LIVING IN (FALSE) HOPE UNDER ISRAELI OCCUPATION

Sophia Har (Washington, DC)

How are they getting away with this? This rhetorical question dogged me for days as I learned about the intricacies of Israel's occupation of Palestine:

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Concrete slabs 26 feet high tearing through Palestinian neighborhoods and farmlands

More than 100 permits required for ordinary tasks like building a room in your house

Palestinian children being sentenced to five to 20 years in prison for throwing stones, a common form of protest

Israel planting trees in destroyed Palestinian villages to hide the evidence

Almost 900,000 Jewish settlers occupying Palestinian lands, illegally and with Israel's approval

The list goes on.

Every day, stories and statistics angered and grieved me, but what bewildered me was that Israel has been doing this and knows it can keep doing this in plain sight, without suffering anything more than a slap on the wrist.

Israel freely breaches International Humanitarian Law and International Human Rights Law while Palestinians fight every minute to survive.

At Dheisheh Refugee Camp, established in 1949 near Bethlehem in the West Bank, we met with young Palestinians actively resisting Israel's colonial project. At LAYLAC, an organization run mostly by volunteers ages 14 to 30, Palestinian youth are finding an outlet for creative resistance. They come to share their thoughts, and they work together to run and shape projects that empower their community.

"Sometimes -- the majority of the time -- I lie to myself that I have hope," Murad, one of the youth at LAYLAC, told us. "But without hope we die. You need to create your hope."

That evening, we got to stay with families at Dheisheh As expected, the family I visited welcomed us warmly and offered us a flavorful array of pita, hummus, nuts, and plums. Perched on a couch covered in leopard print, I pointed to stacks of what looked like sandbags piled up between me and the dining table. "Hummus," my host mom said. Chickpeas. But of course! Their family owns a falafel shop down the street.

After laughing with three-year-old Amirah* and sipping on delicious tea, I was starting to think that maybe things were okay here. Then we found out that the reason we could stay in the upstairs apartment was that one of the sons in the family, Amirah's dad, was in prison. Amirah and her mom stayed with the rest of the family downstairs.

Around midnight, a series of pops and booms echoed outside our windows. In my grogginess I didn't know what I was hearing. In my ignorance I wished it would stop so I could sleep in peace. At breakfast the next morning, our host mom asked us, Did you smell gas last night?

Later I learned that Israeli army tanks had invaded the camp. They came just a few hours after their sabbath had ended. But because the resistors had figured out how the Israeli Defense Force moved, they surrounded them and eventually forced them to retreat. For one night, no one was hurt.

Hope is not an idea that just comes to you. It's not just a feeling or a reaction. Hope is action. It's fighting off military raids to keep your family and yourself alive for one more day. It's selling falafel and sharing food with strangers amid the daily violations of your rights. Hope is a fruit of self-love, of believing that freedom to move with dignity is your human right. 

On our second day of the trip, a Palestinian activist told us that Israel is making life as unbearable as possible for Palestinians so that they'll leave and Israel can walk away clean. A member of our delegation said earnestly, "I hope that doesn't happen."

The activist responded, "Oh, we must make sure it doesn't happen. Hoping won't do anything. We have to act."

There are many reasons Israel is getting away with genocide. My inaction will not be one of them.

* name has been changed to protect privacy