Par où commencer pour tenter de décrire la réalité des camps de réfugiés ? C’est une question à laquelle il est d’autant plus difficile pour moi de répondre, puisqu’en vérité je la connais relativement mal. Je n’y ai pas passé assez de temps. Depuis septembre, j’ai surtout eu des échos de Marie, amie et volontaire belge à l’association Alrowwad, un centre culturel fondé en 1998 par Abdelfattah Abusrour, un réfugié du camp.
Just before 10am on Thursday 8th February, we were driving on the narrow, white-stoned road leading to a Bedouin community, Abu Nuwwar, on the outskirts of Jerusalem and Abu Dis. We were heading there for the performance of a short sketch of improvisational theatre, the fruit of a series of ten workshops. Part of the Theatre of the Oppressed programme of ASHTAR Theatre, these kinds of workshops are carried out with the objective of empowering members of a community: in this case, the women of Abu Nuwwar.
Law, much like the history of Palestine, had always been something I’d considered a bit too far beyond my comprehension abilities. Also like the history of Palestine, last year I decided it was something that I couldn’t put off at least attempting to understand any longer.
The phrase ‘in violation of international law’ is one that I would read regularly in news articles, but that wouldn’t resonate. I simply didn’t have much of an idea of what it referred to. International law was something that existed out there, somewhere, out of reach but a reassuring presence all the same.
It was Thursday evening on January 25th and Shadi, Agathe and I were on a mission to find an open falafel place. On a normal day, you can smell falafels on almost every street, but today the shops had closed, the stands selling hot corn were conspicuously absent, and a cold wind blew through the empty streets of Ramallah.
Today was the day of the nationwide strike in Palestine to protest US Vice President Mike Pence’s visit, in the aftermath of Trump’s decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem which effectively endorsed the illegal annexation of East Jerusalem in 1967.
I have a confession to make.
I found the first year of my master’s in human rights and humanitarianism in Paris to be disillusioning.
The year didn’t really begin well. On a sweltering day at the end of August, the head of the department told us sweating students, tightly-packed in an ancient stone courtyard, that we were the future. I remember thinking how elitist, and wondering why only we were considered ‘the future’.
Just above my double bed in Beit Sahour, where I lived for three months, there was a window with an expansive view over the opposite valley. Every morning when I opened the blinds, my gaze would automatically train on the settlement which sits on the opposite hill, impassively.
The trouble is that once you see it [the state’s war against marginal groups], you can’t unsee it. And once you’ve seen it, keeping quiet, saying nothing, becomes as political an act as speaking out. There’s no innocence. Either way, you’re accountable.
Arundhati Roy, Power Politics, 2001, p7.
As we made our way out of Battir – leaving behind the concrete houses with balconies shrouded in ivory, the skinny, stray mother cats and their kittens, and the sparkling piles of rubbish – Amanie turned and asked what I knew about the conflict before my master’s.