Friday, February 25, 2011

"Build Bridges, Not Walls"

Okay so I just reread this blog before officially posting it and it's pretty passionate - but I decided to leave it that way as it is more authentic to the way I am feeling - in fact I think I held back a lot of times just to not freak people out, and so that I may process more of my emotions before documenting them online and deciding how I want to talk with certain people about all this... so just a heads up!!

enjoy :)

The Wall and the entrance to the Bethlehem checkpoint - further explanation below...

Alright so I’ve got a wee bit of a break in between supper and our night lecture and I am already exhausted so I’m taking the opportunity to relay a teensy-weensy bit of all this to you…because I feel that it is important and I am compelled to share (well duh – wouldn’t be writing this silly blog otherwise! ;)).

First, before I begin relaying my own experiences encountering other’s daily experiences here in the West Bank (Palestine), I want to ask that you do not read this thinking that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is something isolated from you personally.  The reality is that this stirring area of the world speaks to an empire that we are all intertwined with, affected by, and a part of whether we want to be, realize it, or not.  So I ask for some empathy to this situation not as a case in and of itself, but as a harsh reality that IS actually linked to your personal sphere.  It is something hard to grasp and makes the pill a little larger to swallow – but it’s true and I needed to be open about that with you.

Before I copy and paste my thoughts from this morning: what a checkpoint is.  If you are not aware (that’s okay, we all start somewhere and this conflict between Israel, Palestine, the United States and other Western and Middle Eastern powers [and everyone else, actually] is incredibly complex – so… baby steps, baby steps).

Much of Palestine is divided into small areas by giant concrete/barbed wire walls – some around towns are completed, some are not; most of the walls divide towns and cities, businesses, farmers from their land, homes – literally separating families and friends from seeing one another (violating the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights multiple times, btw).

In order to get from one side to the other, Palestinians – at the Bethlehem checkpoint in particular; I will be going to others today) must line up and be processed through a couple of gates, showing permits (required for Palestinians to pass through and issued by Israel) more than once, going through a couple of rooms, being scanned by detectors, and being confronted by Israeli soldiers.  Every day.

Line waiting to pass through the checkpoint

Checkpoint line waiting area & the Wall

Locked in the turnstile

We went through the checkpoint this morning, though because we are “tourists” we have a special line that though still took us a while, took no where near as long as the men waiting to get out to try to catch a bus into the city where they are sometimes able to work (Bethlehem unemployment rate since the wall is something like 60/70% or something ridiculous – I’ll find out an exact stat for you though, don’t quote me on that!!).

Inside one stage of the checkpoint, with the Israeli "peace" sign torn
Here are my thoughts from this morning…

…4:45 wake-up today to make it to the check-point in time to watch the daily occurrence of how Palestinians make it in and out of Bethlehem to and from work/school/hospitals/shopping/etc.  The line was already extremely long and many men had been waiting for at least an hour at that point.  These pictures will describe more than what I could about the process of going through…

Later on we went closer to the wall, and at one point we were beside a view of the “unholy trinity”: wall/checkpoint, Bethlehem refugee camp, and just beyond it on the hilltops in the background – an established flourishing Israeli settlement.
Part of the Wall

I feel as though I am in some sort of strange movie – watching everything happen in a virtual reality.  It is eerie how so much hatred and oppression has reached such normalcy while maintaining such desperation simultaneously.  I hated standing there staring in the faces of the men I freely walked past as a Canadian tourist, who’s faces were regular faces of men (I was reminded of my Dad, brothers, and guy friends constantly while here), some laughing with each other while eating breakfast and smoking in line to the checkpoint, and some looking unimpressed with the prospect of another days work.  As much as most of them were friendly back – the guilt I felt was weird.  It shouldn’t be like this. Me being in a place of utter privilege and freedom, and “them” being so restricted, disrespected, and abused – both of us having done nothing illegal.  Almost all faces were full of sheer exhaustion – blood shot and bag-heavy eyes. I don’t know how they do it – day in, day out, having to be let in and out of their confinement for actually doing nothing wrong.  And over the years the prisons get smaller.
Inside the checkpoint - in between different stages of the process
What Chloe, Michael (a British couple who are 2 of the few people here who are my ageish – Ch doing her masters in Int. Dev. and Mikie working on his phd on Historical and political Christ – I can’t even begin to tell you how much I get along with these guys haha but I’m sure you could imagine – so glad they’re here) and I find slightly fascinating is how the graffiti messages sprawling the wall are all messages of love creative positive resistance; sayings of loving and active justice and not of hatred.  We can’t understand how after decades, these people maintain such hope and sound minds towards their condition and love towards their oppressors – let alone the sheer genius we have encountered by the political and intellectual leaders who have spoken at the lectures, led us around the city, sat with us at meals, etc..  I understand all the more the desire not to be seen as victims – an image that can weaken a people; make them appear meek and lesser when they are not – but they are equal – intellect or no intellect, and thus worthy of support.

Wall art
More wall art
Despite media portrayals, the majority of Palestinians are NOT fundamentalists and/or terrorists – this image needs to be shaken - true, the violence not ignored but the terrorism committed not only on the part of extremists from Palestine but also by the State of Israel and the United States needs to be made clear.  The wall is not only “preventing” terrorism from one group but is a very material placement and physical embodiment of terrorism from the oppressors – chokingly complete control. We are baffled by the strength of this population – and interacting with more and more of them all the time is so humbling in learning that those in the very worst situations give everything when they literally have nothing to give – and not just to the warm people around them – but to strangers and those who really quite honestly don’t deserve it.  Not to lump them all in an innocent light – none of us are – but I cannot describe enough the strength and wisdom and love of this oppressed people, and how much I (we) can learn from them.
"Build bridges, not walls!"
Watching the Palestinians be routed like cattle is creepy. I felt like I was watching something out of a Nazi movie – the movement of one group of people being controlled by a handful on power trips with their guns and uniforms.  I can’t help thinking of images of the Warsaw Ghetto, or from the South African Apartheid – realities that so many of us consider past events – which is so incredibly far from the truth. 

But the Palestinians – well some of them anyway – don’t want to be labeled as “victims”. They want shared responsibility. They want all oppressed to have hope; to hear and share stories from all sides; to love, be strong and stand together for justice.  They are not weak or lesser human beings than we are… I am actually amazed at the work that both Palestinians and Israelis who see the need for change accomplish.  Their strength and wisdom to maintain a language of love is no less than brilliant.

Understand the context of this issue on a global scale – perhaps hard for some of you who don’t know about world politics or global corporate power or history… but you don’t HAVE to know it all… compassion and empathy is the first step to sharing this responsibility.  These people are not just “others” but REAL individuals with lives and stories and hope.  But just as we desire full lives… we must not let theirs continue to be snuffed and squeezed out.

Please don’t be overwhelmed (or underwhelmed for that matter) but why I say – don’t let it freak you out….

But... maybe… let it freak you out…

Because it should.

Just because empires have always been oppressing all throughout history does not make it acceptable.  Let’s change things together from the bottom-up up.

You have a place.

International peacekeeping team, EAPPI, who help keep an eye on the checkpoints and record human rights abuses there

Israeli poster just inside checkpoint waiting area


Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Jerusalem Waking Up


Old City, Jerusalem
Israeli soldier and locals in old city...

Good Morning, Folks.

So I was able to venture briefly and quickly (unfortunately, but thankfully) through the Old City of Jerusalem this morning. Luckily I did not get lost thanks to many warnings from others that it is easy to do in the maze of passages that make up the ancient area (Although at one point I did feel like I knew where I was and took a turn down a particular street thinking I could make it a short cut, only to be informed by a local that only Muslims could enter that way – and quite clearly I am not a Muslim… so I turned around and went the normal route.

The Old City is absolutely incredible and I WISH I had more time there but am so thankful for what I’ve been given despite the time crunch.  The dynamics of the population are fascinating – sometimes subtle and sometimes obvious – there are Palestinian Christians & Muslims, as well as Jewish Israelis living here; the Palestinians who lived here before have more legal status than those living in the West Bank – much more, but the oppression is still weird to observe… but I am still trying to understand it all. At times I’d witness Palestinians talking and even joking through the Christian quarter of the Old City, and at times I’d see the tension like night and day – whether through interactions between soldier and passerby, or in the way individuals walk on the street passing one another, or in the way the wire mesh has been placed in certain areas due to rocks and garbage been thrown by Israeli’s onto Palestinians from windows above the narrow streets (I’ll post a picture of that).

I got free Falafel… the man swore it’d be better than the one in Jericho and though I didn’t believe it could get any better… he was right – but maybe the fact that it was free made it a little more delicious than Jericho ;).

Then…I made it just in time to catch my bus from the conference group in Jerusalem and into Bethlehem where I am now in the hotel… My reaction as we drove past the wall for my first time was actually not what I expected…I thought I might be quite sad, or perhaps even almost apathetic because I’d seen its image so many times in pictures and films.  But actually I was instantly extremely angry – way more than I thought I’d be and it was almost shocking I didn’t know what to do with myself.  It was strange… but that’s not to say I haven’t felt anger when encountering human rights violations before – but this was different – perhaps because I’ve had so much build up to seeing it, I know so much of why it’s there, what it represents and yet so much I still don’t know or understand… so it was just strange.  Not sure what to make of that – but the anger I’ll definitely need to keep tabs on. Obviously anger can be good if it wakes us to the wrongs of the world – but if it’s not honed it can either turn really really ugly – or in the very least people won’t listen to what you have to say if you freak out.  I’ll keep you posted.

I’ve got a few hours to kill before the conference and there are still people arriving slowly so that’s why I am able to write a little before everything gets going.  I’ve been lucky thus far in being able to keep you in the loop… so let us hope that continues :)… gonna go check out the resource room for a bit…

Wish you were here,


Dome of the Rock and Wailing Wall in the background,

It's my door thing, just can't get enough.
Shwarma :) Don't worry...I didn't eat the pita - just forked out the amazingness from the inside.
Old City, Christian Quarter
More OC
Wailing Wall - Men's side
WW - Women's side.

In the Old City. Palestinian shops and streets below and Israeli apartments above - this is the wire mesh I was talking about that they put up to guard from the stones and garbage that is thrown down from one neighbour against another.

Checkpoints into Bethlehem and the city as viewed from our hotel.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Hostel Livin'

Just want to post a little disclaimer about how much I freaking love hostels....
Honestly if we could live the way people do in hostels - so giving and friendly no matter who you are, what you look like, your beliefs, and consistently giving of food and tea and resources and sharing - gah, I am constantly humbled by people.  Last night while sitting in the same spot I encountered dozens of people in coversation, was asked if I wanted tea, coffee or wine like ten times, was given chocolate and cookies and advice in return for my own story.  And the majority of the hostels I've stayed at have been no different. Amazing.

Can I be cheesy and say let there be love?

must go.


Crazy Tourist


iight, sooo I am SUPER tired, but the internet just began working full-throttle for the time-being, and I finally have a few hours to spare for once in the past few days, AND the conference begins tomorrow so I am taking advantage of spending some quality time with Y-O-U.

(update for those out of the loop, I am currently in Jerusalem for the second night before heading to a conference tomorrow that focuses on learning about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict on ground, and the prospects of peace regarding such complicated issues.  The conference is based out of Bethlehem, but we will be going to and from other cities such as Hebron, back into Jerusalem, refugee camps somewhere (not sure where yet), etc. (if you are just dying to know where I am supposed to be at all times feel free to ask for the itinerary!

After spending 17 hours in transit, I arrived in Jerusalem last night (after a VERY interesting encounter with a Ukrainian gentleman on my first flight – ask me about it later if you want…) and jumped on an opportunity to tour Masada (one of King Herod’s fortresses), the Dead Sea, Jericho, the Mount of Temptation, the Sycamore Tree and… some other stuff, as much as I REALLY want to see more of Jerusalem – I am banking on seeing more of it a bit later in the conference where I perhaps wouldn’t have been able to experience what I did today.

Basically that’s all I’ve done thus far – no intellectual/political stuff… although I will say that because of what I knew going into Israel, and going into Palestine, and speaking to various people that live in the different places – the politics are everywhere.

I’ve only been here 24 hours and already have encountered plenty of individuals visiting on Birth Right, Palestinian locals willing to open up about their lives, and dozens upon dozens of Christian tourists here to see the Holy Land (– poor innocent souls, if only they knew).  The reactions from those whom I chose to tell the truth to about why I’m here has varied as well from cold to hot – but one thing is clear, I actually can’t wait to stop being an innocent tourist and start really diving into why I am here.

Here’s for tomorrow,

G’night and sweet dreams!


p.s. hummus and falafal are FANfreakingtastic – come dine with me :))

Flight into Kiev, my transfer city 

Posters lining the exit from BenGurion Airport into Tel Aviv

View from outside Hostel, in Jerusalem

More of the view

Breakfast - miss it, H & J? (I'd also note that the touch of Canadian in the top left was mine - don't get excited that we've extended Timmie's influence that far ;))

The Dead Sea, viewed from Masada

View from the fortress, you may note the mountains in these pictures - all are from across the Dead Sea and are the shores of Jordan.

Jewish Birth Right trip group

Israeli sign where we were floating in the dead sea...

I had as difficult a time as this guy - the rocks are SO sharp from the salt plastered to the rocks... you can kind of see the blood running down my feet onto my ankles from them!

The wretched but wickedly cool looking rocks.

Moi nursing my bleeding feet in the salt water


One exciting thing I discovered was this man with his shirt up - the phenomena of pot-bellied men rubbing their bellies has made it from China, to Macedonia, and down to the Holy Land - I am at the point of no longer even being shocked when I see one.

At the entrance to Jericho - Palestinian key representing the keys and deeds many still hold to their demolished homes and taken land.  The words on this key say "We Will Return"

 View from the Mount of Temptation - these guys were picking up garbage on the way out of this ravine - don't know why they were there..

Palestinian tourist artisan - pretty neat, had a sweet convo with him.

Greek Orthodox Monastery built into the caves of the Mount of Temptation.

In Jericho

Palestinian flag. 

Ruins with smoke from a few explosions - DON'T WORRY Mom, I really don't think it was dangerous!

Polish friends I met and had a little birthday party with for their Grandma :)

Banana Farm that I wandered off to peek around.

Fabulous Fresh Falafel 

Sycamore tree - over 2000 years old... apparently the tree Zacchaeus climbed..

This Much I <3 You