It was once said (I can’t remember by whom) that when you come to Palestine you can write a book, but when you leave you can hardly write a sentence.
One must be forgiven, at times, for occasionally experiencing a sense of normality when living in Area A. The overwhelming hospitality, really cool Arabic music blaring from cars, crazy driving, beeping horns and broken pavements, brightly coloured flags.
However it doesn’t take long until reality hits. I have been doing a research project for a local NGO on emigration from Palestine and have been interviewing a wide range of people who have ranged from the dynamic and entrepreneurial to the downright hopeless. The extent of the economic pressures and lack of options for development are difficult to sum up in a few words but the amount of national emigration particularly among young graduates and people with young families says it all. 30,000 students a year graduate from Palestine a year and jobs are limited. Some call it the emigration of the minds and I’ve been told that many are emigrating for their freedom and not for the ‘American Dream.’ Everyone I have asked has said BDS is important.
Next week I am excited to be interviewing Palestinian Archbishop Atallah Hanna who famously said “Those who use the bible to support Israel need to differentiate between God’s promise and Balfour’s promise, because the occupation is the result of a promise given to the Israelis by Lord Balfour and not by God.” I like him already.
One shocking fact I learnt – and is just one of the ways Israel is profiting from the occupation – is in the biometric ID cards which Palestinians have to buy at 100 NIS (New Israeli Shekels) a time in order to work in Israel and the settlements. 400,000 of these were issued in a two-year period, so work that one out. Then there is the cost of the work permits at 1,000 NIS a month.
And then there is insane Hebron where I have been spending some time. A 10 or 11 year old settler kid stands on Shuhada street daily, chatting and laughing with the soldiers, he has a large toy wooden rifle draped across his body – preparing for the real thing in a few years.
The Old City of Hebron apparently has the highest poverty rate in the West Bank now. Heartbreaking for somewhere once so prosperous. One lunch time, hundreds filed past me carrying buckets. They were on their way to ‘The Hospice Abrahamic’, the 900 year old soup kitchen next to the Ibrahimi Mosque. I was told that once upon a time it was just small boys who would go to the kitchen, sent as representatives of very poor families but these days it is people of all ages and many of them are working. Middle aged men, heads held high, carrying buckets on their way to get soup to feed their families.
Ahlan wa sahlan – welcome to occupied Palestine.