Eimear completed the Development Perspectives Insight programme in 2010. Having recently completed a Degree in Anthropology in Maynooth University, Eimear is currently undertaking a Masters in Public Policy in University College Dublin.
How can I describe the West Bank? A country of family, neighbours and communities of strength and resilience? I mean, it would not be true to say I didn’t find this, there was kindness and strength in everyone I met, but this I knew I’d find. I have great faith in humanity, and great faith in our resilience. Yet there was something else, something less obvious. Last year world renowned anthropologist Michael Taussig visited the West Bank. He wrote that he found a world of check-points and permits ruling lives, yet there was something else, a “harsher reality of things harder to pin down. Paranoia? Yes. Anxiety? Yes. Yet these terms are too obvious yet not quite right anyway”. There is definitely something that is difficult to pin down. He calls this a national past-time of making calmness, the making of a normal life in the midst of a precarious reality. I could tell you all the facts I learned in Palestine, all the people that we met and the amazing groups that do such fantastic work there. I want to tell you everything, but you could just Google it! The story of Palestine is not a mystery, it is well documented and appropriately complicated. What I want to write about instead is what is hard to find on-line or in a book, I want to keep it simple.
Let’s Talk About Life
I went to the West Bank because I wanted to know about life. My knowledge of the Occupied Territories was minimal, much less than I thought actually, but by the end of my 8 day trip, I had heard about the 1948 border, the first and second Intifadas and the Oslo Accords with their implications, so many times that I can’t recall not knowing anymore. But here and now I don’t want to write about history. I want to write about now, about what is happening now, what happened a child today. Because history provides justifications for too much, and drowns out the reality of ‘ordinary’ life in the West Bank. History can be interpreted and shaped to fit any story, the rights and wrongs of the world will swing like a pendulum back and forth, confusing and contradicting each other endlessly. In Palestine, what emerged for me was a difficult reality. A two state solution, is no solution for the Zionist project and this is fiercely evident in the actions it takes in The West Bank, such as the continuous land grabs and incredibly controlling.( yet lawful!!) situation it created through the Oslo Accords. But even more so, the horrific reality that there may be no logical reason that Israel ever should think differently. The top three income generators for Israeli society are their military production, NGO Aid and what we’ll call the Captive Market, that is those people who live in the open air prisons of the West Bank and Gaza. Peace is Not Profitable. Without any incentive why would they change anything? But no, I don’t even want to write about that, I don’t want to write about how angry I am that a State like Israel can be simply allowed to do what it does. I want to write about life.
What does it mean to be a Palestinian of the West Bank? Indeed I cannot say that I know, but I do know that it involves a poisonous knowledge, which infuses silently into every daily decision. What does it mean for the 10,000 Palestinians who illegally enter Israel to work daily, when feeding their family, and paying to educate their children includes the risk that one day they won’t be able to, arrested or beaten, who will bring hope home to their houses then. What will life mean now for the 14 year old boy who lost his foot to a gunshot in Bil’in a month ago for throwing a stone at the infamous ‘Wall’. His father will go on, caught between the knowledge that his children deserve the Right to breath air and drink water of their own, and that peaceful resistance, too, destroys lives in Palestine. The Israeli army kill someone every week in the West Bank, they bulldoze a house and arrest a child. A ‘gentle’ reminder that they can. A ‘gentle’ reminder of who is in charge. There is no need of a reminder of who is in charge of the water, the roads, the airwaves.. The reminder is of who is in charge of you, Arab, you are not your own, you are ours, it is upon us that you depend.
On day 5 we visited a research center, where a young local Palestinian woman, Anna recited again the facts. The 1948 partition plan, what Palestine looks like today and the purpose of the 693,000 (this is a disputed number) Israeli settlers incentivized to live in the West bank through jobs and monetary awards, and of course the infamous Wall. The great breaker of International Law, the apparatus by which Israel ‘lawfully’ annexes the land of farmers who can no longer gain access. The Wall that seemingly was built for security, which fails at stopping 10.000 Palestinians from passing through it daily. Fails at keeping Palestinians away from Israelis, but succeeds in creating the environment within which Israel may ‘legally’ rob the lands of the Palestinian people. The wall that aims at doing one thing, but succeeds symbolically at doing so much more.
Before we leave, one last question is asked of our speaker, ‘no wish to offend but may I ask a personal question? We hear the facts, but how do you feel about life, do you feel this research will make a difference?’ There comes a solemn reply, “I don’t want to live because I must live, but Israel can see that the people of the West Bank will accept this occupation because they must live, what else can they do, what else can I do. Do I want my children to grow up here, like this, I don’t know that I do”. Young Palestinians regularly leave their country in search for a life that means something more than necessity. In search of tiny luxuries that I take for granted, leaving behind a people who fight on peacefully, resist through staying, getting married, and having children. Resistance through living as though they were free to choose something different, through making calmness. What I call life, they call resistance. But living this everyday life, comes with everyday problems. It would be false to think that occupation is the only one. Social and economic issues reside in the everyday, like in every nation on earth. However an occupation provides the fertile ground for these problems to flourish wildly. Extremism too feeds on the poisonous knowledge of subtle control through fear. In reality, one man tells us, “diversity has always contributed to moderation in this society, now we are all speaking of resistance, but resisting what, resisting who? It feels like we have only each other left to resist”.
We hear the stories of a war, of a wall and a military occupation all rooted in disputed histories and imaginaries. I’ll let you decide what you think, what the answer may be and what needs to be done. I wish only that reading this, we may take a moment together to stop thinking about politics and the law, and instead think about the people that they have failed. On Taussig’s trip last year he met a man selling spices in a market in Hebron, he tells us this man has never seen the sea, because he has no permit to visit the sea. I’ll leave the final words to Taussig and his market man whose life goes on, “spices need to be gathered on the dusty hillsides, the customers expect it, and he has to live, sea-less as it may be”.