September 12, 2013
The young woman walks into Ashraf’s office with a kind, confident, but slightly shy smile on her face. Her hair dark and wavy, her skin tan and sun-kissed. She could blend in with any of the thousands of high school-age girls from my hometown in southern California. Her one clear difference: the white uniform shirt she dons; with its black pleather shoulder pads and small, but distinct, Palestinian flag stitched over the front right pocket. She is a scout and today is a ceremony for those moving up in rank.
Bisan is named after an area near Tiberias. It’s now occupied. “I’m a refugee from Jaffa,” she explains.
“What’s it like to live under occupation?” I ask.
“[There’s] no freedom. [You] can’t go anywhere without Israeli permission. …I can’t treat them normally. I feel they make borders and I can’t build a friendship with them.”
She goes on to tell me she played basketball with some Israelis at a center using sports to promote peace between Palestinians and Israelis. This jogs my memory to recall a program in Northern Ireland one of my friends worked with called “Peace Players” which promotes reconciliation between Catholics and Protestants there. Unfortunately, it sounds like the program here is not so well received. At least by Bisan.
“They are promoting life as if settlements and the occupation are normal. Beit Sahour is very strong in patriotism because they are against the occupation. Other cities live as if its normal.”
I explain I am asking all these questions because I perceive it is one of the few things I can do as a Westerner who has little ability to really understand the conflict and occupation. I yearn to understand and help, though, even if feebly. I figured I can listen, learn and share the stories of those who I meet, like her. I ask her what else she recommends I can do.
“Don’t buy Israeli products.”
I can manage that, I think to myself.
I move on. “What would you like to see happen?”
“[I would like to see] one Palestinian state. I think Israelis don’t have the right to take any one cent of our land. Israelis are Zionists and created this conflict. …It’s our land and we can’t live freely on it.”
“Where would Israelis live?” I inquire.