The last night I was in Palestine, we all started to get a bit demob happy. Jules and I were leaving the next day and Jean was following the day after. D and Ingrid were staying a little longer. It had been a tense time in Hebron, with clashes happening daily, and in a way I was pleased to be getting out. But I knew that Palestine had a deep hold on me too.
It turned out that getting out was harder than getting in. You arrive at the airport and immediately get questioned by security as to what you have been doing in Israel. If they think you have been to Palestine, or worse still, you’ve been involved with activism out there, you get a three-hour grilling and a ban from coming back. I really didn’t want to go through all that, so I came up with a plan.
I put on my Congolese shirt, found some shades in the flat and stuck on my dodgy-looking trench coat. My guitar case was falling apart, and so was my guitar for that matter: the neck had broken. I looked a complete state. Perfect! I wanted to give the impression that I was doing the whole sex, drugs and rock and roll thing in Tel Aviv. Move along, nothing to see here….
Sure enough, when I arrived at Tel Aviv airport the next day I was questioned by a gruff-sounding security agent at the entrance. He asked me my name, what I was doing there, what my job was, where I worked and so on. I kept smiling and told him I’d been a tourist in Tel Aviv and had been having a great time. “Enjoy your flight,” he said. Result! No three hour grilling for me!
However, when I was waiting in the queue, another security agent was on me. The same questions. She seemed very interested in my guitar case and pulled me to one side. “We’re going to have to check this,” she said. Gulp.
So I waited at the security desk while all the other passengers went through. Two guys can up and started examining my knackered guitar case, speaking rapidly in Hebrew. “It’s ok,” said the senior-looking one to me. “He’s in training”.
The other guy proceeded to take samples from my guitar case using something resembling a brush for cleaning dishes. He rubbed it across the case, and over my harmonicas, leads and everything inside it. The poor sod kept putting the brush into an Ionscan device but it came up blank. No drugs. So he did it again. And again. I was there for nearly two hours. Everyone else had left for the flight.
So zealous were they in wanting to prove I had drugs on me, they failed to notice a few things in my guitar case that I’d neglected to notice were in there when I was packing. Namely:
1. The Jawwal SIM card, for use only in Palestine,
2. Palestinian embroideries that I’d bought in Palestine,
3. Nablus soap that I’d bought from the factory in Palestine,
4. A pen with a Palestinian flag on it, (god knows what it was doing there).
In fact, I was sitting there thinking that you I had nothing on me to link me to being in Tel Aviv, and everything was pointing to the fact I’d been in Palestine. But the disguise had obviously worked too well. When they realised they weren’t going to find any drugs on me, they escorted me to the terminal and I got on the plane with minutes to spare.
Rewind a few days back, and at one of the clashes in Hebron city centre, a man came up to us as we were photographing the Israeli army. He spoke in very broken English, so I will paraphrase.
“Where are you from?” he asked.
“Wales,” we said
“Well, you go back to Wales and tell Welsh people what we have to live with!”
This for me sums up the overall positive way in which our presence was welcomed here in Palestine. Ordinary people were so lit up by the fact we were there, they’d come up and speak to us in the street, practicing their English or telling us their opinions.
These blog posts are by no means a “balanced” point of view. I have not sought to seek out different opinions from individuals or organisations. I haven’t tried to write a full history of the conflict here. I have just presented a snapshot of what I encountered in as direct a way as I could. And this is all that people out there wanted me to do.
Having said all that, looking at the way occupation affects ordinary people here makes me aware of the fact that there is a very basic injustice going on. A people have been booted off their land and had their resources taken away. Those that remain are mostly under martial law. They are brutalised, denied basic rights and collectively punished. Despite UN resolution after UN resolution, the international community does nothing to stop this. Why? Before you start spouting ideology or going on about “balance”, how can this be justified in any way? Media coverage seems very thin on the ground too.
The overall trajectory is not good for Palestine. People are getting forced into smaller and smaller spaces and have less and less power over their own lives. Where is this going to end? Will people just give up, or leave?
The positive things I’ll take away are the fact that in so many places I went, there is a spirit of defiance and resistance amongst people I met. There are also a lot of international volunteers out there who are taking back their experiences to the places they are from. And finally, as someone who found the war against children and young people the most disturbing aspect of what I saw out there, I was glad to see that there is still a space and a value put on childhood. It was all the more poignant seeing kids still able to be kids despite the horrific circumstances that surround them.
Thanks to my amazing travelling companions Jules, D, Ingrid and Jean. And of course to all the ISMers we worked with and the incredible people we met along the way D is still out in Palestine and you can read more about what we have all been up to here: https://www.facebook.com/olivepickers