Connections

Among our more memorable visits was the Wednesday we spent in Jerusalem, getting there through a Bethlehem checkpoint where armed Israeli soldiers came aboard our tour bus to check our passports. We arrived shortly afterward at the Shufat Camp, which is encircled by the wall and fencing and is overlooked by two checkpoints and guard towers. We took the Shufat youth with us for a visit to the Old City – an intersection of Islam, Christianity and Judaism. From its bustling marketplace we left for a visit to a quiet, remote and ancient Palestinian village, Lifta, which was one of the villages that was attacked and depopulated in 1948 as the Israeli fighting forces were approaching. The newly formed Israeli state used the remains of the housing to lure in Arab Jews to populate its state. Today the village and its lush surroundings are a park-type getaway for Israelis.

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Richard Casteneda / Shufat Refugee Camp

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Boys at wall separating Shufat Refugee Camp from the settlements.

Ali, 16, from Shufat Camp: “This video is when the Israeli’s get into Gaza we are sad about what happened and we want to do something because we are sad and they killed our families in Gaza and our friends to. We get stones and throw at Israelis and they get us very hard.”

WRITING FROM OUR WORKSHOPS:

Jerusalem

City, fried chicken, sweaty people, hot, dirty concrete, coffee, trash…The wooden bottom of the bunk bed, all sorts of people, wet bathroom floor, first Jew I’ve seen with curly hair, clear cloudless sky, the hat, the crew, skin color, blackened with dirt floor, the hate in their eyes…Chillin’ on the bench seeing the night life of Jerusalem. Seeing the people of color working, sweeping, taking out the trash, taking their break, yelling at each other over who does what. I remember looking at their faces and noticing the look in their eyes. Blank. This is life just accept it.

Then hearing about a dozen rushed footsteps. I looked up an saw a group of Jewish men all in black and the black flat hats. I saw them run down the steps in a hurry and through the Damascus Gate. The look they had was one of easy going – life is a thrill. The carefree smile, the look of joy in their eyes. That day was the first time I saw a Jewish person in Palestine. After seeing the oppression and hatred filled lives of Palestinians that scene made me angry. I remember the rage that ran through me. my first clenched. You could read the rage on my face. Eyes squinted, lips tensed. “How can they be so carefree and happy?” I remember thinking.

At the time, I didn’t make a connection. Now that I think about it though, I can. I would walk down Mission Street in San Francisco. I always remember the fact that my family used to live there. I’m brought back to the present time and I see the gentrifier. The reason why I no longer live there. They took all the cultural richness of that area and are proud of it. I just hope that their pride is not the same as mine, genuine. When I see them I have the same reaction. I hate how the gentrifier struts like how he owns the place. I hate that I have the disgusting ability to hate.

-Veronica Hernandez

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Richard Casteneda/ Israeli settlers looking at a wooden mural in Old City-Jerusalem that blocks the view of the Palestinian camps and shows the vision of the Israeli state.

Lifta

dirt, the earth, existence, fear. empty, injured, rubble, dirt under your feet, trash.  walked into a sacred place and immediately felt the pain of the entire village, heard crying, made connection of my people and the sacred sites that have been destroyed. my breath was lost, my heart beat rapidly, i sat down on a stone in the midst of dirt and trash and said a prayer, i could not hold back the tears, cried. interruption of people’s lives, way of life, destroyed and taken away.

-Melissa Franklin

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Crystal / Natural Palestinian spring turned into a pool for Israelis

water from the swimming hole, fire from the burnt wood, fruit, sweet smells from a picnic, dust from the steep trails, body odor from long days, exhaust from our trusty bus, cigarettes from weary travelers, heat of the Palestinian sun, mold from wet luggage, fear of a story told, guilty from the truth buried deep. green from life of ancestry, brown from the dirt paths and stone building, black and white of the clothing worn, white skin of the prejudice stare, red from the hate unjust, yellow from the rock thrown, the touch and voice of an old soul. used to confrontation, used to a hard life. to say “it’s okay.” laying a hand on my shoulder to guide me softly. a rock thrown wasn’t from me, but was for me. i had to place myself in the shoes of my guest to try to understand the reason of no confrontation. not now, not at this time. had i come to a place that was holy or a place that was wishing to be what it was not. shocked. angry. sad. helpless. frustrated. uneasy. frightened.

-Marei Spaola

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Richard / Shufat Refugee Camp

I don’t even know what word I would use to describe the Israelis that were there – that you think that it’s okay to use an old village and just stomp all over it and swim there and eat their fruit. When it’s so obvious it’s not yours. Mentally and psychologically I don’t understand that thinking. In Jerusalem I was looking over and seeing the wall that divides the Shufat Refugee Camp from the rest of Jerusalem and residents have to go through checkpoints to get out. It’s unbelievable that you cannot see or think about Palestinians and no one gives a shit as they walk around in their perfect little worlds and they’re just executing genocide. It’s painful to think that they don’t care. When we passed that well that the Israelis have made into a pool – the nerve of those kids to throw stones! That was shocking to me, it just goes to show how shocking that situation is.

People need to see that stuff with their own eyes but people don’t want to see it, they turn on their tv’s and tune out. This trip so far has been been very hard, it’s been very traumatic what I’ve seen  – the way that people who lovethe earth and each other and community are treated. I appreciate the power of the Palestinians and their survival skills are so much more powerful than ours – to walk the streets and see this everyday. I want to compare their experience to Native struggles but it seems unfair. I didn’t suffer as much as my grandfather and he didn’t suffer as much as his father, and you can’t help but feel privileged…

-Richard Casteneda

I close my eyes and smell the land of the old, the blood that was split. This land holds energy, it radiates from the trees, it travels in the wind threw my hair. I open my eyes and see my friends around me, in the horizon I catch glimpses of the enemy. I see the untold fear in their eyes, I read them like a book, the words on the enemies face shows their racist thought. I see the useless face that they will never let go, I fell my family pain, why do they hate him so? Hate is venom that runs threw his veins, and that hate begins to affect me. In the ruins of the mosque I watch my brother scratch away the words of the enemy, alone in his mission to get rid of the filth that contaminates the walls. Something sparks within me, he was alone no more, I grab a rock and help him clean the walls of the sacred place. We put all of our anger into this mission and at last the enemy’s words were no more. That very moment I realized the true meaning of solidarity. My brother and I worked together, we shared the pain I felt for so long, we shared the the anger, and instead of beating the enemy to death, we cleaned a place of sacred energy, we got rid of that hate that the enemy poisoned our blood with, and at the end of the day we could smile again, and to me the enemy became no more – that moment they didn’t exist. In the end it was just me and him.

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Crystal Marich / Cleaning off mosque wall in Lifta with graffiti by Israelis

Seeing how the old village of Lifta turned into a park (for Israeli settlers) made me think about the city. I always think about all the trees and how beautiful the land was before the man made concrete buildings. The city disgusts me and I greatly wish the original land was there, just like how the Palestinian people who came from that village want to return to their original home.

-Obasi Turrentine

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Obasi talking to the group in Ramallah

Balata Refugee Camp

The most memorable place I’ve been able to see is my host’s house. As soon as I walked in there was a smell of spices combined with a humid smell from the small space that confined the family of 10. Soon after I walked in the smell of tea penetrated the small room as I treated my tongue to the delicious flavors of the hot tea. As we ate, the smell of meatball soup reminded me of my mom’s kitchen. As I walked in, I was welcomed by three little boys that were running all around me with puzzled faces trying to figure out who I was. Right away I sat in the living room on the red couches. The living room had a green carpet where the kids would be jumping on. Next to the living room was the girls room where I stayed at in one of the two small beds  In the back was the small kitchen in front of the bathroom. As I took a shower, roaches the size of a lipstick were crawling up the wall. The roof of the house was full of plants and all the green made it look like a jungle in the middle of concrete.

All around were buildings that looked barren and dead. The bed next to the plants must make Muhamed, who sleeps there, relaxed when he sleeps. Muhamed’s office was like his place to escape from the reality of the outside world. Surrounded by computers was a desk in the middle of the room. As he showed me his favorite computer games, his family stories came up. His eyes got watery as he was telling me about his brother who was only 16 when he was murdered by the Israeli military while drinking tea on the roof of his house. With one bullet, both Muhamed’s brother and his friend lost their lives. If he was still alive right now we would be the same age. He showed me the clothes that he was  wearing when he had to carry the body of his dead brother off the roof. Still stained with the blood of his brother and the tears of his pain were on the shirt that he was wearing that day. He still kept his brother’s wallet the same way he left it the day he died as if he was expecting for him to come back and look for it.  I didnt see anger in his face but the sadness was ingrained in his eyes. Now I understood why he slept on the roof of his house, in a way he was closer to his brother by spending his nights in the same place he spent his last minutes of life.

In the dining room there was a picture of his brother who looked as handsome as my little brother. In the picture, Muhamed’s brother had a child’s face that was full of vigor. Having that conversation with him made me think of my friend who our second day of the delegation we found out that her brother had died. Her brother was murdered by a pig after pulling him over assuming that he was a gang member because of the tatoos that covered his arms. He shot him, killing in instantly. My friend’s brother was only 16 and was already a father of a baby boy who now will have to grow up without his father’s guidance. He was the son of migrants who after migrating to the U.S. undocumented,  had to spend their life working to attempt to survive. After the school system failed him, he turned to the streets that led him to jail.  Finally he was able to turn his life around and was trying to be a responsible father while still a youth. His attempts were in vain in a society that didn’t value his life. Like Muhamed’s brother, their lives were disposable and their murder was unpunished. What brings me hope is the work we are doing at home against police brutality and racial profiling facilitated by gang injunctions imposed on our neighborhoods and youth. Here in Palestine, the struggle and work to end apartheid is contributing to similar end goals of having a just society.

-Aurora Castenellos

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Breakdancing in Balata Camp

Apartheid Wall at Aida Refugee Camp

garbage. piss. shit.cigarette smoke. dust. dirt. car exhaust. rotten food. dead cats. 26 feet tall. blocks of grey cement and stones. trash. Palestinian children waving to internationals. massive.  feeling small. graffiti. speeding cars. borders. walls. almost full moon. sunset. early evening. crowded. houses. small alleys.

When Richard asked to take a picture with three of the young men from Dheisheh Refugee Camp in front of the wall, he says they should all pick up stones. while the rest of the young men picked up small stones that fit in the palm of their hand, Basam picked up a massive stone with both his hands and heaved it up into the sky. The young men were all laughing and enjoying taking pictures. this was a really memorable moment for me because it represented how much Palestinians resist the wall and resist the occupation. I felt happy because it was a joyful moment of the will and desire to resist it reminds me that sometimes resistance can be sobering and woeful but it doesn’t always have to be. but regardless of how one expresses their resistance or how it makes one feel, resistance is a life we choose that always is with us and our people.  also, seeing young people laughing in the face of the wall gave me a good feeling that they don’t fear the wall.

It made me angry though because it made me connect the relationship between young people and borders. The wall doesnt only stop young people and all people from moving freely but it puts limitations on our realtiies, hopes, opportunities and dreams.  It made me realize that there wasn’t just this one wall in front of me, but that there are borders everywhere. It makes me angry because noone has the right to do that. At that moment I think I understood what it meant when Palestinians demand their right to life. Whenever I look at the wall it reminds me of how much the settlers, Zionists, Washichus and worldwide oppressors hate us and want to kill all of us for simply who were are adn our will to live and resist.  It reminds me of 2pac & the Outlawz, “they dont give a fuck about us.” I listened to the song on the bus back to Dheisheh and it helped me process my experience by grounding me in something real.

The Wall reminds me of the young people I work with and how they are criminalized as young people and their dreams and opportunities are limited by the system. I’m from San Diego in a neighborhood that is 15-20 minutes from the US/Mexico border. It’s crazy seeing the massiveness of the apartheid wall and all the israeli technology and “intelligence” that goes into destroying people’s lives through violence, oppression, and occupation.  It scares me that these crimes are happening in the present and the world turns its back in silence. It scares me that the 48 state is the future for the US/Mexico border and my barrio.

-Crystal Marich

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Crystal / The wall at Aida Camp

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