For the next three months I'm taking some personal time out of Restless Beings to volunteer in Palestine with Camden Abu Dis Friendship Association (CADFA). CADFA is a grass roots organisation committed to human rights and works through establishing twinning links with Abu Dis in Palestine. CADFA promotes twinning links not as an end in itself but as an effective way to draw the human rights situation in Abu Dis to the attention of people in Camden and the wider community. During my time here I will be working with the local community centre, Al Quds University and a refugee school in Abu Dis. I have now been in Palestine for three weeks with three other volunteers; we're living and working together in a town called Abu Dis, a small suburb of East Jerusalem. Abu Dis used to be a fifteen minute drive away from East Jerusalem, home of the Dome of the Rock and the Wailing Wall, however now it takes more than an hour to get there. Why you ask- because Abu Dis has been cut off by the Apartheid Wall.
The Apartheid Wall is the 'Separation Barrier' which is being built by the Israeli government across the West Bank and Gaza. Construction of the wall first started in 2002 and it has now snaked its way across the West Bank and Gaza and continues to appropriate more land from Palestinians. Abu Dis is now isolated from East Jerusalem as the Wall has divided land, families and peoples. This means Palestinians have to go around the Wall to enter East Jerusalem which can take more than an hour. Furthermore, people from Abu Dis cannot freely enter unless they have a permit for health reasons or want to visit the mosque and are aged 50 years or more. Many young people can't visit what used to be their homes; and those that can face great difficulties in obtaining permits to enter Jerusalem.
Over the past two weeks I have been travelling all over the West Bank including visits to Jerusalem, Ramallah, Jenin, Jericho, Bethlehem and Hebron. I've met several organisations committed to working against the occupation, heard individual accounts of their struggles and seen some of the most beautiful people and landscapes ever. What is really strange here is the sense of peace you feel. Obviously there is a conflict here, but it is not how you imagine or see in western media. Our minds instantly think of soldiers, tanks, stone throwing, and guns and bullets everywhere however here you see conflict through a different lens. It's a lens of control. The Israeli's control everything and the Palestinians resist. Respect is something I have always felt for Palestinians fighting the occupation, but having met and heard personal experiences I find their resilience awe inspiring.
During my first week I visited Jerusalem and went through the Israeli terminal where a teenage girl barked orders at everyone to show their passport. You have to put your belongings through a scanner, walk through a metal gate and be stared at by armed Israelis as you pick up your things. They are cold and have no basic human compassion when talking to Palestinians or anyone. I was disgusted by them and the lack of humanity they displayed from their little glass boxes. What infuriated me further was that they were probably my age or younger, yet held so much power over me as I passed through the metal barrier. Going through checkpoints and terminals are daily chores Palestinians undertake to live their lives yet the power and control exerted over their every move is unexplainable. Nevertheless Palestinians remain resilient and strong in the face of such degrading mechanisms to control their movement.
In East Jerusalem I met Ahmed who had been shot in both legs by settlers. His child was being harassed by settlers and when he went to rescue his son he was shot. Whilst on the floor his son screamed and the settler shot the father's other leg. The father asked us why would you shoot someone again when they are on the floor helpless; why would you shoot an unarmed father protecting his child? I was on the verge of tears and looked away from his face. The father told his children the settler was in prison paying for his crime, trying to provide a sense of justice that does not exist; the children continue to see the settler walk freely pass their home. This is one of many stories I have heard about settlers targeting Palestinian families and homes in East Jerusalem. What angers me the most is their inhumanity, I can't rationalise their actions or understand what drives a man to shoot another man trying to protect their child. Settlers verbally and physically attack Palestinian children en route to school, target elderly people, throw rubbish, even faeces, at homes and remain protected and financed by the Israeli state. In Hebron there are 400 settlers and are protected by 2000 IDF soldiers. That's five soldiers per settler. The father flatly ended his story stating "animal rights in Israel are better than my rights." The injustice is unfathomable yet the steadfastness of the Palestinian people is overwhelming to witness.
In the past few weeks I've come across so many interesting people and stories which need to be heard. They are stories from ordinary people trying to live their lives as best as they can; they are stories about fathers and mothers trying to protect their children; they are stories about strength, resistance and the pursuit of peace and justice. I am in awe of these individuals that I have met and the humanity they display as they fight an occupation committed to destroying their very existence.