Posted February 12, 2014 by Cooper Point Journal in Letters & Opinion

Slices of Life in Occupied Palestine

Interview with a Palenstinian Student

Photo courtesy of Rifqa Shawer

Photo courtesy of Rifqa Shawer

Student Sumbmission


How many times have we heard the same first-world voice in every ‘free Palestine’ article? These articles, which set an academically pretentious tone, are a great way to deliver your best Lakshmi Singh impersonation, but they also repel the complacent masses from acknowledging the myriad of crimes their tax dollars fund as they continue the comfortable assumption that this problem is just too complex, ancient, religious, or far away for me to worry about.

As a Palestinian-American, I have noticed that most people, no matter their geographical identity, remove themselves from any culpability related to the illegal occupation in Palestine—naturally, we want to stay in our comfort zones. This is why a hats-off-applause is deserved to the activists who dedicate uncommon amounts of time working towards peace—especially the growing momentum of the BDS movement—boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israeli companies who profit from the caging of Palestinians.
So, as we sit with a world of problems flashing on our computer screens, where are the Palestinian voices?
While spending the spring of 2013 in the West Bank city of Al Khalil, I had the opportunity to teach English and volunteer for an NGO through Evergreen’s America Abroad program. I befriended many talented college students. Everyone I met was a poet, writing different variations of the same message: ‘the pen is stronger than any weapon.’
As an attempt to remove the political lens from a humanitarian crisis, I conducted interviews with students who just happened to be born on this ill-fated side of the wall.
In correlation with the 10th annual Israeli Apartheid Week, Feb. 24 through March 2—an international series of events spreading awareness on apartheid Israel, I want to feature the words of a young person whose world has been framed by oppression. Although she bears the weight of the daily struggle, thousands of miles away, she is a peer on the global scale.
Rifqa is a 19 year old Hebron University student pursuing a degree in pharmacy. She has three brothers, two sisters; admires the government structure of Sweden and hopes to visit someday, enjoys painting, writing, swimming; and if you ever get the chance to hear her play piano, you’ll be impressed. We met at a language center where she studied English in addition to her school work.
This is what she had to say:

Kristina Erikson: What is your career path? Describe your ideal job.

Rifqa: For me a pharmacist.  In my country, I will have two or even three choices: finish the coming four years at university, then go on to take the higher grades and work as a professor or as a pharmacist in a pharmacy, or just stay home, because it’s not easy to have your own pharmacy.   I always try not to think about that.  I really want to travel and visit a lot of countries, maybe to see how is the real life with your freedom, and maybe to study, then come back.  I will never leave my home Palestine.

KE: What are some of your memories of understanding life in occupied Palestine as a child?

R: I remember there was horrible days, AND STILL ARE! First, we used to go to the sea every week, but when I became eight we couldn’t because they cancel the roads and prevent us to go to Jerusalem or to Al Aqsa mosque, or to the sea. Since then I didn’t go to the sea. Anyway, I still remember the days when I was a child and I saw the guns and tanks destroying the roads, and the voice of the planes over our heads, day and night. Something strange with me is that I used to watch the news since I was a very young child, and always asked my family about what I don’t understand.
Maybe I should tell you about the day the Jewish soldiers came and kill our neighbor’s dog, that was my first time hearing the voice of a gun so closely, and I had a very bad shock.  Remember I was only nine.  I think I couldn’t sleep that night.  And they weren’t content with that. They colonize our neighbor’s home, and another home in front of us, and they never got sick of hurting us, and pointed the long mouth of the tank to us when we were playing— I mean me and my friends!
And I still remember a very bad and disgusting thing they did to us, they tried to pee in a bag and then throw the bag to our home. Every time I remember this I feel horrible. You can never imagine how I feel right now. For about two months; we were not allowed to go out of our home, even to take a look from a window.   It’s a short overview about things I remember when I was a little child, and it’s nothing comparing with other peoples trials, especially the prisoners and people in the jail.
How it affects me psychologically to know I am a refugee. The daily life—how it affects the children trying to go to school, no clinics no ambulance. All these things affect our daily life

KE: Do you have any ideas on how to help the future of Palestine?

R: Right now I’m looking and trying to find solutions. We want to live in this country with equal rights, one democratic state. Many people are talking about one democratic state. A two state solution is impossible now because Israel, everyday they increase the settlements. They confiscate land. They put the wall, take all the access to boarders, and take all of Jerusalem, all of the natural resources.  Is there logic for that? There is not. Remove settlements, remove the wall and Jerusalem— it must be open for everybody, and access to boarders. Mr. Kerry, now he is talking about exchanging land. They want the settlements to become legal after exchanging of lands

KE: What do you want to say to the American college students reading this article?

R: The thing that I want every person on the surface of this earth to know is that there are so many people who don’t have rights. They don’t have freedom. Here, if we want to travel there will be many difficult obstacles. The thing that I want to explain is that everyone here in Palestine wants the world to know that we love everyone, we don’t have any aversion against any one.  We just want to live our lives like any other human on Earth.  There are no words that can explain how we live here. It’s like a big jail. We want to have life, not to live while we are dreaming of a true life.
The message I want to broadcast is that people of all ages and all over the world must feel connected.  We must help each other and look after one another, we are here on earth to do this job, not to destroy and hurt and live our life as if we are the first and last on this earth.  We live, and will all leave one day.
So why don’t we hold our hopes for a better life together?  Only together we can change.
I recommend finding honest press, to know what is truly happening all over the world. Al Jazeera is a very good web site you can see and know the world news on. Another point I want to add, is that most people only read titles and learn a little bit about lots of things, but they never know the details or facts.
They see little boys throw stones, but never see the soldiers kill people, or get them out of their houses in the middle of the night in very cold weather and tell them not to come back at all, and that it’s not their home anymore!
They always call us terrorists and match that with the very peaceful religion, Islam. That always makes me sick, because they say this, but know nothing about religions. There is no religion on Earth that blesses killing, hurting or even cutting a tree.  If a person lives in the Islamic world and did something wrong, he is the wrong one, not the religion! He is representing himself, not his religion.  He is Muslim by name only. I feel very sorry when I see that lots of bad people do terrible things in the name of Islam, while Islam is the most peaceful religion ever. I think everyone should know about any religion before he gives judgment.   We love Christians, we believe in Jesus, we don’t have anything against Judaism, we don’t hate paganism either! Islam told us to take care of everyone, even if he’s not Muslim, even though if he is your neighbor your friend, or he is just a one who needs help.  Islam told us to be honest, taught us to be kind and to feed the poor and hungry, to help the wayfarer and the orphan child, and to not be cruel and create miserly. He told us to love, keep the faith, and smile to the whole world.
So please, do not believe everything you here. There’s always another face to the story.
Always search for the truth.

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