Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Right to Survive

Reading a book about someone’s life can never compare to actually hearing them tell it. Skimming newspaper articles about a political situation is nowhere near as personal as hearing it from a victim. Watching the news on television cannot convey how much the people who live in these circumstances every day are suffering. And that is why when I had the opportunity laid before me to hear a Palestinian girl’s story, I knew I needed to listen. In the course of twenty minutes she told me more personal stories than many Americans will hear in their lifetime. I’m not a journalist. I don’t know how to do a proper interview, so I just listened to her talk. When I asked questions, sometimes I suspected what her answer would be but wanted to hear it from her, other times, I was shocked. I wish I would have had a tape recorder, but here is the gist of our conversation.

Why are you here?
She was with an American organization that brings Israeli and Palestinian youths together. They go to a three week camp in America where they get to dialogue about their situation. Afterwards, they come back here and continue to do community service work side by side in hopes of increasing reconciliation and peace. She actually had to go to the camp late. Why? The government. In order for Palestinians to leave their region they need permission from the Israeli government, paperwork in order to enter Jordan to catch a plane to other parts of the world, and what she called “coordination”. I think this refers to exact travel plans: who will pick her up, where, when, etc. She had the first two, but the coordination wasn’t figured out all the way so she was only able to go to the last two weeks of camp. On the last day of camp, she asked one of the Israelis. “In two years you will go to the army. You know me. You know my thoughts and desires. You know I want peace. If you are in West Bank and you see me and your commander tells you to shoot me, would you do it?” The Israeli said yes.
Where are you from?
Originally, she was from Gaza, but it got so bad there they had to move to the West Bank. Now she cannot go visit her relatives in Gaza. Currently she is from a town called Ramallah. I asked her where that was. So she drew a map of Israel…. “Ok, so here is Palestine. This is West Bank. Here is Jerusalem and here is Ramallah.” “How far away is that?” “Because of the check point, about two hours.” “What if there was no check point?” “About 17 minutes.”
Why does the check point take so long?
In order to come into Israel, they have to have special papers with permission and IDs. I have seen them from when we pick up families to take them to the hospital. If they don’t have these, they don’t enter. Once at the check point, it takes forever. Why? She could not give me a reason. They are humiliated at every turn. They go through many security scans even though they could not have picked anything up as they go through. Sometimes the official will go on break and leave dozens of people waiting in between scanners, or what she referred to as “cages”. She also told me that “if they are in a bad mood” they can ask you to strip right there. She saw them do this one time. They told a young boy to take off all his clothes. He did and they took his clothes away. Then they told him to go home; he could not go through today. Another Palestinian woman gave him a jacket to wrap around himself.
Your English is very good. Where did you learn it?
“Really?” She didn’t know how good she was, but her English was almost flawless. Probably the best I’ve heard by a non-American since being here. We learn it at school in Gaza. Everyone does now. “Why English? Why not learn Hebrew since you are right next door?” “I don’t think anyone would think to do that. We would not want to learn the ‘enemy’s’ language.” She had two older siblings that are currently studying in the US and England at universities. I asked her if she will go as well. Probably, was the reply. She knows her brother will most likely never come back. He likes America so much better. “What would you study?” “My mom wants me to be a doctor. But I don’t want to. That is a lot more school. I’m just not as dedicated like my brother.” “Well then, what would you study if you could pick?” “Politics.” “That’s what I study!” I got a high five for that.
Do you think peace is possible?
“I don’t know.” After the response of the Israeli at the camp last summer she says she has lost hope. But all she wants is freedom. “We are denied the basic rights. The right to live. The right to survive. Every day I am afraid I will be killed.” She told me one week when it was really bad, she puked three times simply out of fear and stress. I asked her, “Are things getting better?” “No. They are actually getting worse. There are more houses being destroyed. More settlements being built.” At the camp, when the Palestinians told the Israeli students all the things that were being done, all the people (including children) that were killed in the Gaza Wars, their response was, “Sorry.” “Sorry isn’t enough.” And she’s right. Saying probably won’t be enough. I don’t know what will be. But I know America needs to wake up and hear this side of the story. There is so much going on here that most people aren’t aware of.

I read a book last year called Occupied Voices. It is simply Palestinians like this girl telling their stories. I highly recommend it for anyone who is trying to gain a perspective on what the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is like from the Palestinian side. And while that book really touched me, I know that this conversation has even more so. As we parted today, she turned and gave me a hug. All she wanted was for someone to listen, someone from the outside to hear and know the truth. So I share her story with you, so that you can also know. Will you listen?

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