<                    Report Two                    >

“From my inside I find there is hope, because occupation can't stay forever”
Experiences of Occupation: Palestinian and Israeli Students and the Situation in Gaza


It is hard for me to give a travelogue of yesterday. I am, after two days, feeling what C.S. Lewis called “foot sore weariness.” It has little to do with the condition of my feet (or my aching knees); but it is a deep weariness for the people of this land. I can make easy conclusions and offer vague recommendations, but I would show my foolishness in doing so. The anger and frustration of the voices I heard cannot be taken lightly. It is interesting that our day began with students and ended with students.

We began by travelling to Birzeit University near Ramallah. There are 8,000 students who study at Birzeit. In spite of being closed for periods of up to several years during each Intifada (uprising of Palestinians in 1987 and 2000) the school has continued to educate Palestinian young people.

The students we met with were Palestinians, and although it is not pertinent to the issues, both were Christians. They were both from the Bethlehem area, which is no more than 40 minutes away. But that distance and time is stretched into hours winding around a wall that blocks direct roads, and checkpoints that offer harassment and delay. One of the students said, “I am dead. When I get here I have nothing left to give of myself.” I cannot presume to understand her struggle, nor can I judge her anger. I think she was expressing as she best could the internal work she does each day. She and her fellow student gave us a tour of the campus and classrooms at Birzeit.

In the evening we were joined by 3 students from Hebrew University here in Jerusalem. These three wonderfully spirited students represented a variety of Israeli positions. They described themselves as holding positions to the "right", "left", and "leaning left." All three of these young people had served in the IDF (Israel Defense Force). They felt it was their privilege to serve. One of them said, "Being in the army was a national mission." They were genuinely troubled by the struggle in their homeland. Their views and concerns were about their own security and the struggle and pain of the Palestinians. It was an open and honest conversation which at times was painful for all of us. Click here for photos of the students we met.

It is hard for me to find my way through the feelings I am experiencing here. Yesterday afternoon after visiting the Friends (Quaker) School in Ramallah we had some free time to wander the streets of this bustling Palestinian city in the West Bank. I felt quite obvious in the midst of the beautiful dark hair and eyes. Most of the women wore long dresses with long sleeves and head scarves. They were beautiful in the variety of colors and embroidery. I sat for a long time at a coffee shop trying to find words to express to express what I am experiencing. In the middle of the night I woke up with the following words in my heart:

Arab and Jew

There are layers of hurt and hate
as deep as the soil.
Blood runs; mingling as it enters
the trough of history.
Righteousness is not right;
it builds barriers, solid as stone.
Angry defiance fails to heal
the miasma of misery.

This ancient battle born of
common parents, a sort of
sibling rivalry gone bad;
seeps through the centuries,
leaving a wake of prisoners.
It breaks open the heart
of the land; a cardiac incident
on the edge of fatality.

The fuel of this dissonance
is rich with mutual interference.
Fights within soar until they are
flights into futility and sorrow.
The pursuit continues,
down winding roads;
and deepening tunnels
seeking the soil of reconciliation.

--Martha Honaker

The People Who Speak in Poetry

Today we visited a Palestinian place of study, Birzeit University, in the West Bank. Here we met Ghassan Andoni, a Christian Palestinian who is Professor of Physics at the university and co-founder of the International Solidarity Movement. We also met two students, and a member of the administration staff.

I felt at home in the university. The inside of the buildings felt similar to British Universities - long corridors kept cool by their marble floors, administration offices bustling with secretaries making phone calls, classrooms with the last lesson's diagram still on the blackboard.

Students here are committed. Many of the students live in Bethlehem - a 30 minute drive away. Yet the separation wall between the West Bank and Israel means students have to go the long way round, a journey that takes at least an hour. If students are stopped at one of the 93 checkpoints in the West Bank at the whim of a moody Israeli soldier, the journey can take 3-4 hours. One American professor at the university was forcibly held at a checkpoint for 3 hours whilst an Israeli soldier read the sports section of the newspaper that the professor was carrying.

Given the harassment and violation of dignity that Palestinians are subject to on a daily basis, it is an amazement that they are able to stand at all. Yet not only do they stand, but they stand tall, they stand on the soldiers of giants. According to UN statistics, Palestinians are the most educated people in the world.

Still, it is not easy for them to sustain this upright pose. Asked what hope she has for the future, the female student replied: "What future?"

Then, speaking in English, her second language, poetry flows from her lips. She speaks from her heart:

"I can't feel anything here. I can't give anything. I can't give feelings. We are dying everyday. We are dead. That's it."

Every paragraph she speaks is punctuated with "That's it". That's it, there's nothing more, we have searched so far for peace, how can we continue searching, where can we find hope for ourselves, let alone hope to share?

"It's like we are pushing a wall," she says. "Everyone is depressed. Everyone is down. How can we give?"

The administrator, though, speaks up to disagree. He has hope. It took him 11 years to complete his studies for an MA in sociology because of the difficulty of getting to university. Somehow, he still manages to believe that a better future is possible. Like the female student, he speaks in poetry:

"From my inside I find there is hope, because occupation can't stay forever." He pauses a moment, allowing his words to permeate the room. "Occupation can't stay forever. No way."

Palestinians are dying inside with the pain of oppression, yet their hands are open for peace. What can I do to fill these open hands with the peace they so deserve?

--David Masters

This originally appeared on the FoR-UK blog.

Sderot & Erez

We left the hotel this morning at 8am for a journey south to Gaza and surrounding Israeli communities. As you go south from Jerusalem the land grows more and more arid. Orange trees were in abundance and, although we could not see it until later in the day, the Mediterranean Sea was just off to the right of our bus. We are travelling in a small bus with just about enough seats for our 20 person delegation plus our bus driver, Assam, and our guide Said . These two Palestinians are wonderful men, generous and PATIENT! We are forever asking for bathroom stops! Assam has performed some maneuvers with the bus that I would have never thought possible. Last night coming home from Ramallah Said decided it would be quicker to get to Jerusalem if we did not have to stop at a checkpoint where we would have to get out and have our documents checked as well as pass all our belongings through a metal detectors. So Assam turned around and took us on a wild ride along the barrier wall. We passed through the next checkpoint with smiles and a wave.

When we arrived at Gaza today (not knowing that 4 Palestinians had been killed on Wednesday in a clash with IDF) we visited the Erez Checkpoint. This is a huge complex. In the past, Erez was the major crossing point for people going into and out of Gaza. The wall is prominent with guard towers at intervals. We knew the checkpoint was closed but wanted to take some pictures.

Overhead hung a huge Israeli drone. It looked like a big white fish hanging in the sky. It monitors activity in Gaza and allows the residents of the nearby cities and Kibbutzim to have a warning about the rockets. As I stepped out into the sunlight to take a picture a man with a huge camera stepped in front of me and took my picture. I said (without thinking), “Who the heck are you?” It turns out that he is a reporter with the BBC. He and his fellow reporters had been at the checkpoint for 6 days trying to get into Gaza to report. These guys were so glad for some action that they immediately jumped to action. Basically we took pictures of each other taking pictures! Click here for a photo.

Israel has pulled out of Gaza but closed the borders. It has created a humanitarian issue within the Gaza. People and especially children are malnourished from lack of food. Medications and other medical supplies are almost non-existent. The UN has been taking food and medicine into Gaza but the relief is not enough and anger and frustration is rising within.

After leaving Erez, we visited two kibbutzim (one urban and one rural) which are very close to the border with Gaza. There we heard about residents’ work, their hopes for the future of Israel and their work to reach out to residents of Gaza. For me it was an example of the work of reconciliation. These Israeli Jews were involved in small ways of making peace. Some might think that their concern for the people of Gaza was superficial or “too little, too late.” I thought they were incredibly honest about the struggle to reach out while under the anxiety of rocket attacks. It seems to me that in this conflicted land, any attempt for reconciliation needs to be appreciated and honored. While we were at the kibbutzim Israeli military jets flew low over the area. I kept wondering how it would feel to be a citizen of Gaza with the jets flying low over them. The anxiety among the people of this area, both Israelis and Palestinians, has to be debilitating over a long period. We heard about how it affects both children and adults and it is, no doubt, a contributing factor to the overall conflict.

I felt drained when we got back. Usually a cup of tea and dinner settle and relax me but I am having a hard time sorting myself out. We have very little time to process the events we are exposed to. I am a slow processor for sure and group processing in a group as large as ours is not effective for me. I feel like I need a day of silence to “begin” the work – overall it will take months for me to really make sense of what I am experiencing

---Martha Honaker

Both of Martha's pieces originally appeared on her blog.



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