As promised, here are my photo diaries from my recent week in the West Bank. I made it in to Israel-Palestine safely from Cyprus, though what possessed me to put a copy of Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet in my hand luggage, I do not know! Although it is not illegal to visit the West Bank, you have to do so via Israel, and will be refused entry if you announce your intention to travel on into the occupied territories. I had half-baked notions of posing as a Christian pilgrim, but on finding The Prophet the Israeli security guard in the departure lounge decided I was ‘studying Arabic’ and brought in a higher-up to question me. ‘It is love poetry!’ I cried – ‘My mother had this book!’. When I said I was visiting an Israeli friend, he wanted to see her photo. I didn’t have one, and they let me through in the end, laughing about my battery-less laptop, but honestly – when it comes to censorship and racial profiling, Israel leads the way.
When it comes to extra-judicial executions, Israel also stands in the top of the league table. It was sad and sobering to be arriving in the country just after another three people – two Palestinian youths and one Israeli settler – had been killed in the latest incidents in the wave of violence that began in October as a on-going series of random attacks committed mainly by Palestinian youths on soldiers, police officers and settlers. No-one I spoke to during my visit thought the attacks represented a new intifada (organised uprising); they are committed by individuals, not factions, and my Palestinians and Israeli contacts alike considered them to be tragic acts of despair, and symptoms of the increasingly untenable injustice of the occupation, which has responded with force: 28 Israelis and over 180 Palestinians, including 49 children, have been killed during this period. These deaths, as well as the hundreds of injured people, are a cause for great sorrow; and should also be a powerful motivation to find, at last, a just solution to this decades-long conflict. There was anger, also, from the Palestinians, though, at the contempt for life and due process shown by the IDF when it comes to apprehending the alleged knife-wielders. And Israel’s support for a shoot-to-kill response suggests to me that a political solution is the last thing the current government wants. The cycle of violence works in Israel’s favour, justifying and escalating its dehumanising rhetoric, and its colonial control of what is left of their land.
The volatile situation is not, though, a reason not to visit – people need to see the context in which these violence is occurring. I came to see friends of both nationalities, and make new ones, some of whom are unable to travel to see me, simply because they are Palestinian. Coming to Palestine is a huge privilege I am all too aware of after visiting the camps in Lebanon, and I hoped to make the time count by exploring and celebrating Palestinian leadership in the field of environmental justice: healing the earth by healing human ecosystems and promoting human diversity.
In Bethlehem I visited the Palestine Museum of Natural History, a project of the Palestine Institute of Biodiversity Research, a scholarly and activist centre co-founded by Mazin and Jessie Qumsiyeh. The next day was my birthday, one the best ever, spent wandering in the gardens of the Museum, and putting my volunteer editing skills to work in the office on a grant application and article. Funny how it didn’t seem like work. More photos and reflections here.
My time in Bethlehem was all too short, but as I was staying right opposite it, I squeezed in a quick visit to the Church of the Nativity before taking the mini-bus to Ramallah the day after my birthday. In 2002, during the Second Intifada, the Church was a tense site of conflict, events recently dramatised by The Freedom Theatre of Jenin refugee camp in their production The Siege, which I saw last year on its UK tour. There was more Palestinian culture in Ramallah, where I spent the evening listening to my favorite instrument: the plangent, pear-shaped oud. More photos and reflections here.
Finally, I spent three nights at Marda Permaculture Farm in Marda village, just down the hill from the illegal Israeli settlement of Ariel. The fourth largest settlement in the West Bank, Ariel creates significant problems for the villagers, including floods of raw sewage that cascade down through the olive groves into the streets. The settlers’ shit isn’t only a gross insult and human health hazard: by damaging biodiversity, it is also thought to have contributed to the epidemic of wild boar now afflicting the local farmers. What is certain is that Israel has outlawed all possible ways – guns, poison, tranquilizers – of dealing with the ferocious, rampaging beasts. But thanks to fences made of recycled tyres, Murad al Kufash continues to produce giant organic vegetables; press olive oil for his contract with Lush cosmetics; welcome volunteers; and teach permaculture to other Palestinians. More photos and thoughts here.
I spent my last 24 hours in Palestine in East Jerusalem, visiting that famous hub of Palestinian cultural and political activity, the Educational Bookshop, and having dinner with Israeli friends who brought me up to date on all their anti-Occupation activity. Despite the overwhelming feeling that things are just getting worse in Israel-Palestine, I arrived back home feeling uplifted. The Palestinians are still planting olive trees, and more and more Israelis and internationals openly support the BDS Committee’s boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign: skies may be dark, but resistance is blooming.