Visiting Palestine means understanding the daily occupation

In November 2017 SCI Catalunya organized a study visit to Palestine. As a member of the MIDI group, the branch saw the need for evaluating the situation on-the-ground despite the long relationship of collaboration the organization has had with these territories. 

We were a group of 10 that included board members, staff members and volunteers. Clara, member of SCI Catalunya board, had previously travelled there - she spend a month working, which included arranging the meetings and visits of the organizations we would later meet. We were visiting partners organisation of SCI (YDA, Zajel, Baladna and PSCC) and also meeting new projects. We had only a week - for some of us it was the first time in this land so we were ready to see, meet and learn as much as possible. Even if seven days was not enough to understand the complexity of the situation, it was enough to shake you in such a way that you are no longer the same.

We visited Lifta, an example of the 600 villages that were forced to be abandoned during 1948 when the state of Israel was created.  We were guided around its partially destroyed buildings by a member of Zochrot, an Israeli organization that works for the sensibilization for what really happened in consequence of Israel's creation. They talk about the Nakba, which means "catastrophe" in Arabic, as this event forced more than the 80% of the Palestinian population to move out from their homes. Showing and organizing visits in these villages around the territory allows them to reconstruct the historical memory, make the population take responsibility and bring light to the right of return of those thousands of Palestinians that still keep their home's keys.

Next morning it was time for another tour, this time in the famous Jerusalem, where the problem is in the way it is visualized. Through the words of our Palestinian alternative guide, we learned how Israeli government deals strategically with the thousands of tourists the city welcomes every year - which is planned to increase from 3 to 10 million in the next years - to hide the reality of an occupation regime. The Old City's division of quarters - in terms of religion or ethnicity, something that has not existed forever - works perfectly with the strategy of presenting the conflict as a religious one, which “leads tourist to think there is never going to be a solution", and not as a political and economic conflict that is a consequence of the Israeli's zionist project.

That afternoon we traveled to Nablus, a city in the West Bank that was declared as “A” zone in the Oslo Agreement, which means it is a place under the Palestinian Authority control only, and you could already feel it in the air. We met some members of the Youth Development Association, an organization that works for youth empowerment along with the farmers, as the empowerment and land work is always linked in these territories. We have been collaborating with them for a long time so they received us with open arms and we did a meeting to evaluate the work camps they have done so far such as cooperation projects some years ago and workcamps and evs projects currently.

In Nablus we also wanted to meet with the members of Zajel project, which is part of the international relations department of An-Najah University. They promote the visibility of the multiple realities that exist in Palestine through local and international exchange and network-building to acknowledge and value diversity. Its promoters think that though West Bank’s population’s lack of freedom of movement, this should not mean they can’t learn about what exists on the other side of the checkpoints they are not allowed to cross too often. Part of the group met for the first time the members of Project Hope, a volunteering organisation that has existed for 15 years and has been cooperating with SCI branches for 12; they normally host volunteers for 3 months and have very different kinds of project opportunities. They first analyze the interest of the volunteer and then place them in the project that fits them better. They are also the organisers of the Nablus festival for culture, a festival that last year gathered 300 artists from 17 countries and had 1000 runners participating in the marathon they organised between check-points.

That day had only started - we had lunch on the road because they were already waiting for us in Ramallah, the “capital” of the West Bank, where two members of the Union of Palestinian Women Committees were waiting for us. They received us in their office, one of them served us a coffee while the other lit first of many cigarettes she would smoke while talking. They founded this organization defined as socialist in 1980, which meant they had been activists for almost 20 years, an experience you could tell from their words, their bodies and their eyes. They told us about the movement of Palestinian women, how the occupation intertwined with sexism and how the self-determination struggle has to go together with women’s liberation.

Later on, we had our last meeting of the day with Adameer, which focuses its work on Palestinian political prisoners. They work to give legal support to the many people that Israeli forces constantly arrest, as well as to document them in order to bring light to what they have to face during the whole process: from the arbitrarity of the arrests, several torture practices and inhumane conditions while in prison, as well as the unjust functioning of justice institutions.

It was day 4: we were just half way of the week but already had the feeling that what we had seen could not get worse, but that day we were about to see Hebron, one of the sites were the occupation shows its most cruel face. We arrived and Mohannad, a member of Youth Against Settlements was already waiting for us under the rain. He first showed us the situation in which the city, the most populated one in the West Bank, is right now: the settlers occupy most of the old city, including AlShuada street, which used to be the main street of the commercial area. This street, with its 75% of the Palestinian shops that had to closed down, is also important because it leads to the Cave of the Patriarchs, a holy place for both jews and muslims and the place where a settler in 1994 shot muslims who were praying to Ibrahim, leaving 125 hurt and 29 killed. Even though they were the victims, this event was used to increase “security” points controlled by Israeli forces, which at the end led to restrictions for Palestinians who can not access some areas. This is the reason why we ended the tour guided by a European volunteer, as Mohannad, after showing us the market, had to take another street. We met him again in the YAS office, where he explained what they do, which mainly focuses on fighting the constructions of new illegal settlements through non-violent direct action and pacific resistance, as well as documenting the human rights violations the Palestinian population of Hebron suffer on a daily basis by the Israeli army and settlers.

That same evening we travelled to South Hebron Hills, which is the southern area of the West Bank and declared zone C - under complete control of Israeli army. It was completely dark when we arrived to what used to be a village called Saroura and now it has become Sumud Freedom Camp, created and promoted by the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee. Some of these activists received us and explained that Saroura is one of the many villages that have been completely destroyed by the settlers that live in the area, whose goal is to make Palestinians leave their land. Direct attacks are frequent here because the Palestinian population is very vulnerable in a zone C context. This is why their resistance movement now has been built in the natural caves, places that cannot be destroyed and that they hope they are going to find a way to bring life back to the villages. We stayed with them that night, doing surveillance shifts around the fire so the rest could sleep a little bit. The boys I shared my night with told me they had been spending their nights there since may 2017.

The next morning we changed sites completely and we left the south to go up north until Haifa, a city on the Mediterranean coast, part of which was declared as Israel and a place a lot of people who were born in the West Bank have never seen. There Nidaa, the director of Baladna - Arab Youth Association, was waiting for us. She explained us the reality of the Palestinians who live in Israel, a situation of institutional racism and invisibility that she believes should be fought through youth empowerment. This is why we were given the opportunity to attend to a meeting of Baladna activists, to see how they normally organize.

We had only 2 days left when we went back to the West Bank, to Bethlehem specifically, to visit Aida Refugee Camp guided by another member of the PSCC. It is one of the biggest and oldest refugee camp and walking through its streets and next to the painted Apartheid wall is a way to walk through a history of non-violence resistance. A key is one of the thing that can be seen repeatedly around the streets and houses, which is a symbol of the right to return, a way to say “we still keep the key of our real homes, which we left in 1948 but we’ll go back.”

The last day arrived and that did not mean it would be less intense. We visited Beer Sheva, a city where a tech hub is being built by the Israeli government.  In their own Silicon Valley project there is no place for the Palestinian who live in the area, a population that have to face houses’ demolitions daily without any legal protection, as they live in what it has been called unrecognised villages, one of which later we would see through our own eyes.

That same afternoon we left to Jaffa, which through an alternative historical tour, we learned how it used the main Arab Mediterranean commercial cities and how it lived the process of Israel creation and occupation.

Even if I am overwhelmed by all the feelings I have inside me - partially from what I have seen and lived, partially from having to go back to Tel Aviv airport and its hostility in some hours - ending the trip by talking about the Mediterranean sea seems like the “best” way to end and, even if we discovered many many reasons why we should keep working to build more ways of collaboration with the Palestinian struggle, realizing we share a sea brings them even closer and it makes it impossible for us to look to another side.



 

Written by Mar, SCI Catalunya activist


 

 

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