‘A series of unfortunate events’ was a harkening understatement for me at the end of last term, a chaotic snowball of strenuous events spiralled out of control as the week progressed. Among the hustle and bustle of my deadline-induced, emotional wreck of a week, an ominous dark cloud of heavy responsibility arose. I was expected to juggle a large work load, seminars and lectures, as well as the stress of losing not just my own but also a friend’s university ID and alumni card, thus denying us both access to university.
With all this going on, there were also student society events taking place at my university. Students from Al Quds University in Palestine had arrived in London, and were touring universities to speak to us wanton students in need of inspiration and meaning during deadline month. So I thought it would be nice to go to a ‘stress-free’ event, and sit among peers in a state of anticipation and curiosity as to what three quietly confident, young, Palestinian men had in store for us.
Chills crept up my spine as they revealed the darkening realities of being a student in the Occupied Territories. These men, no older than I, revealed how they must wake up early every morning in preparation to pass several checkpoints to get to university. There were 699 closure obstacles measured in September 2008 in the West Bank, including roadblocks, trenches, checkpoints, road gates, control of border crossings, curfews, and earth mounds. With 74 per cent of the main routes in the West Bank controlled by checkpoints or blocked entirely, it becomes impossible to imagine how these students have built any kind of life for themselves.
The students pointed out that, ironically, their journey from Palestine to London was in fact shorter in time-span than their journey from home to university in the same city. This was a shocking revelation, and a far cry from the lamentations surrounding my ever-vanishing university ID card. Many teenagers in Palestine miss deadlines and exams owing to constant harassment by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF), and in the long term they miss out on a right to an education. Arguably, female students have it tougher. The students informed us of the constant abuse females are subjected to from Israeli soldiers, which includes the demand to remove garments of their clothing in order to pass through the checkpoints on most days. Just how these students come to terms with this daily humiliation is beyond me; it would take more than just a thick skin to normalise such abuse. At this point, the surge of my own guilt was overwhelming.
The students went on to highlight how amid the difficulty of maintaining a standard education, it is even harder to maintain relationships and find love in such conditions. One of them reflected on how he was unable to marry the girl he loved due to his perceived inferior status through the Israeli imposition of identification cards. Through the use of these cards, Israeli law creates substandard living conditions upon people living in certain zones, worsening every year. This proved to be incredibly straining on their relationship and pushed them to a breaking point, until it was impossible for them to carry on together. This ‘permit system’ where Israelis increasingly restrict Palestinians from the freedom of movement means that anyone who travels in East Jerusalem or the West Bank ‘illegally’ is seen as an infiltrator. And yet among all this strife, these boys still have the determination to rise again and again each morning, and make light of their deplorable situation.
Gaza, one of the Occupied Territories, has become known as the biggest open-air prison in the world with no human rights in sight. I will be bold in claiming these men are but a few of the unsung heroes of the occupation in Palestine, the quietened do-gooders. They frequently experience heavy losses, but I could see that this only served to sharpen their tongues of truth and stomachs of steel. Hearing these young men speaking of their darkest memories, bitter-sweetly interspersed with humorous gestures and a mockery of the grotesqueness that resides in the lives they were born into, was a privilege. This was also a sharp reminder to all of us who are living in a comfortable environment – and by comfortable I mean having the basic human fundamentals of life, including food, shelter, education and freedom – to insist on never finding discontentment in our lives. Surviving another year in the Occupied Territories is a great triumph, as it involves surviving another year of tighter restrictions and the constitutions of a more severe collective punishment.
I am incredibly grateful that these three Palestinian men were able to leave their isolated life of censorship and control, even if just for a day or two. They were able to see how much support there is here for the Palestinian cause. Even if we never get to know each Palestinian as we did the students who visited our university, we will always promise to support them, love them and endlessly bring to light the importance of their cause till the very end. For in the words of Malcolm X, a man who stands for nothing will irrevocably fall for anything.
Image from: http://electronicintifada.net/content/photostory-students-palestinians-right-education/9544
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