Refuge camps, psychic readings and art exhibits?
06.29.2007 - 07.01.2007 30 °C
As the minibus pulled into the town centre opf Ramallah, a large group of men with green cloths used as masks walked down the main street with AK-47s pointed at the sky. They were chanting various slogans. Fully covered women were crying and there were bullet holes and bombed out houses everywhere.
If that is what you immediately thought when you heard "Palestine", then you are wrong. While images from the media may show you a lawless territory festered with terrorists and suicide bombers, the truth is quite different.
In my time in the West Bank, I've met people with diverse opinions and backgrounds as well as a society with a wide specturm of class and stability. Throughout my time there, I've found a people that is proud and will not surrender when they've been kept down so many times. The situation between Israel and Palestine is extremely personal and too complex for me to discuss here. However, I can only hope that there can be peace, prosperity and freedom for all people in this region someday soon.
I arrived in the Tel Aviv airport early and took the bus to Jerusalem. There, I realized there was something very different: when I looked at an available seat on the bus, it was taken by the M16 of an Israeli soldier. Instead, I sat down beside a young officer reading "The Fountainhead" by Ayn Rand. We struck up a conversation and he talked about his desire to study grad school in Canada and army duties. He also asked me why I chose to travel to Israel since it's not a typical tourist destination for a non-pilgrim.
Once at the bus station, it took me awhile more to get used to being searched and having bags x-rayed at the bus station and mall entrance. The numerous soldiers aged 18-20 with M16s, grenade launchers hanging around the station also threw me off since they look just like highschool kids with army uniforms and guns.
I took the bus to Ramllah that afternoon and the difference was astounding. I arrived on a deserted Friday (since it's their holy day) and made my way to the center to meet Zab. Ramalla h was a lot more run down than Israel of course and more so than Egypt and place s in Turkey as well (as a result of corruption and Israel's economic strangulation).
Locals were extremely surprised to see a tourist, nonetheless an asian looking one! I spent the rest of the first day hanging out with Zab's family, walking about town with him and his cousin Dina, getting a coffee ground psychic reading by Zab's great-aunt anbd meeting some of his friends at Birzeit University for drins and sheesha.
Day 2: The day started early with a visit to Jalezone refuge camp to see the kids there. The group of people I was with were international students studying at Birzeit who were to volunteer to teach kids English, French, dance, etc. For lunch, we had a great fallafel sandwhich for 1 NIS ($0.25). I then attended a lecture on the partition wall at the University. In the evening, I attended two art exhibit opening with the Zabaneh family and a party with Zab and Yasmine.
I really wish I had more time and resources. I would have loved to volunteer teaching music or computer science to the kids at the camp. Perhaps that is where I can do volunteer work through an NGO sponsored by Accenture in the future.
As my minimus pulls away from Ramallah towards Jerusalem, I think about the desperation and hope of the Palestinian people, the cool people I've met, the pink and purple sun sets over the hills and houses of Ramallah. When people ask me whether I thought there was a solution to the conflict, I always say this the same thing. Of all the places I've seen, people I've talked to, they all want the same things. Freedom, Peace and Prosperity. I'm a realist (combination of optimist and pessimist) and though it may take a long time, I do believe that there can be a solution that ensures everlasting peace and harmony between Israel and Palestine.
Acknowledgements: I want to thank Chris Zabaneh and his family for their hospitality and generosity! Chris provided so much opportunity and diverse experience in my time in West Bank, it was truly enlightening.
I am looking forward to seeing his work (images and documentary)!