Friday, August 26, 2011

Because my dad told me to...

Last month I took a trip to Palestine, or more accurately, the Occupied Palestinian Territories. I have much to write about the experience, but due to the very real danger that I will never get around to it, for now I am posting, at my father's suggestion, a few words I wrote for the organisation's donors:

It has been about a month since returning from ICAHD's summer rebuilding camp, and in that time countless people have posed the same question: 'How was Palestine?'

And the first word that comes to my mind (as if you could describe the experience in a word) is hard. The physical work in the heat and sun was hard, of course, but so much more so was witnessing injustice at a magnitude I had never yet encountered. As the camp came to a close, I couldn't escape the feelings of anger and despair that weighed me down.

Yet, in those two weeks, I also encountered so much courage, perseverance, and sheer goodness that I couldn't help but leave that place inspired.

I was inspired by my fellow international volunteers, who came from all around the world to join in this common goal. Being united in communal work and life with them was refreshing, and hearing of their steadfast efforts in their respective homelands was motivating.

I was inspired by our Israeli leaders, who have the insight and vision to see beyond the system in which they are living. I can't imagine what it is like to work not only against the policies and practices of your own government but also against the values and prejudices of your own community, yet the Israeli activists we got to know engage in this effort tirelessly, some at the cost of relationships to friends and family.

And, most of all, I was inspired by the many Palestinians we met and worked with, who, simply by remaining in their homes and continuing their daily lives in peace, are exemplifying resistance. Despite being denied both rights and basic needs by a regime bent on getting them to quit and leave, they refuse to give in.

Beyond this, I was touched by the generosity and hospitality which
our various Palestinian hosts bestowed upon us, be it welcoming us into their homes, sharing delicious meals with us, or inviting us, strangers who neither spoke the language nor really knew the culture, to take part in a family's wedding festivities.

One moment I found particularly touching was when one of our hosts returned from the hospital with her newborn daughter. Even amidst the occupation, the joy of new life continues, and we were fortunate enough to welcome it.

When we weren't busy meeting and being inspired by people, we were of course building a house.

And it was this aspect that drew me into the camp from the moment I heard about it. I currently work in the office of a human rights organisation, and when sitting at a desk day after day, busying myself with translations and grant reports, it is difficult to feel like, much less see that, I am making any sort of contribution toward the fight for peace and justice. At the camp, it was different. There, when I left the work-site each evening, my eyes could see what we had accomplished that day, and my tired muscles could attest that I had done my part, however small it may be.

The way I see it, ICAHD's Summer Rebuilding Experience allows volunteers to do three great things. First, it provides people from various countries the chance to witness the occupation firsthand: to see the demolished houses and uprooted olive trees and to hear the personal stories, and thus equip us to share our experiences with others upon our return. Secondly, the camp provides a home to a family who had been robbed of one, a fact that, amidst all the politics and symbolism, should not be overshadowed. Finally, the camp provides the chance to take action in peaceful resistance, the chance to set a sign that, ultimately, injustice cannot win.

I consider myself honored to have been given the chance to take part in this amazing experience, and I sincerely thank all those who made it possible for me as well as those who enable the participation of others in the future.