Zyara, a personal journey of discovery          Testimonials

'I learned so much..

I felt so much.'

Sue Smith with Zyara, October 2010

For me it was the most amazing and unique experience.

We met such incredible and brave people, and heard about such inspiring and courageous projects. I learned so much. I felt so much. It was hard to express it all. And in some ways, pointless to even think it was useful as an “international” to express it - as for you in the diaspora and for people in Palestine, this is daily life and the ache in the heart that never goes away. Its our job to go home and tell the world about it in our own ways.

So what are the things that surprised me?

  • I am so glad we visited both Israel and the West Bank. I have heard a lot about the West Bank and the continuing struggle to survive daily humiliation and oppression. But I did not know anything about the multiple and systematic ways in which the rights of Arab citizens in Israel are violated. I knew a little but not much about the dispossession and alienation of the Bedouin in the Negev. I cannot imagine what patience and persistence it takes to continue working to document, research, and publicise these continuing violations.
  • I was truly shocked by how the settlement programme is so far advanced. I was also shocked to realise so strongly that while the establishment of the Palestinian authority was of course a huge success, Israel retains complete military control of the West Bank. I simply did not realise that the area of Palestinian hegemony is so small, and so limited, and Palestinian areas are denied any right to expand in response to growing populations. The settlements and military outposts on every hilltop felt so oppressive.
What are the things I will never forget?

  • Standing in the dark on Zleika Muhtaseb’s balcony behind its protecting cage, watching settlers and the soldiers the only users of the road she is forbidden to walk on in front her house, aware of the Israeli soldier on guard just above us listening to what we said. We could see Zleika’s grandfather’s grave is just across the road, but she has to drive for miles round a different way to visit it. Her gracious hospitality, the way she gave us supper, and invited people for us to meet.
  • Zleika does such incredible work, staying calm and steadfast, assertively and non-violently communicating with the Israeli military, supporting others who come to work in Hebron in solidarity. Month after month. Year after year.
  • The birdsong and sunset as we walked through the stones of the destroyed village of El Ghabsiya near Haifa.  We heard about how villagers have repeatedly gathered at the remains of the mosque to pray, in defiance of repeated evictions and demolitions by the Israelis.  In the gathering darkness we saw the rusting hulks of the tanks that evicted them from the village.
  • After the anguish of seeing settlers guarding a house they had seized, and hearing the anguish of the Palestinian owners, meeting happy young people playing at the Burj al Luqluq youth centre – high on the walls of old Jerusalem, in the wind and the sunset.
  • Coming across Handala, symbol of the sorrow and resistance of the people of the Palestinian diaspora. I saw him first on a wall at the inspiring Baladneh youth centre, looking out at the town of Haifa. He always has his back to the onlooker, he is the refugee, leaving his homeland. He is forever ten years old, when he was forced to leave, and will be ten forever until the homeland returns.

So what can I do?

Its going to take me a while to decide that, and I’ve not got very far yet. I am not yet hooked into the Palestinian support organisations here in Oxford. So I have given friends and colleagues a taster, and plan to give a talk here at home and invite people who might be interested, some time in November and December. It will take a bit longer I think to go further out into the public arena and to get known by the Palestine Solidarity Organisation, the most visible and active organisation round here.

What could have been different?

I would have liked to do more that was active. I really appreciated the olive picking. It was such a beautiful sunny day and the smell of warm leaves was wonderful. It was such a good feeling to be able to make a very small contribution, especially now I am back and I hear about the increasing attacks on olive groves and stealing of the olive harvest by settlers who act with apparent impunity. I know that its not easy to connect to projects where the potential for practical work coincides with the zyara visit – and it was great to hear about the work you have done in previous visits – helping create the garden at Al Shurooq school for the blind, helping renovate the cinema Jenin guest house, the dance studio for young people in Ramallah.  It made me long for more ways to help in a practical way.

I think the thing that moved me most was the way in which solidarity and resistance can be expressed in so many different ways. So the posters designed for the Baladna youth centre, the reconstructed mosaics at cinema Jenin, getting a glimpse of the workshop for young actors at the Freedom theatre in Jenin, seeing the many incarnations of Handala, continue to exercise my imagination and give me hope.

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