September 4, 2002
Journey to Palestine
Canadian Arab Youth Delegation to Palestine
It was the first time, well in history, that an All Arab Youth Group traveled to Palestine, a land and a people that have lived in years of turmoil and strife. We went with an objective in our minds and hearts, our objective was to show solidarity with our brothers and sisters, to tell them we have not and will not ever forget them. Nor will we give up fighting for what is just and a human right for all Palestinian People.
We traveled at a time of serious volatility, we never knew what predicament we would get caught up in but it did not deter us from wanting to take the chance in being with our people. Once we arrived in Bethlehem we headed for Dheisheh Refugee Camp, which was our main homestead while we were in Palestine. It was early in the morning, the air was misty and the streets were empty. We entered the Refugee Camp at a time when curfew had been placed on all of Bethlehem. Not a person was in sight.
We settled in that day and rested for we knew in the days to come we would have very little rest. But I don’t think we were aware as to just how little rest we would have until that night. The Cultural Centre Ibdaa was flowing with people coming in and out into the late hours of the evening. And then it began. The noise of IDF tanks and jeeps rolling onto the main street, we could see them from our bedroom window. There was an operation going on, but we were not sure just yet as to what kind. Then the phone call came from an Ambulance driver, he had told us there would be a house demolition tonight, and to open all the windows, and shut all the lights in Ibdaa. And so we got moving, running anxiously into every room, our hearts trembling while we opened all the windows. And then we waited. All I could think about was that poor family losing all that they have, being forced out of their homes, watching it get demolished and then left with all they could gather in ten minutes time. All of us were so unsure as to when it would happen or how bad of an affect it would have. At 4:30 am, once the Israeli soldiers forced the family to flee their homes with everything they could get their hands on, they filled the home with explosives and in just a few seconds time the families’ home, memories and dreams had been shattered. The three-story home that once stood there had now been rubble, ruins you could no longer tell apart from what already lay on the ground before it. Once it went off Ghalib and I were under the window of Ibdaa, while Jeanna and Danah were upstairs. Rania and Salwa were downstairs in the computer room. The first thing that came to my mind when I heard the thundering crash and the blinding sky light up, was to fall to the ground and yell for Jeanna to get down, hoping she was no where near the windows. From that moment on every door that slammed, every unexpected crash was a horror for us.
In the time that we stayed in Dheisheh we met many, many wonderful people from old to young, who were inspiring and very affectionate. Due to the curfews we had much time to spend with families and the youth, they would tell us their heartfelt stories and about their pain. Everyone had a story, from 18 year old Adham Abu Laban who’s little sister was shot in the head for peeking outside the door of their home during curfew hours, she was trying to warn others of the soldiers presence. To the freedom fighter Ayat Al-Akhras who’s father had been clearing out his families belongings from their home for they had news that their home was on the list of house demolitions ordered by the IDF. Ayat’s father Abu Samir told us how Ayat was an honour student and was about to get married this summer, and how that day when she left and decided to never come back, she left as though it were just another day. I was there when her dad accepted her diploma for graduating high school; it was hard for him to mask his tears this time. Or the story of how Jehad Abbas’s father has been jailed 17 times, and his mother passed on of lung cancer last March when they were under siege. He explained how he had to disguise himself as a Reuter’s journalist to get his mom to the hospital. He is 21, and is the oldest of the 6 kids, and one of them Hamoudy who is Autistic. And never mind the hundreds of stories of people’s homes getting broken into from IDF soldiers, or homes getting riddled with live ammunition, or the thousands of people who are out of work and living on bread and tea morning, noon, and night. Never mind the collective punishment we saw or people would tell us about: waiting hours at checkpoints, getting beaten up, spat on, getting stripped and laughed at and sometimes even shot in cold blood. It was just too much for us to deal with in one day, God to think they have to deal with that every day of their existence….
We traveled to many places in our homeland when we were permitted thanks to the Israeli’s kindness and generosity of course. After the first two days in Bethlehem, we drove to Gaza Strip and stayed there for two nights. Gaza Strip was a nightmare of its own, this small strip of land fenced with electrical barbwire, completely closed off from the rest of the world. It was so meek and desolate as we entered the infamous Erez checkpoint and continued on to meet our tour guide. As we drove further into Gaza you could see the swarms of people and children in the streets, aimlessly wandering trying to free their minds of the endless frustration and constant reminder of the card they have been dealt, the card called Occupation. With over 1.4 million people living in a land of 360 km we were surprised to see people able to move and go about, it was a wonder they did not live on top of one another. Although in the camps like Jabalyia and Rafah, where more then 60-80,000 people lived in just one sq. km., this thought was not far from reality. As we walked into the camps, I felt somewhat ashamed to be there. Ashamed for feeling like an outsider. All eyes turned our way, mostly the children were all so curious about us and what it is we were doing there, most were pleasant and welcoming. Although one woman did snarl and say, “look, take pictures of our misery, go head”. When she had did that I felt like I wanted to run into a cage and hide, for even though I knew my intentions were good, what she stated was exactly what we were doing, taking pictures of their misery, of their hardships and tragedies. Our tour guide intervened and told the women that we were Palestinian and we were there to help, but it somehow didn’t make me feel any better about what had just happened. I will never forget her.
There’s nothing that could describe the emotions that erupt within you when you see the inhumane acts that are committed against the people of Palestine, atrocities that have been ignored by the world. I truly felt as though an insect had more rights then I.
I felt for the first time in my life how it is to not have water to bathe in, to wait 3 hours for a soldier with a foreign accent and an M16 to allow me to make my journey from Ramallah to Bethlehem which typically is only a 20 minute ride, to be scrutinized and my belongings taken when entering a mosque for prayers. I never had to experience living like a prisoner within my own home, imprisoned like a caged animal with barbwire and tall fences surrounding me, and having a curfew, something my own parents have never afflicted on me.
How much more proof do we need to see that these people are suffering, how much more collective punishment, how many more demolished homes, how many more mothers will cry for the loss of their children, how many more unnecessary checkpoints, how many more suicide bombings, will have to occur, before we understand how REAL this occupation is.
There was recently an opinion poll in the State of Israel, where 60% of the population supports mass deportation (transfer) of the Palestinians. Even the Nazis never openly declared their intention to massacre the Jews and Gypsies; they as well spoke of deportation and transfer as of their Final Solution. Even in 1938, these ideas have not had such wholehearted support in Nazi Germany, as they have now in the Jewish State. And unfortunately we find history is now repeating itself, except those who were once victimized are now the perpetrators.
We have waited 54 years and then some for international intervention, while East Timor waited a few days before they were rescued from the tragedies of war.
For the Palestinians, life is a pendulum, swinging between hope and despair: the hope in God’s justice and human goodness, and the despair of the reality of our terrible moment in history. Their land has been occupied, their lives are within the grasp of Israeli snipers, and their future is constantly being crushed by an iron fist. And their complaints to the world fall on deaf ears, and when they react to the unbearable living circumstances, they’re rejected, condemned and dehumanized as “violent terrorists”.
But there is one thing I will never forget. We, Palestinians might lose a hundred battles, but as long as we maintain the morality of our struggle we are the genuine winners of this war. The Israeli occupiers might assassinate thousands of our people, and imprison the rest in the hope that we will give up our “Palestinian-ness”, but their strategies will never prevail, and more importantly they will reinforce our determination to survive.
Canadian Arab Youth Solidarity Delegation
Palestine August 2002