So I stopped blogging after gay pride. Things got a bit crazy in that I was travelling backwards and forwards between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem with a new found love who I met at a queer palestinian party and who distracted me from actually updating this. In the mean time I have been to East Jerusalem, Hebron, Ramallah, Nablus and Bethlehem. I wish I had written about each of these at the time (Ive now been to Hebron and Ramallah twice respectively) but that's easier said in hindsight.
The first time I entered the occupied territories was with Yachad to Hebron. The situation there was quite clearly more complex than I had ever imagined and also more oppressive in a basic sense: Israelis and Palestinians are under completely different legal systems.
East Jerusalem was also shocking in the sense that the residents there are just that: residents, NOT citizens, as commonly believed. They are entitled to less (including basic resources such as water and electricity) and they pay more taxes.
Ramallah was a complete mind fuck. So close and yet so far is the only way it can be described. A beautiful city with kind and hospitable residents. A city that is quite clearly more secular than I ever imagined and pumping with considerable nightlife in the evening.
We were 2 of the only white people in Nablus, and this was incredibly strange. The city is very very conservative but bustling with people, and martyr posters adorn the walls. We eat in the toilet as it is Ramadan. Despite this Conservatism even Nablus is not living in a time warp. Coca Cola is sold, a large shopping mall sells the latest palestinian fashions and children constantly ask you: "Do you support Real Madrid or Barcelona?!" Life goes on in a city that is largely seen to be synonymous with "intifada"
In Bethlehem we meet Salim, a Palestinian whose parents converted from Christianity to Islam. He tells us about the importance of Mathematics in his society, his (slightly cheesy) love for all religions and peoples, but, perhaps inevitably, his hatred for Zionism. He was imprisoned for 2 months by the Israeli authorities for singing nationalist anthems near a checkpoint and shows us his scars from being beaten at a recent journey through a nearby checkpoint.
This brings me to the checkpoint experience. Everything that I experienced at the checkpoints in the occupied territories (note that in total I only went through 3, you don't go through any on the way there, only on the way back) could be described as cliche. I saw everything I expected to see: unnecessary intimidation towards Palestinians (particularly the elderly and the young) by the Israeli authorities and racial profiling in its most extreme sense. Qalandiya is an example.
Palestinian society is fractured like Israeli society. It is at the same time secular and religious, rich and poor, left wing and right wing. In general however, I only encountered the kindest of people and all my stereotypes have been turned to dust.
The most surprising thing about this whole experience? How easy it is to get there. All you need to do is get on a bus from Jerusalem to Ramallah. It takes 45 minutes. No check points, no security checks, just 7 shekels, and you are there. Unfortunately however, it feels just like crossing the Berlin wall to so many people. It isn't. Just take your passport, and get on a bus.
Palestinian radio:"Rachel Weisz"