palestinian people have to adapt to this environment, they live it without escape and cannot let hate consume them, it was wasted time and energy. As humans we can build great resilience through challenging times and hardships, but to impose such burdens onto children with developing minds and little room to create a physiological baseline before trauma is not right, it’s not fair. These families are made up of civilians, not military personal trained to resist mental and physical torture, every day is psychologically and emotionally suffocating. I thought years of desensitization through watching violent movies and music would have prepared me for my experiences but, it was one thing after another, layers and layers of oppression, disrespect and unnecessary violence and humiliation. There was no way my mind or heart could justify any of it. Living under a very complex and heavy occupation, coupled with religious and cultural expectations, they only wanted equal rights and the opportunity to co-exist in peace. I was completely blown away that they insisted on using methods of non-violent resistance and I could not comprehend that this was even needed for their basic human rights in the 21st century, where are all the International organizations and laws to protect them?


The many layers of oppression have been used to manipulate divides within the Palestinian communities as well as unite them. As a result, they are some of the most hospitable people I have ever met, I received a very warm welcome into Palestine. I had lunch at many homes where I felt like I was visiting family, it reminded me of my childhood memories. I couldn’t even speak the same language as a few people I met but we made an instant connection on being human, first and foremost we all knew what pain and suffering felt like but we also knew love. I recognized they were suffering and they fully appreciated the fact I was there to experience what they were going through in the flesh. I was here to take their stories back to the rest of the world. I don’t believe the media is representing the situation in a non-biased format, the extent of the suffering I saw with my own eyes is not being shown by the media.

Why should we care in the West? If empathy for our fellow human beings is not enough, and I understand everyone has their own issues and would rather focus on their own lives than those across the world, but we need to acknowledge globalization is bringing us closer to cause and effect. Injustices will slowly globalize. We are living through an abomination in world history in the information age we are trying to be silenced, it does not matter who you are, your race, gender, sex, religion or sexuality if you were a victim of the oppression then we are all in it together, we are family and we must fight for our freedom together.






Jerusalem – Segregation in the Holy Land

Jerusalem – one of the oldest and holiest cities on Earth, important to three of the world’s major religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, but recognized by everyone. It’s without a doubt one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. Home to Temple Mount, Western Wall, Al-Asqa Mosque, Dome of the Rock and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The atmosphere is spiritual, walking the streets where the prophets walked felt very special, you could feel the ancient history in every stone but you could also feel the tension and pain in this troubled city.

Israeli soldiers by the Western Wall

There are many monks and pilgrims walking among military soldiers and police forces. The tragic irony, it’s history of persecution and now the persecution of it’s people hits very hard. In various news reports you hear about the violence and unrest in this holy city, the environment is unstable, yet I feel it’s beauty and peace as I walk the cobbled roads. I know I am very lucky to be here and I’m very grateful, it’s something you will never feel unless you are truly there yourself. There are various gates to enter the city, I was worried about finding the right one for where I wanted to go but people are on hand to  give me all the information I need as well as the city being sign posted very clearly, they are used to many different pilgrims and tourist visitors to the city. I’m mesmerized by watching other people, it’s a melting pot of differences and yet similarities, for many this is the journey of a lifetime, as it also is for me.

As a Muslim I was extremely excited and hopeful to pray in the Dome of the Rock, a dream of all Muslims after Mecca and Media. I knew making it to Jerusalem wouldn’t necessarily mean I would be allowed to enter the Dome of the Rock shrine so I kept my thoughts positive and focused my mind. I had heard you need to answer to Israeli soldiers at the gate to be allowed in, I wasn’t comfortable with this but I was prepared, I’d anxiously ‘revised’ my surahs just in case I forgot under pressure. Why did I have to prove my faith to a man when I wanted to have my personal conversation with God? A man of a different faith at that, but I  knew it was for ‘security’ reasons. Some people advised me to denounce my faith in order to enter Israel, to me that was ridiculous and blasphemous, I would never do that, I’m proud to say I am a Muslim, and this was going to be a good test for me.

At first I tried to enter via the wrong side, the Israeli solider tried to address me in Hebrew, which confused me as I thought he would speak to me in Arabic, I told him I only spoke English before he had a chance to respond, another man passing told me to take some steps to the entrance and said ‘he speaks Hebrew because he is Israeli’.  At this moment I felt that two religions / races which are so different are still connected as human beings and we can be civil to each other. I arrived at the correct side. Fortunately this Israeli solider spoke English and maintaining eye contact when he asked asked me my faith was enough with my Arabic name to be allowed in, it was the one place I felt the color of my skin was in my favor.

Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem

I had seen many photos but when I laid my eyes on the actual Dome, the feeling was indescribable, it was absolutely beautiful and this feeling of overwhelming emotions came over me. I had to stand for a moment and just gaze at it’s beauty in awe. Nothing else mattered, my mind emptied, I was completely in the moment. I couldn’t believe I was actually here, I had made it and I stood where many people would never be allowed to go, I was grateful, I was humble but I also tried to keep all my friends and family in my thoughts.

It was a cold day but the sun suddenly shone and the skies cleared. Inside was beautiful, and the most peaceful place, everyone was civil, I felt so much peace in my heart. I prayed for the peace and justice for the people of Palestine, it was such a warm feeling to pray alongside them. I was asked several times in the grounds if I was a Muslim, security was very tight.

I had seen the Western Wall on TV when I was a child when it was called, ‘The Wailing Wall’ and I was fascinated by the prayers which were slipped into it’s cracks, I really wanted to see it with my own eyes. Still in my hijab I wasn’t sure if Muslims were allowed but I heard the group of soldier guarding the entrance laughing and joking so decided to ask them. When they saw my British passport they instantly wanted to know more about me, some tried to talk to me in Arabic but I don’t speak it, another one from India spoke to me in Punjabi, they checked my bags and let me in. Once inside I kept my distance from the wall out of respect for the Jews who were praying. It occurred to me, many Jews and Muslims do not want conflict they just want to be allowed to practice their faith and despite everything going on there was respect for each other, after all Muslims and Jews both believe in God.

I returned to Jerusalem with a group of Palestinians who told me a very different story. At first I thought it was really nice to see Palestinians living in Jerusalem and that this sacred land would be open to everyone but I soon learnt that they are not allowed to live as equals together. Their, ‘permanent residency’ is a very fragile one which can be taken away. This surprised me a great deal.

A man tells us, he was imprisoned for ‘terrorism’, when we was just out and about on the street going by his daily business and on the day he was released he was arrested again. He joked the solider interrogating him didn’t even know what to ask him and even told him that as there was no real reason for his arrest. This story is being told to us in humorous way because it really is that ridiculous. This happens on a daily basis to Palestinians esp on the streets of Jerusalem.

This man had been arrested several times in Jerusalem for walking on the streets as a Palestinian.

Waiting just outside Damascus gate I saw a group of very bored looking soldiers, they looked around and saw a young Palestinian looking  man who was probably waiting for a friend,  they decided to approach. With nonchalance three heavily armed soldiers began to harass him demanding to see his passport and stretching out the contents of his bag – a pair of jeans , a tshirt and his underwear. If this wasn’t enough he was asked to put his arms up against the wall and have a body search. We were told not to take photos as these would be destroyed or worse our cameras would be broken and I didn’t want to risk it.

The penalty for carrying a knife is very high for Palestinians, as there have been knife attacks on Israeli soldiers. It’s extremely difficult for Palestinians to purchase a kitchen knife as if caught with this they can be imprisoned for 6 months. How are they supposed to cook? There is no concept of being proven innocent until proven guilty and many Palestinians are petrified of being framed for carrying weapons, which can very easily be done.

Jerusalem one of the oldest cities in the world,  resides between the Dead Sea and the Mediterranean. It is claimed as the capital of both Israel and Palestine neither of which are recognized internationally (there are no embassies here), Israel holds it’s governing bodies, hence control.

East Jerusalem is seen in international eyes as occupied Palestinian territory by Israel since 1967. The Oslo Accords prohibit the establishment of any activity of the Palestinian Authority in Jerusalem. Due to the nature of Jerusalem being such an important area, occupation of the Palestinians who live there may be even harder than those living in the West Bank.

I had innocently thought Palestinians and Israelis would be living together in peace in Jerusalem before I visited, then I found out in reality they may live as neighbors in Jerusalem but there is very little communication between them. Palestinians are made to feel like foreigners in their own country.

Palestinians are not granted Israeli citizenship, even if they have been born in Jerusalem. They are given an Israeli ID card. If the Israeli government decide the center of their life is not in Jerusalem their residency can be taken, so this means they must live there, go to school (different schools from each other that is) and work in Jerusalem, not take long holidays to be away from home too long. Israeli’s on the other hand can live elsewhere even abroad and their homes and citizenship will be safe. Palestinians live in very small homes in Jerusalem in contrast to Israeli’s. Palestinians must also pay taxes to Israel, but the services they receive as a result are not the same as Israelis paying the same. Approximately 14,000 Palestinians have lost their residences in Jerusalem since 1967. Palestinians are also not usually allowed to travel from Israel’s Ben Gurion airport, they have to travel via Jordan and leave their ID cards there to collect on return.

Palestinians have to answer to military courts and are often sentenced without trials whereas Israeli’s are tried under civil laws and often given impunity.
Palestinians live in very small homes in Jerusalem in contrast to Israeli’s, they also often have their water supplies cut off.

The occupation has long been watched by human rights groups as International Humanitarian Law must apply to to any territory under occupation such as the West Bank and East Jerusalem, but this is not happening here.

I really wish more people were able to visit Jerusalem and it could become a city of peace where worshipers of all religions could pray together in unity.

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.

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…

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.

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.


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:


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.


Dheisheh Refugee Camp, Palestine

The thought of having a refugee camp for Palestinians IN Palestine is something that dumbfounded me at first, I mean this is their country how can they possibly be displaced in their own homes? To my surprise I found out the sad reality of refugee camps are scattered across Palestine, providing homes to the many expelled Palestinians.

Defined by the UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency) Palestine refugees are, “persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948, and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict.” Illegal Israeli settlements also continue to displace many families.

We went to visit the Dheisheh refugee camp, south of Bethlehem. It’s one of the largest refugee camps home to 16,000 Palestinian refugees originally from 45 villages in West Jerusalem and Hebron and home to one of my volunteer group leaders. It was built in 1949 as temporary accommodation but it’s residents have no where else to go, and with population growth it’s resources are becoming more and more exhausted.

Inside the Dheisheh refugee camp, south of Bethlehem in Palestine. Narrow roads, no road names or door numbers.

The wall on the entrance to the camp serves as a ‘wall of honor’ to those residents of the camp who have been killed by the Israeli military. Complete with photos, I can see they are far too young to have lost their lives, I can’t even imagine the grief of their parents and families. I can honestly only see faces of children, which really disturbs me.  Names of the villages where camp residents have been displaced cover the wall, this is so their roots and where they came from is not forgotten or lost in the displacement. Their original homes they have been removed from and their villages which have been destroyed. This wall provides a form of non-violent resistance, freedom of expression, a sense of community, even though I find it very disturbing, I fully understand what it represents and why it is there. It is a visual queue to the suffering of the people. I find this very disturbing, there should be no wall, these are the faces of young civilians taken by government military.

At first glance it looks like a normal street but then I see the gate which is closed for protection. Our guide a resident of the camp tells us some of the things which happens here, the tone of his voice tells me this is very real and he has been through these experiences. I find them too graphic to be fabricated. As he talks, the local shop owners come out and gather around for solidarity, more and more people join us and I can see the sadness in their eyes as they look into mine to make a connection, you don’t have to be able to speak the same language as someone to recognize the pain in their soul. This is a real community under intense occupation. The guide speaks of such horrific circumstances I find it really hard to mentally digest, tears start to dwell up in my own eyes and I do have a lump in my throat hoping now one tries to talk to me in that moment. I wonder how the guide can speak about such horrific things which have happened to his family and friends but I know he has no choice but to speak out, for him this violence is all too common and his strength comes from his struggle for a better day.

Parked car with bullet marks in the windscreen.

One thing which really shocked me was that this refugee camp comes under regular attacks from the Israeli military, mostly at night time. Israeli snipers line the roof tops adjacent to the village and are instructed to shoot various body points to disable the Palestinians, mostly children. We are told body targets are rotated, recently knees had been the target, with the aim to disable Palestinians. We are told we will meet someone who fell victim to this, I’m very glad this didn’t actually happen because I do not know if I could have dealt with this emotionally with everything else I heard. Even more disturbingly during another attack, the eyes were a target, Israeli snipers are instructed to blind the children, and all this in the name of defense? I want to point out here that the Palestinians I saw here had no means of retaliation of defending themselves even, these attacks are not in the form of Israeli security, it’s beyond sadistic. What I was was Palestinians treated less than human or even animals, I truly felt sick to my stomach.

This was all new to me, I never imagined the refugee camps would also be under occupation and attack, I thought they would be a safe haven, but I was wrong, no where is safe. The camp is full of predominately Muslims, most women where the hijab (headscarf). In fear of night raids many have now resorted to sleeping in their full clothing such as jeans in case they are ambushed at night by the IDF. This is not uncommon, it happens 2-3 times a week, we were told it happened during my stay in Palestine. Children are often taken in the night without their parents being informed – it could be the child was ‘seen’ throwing a stone and could be taken and imprisoned for up to 10 years. Tear gas canisters are also thrown into the camps, not only does this cause asphyxiation but has been shown to cause birth defects in any pregnant women in the camp. Why are they doing this? I can only assume their aim is to scare the inhabitants to leave the camp so it can be destroyed to make way for even more illegal Israeli settlements.

Water tanks all Palestinian homes need.

As we walk through the camp, we can see how small the living quarters are I can’t even imagine families living in these. Palestinian homes can easily be differentiated from Israeli homes because they have huge black water tanks on them which create eyesores can be seen on the rooftops. They need these to to reserve water as it is cut off on a very regular basis by the Israeli military and re-routed back to their illegal settlements nearby. 15% of the camp is not connected to the local public sewage system. Similarity their electricity is also limited. Due to building permits, houses are being built on top of each other.

Homes are built on top of each other.

I see all sorts of people in the community, some of the most beautiful children I’ve ever seen, some elderly, a blind man walks past the backdrop of some graffiti – there is ‘hope’. There is a lot street art and graffiti, these powerful images bring colour and life to the grey hopeless walls of the camp. They are also a form of freedom of expression and resistance. They provide a glimpse into the hopes and dreams of the Palestinians for a better future.  The walls of the camp are also covered in the faces of leader, poets, writers and martyrs. It is a way to honor the lives and memory of many of the camps residence who have been killed. Those who sacrificed their lives for the cause will not be forgotten.

The cartoon on the left is known as, ‘Handala’, it’s now become a symbol of the refugees. Created by Naji al-Ali. Handala represents Naji al-Ali at the age of 10 years old, when he was forced to leave Palestine. He represents his turn back to the world, rejecting the outside solutions. Naji al-Ali was assassinated in 1987 in London.

An international woman, walks down and chants, ‘welcome’ , I imagine she is staying in the camp as part of a volunteer program maybe to help educate the children and show solidarity, I feel proud and start thinking I am here to see but next time I would like to do more. While I was looking at volunteer programs, I did come across one where you stay in the camp, and you can also find a room on air bnb.

A group of young girls come up to me and ask, ‘what’s your name’, I tell them mine and ask them theirs, they are very happy to meet us and equally I am happy to meet them, it was a beautiful moment in which I wished I could speak fluent Arabic so I could converse more.

We are taken to a spot where a tree has been planted as a memorial for a young boy who was murdered in cold blood. He was shot in the head by a bullet which shattered into 30 pieces, his skull was destroyed into even more pieces as he died in a pool of blood on impact. An elderly lady came out to help him but saw his body and returned to her home because it was too much to witness, I imagine if that had been my mother. I would never want her to be exposed to such a graphic scene but also feeling of such helplessness. I can’t imagine this happening on my doorstop, in my home. The residents must also suffer much physiological damage from all of these raids and also depression, but there is no help for that. I don’t even know how children grow up in this environment, what must go through their minds.

That night returning to my hotel I felt very sick, my body temperature had completely dropped and nothing I could do would bring it up, I’m determined I was in a state of shock. I couldn’t attend the evening lecture, I heard it was very quiet that evening. I was so shocked by the violence towards children, I had naively believed the refugee camps would be a sanctuary, but instead it’s residence were sitting ducks to extremely violent attacks.

When asked why don’t they leave, ‘If we leave then we will be giving up, we have a right to be here, we have a right to live’. True words, why should they be scared out of their own homes, but even more to the point where would they go? Suddenly all the blessings in my own personal life flooded me, I had a spacious roof over my head, running water, it was safe to sleep at night. I didn’t have to live in constant fear of loosing my life or loosing a family member.  I became aware of my privileges and the important things in life.

Once I had returned home to the UK, I found it very difficult to sleep because it was ‘too quiet’ and the tension I felt in Palestine was no longer on my shoulders, I was ‘safe’. I imagine the children of camp are also not used to the sound of peace which is heartbreaking.

Wandering child in the refugee camp.
Mural in the camp depicting a handshake across the Israeli barrier wall, symbolizing peace between Israel and Palestine.

News links to fore mentioned activities:

Israeli Harassment of the camps:

Airbnb to stay in the Dheisheh camp:



Hebron – The Militarized Civilian ‘Ghost’ Town (My visit to Hell on Earth)

The, ‘Ghost Town’ of Palestine – Hebron

Hebron, (الْخَلِيل‎‎) – The largest Palestinian city in the West Bank.

I had heard the city Hebron mentioned a lot in the news over the years,  so I knew a lot happened there, but I didn’t know what exactly. I didn’t  know what to expect on going there but I can honestly say, it has to be the most devastating places I have ever been in my life. Surprisingly so as it is home of the fourth holiest site in Islam – the Ibrahimi mosque (Cave of the Patriarchs) is also very sacred in Judaism.

Hebron is the largest city in the West Bank, with a population of 200,000 Palestinians and under 1000 Jews, it has a special protocol not governed like the rest of the West Bank I visited which is divided up into authority areas A, B and C.

To fully appreciate it’s current state we need to be aware of an incident which occurred here. In 1994 an Israeli settler in Hebron opened fire on worshipers during prayer at the mosque killing 29  Palestinians and injuring many others. As a result of this, the area has been turned into a militarized zone to protect the 7 Jewish families living in the area from Palestinian threat – yes the irony. Instead of helping those who were affected by the tragedy Israeli authorities took two thirds of the Mosque and set Hebron as a military zone putting the Palestinians under very heavy oppression, which I witnessed myself.

I thought it was somewhat ironic, the tomb of the prophets who underwent persecution is now in a area persecuting it’s people. I ask myself what is prayer without application, have we learnt nothing? Yet on the other hand it is suffering which causes the spirit to grow, but this suffering was immense.

Being in Hebron, I almost felt guilty for taking out my SLR camera which probably cost more money than most people there have but then I felt that I needed to take some photos to share what I was seeing with the world. I had never seen Hebron presented like this in the media. A resident came out and started talking to me with tears in his eyes, he told me to take photos and to show the world what was really happening, that Israel did not want them to be there and were trying to force them out but they were not going anywhere, it was their home and they were going to stay, ‘we will never leave’. I could not believe what I was seeing, that this was actually real and allowed to happen and even supported by international governments despite violating international laws? This was the militarization of civilian villages many conspiracy theorists talk about, but this was 100% real, I was standing in the middle of it.

We are greeted by our guide, who has clearly been victim to a violent attack, over half of his face has been scarred by a skin graft and half of his hair is missing, I wanted to know his story but at the same time I didn’t dare to ask. He tells us, ‘Today I don’t want you to see Hebron, I want you to feel it’. When people tell you things like this it seems like words but when we entered, various emotions hit me very hard. I’m constantly being told I am a strong person and I do tend to put my emotions to one side when I need to focus, but what I felt in Hebron I could not control and I was not prepared for it. Many years of watching violent movies and music I thought I had been desensitized to the cruelest human infliction but when I saw things here it was real and it affected me a great deal. Usually whenever I’ve gone on a tour, I’ve been told stories of painful histories where many people have been murdered, but this time what I was being told was actually happening in real time, in fact any one of us could be shot in this moment or see someone else shot in the name of, ‘security’ and there would be nothing we could do about it. I was in an area under great injustice and the world is allowing it to happen, this really dumbfounded me, I felt helpless. I had a lump in my throat, but I wanted to be strong for the people. I knew me being here was giving them hope they liked to see international ‘tourists’, as it made them feel the world had not abandoned them entirely.

Upon entering we are subjected to crossing a military checkpoint guarded by Israeli soldiers. We have to go though barrier gates in single file as the soldiers watch from a box and press a button for us to enter. It is very intimidating, but being in a group of mixed internationals we are given some leeway, if we were Palestinian we would have had our passports thoroughly checked and possibly even denied access which happens on a daily basis if the soldiers are bored (I saw some getting a hard time, simply because of their appearance, and I could relate). There is a very strong military presence here, I see several tank like vehicles and groups of soldiers, hanging around almost looking bored. All of them are carrying M16 rifles which are semi automatic weapons made in the USA which outclass the traditional AK-47 guns. What strikes me about the soldiers is how young they are, they seem to be teenagers maybe 18 or 19, many of whom have come from outside of Israel to join the military (I met soldiers from India and Ethiopia, they are granted a good salary and life in Israel in return for blind obedience to state orders). The atmosphere is very tense, everyone is on edge, you could be shot or arrested in seconds for any reason, and this does happen, even in situations of unfortunate misunderstandings.

We went through a military office checkpoint into the mosque, a friend and I went to perform our wudu (ritual ablution before praying), the sudden contrast of the broken toilets and flooded floors to the state of the art military checkpoint we had just entered, this made absolutely no sense to me, why money was invested into ‘protecting’ a holy site but not for the holy site’s actual maintenance (not on the Muslim side anyway, the Jews have a different entrance, which I imagine to look very different). As we were given the mosque tour, I noticed I could only see tourists and hardly any Muslims inside actually praying, I later found out that mass majority of them are not allowed to enter. Even some of the survivors of the 1994 massacre also being denied entry, even the mosque staff are given a hard time on entering despite having special ID cards which is supposed to prevent any harassment. I found this really sad, the purpose of a mosque is so Muslims can pray in congregation and this gives them hope and a sense of community, here I was at this very holy site and it was being denied, as if all bits of hope were trying to be diminished.

My friend and I left the group to go and pray. Mosques should be peaceful institutions of prayer but I could not help but feel this was one haunted by its violent past, my imagination ran wild thinking of what it must have been like to be stood here during the day of the shooting. The tour continued and we re-joined the group, I hadn’t realized the tour guide and seen us and came to shake my hand, ‘I saw you praying, please pray for us’. There was a very deep sincerity in his voice. This moved me, because again it showed how much the Palestinians were grateful for our support, hope and prayers. It’s also very unusual for a Muslim man to approach woman to shake her hand esp in a mosque, and I really respected that he did that. This struggle goes way beyond common social taboos. Palestine was not like some of the other countries I have been too where there is a high Muslim majority, they are progressive in how they treat woman.

We left the mosque and entered the streets of Hebron. I saw two very young children playing with a toy truck in a rubbish dump, among dilapidated buildings, this really made me sad, I thought of the young children in my own family, no child should have to live like this, I dred to think what was even in the rubbish.

Violence has become such a normal part of everyday life in Palestine, I saw many toys and key rings in the form of weapons, guns, fighter jets and bombs. This should not be normal, but these children see it on a daily basis.

As we walk down the street it is a complete ghost town. This used to be a bustling city with many tourists now all you can see is closed shops. The military has shut them all down, even if they were open there would be very little business due to the fear of people visiting this area being harassed by the military, a joke is made that we should be fine as a group of internationals today as we have some, ‘blondes in our group’. Now all I see is graffiti, ‘fight ghost town. It’s very clear to me the Palestinian people are not poor by nature, they are having their livelihoods taken from them and driven into absolute poverty.

One of the ‘open’ shops in Hebron, an old man works as a tailor.



All of these shops have been forcibly closed down by the Israeli military.

There are many children around, if I had entered this area without any knowledge of what was going on I would automatically have assumed the military was there to protect the them, but in contrary they are here to defend themselves from the children, who Israel have declared, ‘dangerous’ think about that for a moment. This actually made me feel really sick as those any children born as Palestinians were less than children, even less than human, and seen as inferior beings, this really struck me hard, they are not even old enough to know what is going on around them, yet they are ‘guilty’. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to be born into this environment as a child. The day before had met a teenage girl who had gone to study in the USA, she told me she didn’t know what it was like to be, ‘free’ she had lived in Palestine her whole life under occupation, she thought it was, ‘normal’. This is not normal, and Hebron in particular is an open air prison. A 9pm curfew is inflicted on the residence of Hebron if they are caught on the ‘wrong’ side of the checkpoint they are not allowed to cross and return to their homes, and will most probably be arrested for being out past curfew.

Being the most ‘Palestinian / Arab’ looking of the group I am swamped by very young children trying to sell me Palestine souvenirs to make a little bit of money, they immediately ask me if I am Muslim in Arabic and appeal to this by saying it would be Sadaqah (what Muslims call a charity donation). I gave away all of my money in three different currencies, I felt it was needed here much more here than in my pocket. One of the children gave me a black bracelet with ‘Palestine’ written on it, but quickly took it back and gave me a red one instead, I guess he though it would suit a woman more and actually I’m wearing it now as I write this thinking of that child.

These children are absolutely beautiful but not a single child is smiling, they have clearly been traumatized by their reality. I was told the children did not used to beg for money, but things have changed in past few years and there is more desperation now. It saddened me deeply as I know not many people visit this area at all.

Palestinian child trying to make some money by selling key rings in the, ‘Ghost Town’ of Hebron.

Another child begins to walk with me and I give him some money, I really want the world to see so I ask him if we can take a photo together, in doing so I can see he is vulnerable, I don’t want to take advantage but I feel the world needs to see this. We are over shadowed by what was once their school that has now been occupied and turned into a military fortress, complete with barbed wires and flags of Israel, as I look up a sniper is looking back down at us with a rifle, it’s a horrible feeling. I tell the child to never give up hope and be strong, I’m not sure if he understood me but he did look into my eyes and I may have imagined he gave me close to a slight smile. I don’t even know if he has family or even both parents.

Israeli sniper on what used to be a school for Palestinian children is now a military fortress for Israel.

As we walk through the few shops which remain open, we are their only customers, I wonder how they make enough money to survive but I think perhaps the habit of going to work is a clear signal they will not give up, it gives them hope. After all they have every right to be there, this is their land. I see a man praying in his tiny shop, the floor is just big enough to place his prayer mat, I liked this image it was one of strong faith. As we walked through the streets, I could see nets had been put up on the streets between the shops, why? Israeli settlers live over looking these shops and throw their rubbish onto the Palestinians below, what a disgusting thought one human would throw their waste on another, but it happens here to such an extend a ‘solution’ had to be put in place.

We came to the checkpoint at Shuhadah street, this is an openly segregated area only Jews and non-Palestinians are allowed to pass through. Our tour guide was Palestinian therefore the military would not allow him to pass, but the rest of the group could go as we had foreign passports. As a stand of solidarity with our guide and the Palestinian people we all refused to pass the checkpoint and were wished, ‘a good day’ by the soldiers with a sense of pride that they had such authority over us. They soon became very irritated at us taking photos of them at the checkpoint. It seems Israel is very proud of having such power of injustice but as soon as you try to document it they become angry because places like Hebron are a bubble of injustice the outside world has yet to need completely see clearly.

As we turn around to take the long way around what would have been a couple of minutes walk if we had been let through the checkpoint, we saw an Israeli settler see us and gather a huge group of settlers fresh out of the synagogue to proudly intercept us on the street. They stop and make comments about the Palestinians not belonging in Hebron, then smile as they marched on past us through the checkpoint we had been denied access to. What disturbed me the most about seeing this was the last person in their group who was very young, just a boy, carried an assault rifle as if to ‘protect’ the group. Israeli settlers are legally allowed to carry weapons and shoot Palestinians, whereas Palestinians can be sentenced for up to 10 years for throwing stones, even at walls. As I attempted to take a photograph of this unbelievable scene which took me a couple of seconds to process in my mind, the boy turned to me and said, ‘no photos on Shabat’ as his gun swayed by his shoulder. This baffled me, photos are not allowed yet carrying weapons is? Most of the weapons I saw carried by Israelis were semi-automatic and were ready to use at very close range, which would only mean vast amounts of damage, there is no doubt, they are shooting to kill in the name of defense when there is no real threat from Palestinians.

Smiling Israeli settlers carrying weapons to ‘protect’ themselves against Palestinians. they were allowed to cross the checkpoint whereas we were not because we had Palestinians with us.

We went to a family home for lunch and even though I had lost my appetite the hospitality was overwhelming, as we sat in this house eating the most delicious rice dishes, I felt as though I was in the home of my aunt and uncle, it reminded me of my childhood, the furniture, the rugs all like my uncle used to have. It hit me I could easily have been born in Hebron and been living the nightmare that these people are going through everyday. I can not sit back and do nothing, if anything I will share my experiences. Lunch was quiet, we went up to the roof and again it reminded me of the rooftops of Pakistan. However one side in Palestine we saw the Ibrahimini mosque against a military backdrop and the other side we saw some soldiers harassing youths.

Maybe an hour after we had left Hebron, a 14 year old Palestinian girl was arrested for trying to stab an Israeli solider, I dred to think how long she will be put in prison for. In an area of such a high level of military control I really cannot believe a little girl would actually do this, I’m quite a fearless person at times and I would never dream of doing anything out of line in this environment, it is one in which you can not win whatever you try to do.

That night I did not sleep at all, many things passed through my mind, firstly that what is really going on here is not being shown in the media but also if it was this easy to militarize this town it could happen anywhere in the world and it’s civilians would be defenseless. I have a lot of love and respect for the Palestinians of Hebron who face this battle of the most brutal occupation on a daily basis in their own homes.