Women in Bastan Village, Kurdistan

Friday, July 16, 2010

My first post after two and a half weeks

Sorry I haven’t written in a long time. I’ve been in Israel/Palestine for about two weeks now. The first week, I met all the students from my program and we were on a very tight schedule, between lectures, visiting villages, talking to university students and taking alternative tours in different cities like Hebron, Jerusalem, Haifa, Bil’in and Bethlehem. We learned about grassroots initiatives that are lead by Palestinians and Israelis. We listened to stories; some of them brought tears and some laughter, sometimes hope but often sadness. Every night we had de-briefing meetings to share and discuss with the others students from the program about the different lectures and presentations, we had very intense discussions, often we will disagree, but sometimes we would try to come with new and different angle that we never thought before. We heard from Israelis and Palestinians, we traveled between Israel and the occupied Palestinian Territories listening about the other side of the wall, its social and economical consequences and the side that is hidden from us because if we knew, we would be ashamed that people is being treated in such a hard way in the name of security. It has been intense and I still have not had the time of putting all my thoughts and feelings together.

Now I am in the Tent of Nations in Bethlehem, in this amazing piece of land, surrounded by many settlements an amazing sunset has been given to me every day. It seems so quiet and beautiful, but behind that beauty, there is a price, there are so many stories….My first night here, I was attacked by mosquitoes and now my legs look like a war zone. I have like a hundred mosquito bites all over my legs. Then I decided to fight back and now I sleep with long pants, long sleeves, socks and two blankets.

There is no infrastructure but the ones that have been built by volunteers, a couple of cisterns to collect rain water and solar panels to generate electricity while the huge settlements in front of us are lit all night long. Here, no construction can be made and we have 9 demolition orders including tents where we the volunteers sleep, while our next door neighbors (the settlers) expand day by day. But there is hope because since I have been here, many groups have come to visit and to learn about the situation. Two groups came on Sunday. A group of 26 young Palestinians and from Holland came to visit, followed by a group of 13 from Italy that came and celebrated mass in the chapel cave. It was very special to see that many people is choosing to have alternate tours and not only visiting the tourist sites but also getting to know locals and their non violent resistance projects. Here planting a tree means resisting the occupation, watering the plants or feeding the animals are actions that demonstrate the endurance and the strength of Palestinians.

I have been working for a week in the summer camp. We have about 60 kids from Bethlehem and the villages around. There are children coming from Bethlehem, Beit Jala and Beit Sahour. Our group consisted of 7 children: 5 girls Suad, Mirna, Miral, Sabeen, and Rinad and 2 boys Suhaib and Mohamed. We did some games and it was really nice to be working with the kids. The language barrier is a complication, but we have translators that help give the instructions. The second day we had an addition of 6 more kids and that complicated things because they were older and the activities we planned were mainly for smaller kids. It was hard to make them focused and to follow instructions. None of the planned activities worked. It was very frustrating. Today we split the group in guys and girls and it was a good thing since the guys went with the male leader which was a Palestinian American and he spoke some Arabic. The girls were less shy and more confident. We danced the dabka and other types of dances. They interacted a lot with each other and then we finished some stories that they started to write yesterday. Some wrote about the occupation, while others were not willing to talk about that since they came to the camp to forget about every day things and to enjoy themselves. One of the girls read her story about her dream to swim in the sea. She has never been in the sea, despite the closeness of the Mediterranean. She sees it only as a dream, but she knows that because of the occupation, it will always be a cream. One of the other girls, Lara who lives in the Deheisha refugee camp, in Bethlehem was complaining that she couldn’t sleep well, she was telling me that they arrested her cousin, a 20 year old guy, his family does not know anything about him, even if he is alive or not. This is part of the daily reality of the occupation. This is what the Israelis call the administrative detentions. They take male adolescents at night, arrest them and their families don’t get any news from them, where they were taken or anything up to 17 days and they can be arrested for 3 months without charges, and at the end of these three months the detention can be renewed. We heard from the Birzeit students, that they have 75 of their students under administrative detention and that they had one case where they have arrested university students belonging to student organizations, up to three years. It is very different to see the conflict from the eyes of the children and we often talk about terrorist, security and all this big words and we forget that this is all about people and we take for granted how this conflict is affecting the life of children that are not responsible for what is happening. These children are so beautiful and have so much to give. They are really hard to deal with since you cannot keep them busy for more than 15 minutes. The girls are so sweet. We play sports in the morning and then some activities like arts and crafts, drawing and painting. It is a very challenging experience and I hope that the children enjoy all the activities that we are preparing for them and that we can teach them that they have the power to shape their future and that they grow to challenge system its violent ways. It is easy to be angry but it is better to transform that anger in something productive and positive and is only by teaching the children that we can hope to transform the future of the Palestinian society.


  1. OMG que incrible esta lectura Johanna, me dieron tantas ganas de llorar. Es triste saber que mientras unos estan tan marginados, explotados y cruelmete tratados otro estan echandose fresco. Que impotencia tan grande siento, que triste tantas injusticias que se cometen día trás día.

  2. Johanna, It me Mohamed from Japan. Thankx a lot for sharing your feeling with us. I am really touched.I am so happy that you are doing this for justice and helping children of Palastine.
    Dios te bendigas.