Just before I left UK, I bumped into an old University friend in London, who told me he works for an NGO called 'Global Witness'. They go to places that don't make the news and try to shine the light on situations that the world should know about. Good job.
I came here for several reasons, and that was one of them: to witness on the ground what I have personally heard about for nearly all of my adult life. I was inspired by my brother, who volunteered to be part of the Viva Palestina convoy which left England for Gaza a couple of months ago. They travelled 4000 miles with donated vehicles, garnering enormous local and popular support from people as they travelled through France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Syria, Egypt and then Gaza.
They got through, after a long wait in Syria to organise the Egyptian entry, and managed to deliver 5million USD-worth of medical aid to that forsaken strip of land. The welcome they received was incredible, and by the time they ended the convoy the number of vehicles had swollen to 150, some brand-new ambulances donated by Middle-Easterners, and some 400 people. They were given accommodation in the Palestine Hotel, and a tour of the strip, which only measures some 5 miles by 30. One of the most densely populated areas on the planet, apparently.
He witnessed the destroyed buildings, the checkpoints, the restricted fishing zones, complete with harassment from an Israeli patrol boat, and he witnessed the poverty. But he also witnessed their humanity and generosity, and he came back with a feeling of hope, amazed at their strength. What gives people like that their strength? Is it their faith?
Here it is a slightly different story, as there is a peace, of sorts, for the moment. But I have now witnessed myself what it is like to live under a permanent state of occupation, as on every hill around Nablus there are Israeli Army military posts. Life goes on here as normal, with the wonderful markets, and the people's joy at family events, etc, but scratch the surface and you enter a different world.
I have been interviewing both local and International volunteers, as part of a (not-so-original) initiative I had to tell these people's stories to readers of this blog, but the more people I interview, the more I realise how complicated this is. Not only is there the heavy psychological influence of the wall, the settlers, the checkpoints, but there is also local suspicion and division, as the two parties Fatah and Hamas fight for political supremacy.
I made a decision not to try to get involved in the politics of it here, but as one of my interviewees said yesterday "to live here is to be a political person". You cannot avoid it. Everyone knows someone who has suffered from this situation, it affects daily life, plans, hopes. You cannot teach a lesson all about going to the airport or the travel agency - one of the most common TEFL lessons - as these people are not allowed to travel.
Add to this the fact that we are warned not too put too much detail into our blogs, for fear of reprisals, and you begin to get the picture. One International volunteer here, who was writing a blog, actually had a telephone call from the Israeli authorities! I imagine it is pretty easy these days to track internet information, especially if it contains keywords like Nablus, Israel and Wall! I was pleased to see that even my puny blog is being read in eight different countries, which thrilled an internationalist like myself, until I saw that someone in Saudi Arabia and several people in USA are looking in: quoi? I wonder who they are...
Last night one of our International Volunteers left for the Airport. She has really put herself into a difficult psychological space by getting to know prisoners and prisoner's families, and had heard perhaps more than an innoccent Westerner should get to hear in one go. I think it is not an understatement to say that she was traumatized, and after hearing all of that, she will have to arrive at the airport in Tel Aviv with a fabricated story and false itinerary, for we are not allowed to visit the Palestinians, and we must send any incriminating 'evidence' home to ourselves in a parcel or leave it here, as we are interrogated at the airport, and our luggage closely scrutinised.
Now I ask you, is that normal?