Saying the final goodbyes was very difficult. It had seemed us leaving took everyone by surprise – when they heard we leave on Wednesday it was like “What?! Why?” As if that was us living in Bethlehem now and never leaving! I think this is a reflection on how people live in Palestine; it’s very much a day by day way of life with not much thinking ahead or planning for the future. I suppose this is a survival mechanism, with the unpredictable behaviour from the occupation there is only so much planning can be done as it could all be in vain.
We had a lovely last day going souvenir shopping, having ice cream, falafels, Kunafeh (delicious Palestinian dessert) with different friends we had made during our time. It was like the long goodbye with different groups of people coming to meet us throughout the day; someone suggested we should have had a party with the amount of friends we made we could have! It got me thinking of the many different types of people we had got to know. Such a wide range of personalities coming from many different backgrounds and yet our paths crossed in Bethlehem; for which I will be forever grateful. The people have made this trip so so special and I don’t think they even know it. From the older man in the local shop who sold us our nightly treats and tried to teach us Arabic, the wee boy who sold me my water every morning; our standard 5 word conversation had become a daily routine! The young man who used to tell me his dreams to travel while cleaning the office I worked in – he also works in an ice cream shop beside us and kept us going with regular free ice creams (note all the food references – I am coming home a few pounds heavier thanks to this!). A little girl in the refugee camp who had the biggest smile on her face when she seen us coming up the hill; every time she ran into our arms shouting HI!!! We smiled and hugged then she said an equally excited BYE!! And went on her way! The friends we made taught me so much in so many ways. My Palestinian sister Dana answered all the ridiculous questions I had and also added more info giving me the full picture. Dana and her sisters became like family to us – a group of young woman who love make up, talk about men and ate ice cream. No different to my group of friends at home, just born in a different part of the world. I will miss every single person so much and look forward to seeing them again in the not so distant future.
On our last morning before we set off to Jerusalem we visited Dheisheh refugee camp one last time. This area felt like home, very rarely a day went passed where we weren’t in the camp and when that did happen we missed it so much and couldn’t wait to go back. Any person we passed in the camp says hello; some ask how we are, some invite us into their house for dinner! The most loving and welcoming people I have ever come across. We met with some of the children and young people we had been working with and were given t shirts by the staff of Ibdaa cultural centre before getting a big goodbye send off. It’s crazy how within just a few weeks such special connections can be formed. Most relationships we made had a language barrier so vocal communication was limited but this didn’t matter at all. Smiles, nods, laughs, gestures, dance, song; being present in each other’s life everyday and showing a mutual respect & understanding – this is what created bounds; sometimes words are overrated!
Leaving the camp with a lump in my throat, we made our way back to the nunnery to pick up our bags. When we discussed our price for rent with the nuns they tried to overcharge us for accommodation! With no sign of a key for the 6 weeks we were there and having to be in for 10pm there was no way I was going to pay more than renting a flat would have cost. After confirming with our local friends the price they asked was too high we decided what we’d give; a fair amount but lower than they wanted. So when it came to handing it over we left the envelope said our goodbyes and legged it down the road to get the bus to Jerusalem. Doing a runner on a nunnery is a first I have to say but hopefully the big man understands! We took the short bus ride on a busy bus to Jerusalem. As we reached the checkpoint, the Palestinians had to get off the bus – line up and bring their ID’s individually to the 2 teenager army girls chewing gum, being prepped by an older army man. I looked out of the bus window at the line up of Palestinians; women older than my nanna having to stand in a line up like animals to show their ID to two cocky teenagers with rifles. The lack of dignity and respect for these elders is disgusting. And these are the lucky Palestinians who have a special permit to ride on the bus, others who have been granted permission must use a different checkpoint to go through by foot. Foreigners stayed on the bus and another officer came on to check ours. This constant segregation and discrimination is something I most definitely will not miss.
As we found our shared taxi from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv it had sunk in that we have left Palestine. Everything on the other side of the checkpoint it different. The people, the roads, the infrastructure, the shops, the dress code – it feels like another country. As we arrived into Tel Aviv it felt like another world. Skyscrapers lined the skyline, people walking about in beach wear, trendy pubs, dogs as pets on a lead! We were walking around like aliens just arrived on earth gobsmacked by everything! As I had an early flight the next morning we needed to stay the night in Tel Aviv. We checked into a hostel; (one of the nicest I’ve ever stayed in!) and spent the afternoon at the beach. Jaffa is a beautiful sandy beach just outside Tel Aviv. Looking around at the people on the beach and the skyline of the city in the background it definitely did not feel like we were in the Middle East. It felt like this was a non descript western country which lacked culture and tradition. Coming from Palestine which was so rich in culture and community spirit, this was a shock to the system. Most people we met in the West Bank have never seen the sea. Some adults who have had the opportunity to travel through Jordan have seen their sea from a plane; this is a luxury many never experience. It did not feel right that me and Annagh, 2 visitors could experience this beautiful beach when the Palestinian people 2 hours down the road cannot. The Archbishop we talked to last week mentioned how Palestinians are treated worse than Israeli dogs; we witnessed this at first hand. Along the main road there are dog bowls with water continuously being filled from water pipes of the buildings. For the past 90 days parts of the West Bank have had their water supply cut off from Israel. This is water that Palestine pays Israel for and they cut off the supply more often than not. Yet there’s no shortage of water for dogs on the streets of Tel Aviv where the Ocean surrounds the city.
We got noodles for dinner in a hip Asian restaurant in a trendy complex. People were coming in from running or work and ordering their dinner taking it away into the fancy apartment block beside the restaurant. It’s hard to comprehend that morning we were in a refugee camp saying goodbye to our friends who have lived their whole lives being refugees in their own country – sitting here just felt like a million miles away from that. Life in Tel Aviv looked good; people seemed happy and healthy in their cosmopolitan city. I wondered how many of these people know what goes on either side of them in the West Bank and Gaza. With compulsory service in the army, most people must have firsthand experience of what goes on there. If everyone is experiencing serving in the army, is it part and parcel of everyone’s life here? It’s like the tactic used with child soldiers; now you’ve pulled the trigger your one of us and can never go back. I can imagine it is a lot easier to live your good life – easy, fun, relaxing – why would you want to disturb that to face up to reality. A reality that maybe isn’t having a direct negative impact on their lives, but I have no don’t this will have a future impact on people’s mental health. Maybe it is easier to turn a blind eye to the ethnic cleansing of a whole nation and live a nice life in this purpose created state – but personally I don’t think I could. I would love to talk to Israeli’s to hear their experiences and their opinions on Palestine; unfortunately we didn’t have much time here and were quite paranoid telling people we had been working in Bethlehem so we kept a low profile. The Israeli’s I met in the past while travelling in other countries often became aggressive when I asked them about the situation in Palestine – I’ll never forget the 4 guys who spat on me in a bar in Cuzco, Peru when I shared my opinion on Palestine. I have heard of Israeli supports of Palestine who are active within Israel and a strong left movement around the Jaffa area. There are also those refuse to serve in the IDF; normally highschool females who are then sent to an Israeli prison. Recently the case of Tair Kaminer was made public after her release from serving 150 days in jail when she openly refused to serve due to the atrocities the IDF carry out in occupied territories.
Following our noodles we headed to the hostel to get everything ready for travelling the following day. As advised by many people in the West Bank we planned to make it look like we were just backpackers in Israel with no interest in Palestine, we deleted all evidence of our time there. Pictures, blogs, videos, emails deleted and all our Palestine products wrapped in clothes and hid well in our large bag to be checked in. I am not a good liar; it’s possibly my worst skill! So I was a bit nervous facing security in the airport. Due to Annagh booking on last minute we ended up on different flights on the way home; meaning we had to face security separately.
I was up first, bright and early at 6am. When I first arrived at the airport before the check in desks there was security. I joined the queue and started practicing calm breathing! I had done nothing wrong, why was I getting nervous? I heard stories of people getting up to 14 years ban from re-entering due to being in Palestine, others being detained for hours resulting in them missing their flight. I didn’t want either of these to happen so got prepared to practice the art of spoofing. The young female asked a few questions; what did I do with my 6 weeks in Israel? Where did I go? What did I see? I answered as an easy going backpacker and after our 10min interaction she handed me back my passport and on I went to check in. Is that it? Really, that simple? I checked in my big bag, got my boarding pass and text Annagh reporting the good news.
Of course I spoke too soon.
I headed for security thinking this is just the usual liquids and hand luggage. When I got to the front of the queue my passport was scanned and I was brought to a different area. What’s going on now? I joined a new queue with, what I soon realised was fellow internationals. An Argentinean guy in front of me a French girl behind – phew this must just be for the non Israeli passport holders. As my stuff was getting scanned and my passport checked a noiseless alarm seemed to go off for the staff. The girls who were working in security spoke Hebrew to each other about me then called in the guys in suits. A lot of talk about my passport, laptop and phone were going on – all in Hebrew. I had no idea what was happening. I was brought into a room with the lads in suits, each armed with pistols – the main guy introduced himself as head of security and said they have some questions for me. Why did I come to Israel? What did I do while I was here? Where did I stay? What do I work as at home? How did I get time off for this trip? Do I have a boyfriend? Who do I live with at home? How far in advance had I planned this trip? Who did I travel with? Why was my sister on a different flight? Why do I have so many stamps on my passport? And repeated it again – Why did I come to Israel………Every answer I give he repeated it back to me and they all made a noise as though it was the biggest lie they’d ever heard. They were cheeky and arrogant and the longer I was held in that room, the more I disliked them. Meanwhile my handbag and small hand luggage backpack were being ripped apart; a house key from home I thought I’d lost even showed up – cheers lads! After about half an hour I was let out of the small room into another and was given a thorough body search from my hair to my toes! Then I was brought back out to my stuff, with an audience of travellers looking on, as though I was a terrorist. Still very interested in my laptop I was asked to turn it on. They looked at every file – thankfully there wasn’t much to see. As I looked down at my stuff in the box I seen a small Palestinian pin – Shit, must have been tucked away somewhere! ‘Really, it’s no big deal’ I was telling myself, if they ask I’ll just say I got it in Jerusalem, where many Palestinian items can be bought – there’s nothing wrong with that. The longer this went on I was sure I was going to miss my flight; which would have lead to me missing my connection flight in Istanbul. I remembered I’m delivering training this weekend in England, Ahh I need to get this flight, is all I could think. When I asked what was wrong with my stuff and how long was this going to take, I got no reply.
I went from being a bit nervous at the beginning of the day to being angry at how I was being treated and how ridiculous the whole thing was. I knew they knew I’d been working in Palestine; like someone in the camp said – ‘Israel have eyes and ears everywhere they know exactly where you are.’ I didn’t care, I was very proud of spending time in Palestine and I hated that I couldn’t vocalise this to them but in the hope of not getting a ban I kept quiet and got on like none of this was annoying me. The fact they put so much effort into interrogating me in the hope I’d slip up and say where I was shows they know what Israel is doing to Palestine is wrong. They know the crimes against humanity they are committing day in day out. They know that any human with a level of consciousness would be horrified to learn of the apartheid and brutality they are spending millions on. The only thing they know how to do is bullying, I seen it in the West Bank with the Palestinian people; beating teenage boys in the refugee camps and attacking elderly women as they pray in the mosque in Jerusalem. Intimidating, dehumanising & discriminating; all the great tactics used in any genocide – while the occupation is safe behind their army and global allies. They were using these bullying tactics on me today. I was no threat to them; one scan of my things would show them I had nothing of danger on me. What they were trying to do was scare me, flex their muscles as a warning sign showing what they are capable of. However I was lucky to be born in another part of the world where they are not the occupier; they don’t have control over my human rights and freedom of movement, like they do over the Palestinian people. I am not easily intimidated by men in suits who work as robots following Zionist orders. How could I be afraid of them after the bravery and resistance I just witnessed in the West Bank? I would be letting down my Palestinian friends to show any weakness to these animals.
I was handed back my things in boxes, my laptop and phone and last of all, my passport. As I was packing my stuff back into my bags, one of the females lifted the Palestinian pin. She looked at it then looked at me, we locked eyes for a few seconds then I took the pin out of her hands and walked away. I boarded my flight just in time – delighted to get out of this horrible, illegitimate, terrorist state. I have no desire to step foot in Israel again but unfortunately they occupy the land that surrounds Palestine, so until Palestine is free I may have to pay another visit; though I doubt I’ll get in now. I wait in anticipation now to hear how Annagh gets on going through the same thing. I hate that we aren’t together, the thoughts of them intimidating my wee sister makes me sick and so angry. I got just a glimpse of the Israeli authorities and I was shaken with anger after it. It reaffirmed everything I learnt about this operation. I can’t imagine how it must feel to live under their constant barbaric occupation every day.
If you want to support the voiceless and restore some faith back in humanity join the boycott Israel campaign, challenge those who view Israel as a progressive country bringing development to the Middle East. Elect Pro Palestine politicians & hold our elected ones accountable for their inhuman foreign policies. Join the Pro Palestine movement in your local area, with Theresa May as the new Prime Minster and Boris Johnston as Foreign Secretary; we need to start shouting louder than ever before. We need to demand equality, freedom and dignity for the people of Palestine – they’re just like you and me and they desperately need our help.
This is not a Palestinian issue. This is not a Muslim issue. This is not an Arabic issue. This is not a Middle Eastern issue. This is a human issue.
Long Live Palestine
“We know only too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of Palestinians” Nelson Mandela
“You cannot separate peace from freedom because no one can be at peace unless he has freedom” Malcolm X
“It would be my greatest sadness to see (Zionist) Jews do to Palestinian Arabs much of what Nazi did to Jews” Albert Einstein
“Israel use sophisticated attack jets and navy vessels to bomb densely-crowded refugee camps, schools, apartment blocks, mosques and slums to attack a population that has no air force, no Israeli defence, no navy, no heavy weapons, no artillery units, no mechanized armour, no command in control, no army and calls it a war. It’s not a war, it is murder.” Noam Chomsky