I got off the bus in Ramallah and quickly connected with another person participating in the conference, Brittany, who was also heading to Area D Hostel. We ventured out to find it and Brittany asked a few young men for directions in Arabic. And suddenly, out of nowhere…WHAP! A Palestinian woman passerby of around 60 years old, who hadn't heard Brittany speaking in Arabic, whacked one of the guys on the arm. The young men pled with her, “No! No! We’re just giving them directions!” She responded with something to the effect of, “Yeh, right. In Arabic?" I don't believe she even knew them but when she assumed they were bothering us she was not having it. Brittany cleared it up and we all had a really good laugh. It was great to see an elder women take a stand when she thought the young men were harassing us. I only hope that she would give the women from the area the same motherly protections. But something in my heart tells me she sooo would.
My time in Palestine participating in the ICCG conference had a few common themes. One was a lack of sleep. Besides the fact that I was either preparing for my presentation, hanging out, or late night chatting with people in the hostel and others around the world I care about, the 4am call to prayer was definitely something I had to adjust to. I was first awakened by it in Jerusalem and again in Ramallah as the hostel there was right across the street from a mosque.
The adhan of the muezzin was quite beautiful but it lasted for about an hour and initially I couldn’t even go back to sleep when it ended around 5am. By the end of the trip though I would wake up when it started and fall back to sleep. It was a welcomed adjustment.
Another three, often overlapping themes, were 1) tears, 2) everyday realities, and 3) resistance.
In Arabic nakba means catastrophe. Specifically, I was told that it usually refers to a catastrophe that is induced by nature, with no one to directly blame and the losses are often recoverable. The nakba in Palestine seems to mean the opposite. It signifies the war in 1948 which led to the creation of Israel, the expulsion of 700,000 Palestinians from their homes and the fight for their right to return. Throughout the trip my colleagues and I often heard stories of the everyday nakba, the insane multitude of ways that the Israeli government, military forces and settlers attempt to make the lives of Palestinians unliveable, intolerable, so miserable that Palestinians will leave or simply die. It has been called "slow genocide." The accounts are overwhelming. And in spite of the fact that I literally cried everyday after, and often while, hearing them, they are often told so matter-of-factly when coming from those experiencing the persistent horrors. Like, “oh yes, I was jailed for three years, as were most of the men in my family. And my uncle was killed last week.” By the end of the trip I wasn't certain whether that sort of stoicism was the result of being inured to the suffering, or Palestinians profound belief that in the end justice will prevail, or something completely outside of my realm of cultural understanding.
Every night I would have dinner with the conference participants and we would share stories we’d heard throughout the day, be it while on field trips, during casual conversations with Palestinians or in conference panels. We discussed heartwrenching stories, like ones about Palestinians who have been made refugees twice: First, after fleeing to Syria because of the nakba and again after being displaced from Syria because of the war currently underway.
Dr. Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian is a Palestinian criminologist and specialist in human rights and women’s rights that I had the honor of hearing speak multiple times during the conference. The following are examples of the realities of the everyday nakba.
The Israeli settler terror project is vicious, sanctioned and protected by the Israeli military. Settlers regularly attack Palestinians, whether their bodies or the lands they use for sustenance and livelihoods. Yesh Din, an Israeli human rights organization, published a report in October 2015 detailing the following: "Of the 1,026 investigation files concluded by investigation and prosecution bodies, 940 (91.6%) were closed without an indictment served; in a mere 75 cases (7.3%) of all cases opened so far, an indictment was served. Approximately 85% of the cases were closed due to circumstances reflecting police investigation failures. Most cases were closed due to 'perpetrator unknown' (624 cases) or 'insufficient evidence' (208 cases)." One can only imagine how staggering is the number of unreported and uninvestigated offenses against Palestinians by Israeli civilians.
On an all-too-frequent basis Palestinians are forced to decry the murders of the ones they love, of their people. On July 31, 2015, the day before I left Palestine, Israeli settlers burned an 18-month-old toddler alive, Ali Dawabsheh, in Douma, in the West Bank. I was in shock. The people responded swiftly and I was happy to have some down ass hostel mates to hit the streets with to watch the public response to the atrocity.
Both the mother and father, Reham and Sa'ed Dawabsheh, would also later succumb to their wounds from the attack. A second son of four-years-old, Ahmed, remained in the hospital due to his severe burns.
The news of the burned toddler and the rest of his family was shared with the world, unlike most of the atrocities that take place against the Palestinian people. The vile nature of the attacks is hard enough to stomach, but the extent to which these egregious acts are erased from international public awareness is painfully mind-blowing.