Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Remembering the Nakba

Today, May 15, is when those in Palestine and around the world remember the Nakba. Before coming here, I knew very little about the history of the Nakba, and so this has been a huge learning process for me.

The term Nakba (Arabic for 'Catastrophe') refers to the first round of massive population transfer undertaken by the Zionist movement and the State of Israel in the period between November 1947 (the issuing of the UN Partition Plan for Palestine) and the cease-fire agreements with Arab states in 1949. The Nakba was an act of forced population transfer (ethnic cleansing) undertaken for the purpose of establishing Israel as a state that would ensure permanent dominance of Jewish settler-immigrants over the indigenous Arab people of Palestine. More than 750,000 Palestinians were forcibly displaced from their homes and lands during these original Nakba years. 
The Ongoing Nakba refers to Israel's ongoing denial of the rights of displaced Palestinians to return to the lands from which they were displaced, as well as the ongoing experience of forced displacement and dispossession of Palestinians from their homelands that has continued since the original Nakba years as a result of Israel's policies and practices, namely Israeli apartheid, colonisation and military occupation.
For a beautifully done, deeper description of pre-Nakba Palestine, I highly recommend checking out Nakba: The Untold Story of a Cultural Catastrophe. There are some beautiful photos and great stories. Here is a little excerpt:
Nakba, meaning catastrophe, is commemorated by Palestinians throughout the world on May 15 every year. It marks the loss, dispossession and historic injustice suffered by the Palestinian people, through the forced expulsion from their homeland by Israeli forces and Zionist militia. Nakba commemorates the period when approximately 800,000 Palestinians, at the time 67% of the population, became homeless and/or, stateless refugees. Today, it is estimated that 7 of the 11 million Palestinians around the world are refugees, still roughly two-thirds of the Palestinian people.

Nakba, for Palestine, is about the loss of potential on a mass scale. It is about reducing a vibrant and highly accomplished culture into one filled with bitter-sweet memories consumed by the national cause of return and justice. Entire villages were destroyed, then rebuilt [as Israeli towns] and renamed; books, music collections and works of art were left behind as people ran for their lives, expecting to return a few weeks later; sports clubs and social organizations disappeared with the communities of which they were a part. It was a systematic campaign of death, destruction, and cultural obliteration, carried out against a nation whose vibrant culture was forcibly stunted.

Here are a few original images from the Nakba:

There were many protests and remembrance events today, by both Palestinians and Israelis. Many were brought on by the fact that the ethnic cleansing has continued, right up until today.

Palestinian families continue to be kicked out of their homes so that Israelis can move in, especially in East Jerusalem and Hebron.

Hundreds and hundreds of Palestinians are sitting in Israeli prisons right now without any charges against them, and with no prospect of release.

Young men are killed by Israeli soldiers at non-violent demonstrations with alarming regularity.

The terror continues to grip Palestinians as they fear for their lives and the lives of their children. The emotional and psychological damage that this trauma has done to people, especially children, is astronomical.

Today, I am especially aware of the reason that I am here. I pray for peace, work for justice, and ask you to do the same. Remember Palestinians, who are the largest refugee population in the world, and join me in praying for their return to their homes, villages, farms, and families.

A Palestinian man with the key to his home before the Nakba in 1948 protesting for the right to return to it... and a "witty" Israeli reply.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Visitors, Birthday, and Cyprus... Oh my!

Things are crazy around here right now! A dear friend from college, Emily, arrived in Palestine for a month long visit, then I celebrated my 23rd (sheesh, I'm old!) birthday, then I was in Cyprus on a retreat for all of the Europe & Middle East staff, and now my parents are here and we are traveling around exploring the West Bank.

I would just like to take a moment to rave about how wonderful things have been over the last month. When I arrived in Palestine, I made a very conscious decision not to do much traveling. Since this is essentially an open-air prison for those living here, I did not feel that it would be fair (or polite) for me to go in and out of Israel. My neighbors, friends, and host-family do not have this right, and I felt that if I wanted to truly immerse myself in this community and live in solidarity with these people, that I should forgo this right as well. Therefore, I have, as much as possible, stayed in Bethlehem and Beit Jala, and not traveled in Israel or much in the West Bank. I wanted to be present in my local community, and I am so happy that I made that decision, because I feel that it has truly enhanced my relationships here.

Now that I am coming to the end of my time here (only two more months!) and have people visiting, I am doing all of the traveling that I have not done over the last 9 months. Having Emily and my parents here has been absolutely wonderful. I've been able to play tour guide a little bit, and we are exploring some of the things I have never seen.

Emily and I did a lot of exploring in Jerusalem for the first few days she was here. After living in India for the last 7 months, she was super excited to eat french fries, and insisted that I pose with them.

This is my judgmental face.
The Church of the Holy Sepulcher 
Later in the week, we traveled to Tel Be'er Sheva, which I saw two years ago when I was in Israel. We had a bit of a ridiculous bus adventure, and finally made it to the archaeological site, which dates back to the 10th century BCE. We took the bus from Bethlehem through the military checkpoint into Jerusalem, then the light rail (similar to the metro or subway, except that it's all above ground) from the Old City to the Central Bus Station in West Jerusalem, then a bus from there to Be'er Sheva, then a taxi from the city to the ancient site. It's times like these that I really miss my car, but am so grateful for the generally well structured public transportation system in the Middle East. The site was so incredibly beautiful, and I had a fantastic time exploring!

In a water storage tank hundreds of feet under the village. 
I am the ghost of ancient Be'er Sheva. Obviously.
Camel herd!
We also had a chance to walk around and see a portion of the wall in Bethlehem.

I know, I'm not a very good rhino.

On my birthday, I went to work. Super exciting, right? It was actually totally wonderful. I got a lot of "kul cene u inti salme" greetings, which directly translates to "every year and you (female) peace" but I think "peace to you every year" makes a bit more sense. Some of the students brought me a cupcake so I could blow out a candle, and then Emily and I got shwarma at my favorite little place in Bethlehem for dinner. Afterwards, my host family threw me a surprise party! The kids had helped to bake me a cake and they were so excited about it. We then played Uno while the kids played with my camera. It was the perfect little birthday.

Me and 3 year old Layal

Bishara insisted that we hold up our Uno cards while he held his truck. 
Natalie (9) and Lubna (11)

Cyprus was incredible and beautiful. We left Bethlehem at 2:30am on Thursday, and got to the airport around 4am thanks to some stops at checkpoints and other general confusion. Unfortunately, we were flagged at security and had some pretty intense security checks, including a private-back-room body search. It was absolutely miserable, but it gave me a new understanding of the ways that Palestinians are humiliated by "security measures" that are mostly just racial profiling and/or harassment.

The MCC Europe and Middle East staff retreat was fantastic. I was able to reconnect with the other Middle East SALTers, some friends who are Service Workers, and some incredible staff members! I had such a restful time swimming in the Mediterranean, surviving my first bee sting, laughing with my coworkers, and taking naps on the warm, breezy beach. It was a little slice of heaven.
View from my hotel room.
On the way back through customs at the Tel Aviv airport, all of my other coworkers got through, but I was somehow flagged. I was detained and interrogated, and unfortunately Sarah, Bassem, and Rachelle had to wait for me on the other side of customs for about an hour. I was then released and sent on my way. Again, it gave me an understanding of the terror that Palestinians must feel when they are brought in for questioning. Honestly, I was scared. Huge men yelling at me in Hebrew is not what I wanted to be experiencing at 2 in the morning. Cognitively, I knew that they wouldn't hurt me or arrest me because I'm an American, but I can't imagine how terrified I would have been if I hadn't had my US passport to hide behind and therefore didn't have any guarantee of my safety.

For the next week, I'll be traveling around the West Bank with Emily and my parents, but when I come back, I'm sure I'll have some interesting stories for you all!