I arrived in Tel Aviv in the early hours of Monday morning, tired and nervous about the prospect of getting through airport security at Ben Gurion, which is notoriously tough on people travelling to the Occupied Territories. I considered blogging about my two hour interrogation, but after careful consideration decided that there are more important things to put in my first blog post from Palestine. After all, Palestinians face much longer waits and worse treatment when passing through checkpoints simply to get from one area to another within the West Bank and Gaza. One thing I will say is that this security ritual often serves more as a means of intimidation for the purposes of deterrence than as an effective way to keep foreigners from supporting the Palestinians. While many visitors, activists and workers are turned away – deported or just prevented from entering the Occupied Territories – hundreds get in by hiding the real reasons for their visits. One quotation has stuck with me, as an Israeli security officer explained, “You must understand, it is difficult for us to see why anyone would come here just for the Palestinians.” In fact, the only way to get into Palestine is through Israeli-controlled borders, so in effect what he meant was, it was difficult to understand why anyone would be interested in meeting Palestinians at all. It is deeply worrying that anyone should take this attitude, as without dialogue and attempts at mutual understanding the prospects for peace are non-existent.
First of all, I must agree with Willow that Palestinians are surely some of the most friendly and generous people in the world, and I was immediately made to feel welcome. My first impression of Ramallah was of how different it is to Gaza, which I visited six years ago. I had expected it to be different – Gaza is known for being more socially conservative, whereas Ramallah is the centre of international activity in Palestine and therefore much more ‘Westernised’. In Gaza, women would approach me on the street and put a scarf over my hair to cover it, whereas Ramallah is a Christian town where many women wear short sleeves and no hijab. It is not all about the hijab, however; although Western commentators tend to focus on traditional dress as the symbol of women’s oppression in the Arab world, I fear this may reproduce the same patriarchal preoccupation with women’s appearance which feminists oppose. For some women, no doubt, this is of great concern, but the Palestinian women’s movement has given relatively little attention to the issue as there are more concrete and prescient issues at hand. Another noticeable difference was that in Gaza, the first thing most people asked when they met me was “What does your father do?” – a surprise to me at the time as I never saw my father’s occupation as being among the most important parts of my identity. In Ramallah, people are more interested in what I study and why, what do I want to do with my life, and what do I think of Ramallah. Despite the number of international agencies operating in Ramallah, many people are still intrigued to see a foreigner around town – testimony to the absence of freedom of movement in and out of the West Bank.
Here in the WATC office, my first task is to conduct a needs assessment to establish what obstacles stand in the way of WATC using ICT and advocacy to achieve their strategic aims, and what I can do to help. I will use video conferencing to speak with WATC’s Gaza office, as gaining physical access is impossible. Even electronic communication is very difficult, because although WATC has been able to obtain its own electricity generator, fuel is very difficult to buy, and so communications are limited to a short time slot each day. Palestinians never cease to be angered and frustrated by the way in which economic sanctions are wielded as a weapon of war against their population, such a blunt instrument to deal with so complex a political situation. This week one WATC worker wanted to send a digital camera to a friend in Gaza (as one can’t buy such things there) but was unable to because of the embargo. Such are the problems WATC faces in today’s divided Palestine. One has to ask, is preventing organisations such as WATC from carrying out their work in support of women’s rights really going to help create the kind of society which the Israeli government feels it can negotiate with?
Posted By Hannah Wright
Posted Jun 6th, 2008