In reaching my one month mark here in the Fallastine (Palestine), I would like to go into more depth on my theory in the 1 week update that Palestinian society is rooted in opposites. For all you Communistas out there, this is the dialectical approach that one entity exists because of its opposite. The opposites do not inherently clash, but rather have a symbiotic relationship, influencing and feeding off one another.
Nowhere was this theory more apparent than in a meeting I attended on Tuesday with the mayor of our village, council members, the farmers we have been working with and a bigwig Minister from the Palestinian Authority (PA). In usual Palestinian fashion, we were told two minutes before we had to leave to attend the meeting, and it was described as just a meeting with the farmers. You can imagine the shock when I walked into the Municipality building and there were around 30 people sitting in the conference room.
In this meeting, the balance between the old school and the new school was revealed, as the elders from the community walked into the meeting and everyone stands up and greets them. The elders, in traditional (old) male Palestinian wear and almost all farmers, sat side by side with the politicians in neatly tailored black suits. Just above the mayors seat, hung a picture of Yasser Arafat in traditional Kuffiyeh, looking more like a resistance movement leader than a politician. Next to him, a picture of Mohammed Abbas, current Palestinian President, whose appearance is stereotypically politician: that dishonest smirk on his face, the bright baby blue tie accenting the clean black suit, an overbearing posture that attempts to display strength but in fact appears weak.
Suddenly the entire room stands up and leaves the building, leaving myself and other internationals sitting their wondering what was going on. Ten minutes later the Palestinian Authority Minister of Agriculture arrives; he began the meeting by pandering to the crowd, saying that Beit Ommar Village was the one of the greatest in Palestine, and had resistance to the occupation that was unlike anywhere else. Pretty slick this one...Of course, at the end of the meeting, nothing had been accomplished or resolved. The Minister was then taken on a tour of the destroyed land, and after five minutes promised to give 500,000 U.S. dollars for the replanting of fruit trees in the area. This was a definite victory for us and the farmers, as it takes years for fruit trees to mature, some as long as 5 years. The settlers will probably set fire to the land again, and cut newly planted trees (as they have done time and time again) but there really is no other option, for if nothing is done the state of Israel will seize the land and give it to the settlement.
Nearly every news story in the U.S. brings up this topic when covering the region and the so called conflict, yet no one really understands the scope and magnitude of the issue (at least I did not until I came here). When looking at a map, the small settlements might not seem to bad, just a dot next to some Palestinian towns. But when driving around the main roads in the West Bank, one can see just how much land the settlements and their infrastructure consume. For example, in the 20-30 minute drive from my village of Bethlehem, there is roughly 6 settlements, including one settlement block that has 9 settlements within it. Mousa, the Palestinian whose home I reside, had family land that was bulldozed and snatched up 3 years ago, and is now part of a settlement (Mousa ended up underneath the bulldozer trying to stop them from taking the land). Despite common perception, the settlements are not slowing down growth, but expanding at an alarming rate, with the collusion of the army who allows attacks on land to happen and prevents Palestinians from accessing their land. All this is under the umbrella goal of Judaizing all of the area (e.g. just this week Israel decided they are going to remove Arabic from every road sign for Jerusalem). Interestingly, many of the people who live in the settlements are American, who are more often than not the most violent, as they have the most stake in the existence and survival of the settlement.
On a lighter note, I want to conclude with a short story of the summer camp party for children of a Bethlehem Refugee Camp that I attended this week. The event was highly politicized, with reenactments of the Israeli military (children holding fake M-16s) harassing Palestinian people and the Palestinians defeating the military in the end (this is opposites again...who would put politics and a children's party together?). But what will stick with me for quite some time was a young girl, a little younger than Alex, singing about her country, the beauty of it, with such a longing and sense of loss that made me eyes tear up. This little girl could be my own daughter, and I cannot imagine the heartbreak and anger I could feel if she was singing this song. This girl, this refugee camp, this country simply desires to be free; free from the struggles of a chaotic existence controlled by a third party, free from the fear of what tomorrow will bring.
My heart with be filled with that piercing song until the day she will be free...