Hands up who out there has heard about Palestine or even considered travel to Palestine. In the past I had heard Palestine mentioned in the mainstream media, fleetingly, and usually with a connotation that the Palestinians were an evil bunch of angry, pillaging, Jew-haters. (Something similar to what we are currently seeing in Melbourne, Australia, due to being the longest locked down city in the world, and the people are starting to revolt under what appears to be a communist regime / dictatorship.)
Palestine beautifully confirmed to me that one should never trust mainstream media.
This blog about my solo travel to Palestine has taken me quite some time to edit and publish (about 2 years). Why is that, Al? Well, I have been incredibly torn about how to portray this wonderful State of Palestine. Do I talk about the political unrest and ethnic cleansing? (sounds familiar to Melbournians, yes?) Do I talk more about how fantastic a place this is to travel as a tourist? Do I do both?
Here’s what I came up with…
I’ve rarely been interested in reading or watching news, however, I was only slightly aware of what was going on in Palestine/Israel prior to my visit. This didn’t instil any type of fear about travelling to Palestine to catch up with my happy Yogini friends, Noora and Mohammed (whom I met in India) – yet, my Mum was VERY nervous about my pending travel plans. My response to Ma “My friend Noora wouldn’t put me in a life threatening situation, so don’t worry.” (There was no need to mention that Noora told me that she almost called to advise me not to come.)
Due to being under the extremely watchful eye of the Israeli government (also sounding familiar to Melbournites, right?) I had typed, then had to rewrite all these notes by hand, then re-type once I was in the safety of another country. I was advised to hide my notes in places where they couldn’t be found. Thoughts of a mule enter my mind.
I’ll admit to not being politically minded, nor am I news watcher so my preconceived ideas about Palestine were only what were given to me by others that haven’t experienced this part of the world.
Leaving Amsterdam I anticipated to be the easy part – mainly because I’m not a threatening looking blondie and I didn’t pack any Space Cookies as snacks… but I was interrogated, then escorted by two staff and another two army officers with machine guns into a room to have everything in my bags removed, checked, weighed and scrutinised. Thanks for the authentic experience El Al Air. Luckily I was warned about what NOT to say about my visit – imagine if I had mentioned my plan to visit Palestine?! EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEKK!
Finding a way to meet my pre-organised driver in Yaffa is not an easy task on Shabbatz. More on that in the part 2 of this blog.
My ever thoughtful friend keeps in contact with me and my driver to ensure my safety and, I’m sure, keeping me calm.
About half an hour into the drive I start to notice the difference in road quality, run-down housing and see an influx of dilapidated, dumped car shells as we near the Palestinian border control. Admittedly it was dark, but the difference between Palestine and Israel must be drastically different if I’m able to notice it at night, right?!
I was originally given instructions on how to deal with Border Control prior to the drive in. I could feel my heart rate increase substantially as we drove closer to the border.. All these thoughts about what I am allowed to say and what I’m not allowed to say, so that I am not detained by BC, are running through my head so fast I can’t recall which is right and wrong. My heart rate continues to climb… Everything from here on in is completely out of my control. (Why didn’t I wear an adult diaper?)
Thankfully Border Control was unmanned and we quietly drove straight through. Nobody around, no one stopping us, no people wondering what this gal was doing a long way from home.
We drive through winding and heavily speed bumped streets for about 10 minutes until we stop beside a little maroon Hyundai with the best, wide, white toothy grin… Ahhh, Noora, that smile is the best reminder as to why I am doing this part of my trip.
A big squeezy hug and looks of “I can’t believe you’re here” makes me feel at home instantly.
Our conversations are immediately comfortable – just like the conversations in Lisboa with Simone; Mallorca with Prab; and Bali with Nick – we were trying to cover EVERYTHING in our first few hours. The conversations with all 4 of these inspirational humans are some of the most educational I’ve ever had and wish I could do more of it.
Noora fills me in on the tumultuous history of Palestine and I’m left permanently gobsmacked. Ethnic Cleansing is still very real and terribly disheartening – considering what the Jewish Community endured with Hitler I’m dumbfounded that they’re doing exactly the same thing to a minority – being powerless Palestinians.
Due to my memory being fogged in, I’m going to direct you to another website for the reasons as to why Israel keep bullying Palestine. Link here.
After a brief visit to meet Noora’s work colleagues the next day – with a surprise appearance by Mohammed (also a fellow yogini at Vinyasa Yoga School) – I meander the city streets of Ramallah. Again I’m receiving loads of attention and all of it incredibly positive – lots of “Hello’s” and gorgeous smiles as I tried to blend in. Even when I went to the supermarket the kind man that served me my fresh BBQ mixed nuts gave me a little gift in the form of the most deliciously creamy pistachio nougat.
I wandered through the old city of Ramallah as well, just because it’s super close to Noora’s place.
I arrive back the apartment around 5pm and within 15 minutes all the receptors in my body entered a high alert phase, then all hell broke loose outside. I was out watching the world pass by on Noora’s balcony, when all of a sudden there appeared to be tension in the air, a feeling I will not forget. I witnessed a group of young men running fast up the street – seemingly aggravated and causing trouble with cars trying to drive the road they were on. I watched as the man in his liquor store across the road pulled down his roller shutter… It is about this time that I figured something serious was afoot.
A few minutes after going back inside I heard many large and loud bangs and yelling very nearby. I just turned the lights off, shut the windows and sat in my room working at my laptop. After a while I receive a call from Noora – whom is still at work until 9:30pm this night – asking whether I heard anything going on. Yup, I sure did. Turns out the Israeli army were raiding the CCTV cameras from a government building a small block away – where I had been happily meandering solo not long before dark.
WHAT REALLY HAPPENS
What I witnessed first hand; The Israeli Army comes into Palestine/Ramallah to assert their authority by kicking up an absolute shitstorm. Tear gas, machine guns, rubber bullets and the overtly loud, threatening bangs caused by bombs.
After a few hours I can’t help but sneak back out to the balcony when the turmoil seemed much closer. Below the balcony are loads of people and cars in Noora’s usually quiet street. The bombs are more frequent and I can even see the bright orange flashes of tear gas bombs reflecting off the local apartment blocks. Sirens and horns tooting fill the thick, gas filled air. Prior to this uproar I was able to see the stars in the sky – now, through the gas tears is a chemical fog and no stars. This tear gas is a new chemical trial apparently, and boy is it violent.
How do these kind Palestinians protect themselves against such blatant bullying by the teenage, armed forces of Israel? Stones. Throwing stones is all they have because they’re not allowed to bare arms to protect the land that’s rightfully theirs. Everything that could be turned into weaponry has been confiscated by the Israeli’s.
HOW IS THIS ALLOWED????????
At this stage I’m more dumbfounded than fearful.
9pm I walk back out onto the balcony and immediately my nostrils, eyes and throat start to burn. I’m not in the centre of the action, but the air is thick with tear gas. The bombs have subsided a little – but so far that’s a solid 4 hours.
(I wasn’t aware of these bombs being purely noise to scare Palestinian people at the time).
Restricted breathing, inability to see through tears.. Noora bursts through her front door, unable to breathe because she’s had to drive a very long way home, avoiding the Israeli Army, listening for the location of the turmoil with her head out the window of her car, driving through the chemical haze.
I receive a text from Ma asking how I was. There’s NO FKN WAY I’m telling her about the extent of this chaos until I’m on safe turf. I mentioned that there was some unrest and Mum’s initial response was “Are they rioting?”. Mum’s query proves that news only offers a biased opinion and it seems to favour the Israelis – of course I mean absolutely no disrespect to Ma, but it’s proof of what we are being fed via our news channels. Although the Palestinians have every right to defend their land and selves, it’s actually the Israeli Army that causes all the chaos. All the stuff the news doesn’t report on, I just witnessed on only my second night.
And everything you DO see on the heavily censored news… the firetrucks, the gunfire, the bombs, the chemical gas – that’s all the Israeli Army. When do you ever see the Palestinians protecting themselves with any of the above? NEVER. But MSM portray Palestine as the bad guys.
(Does any of this sound familiar to you during our current pandemic?)