Thursday, 25 September 2014

Bus 21

A quick internet search reveals the definition of racism to be ‘’the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to that race.’’ I wanted to include that here, at the top of this entry, to frame what I’m about to write. It may seem disjointed and abstract, but this piece is as much to help me figure out if an event I saw in Israel/Palestine is best covered by that definition as it is to make people aware that it happened at all.

I’m writing this using a scruffy set of notes I quickly scribbled down in Bethlehem on 9th August 2014. Up until this day, albeit about 3 weeks in to my time in Palestine, whenever anyone had said they had been affected to the point of sobbing by what they saw in the West Bank I was immensely sceptical. I found it hard to imagine how anything could ever affect me in such a way and I managed to keep an emotional distance from what I was seeing and hearing.

Of course, you don’t have to be in Palestine for 3 weeks to see sights worthy of tears. Even after only a few days it was clear there were plenty of hardships for people living there. Indeed, the very programme I was on often centred on hearing countless stories of tragic events. Yet one of the most inexplicable experiences of my time there was the way these stories  all seemed to blur into one very sad but easy to ‘package’ narrative.

Put in plain English, in hindsight it was all too easy to shut off from what I was hearing. Recollections of death, misery and discrimination became routine for me to hear and thus became less and less cutting. Talk of rockets and ceasefires became the regular currency of conversation in our spare time when back home it would just be football scores or something equally trivial.

Perhaps my lack of feeling was just a natural reaction to this sort of experience, an uncanny ability of the human mind to just box off depressing items to be reopened at owners risk another day.

Whatever was happening in my mind throughout my visit, one day in August seems to have changed it irreversibly. For it is one thing to be regaled with stories of discrimination and another to see it, and not least feel complicit in it. I will attempt to recall here what I saw that Saturday morning.

I had decided, with an American friend of mine, to take Bus 21 from where we lived in Bethlehem to Jerusalem. Bus 21 is peculiar in that rather than picking up Palestinian passengers who had already cleared Israeli security at Bethlehem’s Checkpoint 300 as other services do, it ferries (unchecked) customers through later checkpoints in between the two cities.

The fact Bus 21 would be stopped by Israeli security further down the route was therefore no surprise to us. We got used to being prepared for security checks everywhere we went and this journey was no exception. As it neared Jerusalem the bus, as expected, was signalled to pull over at a military checkpoint by a waiting female IDF soldier and a male dressed in all black protective body gear. As it came to a stop, the Palestinians on the bus stood up and headed for the exits.

*Not my photo*, sourced from Example of vehicle stop searches by Israel

Knowing no better, with our passports and ID in hand, we mimicked our fellow travellers and jostled in our seats to follow them off the bus. I felt a hand on my shoulder, turning as I did so I saw a Palestinian man with something of a dejected smile. I’ll never forget his almost accusatory tone as he said ‘’you don’t have to get off.’’

We got back into our seats and watched on from our elevated position (an all too powerful metaphor) as the Palestinians formed a line by the side of the bus. The soldier scrutinised the permits they held, weaving in and out between the queue. The Palestinians seemed at pains not to make eye contact with the security personnel as they were inspected, their faces scoured for signs of guilt or wrongdoing.

The soldiers then authoritatively boarded the bus making their presence known with their burly guns hanging from their necks, as they looked under the seats. As they made eye contact with us, we offered our passports for inspection, blissfully ignorant of what was really going on. They returned the gesture with a signal to put them away before they then got off the bus, ushering the Palestinians back on.

That was it. That’s all that happened on the 9th August. To the Palestinians around me, the events were unremarkable, what had just happened was a daily ritual, a way of life in the West Bank. For me, I was awash with hundreds of different emotions all in the space of just a couple of minutes of rolling away from that checkpoint. Confusion, shock, regret, guilt. Why didn’t I have to get off the bus?

As the bus rolled away, I replayed in my head what I’d just seen over and over in split seconds. I had no other reaction to give than to cry. I sat, with a blank mind, sobbing under my breath to hide my tears. This wasn’t me. No other episode on the trip, or even in life to date, had made me cry in any circumstance that could be likened to this. That emotional distance I’d managed to establish so well in Palestine was, in the space of around 5 minutes, completely subsumed.

Perhaps it was the shock of seeing the security process up close and personal for the first time, to actually see people no less than forced off their commute to work to be inspected by a soldier. To see their bus searched for explosives, the whole bus degraded into being potential terrorists. More likely, I think it was my clumsy role in the midst of that episode that really hit me hard.

Questioning why I had been allowed to stay on the bus disturbed me. It was quite clear, even from just the tone of that Palestinian man’s comment why I had been allowed to stay, quite literally looking down on the inspected below. I was a white man holding a little maroon rectangle of British privilege. There is no way on earth I could have possessed the ‘’characteristics, abilities or qualities’’ necessary to want to harm Israeli civilians in Jerusalem. The Palestinian passengers on the other hand were indisputably security risks, guilty before proven innocent.

This cut me up more than I ever thought it could. I watched Palestinians get taken off a bus, lined up, inspected and made to feel like criminals. But maybe that was the problem, I just watched. I was all too happy to sit pretty and wait for it to pass, my white skin and unprovocative documentation a universal safety blanket. The harsh juxtaposition of my privilege and passivity despite the prejudice on display through the window of that bus will always stick with me.

Even now, I find it frustratingly difficult to find the words profound enough to get across just how devastating it was to see one group of people physically separated from another on the basis of what I can only assume was their appearance as, even misfortune to be, Palestinian.

*Not my photo*, sourced from as an example of a walking checkpoint

Reflecting on those feelings weeks after they first emerged, I now think that those tears were as much caused by my inaction as events unfolded around me. I think I started to sob out of an immeasurable feeling of guilt, never before exposed to such a stark display of discrimination. I was sad that even as someone who imagined himself to have a passion for helping the underdog, when it came down to it I was powerless or indeed selfish enough to sit and let it happen.

I can only imagine that if I’d asked the Israeli soldier why this process of separation had to happen, why only some people came under inspection and not others, the justification thrown back would almost certainly have centred on ‘national security’.

The impression I got of Israeli society was one of a community brought up to be so desperately conscious of the threat from the country’s enemies, both real and perceived. No matter how much at least some of the Israeli population may be uncomfortable with the treatment of Palestinians, the line that security has to be the priority is all too often regurgitated.

If this means that separation, preventing freedom of movement and inspecting permits has to happen, it is an unfortunate but necessary process. The narrative of ‘unfortunate but necessary’ was also familiar to those of us following events in Gaza this summer- as regrettable as the loss of civilian life was, the decision to use the full force of the military in a densely populated area was an inescapable feature of the war against Hamas.

Yet whatever the justification, motivation or excuse for what I saw on Bus 21, one thing is absolutely clear- it was fundamentally not right. It may sound like a story that belongs in the history books alongside segregationist USA or apartheid South Africa. Yet this collective punishment of average Palestinians, differential and second-class treatment on the basis of no more than certain characteristics, happened this summer and it is still happening as you read this.

I can’t go back and change what happened on August 9th or solve the issues like it that happen every day in Palestine. But the least I can do is implore you to just read that bit more about what’s going on in Israel/Palestine. Discuss, debate and even disagree about what it all means for the people there and around the world. Go and see it if you can. And then, perhaps one day, stories like Bus 21 will only be known for their place in history books.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

What War Can Do

From the bedroom, I could hear loud bangs from the open window. On looking outside, the sky occasionally lit up with whitish light. Car horns honked in symphony in the distance. I heard movement in the front room and found myself drawn to the circle of my host family that had gathered around the TV set. I asked Dana, the mother of the house, whether she’d heard the fireworks, ‘’yes, you know why?’’, a smile beaming from ear to ear. She told me that an Israeli soldier had been kidnapped by Hamas close to the border with Gaza, ‘’maybe even two!’’ she joyously exclaimed. Meanwhile, in the distance, the news channel had exploded into a slideshow of images showing charred Gazan bodies, framed with the graphics of the missing soldier’s ID.

In something of a muted enthusiasm, the family dragged chairs onto their balcony. We watched in anticipation as Palestinian Authority police lined up on a nearby street corner, preparing to quell the inevitable group of youth protesters. Cars drove excitedly through the dusty street below. An old sedan sped past our vantage point with children hanging out of its window, cheering in celebration. The internationals amongst us stood confused, watching on as the West Bank spiraled into a hurtling frenzy of macabre celebration.

Yet despite being a foreign observer, it was difficult to not share in this buzz of excitement. In fact, it took this piece of news to bring all of my host family together in the same room, and with it a unique atmosphere of camaraderie and togetherness. However, when the heady atmosphere began to fade, only then did I begin to think about exactly what had stimulated this reaction. When a soldier is kidnapped, he immediately becomes a trophy of war, nothing more than a bargaining chip. However, somewhere a family was grieving while mine celebrated. The euphoria of both those in the living room and on the streets outside only came at the expense of another human being- someone else’s misery and grief was fuelling the party.  That soldier was perhaps a father, a husband or someone’s son.  The hangover from that initial excitement I felt deteriorated into feelings of guilt and nausea.

Israeli soldiers at a demonstration in Al Masra, perhaps a similar age to the kidnapped soldier. Interestingly some engaged in conversation with protesters, showing glimpses of human understanding too often hidden underneath their combat dress. Considering Israel's compulsory national service, how many actually want to be there and agree with the IDF at large?

Momentarily I had found myself sharing in that party, seduced by the tribalism that the conflict around me was reinvigorating. What was it inside all of us there that allowed us to at least temporarily forget the humans behind all these headlines? I tried to find justification for that intense feeling of celebration. I had seen Palestinian homes demolished by the Israeli army, children disabled as a consequence of conflict and I had even been moved to tears at seeing state-backed discrimination first hand. 

Yet no amount of horrendous anecdotes of Israeli oppression could shift those feelings of regret for the taken soldier. The oft-used Gandhi quote ‘’an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind’’ felt eerily fitting in the circumstances. For just a moment, I had forgotten who I thought I was, had indulged in taking sides and was ultimately blind to the devastation unfolding. More worrying than all of that was the ease at which I could let it happen.

However, this made me think about a true tragedy of the conflict. Such is the complexity of the situation that people there see themselves in distinctly ‘’them’’ and ‘us’’ terms. Each side can sometimes dehumanize an ‘’other’’ to the extent that their enemy’s misfortune is reason to celebrate. The hatred and fear surrounding this ‘’other’’ draws stark and seemingly everlasting divisions between sets of people, so much so that they appear desensitized to stories of their suffering. For me, it had happened only temporarily but it was easy to see why this attitude could become embedded in this apparently Holy Land.

Indeed, there seems to be a particularly stubborn quality to identity in the context of this war. Conflict allows a cover for the relegation of common humanity, to make way for exaggerated priorities given to, for instance, nationality. Instead of considering the human in the soldier’s uniform, by applying a label of ‘’Israeli’’, it becomes easier to shut off natural compassion and keep on fighting them. Likewise, those Israelis who reportedly dragged sofas to hillsides in order to watch air strikes pummel Gaza in some kind of open-air cinema can be seen as doing a similar thing. The Palestinians they saw dying before them were considered enemies deserving of punishment before they were humans just like themselves.

More than this, the kidnapping episode seemed to irradiate the sheer anger and frustration just under the surface of those around me. While those I spoke to were often respectful and balanced in telling their humbling stories of tragic loss, that night provided an undisguised glimpse of how people can respond to conflict in a different way. Like many of my other experiences in Palestine, this event acted as another turn of the kaleidoscope through which to view people in conflict. Essentially, the many inspiring stories of human sacrifice, friendship and resilience were only ever one turn away from themes of retribution and the normalisation of violence.

In a way, I feel privileged to have been privy to such raw emotions on a night like this. It brought into a sharp and unforgiving focus the effects of conflict at the (in)human level. Whether one can blame the Palestinians for such a reaction given the context to that night is, of course, a debate for another time. Indeed, I recognise the generalisations and sweeping opinions I have had to make to try to articulate the feelings I experienced on that occasion.

For the vast number of emotions and complicated thoughts that night stirred within me, I won’t ever forget it. This is admittedly a wholly inadequate and biased attempt to at least report some of those feelings back. Most importantly, I don’t aim to pass judgment here on the attitudes or behavior of a particular set of people, for ultimately I will never be able to fully understand their experience or motivations.

Instead, I think it’s important to recognize the devastating effect that war can have on the human condition. The phenomenon of conflict can undoubtedly bring out some of the best aspects to humanity we will probably ever see. Yet of course paradoxically it can also encourage some of the worst. In a region where one people are driven to revel in the torment and torture of another, on both sides of the bloody division, humanity along with even the slimmest chance of peace appears lost to the chaotic abyss of war with which people in this area are all too familiar.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

About The Blog

When people are exposed to war, it can come in a variety of forms and is received in a variety of ways. Most people hear about war on the news, along with the high politics of diplomatic interventions and elaborate sounding strategy. It’s often all too easy to retreat into simplifying narratives of which side did what to who and when, with little consideration for the effects of these macro-decisions for real people, the humans who have to endure the statesmen’s posturing.

That’s why over time I’ve become increasingly interested in what it means to be a human in a conflict zone. What makes people hate? How and why can the human condition be twisted and manipulated by violence? How do those involved in war interact with and perceive each other in the distinct atmosphere it creates? These are the questions that often get left out of grand discussions of conflict and the broad aspiration of this blog is, with the admittedly limited experience I’ve had, to provide a platform to project and discuss the ‘human’ in war as I have interpreted it.

I’m conscious that this blog’s title may suggest that finding humanity in conflict zones is quite a task and perhaps patronisingly implies that those who find themselves in them are somehow ‘less’ than human. However, the opposite is intended. Behind some of the most tragic stories of loss and despair, I’ve found inspiring accounts of what it really means to be human- resolve, compassion and the hope for a peaceful future.

Of course, war can so brutally bury that humanity under many layers of hate and fear so that it is often harder to find than elsewhere. Indeed, my own worst ideas about what humans are capable of inflicting on each other have often been stretched by what I’ve heard and seen. But that is exactly the point of this blog- to sift through my recollections and interpretations of these horrendous stories and find the humanity amongst it.

The basis of this idea struck me on my first visit to Belfast, a city divided by history, religion and politics. I was intrigued by the dualities that had been ingrained in people’s minds and how that fed into an overwhelming atmosphere of tension. How did people deal with living on either side of a ‘peace wall’ or being privy to frequent rioting? More specifically, what had made some people lose sight of a common humanity, so much so that they were Protestant or Catholic before simply being human?

This most recent summer gave me the opportunity to experience this dynamic in a different setting, this time in Israel and Palestine. Although a completely different context, my experience there seemed to evoke those same questions of how sentiments of nationality, ethnicity and religion could often be the justification for inhumane practice and devastating conflict. After having lived in Palestine for a month, the stories from that trip will naturally be the main focus of what is to follow. However, the discussions that I hope emanate from them are no doubt analogous to many conflict areas around the world.

Ultimately, I aim to try and share at least just a fraction of the inspiring experiences that I had this summer. Though Palestine was for me sometimes the place of tension, pessimism and even sadness, it was more often the place of laughter, calm and most importantly hope. The people I was blessed to have met motivated me to believe that violence is not the default setting for the human, something the writing here wants to reflect. 

In as much as we can make conflict, we can ‘un-make’ it too. The separation walls in the West Bank didn’t just appear; someone somewhere had the motivation to put them up. In sharing this blog with you, I hope to play my very tiny part in one day bringing them down, in Palestine, around the world and in our minds.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Normality Under Occupation

IDF watchtower at Checkpoint 300, Bethlehem

When I first arrived in Palestine, some of the earliest advice I received on how to make the most of the trip was to engage with the  people I met on a ‘human level’. Of course, the ongoing conflict and tension in the region was something with which we and not least the Palestinians themselves were well acquainted with. The challenge of the trip was therefore to dig beyond the bluster of politics and war to discover the human stories that were often lost behind it.

    While the occupation was a preeminent part of Palestinian life, especially given the ongoing Gaza conflict at the time I was there, we had to remind ourselves that our host families and volunteer colleagues had careers, ambitions and hopes beyond the immediate political problems. 

      Indeed, a consistent request from many of the people we met was to go back home and tell people how ‘normal’ Palestinians actually are; they want to study and work and party just like me. The occupation, the war and the fighting was all just by the by, life goes on.

    However, the more time I spent hearing about daily life in Palestine it dawned on me that it cannot perhaps be so neatly separated from the issues that derive from the Arab-Israeli conflict. This was nowhere more true than in my conversation with my host mum Dana. She was in her late 50s and had lived all her life in the West Bank town of Bethlehem. Dana confessed that life there was hard. In a wider conversation about the current atmosphere, she gave a fleeting glimpse into how the conflict has and indeed was affecting her personally. 
Separation wall in East Jerusalem

Dana made the most beautiful embroidery, personally stitching all manner of items from pillowcases to purses. She made her living out of selling these gifts at various exhibitions or markets in the local area. She told me that one such event was due to be held later that month in Nazareth, the biblical town just north of the West Bank in Israel ‘proper’.

However, Dana’s livelihood, like that of so many of her fellow Palestinians, lies squarely at the mercy of the Israeli authorities who in this case had flatly refused her a permit to travel to Nazareth (with no explanation). In such a way, it appeared to me that Dana’s ‘normal’ life cannot be clearly distinguished from the complexities of the conflict. When someone’s very opportunity to earn a living is reduced to a piece of necessary documentation sparingly given out, what chance is there for a ‘normal’ life?

This is a story which even after only 24 hours on Palestinian soil revealed itself as far from unique. The West Bank is peppered with Israeli checkpoints which regulate entry to and exit from various Palestinian towns entangled within them. The only way this tactic of Israeli occupation can be explained is to imagine the Palestinian run towns as islands floating in some kind of archipelago of ethnic tension. In between them lie the ever encroaching Israeli settlements which (illegally) take up previously Palestinian land.

As a result, Palestinians cannot approach certain land without the proper documents. The Palestinian towns are essentially walled off and entry/exit is strictly controlled by Israeli army checkpoints. Meanwhile roads only allowed for the Israeli settlers criss cross the disputed land freely, under protection from the Israeli Army. Should a Palestinian car want to travel to another town in the West Bank however, they must circumnavigate the areas closed off to them, often doubling or tripling the journey time they previously enjoyed. 

Al Shuhada street, Hebron: a net protects Palestinians below from excrement and rubbish thrown by Israeli settlers living above them
This makes for a bizarre juxtaposition of freedom and control, where the opposite life is frustratingly close. To drive under the very roads restricted to only Israeli cars with a Palestinian is an almost inexplicable experience. I got the feeling of such a psychological distance existing between the two communities, living such different lives while also frustratingly close to one another. When Palestinians must endure this testing dichotomy, what hope is there of a ‘normal’ life?

An Israeli settler's lookout watches over a young Palestinian boy's house in Hebron. The two communities are so closely intertwined in this area that tension is consistently high. The boy told us that he had to watch Israeli settlers storm their house and beat their baby brother with a fire extinguisher.

       Aside from the lack of freedom to work or even to move carried by Palestinians, no other restraint was more shocking than the politics of the water supply to West Bank homes. The scarcity of water was a key theme throughout my time in the region but it is particularly important to mention here. Since Israel controls the supply, Bethlehem residents receive water one out of every seventeen days and must therefore carefully conserve it in between these times. This can therefore lead to poor sanitation in West Bank towns but more than this, contributes to the psychological attrition that comes with having to remember how scarce something as basic as water is.

To constantly live in the fear of a shortage of water must be exasperating and unimaginable for the luckier amongst us. This is made worse by the fact that Palestinians experience this reality in full knowledge of how green the grass is on the other side, quite literally. The average Israeli settler receives and consumes 4 times more water than their Palestinian equivalent, enjoyed at a subsidised price.

A controversialist may say that this is a deliberate tactic employed to wear down an already deflated Palestinian population. I’d like to think that the Israeli regime has more humanity than that, but then again, stranger things have happened. So finally, when exposed to this water apartheid, how can a ‘normal’ life ever be possible?

The grouping here of Dana’s story, entry and exit issues and the problem of water supply is not coincidental but presented in such a way because they made me think about basic humanity in such inhumane conditions. All these observations made in the West Bank represent things I take for granted in the UK. Freedom to work, freedom to move around and even just to have a consistent and indeed apolitical water supply. 

To me, these issues are overwhelming evidence to show how, in fact, that ‘human level’ cannot be separated from a conflict that shapes the very social fabric that Palestinians experience. So if you talk about the hope of peace, a cynic could quite justifiably ask how it is possible when human lives are, even at their most fundamental level, moulded by war. What chance is there for a basic humanity in a place where there is so little respect for it?

Five Mothers

A young Palestinian boy poses for my camera beside the occupation wall in East Jerusalem

At the time of writing I am due to fly to Tel Aviv in 15 days. It was always my intention to try to record at least some of my thoughts before my visit so as to aid the reflections and the write ups I plan to do on my return. Though I didn’t expect to be writing as early as this, given that the Israel/Palestine conflict has recently burst back onto our screens, I think now is as good a time as any to explain my thoughts and indeed fears before I go to live in the West Bank.

      The 6’o’clock news has provided some uncomfortable viewing at home in the last couple of days. In light of the apparent abduction and murder of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank, and not least the subsequent revenge killing of a young Palestinian in the last week, the Western media has since decided that tear gas tinted bulletins are back on the agenda. 

      For Mum there is no worse sight. Knowing that I’ll be living and working around these areas of tension for four weeks later this month has sent her imagination into overdrive, and of course that maternal nagging asking whether I’ll be safe is now a daily ritual. Ultimately, she asks, why do I have to go there of all places this summer?

      But the latest events in Israel and the occupied territories, and importantly how they have affected other mothers now grieving for their sons have helped in articulating my answer to that same question.

     At the start of this week, a flurry of reports stated how tensions in the West Bank were mounting since the discovery of the bodies of three Israeli teenagers who had been abducted, shot and then buried in the village of Halhul. Gilad Shaar and Naftali Frankel were both sixteen years old, Eyal Yifrach was my age, nineteen years old. Their untimely deaths have since stoked a plethora of different reactions amongst Israelis. On the one hand, we’ve seen somber mourning at their joint funeral whilst at the other end of the reaction spectrum, air strikes have rained down on Gaza since Sunday night.

     Amidst the strong but somewhat predictable rhetoric of their Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel as a nation has closed ranks in light of what they perceive to have been a merciless attack on their people. Indeed, the killings have provided Netanyahu with an open goal with which to undermine the newly formed unity government between Fatah and Hamas in the Palestinian Authority. 

   In effect, the atrocities committed by those believed to be associated with Hamas act as a vindication of the Israeli government’s rhetoric. The oft quoted assertion that Abbas and the moderate Fatah are cooperating with unpredictable and bloodthirsty terrorists is now presented as immediately more conceivable.

Entangled by his various pressure groups, not least an Israeli public keen to see justice done, Netanyahu has himself tragically contributed to the cyclical surge of violence in the West Bank and Gaza. The air strikes are only one aspect of what seems to be a broader phenomenon of the collective punishment of Palestinians by Israel. Alongside the rioting that is so unfortunately familiar to the region, the IDF has this week continued its infamous tactic of house demolition. Houses disappear, civil liberties are restrained and lives are lost all for little more than simply being Palestinian. Human empathy seems like a distant concept in the West Bank.

Horrible enough in itself, this broader theme of collective punishment culminated in a more personal, tragic crescendo this morning. It has been reported that a Palestinian boy, Mohamed Abu Khadair has been found dead in a suspected revenge killing that has now added another worrying dimension to the fraught situation. Khadair was, like some of the Israeli victims, only 16 years old. What hope can there be for a region in which young boys like these are used as pawns, tragically caught up in a cyclone of nationalist paranoia and retribution?

Behind these harrowing stories, however, there lies a shred of humanity. Responding to the suspected revenge killing, the uncle of Naftali Frenkel, himself this week stricken with unimaginable grief has condemned the murder of Khadair. His words reflect an oasis of calm and tremendous humility in a week where ethnic and religious divisions have explicitly resurfaced:

‘’There is no difference between (Arab) blood and (Jewish) blood. Murder is murder’’

Reading this made me think that for all the bluster on this week’s news, behind the tear gas and the clunking of stone missiles, four mothers are waking up this morning without their sons- an emotional bond so basic to our human condition that no sentiment of nationalism or ethnicity could ever rival it. Grief is universal and all pervading; it does not stop at arbitrary borders or military checkpoints. People are mothers and sons before they are Arab or Jew.

So what do I tell my mum, a fifth mother, who unlike the others still has her son? I tell her that I have travel insurance. I have the support of the organisation I’ll be working with. Most of all, I have a plane ticket home. I can leave the West Bank and the problems it faces. I can come back to my peaceful Lancashire village and forget the burdens which all citizens of the West Bank have to carry every day, not least at this moment of tension. Yet where can fellow teenagers growing up in that region, like those found dead this week, escape to? That is how I explain to my mum why I want to go

Whether I can ever really connect with the experience of people in the West Bank is indeed doubtful, but this won’t stop me trying. If I can begin to understand even just a fragment of what it must be like to live in that most unique of areas, then my trip will be worthwhile.

**This entry was written before travelling to the West Bank. Reading this on my return, I recognize the potential inadequacies and half stories in light of all the insights I gained whilst away. However, it is included here as an example of how my perspective may have changed when compared with later writing.**