Saturday, December 24, 2016

So this is ... life under occupation

It's my day off, and I'm in Ramallah, potentially the most modern and hip city in the West Bank. There aren't Israeli soldiers at every corner. It's possible to talk to people in uniform and they will be pleasant. It's possible to go out with friends for a drink, and there are museums and cafes. I'm staying at a very groovy youth hostel which is smack bang in the centre of town, and serves dinner for 20 shekels each to a bunch of travellers gathered around a wood fire. I'm currently seated at Cafe La Vie, one of the most chilled out venues in town for sitting and writing or catching up with friends.

So, I should be relaxed and happy, but I'm sortof not.

As I wander through the corridors of the sparkling new Yasser Arafat Museum, opened in November this year in commemoration of the 12th anniversary of his death, I read and listen all over again about the history of the occupation and resistence movement. I am trying to absorb the information, and yet it is the poetry scattered throughout the exhibition that captures my heart. While the museum narrative was that the Intifadas were strategic and incredibly well executed, the result was clearly devastating - Israel captured greater sections of the West Bank and life is even more restricted than before.  I reach the end of the museum abruptly, it feels like, and without a glimmer of hope. A leader who had captured the hearts of so many was dead, the Oslo agreement is perceived as a lie, and really I can't see what had significantly changed for the better since the 1980s.

I mentioned my reaction to a fellow aussie at the hostel who had also been to the museum, and his comment was that there were some historical inaccuracies and they didn't mention the holocaust. They did mention it, I told him, and felt annoyed all over again. I wished I'd asked him to consider whether the narrative he had been fed about the history might be less accurate than what he had seen today. But instead, I just recommended Yad Vashem, the holocaust museum in Jeruselam, if he really wanted to see propoganda masquerading as a museum.

Me being me, I've also been hanging out with Ramallah-based Palestinians. Friends and acquaintances alike have been offloading to me. Everyone's issues are different, but the "vibe" is the same. A deeply set depression, mixed with a generalised frustration at everyone within earshot, has rubbed off on me. Somebody shares a John Lennon Christmas video on facebook where he talks about giving peace a chance and how we all just need to love one another before launching into "So this is Christmas...", which I usually get quite sentimental about. But this time I feel like throwing something at him. Sometimes it's justice, not love, that is needed. Apparently most internationals only last about 3-5 years in Palestine unless they're in a relationship with somebody here. I wonder how long I would last if my intention was to stay longer than three months.

My nightly ritual back home (in that really cold house down south with the three other internationals in the town where there's nothing to do) is to curl up in my sleeping bag and watch "Orange is the new black" on my tablet. I'm up to Season 4, I think. It's interesting how the experiences of a group of women in prison feels relatable in a context of occupation. It's also, I guess, a kindof escape.

Something was weird with the wi-fi at the hostel, so I couldn't watch my show. I have been reading instead, and immersed in "We are all completely beside ourselves". It's the opposite of an escape. The novel is narrated by a girl who was raised with a sister who is a chimpanzee (sorry for the spoiler) for the first five years, and then suddenly her sister is sent away to spend the following years in a cage with other chimpanzees. I am in floods of tears at the lies, the grief, and the injustice of it all. The people at the hostel don't know what to do with me, and awkwardly bring extra blankets and invite me to join them for dinner.

So, as Christmas edges closer, I try to find a sense of hope to cling to amongst the rubble of hopelessness. I take pictures for my "washing lines of Palestine" collection, (which might be part of my advocacy upon return) and talk to friends online. My sadness feels self-indulgent. After all, I am like the sister who wasn't sent away to live in a cage. I am the free one. And all the empathy in the world doesn't change that fact.

Painting at Dar Zahran Museum

Thursday, September 22, 2016


We sit nervously in the reception area, glancing around at all the community notices. A large framed photo of Albo looking victorious catches my eye, possibly from some election night or other. Then, with a flurry, the door opens. A small dog appears and rushes over to greet us, sniffing and peering into our bags. The Hon. Anthony Albanese follows laughing, and makes apologies for Toto. He then shakes our hands warmly before inviting us into his office.

My friend and I are here to talk with our local Member of Parliament about the treatment of people seeking asylum in offshore detention centres. Of course, we mainly agree with Albo on these matters, but we came wanting to stress that there are alternatives to Australia’s very punitive policies, and to convey a message of hope about how Australia could be welcoming as well as pragmatic. We outlined the areas where we think he and his party have failed to speak up or take strong enough action to change policy. Then we presented him with a set of asks for the future. For me, this meeting was about holding our elected representative to account.

In advocacy work, we use the phrase “holding to account” an awful lot, but what do we really mean by it? When citizens hold their elected representative to account, I see this as reminding them that they work on our behalf, and that we have certain expectations of them. There's also an aspect of requiring a person or institution or government to accept responsibility for their actions, if they have fallen short of expectations. 

As I prepare for a humanitarian protection role overseas, I have become aware that a major part of the role of international civilian peacemakers is to bear witness to and stand firmly against harmful behvaiour in a context where human rights are denied and great injustices are done on a daily basis. These international actors hold an occupying force or a military dictatorship to account by reporting on abuses and being a very physical reminder that the international community has higher expectations of them. 

In all these contexts there is an underlying assumption that, as members of some sort of community, whether it is the international community or a community as local as Marrickville, there is a connection to and relationship with the other. In the case of Albo, it is our position as residents of his electorate that connect us with him. And while he didn't exactly agree to stand up tomorrow in Parliament arguing against offshore detention, he did promise to attend more community events in support of people seeing asylum, so that's a start. And he knows we'll be back if things don't change. For international contexts, it might be the trade or ally relationships that keep countries accountable to one another. The evidence seems to be that occupying forces behave a little better when international witnesses are present.

So, it would seem that I am a big believer in holding to account. But what about when the harm or hurt we have been witness to is even closer to home than Marrickville shops? Are we more reticent to hold our family members, colleagues and friends to account when they fall short of the social norms our shared community holds dear? Do we take the same effort and time to express hurt and disappointment, articulate our expectations, and outline a hopeful way forward when it comes to our nearest and dearest? Or do we just hope that the "not great" behaviour will just disappear?

I find it incredibly challenging to consider holding those close to me to account. I tend to find it easier to “hold” people in more conventional ways - hold them in my thoughts when times are tough, hold them tightly in my arms when I am happy to see them, and hold the space during group discussions so that everyone is heard. Yet, on the rare occasions when I have held people accountable for their actions, and planned for such a meeting in a spirit-led and intentional way, the outcome has usually been positive, at least for me. 

And it's not just me. Restorative processes have proven quite successful within the justice system in finding relationship-based resolutions rather than punitive ones. In this context the perpetrator listens as the victim explains the impact of the action on their life. A plan will be agreed which would help to restore the situation. An apology might be enough, or payment for damages, or an act of community service might end up being the agreed way forward. I’ve been told that it can be just as healing to be given the opportunity to apologise and make amends as it is to have one's story heard.

So, given that holding to account can lead to multiple changes and benefits, why are we so reticent to try it in our everyday lives? As my friend and I bid Toto and Albo farewell, and head out onto Marrickville Rd, I pause to consider what our various communities would look like if we did “hold” one another to account a little more often. And, what if we “held” others to account in the same gentle and loving way as we do the other kinds of holding? By acknowledging the humanity in the other while clearly articulating where expectations have not been met and harm has been done, it’s possible that beautiful and unexpected things will happen, and there might be growth and learning for everyone involved.

Monday, August 08, 2016

A is for awesome

I enter the building, march confidently past the mirrored collumns, punch my floor number into the little keyboard, take a breath and await my destiny.

You see, the lifts at our work are this swanky, modern type where a little machine tells us which lift to catch. There is an algorithm that is supposed to result in supreme lift efficiency. But there have been times when everyone is waiting to pile into one lift which painstakingly stops at every floor, while another lift ascends with ease and speed, carrying just one person. On this occasion, I have been assigned to Lift D. I sigh. "D spells Disaster" I mumble to myself and shuffle over to the appropriate corner of the lobby.

Lately the Irish superstition in me has led to an aversion to lift D. After all, D spells not just disaster, but also doomsday and downhill, and difficult!! Plus lift D is waiting to have its screen fixed, so you never know whether you're at your floor or not.

I really feel that on a Monday morning, or when you're meant to be making a presentation, or when anything else in life is less than ideal, you really don't want to end up in Lift D. No siree. What you really want is to be assigned to lift A, because A is for awesome, and adventure, and amazing! When you step out of lift A, anything is possible.

Now, while I recognise that there is absolutely no evidence base for this method for setting the tone of the day, I wonder whether the usual methods we mere mortals employ are any less arbitrary or external.

When it's raining and I miss the bus, that will set the tone for a bad day. When the sun is shining, birds are singing and I run into a neighbour on the way to work, it seems certain to herald a good day. It's easy to get into a cycle where because I believe I'm having a bad day, I slot everything that happens into that "bad day" belief system.

Yet, many self help books, therapists and spiritual guides tell us that we can choose our mood, our attitude and our behaviour. What's more, they assure us that people who have a positive attitude and behave as if they are awesome, well liked and capable will seek out experiences that reinforce that belief. They end up on a positivity feedback loop where life turns out to be pretty awesome for them.

So, rather than waiting for the lifts at work to send me into the doors of doom or enable me to ascend into awesome, I think I will make more of an effort to determine my own destiny. In fact, maybe D is actually for DESTINY. So, starting today, I will try to act as if I have been assigned to lift A, from the moment I wake up. I wonder what it will be like to begin each day with the assurance that Anything is possible, that I am Awesome, and that Achievement is right around the corner?

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Between the sheets

* He's had a crush on her for years. She needs a place to crash after a big night. He just assumes she's fine with it.

* Eventually, after much begging and pleading, she reluctantly agrees to let him kiss her.

* Sharing a bed, she asks that there be no kissing or sex. But he gets a bit carried away.

* He knows she's slept with other guys, so why not him? They're dating, after all.

When the open letter from the victim of the Stanford rapist came into our consciousness, almost every woman I know was reminded of a story of her own, buried away in the depths of her memory, or perhaps from not so long ago, where consent was not enthusiastically given, or boundaries were crossed, or trust was abused. In many cases, shame or a wish to "just move on" prevented any further action being taken. 

Reading the story of what this particular woman went through, both immediately following the rape and then in the re-living of it during the court case, has led me to reflect deeply on the meaning of consent, and the prevalence of slut shaming and victim blaming in our society still to this day. So often we women doubt ourselves and each other because society wants to couch us as "promiscuous" or "drinking too much" and men as "nice guys" with "a promising career ahead" who "made a bit of an error in judgement".

Brock Turner's lawyer and his father made outrageous attempts to minimise the impact of the incident on the victim and highlight the impact on the perpetrator. This behaviour shows just how warped our society has become when considering matters of consent, gender based violence and sexual abuse. 

Possibly the only positive coming out of this horrific incident is that people are starting to talk, to share stories, to realise that they're not alone. Because of this one woman's courage, and the actions of those who found her and called the police, more people around the world might feel just a little more confident about holding others to account for their actions and demanding respect. 

When I shared the woman's open letter on facebook a few weeks ago, a male friend contacted me quite distraught. After reading it, he had conducted a brief survey of his female friends, and discovered that a high proportion had experienced some kind of related incident at one time or another. He was horrified. With a very young daughter of his own, he could not believe what his sex was doing to hers. He wanted to know what he could do about it.

So I think I talked about shifting the burden of responsibility from women to men. I might have said how we need to educate men about consent, and about respecting boundaries, and how to extricate themselves from the rape culture that makes these so-called "minor indiscretions" permissible and justifiable. We can teach women about saying no, or the skills of self defense or assertiveness, but ultimately it's men who need to make the biggest changes.

But actually, I just felt kindof numb. I was glad to have an ally, and grateful for the numerous male friends who have "got it" over the years, or who have at least been willing to listen and try to understand. But when women choose to speak out about these matters, they are putting themselves in a place of great vulnerability. I wonder how we can make this journey easier, so that difficult experiences are genuinely listened to and everyone involved can reach a place of greater understanding?

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Female, maddened and mute

At the writers festival I heard Alexis West read some of her poetry. It spoke of the frustration she has with having to explain repeatedly why golliwogs are offensive, and the way her patience was tried by white people wanting recognition and gratitude for “having black friends”. It was raw and real and I loved it.

Then she apologised if her poetry was too angry or offensive in any way to our paler sensibilities. She told us she hated being "that person" - the angry black woman. I wished she hadn’t apologised. There's not enough anger expressed about this kind of thing, in my opinion. 

Also, in a small, hesitant way, I could relate. I sometimes feel as if I'm continually an angry feminist. Like black women, but obviously to a lesser extent, women in general are constantly assessing whether to express our anger in response to sexist behaviour and be “that person” or just swallow our offendedness, smile and move on.

This dilemma was highlighted to me the other day when I posted a feminist cartoon on facebook which seemed to spark reactions from various folks in my social media network. The conversation seemed to take on a life of its own, going in directions I hadn’t envisaged, and raising sub-issues that I hadn’t previously considered. 

Then some people started getting quite angry, reacting to other people's comments. And I began to feel a little bit uneasy. But a voice inside told me not to moderate...just yet. And sure enough, somebody else felt it was their job to moderate. A male friend. “I think we all need to calm down now” was the sentiment. 

It seemed to me that women were angry, and men couldn’t handle it. One man had already left the discussion, in fact. I began to wonder why the anger of the oppressed is so confronting. Sure, it's raw and uncomfortable and not "nice". Yet, that anger is a direct result of violent and discriminatory systems that are not nice either. And certain groups have benefited from this structural violence for centuries.

So, why should Aboriginal people be expected to consider the feelings of those of us who have benefited from their dispossession and discrimination for the past two centuries? Why should the LGBTIQ community be expected to consider the bigots who have bullied them their whole lives as equally entitled to voice their toxic views? And why should women constantly accommodate the discomfort of men? No! I think those of us who are oppressors and benefit from oppressive structures have no right to tell the oppressed when to be silent.

This whole outpouring of frustration reminded me of a book called “Women who dance with wolves”. This book, which draws from Indigenous fables and stories, explores a number of archetypal women who are expressed in their rawest form. One character is a skeleton woman who follows a fisherman back to his cave. Another is a woman who makes more animal sounds than human ones and collects bones in the desert. A young girl dances like crazy in her new red shoes until she becomes a cripple. These women are angry, sad, ecstatic...the full gamet of emotions. I wonder why our so-called modern society tries to suppress this rawness and realness and "not nice-ness" in the expression of emotion?

So, as I process my own anger, and choose which battles to fight and which ones to let go, I will seek out poetry and literature and art where those raw expressions of emotion are evident. I hope people like Alexis West don't stop writing their poetry. Because it's through expressing the anger and pain that we not only move through it, but open up the possibility for the "other" to reach an understanding about their own privilege and power.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

When green eggs and ham just aren't your cup of tea

"Would you like to go for coffee?" He corners me after class. I mumble something about having plans and make attempts to skuttle out the door. "What about dinner tomorrow?" The hopeful follow up wafts in my direction. "Or brunch on the weekend? What about a drink sometime?" A seemingly harmless enough request has become a familiar refrain that leaves me with a feeling of mild angst.

I guess most of us, at one time or another, have been in what I refer to as the "green eggs and ham" scenario. Some people call it "humbugging". It's the situation where somebody repeatedly asks for or offers something, doesn't get a favourable response, and yet continues undeterred. It's prevalent amongst socialists, evangelical christians, and of course in the land of dating. When it doesn't feel like my boundaries are respected I tend to squirm. It actually takes me a lot of mental energy to work out how to say no tactfully, firmly and kindly.

While it was probably not Dr Seuss's intention to explore themes of consent in his famous children's book Green Eggs and Ham, his work does seem relevant to that subject. The principle seems to be that 'no' doesn't always mean 'no', and that persistence pays off. There are so many examples in literature and film of this mentality when it comes to dating. The classic case is the dogged pursuit of a lady friend by a slightly nerdy guy, which succeeds when he ultimately proves himself to be worthy of her affections.

Normally we find these movies romantic, and delight in the experience of the underdog finally 'winning' in the end. But as a male friend of mine says, there is a fine line between romantic and creepy and the distinction is whether the behaviour is wanted or unwanted. I realise that it's tricky for many of us to tread that line at times. We might find ourselves getting so caught up in our own desires or notions of romance that we somehow 'forget' to consider whether our suggested activities or requests are of any interest at all to the other party.

I find the tea analogy quite helpful when it comes to explaining consent to people. Basically, the principle is that if the person has said they don't want tea, or is unconscious, or only partially conscious, or was unsure about tea, but now that you've made it they show no interest in drinking it - DON'T FORCE THEM TO DRINK THE TEA!! It also points out that just because somebody enjoyed a pot of tea with you last Thursday, or with somebody else - doesn't mean they want tea today, or with you.

So, whether it's tea or oddly coloured eggs with pig meat that I'm just not that into, I realise I need to get better at trusting my gut instincts and being confident enough to clearly say no. I know this is a challenge for me, as I have been socialised to accommodate others' needs and consider their perspective above my own. But, more importantly, like SAM I AM, lots of us need to get better at reading body language, genuinely seeking consent, and accepting with grace if the answer is no.  

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Last man standing

At the time of the break
We always promise to be friends
A few cuppas, chats, even dating advice exchanged

But inevitably they drift away
New girlfriends, buried feelings
or just Life, getting in the way

Until theres only one left
A rock, who was
there in the blackest time

But when people guess our history
The now feels flimsy, fake, less
Maybe he'll go the way of the others

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The instigator's lament

Family get togethers,
weekends in the wild
an evening show or Friday drinks
when the weather is mild

Someone has to organise
to make sure things get done
but the instigator's role
is a rather thankless one

Some folks are followers
they've never organised a thing
Even a chook raffle in a
country pub would be a win

Some friends are noncommital
asking umm, who else is in?
some are super flakey
they pull out at the last min'

Some come along and then
complain it's not their style
others bore our socks off
telling endless stories all the while

Each time I tell myself
This event will be my last
But I carry on as planner
because sometimes it's a blast

I yearn to be invited
to an event that they have planned
To just turn up on schedule
and know that everything's in hand

And then one day it happened
They planned a trip themselves, you know
But delight soon turned to grief
For it was at a time I couldn't go!

Now, I hasten to mention
these gripes are only said in jest
For I myself have been the flaker,
the non-commiter, complainer and the rest

When all is said and done
I don't really mind my role at all
what matters is that the time
we spend together is a ball!

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Crazy little thing called love

Earlier this year I was at a really lovely wedding - it was simple, elegant and genuine. I had a sense of the room being filled with love. During the speeches we learnt that the couple had "known" from almost their first meeting that they would be together.

This got me thinking about notions of love at first sight, soul mates, meeting 'the right person', and all those expectations surrounding romantic love. Does that stuff really happen, or do people embellish their romance stories ever so slightly for the speeches? For those of us whose love life journey has more in common with Bridget Jones than any fairytale lovers, it's easy to be a touch on the cynical side.

It probably didn't help that this wedding came soon after a brush with 'something' that wasn't. On a trip down memory lane we shared in the every-day, the delightful, the deep and the downright ridiculous. In that short space of time I had a glimpse of a possibility, an opportunity missed. Anyway, it doesn't matter now. The timing has been - as Hugh Grant said in Four Weddings and a Funeral - very bad indeed.

So, as I farewelled the newlyweds and headed home to my delightful apartment for one, I couldn't help but wonder... 'Will I ever find the type of romantic love that I witnessed today?' Who knows. The truth is, I have pretty high expectations for love now. I'd rather be on my own than with somebody who feels a bit meh about me. And I don't want to feel meh about them, either.

And besides, I've probably had my fair share of romance, if I'm honest with myself. It just hasn't followed conventional trajectories or even a strict chronological order. For example, the other day I had a delightful colony of butterflies encircling my stomach when I ran into somebody that I had a bit of a crush on last year. I remembered what a lovely person they are and felt glad to have seen them.

Then there is the cherished memory of the encoded message written all those years ago, declaring feelings for me. Its author sat there bravely as I painstakingly decoded the message in front of about a dozen of my psychology friends.

And in between there have been letters, song dedications, electronic flowers (because environmentalists hate to see flowers picked), chocolate discovered on my desk at work, a Swiss army knife with my name engraved in lower case (because, equality for all letters), plenty of giggles, breakfast prepared as per weird diet guidelines, whispered secrets, some wonderfully awkward moments, and great tenderness.

So, rather than feeling too downhearted, I am actually buoyed by the fact that this year has only just begun and already the universe has reminded me, in the most beautiful and bitter-sweet ways, that love is, actually*, all around me.

*any resemblance to British romcoms is purely coincidental.

Sunday, April 03, 2016

Tents, caves and other nonviolent tools

Part of the role of a Christian Peacemaker is to stand in solidarity with acts of nonviolent resistance. I was in Palestine with a group from Christian Peacemaker Teams to learn about their work. The first chance our group had to be actively engaged in solidarity with those calling for an end to the occupation was when we joined the Women in Black at a silent vigil on a street corner in the heart of West Jerusalem, the Israeli side of town. I was a bit nervous, as I had no idea what the police would do, what passersby would do, or indeed what the other vigilers would do. A group of armed settlers waving the Israeli flag were dancing and shouting on the street corner opposite us, and some of them came over to our corner and started arguing with anyone who would respond. The police and soldiers, on the other hand, pretty much ignored us, probably knowing that this particular nonviolent direct action takes place every week and never causes any trouble.

Nonviolent direct action at Sheikh Jarrah
The same afternoon we joined another nonviolent direct action at Sheikh Jarrah, a Palestinian village in East Jerusalem that is being slowly demolished to make way for Jewish settlers. This was in a Palestinian part of town, so the reception from passing cars was much more positive, although one of our team did get egged by an Israeli passer-by. This nonviolent action consisted of local Palestinians, the regular suspects from the Jewish left, a few internationals, and a group of Orthodox Jews who carried placards against Zionism and against the occupation. It was completely peaceful. Afterwards, we visited a Palestinian resident who has had the front  section of his house taken over by settlers, apparently Orthodox Jews from New York. This man's family still lives in the back part of the house and has to risk abuse and harassment every time they walk past the front building, which the father built himself a few years ago. They had set up a tent in the front yard for their neighbours who had also been evicted by settlers, but the tent was confiscated.

Photograph of Jewish settlers settling in to another family's home
We heard more stories of demolition, dispossession and discrimination when we visited the Negev desert. Less than an hour out of Jerusalem the scenery quickly changed from tall buildings and multi-lane highways to desert stretching as far as the eye could see. As our bus soared down the highway, our guides pointed out the exquisite Palestinian architecture dotted amongst the little villages that we would occasionally pass by. Reaching into the heart of the desert, our first stop was a Bedouin family whose home was facing yet another order to move on.

Although they live in Israel and are Israeli citizens, many of the Bedouin communities who are Palestinian Muslims are being displaced in order to make way for a new Israeli settler village that is being built. While for decades they have been denied basic services and infrastructure such as roads, medical care, schools and garbage collection because they are “too remote”, the new settlement will have all these services, and a shopping mall what’s more!! Many have solar panels on their roof, which is a great way to demonstrate self-reliance. One guy told us that his camels had been stolen, and taken to an Israeli camel farm. Upon inquiry, he learnt that if he wanted them back he would have to pay for the food and accommodation they were given while under the care of the camel farm. He couldn’t afford the price, and so had to go home without his camels. He now buys milk from the camel farm, instead of selling it as he used to.

Although we visited Hebron, where the Christian Peacemaker Team house is located, our plans were changed due to a the political situation, which was compounded by a CPT team member being arrested and refused entry to Hebron for two weeks. Her crime? Posting a picture on instagram. Read this article for more detail, as it shows quite directly what was going on and what challenges the permanent CPT team members face. 11 young Palestinians were killed in Hebron by settlers and soldiers just in the week or so that we had been in the country. It was considered particularly volatile last October when I was there.

Most distressing was the murder by soldiers of a girl aged 17 years, who was going through the checkpoint at the Ibrahimi Mosque. Witnesses say that the soldiers accused her of having a knife. She became fearful and backed away, and then they shot her. We’ve heard that no knife was found, although the story from the soldiers is always that people have knives and are stabbing the soldiers. As far as we know, there has been no investigation or justice applied to the soldiers and settlers committing these murders, and the bodies have not yet been returned to the families. What many of us found most difficult to comprehend was the idea that a fully armed soldier would feel so threatened by the possibility of a teenage girl with a knife (assuming she did have one), that he would choose to kill her first and ask questions later. That the soldiers and settlers can act with almost complete impunity is equally unbelievable.

Boarded up shop fronts in Hebron
In the morning of our visit to Hebron, we were shown around by a well known activist. He pointed out the illegal Israeli settlements, the place where they had taken over a Palestinian school to create an Israeli school, and the chicken wire across the top of the souk to protect stallholders from the rocks or eggs that are thrown down by settlers. It was noticeable that many of the shops in the souk were shut, either due to the owners having been evicted to make way for settlers, or because they were just not getting enough business. While we were inside the Mosque, another two girls were arrested. People were incredibly relieved that these girls were not shot, but so nervous about the situation in general.

It might seem from this report so far that everything is doom and gloom. The situation is grim, but we experienced the most wonderful hospitality, and had conversations with some incredibly inspiring people while in the Palestinian Territories. After our brief visit to the CPT office and rooftop tour of Hebron, we had lunch with an impressive Palestinian woman who lives in the heart of the souk. She served up a traditional dish called Upside Down Maqloobeh, with an adapted version prepared for the vegetarians, and served cups of tea and Arab coffee. On the way back, we stopped at the Al Aroub refugee camp, just outside of Hebron. One of our team members had friends in the camp, and they welcomed us into their home and we shared more tea, more coffee and more delicious food.

Palestinian hospitality in a refugee camp outside Hebron
Our trip to Bethlehem began with a visit to Wi’am, the Palestinian Reconciliation and Conflict Transformation Centre where we heard from folks about a range of conflict resolution initiatives in the local community. There are projects to foster self-esteem amongst young Palestinians, address gender based violence, and also bring young people from opposing soccer teams together. They had originally begun providing traditional mediation and conflict resolution to the local community before it was legal to establish Palestinian NGOs. Some of us reflected that there was a mix of optimism about the success of the programs and pessimism about the overall situation. We noticed a lot of this same weariness and hopelessness in many of the Palestinian groups we met that our tour guide said she had not seen before. It’s difficult for people to see a peaceful end to the occupation when things are so tense right now.

On our return from Bethlehem to Jerusalem we were in a public bus full of Palestinians. Amid the chatter of young people on their way home from work or school, the bus cruised past the villages and came to a standstill at a checkpoint. As has become the norm, all the Palestinians on the bus were required stepped off when we reached the checkpoint. We were told that there was no need for us to get off the bus, as we are foreigners, but we explained that we wanted to do so in solidarity. Sure enough, though, when we reached the front of the queue the Israeli soldier who had checked the bags of every Palestinian before us simply asked if we were enjoying our stay. Our bags were not searched at all. This is just a very simple example of how Palestinians are treated as second class citizens while foreigners and Israelis are given special treatment. Some of us began reflecting on how groups like Christian Peacemaker Teams use this privilege to stand in solidarity, to get in the way of violence and to bear witness to injustice.

Probably the most encouraging aspect of this trip was the visit to the Tent of Nations, a 100 acre farm on land which has been continually owned by the Nassar family for almost 100 years. Unlike many Palestinians, this family had paperwork relating to the official legal title for the land that they own, and so the Israeli government was not able to kick them off their land, as has happened to so many other families. This family has continued to face a number of hurdles, however, as new laws have refused permission to build new dwellings, and they have been denied access to water and electricity.

A large pile of rocks blocks the main entry road to the farm, a very physical representation of the obstacles people face in retaining ownership of their land. Yet, they have found creative ways to resist. They have installed solar panels, begun to capture their own rainwater, built composting toilets, and all their dwellings are caves rather than formal structures (because caves are not prohibited). They continue to find creative ways to resist the settlers and government who are trying to steal their land, and bear witness to the idea that “existence is resistance”.

Entrance to the Tent of Nations farm
Our final supper together was appropriately held at the Jerusalem Hotel which is a haven for activists while simultaneously serving delicious Palestinian food. As the resident cats encircled our legs and made pleas for any morsels that might be sent their way, we began passing around photos of our loved ones; grandchildren, parents, partners, nieces, nephews and siblings. Perhaps this was our way of recognising the importance of human connection and love. Despite living under occupation, the Palestinians we met showed us such warmth, hospitality, and summud - strength and resilience. Family is incredibly important to people, and we began to see that solidarity is sometimes as simple as sharing a cup of strong coffee together. As we return to our respective families and friends, it will be incumbent upon all of us to decide how the connections we have made over here will influence our lives. Many of us committed to join the BDS movement, share stories amongst our networks, and perhaps return one day.