Oregon State University|blogs.oregonstate.edu

Palestine

  March 24th, 2009

Our first day in Palestine brought us to Al-Quds University in Abu Dis. The university is only a few yards from the 8 meter tall cement security wall built by Israel. The wall is very controversial for several reasons. Palestinians are already frustrated with the occupation and have expressed to us that the wall not only represents a physical obstacle to peace, but also a psychological one. What we have been told is that he construction of the wall also falls inside an agreed upon territorial line, so the perception of some Palestinians is the impression of continued encroachment upon their territory. It has also been expressed to us that the occupation makes transportation difficult. Fortified checkpoints and travel restrictions act to cut off student access to their homes and families and also seems to hamper potential for commerce within Palestine. The issue of water availability in Palestine is particularly complicated and delicate. What we have heard here is that Palestinians feel that their access to water is severely and unjustly restricted. Israel controls the well permitting system and therefore determines if and where water sources can be established. Israel controls the withdrawal of water from aquifers that extend beneath Palestine and uses the majority share from these shared sources. Adding to the contention is the increasing rate of Jewish settlements inside the West Bank. The settlements are provided water by Israel, which has led to stark contrasts that are visible in the landscape. One way it was described to us is that children with very limited access to water play on the other side of the fence of lush green lawns and swimming pools. The settlements seem to be altogether unwelcomed by Palestinians and serve to further insult deteriorate faith in cooperation and peace.   

 We attended a day of lectures at Al-Quds on water, geology and politics. The importance of our security was clear. We were escorted by students and guards anywhere we went on campus. The university houses highly regarded medical and legal programs and even a small on-campus museum. The museum is dedicated to imprisoned Palestinians who have been involved in efforts against the occupation since 1948.  Artwork, poetry, letters of correspondence, and even graphic photos of prison conditions are on display. I found the exhibit on torture hard to understand. In fact, the whole concept of the museum was initially hard to accept. I finally came to the understanding that the display is a complex combination of efforts that attempt to show respect for those who have fought and suffered for a cause of national and cultural pride, and that it’s meant to be a way of displaying history in a way that, I’m told, may help ensure that it’s not repeated. The exhibits and our conversations about them revealed just how raw these issues are in their hearts and minds and this museum acts as a way to legitimate and display a voice of pain and struggle that is so clearly felt and expressed here.

 

Several of the students have come to stay at the hostel with us. It has been incredible to watch our two groups mold into one. Our hosts are incredibly gracious and have made every effort to make us feel welcome. There’s a strong and genuine interest in getting to know one another- our individual interests and motivations for our visit. The group is super lively and diverse. There’s constant singing on the bus as we travel throughout the day and at night there’s dancing, hooka, and post-dinner soccer and Frisbee games.

 

Our time in Jericho has been spent exploring the excavation of the old city, hiking through the Wadi Al Quilt to a Greek Orthodox monastery built into the canyon wall, exploring the ruins of King Herod’s palace, and visiting a refugee camp. The glass box housing the well-preserved and fully clothed remains of a monk and 50 monk skulls were a morbid highlight of the monastery visit.  The hike through the wadi took us passed huddled groups of neatly cloaked nuns and Bedouin men escorting visitors by hired donkey. Impressive and impossibly constructed caves dug into high cliffs if the deep canyon walls of the wadi were visible from the trail. These cliff dwellings were home to ascetic monks who spent months and years living as hermits. The last night of our stay was highlighted by a traditional dance performance by local children and a speech from the Governor of Jericho. He spoke about the state of politics in the region and called for the aid and understanding of compassionate allies.

 

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