After being in Israel for just four days, staring at a sign that read “This Road leads To Area “A” Under the Palestinian Authority The Entrance For Israeli Citizens Is Forbidden, Dangerous To Your Lives And Is Against The Israeli Law,” was a frightful and dreary sight to behold. The fear mounting inside me as I read the fateful words was subdued by the nature of the company I was in. Last Friday, June 4th, I was one amidst a sea of peaceful protesters preparing for a march to The Tunnels Checkpoint in the town of Beit Jala, which lies about 10 kilometers south of central Jerusalem. The demonstration, a monthly occurrence, was organized by Combatants for Peace in protest of the 49 years of occupation that “have led us to an unprecedented nadir of racism, extrajudicial executions, arrests of minors and expulsions of individuals.”
Member of Knesset Ayman Odeh (r), Chair of the Joint Arab List , joins demonstrators along the march. Virginia Duffy)
Upon our arrival at the starting point of the march, we were greeted by the welcoming faces of dozens of Palestinians, old and young, male and female, who had walked or driven from nearby villages to join in the festivities. Although some were shy, perhaps because of personal, cultural or political reasons, many were eager to interact with the crowd of Israelis and internationals that had pledged their allegiance to their cause simply by being there. There seemed to be an air of gratitude amongst the Palestinians and an air of empathy amongst their advocates, leading to an honest and heartfelt sense of solidarity between the two groups. The presence of an Israeli police force, however, served as reminder of the reality of the difficult and multi-faceted situation the two parties were trying to remedy. As it was a peaceful and legal protest, the cohort of 15-20 Israeli soldiers accompanying us succeeded in making the event safe while simultaneously respecting the efforts and intentions of the protest.
Unfortunately and shamefully so, I possess no Arabic or Hebrew language skills, which left me at a disadvantage in many ways. First of all, I was unable to read the paper I was given with the various Arabic and Hebrew chants to be read during the march. As a result, not only was I not able to understand what was being advocated and with what tone, I was unable to be a fully vocal participant in the event. I also faced difficulties in communicating with any participants that did not have a basic command of English. Most illustrative of this was my “conversation” with a young Palestinian boy. When I asked him how old he was, he responded with “I live in Hebron.”
Holders of Hopefulness
Although my lack of language skills handicapped me in many ways, it also provided me with a perspective of the event that was unique to many others’ in attendance. I was forced to rely on more nuanced and less visible (or audible) aspects of the demonstration to gain an understanding of its nature and its impact. For instance, I noticed the presence of entire Palestinian families, from grandmothers to young toddlers. Such a sight offered me reassurance that hopefulness for a peace agreement is a sentiment that spans generations of Palestinians. There was, however, a significant amount of Palestinian youth present, offering reassurance in a different way as the youth are likely to be the ones at the vanguard of peace movements in the future.
To Live on in Electronic Eternity
Also notable was the extensive electronic recording of the event on behalf of all parties present. Whether it was cellular phones snapping selfies and videos, digital cameras taking still-frames, or those with more sophisticated technology capturing video of the event, rest-assured the demonstration will live on in electronic eternity. Although every documentation of the event is important in its own right, what I was most amused by was the Israeli soldier who whipped out his cell phone and began taking pictures. Whether he was recording the event as a supporter or critic, I will never know. What I do know, however, is that he found enough significance in what was happening to have his own electronic, eternal memory.
As I have just begun my stint as an observer of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict here in Jerusalem, the march enlightened me to a new dimension of the complexities and perspectives of the conflict. More than a deeper understanding of the pessimistic reality of the situation, I took away from the march that the prospect of peace is certainly not dead. Moreover there is a segment of each of the populations that yearns for more than just peace and borders, but for interaction, inclusion and a sense of community between Israelis and Palestinians.
Participants were offered a literal piece of cake as an ironic homage to the phrase “Peace of Cake.” (Virginia Duffy)
A young man from Hebron proudly displays his drum while the march continues behind him. (Virginia Duffy)