Wednesday, July 6, 2011

"a people cannot be oppressed forever"

It's so much harder than I thought it would be, trying to put this into words--I said on facebook that my time in Israel/Palestine was so much more than I had imagined--by which I meant, mostly, anything I could imagine would not compare to the actuality; to being there, in the very place, seeing with my own eyes. So, I very much doubt that anything I write will do justice to the experience. But ... I'll try.

As you may have gathered from my last post, I went with a heavy heart, sick with despair, hardly daring even to think I might find any reason for hope. Now, two weeks later, I have become a witness to the stunning resilience of the human spirit.

I had heard much about how the Palestinian people suffer under the occupation--and of course, we all know that many have thrown stones, a small minority have turned to terrorism, and growing numbers are choosing non-violent forms of resistance. But having heard all that in the news is nothing like walking the streets of a refugee camp in the West Bank, guided by one of the residents, a man whose father was shot and killed by Israeli soldiers for trying to cross the street--a man whose friends and neighbors told him he had every right to become a suicide bomber, but who chose instead to "use the power of pain" to work toward a just peace.

He tells us that even though they are in "Area A," supposedly under full Palestinian control, they are still subject to curfews; many roads, including a main thoroughfare through the middle of the camp, are for Israelis only; soldiers regularly come on raids; the Israelis keep water and electricity cut off much of the time--but he says to us, a group of fifty Americans, if we want to help, "Do not send food or water; what we need most is education. We need education so they will see us as human beings."

We heard this from the lips of virtually every Palestinian we talked with: "We want to be treated as human beings."

It was absolutely incredible to me, the patience with which they spoke--about situations that have me boiling over with rage--they seemed to have a calm determination--as exemplified in the matter-of-fact statement of Palestinian Authority cabinet member Nabeel Shaath, "We know that we will win, because a people cannot be oppressed forever."

Here is a sign I really liked at a community development center in the Dheisheh refugee camp.

The guy at the center was telling us that when they were constructing the place, Israeli soldiers came in the night three times and destroyed the place. They had planned to just call it the Dheisheh Community Center, or something like that, but because they had to keep rebuilding it from ruins, it's now called the Phoenix Center. Someone in the class asked why the Israelis would want to destroy a community center. The response: "That is my question! They usually don't give a reason ... We are in Area A, but it is controlled by the Israelis."

Salaam li'l Quds - Peace for Jerusalem
(with thanks to Vicki Tamoush, for translating!)

Anyway, I thought that was such a brilliant image: the phoenix--no matter how hard the powers-that-be try to crush the people's spirit, they will rise again.

"A people cannot be oppressed forever."


whitethoughts said...

Thank you so much for sharing some of your experience. I feel badly that I haven't written up any of my own discussions with Jordanian Palestinians or shared my experiences in the camps of refugees and displaced persons. The question of Palestine is never far from anyone's mind here, and how it is resolved, including the right of return has important implications for all of Jordan. Like you, I am continuously humbled by the patience, forbearance, and generosity of spirit displayed by those most hurt by the occupation. PS - could that word be "borrow" or "loan" (al quras) ?

Virgie P. said...

Thanks for the comments, Jill! Whatever happened to your blog? Share, share your insights!

Y'know, I also mistook the dal for a ra--Vicki Tamoush to the rescue: it's "salaam li'l Quds": peace for Jerusalem.