We’ve met different people with different backgrounds and circumstances over the past few days, but certain questions provide the same answers – “because of the Israelis.” “The occupation.” “It’s two sides of the coin.” “Already demolished.” “They were jailed.” We chat to the people who farm for foreign companies, some of whom are not too sure about exactly what we mean by coming over here. Their skepticism about our group is explained by way of the isolation that Palestine has experienced, the politics of media bearing little or no resemblance to the reality. As the group emphasizes that figureheads don’t speak for us, someone relates how in Palestine, the spectacle of soldiers removing settlers from their homes is the same spectacle as the contortion of bin Laden in the news. Like with bin Laden, fear is offered for consumption in one place whilst the oppressive system in the other is reinforced. “But knowledge is the weapon”, one man says. “And thanks for coming here. Our home’s yours.” The beauty of the land and the heat both add to the exasperation of being watched constantly, alongside our new acquaintances, from an armed outpost with computers and high tech cameras. Why be so unwelcome in your home?
Yesterday we were welcomed and provided with refreshments by a man who lives with his family, in a damaged tent made of plastic. To see small children running next to a smashed foundation, with iron sticking out at head height, is revolting. They are stuck with this, because it’s their land. To leave it behind is more dangerous. This is something which we ourselves, the visitors, can only accept as the truth but a real understanding is something we can’t reach at this point. Earlier, we spoke to a seriously overworked doctor, and he said that the nature of the Jordan valley, where he grew up, ties him to it. He has a duty to his people at a desperate time – he says that without the strong culture around him the stress would be too much. As he attempts to describe this stress, his friend provides some light relief, saying, “aha, yes, perhaps you will explode.”
We meet some farmers and teachers, who talk about the occupation. People here work at subsistence level, they look out for each other. Some are unemployed but work to help out anyway. We look around a school, which has clearly been starved of opportunity over the years. As we discuss the arbitrary nature of the rule of thumb in the West Bank, the dehumanization that you can read about in the papers begins to reveal itself. It’s related how a short while ago, a five year old from one of these corrugated iron and plastic communities was bitten by a poisonous creature, rushed to the Nablus hospital, and died because of the hold ups at the checkpoint. Various emergency calls were attempted, but clearly the court jester was running the show at the switchboard in Israel, because it was explained that “we don’t take Arabs”. Being exploited to a ridiculous extent is just how it goes around here. You can throw your sociology textbooks out of the window, as the juxtaposition of warming strength and horrible weakness gives these places a ’special’ feeling which can not be touched by the language of Hollywood, or speechwriters. We have started to understand the sadness and anger of being in a place which has so much to offer, so consistently denied.
The accommodation and the warmth embedded in community and family life is alien to southern England. At the same time as being a welcome change, it’s saddening sometimes. To see a boy of thirteen, a girl of eight, chatting to the visitors and showing off their younger siblings, but displaying a mark of severe anxiety which flickers up once every two seconds – it’s a horrible thing. Growing up here the child will be painfully aware that there is a hostile force at work which expresses itself in a destructive way, collectively displaying an increasingly younger mental age – as you grow up, it tries to drag you back down with it. The expression of the occupation, the maintenance and containment of the threat of racial and cultural contamination, is intensely sadistic. It’s clearly a struggle to cope, and it is making me feel bad.
The military must really hate the Bedouin people, because when they are not using women as target practice they are complying with a system whereby the Beduin end up paying prices for water and gas which would even create fury in Britain. It is moving to sit with an old man who has faced arbitrary imprisonment and had his family continually moved around the landscape, finding his own ways to cope and preserve his dignity. But afterwards, it is not really enough to sit down and be moved. You can do that at home, reading statistics. What is needed is something more.
Right right, back at our place, time for a conversation. We’ve been talking about the occupation all day – oh no, quick, let’s talk about films. A particularly interesting point about a fiction is interrupted by a sonic boom, or it might be gunshots, punctuating the night. It must be time to get our heads down.
Brighton-Tubas Friendship and Solidarity Group