Today’s post ends our adventure in Palestine and so it is time to sum it up. What have we learned, what have we experienced? Has our opinion about the situation in the Middle East changed? Today we will allow ourselves to express personal, subjective opinion.
For sure we would describe ourselves as friends of Palestinian people; after visiting they homeland and meeting them personally it would be hard to state otherwise. But does it make us enemies of the Israelis? Does one have to choose: either Israel or Palestine? Not neccessarily. Apart from being Palestinians’ allies we can say that we are Israelis’ friends too. We are friends of people, who live in this country, go to work, school, rise children, go to pubs at night, etc. – just live ordinary lives. However, we strongly criticise politics practised by the Israeli government. It is obvious that it harms Palestinians, but we state that it also doesn’t do much good to the people of Israel. They have to pay high taxes to support settlers (sometimes unemployed, whose only occupation is being present on the land confiscated from Palestine) and religious extremists (whose only occupation is reading Torah). Additionally, enormous costs are generated by maintenance of the army – used not only to protect the country, but also to occupy West Bank. As a result of these high costs Israelis’ standard of living is getting worse. Young people often can’t afford apartments and they don’t have any perspectives for that. We met a young couple, who didn’t study because they had to serve in the army. Now, because of lack of higher education they don’t earn much and spend all the money for living (and renting a flat). Although they are very keen on studying, most likely they will never be able to afford it, hence never get a better job and buy their own flat.
It is just one example but costs of Israel’s politics are a burden to every person living there. How does the government justify these expanses? “Security reasons” is a key-word that opens every door… Society that lives in constant fear is much easier to control. Although if security was really a priority, politics would be quite different: discontinuation of abuses in the West Bank and achieving peace with Palestine would be an objective. How could it be achieved is a topic for another chapter, or a book even, which we don’t feel competent to write. However, mutual Arab-Jewish respect of the rights, dignity, equality and democracy instead of violence would definitely play role there. Fair historical education and effort of understanding other side’s sufferings would also be important.
In contrast just let us remind a quote from David Ben-Gurion, former Israeli prime minister, who commented on Jewish pogrom in Germany in 1938 (known as Kristallnacht), as quoted in “Ben-Gurion and the Palestinian Arabs : From Peace to War” (1985) by Shabtai Teveth, p. 66:
“If I knew it was possible to save all [Jewish] children of Germany by their transfer to England and only half of them by transferring them to Eretz-Yisrael [Land of Israel], I would choose the latter—-because we are faced not only with the accounting of these [Jewish] children but also with the historical accounting of the Jewish People.”
We doubt that this way of thinking about human lives and politics has changed much since then.
So, does it make us uncritical pro-Palestinians? No, it doesn’t. Same as in case of Israel, we are friends of the people, but criticize the government, which in case of Palestinian Authority is corrupted, doesn’t represent its people and breaks human rights.
We find it also quite important to mention that the Israeli people are often unaware of the situation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. They support government’s politics most likely because of the ‘security reasons’, but we belive and hope that if they had better understanding of the situation, they would start to oppose. Already there are Israeli organisations who do it, like B’Tselem (http://www.btselem.org/) or Israeli Comitee Agains House Demolitions (http://www.icahd.org/).

How can you help or get involved??

It seems the Palestinians are in a really difficult situation there, oppressed by Israel and their own authorities – so how can we help? How can you help?

1. Material help – not always a good solution
One way could be material help, one could think. Although it can be helpful, in this case it is not the most important thing. Because of corruption in the Palestinian Authority it is quite likely that money will not reach the official recipient at all, or will be spent by incompetent people. And there are things more important than money.

2. Being a conscious recipient of medial content, searching for information by our own

Most often what we see or read in popular media shows only part of the complex reality in the Middle East. Trying to deepen knowledge, dig out historical facts, read quotations from politicians from bot sides of the conflict, and asking people who lived in Gaza or West Bank can bring you closer to the real image of the situation there.

3. Spreading and sharing what you know about the situation in the region

It is crucial to spread the information about the real situation in the West Bank, since it is not shown in the media.

4. Boycott of Israeli products

Another way advised by some people is boycott of Israel and Israeli products or goods in order to achieve ending of apartheid, just as it was done in South Africa. After a series of political, economic, cultural, sport and academic boycotts of Republic of South Africa politics was changed there and apartheid came to an end in 1990.
Boycott supporters say that if awareness of Palestinian problem increases around the world and people start to put pressure on Israel by boycotting its products, finally this attitude will reach governments worldwide. The desirable consequence would be decrease in trading and dealing with Israel, which will have no other choice than to end the apartheid and respect human rights and international law, notoriously being broken nowadays. But first – as it was said – world has to know what is going on there. Details about boycott can be found for instance on the Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS) website: http://www.bdsmovement.net (tab: campaigns), or Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boycotts_of_Israel. Main rule is very simple: don’t buy Israeli products (their bar code starts with 729) and don’t buy products of companies that gain profit from abuses committed in the West Bank (such as Veolia, Volvo, Alstom, Agrexo and so on). List of such companies can be found on web site mentioned above. A significant sigh of the boycott power is this year’s law passed by Israeli Knesset that makes the call for a boycott on Israel or Israeli settlements a civil wrong. The law was heavily criticized in Israel by both left-wing and Arab political parties. Israeli leftist and human rights organizations also criticized the law, and launched a public campaign against it as it was stated to violate basic democratic principles and freedom of speech.

5. Travelling to the West Bank, meeting Palestinian people

Since Palestinians cannot travel freely, we have to go to Palestine to get to know them. However, most of the tourists visiting the Holy Land never experience any signs of occupation and never get to know any Palestinians. They normally use common, commercial travel agencies. Why not to try alternative, conscious touring? You will be able to see how the real life in Palestine looks like. Obviously we didn’t have to use such travel agencies organizing ‘alternative tours’, but we heard about them and saw one in Jerusalem and one in Hebron. You can also search them in the Internet, for instance Alternative Tourism Group http://www.atg.ps/ or Alternative Tours http://www.alternativetours.ps/.

6. Supporting projects involving European and Palestinian youth

During our visit in Bethlehem Aida Refugee Camp we met a man coordinating work of the Leeja Youth Center (www.lajee.org). They organize many events to support local children and teens in the Refuge Camp, however they are also successful in realizing a brilliant idea (from our point of view) of introducing Palestinian youth to the people from other countries. How do they do it? For example they organize excursions of the Palestinian youths for invitation of foreign schools or other institutions or even private people and show performance of Dabkeh (traditional Palestinian dance) or exhibitions of photographs taken by the kids from the camp. They also organize Human Rights Workshops and simply make possible for international people to get to know Palestinians, and vice versa. Leeja Youth Center invites also foreigners to come to Bethlehem Refugee Camp to work with the local children.

Since Leeja Center does not have any cooperation with Poland yet, we are thinking about organizing the trip for at least 10 Palestinian children to Poland, for a week or two. The main goal would be to accommodate them in Polish families so both sides could learn something about each other. Isn’t it a great idea??

7. Go volunteering to the West Bank!

Yes, we know that it is not always easy but… it is worthy! We would warmly recommend this way of support, especially with one of organisations we proved to be reliable like International Solidarity Movement (ISM – http://palsolidarity.org), or Jordan Valley Solidarity (JVS – http://jordanvalleysolidarity.org). This method is definitely most laborious, time and energy consuming but also very satisfactory, we assure!

We will miss you, Palestine!

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