Living In Palestine - Guest Writer - Elise Sjogren

Today, I have such a very special guest.  Elise, is a friend I made many years ago through one of my oldest friends.  About 7 years ago we were introduced.  I never would have imagined the next time we would meet, it would be 6,000 miles away in Jerusalem! 

Growing up, I had an American friend who had family in Palestine.  He told me about the many innocent people who were being caught up in the crossfire between two groups in an all out war.  The two groups of course were the Israeli Government (the military they controlled) and extremist groups in Palestine.  For the most part, it was not real to me.  I lived in America and I thought "That's their problem" as you do when you're young and selfish.

In February of 2014 I had a significant amount of money saved up and had not traveled much in my lifetime.  I decided to book my very first airplane ticket (ever) to Israel so I could travel around Palestine to see the biblical sites and visit my friend who was living there that year.  May 4th, I boarded an airplane to a far away place thinking "There are English speaking people everywhere in the world".  When the plane landed in Tel Aviv, I had no idea where I was going and this airport was massive.  

I was supposed to meet the same friend I grew up with, at the American Colony Hotel and I was just standing at the exit of the airport looking clueless.  After about 5 minutes, a man took my luggage and threw it in the back of his shuttle van and then I asked "American Colony Hotel?" and he pointed to the seat inside.  

That's it, he didn't say anything else.  It's a wonder I wasn't kidnapped during this trip.  

This first shuttle ride was one of the wildest experiences I ever had.  I was in a van full of Israeli locals and no one spoke any English.  About an hour into the ride, I started to wonder if this driver was kidnapping me or where I was going.  

Around me, I could see the houses were pretty nice.  The buildings were pretty nice too.  As I sat there, people were getting in and out of the van and I was beginning to feel like a sock stuck in the dryer.  Many loads were going in and out, but I was still in there, waiting to be freed. 

Finally, I was dropped off at the American Colony Hotel.  I had no way of calling or texting my friend, because American phone companies charge a lot more money to contact people, while in other countries.  I sat down in the lobby and to my surprise, a few minutes later, my friend walked it.  It worked out in the end, but it was terrifying at first. 

He and I talked for a few minutes then started walking to the bus that would take us to his apartment in Palestine.  The border patrol was not too bad going in, but I got to thinking "Were all these guys with guns really necessary?"  Little did I know, over the next 5 days, I would find out.

I will finish this story after you read what Elise has to say about the imminent crisis in Palestine. Please offer her the gift of your full attention and let us know what you thought after you're finished reading.

Black tanks on the roof tops. Lots of them.

It’s how you can tell a Palestinian neighborhood from an Israeli one in Jerusalem.

And after living in Jerusalem for five years, I got pretty good at telling the difference. Personally living in a Palestinian neighborhood, I also became pretty well acquainted with those black tanks on our own roof top. You know what they held?

Water.

Not surprising, perhaps. But you know why we had black water tanks on our roof tops? Because the state-owned Israeli water company only sends water to Palestinian neighborhoods a few days out of the week. Our water is rationed. And if we don’t fill up those black tanks when the water is flowing in from the city, we have no water coming out of our faucets the other four days of the week. Have you ever had no water at all in your home? It’s pretty awful.

And I understand water rationing in the land. There’s not a lot of water there. But water isn’t rationed for everyone. Remember how I said the black tanks distinguish the Palestinian neighborhoods from the Israeli ones?

Israeli homes have water flowing from the city unceasingly. They don’t have black water tanks on their roofs because they never need to store water during the week. Their water supply is never cut off.

So my apartment, because it’s in a Palestinian neighborhood, has a restricted water supply. But the apartment of the Israeli family living 1 km away —who, in that particular settlement, are likely Russian and Christian— receive an unlimited supply.

Different allotments of water for different peoples in the same city based on their ethnicity? Sounds like the epitome of racism and discrimination to me.

I knew nothing about this before I went to Palestine. I was raised in a conservative Christian home and by default had a favorable view towards the modern day state of Israel. “God told Abraham he would bless those who bless him,” I remember my dad quoting as justification for U.S. support of Israel.

Oh how wrong we were. How little we knew.

While in college, I decided to participate in a summer program in Bethlehem to continue my study of Arabic. Spending those months in the West Bank completely opened my eyes. I had no idea of the myriad of effects of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territories. I had no idea about the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who were exiled from their land in 1948. I had no idea how discriminatory Israel’s current policies are. How many espoused human rights are daily violated by their treatment of the Arab population of the land. How incorrectly so many news sites present the situation.

And I had no idea how wonderful Palestinian people are. How kind, hospitable, and generous. How beautifully they prioritize family and treat guests with honor. I fell in love with the families around me, both those who lived in the refugee camp I was staying in and those in the city who attended my English lessons. I was welcomed into countless homes and enjoyed more meals than I can count.

It was such a beautiful experience, in fact, that I decided to return to the land after I graduated. I found work at an American school for Palestinians in East Jerusalem, and thus began a journey that turned into a five year long season. I loved every moment in my local Palestinian community, and my students and their families stole my heart.

Lots happened in the country over those five years, yet the initial lessons I learned in Bethlehem stayed the same: Palestinians are a wonderful people, the vast majority of whom want to live in peace. The Israeli government continues to promote discriminatory policies, and their military daily abuses human rights of Palestinians. And you can’t trust the portrayal of the situation by the media.

There’s still so much to learn and so much to share. Living in Jerusalem left an indelible impression on my life, which I’ll forever treasure. I’m grateful to now know what those black tanks represent, but I’m even more grateful to know the people who live underneath them, who warmly welcomed me into their homes and lives.
— Elise Sjogren

I know what you're thinking "Wait... What? So, you're telling me that the same restrictions and oppression that were forced upon the Jewish people in concentration camps are now being forced upon the Palestinians by a large group of Jewish people?"  I know, the irony is not lost on any of us.  You're not the only one that had this embarrassing realization about what is happening there.  

Not long after crossing the border, I realized how oppressed Palestinian's were.  If you only listen to the news in America it sounds like Palestine is the cause of all headaches in Israel.  The truth is, it is a lot more difficult to explain than that.  It's not quite so black and white as ABC, NBC, or FOX would have you believe.

I don't blame all Israeli people for this atrocity, nor does the Palestinian people.  The problem is there are racist people on both sides, not allowing this conflict to end.  The Israeli government is in control of both the News in Israel and the military.  This is a dangerous combination, because what the people there see on the news is what the government decides.  For example, they might say "Palestinians shot rockets over the wall in the West Bank today." when really the truth is Hamas shot rockets over the border.  

What is the difference?  Well, Hamas may be located in Palestine, but you might be surprised to know the majority of Palestinians are opposed to such terrorism.  That said, most know it is a natural outcome of having land stolen from them.  The majority of people are peaceful on both sides of the war.  Most Palestinians want peace and a large amount of Israeli's want peace too.  

So that begs the question, how was all of this started? 

To explain that, you have to first ask "Why is there a wall so close to Israel's cities in the first place?"  You might remember hearing about the wall built in Berlin to separate the people.  It was roughly 12 feet tall and families were cut off from each other.  This is the same with Palestine.  Only the wall in Palestine is over twice the size.  The next question to ask would be "Why is Hamas able to get so close to the wall?"  The answer is pretty simple, it's because the wall cuts right through a land that was owned by Palestinians in the first place.  

There are buildings on both sides.  Yet most people side with Israel first, as if they think Palestine showed up after Israel.  Here's the big secret, Palestine IS the ancient holy land.  Their land and rights have been taken from them.  About 150 years ago the people who lived there was for the most part Muslim with a significant minority of Christians and a small amount of Jewish population.  They all lived in peace and prosperity.  If you look at a map from that time you'll also see that land was called Palestine.  

It wasn't until a little before the Balfour Declaration was created between Zionists and the British that everything start to change there.  I may not have this exactly right, but from what I have read, a Zionist is a person who belongs to a political ideology that believes Palestine should be the national homeland of Jews.  Even in their own advertising for migration to the Holy Land, they referred to it as Palestine.  Shortly thereafter, the Zionists attempted to demonstrate ethnic cleansing in Palestine.

There is a lot more I could say about this horrendous conflict, but for now I will just say that I saw it with my own two eyes and it made me pretty darn sad.  I noticed black tanks on top of all these houses and had a million questions for good friend that I came to visit(poor guy).  There were bullet holes in many of the walls outside of houses in Ramallah.  I wondered what I was getting in to.  He told me they were from Israel's military.  He told me they randomly come in and search the homes, many times they take children away and never return them. 

I still remember asking him "Why would they take the children?".  He told me that the Israeli military would drive through town sometimes and some of the children would throw rocks at the tanks or vehicles.  I asked why the children would do that and he said "Many of their brothers and fathers have been killed or abducted without cause".

There was trash in the streets and he told me they didn't really have a good system for that, since movement of anything had to be okay'd by Israel.  Over the next few days I got to know many locals and how kind they were.  Really, genuinely, nice people like you and I who were oppressed and not allowed to live life freely.  

Near the end of my stay there, my good friend told me that Elise was living nearby as well.  We set up a meeting in Jerusalem at a beautiful hotel and restaurant overlooking the city.  This was when I was re-introduced to Elise again and the three of us had a wonderful conversation 10 stories up, about a mile away from the Dome of the Rock.

When talking to her, I could tell she really cares about the people she is helping.  The reason for being in the middle east was not selfish for her and for that I respect Elise.  That said, all in all I met many people from both Palestine and Israel and the most important thing I can say is, people were genuinely nice to me on both sides and I do not believe the majority of people on either side want war, but the few ruin it for the many.  The first step for reconciliation is to convince the Israeli government to stop taking land that does not belong to them and allow Palestinians to come and go in peace, because right now their human rights are not being respected.

Elise has a lot more to share about her time there if you are interested and I'd be glad to add my experiences in with it as well.  Please, show her some love and let me know what you thought of the crisis before this post and how your opinion may be different now.