Monday 9 January 2017

Visit to Palestine

Thanks to CADFA, I went to Palestine at the end of November. The trip lasted around 10 days. This stay was organised by the “Higher Council of Youth and Sports” (HCYS), a Palestinian government’s body. The HCYS had asked several international organisations to be part of the project. CADFA was one of them. Therefore, we were about 200 international young people and we could have been more, if the Israel’ supervisory bodies did not refuse visa to a consequent amount of us. My work was first to help and to prepare some CADFA’s participants before the departure, then I had to lead with two others “leaders”, around 20 participants during the trip itself. To achieve this task, the leaders arrived before the others and participated to a training for 2 days in Jericho, oldest city in the world. That was my starting point in the discovery of the Palestinian territories.
Unfortunately, the HCYS chose to take the lead and to impose a strong frame. I do not know if this choice was either planned or decided during the training period. In any case, it has altered the experience on several aspects. First, the housing: boys and girls have been separated which prevented everybody to discuss with half of the total group during free-time. The housing itself and the rules imposed by the HCYS created lots of protests (prohibition of leaving the camp, questionable hygiene and food…). Besides these problems that everyone can endure for some days, what troubled me the most was the total control of the HCYS on the trip. The visits were clearly chosen, we saw specific places and others were hidden, we pass through Israeli’s checkpoints without difficulties… What is more, the HCYS wanted to use the participants’ image to fuel its propaganda (which means the government’s one). The young people were both filmed and photographed almost every time. For those who tried to preserve their image, it was very difficult. The behaviour of the HCYS was the subject of many conversations and created some conflicts. Several participants even decided to leave the camp before the end, which is a pity. I have even heard that it could has been an agreement between the Palestinian and the Israeli governments, I do not know what to think about it. However, I am still aware that this camp was the first, that the situation requires a lot of precautions and I am sure that the staff did his best. I only regret the sort of fake aspect of this youth camp, I would have enjoyed more reality. I believe I can find it if I visit Palestine with CADFA as the only organiser.
The Palestinian territories constitute an overview of what could be Palestine without the Israeli occupation, because it is a real occupation and not a conflict like presented sometimes. The territories which should belong to Palestinian, according to the Oslo agreement, are weaken by the Israeli presence. You just need to take one of the rare roads of the West Bank to assess the large amount of settlements with their European-style roofs, checkpoints and military camps. I went to Jericho, Bethlem, Ramallah, Nablus, Jerusalem, Hebron, and everywhere I came across Israeli soldiers, gun in hands, ready to act. It impacts directly on Palestinian life, it appears very difficult for them to move. Some families have been separated for years, people are slowed, arrested or shot on the way to work, to school or going to hospital. Besides the human tragedy of this and the actual disrespect of human rights, I felt that it is a big waste for everybody. To illustrate this, let’s take the example of Jerusalem, nerve centre and very important city for the three religions of the book, loaded by holy places. This city lives and breathes both history and spirituality. It could be a place of meeting and cooperation for believers of Judaism, Islam and Christianity. Instead of this, it is an inexhaustible source of conflicts and tragedies. My visits to Jerusalem leave me a bitter taste, I do not know if I were delighted by its beauty or deeply disgusted by the situation. After discussing with several Palestinian, it appears to me that they want to enjoy a normal life for the most. No hate towards neither Jew nor Israeli, just the need to enjoy a life that they have lost for decades. I am sure that it is the same for the majority of Israeli people, unfortunately the only contacts that I had with Israel’s citizens were with soldiers or control agents in the airport.
When you arrive at Tel-Aviv’s airport, even before to walk on Israel ground, you face the reality of a segregationist policy. Foreigners have to wait for hours before to give their passports. If you look Arabic, if your name or your last name sounds Arabic, you are asked to wait again in a specific room until your passport is examined and it does not matter your birth country. For instance, me, with a French name and a French passport, a white skin and with a letter from the British Council, I passed through the control without any problems, even if I was not clear about the reason of my visit. By contrast, my colleagues, with a British passport, the same letter but with an Arabic name were asked to wait in this specific room. I joined them in it, of course the room was loaded of Arabic people. Some would speak about security, I would rather speak about racism or discrimination. Indeed, the notion of security applied to this case, implies that it is admitted that all Arabic people are potentially dangerous and terrorists, which is racism.
When I left the country, our coach, which was driven by a Palestinian, was stopped at the last checkpoint before to arrive to the airport. Which follows was a confiscation of our passports, a search of the vehicle, a first scanner or our bags and an aggressive series of questions: Why were we in Israel? How long had we known each other for? What did we do here? How long? Then we have been escorted to the entrance of the airport and we had to pass through lots of different controls, scanners, search of our bags, shoes and clothes, confiscation of mobile phone and laptop, degradation of food (you are asked to open your packs to know if you hide weapons in it). Eventually, you get your passport back and you are given an authorization to leave the territory and a pretty barcode which indicates your dangerousness level. The first number goes from 1 to 6, the more it is high, the more you are dangerous. I had 6, ME! To crown it all, I had the pleasure to find that my hold luggage was also searched and had this lovely barcode. I do not know what is the purpose of this all, especially when you are about to leave the country, but I could experience a segregationist policy for a while. I was, according to them, someone dangerous, an enemy of Israel.
I would like to say that I will keep good memories of this trip. Welcoming people, amazing views, places full of history and a food that has changed my life… But the situation of this country can be defined as apartheid, clearly. Like CADFA, I do not support any political organization and I do not discuss the right to exist of Israel, but I care about human beings. Speaking of this, human rights, whatever we can think about them, are far from being respected and abuses are common.

Here is some pictures taken during the trip, credit: Emerson
These photos were taken in Hebron. Art, religion and Israeli occupation

Here, pictures taken during a visit of ancient ruins nearby Jericho: Hisham's Palace

Pictures from the visit of the Al-Quds university, close to Jerusalem. The wall.

Tel-Aviv airport, frightening place.

View of Jericho from the surrounding mountains.

Pictures taken during a visit to Ramallah. Yasser Arafat's grave, views of the city and into a refugee camp. Children keep on smiling.

Photos from Jerusalem, we can see a settlement on the second one.

Views of Nablus.

Dabkeh exhibition.