by Ruth Morales Cosano
Ruth is a 20 years-old university student who is currently majoring in Arab Studies in Madrid. After three years studying the Arab world at the Academy, she chose to intern in Windows (Tel Aviv-Jaffa) and learn first-hand about the situation in the country. Through the organization, Ruth had the opportunity to spend 8 days in the West Bank collaborating with an educational project and decided to write about her experience.
Just as when you arrive at anyplace for the first time, before arriving to the West Bank I already brought with me some preconceived ideas. However, although in many cases these ideas need to be undone and reformulated, in the case of the West Bank my predefined notions were completely unraveled. Thus, a process of learning on the ground and reconstructing paradigms started, a process that has not ended yet: there in Beit Ummar, a town next to Hebron, only the first traces for further deepening and compromising with the Palestinian situation were drawn.
Currently we have a wide variety of media that cover the news on a global scale and through which we are kept informed. Even so, the information we receive is usually incomplete, either because the great mass media publish very specific, and usually biased, contents or because we deliberately look in the alternative media for the type of information we want to read.
On the one hand, we have the mass media’s portrayal of Palestine: bellicose images, violent people whose final aim is to seek confrontation and who are solely depicted when tragic events happen – as if they had no other faces to be shown. And, on the other side, we have a limited, and to some extent exaggerated, vision of Palestine as a country in misery. That is to say, in our imaginary they are boxed in two more or less fixed categories: either we see Palestinians only as aggressive and intolerant people or as a community of suffering and struggling. As if Palestinian people could just be this, as if we could not see further.
The first idea can undeniably be termed as untrue, it is not a community inherently violent, this is not a feature which all the citizens are born with by the mere fact of being Palestinians. On the other hand, the second point is to some extent true, but we have to be careful, since if we just put the spotlight on that, we will get a reductionist image of the whole country – whose characteristics cannot be set out with a single adjective.
And so I arrived, really looking forward to seeing Palestine for myself, but also with a dramatized depiction of it and lots of warnings on behalf of my hometown community that, although I did not entirely believe, disturbed my conscience. And with these tools I faced, in the first place, understanding this community. And as soon as I got there I realized the scarce effectiveness of the tools I brought with me. I had forgotten the most important thing.
When we approach the Palestinian community, the first thing we should do is to regard and claim them as humans, and then try to understand the situation in which they currently find themselves. That is to say, in the first place, understanding them in their human condition and, thereafter contextualizing (not drawing conclusions and characteristics from the conflict in order to attribute them to an indefinite group of people). We should not forget that they are people; therefore even you surely have some differences, you may also have common dreams, worries, a similar access to material goods… Hence, what we cannot do is to paint them as a nation constantly in fight, as a nation constantly suffering or as a violent nation; because they are not. And in the event they were, in the first place, it would be a feature of some of them (that would need to be contextualized); and in the second place, it would be a feature to be added to all the others they have.
Thus, when seeing Palestinians as humans, we are going to bring them closer to us and we are going to see them as equals. And only when we comprehend this and make an effort to know their history as a community and put ourselves in their shoes; we will set the stage to be able to understand them better. Furthermore, we should be aware of the fact that as a nation, they are strongly marked by the circumstances -the same way as we are. We all consume, hold our own hopes, expectations, fears, needs…; but we are all within a specific framework and that of the Palestinian people is particularly difficult.
However, this in itself is not grounds for justifying all actions; it is especially useful for us: it is useful as it helps us to understand and therefore support Palestinians, which is what is more necessary right now. We must unlearn –or at least contest- the knowledge we had previously acquired about this community. Now we have to listen and take a more critical, humble and human approach. For once, we should now close our mouths to open our ears.