Travel and Truth:A Volunteers' Experience in Palestine

August 27, 1997

by Crystal Procyshen,

This summer, to the dismay of friends and family, I travelled to Palestine as a volunteer to teach Palestinian children, teen, and adults. In addition I witnessed the truths about this Mid-East conflict that we in the west are deprived of. I felt the fear and mistrust of both the Israelis and Palestinians-and their respective fights for survival.

When we first hear 'Palestinian' we automatically presume stones,Muslims,extremists,terrorists.

The hundreds of Palestinians I met and who are my friends, co-workers,and 'extended family' are people - not terrorists.

The Israelis, in order to fulfill their political prophecies of a Zionist state where they would be safe from persecution, are propogating a recurring cycle of hatred towards the Palestinians as they struggle to expand the state of Israel. My work with the Palestinians included teaching English,dance and piano at the Latin Patriarchate Summer Camp in Bir Zeit, West Bank run by the dynamic, innovative Fr.Emil Salayyta.

As well we were provided extensive learning opportunities in Hebron, Gaza, Tiberias,TelAviv, Caesarea, Capernaum, Ramallah, Bethlehem and Jerusalem. I was educated by youth centers,peace teams,churches,Jewish and Arab lecturers,and most importantly my many friends-of all religions and ethnicities.

My Palestinian friends and I swam together,ate,prayed,learned,taught,played,and lived together. We also held our collective breaths as we crossed an Israeli checkpoint on a camp field trip-1/4 of our bus not 'allowed' to cross into Israel. We faced guns,the Jerusalem bomb,the tanks at the church gate,the closures and the injustices together.I spent many days hearing how my friends view their pasts as jokes and their futures as hopeless in the 'prison-like village'.

Without my passport I would have been dehumanized to this level as well. And as I left the peaceful family of Bir Zeit, I said goodbye to my honest, good-hearted friends through barbed wire and cement; their ID cards saying they are not human enough to cross into Jerusalem. As I left, the grown men and life-hardened teens with tears in their eyes, pleaded 'please don't forget us,please tell them the truth'.

Now all I can do is tell the truth-not the tv,newspaper or government truths because those are the ones taking my friends' futures and lives.

Since the Israelis illegaly occupied the autonomous regions of the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem, they routinely torture, kill and deprive Palestinians of their rights. Under Israeli control the Palestinians have no freedom of movement, no freedom of speech or press, no jury of peers,no trials,imprisonment without just cause,no right to education,no right to an attorney, no right to property,no right to trade or profit from good crossing borders.

Many codified international laws have been broken during this 50 year occupation. We ran out of water for two days while in Bethlehem because the Israelis use 85% available water leaving 1/3 of of the population(Palestinians)without, or drinking dirty,brakish water and paying twice as much for it. All of my male friends were political prisoners, some for throwing stones, others for being students(education is more dangerous). All Palestinians are issues ID cards and, if lucky, permits to cross checkpoints. I often could not go outside the village with my friends and daily there is a lineup of men at the checkpoints going to prison for trying to go to work,shop,visit or to the hospital in Israel without permits. Prisons are torture chambers, the torture causes internal physical and psychological damage. 3500 Palestinians are political prisoners right now. Israel also illegally confiscates Palestinian lands. Land is usually worth $1million US and is the only inheritance for families. My friends watch their homes turned into Jewish stettlements;these red roofs(only 30% inhabited)growing like a tumor across the country and around Jerusalem.

If East Jerusalem comesunder full Israeli control, the Palestinians cannot pray at the Temple Mount or Holy Sepulchre. As well, the best Arab hospitals and jobs would be lost-destroying Palestinian lives and livelihood. After July 30, when a bomb by two Hamas suicide bombers exploded in a Jewish market, millions or surviving Palestinians suffered when Israeli closures were imposed. I could feel the effects of the ongoing injustices of the occupation now amplified by this evil violence that ordinary Palestinians do not condone.

As intelligent people with a literacy rate higher than Canadas', they prefer using their brains rather than bombs. Israelis suffer as well. I spoke to soldiers who said they hoped for trips with their girlfriends and parents. Instead, their youth is also lost as they stand on the other side of the guns. The government forcing them to shame their ownproud heritage and people, abused for so long, now desperately and inappropriately doing anything for their own place.

I saw the Gazan refugee camps, one million people on a small plot of land. These camps are not tents but permanent structures; they are to be refugees forever. The Jewish settlers homes are no better, hiding behind high stone walls and wire for 'security'. Security is the buzzword of the politicians, it is an alibi to continue oppressing and driving out the Palestinians. There would be no threat to security if justice existed. Palestinians only want their own secular,democratic, free state of current lands and East Jerusalem with human rights practiced and compensation for losses fulfilled. Most importantly they want peace and co-existence with Israel.

I have lived life with Palestinians for only a few months and I have learned how to give,be patient and courageous. That people,community,freedom and the ability to LIVE are worth speaking up for. From my priest, friends and children I saw graciousness in the face of humiliation, a book chosen over a gun, knowledge of inner values and compassion for their Jewish brothers.

This is how I know Palestinians and as I promised my friends - I will not forget and I am telling the truth as I have seen, heard, and lived it. The future can only be reconciliation, justice, truth,peace and healing for both Israelis and Palestinians. "Peace is not merely the absence of tension, but the presence of justice" Dr.Martin Luther King

For more materialas about JERUSALEM! What is the TRUTH? Please visit and stand with the TRUTH