Tonight there are a million thoughts racing through my mind; I am filled with sadness, and anger and frustration, but also hope and love and compassion. This blog post is going to take a bit of a personal turn, because if I take one thing away from this trip it is going to be how important it is to speak up when something needs to be said.
As was mentioned in previous blog posts, this week our attention has shifted to the ongoing crisis in Israel and Palestine. It has been more eye opening then I can even explain in one blog post but today was an emotional rollercoaster ride. A common theme no matter which side of the story you listen to is that there is extreme extreme pain. There is a wall dividing humanity and both sides are hurting, but this hurt has transformed itself into a scene from a world war two movie.
Today we went to Hebron. If you are unaware, Hebron is at the centre of a very complicated struggle and there is no denying that the Palestinians are suffering. Walking up to the Israeli controlled side of Hebron I could see tear-gas canisters littered where earlier this week citizens protested the ongoing struggle in Jerusalem. Walking through the checkpoint few of us were in good spirits. We weren’t scared, but a military checkpoint is an overwhelming sight (and as a Canadian I admit I take for granted the lack of security measures I have to endure on a daily basis). The soldiers could clearly tell we were all slightly uncomfortable and so he pulled aside one of our leaders told him to let us know to be happy, enjoy Israel and we are not in danger. And I truly have not felt in danger this entire trip, but walking through physical reminders of such an occupation does not invoke feelings of happiness. The tone shifted a bit as we had the opportunity to visit the Tomb of the Patriarchs but all around us soldiers patrolled what seemed like a ghost town that used to be filled with vibrant shops and families.
From the beginning of the day our tour guide had to take the occasional detour and catch up with us (as Palestinians are not allowed to use the same checkpoints or walkways as the rest of us). Although upsetting, this was nothing different then what we have been witnessing during this trip- but one moment hit me hard. Walking through the streets while discussing the implications of occupation on local residents of Hebron a literal fence divided us from the tour guide. The wartime scene really kicked in for me when a small girl, maybe three years old approached us- gave a little smile as her hands held unto the fence that divided us. I have never felt such a range of emotions in my life. What in the world did a three year old know about such segregation? But there she stood, knowing at such an innocent young age that she had to stay behind the fence. But then I looked around, and there stood a soldier at his post, who didn’t look a day older then myself at 20. He approached us, genuinely undone by what our tour guide was saying to us. He asked if we thought they were wrong. What have they done wrong he asked? And truly what has this young man done wrong? He was just fulfilling his mandatory military service- his obligation to his state- and yet it was as if this young girl was invisible to him. We learned today about the checkpoint system and the constant rotations of soldiers. There are always on the move, not allowed to develop any sort of relationship with the locals- another mechanism working to remove the humanity from both sides- and everyone loses.
After this short tour, we had coffee and tea in a local Palestinian shop- one of the few who still remains open in what was once a thriving market street. He told the story of his grandfather and the resilience it took to appeal over 20 times to remain open for business. It was yet again another story of loss and sadness but also resilience and hope. Later in the day we travelled to Tent of Nations- where once again we heard stories of resilience and loss and intense struggle. They spoke to us about their struggle to hold unto their land (27 years of appeals and legal action to be exact). From sabotage by local settlers, to physical and political roadblocks from the occupation (the end of the driveway is literally blocked and has been for over a decade)- even a blank cheque would not convince this family to give in and relinquish their rightful land. They continue to fight for their rights, while promoting peace, tolerance and hope to Palestinians.
Personally, days here have been profound, but my highlight has definitely been getting to know my host family here in Beit Sahur. They are such welcoming and caring and talented people, yet they lived defined by conflict and face so many obstacles that I can not even imagine. It is nothing short of heartbreaking to know that so many people are suffering, and so much pain and loss is occurring everyday- to people all over Palestine and this very family that has gracefully taken us in. They have dreams and desires but are reaching for them out of this wreckage all around them. But in the wreckage remains hope- and there are so many stories of hope I have heard this week that I hope I can share with you all someday- and that is what I hold on to tonight.
By Brooklyn Lester.
Brooklyn is entering her fourth year at the University of Waterloo studying International Development.