I have been in Occupied Palestine for a week and a half now. And it's glorious. People are friendly, the landscape is positively incredible, the food is delicious, the Arabic gorgeous and nuanced, and my work is challenging and fulfilling. I am teaching music (voice and piano) to kids in individual lessons at a music center in Nablus, and we begin group music classes at a local primary school tomorrow.
I have passed by many checkpoints, but only gone through two of them. One was unmanned and I walked through the maze of turnstiles, and other was manned by a barely legal Israeli girl who giggled and flirted over the loudspeaker with the male volunteer with whom I was traveling. There was also a gruff 30-something man who simply waved me past when I flashed my U.S. passport.
I spent hours walking along the separation wall in Bethlehem and trying not to tear up at the graffiti (pictures to come). I also picked up a fabulous book called 'Challenging the Wall: Towards a Pedagogy of Hope' which contains case studies, academic analysis, interviews, etc., about the separation wall and it's role on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
I crossed into "East Jerusalem" from "West Jerusalem" and the discrepancy was shocking. One crosses the street near Damascus Gate (Bab el-Aamoud) and immediately the signs are in Arabic and the voices speak Arabic.
So far I've managed to figure out how to take a serveece (like a cross between a taxi and a bus), order my daily felafel sandwich, and talk to my kids to see how their days have been. I also know my way around the Old City, how to cook in a gas-lit oven (my cake turned out fabulously), and how to ignore the 'how are yous' and the 'what's your name' and the 'i love yous' shouted at me from all directions whenever I walk down the street.
-hiking Wadi Qelt near Areha (Jericho) at sunrise
-making friends with the owners/10-month old daughter of the restaurant in Areha
-being invited for tea by the neighbor kids, which turned into dinner, which turned into shisha on the roof
-baking/inventing a delicious cake in our gas-lit stove
-stumbling upon the PLO Negotiations headquarters, eating lunch there, and then forcing the guards to take my cake
-being in the main square of Nablus during the rally when Abbas was speaking to the UN
-observing the Via Dolorosa walk in the Old City of Jerusalem
-sharing a seat with an older woman and her granddaughter on a serveece to Ramallah
-leaving the Bethlehem Couchsurfer host's place at 3 AM and wandering around the city
-befriending four policemen in Bethlehem and being invited to cook lunch with them in their bachelor pad across from the Church of the Nativity
-leaving my mark on the separation wall
And three more months to come!
Palestine is a beautiful country. It is NOT scary. It is NOT dangerous. It is NOT full of Muslim terrorists.
...it's full of Jewish terrorists. Not that all Jews are terrorists, and not that all Israelis are terrorists. But the people in Palestine who are terrorizing Palestinians are Jewish Israelis.
It's full of Israeli teenagers toting guns, as well as armed Jewish settlers who assault regular Palestinians on a daily basis. It is also full of American-financed systematic oppression and intimidation of an entire people. It is full of brave, persistent, courageous, normal families whose every breath constitutes an act of resistance. Many people have made a choice to stay here in Palestine, or to immigrate here, to an occupied territory where their very lives and the lives of their loved ones are threatened and where their existence is denied by major players in the international community.
Palestine is a peaceful place. People are tired of violence, but they are actively demanding their right to self-determination regardless of what international leaders, Palestinian leaders, and Israeli leaders are doing behind the scenes.
One can understand nothing about a place until it is experienced for oneself, and that understanding will change every minute as the situation itself changes. Palestine is not static. Palestine is dynamic, in constant change and adaptation with the requirements of daily life and the whims of the State of Israel as well as the ignorance and cowardice of the international community.
Visit Palestine! Or at the very least educate yourself. There's so much to love here.