By Julie Holm
After being in Europe for a little over a month I have gotten a lot of different reactions when I tell people I live in Palestine and especially when I tell them my view of the situation and the occupation through my own experiences. Many react by saying something like: “Isn’t it dangerous?” “Do you have to cover up your hair?” or “Can you walk alone in the street?” These are some of the experiences I have had since returning to Europe:
A couple of weeks ago I went to a party where I met a guy who knew next to nothing about Palestine, and yet he was interested and wanted to know more. He started by saying: “But it’s the Jews versus the Muslims, right?” After discussing different aspects of the situation all night, he came to the conclusion that he wanted to learn more and wanted to go to Palestine to see it with his own eyes.
At another, very different party, I met a man in his 50s who had spent a summer in his youth in an Israeli kibbutz. He didn’t really want to discuss the situation as such, and obviously didn’t think I could tell him anything new. But every time I said the word ‘Palestine’ in other conversations, he yelled from across the room: “You mean Israel!”
The seven-year-old daughter of my neighbours also knew where I had been. Someone had told her that I had spent Christmas in Bethlehem, which amazed her. She thought Bethlehem was a magical place that only existed in books. As she found out that it was real, she had a thousand questions and immediately went to ask her dad if she could come with me when I go back.
Then, there was the principal and the teachers of a Danish high school who, after my visit, decided that they would arrange for one class to go to Jerusalem next year, to actually understand what is going on. They just wanted me to help console the worried mothers of the students.
A girl in one of the classes I visited at that high school said that everything I told them was propaganda. She, as most of the other students, didn’t know a lot about Palestine, but she knew that she disagreed with me. She was smart and knew how to argue, but as her impression of the situation is that all Palestinians are terrorists and suicide bombers and she didn’t believe a word I said, it was hard to convince her otherwise. I hope she gets to go on the school trip, and I hope she will leave her stubborn convictions at home and open up her eyes and her mind to reality.
The reaction I have gotten the most, however, from the students at high schools and from people everywhere else, is the frustration I feel myself. “Why doesn’t anyone do anything?” they ask. One girl asked, “Why don’t the 130 UN states that recognized Palestine do anything?” I tell them that many people everywhere are doing a lot but the way the world works, the international power relations create a situation where it is hard to have any influence at all and where it takes a lot for these actions to make a difference for ordinary Palestinians.
And yet, the question I always hope to get, as I talk to people about all of this, is: “What can we do?” Because, of course there’s a lot we can do from here, as individuals and as groups. Every little act matters, if it is choosing to buy another product than one made in Israel or reading an article in the news about Palestine – when they appear on rare occasions – just small acts of solidarity.
The way I see it, there are two particular categories of actions that could be taken from here; one is boycott, a strong, conscious and very political act; the other one has to do with information – getting it and spreading it. I urge everyone I talk to, to learn more about the situation, stay updated and to tell others of what they know. I tell them to talk to their families about it at the dinner table, share their knowledge with their friends through social media and use Facebook and Twitter to always know what is going on and show solidarity with the Palestinians.
Lastly, I tell everyone to come to Palestine. They might not believe me when I tell them about the situation there, they might think it is scary or dangerous or they may not know any better but to think that it is a magical place in a book; but the truth speaks for itself. I invite them to come to see the wall, the settlements, the occupation and to talk to both Israelis and Palestinians. It takes a lot of effort not to believe something you have seen with your own eyes.
Julie Holm is a Writer for the Media and Information Department at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at [email protected]