ON MOBILITY AND TRAVEL
Rosalind Petchetsky (New York, New York)
Privilege is immensely tied to mobility across boundaries and in public space; if anything has come home to me on this journey to Palestine it is this.
On our visit to the Al-Fara’a prison and Youth Center last Thursday, we had the pleasure (after hearing about the horrors of torture and detention from former prisoners) of meeting with a group of amazingly astute and mobilized young people. They are part of Defense for Children International - Palestine’s youth program that engages high school students in monitoring and documenting Israeli abuses in Attuf village - kids who often have to walk long distances or ride donkeys to attend under-resourced schools.
One young man, maybe 13-14 years old, moved me deeply when he said, “We wish we could travel around and see our beautiful country.” But of course, given the constraints of the Wall, restricted roads, checkpoints, permits, poverty, lack of transport, and above all the restrictions on all Palestinians living in Zone C - this area particularly declared a “military zone” and used indiscriminately as a firing practice area - such a wish remains aspirational - just a wish.
I first traveled by myself outside my home, to another state, at age 5. My parents put me on a train to go visit an aunt in Missouri, a person and place I’d never seen before. From there I traveled everywhere - to New York City at age 7, to national parks on family trips, to Canada, to a camp in California, to Israel at age 16 (another story, written elsewhere – see CONFRONTING ZIONISM: A COLLECTION OF PERSONAL STORIES, published by JVP-NYC). And in college to European countries, and a year in France, and in adulthood to maybe some two dozen countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Travel has been as embedded in my life as music, ideas, politics, and its availability almost taken for granted.
Now I am able to realize a “wish” of nearly 50 years - to come to Palestine and see this “beautiful country” and its brilliant, resilient people. But I must reckon with the reality that being here is largely a matter of privilege - as a white, Ashkenazi Jewish middle-class woman with a U.S. passport.
I have to SEE - to see what it means to be children living in a virtual prison, where they are forbidden by a settler colonial system from even traveling to nearby Jerusalem, or to the sea which is so close, or sometimes to the next village or town. Yet still they keep hope - and an almost impossible sense of vitality and a future.
As a leading girl in the group, lovely Marwa, said when asked what they aspired to for their lives and their community, “We hope to live in freedom and have our dreams. If each of us carries our dream, it will come true."