Day 5 – I will never understand why…
Posted: February 26, 2014 in Field Research Diary
Good morning Beit Sahour!
Today was our last day waking up with a beautiful sunshine covering the view from my our windows. Wish we did not have to leave yet. There are so many things we did not have the chance to see yet and I was already missing this place. As all good things come to an end so did our trip but I promise I’ll come again.
We had breakfast and went to Bethlehem to get a service cab to Hebron. We have been told that they only way we can understand Palestine is to see the Hebron as that is the only place where Palestinians and Israeli live together.
What we found out as soon as we got there is that by “living together” they did not mean getting along, as the hate between the two nations is emphasized here more than anywhere else. Our taxi driver roughly told us where to go, but most of the time we were guided by people on the street. Our plan was to cross the main Palestinian market towards Abraham’s mosque in Jewish side of the city.
For the first hundred meters the enthusiasm of the sellers were overwhelming, I have covered my head, but no matter how much we tried not to stand out in the crowd, we were not common faces in that area and people knew that. We have been invited for coffee and tea, always lured by the “best price” for everything.
Day 4 – Wish I could change the reality!
Posted: February 26, 2014 in Field Research Diary
We woke up quite early again, but very tired. The plan was to work on our blog before we go so we make sure we don’t lose and information, but as soon as we had our breakfast we left the house. It was the first time we were going to see a refugee camp and those who recommended the place could not describe what we were going to see. If in the previous days we walked a lot, today we have decided not to waist anymore time and get a cab to the Camp. We have already gotten used with the place and we did not think we would find anything too different but I was shocked to see an Israeli Army car for the first time. I was scared enough not to take any pictures when we passed by just to make sure I would not give them any reason to use the guns they were holding on their shoulders. As the cab took a turn, we stopped at the entry of the refugee camp and I saw several kids running around. Dan, an american journalist was the one who invited us to see the camp and he was taking pictures of the soldiers when we arrived there. He introduced us to some of the kids and one young teenager, speaking very good English that lately became our guide.
This form of activism came as a response to the death of a teenager from Aida camp. I have been told that he was shot by Israeli soldiers on his birthday. The members of the camp have started to fight back and have found a way to melt concrete by burning tires. They managed to burn this tower, but it was immediately fixed by Israeli soldiers. Thus, their response was useless and highlights their lack of power.
Throughout the camp a Palestinian grandpa gave us a shy smile while at the corner of the street a child calls me and shows a happy face for the camera.
There is not enough land to spread the neighborhood, so refugees started to build unsafe structures by adding new floors for future families.
Gas bombs left overs, little water and poor living conditions did not only left me heartbroken but also frustrated I can not do much to change the situation. On the other side of the story people here are friendly and they always find a reason smile. There are supported by different organisations which organize activities for the children. I was impressed by how a powerful hope to return is sent from generation to generation as the refugees kept the keys of the houses they had to leave. The key became a symbol to keep the story of Palestine alive.
We left the camp towards our house as this experience was too much for one day. we walked all the way back through Bethlehem and non of us was saying too much. Personally, this experience made me reanalyze my situation and think about the conditions I live in compared to theirs. As the guys had scheduled to research some sport activities, I have decided to attend a conference organised by Alternative Youth Organisation where an Israeli journalist talk about the current situations in Palestine.
Further info will follow.
Tomorrow, the last day. We are going to see the “war zone” of Hebron.
Day 3 – Tell me more about yourself!
Posted: February 25, 2014 in Field Research Diary
On our third day, getting ready earlier than the guys became my new habit. Today we were having a complicated schedule starting with confirming our interviews and arrange the meetings with our two artists. Mohamed Najem (musician) and Amer Shomali (artist) were not easy to get hold of, both famous for their work and amazingly proud of their nation.
Mohamed Najem is a clarinet musician living in Ramallah, with background studies in France. Dafer, our friend from ATG was the one that put us in touch with him and after being politely refused by Mohamed, he helped us explain our interest and make sure we were going to meet him. We contacted Mohamed while we were still in UK and he would only accept to give us an interview as long as he would not be compared or associated with Israeli artists or Israel in general. This was a strong desire of keeping the principles he follows and I happened to notice that this reactions are quite common in Palestinian communities. Personally, I completely understood his point of view, admired his passion and was very eager to convince him to talk to us. Finally, we made sure his requirements will be fulfilled and as soon as he accepted we saw ourselves in the service car towards Ramallah.
One thing I have learned for sure is that taxi drivers in Palestine are fearless and that every junk could be driven at 120 kg per hour regardless the circumstances.
As soon as we arrived, Mohamed took us to a lovely place for an Arabic coffee, and I soon as I read the honesty and sensitivity in his eyes every time he spoke about his country I knew for sure our efforts were worth.
After spending a few hours with Mohamed we meet Amer Shomali, multitasking artist, originally from Beit Sahour but currently living in Ramallah. His degreed in Architecture and Animation from Palestine and UK, along with the love for home land pushed him to pursue a free lancer career.
Both devoted to their work, besides sharing the same nationality they also share the will same will for a free Palestine. I consider both of them activists and role models for future generations, but will not get too much in detail as we will talk about the interviews in our future posts.
As for the rest of the day, we have decided to observe and analyse a daily life in Ramallah as this can be considered the youth capital of Ramallah. For a population of 80% Arab Muslims, the social life and fashion is completely different from other cities in Palestine. The city square could be easily mistaken as one from the Western countries if it wasn’t for a different dress code of Arab women. Decent but stylish, long skirts of trousers combined in a colorful way with an elegant hijab covering half of the hair. Cafe Shops at every corner, loud music from Shisha lounges and youngsters rushing create and unique atmosphere inviting you to join the discourse.
We got home quite late and very grateful to arrive safe as our journey back was worse than any other journey with a Palestinian cab..
Tomorrow, we are going to visit our first refugee camp in Bethlehem, Aida Refugee Camp.
Day 2 – Take me to Jerusalem!
Posted: February 24, 2014 in Field Research Diary
Last night we decided to wake up early to have breakfast and leave to Jerusalem by 10am. Believe it or not, I am the only girl in our group of three and I was completely ready at 9am, while the guys took another 45 minutes to come have breakfast.
By 12pm we finally got a cab towards Check Point 300, one of the most feared in Bethlehem. After paying the 30 Shekel we were left at the edge of West Bank facing The Wall.
Israeli call it protection, Palestinians call it injustice, we consider it could perfectly describe Foucault’s panopticon effect of the all seeing surveillance, controlled by the Israeli government.
The check points are the only way out towards and Israeli only territory and stands as the modern form of prison. In order to pass the checkpoints you have to follow the bar made tunnel, into different dark and dirty rooms, with walls painted in “Israeli blue” and signs written in Arabic and English showing the directions to the scanner. The scanner is exactly like any other in the airport, where you put all your belongings on a trail (bags, shoes, coins or any other metal) go through the scan and collect your things after and Israeli authority has checked them. Finally, you have to show you passport at the last gate register your fingerprint and wait for the officer to allow you to pass.
My European passport got me through the gate without any problem, but this is rarely the case if you own an Arab document.
Shocked, I passed the Check Point and was barely able to hold my tears for the thought that this is a daily routine for a Palestinian. There are absolutely no exceptions for the Arab nation and this includes going to work, schools, or even hospital.
Moreover, if you want to pass the Check Point by car, the situation becomes worse, because every car must be inspected by armed Israeli soldiers and as an Arab you really need to have a good reason to ask for permission to go to Jerusalem. Everyone but Palestinians can enter the city at any time.
One the other hand, gates are always open for when you want to come back.
From Check Point 300 we walked to Jerusalem (Old City) for more than 2 hours, noticing more and more the shift of the culture. We could not see anymore Arabs on the streets, the sign boards were only written in Hebrew, no more soldiers patrolling on the street and traditional Jews following their daily routine.
First we went to see Al Aqsa, where despite the fact that I was wearing the appropriate clothes and my head covered they have not allowed me to enter the mosque. Three Israeli guards, were standing at the entry in the Holy Land and they only allowed Muslims, somehow mocking and promoting an extremist Islam that does not accept any other religion. While in reality, the reason behind it had nothing to do with me personally, nor with my religion but due to the latest attacks of the mosque tourists were only allowed to visit on specific hours.
On the right side of the mosque, a different culture and religion were practicing their customs. Through several tunnels in the heart of Jerusalem, we found the Jewish wall where I was lucky to meet 3 Jewish girls who shared a few things about their religion.
People rarely hate each other here, either Jews, Christians or Muslims, but society has been constructed in such a way that makes all three of them fall apart in different discourses.
Day 1 – Welcome to Palestine!
Posted: February 23, 2014 in Field Research Diary
Was the first conversation that we had with an Israeli authority who seemed quite intruded by our multicultural group of three.
I am sure the Israeli authorities wanted to know why a black, a Muslim and an East European (all of us with strong features of our background) call themselves a group. Unfortunately for them, we could not answer all their questions as we have been advised to share very little detail to avoid any interpretation or reason not to let us enter the country. I was the first one at the border, confidently telling the officer how I came to visit Bethlehem and Jerusalem for 5 days. She seemed very kind, but instead of giving me my passport with the visa she showed me a room in the corner of the airport and sent me there to get my passport.It did not take me long to realize I was taken for interrogation and there is no way to explain what went through my head while I was going towards it.I went there, sit and saw Nathan and Jay passing the border. . All this time I was sitting alone in a room hearing and Israeli authority shouting at an Ukrainian woman until she started to cry. That was when I started to think of all the bad things I have ever done and was pretty sure they just want to find a reason to send me back to UK. After spending 2 hours there I finally got in their office and tried to be as innocent and honest as possible.Several questions later I was given my visa and left the room embarrassed, even though I have not done anything wrong.
In the next 5 minutes we were in the cab on our way to Beit Sahour. On our way we crossed New Jerusalem and Bethlehem, with an architecture and design that stand out immediately and show a direct connection with Mussolini’s concept of white. Power and memory was highly emphasized by the Zionist constructions on top of every hill with the Arabic houses at the button, occupied but with no one living in them. It made me feel angry because obviously there is enough land for both nations as long as people agree to share. That is the problem according to our Arab taxi driver who lives in Jerusalem. Rules here are strict for Palestinians only, who are not allowed to travel freely nor to visit their families from Israeli territories. Forests burned, houses abandoned and people frustrated by the situations made my first opinion of a sad powerless country.
Nevertheless, it only lasted until we reached the house we were going to live in and meet the lovely family who gave us a proper Palestinian greeting with their lovely house and food. Right after we went to sleep for four hours as we had so much on our schedule.
Around lunch time we meet Dafer from Alternative Tourist Group, our advised and new friend. He introduced us to the local Scouts Group, 30 lovely Palestinian children with whom we worked for the following 2 hours. We wanted to understand how they perceive their country behind all the aspects should in the media so we organised and activity we called “Know my country”. Everything was based on drawing (both from them and us) and I am pretty sure the fun part from them was when we shared the sweets we brought from UK.
From a political point of view, there is no Palestine, as everything is under Israeli government control, but I have not seen anything related to Israel in any of the 30 drawings I have analysed. I can not tell how much they enjoyed our presence but I loved each and every one of them.
To make sure we had a productive day we added up our first derive task, “Treasure Hunt in Bethlehem” which turned out to be the most soliciting and exhausting thing I have done in the past year. Please find details about it the previous posts.
We closed our day with attending a basketball game between Beit Sahour and Palestine’s number one, had our dinner and went to sleep early:)