The following is a post by Young and Wild Expedition 2013 participant, Monica, about her experience in Palestine. Since 2013 she used the connections she made while cycling around America to obtain work in China – and from there to continue traveling and investigating the world. The following is her account of her time in Palestine. We love her work because she provides a perspective from someone who has and continues to Go and See the world, to relate to it and to ask why the systems in place are as oppressive as they are – humans in 2015 should not need to live under oppression. Here she is!
I came to Palestine knowing little about the history and situation here. I only knew that I wanted to live in the Middle East, in the Islamic world to experience it for myself, to rid myself of any potential prejudice I had from American Islamaphobic media. The plan was to teach English at a center for three months and study Arabic while living with a host family in Hebron. What I have encountered and experienced in the last two months has completely turned my world upside down and transformed me into somewhat of an activist.
I’ve learned so much about the culture and life here, the beauty of it and the tragedies of the Occupation that go unnoticed by the international community. They sometimes make it seem like an equal fight – or even that Israel is a victim – but they don’t show the wide scale oppression, the apartheid, the murders of young people, the child arrests, home demolitions, constant surveillance and humiliation, night raids and arrests, the terrorizing of civilians by soldiers and illegal settlers in the West Bank and endless other violations of human rights. Media often only show the stabbing attacks by Palestinians. It begs the question though, “Why do people try to stab soldiers and civilians knowing instant death awaits if they do?”
I’ve learned so much about myself and what I want in life. More than anything I’ve realized that I must do what I can wherever I am to try and make life better for people. It’s not enough for me to live a safe and comfortable life to myself not taking any risks while others are suffering. And while I don’t think I can change the world, I know there are small things I can do anywhere to work towards a more just world. Everyday I think of a quote I once heard by a documentary maker, “We don’t fight evil because we think we’ll win, we do it because we must.” That’s what I’m trying to do now by showing solidarity with Palestinians at demonstrations, at checkpoints where children have to pass to go to school in the morning and are often met with tear gas because a few children are compelled to show resistance by throwing rocks at soldiers, and sharing my experience here with those back home. More importantly, just listening. Really hearing what people are saying and showing that I understand and I stand with them.
While I thought teaching would be very draining and detract from studying Arabic, it has actually been incredibly enlightening and rewarding. I get to hear voices of the young people! Their unique ideas, hopes and wishes! And I get to hear about the Occupation and how it affects their lives. Currently, many of my classes have been cancelled because students cannot get here from the surrounding villages due to checkpoints and road blocks by Israeli forces. I guess it’s supposed to be for “security” but really it’s a form of collective punishment that restricts freedom of movement for those who have done nothing wrong, leaving many feeling like they are living in a giant prison.
This is why it is so important for young people to travel, especially to places vastly different from their home cultures. We need more empathy in this world, for all humans, not just our own. It’s the saddest thing to me that I sometimes feel I have to prove peoples’ humanity to others, because it should be instinctual, but it’s not. By trying to protect only our own communities we are doing so much harm to others, and we need to keep working towards not profiting at the expense of others. Maybe a way to get past that is making what is unfamiliar and scary to us more familiar. I don’t see the Middle East/Arabs/Muslims as threatening as my government and fellow Americans would like to believe, but rather the most warm, genuine, peaceful and loving people I’ve met. And I don’t see Palestinians as terrorists, rather the most resilient people who have endured so much and have truly been failed by the world refusing their freedom and justice, yet continue to show resistance day after day.