As part of the wonderful Eid celebrations, my friend and I were invited to my relatives’ house in Jerusalem for lunch. I really love being in the Middle East during Eid. There is nothing like stuffing your face with incredible food without feeling guilty and connecting with the family.
Just before lunch, my uncle took us on a lovely drive around Jerusalem and I took this beautiful photo of the landscape from the Mount of Olives.
[The city of Jerusalem]
I want to dedicate today’s post to an incredible Dutch lady that I met. She is married to one of my relatives and has lived in Palestine since the 1970s. She works as a pediatrician in a hospital in Jerusalem but lives in Beit Jalah (a village near Bethlehem).
Of course being very interested in Palestinian life, I spent two hours interrogating the poor woman. Considering she is not of Palestinian origin and has no emotional attachment to Palestine, I thought she could give me a real perspective of how life was like in the 1970s and how it has changed ever since.
Just to give you a bit of background on her, she grew up in a Japanese prison camp in Indonesia and lived through the independence struggle. Her parents were kicked out of their home three times and so she understands and feels with the Palestinian cause. I found her very interesting and I made sure to document some of the conversation. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed listening to her.
What was it like living in Palestine in the 70s?
Well in the 70s, there were no restrictions on us. We could drive anywhere with our own cars, it was easy to travel to and from Jerusalem from Beit Jalah. We were allowed to leave through Ben Gurion airport, we were just like the Jerusalem Palestinians are. We really had no problems whatsoever. I mean maybe you were stopped once in a while if you had Arab number plates, but it was never really a problem. There were no checkpoints, no roadblocks, no wall. Everything was free.
We interacted daily with Israelis. We even bought our vegetables from them because they were fresh and organic. There were Israeli doctors coming to serve as specialists in the clinic I worked in.
There have been huge changes since my time.
What was the biggest change you felt since the 1970s?
For me it was definitely the loss of freedom. Had I come to Palestine as the situation is now, I might have said I would not have been able to stay here. It is because the changes were so gradual that I almost didn’t feel them happening at the time.
When did you feel things started to change?
Well when the intifada started in 1987, that’s when everything changed. I think it surprised the Israelis and at first they didn’t know how to handle it. They began closing Palestinian schools, because of course schools have big groups of young students and they were the ones who usually demonstrated. It was in a certain way racial.
Having no schools open meant these boys and girls were out on the streets, which of course made everything worse. This lasted around 1 year and in the West Bank about a year and a half.
It was so bad that teachers were even forbidden from giving private tuition. The committed teachers were gathering children and teaching them under olive trees and in their houses. But the Israelis were continuously checking. Whenever they saw a boy on the street carrying a backpack with school books in it, the child was punished and their parents were arrested. It was absolutely crazy.
So a whole generation lost on their education in the 80s?
Yes and this is what we are still suffering from. When Israel decided to open schools up again, there was a whole generation waiting and suddenly double the number of students. The ones who had missed a year were not allowed to repeat and just had to continue on. It was a huge mess.
Not just that, in the 1980s most of the men were in prison; they were political prisoners and were arrested for the most insignificant and childish things. At that time, Israeli officers would also stop people on the street to check their watches. If your watch was set to Palestinian timing (there is a time difference between Israel and Palestine), the officers would smash your watch. They wanted to show that they were in power, you know?
Do you consider yourself a Palestinian?
In reality, I will never be a Palestinian. I love my children and my family, but I will always remain an outsider. I look at things differently. For my husband, he obviously feels things much deeper than I do. I was born in Indonesia and grew up in a Japanese prison camp.
When I talk to the young children here who are so traumatized by everything that has happened, I tell them that it is their perception they have to change. If they keep perceiving themselves as victims and live with this feeling of revenge, then we will never get anywhere with hope.
Anyway there is no difference between Palestinians and Israelis. They wear the same types of clothes, watch the same movies, listen to the same songs and this is what I am trying to tell people here. You sometimes have to look at things from a different angle and then maybe you can find that there is a possibility of a solution.
Do you think language stands in the way of people coming together?
Definitely and I think it is a terrible shame the schools in Palestine don’t teach Hebrew and those in Israel don’t teach Arabic. If you speak each other’s language, you can solve so many issues.
The Palestinian labour workers in Israel pick up Hebrew so quickly because it comes from the same root as Arabic. The grammar and the words are more or less the same. Language is certainly a huge barrier.
The Palestinian people – they know the land, they know the agriculture and they know how to deal with everything. Israelis are bringing people from Europe, Sri Lanka and Africa and these people know nothing.
What do you see is the worst part of this whole situation?
Israel is trying to destroy everything. The real danger is they are destroying the Palestinian culture and they are doing it intentionally. If you take away the culture of a people, they don’t exist anymore.
Just recently they plastered over really old ceramic tiles in David’s tomb. I am talking centuries old with beautiful Islamic descriptions. Israel broke them, they just broke and destroyed them. They did it at night without anyone knowing so there was nothing we could do.
And they are excavating everywhere, near the wall, Mount Zion, even under the al Aqsa Mosque that is sacred to Muslims all over the world.
Do you think the wall will ever come down?
I definitely think the wall will come down. Nothing stays up forever, its impossible. You should see the ecologists in Israel who are screaming bloody murder about this whole thing. The wall diverts the flow of water and crosses through aqua-logical boundaries.
They have polluted our superficial aquifer in Bethlehem with all their pesticides, fertilizers and their waste. Waste from the Israeli settlements streams into our water and then they blame the Arabs, when it is from their own people.
What do you think about the Jews claim to the land?
Let me tell you a story. Israelis found a golden coin underground while they were excavating and of course Netanyahu was jubilant. He started proclaiming how it proved the Jewish link to the land and kept saying how this is their land. “We have a right to the land,” he would say. (She rolled her eyes as she said this).
If this really is the case, then the Green Orthodox can also say they have these kinds of monuments that prove it is their land. And then the Byzantines can come and say ‘look we were here, look at these excavations.’ Heck, even Italy can make claims to the land!
In this situation, there is no justice, there is no fairness and there is no willingness to compromise on the part of Israel. This is not about who came here first anymore.
— This lady is not a Palestinian and has absolutely no religious, cultural or historical reason to have these opinions. She has lived in Palestine for 40 years now and has felt the daily struggles of the Palestinians that are only getting worse with time. This is not an issue of history anymore or who came here first. This is about standing against the Occupier and recognizing the Palestinian struggle for space and recognition. —