I don’t write about politics on my blog that much but have spoken up about some of my travels in the world and what I have seen.
I thought with all the twitter blips going by about “the ground invasion in gaza beginning I wanted to share what I wrote about in the summer of 2006 my own personal visit to Gaza in the summer of 2000.
This is the last 1/2 of a post a post called “Security theater and the “real” threats – inhuman conditions“.
Speaking of ‘they’ – who are they? I just watched a film from Netflicks – Death in Gaza. It was of two documentary film makers one of whom died while shooting the film. I spent the summer of 2000 in Jerusalem for 10 weeks I lived and worked there and did what I call “NGO tourism”. I worked at one of the worlds foremost human rights organizations – BTselem the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories and then also worked at the PCATI the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (while there I got my education in what torture is going on and how it affects people – really awful).
My fellow international interns and I would spend our weekends traveling about going through the Westbank and up to Nazareth, and Haifa over to Televiv down to Hebron. [[you can read what I wrote about Hebron here]]
One time we got to go to Gaza for 2 days. One of the interviewers for B’Tselem was traveling there so the two of us got to go with him. We got hooked up with two guys who worked in an NGO in Gaza and went on a tour for a day… from one end to the other … inside the camps and everything. It was amazingly powerful. Just like in the movie I saw the little kids the ones who are 5 and 6 happily playing away not really knowing there life circumstances yet. Then the older boys would glare glints of anger in there eyes. They are 10-13 years old knowing what they don’t have. The get that it is not normal to have open sewers in the streets. It is not normal to have 10 people living in one room. It is not normal to be growing bunnies up stairs that you kill to have food or a donkey living in your living room. Why do they know this…there are satalite dishes…basically everyone has a TV and can see what life is like in Isreal, and America and the rest of the normal arab world. When you think about that maybe some of this makes a bit more sense. It is not normal to feel like going to school you could get killed (as they young girl in Death in Gaza talks about). It is not normal to have your school playmates killed by gunfire (like the little boys have happen to them in the movie). Or bulldozers coming to plow your house down in the middle of the night (like threatens to happen in the movie ) How can you feel peaceful in this kind of environment?
I know after witnessing what I did that day I was shaken. I really felt my soul had been shaken up like my body was still and it was moving. It was eerily like the feeling I had after exiting the memorial museum at Hiroshima. The thing was…what I had witnessed that day was happening to real people ‘now’ not a historical event from 60 years ago. The depth of suffering is quite intense and the failure to connect with people as people and to really resolve the conflict continues to cause suffering. More bombs and planes and threats of nuclear weapons going off doesn’t make the situation better. It makes it worse. Send in armies of compassionate empathetic listeners. Make public peoples family stories and histories. Find some way through. There are some amazing stories of reconciliation that have happened in Israel/Palestine. They prove it is possible. I do have hope but not if everyone just sees an enemy instead of people, families and societies with real human and community needs.
I was sorting through my stuff over the weekend and found something from B’Tselem. They still send me the reports the write. It was a 11×17 fold over about the wall situation in Jerusalem. Just really disruptive to normal peoples lives. The whole of the Westbank is oriented around the trade flows through main cities. The most main one being East Jerusalem. The fact that they want to cut the Palestinians off from their main economic hub is just mean. People don’t like people who do mean things. Why is this so hard to understand!
It makes me very sad to hear there is a war happening. There has been a war on the Palestinian people for a long time.
Some elements that are not obvious to people is the depth of connection to land and history that is present along with the really bad living conditions.
* In the refugee camps villagers who fled their villages together – still live together 50 years later – they have a sense of identity as people of a place (a place that only the oldest people alive still remember) but that the young people feel they belong to too.
* The number of people and the conditions of living are very hard to imagine – they have the density of New York – but all in cement block houses that have tiny rooms 9×9. 1200 people a km.
* They don’t have electricity in the winter because the wiring is so ad-hoc that it is to dangerous to run in the winter.
* They don’t have sewage systems – other then the ones that run in the street.
* When the Israelis had a presence in Gaza they had their own roads – the good ones – that Palestinians could not drive on. (I was driving around with palestinians so we were on the “bad” roads).
* They have families of 10 living in one room houses.
* They have families that have a donkey’s living with them in their one room too.
These are extreme living conditions and the reason they voted for Hamas has to do with the fact that the islamic organization the religious arm of the political organization actually helps poor (as they are called to by their religious texts) impoverished people by feeding them. If you lived in these kinds of conditions wouldn’t you vote for the group that on the ground in practical reality actually helped you a bit.
There are some other interesting things to know about the Palestinian people… How do I know all this – yes I visited the territories but I wrote my senior thesis 40 pages on “The Lost Opportunity for Sustainable Development in Palestine” – 10 of them specifically about demography.
* They have HIGH levels of basic education Palestinians have the highest levels literacy in the arab world.
* They have a lot of higher educational institutions.
* They have the highest level of educational attainment of women in the arab world (normally educated women cut back on the number of children they have).
* Even though the women are relatively very educated – they are very committed to having children and lots of them
Women living in Palestine have a total fertility rate (TFR) of 5.6 children—significantly higher than women in other countries that have similar levels of education and access to health services. (Women in Gaza have 6.6 births, on average, while women in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) have an average of 5.2 births.) they are clear they are fighting a long term demographic “race” with Israel. More palestinians means more votes and more bodies to resist the injustice they have suffered.
* They have a very young population (in 2005 – 18% was below the age of 5, 45% was below the age of 15) this means that is lots of young men of marriageable age and seeking work.
So you put all this together
1. a population that watches TV from around the world on satellite dishes,
2. that lives in abject poverty
3. That is highly educated and mostly in the arts (political science, economics, english, comparative literature etc…)
4. Young men without an economic opportunities compounded by the fact that without this they can’t marry and thus can’t have sex. THEY ARE FRUSTRATED.
They know – they see every day on TV what they don’t have. We live in a globalized world and it is not just about ‘us’ those in North America and Europe knowing about the rest of the world – the rest of the world has the same tools too. They see the gap – with their own eyes and it makes them angry.
I don’t want to be all down on this post. This went by on twitter a few days ago It is about a contributor/admin on WikiHow (the wiki for how too manuals) and it made me cry – it is why I love the internet and the power it has to connect people and give people meaningful ways to contribute and help one another.
Many of you know that the dedicated wikiHowian and new admin, VC, lives in Gaza. (Actually VC is only a new admin on the English wikiHow. He has been an admin on Arabic wikiHow for a while.) And everyone knows that there is currently a war in Gaza right now. Even before the recent fighting started, VC suffered from sporadic internet access caused by electrical outages. So I felt lucky to get this email reply when I asked how he was surviving the war:
It is terrible indeed, however, it is kind people like yourself and other wikiHow editors that keep me going on, sane and to some extent even happy that I have friends who really care about me without even really ever seeing me. Thank you very much for asking and checking on me. I’m safe and sound and so is my family and my friends. The circumstances however are hard on the children, but with some tenderness, love and patience, they’ll get through it (or so I hope). The area where I live in Gaza is considered relatively safe as it is the center of the city.
It is in rough and extremely hazardous situations like these that we usually need something to hold on to … to believe in. wikiHow and its community has been that and more to me. It was and still is what I turn to so as to find comfort and peace of mind. The wikiHow community members are so supportive and kind. When I set at the computer and start doing anything related to wikiHow, it is currently my only escape outlet where I can, for some sweet moments, forget about the war, the harsh circumstances and the suffering all around me. And when I see a message by one of the editors, whether discussing some wikiHow related matter or simply saying “hi, how are you”, it makes me feel … alive, not cutoff of the world outside … having what I call a “universal family” that cares and comforts me.
For all of that Jack, I’d like to thank you for founding this wonderful family, making it possible for me and many others to feel at home no matter what.