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The Palestine You Don’t See

June 29, 2011

Taken at open air concert An Najah University, Nablus‘Your mad you!’ ‘What you going there for?’ ‘It’s a bit nuts out there isn’t it?’….Some of the many comments I received when I mentioned to people that I was planning on moving out to Nablus, Palestine and to be honest even though I had visited other countries in the region and had an amazing time I didn’t question these comments to much, only to say ‘I’ve always really wanted to visit there’.  I wish I had been more informed in order to dispel these comments and people’s worries before I had come out, but to be honest I had been exposed to the same TV reports and read the same news stories that my friends and family had been exposed. Even this week, western media outlets have gone to great lengths to demonise the Palestinian people by heavily reporting on the very serious plight of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit who was taken in 2006 and continues to be held as a political prisoner by the Palestinian government in Gaza, however the same media outlets would seem to have not seen the need to spend nearly as much time discussing the 11,000 Palestinian political prisoners currently languishing in Israeli jails and military compounds. Whilst I try make a habit of questioning such stories, before I left for Palestine I found it difficult to imagine how such an apparent violent place would be, other than the war torn violent area that I had read about, with politics playing a central role in daily life. I could not have been more wrong!

As I have said in an earlier article, much on the surface seems normal here in Nablus, but that underneath there are serious problems which the people of this city and other areas within the occupied Palestinian Territories (oPT) face on a daily basis. Such as the checkpoints, road blocks, trouble with Israeli settlers, military intimidation and violence, ID checks, threat of arrest, little job opportunities and general lack of civil and human rights. However in spite of this, the people of the oPT carry on with life as normal as possible. Yes, there is an underlying feeling of distaste for both their humanitarian and political situation and even maybe a desire to change it, but not necessarily the way in which our media outlets would like to have us believe. Reporting of the situation here would have you believing that political movements, militia, demonstrating, stone throwing is what dominates life within the region and that violence has become second nature to a people who for no apparent reason except for what must be religion, hate their neighbours. People do talk politics here, but mostly in the same capacity that it is spoken at home, with a general distaste for their situation and a desire to change it, but not necessarily knowing how. I am not trying to play down the desperate humanitarian situation here, but instead demonstrate that people who live in the oPT are not the ‘dangerous terrorists’ and ‘ideological extremists’ that our media try’s to portray and they do not live their lives out in continual crisis.

When sitting in a cafe in Nablus you are more likely to hear a conversation about football, cars, food and fashion than you are about politics. To return to the opening theme of this article, there is nothing to fear about visiting this region. Yes you may experience things that may make you feel uncomfortable, but it will not be the things you expected after watching and reading all those reports, it will more likely be the intimidation you may experience at the Israeli checkpoints and the Israeli Borders. Instead what you will receive from the people of the oPT is a hospitality like no other (except for maybe other Arab nations), you will find that most people in the street will say hello to you, people you meet will want to share a cup of tea or coffee with you (and probably share a conversation or quick joke, regardless of whether either of you speak the same language), they will want to talk about football, make sure you have somewhere to stay and even invite you around their house for food and shelter. Only yesterday I was sitting in a cafe and three local men joined me at my table as there was no other seats left, they spoke little English and my Arabic is still leaving much to be desired. However they immediately shared their snacks with me and ordered themselves a drink and also one for me. We spent over an hour communicating very badly but managed to have a really good time, laughing and somehow talking football and why I was here and what I was doing (they were very appreciative of internationals coming here in order to share their story with them). A couple of days before in the same cafe I met another local man who spoke pretty good English and we got talking about several things and somehow moved onto chatting about going the gym, I mentioned to him that I was looking for one and he immediately took my phone number and the next day rang me up after he finished work, met with me and took me to a gym and introduced me to the owner. What I am trying to say is that in spite of the trouble here, Nablus and the wider oPT is not somewhere people should be avoiding because of reasons such as ‘it being mad there’, on the contrary people should be visiting such a place because if they don’t they are hugely missing out on experiencing not only its great hospitality but also its rich history, culture and the amazing sights and available activities in the region. People should visit the oPT’s museums, go for walks in its beautiful mountains, eat the amazing food it has to offer, sit in its cafes, smoke some nagila, visit the bars in Ramallah, swim in the Dead Sea, attend its village cultural festivals, attend open air concerts at the universities, go to the Taybeh Beer Festival in October, but most of all come and see how different and amazing the country is compared to the what we are told by our media and return home to tell others. That is not to say the troubles the people here face are not real and are not a detrimental abuse of their human rights, they are, and they are also are a terrible scar on the international community who continue to support those who impose their plight. However by coming here and seeing how amazing its culture and people are and the reality of their situation and going home and sharing your experiences with others, you may play a small part in changing the fortunes of these great people.  

I suppose what I am really trying to say is… VISIT PALESTINE!

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