Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Back to Nablus

by Sarah

We went back to Nablus this weekend to evaluate some new mapping methods that will better our ability to cooperate with our partner organizations, ARIJ and ATLAS. The JumpStart team and volunteers have been mapping there for weeks, and on Saturday a dozen new volunteers came from the GIS department at Al-Najah University. The day went well, although a major difficulty was reached as we asked the mappers to take photographs of major buildings. Nablus folk were understandably wary of teams walking around with GPS devices, taking photographs, and writing notes, and the volunteers found they could not walk 100 meters without being stopped and asked what they were doing, why, and who they were. The solution JumpStart found is to provide them with identification cards as quickly as possible.

Unfortunately on Monday the suspicion of our mappers turned into a problem, as a pair of the GIS students were put in jail by the Palestinian police. They were quickly released after we were able to speak with the mayor, however operations will be slowed for a couple days while we communicate with the Nablus mayor and Palestinian Intelligence.

Returning from Nablus was long again, with an aggravating three hour wait at the checkpoint. We found it a good time to work on our laptops and connect to the free checkpoint WiFi, which was somewhat oddly available. “Nice, free internet… we should come back some time,” Jeff said.

The check points make the moving around a challenge, between cities and sometimes between villages. The soldiers, often victims themselves of pressure from their backgrounds, are often aggressive physically and psychologically, making life difficult for Palestinians and serving as a continual reminder that they’re under occupation, that they are not free.

There are around 630 check points in the west bank, usually made of some blocks of cement with a barrier, sometimes ditches, a cabin, barbed wire and some soldiers. There are even mobile check points that change position when they feel like it. “They want to surprise us!” commented Majd with a smile.

Children often sell chewing gum or other things to the cars waiting in the lines, in some check points they help bring people’s suitcases from one check point to another for a few shekels.

I admire the people here, I’m proud of them, when I see them stand up for what they believe, rebel to injustice, so often in nonviolence, demonstrate, perseverate, (one small but big example, here in Beit Sahour, since the beginning of the attacks on Gaza people have been meeting every day in the square at 6 pm with Palestinian flags and black flags in grief around a fire).

And we learn. Sure, coming from a cultural and social contest like ours in the west, it becomes difficult to understand, so we listen, we share, we ask, and once we identify and start to live the life here maybe we can understand a little, just a little, that feeling of impotence and frustration too, that strength that grows inside – “it’s probably the same feeling that superheroes feel in front of injustice,” I was telling Anas and Jeff yesterday after 3 hours and a half in a check point, "cause we all have a conscience".

When you see that you can make a difference in something or somebody, however small, you can’t pretend nothing happened. The hope for a better world is alive, but it must be fomented through concrete effort, and it starts from every single one of us, starting from everyday life, in Europe, Canada, America or wherever, from the way we spend our money, our attitude towards the weak and the marginalized, from the way we relate with other cultures and different religions… from our way of living in our world. For a different and more fair world, but if we don’t change direction and we don’t pass to new models that consider equality and justice in every level, it won’t be possible, but this, I repeat, starts from us.

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