Palestine

MY truth about Palestine – Exploring the Emotional Complexities of Stepping into the West Bank as a Foreigner

I have poured my entire soul into this piece of writing; it was emotional to revisit these points which will never be removed from my heart. We are living through an abomination in world history, ironically during the information age we are trying to be silenced. With some hesitation, but determination to share, this is my most controversial commentary; This is MY TRUTH about Palestine.  

The ‘truth’ is relative to perspective; this is why I call this, ‘MY’ truth based on my travels to the West Bank, Palestine. My journey formulated from very naive beginnings, I had no idea of the plethora of emotions which would bombard me as a result of my experiences. I learnt so much from absorbing the atmosphere, simply by just being there and I can tell you many things were not said with words, but were felt by behavior and expressions.

I debunked many misconceptions. The first thing I learnt in contrary to popular belief was that not all Palestinians are Muslims. I met many Christian and even Atheist Palestinians. There are a high majority of Muslims who reside in Palestine, but it is not a Muslim state. In fact what blew my mind and I felt very ignorant for not realizing was that the Holy city of Bethlehem (birthplace of Jesus pbup) is actually in Palestine. Jesus was Palestinian, this was profound to me as the theme of persecution prevails. Christians speak Arabic and Muslims can speak Hebrew, language and ethnicity is all interchangeable to beliefs.  There were also different degrees to which each individual chose to practice their religion, everyone is given the choice to follow religious doctrine however strictly they want, hence there were Atheists living in the Holy Land. Meeting people from both Israel and Palestine all I really saw was people – men, women and children, all human beings. Religion was never mentioned to me as part of the struggle, not by a single person I talked too. I was in a place where people believed in different things but it was never a reason to not be someone’s neighbor or friend, this was only due to one thing – the enforced occupation. I felt the saturation of religious individuals meant there was a much deeper understanding of each other e.g. everyone knew the streets may be quiet because it was Shabbat, and it was common knowledge mosques painted onto houses means that family had been on Hajj to Mecca. To me in general this seemed like a lot of respect for each other’s faith if left alone to its own devices because there was unification in the belief in the higher power of God. Religion was not something that divided the people, in fact it was something they held onto, to unify them. I personally did not see faith as the cause of rivalry, but in fact a pillar of hope.

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I learnt a lot about myself as a person by spending time in Palestine. I saw the occupation taking its toll on vulnerable communities, indiscriminate of whether they were elderly, women or children, Palestinians were not regarded or treated like fellow human beings. This broke my heart. It made me angry, VERY angry, I felt hate. I didn’t know whom I hated exactly, probably the institution. I didn’t know how to deal with my mixed emotions, – disbelief, disgust, anger, shame, helplessness and sadness. At no point did I feel hatred towards the Jewish people I know this is far more complicated than that of religion which I have already stated. I have stood beside many Jewish organizations such as, ‘Jews for Justice’ shoulder to shoulder on rallies for justice of equality. I have many Jewish friends whom I love and respect, to generalize them would be the same as someone labeling me a terrorist for being a Muslim, it does not make sense, those that fall into these categories do not represent the majority of both religions. I felt that these ‘differences’ in communities were being exploited to fuel the fire of disagreements. It is a sad fact that religion is often exploited by political even colonial agendas and used to wedge a divide between the people which never existed, and of course the media is right then often fueling it.

People born in to this environment had been conditioned, which comes back to the point of perception. If children are raised to believe a group of people are the enemy the seed of animosity is implanted in them from a young age and they do not question this because of the constructs of society. I clearly saw this in the young Israeli military personnel I spoke to, they had a God Complex given such power over all things and people. Even young Israeli civilians proudly carried semi-automatic weapons through the streets as though they were invincible and couldn’t be touched. Simultaneously Palestinians have had their land taken, education and livelihood destroyed, family members and friends tortured and murdered, they felt demoralized. I spoke to a young Palestinian lady who managed to study abroad and she told me she never knew what freedom was until she left Palestine, she had been so used to living under the occupation she thought it was normal. I was immediately overcome by a sense of shock at what a privileged life I was living, this really put a lot of things into perspective for me. I realized how fortunate I was for my freedom, I was grateful and asked myself why we should allow their society be governed in such an unethical way? But those who do speak up against actions of the institution of Israel are instantly labeled as Anti-Semitic and this is used to close any dialogue before it’s even started. Similarly anyone supporting the human rights of Palestinians are labelled terrorist sympathizers, it’s a catch 22 situation.

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I felt ashamed of being British, the situation today is due to the actions of the colonial regime by the British Empire, or perhaps I was just ashamed to have led such a privileged life and to had not done anything with that privilege to help others. In contrast I was not treated as a British citizen on arrival at the airport because of my Pakistani heritage, which also made me question my own identity, something that I often struggle with. This identity crisis is something the Palestinians also must deal with on top of dealing with the occupation, culture is also contributing factor to their daily lives. I understood the situation a very complex one, and one which cannot be discussed without addressed each factor. I also acknowledged I was merely a visitor to this hell on Earth, and that I would be leaving but the families I met would have to face this reality every day, that was also very difficult to deal with.

By the end of the week something changed within me. I realized the Palestinian people have to adapt to this environment, they live it without escape and cannot let hate consume them, it was wasted time and energy. As humans we can build great resilience through challenging times and hardships, but to impose such burdens onto children with developing minds and little room to create a physiological baseline before trauma is not right, it’s not fair. These families are made up of civilians, not military personal trained to resist mental and physical torture, every day is psychologically and emotionally suffocating. I thought years of desensitization through watching violent movies and music would have prepared me for my experiences but, it was one thing after another, layers and layers of oppression, disrespect and unnecessary violence and humiliation. There was no way my mind or heart could justify any of it. Living under a very complex and heavy occupation, coupled with religious and cultural expectations, they only wanted equal rights and the opportunity to co-exist in peace. I was completely blown away that they insisted on using methods of non-violent resistance and I could not comprehend that this was even needed for their basic human rights in the 21st century, where are all the International organizations and laws to protect them?

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The many layers of oppression have been used to manipulate divides within the Palestinian communities as well as unite them. As a result, they are some of the most hospitable people I have ever met, I received a very warm welcome into Palestine. I had lunch at many homes where I felt like I was visiting family, it reminded me of my childhood memories. I couldn’t even speak the same language as a few people I met but we made an instant connection on being human, first and foremost we all knew what pain and suffering felt like but we also knew love. I recognized they were suffering and they fully appreciated the fact I was there to experience what they were going through in the flesh. I was here to take their stories back to the rest of the world. I don’t believe the media is representing the situation in a non-biased format, the extent of the suffering I saw with my own eyes is not being shown by the media.

Why should we care in the West? If empathy for our fellow human beings is not enough, and I understand everyone has their own issues and would rather focus on their own lives than those across the world, but we need to acknowledge globalization is bringing us closer to cause and effect. Injustices will slowly globalize. We are living through an abomination in world history in the information age we are trying to be silenced, it does not matter who you are, your race, gender, sex, religion or sexuality if you were a victim of the oppression then we are all in it together, we are family and we must fight for our freedom together.

 

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