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Final Thoughts on Four Days in Palestine

by: -bat.

I know a number of people have started reading my journal in order to read the Palestine stuff. Thank you for reading, and I am flattered by the attention, but you are kind of in the wrong place. I only did three days out there, just visiting, and then came back. I am not (yet) an activist, and somewhere in the back of my head it’s hard not to hear an echo of John Lydon singing “A cheap holiday in other peoples misery”. If you really want to know about life out there, and want to read the journal of a genuine activist, then this is the place you want to be. That is Katie, whom I have talked about here, and whom I own a hell of a lot for inviting me to visit, putting me up and showing me around. She is many things, an artist, a cartoonist, and someone who cares about the situation to the point of ending up living out there. But to me she is also my friend, and I am very glad of that. Go back and read it from the beginning if you can. Another place you should really be reading is here which is Jonas’ journal and provides frequent updates on incidents out there.

So, if you came here to read about Palestine then time to de-friend me, as it’s back to my usual life now. But, for what it’s worth, here are a final few thoughts, and the answers to a few questions people have asked me.

Where is this all going to end?

This is a question I asked a lot of people when I was out there. Most of the time the answers I got were simply that they had no idea what would happen next and where things would end. I did get the occasional positive outlook, along the lines of what Rich said in his comment a few posts ago:

“One day maybe, there will be a nice small hotel or some self-catering apartments in Bil’in, and they will be able to take people to show them ‘where there used to be a wall’.”

Yes, maybe there will, but there’s another answer I got to the question, which looks far more plausible right now:

Palestine will be wiped out.

Melodramatic? Unfortunately it’s all too easy to see how this could happen. The west bank is already divided up into small chunks by a network of roads, settlements and checkpoints. There are areas where the Palestinians have been given autonomy, and areas where Israel is tightening it’s grip. Look at the depopulation in Tel Rumeida, and imagine that taking place everywhere that it is intolerable for the people to live. Already there are more Palestinians living abroad than there are in Palestine itself, and those that remain may be squeezed into smaller and smaller self-governing disconnected areas. “Like Indian reservations in the USA” as one person put it to me. Until eventually there is no such place as “Palestine” in any meaningful way, just a few scattered overpopulated pockets of people who once were identified as Palestinian.

What good do the internationals do?

This is one I get asked a lot – what’s the point of what the ISM does, and is there any real positive effect on the situation. To which the answer is a definite “yes”. The internationals observe and record, and report on human rights violations. A concrete example of this came during the weekend I was out there – video tape shot of soldiers using civilians as a human shield was distributed to the press, and the Israeli commander responsible was suspended. Just by having the people there makes it less likely that these incidents will occur too – it helps that someone is watching. I have also been told that the presence of internationals makes the Israeli’s less likely to use live ammunition. If you thought Bil’in was bad then imagine how it might have been had there been no TV crews, and no foreign nationals there. How restrained are troops who are happy to fire rubber bullets at children even with us present likely to be if there are only the local Palestinians present?

Sometimes, even the most unlikely of things can be helpful too. If you thought that the circus skills that so many of us seem to pick up on our way through university were pointless, then I suggest you go and read about Katie and Jonas’ checkpoint performances. Non-violent protest personified.

Ultimately the presence of the internationals is not going to bring an end to the conflict, but it helps make the lives of the people under the occupation better, and acts as a curb on some of the abuses being carried out. One person with a video camera in the right place at the right time can make a difference.

Passing through … or getting involved

I hope I haven’t given the impression over the last few sets of postings that it is difficult to go and visit Palestine. If you want to see it for yourself and are in the area then it is very easy. If you find yourself in the area then I would encourage anyone to go and do it. You don’t have to be political – go and see the tourist sights if you wish, and spend some money with the locals whilst you are out there. God knows the local economy needs it. I freely admit that I have an agenda here though – I think if people go and visit for themselves, even if they intend to avoid the political situation, then rubbing up against the reality of the occupation is going to change the way you think about the place. So if you have been diving in the Red Sea, or going on a visit to Petra or simply just happen to find yourself in Jerusalem, why not take a day or so and go take a visit to Jericho, Bethlehem, Hebron maybe? Names to conjure with, and I guarantee you will not be disappointed – and maybe you will come back with more than just a set of holiday snaps, maybe you will come back with an urge to actually go and do something about it.

If you already have the urge to go and try and help, as I know a number of you have, then get in touch with ISM. There is a London branch, and they can be found here. This year is the 40th anniversary of the occupation, and every warm body helps. All the information is up there, so I won’t repeat it here. If you want to actually do some good, then this is one way that you can.

And me?

It’s four weeks in my past now, and sometimes it feels somewhat unreal as I tell people about it. But if I go back and look at that first picture from Bil’in, there I am, in the middle of the crowd, marching with the rest of them (and almost none of you noticed that, did you?). Yes, it was real, all of it – the good bits and the awful bits. It’s a place which manages to simultaneously re-affirm your faith in human nature at the same time as it undermines it. I don’t think any other three days have had such a big effect on me – and you can probably tell that from the amount I have written about it.

Am I going back? Of course I am. Sometime later this year I am going to go out there for a lot longer, and actually get involved in what is going on rather than simply observing over a weekend. I only spent a fleeting time out there, which doesn’t do anyone any good, and I want to go out and do something to actually help. There is also a lot of other stuff I need to see as well.

As to these write-ups – I hope they have been useful to someone, mainly because the people reading it know me, and thus will have more faith in what I am saying than they might do in a media report. There are also so many news stories, and so many eyewitness accounts, that it all starts to wash over you. Which is why I made a conscious decision not to include 3rd party stories in what I wrote by and large (and I heard a number of them). This is the way I saw it, first person. If you know me then trust it because of that.

When I tell things which I have done or have happened to me, they usually have punchlines or funny conclusions somewhere. This obviously doesn’t. But it needs an ending, and having written the section above on what might happen in the future right now I am depressed as hell, so this is the one which springs to mind most readily. From 1984:

“If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever.”

Don’t let it happen.
Free Palestine.