Monday, January 9, 2012


As most of you know, Palestine is divided up into two halves, which are similar in many ways, but have a few differences, including being governed by two different groups. The West Bank, where I live, is governed by the Palestinian Authority, which is by and large a peaceful group committed to nonviolent means of resisting the occupation. Gaza, however, is ruled by Hamas, which is classified as a terrorist group by the EU, USA, Canada, and Israel, because of their refusal to recognize Israel and their sometimes violent means of fighting back against the occupation.

Since Gaza and the West Bank are separated by Israeli territory, as well as governed by different groups, it is extremely difficult to get permission to go to Gaza. Even for West Bank Palestinians, who you might assume could just go from one area to another, it is very difficult to coordinate because not only must you get permission from Hamas to enter Gaza, but you must also get permission from Israel to travel through their territory to the Gaza border.

For the past 6-8 weeks, the Bible College has been trying to get permits for the Choir to visit Gaza and sing at the churches there, because apparently, they are really in need of some Christmas cheer. I think that things are terrible in the West Bank... I've been told Gaza is a hundred times worse. Israel continues to bomb Gaza on a regular basis, and extremists retaliate by shooting short-range rockets over the border into the Israeli desert, which then causes Israel to retaliate by bombing more of Gaza. Unfortunately, while most of the rockets from Gaza land in deserted areas of the southern Israeli desert, many of the Israeli bombs hit schools, hospitals, and refugee camps in Gaza. Apparently, Gaza looks a lot like an active war zone. I've often heard Gaza described as an "open air prison," as movement in and out are incredibly restricted. I have never been, and unfortunately, because the application process is even more difficult for internationals, I will probably never be able to go to Gaza, despite my efforts to convince everyone who goes that I'd be a really great person to have along with them (I'm awesome at carrying suitcases).

Fortunately, the choir is getting ready to go to Gaza, because THEY GOT PERMISSION! They were informed at 7:30 this morning that they had been approved to travel to Gaza, but their permits are only valid for 2 days. Yes, you read that right. 2 measly days. So, 4 hours after they got the word that they could go (after almost 2 months of waiting to hear back), they are packing up and leaving within the hour. Everyone is running around in a tizzy, trying to arrange to leave immediately.

When I mentioned that I was surprised at how quickly they were ready to up and leave, one of the older choir members, who we'll just call "G," told me a story that I thought gave me a really unique window into the Palestinian travel mindset, and I thought I'd share it with you.

G: "When I lived in America, I had to move from Missouri to Florida. I was very, very concerned. What is the procedure? I'd never left Missouri before. Would they let me out? How would I get through all the states? Would Florida let me in? I didn't know how it worked. One of my American friends could tell that I was very worried and asked me what was wrong. I told him that I didn't know how I was going to move to Florida. I didn't know the procedure. I hadn't filled out a request or called anyone or filed any paperwork. I didn't know how to go about getting permission to go from one state to another. My friend laughed and told me 'G, you just drive. No one cares. No one will stop you. You just... go.' I was shocked. It is not that way here. Here, you need permission to go anywhere or do anything. Most of the time, you are denied. But if you are granted permission, you better hurry up and go before someone changes their mind."

This whole idea of "asking permission from the government" is so foreign to me. I'm used to living in a country where I can pretty much do whatever I want. I can go wherever I want. I am encouraged to be independent. I am free. Freedom now means something very different to me after living in a place where, for all intents and purposes, people are not free.

I have another really interesting experience to share with you, but I'm waiting until the choir is officially finished with all of their seasonal travel, just as an extra safety precaution. I should get that post up late this week/early next.

Anyways, I hope you all had a wonderful holiday, and are enjoying being back at work (hah!).

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