Coming home from Palestine is always emotionally wrenching for me—more so each time I spend time there. More so each time I grow closer to both the people and the places I love there. More so every time I see the new ways in which the Israeli occupying forces oppress the people there in ways that are, in fact, quite similar to what Hitler did to the Jews in Nazi Germany. There is a systematic transfer taking place, ethnic cleansing, and imprisonment of every man, woman, and child in Palestine. Some people (who have never witnessed life inside the West Bank) reading this may shocked to read such a comparison, but if you read Mein Kampf, for instance, you will see that Israeli policies and strategies are lifted from this text. Unfortunately people learn from their oppressors, from battered children who beat their children, to Jews who colonized a land and slaughtered and displaced a people in order to make their home after the same thing was done to them in Europe. It makes me sick.
Imprisonment takes different shapes inside the West Bank. For one thing, of course, there are political prisoners (750 Palestinians in Israeli prisons right now being held without charge or trial); since the beginning of this Intifada over 2,500 children (under the age of 18) who have been jailed by Israel’s occupying forces (for specific details about Israel’s policy of detention and imprisonment Addameer is a fantastic organization that makes regular reports on this subject. But with the building of the Annexation Wall, which Israel admits is creating its new border, there is a literal imprisonment as Palestinians find themselves less able to move around even within the West Bank, keeping Palestinians apart from one another and locked inside small canton-like spaces (anyone recall the Warsaw ghetto?).
When I’m in Palestine I think a lot about imprisonment. I think about it as I move freely through checkpoints, especially the one in Bethlehem, and my friends cannot. I think about it when my friends visit their family members in prison or attend their court hearing, as Sanabel’s family did the other day (but, yet again, her brother’s trial has been delayed). I also thought about it a lot after meeting with a friend at Birzeit University the other day and listening to her description of academic life in the U.S. compared to Palestine. She told me that while the main similarity is that scholars prepare for class, teach, and grade, here there is no time for research when you spend at least four hours a day trying to move through checkpoints or spend your time trying to get your students out of prison. I’ve been thinking about this a lot—about what really matters in life. Doing writing and research to try to educate people in the U.S. about Palestine or to be on the ground in Palestine doing the type of micro-activism that might make more of a real difference in the lives of Palestinians. My friend half-jokingly referred to the type of scholarly work we do in the U.S. as post-colonial s*&^, meaning that all of this time spent on theorizing the (post) colonized world is wasted time.
A lot of my time this week was spent finding Sanabel’s passport with her visa (al hamdulilah she received it the day I left) as well as working on my research. I met with people in the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Education about their language and literature textbooks, Our Beautiful Language and I also went to the Teacher Creativity Center in Ramallah where I found the most ingenious and wonderful cultural and literary texts for children. The thing I found which I am most enthralled with is a game that is just like Monopoly, but instead of basing everything on Capitalism (buying and selling property), this game bases everything on human rights. As you move around the board you have to make decisions about which rights (food, medicine, shelter, etc.) you want to keep and which you want to give up. It is the most incredible pedagogical tool for teaching human rights that I’ve ever seen.
Of course, as I look through the different books and games that Palestinian children are exposed to I think about all of the obstacles to education and all of the initiatives that people use to intervene that Palestinian children are faced with and exposed to. One particularly striking thing that happened this week was a group of teachers and students in Al Khalil (Hebron) held a demonstration when the Israeli Occupying Forces refused to let them travel to their schools.
Other news this week, although it occurred in Iraq, was quite palpable in Palestine; the kidnapping of four internationals from the Christian Peacemakers Team. This organization, which is not a missionary/proselytizing organization, has a presence in Al Khalil and other parts of Palestine, helping communities out in a variety of ways, sometimes in association with International Solidarity Movement . In fact, for the past few days there have been demonstrations in Ramallah protesting their capture and demanding their release. I was especially delighted to read CPT’s official response to the kidnapping, which placed the proper blame on the American and British government’s occupation of Iraq. One of the members of this organization, Tom Fox, maintains a Blog about the work he has done in the region.
All of these events weigh very heavily on my heart and I find it difficult to do the academic work I need to do, which right now is write a paper to present at the World Culture Forum on Tuesday at the Dead Sea. Instead I find myself dreaming of Palestine and wishing I could be there. I find myself reciting words from from June Jordan’s poem “Moving Towards Home,” with a slight variation:
“I was born a [Jewish] woman
I am become a Palestinian”
Too, glorious poetic images about Phalasteen filled my head last night as I listened to the extraordinary Mahmoud Darwish read poems out of his newest book, اوابعد اللوز كزهر, Like Almond Flowers or Further. This event and seeing a friend from Deheishe here in Amman as soon as I returned made the transition back to life here a bit more tolerable.
My photographs are finally loaded for people who want to see the evil structure that is the Bethlehem checkpoint to Al Quds.