Monday, June 4, 2007

The Freedom to Dream

04 June, 2007

Today, my friend got his wish.

As I write this, right now, he is sitting in Queen Alia International Airport in Jordan awaiting a flight to Egypt.

And what was his wish, I hear you say?

It was a simple wish - he wanted to be able to leave the Occupied Palestinian Territories, for just one week, in order to attend a work sponsored course in Cairo .

For most of us, especially those of us in the Western world, being able to do such a thing may not seem such a big deal. While we may worry about such things making sure our passport is current or organising our work load while we are away or who is going to look after our pets for a week or two, the majority of us would not even give a second thought as to whether or not our freedom of movement would be restricted and we would be prevented from entering this country or that to do a work or study course. We would take it for granted that we can and could freely travel where we want, when we want.

However, for my friend and his fellow Palestinians, being able to do this simple thing often seems like an unattainable dream.

Ever since he was selected to attend the course, he has worried that he would not be able to attend because as a teenager, during the first intifada, he was jailed. He was one of the thousands of Palestinian youth, who armed themselves with stones and fought the Israeli occupier, who unlike the Palestinian youth, were armed with tanks, rocket launchers and automatic machine guns.

But that was over a decade and a half ago. And while today, like all Palestinians, he continues to oppose the occupation, he has chosen a different course - one which has involved non-violent direct action as a means to ending the occupation.

Over the past week, however, as his travel date has drawn closer, my friend's stress has increased. Did he dare to dream? Did he dare to wish? Would he be allowed to leave or would they turn him back? Would the Israeli military say no, he is a "security risk"?

Every time I spoke to him or saw him, I could see his stress increasing. He told me of the sleepless nights and constant worry he was experiencing. He told me, how this one simple thing - being able to cross freely from the Occupied Palestinian Territories to Jordan - would influence his future. Being able to make the crossing would mean that he could actually dare to dream of a better life: of perhaps completing an educational course or improving his job skills, of perhaps having a holiday somewhere and escaping the occupation for a couple of weeks.

Not being allowed to make the crossing would mean all of these wishes and dreams, would remain unfulfilled. His freedom to dream of a better life, his freedom to complete an education course or simply to have a holiday would become nothing.

Today, when he rang me to tell me that he just crossed into Jordan, I was so excited for him.

He told me how he had been made to wait a couple of hours, but that this was a small price because eventually they had let him pass. It seemed like a whole new horizon was now opening up and I could imagine the relief on his face. For my friend, he had dared to dream and the dream came true.

But for many other Palestine's the simple dream of being able to move freely and plan for the future is repeatedly stillborn. Just last week, our house team received an email from Rima Merriman from the Arab-American University in Jenin recounting how the dreams of one of her students were shattered.

The email recounted how her student had been short listed, from 50 applications, for one of six peace scholarship to attend New York University for a year (three for Israelis and three for Palestinians). The student's chances were excellent and in her email, Rima wrote:

"I have never seen anyone so excited or happy about a prospect. He put in a lot of energy preparing for the interview, interviewing other students about their understanding of peace and collecting "quotes" to take with him to the interview, going to the English Learning Center for English conversation to better his English, etc.- just walking on cloud nine for weeks".

The hopes of the student, however, fell fowl of the Israeli occupation. The interviews for the scholarships were to be in Jerusalem but as a Palestinian from the Occupied Territories, he would need a permit to enter the holy city. And as all Palestinians know such permits are notoriously difficult to obtain. The student applied anyway. However, it turned out that the permit had a price.
And this price, wrote Rima, was "to cooperate" with the Israeli military and occupation forces - to become a collaborator, to inform on the people around him in his village or on campus. The student refused, so of course did not get the permit.

In 2006, another student, Sawsan Salameh wanted to be able to travel not to New York but just two or three kilometres from the Occupied Palestinian Territories to Jerusalem. Her dream was to take up the full scholarship to the Hebrew University to begin a doctorate in theoretical chemistry. But again the reality of the Israeli occupation got in the way.

In 2001, the Israeli military introduced a new military law which meant that each new application by a Palestinian student to travel to Israel to attend university had to be reviewed by the Israeli military for "security" purpose. Between 2001 and 2006, not one new Palestinian student was granted a permit to travel from the Occupied Palestinian Territories to Israel do attend university. Just weeks before Sawsan was offered her scholarship, the Israeli military instituted an outright ban, refusing now to even make a pretense of reviewing each application.

Sawsan eventually won her case. However, Gisha (the Israeli based Legal Centre for Freedom of Movement) reported on May 20, 2007, despite this Israeli court decision, the Israeli military had not removed the ban and students were still being prevented from fulfilling their dream of attending university in Israel.
Despite the occupation repeatedly dashing their dreams and hopes, the Palestinians continue to dream.

Like my friend, they dream of a life not governed by the Israeli military and thousands of senseless and often contradictory military laws. They dream of a life where they can predict how long it will take them to travel to work and where they can see friends and family without having to wait 4 hours at a checkpoint for no apparent reason. They dream of a life, where they do not have to worry if their loved ones will make it to the hospital and recieve the medical assistance they so desperately need, instead of dying at a checkpoint because the Israeli military would not let them pass.

In short, they dream of a future free from Israeli occupation and free from Israeli oppression.

And as we mark the 40th anniversary of the brutal and illegal occupation of the
West Bank and Gaza, it is time for this dream to become a reality.


Rob said...


At the risk of trolling, do you have any idea how ironic this looks:

"Sawsan eventually won her case. However, Gisha (the Israeli based Legal Centre for Freedom of Movement) reported on May 20, 2007, despite this Israeli court decision, the Israeli military had not removed the ban and students were still being prevented from fulfilling their dream of attending university in Israel.
Despite the occupation repeatedly dashing their dreams and hopes, the Palestinians continue to dream."

So the Israeli court makes a decision, an Israeli human rights organisation agitates, and Palestinians still dream of studying in Israel.

And the dastardly Israeli military still insist on assessing Palestinians' entrance to Israel on the basis of their potential for blowing people up.

Dan said...

What about the millions of people who want to leave the communist dictatorship of North Korea? Why do you chose to single out Israel in your activism? There are a whole lot more people who can be saved from the harsh conditions in North Korea, who to some accounts experiments in gas chambers on their poor civilians.

Maybe it's is a selection bias on your part.

I guess that when the world will finally open up the gates of North Korea, you'll crawl back to your Australian home in shame, that is, if you had some decency left.

Kim said...

Dan, its good to know that such good "decent" people like you are so concerned about the people of North Korea.

I am curious tho, since you are such a good and decent person, what are you doing to assist the people you seem so concerned about?

Are you involved in any campaigns to support those wanting to leave North Korea? Or doesn't your decency extend that fair?

Are you actually active in your support of them or is your ever so decent outrage just self-serving rhetoric that is simply about deflecting attention from the apartheid and racist policies implemented by the Israeli government?

I suspect its the later, but feel free to prove me wrong.