Reprinted from The Civil Arab
I have just returned from a two-week trip to Palestine. I am quite sorry that I was not very active online during that time, but Palestine can really eat up one's time. Family and friends took up about half of my trip. The other half was spent on hummus.
Let me make a quick note here. Even though most Palestinians live outside of Palestine, when we do go there, we don't "visit." We "return." Israel, as you might have read, was able to expel many of us. However, if you do pay attention to numbers, you might realize that she did a quite terrible job of it. We are still a sizable "demographic threat," getting more "demographically threatening" with every wedding. In any case, one "visits" a place if he is not from that place. He "visits" a place if he has no connection to that place. He "visits" a place that is foreign to him, where he doesn't speak the language, know the food, or understand the customs. We Palestinians aren't the "visitors" in Palestine. Someone else is.
Anyway, this particular "return" of mine has inspired me to put together a quick (though incomplete) guide for others who might visit. I will not speak of the holy sites and their beauty. Of course, those sites are magnificent, and I'm very happy that they are there. For whatever reason, God chose Palestine. That means our economy is safe. Oil, banks, and manufacturing might all disappear one day. But God isn't going anywhere. It's economic heaven.
Instead, I will be outlining the things (other than the holy sites) that you can't find anywhere else. I'm hoping I can serve to prepare some of you for your visit, because if you are not fully equipped with the knowledge I am about to provide, Palestine could seem like some sort of alternate universe.
Don't be surprised by what might seem like quite strange introductions to new acquaintances. It is not unusual for one of your Palestinian friends to introduce you to another Palestinian by saying something like, "Amer, this is my friend Sameer. He is a great person. I admire him so much. He was in jail for five years." This might be peculiar everywhere else in the world. In Palestine, it is quite normal. You might even hear a Palestinian mom say something like, "My son Fawzi is a good boy, but he hasn't been arrested yet. I don't know what's wrong with him."
Last week, Israel reopened a road out of Ramallah that had been closed for 15 years. She called the reopening a "good will gesture." Yes, Ramallah is in the West Bank. Yes, the West Bank has been under an illegal military occupation since 1967. And, yes, Israel builds illegal settlements on that illegally occupied land, illegally transferring her population there. So, yes, I understand how it might be odd when the colonizer opens a road for the colonized and then calls the act a "good will gesture." (By the way, they closed it again two days later.) This might be peculiar everywhere else in the world. In Palestine, it is quite normal. You might even hear Israel say something like, "We have decided to let a Palestinian town have access to water."
And since we are talking about roads, don't be surprised if you see some brownish-looking people driving on some roads (crappy ones), and more fair-skinned-looking people driving on others (well-kept ones). Many roads in the West Bank are Jewish-only, reserved for those illegal settlers in those illegal settlements under that illegal occupation. By the way, those illegal settlers (let's call them "visitors") are fully armed, both with guns and the authority to assault Palestinians without accountability.
Also, Israel has employed a few segregated bus lines in the past, and has just r ecently entertained a plan to segregate all buses in the West Bank (before canceling it at the last minute amidst intense pressure).
Even without the outright, blatant segregation, at any given time, about 500 checkpoints dot the West Bank, restricting Palestinian movement. Additionally, temporary "flying" checkpoints pop up at the whim of the Israeli military (and the "visiting" settlers). Oh, and if you're wondering if 500 is a big number, remember that the West Bank is about the size of Delaware. And if you don't know anything about the size of Delaware, that's because Delaware is so small that you never cared. So, it might take you two hours to travel two miles, and it won't be because of construction or traffic, or at least not because of the kind of construction or traffic you're used to seeing.
This all might be peculiar everywhere else in the world. In Palestine, it is quite normal.
In more than one way, Palestine is a lens into the past. We don't only possess ancient religious relics. We have the antiquated colonial remnants too. Armed visitors are in charge of the local residents. Public services are racially segregated. Movement and political expression are severely restricted. You can observe how black Americans were treated in 1935, how black South Africans were treated in 1975, and how Indians were treated in 1905. Why would you read history books? You can just visit Palestine, the living museum of colonialism, oppression, and apartheid. It's like nowhere else the world. We look forward to your visit.