In June 2009 I spent a month in Palestine and interviewed women in waiting rooms at hospitals. One month is not long, but I did talk to a lot of Palestinians. I also stayed with a Palestinian family. The brother of my host was murdered by Israeli soldiers, one day he was simply shot in the back by passing soldiers, our host went to speech about this event and only called for forgiveness. He emphatically declared he did not wish to see any Israelis killed in retaliation.
Almost all the people I spoke to blamed elements in the Israeli government for teaching Israelis to hate Palestinians. In all my conversations I met only one woman and her mother who wanted to see Israelis killed. ‘Kill them all’, they said. That’s two out of possible a little over 100 people I spoke to. When investigative journalist Abby Martin went to interview random Israelis, she got the most disturbing reactions.
I was in Nablus, Hebron, Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Tel-Aviv, Ramallah and some smaller towns and villages that I don’t remember now.
Most people were remarkably positive about Israelis, in spite of all the suffering they had to go through. They praised their humor for example. On the other hand, when I tried to talk to Jews in their traditional attire I was asked if I was jewish and when I told them I was not, they refused to talk to me.
At the time I had very limited knowledge about the situation, so I had the same attitude towards both sides. There was nothing in my behavior that could possibly offend anyone. The only friendly Israeli face I saw during my time there, was that of an Israeli soldier who for some reason gave me an enthusiastic thumbs up when he saw my Belgian passport. This was on the last day of my stay there, and by that time I was too revolted to smile back.
Palestinians showed mostly shock and disbelief at what the Israelis were doing to them.
I saw many examples of what was pure malignant harassment organized by Israelis. There was one village where inhabitants could leave and enter, but nobody else could enter the village. The experience of children living in that sort of besieged village must have been surreal, they walked out of their house into what seemed like a war zone.
I saw Palestinians workers who were forced to enter Israel at great risk, illegally, because they had to if they wanted to make a living. Because they did not have a valid work permit they had to resort to sneaking in. In some cases their work permit had simply been destroyed by a soldier in a bad mood at one of the many check points. These work permits are very expensive to get…
In some villages the Israeli Aggressive Forces let ‘sound bombs‘ go off, they sound like bombs, but aren’t real bombs, this terrified the children. I went on a tour of a refugee camp, 25,000 people on 1 square km. If they left this crowded camp they automatically waved their rights to any land their ancestors had owned in Israel. I can go on and on and I was only there for one month, at a moment that was said to be a ‘relatively quiet time’, it was in june 2009. I will never forget the experience, it’s the most shocking experience I’ve ever had.
Here are some highlights:
- I talked to a woman who had given birth at a checkpoint because the Israeli soldiers wouldn’t let her pass to go to a clinic
- I talked to a woman whose husband and her 15 year old son were locked away in the same Israeli prison. They had never met there, which is a violation of the law. The father had been kept in a hole in the ground and was nearly blind. They had been arrested on false charges. When she visited them the jailers did all they could to make the experience as unpleasant as possible, and the times she could visit were very limited.
- I talked to a dentist who as a child saw his house turned into a guard tower by the IAF. Suddenly eight soldiers lived on their roof who liked to insult his mother.
- Houses and precious olive trees are routinely destroyed
- A Palestinian paramedic who tried to help an injured Israeli after a car crash was chased away at gun point by settlers
- My host family said that they had positive contact with Israelis, but only over the internet. The daugher sometimes chatted with Israelis. She had also become friends with Israelis when she had met some on a trip to Italy. There was an illegal jewish settlement 300 meters from her house, but she had never had any contact with those
- There were two kinds of roads. The high roads, the more strategically located ones, had a yellow line and Palestinians were not allowed on them
- Jews are paid to go and live in the illegal settlements. You don’t have to do much, you just have to stay there and claim the land
- Israelis at checkpoints told foreigners that Palestinians were barbarians and had no culture. A music teacher from the west was told that it was pointless to try and teach classical music to Palestinian children
- A recurring topic was that Palestinians try to lead happy lives, build nice houses, because this annoys the Israeli regime much more than anything else
- I’ve been to other Arab nations and Palestine was by far the most liberal. I was surprised by how honest the taxi drivers were, although they could have easily cheated us. In fact, one taxi driver started laughing when he saw on my face I was expecting him to name a fake price. But he gave us the standard rate. (My host family had told me how much a taxi in Bethlehem costs)
- I talked to a man whose son had been arrested the night before. No charges. The man had no idea why his teenage son had been taken away
- On a bus in Israel I sat next to an Israeli guy in swim shorts, T-shirt and sandals who was on the phone and carelessly playing with the M-16 on his lap. This was the only time I didn’t feel safe
- In the refugee camp I visited I met a very friendly American who was studying Arab and volunteering at the camp. Not every American swallows what Fox ‘news’ serves them
In the picture I’m the one in the middle. On the left you see Maryam, my then girlfriend, holder of an Iranian identity card (and no I’m not collecting points to get on the CIA’s black list). She’s a driven gynaecologist who trained with Palestinian medical personnel during our stay there. On the right you see Badr, a cheerful dentist, who has since left the country as he – I suppose – got tired of the systematic bullying by Israeli authorities which made his practice hard to maintain.
PS An interview with the owner of a hotel where we stayed
I had no experience as a journalist at the time and -horror- forgot to ask the man’s name, nor did I take his picture… I had a looot to learn, but I was very enthusiastic.
We’re staying in Rocky Hotel at the moment, still busy shaking off all our prejudices and all too predictable Western expectations about the living conditions around here. The hotel looks almost like an ancient Arabian palace, all modern comfort can be readily obtained. This is not the impoverished society we’ve been preparing ourselves for.
We’re more than a bit surprised that almost no Palestinian women are wearing a veil. For some unknown reason we experience nervous shivers running down our spine when we see a young Palestinian girl meeting a male friend. They kiss each other cheerfully on the cheek. The girl is wearing lots of make-up on her happy looking face and glitter on her clothes, a minimum layer of fabric that leaves more than a bit of her body exposed to the setting sun.
We think we’re keen observers when we remark: ‘We don’t see a lot of foreigners around here’
Our outgoing guide laughs and says: ‘Wait and see’
Less than an hour later we’re introduced to a merry, bantering company that includes among others a modest Belgian girl, a brazen Irish lass and a very fragile looking, but very talkative and militant French girl. All, Palestinians and foreigners alike, are drinking alcohol.
Is this the mainly Muslim country we set out to visit?
Today we sit in the hotel lobby, reflecting on all this. The hotel owner strikes up conversation and asks if Maryam has roots in the Middle East. A conversation follows out of which the following interview is born.
In your own words, how would you describe the current situation in Palestine?
Jews are greedy. That’s why there are so many jokes about them. Why does a Jew have a big nose? Because it’s free. The Palestinian territories are occupied by Israel, that’s a fact anyone can see. We’re not allowed to develop any industry, they try to keep us down any which way they can. The occupation continues and will continue for as long as it is profitable to a lot of people. Israel makes money out of this occupation.
Why would any Jew living abroad want to emigrate to Israel? In Europe and the United States they’re a lot better off. The Zionists want the Jews to fear the Arabs. If they feel safe, they would leave. Every ten years they create an Intifadah and the stupid Palestinians fall into this trap.
In the long run it’s bad for Israel. The citizens of Israel will pay the price in the end. A father serving at a check point will be more violent when he comes home to his own family. All they long he’s been under a lot of stress.
If you give it ten years, to teach the younger generation that we can live together, then there is hope.
But in their hearts the Israeli’s don’t want peace. Why give up one meter if you have the power to maintain control over it? They don’t want to give us a country. They can’t explain it to their people if they give up something they can keep controlling.
There is no nation on earth in our entire history that is eternally strong. What goes up must come down.
Ramallah is obviously a very unique place. How is it possible so many Palestinians here are driving big, expensive cars? I overheard you saying several times that there are no resources in Palestine, that Palestine is prevented from producing anything by itself.
They don’t make their money here, obviously. All of the people you see here, driving a fancy car, have businesses abroad. They just live here. Do you think I earn my bread running this hotel? No, of course not. I have several brothers in the United States. We own liquor stores and gas stations there. That’s how we make our money.
What does the term ‘naqba’ mean to you? Did it affect you or your family personnally? In what way?
I’m a refugee here, you know. My grandfather was a farmer, he was so afraid
that one day he took his children by the hand and he walked for three days from
Lud to Ramallah. Part of the Bun Gurion airport belongs to my grand-father,
believe it or not, but we have papers proving it.
The Palestinians didn’t have weapons to fight the Israeli’s. They were afraid and they fled.
How did the people react over here when Israel invaded the Gaza strip?
You feel bad, of course, but it’s not only Gaza they invade.
I don’t support it. You can’t put people in a jail. People in Gaza are not pro-Hamas, they give Hamas the chance to grow stronger. If people had a better life they would never support Hamas, but if you have nothing to lose, yes, then you turn to Hamas for help.
If Iran wants to bomb Israel, we say, fine, kill us both. Nobody wants to see his children get killed, but there’s always a boiling point. They support Hamas because there is no other way.
Hamas will never get 5 percent of the vote if the people in Gaza have a good life.
Israel has to understand this. Hamas can always say: Israel doesn’t want peace, so join us, we will fight them together.
8 A large picure of Arafat is hanging in the hotel lobby, what’s your opinion on him?
I have never been pro Arafat, but in the end I felt that he was sincere. The propaganda of Israel says he didn’t want peace. But he Asked for 22 percent and only got 14 percent.
What’s happening here, is that we’re becoming a new South-Africa. Fortunately, there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Maybe 50 years from now things will change. Maybe through war, maybe peacefully, maybe economically, but change it will.
What goes up must come down.
When was the last time violence erupted in Ramallah?
Well, the last big eruption of violence took place in 2001. I was here for only four months, tanks were in front of our house, I put my children in the bath tub, I thought they’d be safe there. It was a very scary period, They were bombing a lot of buildings. They even tore up the roads with their tanks. It was awful.
But you ask me about violence. I’ll tell you this.
Three months ago I had an American friend over at my place. He stayed till late at night and after that I gave him a ride to the place he was staying. I was driving in my pajama’s without my passport. All of a sudden I notice Jewish soldiers appearing right in front of me. They stop my car and they threaten to throw me in jail, because I don’t have my passport with me.
Can you imagine? In my own country!
If it had been the police who wanted to give me a ticket. Fine, but why soldiers? Why jail?
How do you think will the conflict end?
Look, I’ll explain it this way. Suppose I lend you 100 dollars and after a couple years a court ruling says you only have to give me back 22 dollars. A good deal for you right? But you don’t accept that you only want to return 14 percent or maybe only 10 percent.
That’s what happened here, they took all our land, we’d be happy to get 22 percent of it back, but Israel thinks even that is too much.
I don’t understand it, at the moment the United States and Europe back Israel’s claims. Now is the time for them to have peace on very favorable terms. I mean, what if in 10 years a new super power arises with different priorities? Or what if the oil runs out and the US says: oh, now we don’t need any more bases in the Middle East or what if they develop some super device in space allowing them to fire missiles all over the globe and they no longer need bases on the spot?
If the US stop supporting Israel, the entire country is left in ruins immediately. The Jews will leave. What if the Palestinians become stronger than Israel one day?
Do you think that people who suffered so long will have the least possible doubt when it comes to destroying Israel?
Now’s their chance to have peace and to have things settled around here. Even Hamas wants peace if they get the 1967 border
99 percent of our people is ready to accept peace and to live alongside the Jews.
Jews are smart, they have better technology, better living standards, but they want a country from water to water, they are greedy and that’s the problem.
History will repeat itself. The Jews will end up scattered across the globe again.
The lion in the jungle doesn’t stay strong for ever.