Palestine, Heart of Mine

A year ago I traveled to Israel, never arriving at the Palestinian settlements of the West Bank. Volunteering as an English teacher brought me to Hebron, Palestine this winter.

My short-lived immersion in Palestinian society highlighted two running parallels that dictate and define Palestinian life. The occupation and its paralyzing nature constitute the first parallel. The second parallel is one not commonly talked about, one deemed unimportant, even ignored. This one happens to be the way in which Palestinians live their lives -- beautifully, to be frank. Constantly at odds with each other, these parallels are forced to coexist. Often times they must cease their parallel qualities, colliding into one another, one unable to free itself from the other.

During my stay, I paid close attention to these elements at play. Through it all, my heart often times felt heavy yet light often times as well.

After arriving in Tel Aviv, I then traveled to Jerusalem via shared taxi, then to Bethlehem by bus, and finally to Hebron or Al-Khaleel in Arabic. On the way, I traveled along the separation wall that divides Israel from the West Bank. Massive and enclosing, the wall imprisons the soul.

During my passage and through checkpoints, I sat next to locals, their papers and identity cards always in hand. I noted how Palestinians hold themselves with dignity, yet I could still discern the loss, the pain.

Making my way into Palestine, I sensed how vulnerable it is to the power that occupies it and how vulnerable it is to uncertainty. Palestine is so overwhelmed by vulnerability, so restrained, that what happens there could never fully be known.

Upon arriving in Hebron, I soon began my job as an English teacher. Immediately, I noticed how eager the students' minds were, how ready they were to take on the world. In many ways, their desires to learn English reflect their greater desires for escape. Almost all of whom I encountered were searching for a way out.

After my first day of teaching, I met my host family. Instantly, I felt at home because of them all. Every morning my host mother spoiled me with Turkish coffee and dark chocolate, incidentally two of my favorite things.

Later, my host father would greet me with an enthusiastic and comforting, "good morning daughter!" He would then prepare breakfast, allowing his wife to take it easy each morning.

My host siblings were always studying and would only take breaks to play guitar, to play chess, or to make me laugh.

On Fridays, breakfast was the most festive. The whole family joined in on the fun. Eggs, fava beans, zaatar, labneh, and olives crowded the table. We enjoyed olive oil so rich and pure, we put it on everything. As requirements, we would sip tea and sing along to Fairuz.

I was comforted by how family-oriented Palestine is. I felt so protected in their care. How is it that I felt so safe in a place commonly described as the opposite?

Though these were my thoughts, a single step outside the home reminded me of the brutalities always present.

The visual disparity that exists between an armed Israeli solider and an innocent Palestinian or myself, unarmed, provoked the strangest feeling--one of helplessness.

Another consciousness experienced is one of limitations--limited in movement, in resources, in hope. As I walked down the streets of Hebron, I often times found myself repeating, in Arabic, ma fee amal, meaning there is no hope.

Recently, this lack of hope has fueled a new wave of frustrations and violence. In the West Bank, stabbing attacks have been directed at Israeli soldiers. In places like Jerusalem, attacks have targeted Jewish-Israeli citizens. In its aftermath, people are being killed on both sides. In a situation like that of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the occupation, it has become all too common for innocent lives to be lost.

Let me be clear: I do not support such violence nor will I ever. But stakes, fears, and injustices are too high. We must attempt to understand why such cycles of violence have escalated and the implications of recent events.

In attempting to understand, we must consider that these attacks in no way represent all Palestinians. We must ask: what do recent events say about the status of the peace process today? Finally, we must be willing, motivated even, to seek peace.

Certainly it is arguable that the peace process is dead. Hateful and bitter attitudes dominate both sides. The occupation is growing tighter. Recent proposals to build even more Jewish settlements in the West Bank are sabotaging any chance of a two-state solution. Ideally all options should be on the table, enabling Palestinians to one day decide their own fate.

Despite my mentioning of a dead peace process, I tend to disagree. My refusal reflects some of the people I have met in the region. A year ago I met an Israeli woman named Yael, one of the most spiritual and understanding human beings I have ever encountered. She has devoted her life to understanding her spirituality and faith, fostering love wherever she can. This year I met a Palestinian teenager who has suffered the unthinkable at the hands of Israeli soldiers, yet he still wants peace. He wishes for all to hear his ideas for harmony. Constantly, he lent me inspiration.

Moreover, even amid a worsening situation in Palestine, I still witnessed beauty and was touched by all whom I met. I had never felt more taken care of. I didn't want to leave.

Yet the time to leave did come. Unlike those whom I met who only dream of coming to America, I had the ability to leave.

On my way to Tel Aviv, I recalled visiting the separation wall and what the Palestinian teenager I met contributed to its exterior. He drew a heart with the three symbols of the Abrahamic religions lying inside its center. Adjacent to that, he drew a rocket and asked me to write in English inside of it, 'made from peace and love.' Also apart of his contribution was a phrase in Arabic translating to 'this land was created for peace but never saw peace.'

These words may not cause the wall to crumble. They may not cause peace and love to spread as quickly as weapons destroy. But these words were written. They lie in the hearts of many. They exist awaiting coexistence.

So let it be remembered, this land was made for peace but hasn't seen peace. Let us free our minds from hatred and the destructive status quo that is. Let us free our hearts. Finally, may Palestine be free. This land was created for peace so let it see just that. Please, let it see it.