Saturday, March 1, 2014

My First Visit to Palestine

People sometimes ask me how I got involved in this issue to which I devote so much of my time and energy.  The reality is that until the Intifada of the late 1980's -- and even more the Second Intifada of 2000 -- I didn't pay that much attention to Palestine.

Yes, I was generally aware of the Middle East wars launched by Israel or in response to Israeli occupation of Arab lands in 1956, 1967, 1973, 1982.  But I didn't know much about the history of Zionism (outside of the Hollywood version of "Exodus") or the general image of Arafat and the PLO as part of the anti-colonial Liberation upsurge of the 1960's and 70's.  I was also aware that Israel was generally a supporter of the "wrong side" in the struggles in Central America and Southern Africa that I supported

"Palestine" as a place and Palestinians as a people did not mean much to me in those days, and I certainly had no direct and personal connection until 2002.  That was when an acquaintance of mine from my days in Nicaragua during the 1980's -- I'll have to post about that eventually -- got in touch to ask if I could help arrange some speaking events for a group of visiting Palestinian trade unionists.

I did set up some events in the Boston area, but more importantly, I hosted the visitors at my home.  That was when I met two Palestinian trade union brothers who have remained dear friends ever since.  They are Mohammed Saleh ("Abulabed") and Abdel Raheem Khateeb ("Abed"), both originally from the village of Arura, northwest of Ramallah.

Later, when some local Jewish activists were planning a delegation of mostly medical professionals to to the West Bank and 1948 Israel, one of them who was a labor lawyer asked me to help set up meetings with Palestinian unionists and to help organize the trip in general.  I agreed, and after a while found myself invited to join the delegation, which I did.

That two-week visit to Palestine in January, 2004 was eye-opening for me -- as it was for many of the delegation.  It's one thing to read about a situation, but to struggle through the Israeli Occupation checkpoints alongside Palestinians, to see The Wall then under construction and the growing Israeli settlements all over the West Bank, to visit with families who have lost their land and homes -- this was extremely "real" and could not be ignored.

Their children pose at the wall -- 
view from the house

Family in Mas'ha whose home is completely surrounded
by the Israeli wall and the Jewish settlement of El-Kana

The Wall at Abu-Dis on the outskirts of Jerusalem

Among other things, I also learned on that trip about the million-plus community of Palestinians who were residents of Israel, but who lived under constant segregation and discrimination as second-class citizens.  One of these, Dr. Hassan Matani of the town of Qalansuwe, also became a friend whose family I visited many times afterward.

 After that,  I returned to Palestine and 1948 Israel many times. The issue had become "personal" to me in a very intimate way. 

In 2009, after Israel's deadly "Cast Lead" attack on Gaza, I traveled with British MP George Galloway's "Viva Palestina" relief convoy to bring medical supplies to that besieged corner of Palestine.  Eventually, I began to travel to Palestine via Lebanon -- where I got to know many people who also became dear friends -- and I also had the chance to travel through Syria (in 2009 and later) and Jordan (every year since then).

Some of this has been described in earlier posts -- for example here and here and following -- or will be the subject of future ones. 

No comments:

Post a Comment