Three weeks in Palestine: Taking stock

I’ve now been in Palestine/Israel for just over three weeks: nearly two weeks on a Quaker Voluntary Action (QVA) “pilgrimage”, and now ten days at the Friends International Centre in Ramallah.

The QVA project was very intensive. Twelve of us met in Jerusalem on 18 October, joined in the weekly vigil of Women in Black and then went to the Garden Tomb to meet with Linda, a Quaker who works for the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and lives in a settlement just outside Jerusalem.

We spent the following week based in a village north of Ramallah. During that week we visited the Friends School in Ramallah, attended Sunday morning Meeting for Worship in Ramallah Friends Meeting House, heard a talk by Thuqan Qishawi, who used to work for the American Friends Service Committee and now works freelance with young people, spent a day picking olives in Al-Jib, a village between Ramallah and Jerusalem, visited Jacob’s Well and a refugee camp near Nablus, visited the Palestinian Association for Cultural Exchange, and visited Efrat, an Israeli settlement south of Bethlehem.

An eco-centre in a village near Jericho was our base for the next couple of days. On our way there we visited the Mount of Temptation and Hisham’s Palace. We spent a morning working at the eco-centre. Then in the afternoon a few of us visited the place on bank of the River Jordan where Jesus is said to have been baptised by John the Baptist. We left for Tel Aviv the following day after a long and arduous hike down a wadi, a steep river valley which is dry during the summer until the rains come in December.

North of Tel Aviv we visited Dorothy Naor of New Profile and Amos Gvirtz, a veteran peace activist. Both of them impressed me greatly.

Half of the QVA group returned to Britain on 29 October when the QVA “pilgrimage” ended. Two of us enjoyed a train ride to Jerusalem, where Harriet wanted to stay and do some sight-seeing. I took a bus to Ramallah and somehow managed to find my way to the Friends Meeting House and the Friends International Centre (FICR) without getting lost. Hekmat, who has been keeping FICR going since Kathy Bergen left in July, was waiting for me along with three of her children.

Since I have been in Ramallah, the pace of life has been more relaxed. I have succeeded in posting something on my blog every evening, although this has meant some very late nights. I’ve met quite a number of people, largely thanks to Kathy Bergen, who is back in Palestine/Israel for a couple of weeks and will be attending the international conference of Sabeel, the Palestinian liberation theology centre in Jerusalem, 19-25 November. I’ve spent quite a lot of time “working” on my laptop, avidly reading about what’s happening in Palestine and Israel. So I’m piecing together a picture of what the occupation of Palestine means for the people living here.

I’m looking forward to meeting whoever comes to Meeting for Worship on Sunday. And some time next week Jean Zaru, the presiding clerk of the Meeting should get back from the States in time to speak at the Sabeel conference. Having just read her book, “Occupied with Nonviolence: a Palestinian woman speaks”, I’m keen to meet her at last.

Just living in Ramallah is quite an adventure for me. Even going shopping is exciting. I’m still not sure where to find everything that I want.

I won’t just be stopping in Ramallah, though. Next Friday I shall meet for worship with Linda and another Quaker in Jerusalem. From Tuesday to Saturday the following week I shall take part in the Sabeel conference, which includes an excursion to the Negev where Bedouins are being evicted from their villages. A week later, I’m planning a visit to Bethlehem followed by a second visit to Efrat. Before I return to Europe on 16 December I hope also to fit in trips to Hebron and Nablus. So I expect to have a few more stories to tell.

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