Thursday, June 18, 2009

Session One Recap

hey blog followers, sorry I haven't been posting regularily, but I realized that I really can't stand blogging.

However, here is a reflection on session of the program that I am doing here.

This session has been in one word intense. A really good intensity. Through my volunteer placement, Arabic classes and cultural nights, it can be easy to slip into a routine where you start going through the motions of the program. However, this program is being held in Palestine, and nothing is routine here. There have been many instances in the past three weeks where a conversation, whether over drinks at a bar or on a tour bus, will shake you to the core of your beliefs, and leave you in a constant state of re-evaluating why you are here, what you believe and makes you realize that the people here are as diverse in their opinions and politics as people from anywhere in the world.

This has been confirmed to us by almost every guest speaker we have had. From the ICAHD tour in Jerusalem to meeting with an Imam in Bethlehem, it is clear that there are many opinions and beliefs and people working for peace and against peace on both 'sides.' However, it is still true that one side is living under the occupation of the other side, and my protest and passion against this is something that has not waived, but has grown stronger and been cemented since coming back here. Though it can get exhausting to become enraged over and over again, and it's easier for me to understand a little more of the tension that the people here live with. We're coming to this situation from the outside. We don't know what it feels like to be Palestinian, we don't know what they have felt and seen and heard over their lifetimes. It's our role here to listen, and to seek to understand. It's important that we don't grasp onto one or two opinions as representing the whole population, and therefore reject all others. It is also important to realize that injustice and prejudice exists within the Palestinian population as well, just like any other.

The 14 of us have really clicked well with each other over these past three weeks. We've managed to keep each other from going insane, unless we're all completely crazy and haven't noticed. Some of the richest experiences I've had so far have been because of the fact that I'm sharing my time here with these 13 other people. It will be interesting as the new participants arrive how the group dynamics will change. And sadly we've had to say goodbye to one participant already.

As a political science and peace and conflict studies student, through being here and working at my volunteer place PNN (Palestine News Network), it's been an interesting case study for studying international politics as they are from the mouth of politicians to what what they mean on the ground. It has been interesting to be here during Obama's address to the Muslim world in Cairo, and what his statements mean here on the ground. Most of the population here appreciated what he had to say about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, but they have also become pretty jaded in thinking that anything will actually change. After Netanyahu's recent speech, I am struggling to not become jaded myself.

There is hope though, and I will continue to scratch the surface to find it. I am still left with a ton of questions, like what does it mean to be nonviolent? How do you not hate your oppressor? How do you turn the other cheek? Even though sometimes I feel like the Palestinian struggle is not mine, I remember that an injustice somewhere is an injustice everywhere. As a Canadian, I am technically a settler on lands that were occupied a few hundred years ago. Is Canada's past (and present) really that different from some of what Israel is doing now?

The Palestinians around me are what keep me going, they certainly know how to live, and they have a wicked sense of humour. I love my host family, and I couldn't imagine getting nearly as much out of my time here if they weren't a part of it. I've also had some incredibly amazing experiences, from dancing to the same beat for hours at a graduation party, meeting with a Bedouin community leader, spray painting the wall while being filmed by Al Jazeera to learning (and failing at) Debka. It's all been a part of learning more about the culture and the people, and I have come to realize that that is how we will be the bridge between the Palestinians and the Israelis, or the Palestinians and the people at home.

I'm looking forward to the second month of being here, of attempting to learn more Arabic and deepening the relationship with my host family and my coworkers at PNN. Their strength and faith are what keep me going, and to be extremely cliche in the words of Gandhi "There have been tyrants, and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall. Think of it--always."

Monday, June 8, 2009

Word from a West Bank street

For those of you following the fallout of Obama's speech in Cairo, here's one mans opinion from Bethlehem. I promise I'll post a real blog soon!!

On the street in the West Bank - Obama's speech was not as awe-inspiring as the pundits are saying

05.06.09 - 08:55
Bethlehem / PNN - Hussein is a 40 year old Palestinian with the same leanings as many in the West Bank — nationalist where it counts, leftist in his open-mindedness and with Islamic tendencies in his sense of tradition.

When Obama spoke in Cairo on Thursday afternoon, Hussein, like millions of others throughout the Middle East and beyond, watched on the television. And like millions more he spent the next several hours discussing the context and outcome. But what it seems from this man and his colleagues is that Obama’s speech was not as awe-inspiring as many would like to think.
“He was laughing at us,” Hussein said over late evening coffee, echoing comments heard throughout the afternoon. “If he had said ‘an end to occupation’ that would be one thing. That is what he should have said.”

The university lecturer continued, “It is not helpful to simply say the words, ‘Palestinian state.’ This is something known and expected under international law. But a Palestinian state where? Will it be where international law demands? Will it be on ’67 or ’56 lines, or wherever they want it [the Americans]?”

“The Israelis do not want us to have a state, that is what occupation is all about,” he continued. “Obama says, ‘They’re good, we’re good,’ and now we’re all supposed to get along. This isn’t saying anything, let alone doing anything. Where was the ‘end to occupation’?”
In the intense heat of a late summer evening Hussein finished, “He came here to make a good picture in front of Muslims, that’s it. He is the same as Bush, yes, but he uses a different approach, a better face. Bush said, ‘If you’re not with us, you’re against us.’ Obama painted a much nicer picture, but I don’t think the reality will follow.”

Thursday, June 4, 2009

To Rebuild Trust

I work at a Palestinian news network, so I've read a lot of stories about reactions to Obama's visit to the Middle East. This article is a really good one, that pretty much sums up the Palestinian postion. It can be found on the english PNN website.

Palestine has become litmus test for US foreign policy because it exposes hypocrisy

04.06.09 - 10:32
Amman, Ramallah / Daoud Kuttab - An Arab proverb says that a madman throws a stone in a drinking well and 100 wise men are needed to get the stone out.

This proverb applies to the gigantic effort that US President Barack Obama will have to exert as he attempts to clean up the mess his predecessor created in the Arab and Muslim worlds. As in the proverb, the problem of regaining trust requires 100 times the effort made to lose it. Trust obviously cannot be built just with words, even though words, and the right words, have a lot of meaning.

Muslims and Arabs would like to hear much from Obama, starting with Palestine, Iraq and the US military presence in the Gulf. Palestine has become the litmus test for the US foreign policy because it has exposed the US ' hypocrisy. Examples of the double standard include US bias in favour of Israel while it claims to be an honest broker, its push for " democracy " while rejecting the results of Palestinian elections, and its silence on Israeli nuclear weapons while blasting Iranian nuclear efforts. While foreign policy is crucial, a sincere show of respect and attempt to rebuild trust are more important.

There are huge expectations for Obama. Arabs and Muslims appreciate and respect American values of democracy and human rights, but the disreputable actions of US soldiers, politicians as well as the Congress and the media have led many to question the US commitment to its stated values.

For years Americans have repeatedly spoken about a special value system that binds America with Israel, making repeated references to the Judeo-Christian heritage. This needs to be replaced by an approach appealing to universal values based on human rights, self-determination and opposition to occupation and dictatorships.

Obama would do well to reflect on passages from the Islamic text that speak about human rights and the dignity of human beings. The Koran clearly calls for protection of civilians and the environment, especially during times of war: "You must not mutilate, neither kill a child or aged man or woman. Do not destroy a palm tree, nor burn it with fire and do not cut any fruitful tree." Seventh century Islam's second Caliph Omar Ibn Khatab ' s famous question, " why have you enslaved humans when they were born free," is probably the basis for the first article of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human rights which states: "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood."

@Printed in today’s Jordan Times under the title “To rebuild trust”

Monday, June 1, 2009

PNN Article

I am currently volunteering for PNN, and my first assignment was to wrote a story about a Palestinian nonviolence protest I went to. Here it is:

Umm Salamuna / Al Masra nonviolent resistance in the southern Bethlehem streets

30.05.09 - 12:56
Bethlehem / Cassie X for PNN - Al Ma'sara, which lays to the south of Bethlehem, is a village on the frontline of land confiscation and settlement expansion. The village itself is the size of 22,000 dunams, with 20,000 dunams set to be confiscated for settlement construction. Farmers are losing their lands, and then they are forced to lose them for the construction of illegal settlements on their land which is their only source of income. That is why every Friday in Al Ma'sara and Umm Salmamuna they march. They march under the banner of nonviolence. This is my first protest here in Palestine, and I was impressed by the support of the international community displayed by protestors there from Germany, Holland, Norway, South Africa, France, Italy, the United States and Canada. I traveled in a cab towards the village with two women from the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel. Deborah was a priest from South Africa who had come to Palestine on her three month sabbatical. "I came here because I saw the important role that the international community played in South Africa with the end of Apartheid," she explained. "This is my attempt in some way to pay that back, except the occupation here is much worse than I had expected." As we neared the village we came up to a flying checkpoint, which was a way for the soldiers to control protesters from getting to village on Fridays. We quite easily got through the first one, but then we pulled off the street and had to meet the protest part way because they had set up another one just down the road. As we were getting out of the cab one of the women said, "that's just not right." We stood under the difficult eye of the second checkpoint, until we heard the chanting and saw the crowd come around the corner with Palestinian flags waving. There was a young girl there who must have been about 12, and her father had been recently arrested at a similar protest a few weeks ago. He has been randomly pulled from the crowd and taken for no real reason. As the crowd came towards us we joined in. There were flags and posters reading, "No to the Occupation Flu" and "Jaffa my City." Our crowd of around 60 Palestinians and internationals approached a barbed wire barrier thrown across the road with some15-20 Israeli soldiers standing behind them. We marched straight up to the barrier, chanting, "The Wall must fall" and singing in Arabic. What struck me as we sang, made speeches, and took pictures of the soldiers, is that even though they had the guns, we at this moment had the power. There were speeches made in Arabic, English and French. There were speeches about peace, about how the Israelis cannot erase the Palestinians and the Palestinians cannot erase the Israelis; how the new Israeli government cannot change the law whenever they want. One of the protesters from the United States named Matthew was a US army veteran who had served on active duty in Iraq from August 2002 to August 2004. "When I was in Iraq, I questioned the mission and the rhetoric. I became aware quite early on that there were no WMD's in Iraq, and that Iraqi democracy and freedom had nothing to do about why we were there." Now an active anti-war protestor, Matthew, approached the barrier and the soldiers with a picture of himself in uniform. "My intention is to express to them that I know how they feel. I don't know what it is like to grow up in an Israeli militarized state, but I do know how it feels to be on the other side of the constant wire." He says that they usually acknowledge the fact that he has served. He hopes that him standing there will at least help those who are questing what they are doing. There were Israelis in the crowd who spoke to the soldiers in Hebrew. Two village women crawled over the barbed wire holding Palestinians flags and holding up their hands in a peace sign. Their weathered faces looked back upon the crowd and broke out into smiles of defiance. This was their land. Another protestor was engaged in an exchange with a soldier, after which he turned to the crowd and said in English, "The soldier says that this land is for him, but I say he is foreigner here. The colour of his skin is different from the land. My skin shows how I melt with this land."
As we concluded our protest the atmosphere was one of tension but also one of hopeful defiance. Next Friday they would be back, protesting as they have for years. As agents of nonviolent resistance, the moral power rested with them. I felt a new lightness as we walked back to our vehicles to head to Bethlehem City. Although there had been no direct results from this protest, I had seen the passion of a people who were not afraid of using their voices and they would continue to do so.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

What Non-violence means to me

Working against the roots of violence, or systematic violence.

"The Roots of Violence:
Wealth without work
Pleasure without conscience
Knowledge without character
Commerce without morality
Science without humanity
Worship without sacrifice
Politics without principles."

- Mohandas K. Gandhi

"Peace has to be created, in order to be maintained. It is the product of faith, strength, energy, will, sympathy, justice, imagination, and the triumph of principle. It will never be achieved by passivity and quietism."

- Dorothy Thompson

Saturday, May 23, 2009


Well, I've been in Bethlehem for one full day and I feel like I am still in transit to what my life will be like for the next three months.

It has been great to get to know my host family, and hopefullyI will get the chance to form a strong relationship with them. The one huge obsticale I am still facing is the fact that I don't know any Arabic, so hopefully as I learn it will become easier to communicate with them. My roomate Ilyana, who is from Russia, knows Classical Arabic (which is very different from colloquial Arabic), so she is able to speak with them a bit easier. I'm living in an apartment right across from a hotel, which is convient for when I get lost because I have no idea what my address is! My room and bathroom are really comfortable, though every morning so far I've had to squash a friendly bathroom cockroach. Though it's only ever one and only in the morning, and the ones here aren't nearly the size of what I encountered in China and Thailand!

There are 13 PSE participants for the first month, with our numbers doubling next month and some leaving after that. It will be strange to get to know people really well for a month or two months and then have to say goodbye and get to know a whole new group. At least my roomate Ilyana is here for the full three months as well. Most of the group are American, with my roomate being Russian, one guy from Chile, one girl from Switzerland and then me as the only Canadian (just like YWAM!). It's been really interesting to learn from the other participants what their background is and what has brought them here to Palestine. One of the Americans is actually an ex-soldier who served in Iraq in 2004, became disenchanted with the military and is now determined to work for peace through nonviolence and dialogue. It is going to be very interesting to talk with him about his experience then compared to now. The one thing he's said so far is that people are much friendlier when you are not pointing a gun in their face.

Tonight the 13 of us, along with our group "leaders" John Mark and Rafat who work for Middle East Fellowship and Holy Land Trust, and meeting for dinner and more socializing. Tomorrow we are taking a day trip to Jerusalem, and this will be the first time I will cross the wall the way that Palestinians have to. Most tourists when they come to Bethlehem come on a bus, get off at the Church of the Navity, take pictures, and then get back on their bus and sail right through the checkpoint back to Jerusalem. Most tourists don't spend the night in the West Bank and never get a chance to interact with Palestinians. Palestinians, if they are on a bus or not, must get out and walk through the checkpoint. The security they face is much more indepth and even humiliating, and so this is what I will get to witness first hand tomorrow.

Monday is when the real program starts, and I get to settle into my routine. I will start my volunteer position, which is with Palestine News Network (PNN). I have no idea what I am doing yet, so I will probably try to blog tomorrow night and let you know. I will also start Arabic classes on monday, which I am very excited about! Although my host family is already expecting me to be fluent within a month! Pressure!

I probably haven't explained very well the program I am with or the organizations I am working with. Instead of me doing that here I will give the links for those who are interested in learning more.

Palestine News Network:

Palestine Summer Encounter:

Middle East Fellowship:
Hopefully I will post again monday. Until then, Peace.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

May 21st

I am here in Jerusalem aftering arriving yesterday. I had quite the experience at the airport getting through security, but I'm not sure yet what is appropriate to write in this blog so I may go into more detail later.

After three days of traveling today I finally head to Bethlehem and get to meet the family I will be living with for the next three months.

For those of you who don't know I am participating in the Palestine Summer Encounter (PSE) in Bethlehem for three months. I will go into more detail about that later as well.

Again, orientation for the program is tomorrow and I will have a better sense of what I can type out into the cyber world and what I better keep to myself. I will hopefully be able to share some of my experiences working for peace and experiencing the culture here in Palestine over the next three months. I hope to keep all my friends and family updated (and to let them know that I am safe), and maybe even begin to write some of my blog in Arabic (hopefully)!

I hope to be able to type more later this week after I get settled in and have a much better idea of what I will be doing in my volunteer position. Until then take care and I hope to hear from you during my time here! Sorry this first post is so dry!