Heart of Palestine

2010/05/25, Day 01
2010/05/26, Day 02
2010/05/27, Day 03
2010/05/28, Day 04
2010/05/29, Day 05
2010/05/30, Day 06
2010/05/31, Day 07
2010/06/01, Day 08
2010/06/02, Day 09
2010/06/03, Day 10
2010/06/04, Day 11

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29 May 2010, Saturday

9:15 A.M.

We came to what used to be the major intersection between Jerusalem and Bethlehem; in its place instead was a dead end into the same 8 meter tall security walls replete with guard towers that were found surrounding the Gaza Strip. These structures don’t have small footprints like tollbooths on the New Jersey Turnpike; what’s on the minds of Christian pilgrims who visit Bethlehem each year when they come across these towering monstrosities, I wondered, or do tours just divert traffic away from these inconvenient facts on the ground?

What used to be a major intersection between Jerusalem and Bethlehem is no longer —
through traffic is impossible with the walls and guard towers.

9:30 A.M.

We met Zoughbi Zoughbi at the Wi’am Conflict Resolution Center. The mission of Wi’am, which means friendship in Arabic, is to transform anger into understanding and spreading the principles of civil society throughout Palestine. “The more Arabic coffee we drink, the more understanding we develop,” said Mr. Zoughbi. Palestinians have no grudge against the Jews, instead they stand against the naked expansionism that is sanctioned by the Israeli government. Palestinians are against repeating of the Apartheid and Colonialism and other -isms that exploit peoples. The town of Bethlehem alone has 23 Israeli settlements. Palestinians have become the indirect victims of the victims of the Holocaust.

11:10 A.M.

Mohammed Jaradat at Badil spoke of the 800,000 Palestinian refugees that are in the diaspora as a human rights issue. Palestinians have the right to return according to Article 53 of the 4th Geneva Convention: following the cessation of conflict, refugees have the right to return to their homes, remain in their country, or relocate to another willing host country. 86% of Israelis live in 16% of their total land area, so the claim that there is no space in 47 for refugees is a disingenuous one. Palestinians stand against discrimination of all forms and seek a democracy that doesn’t discriminate on the basis of religion. This is the wish of the vast majority of Palestinians.

12:35 P.M.

Mention of refugee camps most likely evokes images of canvas covered, temporary structures; the tight concentration of permanent, concrete structures at Deheisheh Refugee Camp came as a surprise to a few people in our delegation.

Deheisheh Refugee Camp

12:50 P.M.

IBDAA Cultural Center is a Palestinian enrichment and empowerment project on the grounds of Deheisheh Refugee Camp. Placed in the context of peaceful resistance against the Israeli occupation, IBDAA organizes Palestinian dances, boys’ and girls’ basketball teams, Palestinian festivals, etc. IBDAA also provides culture awareness, education, a health center, a women’s center, fitness training, and would have had radio broadcast if their application for permit was not rejected by Israel. The sale of handmade embroidery provides one form of income for residents of the camp. Since we had a tight itinerary, our delegation leader suggested having lunch at the restaurant on the top floor of IBDAA.

(Left) Deheisheh Refugee Camp archival photo; (right) Palestinian cultural artifacts.

Restaurant on the top floor of IBDAA

2:00 P.M.

Phoenix Culture Center is situated also on the grounds of the Deheisheh Refugee Camp — Phoenix because the building had been destroyed several times by IDF shelling, but rebuilt each time after it was destroyed. Palestinians who remain in the camp do so to show solidarity with other refugees, and also to send the message to the world that they [refugees] have been denied the right to return to their homes. Palestinians want to protect their dignity. There are times when water is unavailable in the camps for 3 months or more. Due to checkpoints, a lot of Palestinians refrain from venturing outside Bethlehem city limits, not even for University. University of Ramallah would be a mere 30 minutes away by car if there were no checkpoints, but because of them, to have any hope of arriving on time for an exam at 8 A.M. in the morning, people have to head out at 3 A.M. Because the checkpoint rules change, the permits change, there is no guarantee that one would definitely be able to cross checkpoints. The majors at Bethlehem University are Social Work, Education, Language, and Lawyer.

Dheisheh refugee camp sometimes goes 3 months without water

3:50 P.M.

The IDF raids residents of the Deheisheh Refugee Camp 2,3 times a week, sometimes every night of the week. A poster like the one seen here memorializes those who died at the hand of IDF.

4:10 P.M.

Met with Suheir. She spoke with fire and determination. “We don’t have weapons that kill… education is the weapon of choice for the Palestinians.” Palestinians can’t lose hope for what the future holds. There is not a wide gender gap as some may suggest, because the women have to provide and care for the family when men are arrested, and they are frequently arrested. We cannot ever think that we are alone in this world, or we would become subsumed by complete darkness. We know that our lives as refugees is a dream, for one day we shall return to our ancestral homes. Judaism is not Zionism — Zionism is the problem.

5:00 P.M.

Bedouin survivor Fatima Abdullah. The English told the Jewish soldiers, “Do whatever you like.” The Jewish soldiers started firing on the villagers, even at the children. They kept shooting, and shooting, and shooting. We fled to the UN camps. At first we thought that we would be able to return home after 2 weeks. We are still unable to return home. UN distributed wheat flour and food rations.

6:00 P.M.

Our guide told us that Israel wanted to take Rachel’s Tomb, so they recently built a wall within their wall.

6:35 P.M.

We go through Rachel’s checkpoint to enter Jerusalem. At the checkpoint, a private contractor followed by an IDF soldier boarded the bus. The IDF soldier spoke to D.G., “Why so angry,” reached the end of the bus, and then asked H.B.III for his passport — the pair asked no one else any questions or for any documentation. “Smile — you are entering Jerusalem,” joked our guide, an allusion to the greeting that welcomes all visitors entering Ben-Gurion International Airport.

6:45 P.M.

We talk about the Jerusalem permits. In order to obtain a permit, Palestinians are required to apply several months ahead of time, and the duration is good for 1 day only, most often less than 1 day. Another thing that often happens is the permit gets sent to the wrong town, ’cos all the Palestinian towns start with Beit, the Arabic word for village.

7:00 P.M.

Dinner at a table with H.H., R.F., D.F., and B.V.

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