An Alternative Resistance
A rare and precious aquifer, surrounded by barbed wire fencing and Israeli flags; an eight meter high concrete wall cutting through northern Bethlehem; the Israeli settlement dominating the view from my host family’s balcony (not to mention nearly everywhere else in Bethlehem and Beit Sahour). These are some of the daily reminders I have that the land in which I’m currently living, and will be living for the next few weeks, is under military occupation. However one would never know it just by interacting with the local Palestinian populace.
I have lived elsewhere in the Middle East and experienced the famous Arab culture of hospitality first hand, but I expected this hospitality and friendliness to be a bit more subdued in a country under such a stringent and intense occupation. I was wrong. Upon arrival to the West Bank the Palestinian people greeted me with nothing but friendliness and warmth (only after the frustrating and anxiety filled boarder crossing of course). Within hours of arrival I met Majdi, a Palestinian shop owner and former tour guide. He proceeded to not only invite us into his shop, tell us his life story (including the tour he gave to hall of fame American footballer and all-time sack leader Reggie White), and give us each a cup of tea, but also led us on a short tour of Bethlehem. This may seem extraordinary but it was actually representative of my typical Palestinian encounter thus far. Since then cab drivers have bought me roadside coffee, complete strangers have invited me to smoke hookah, and best of all, my host mother’s first words to me were, “my son is getting married, you come to the wedding.” This was before she even knew me, and had barely even said hello. This friendliness and hospitality does not just match my experiences elsewhere in the Arab world but goes far and beyond anything I have encountered. Not exactly what one would expect from an oppressed people.
But oppression is there nonetheless. Whether I’m crossing through the checkpoint on my way to Jerusalem or limited in my shower time due to water shortages (Israel micromanages Palestine’s water supply). I can even see the construction cranes continuing to build and expand the nearest Israeli settlement. But Palestinian resiliency is extraordinary. I walked through Aida refugee camp today and saw refugee children, clearly impoverished, underfed, with parents likely out of work, running and playing just like any child in an affluent American suburb. The same goes for the summer camp where I am volunteering. I can count on one hand the differences between this camp and the one I went to as a child (and one is all the Arabic being spoken). All in all, Palestinians don’t let their severe situation ruin their lives. They hold on to what’s important (family, tradition) and refuse to let the occupation ruin, what is in my opinion, one of the most vibrant and friendly cultures in the world today.