Yesterday I realized that I hadn’t spent much time alone since the start of this trip. I do this sometimes – I enjoy other people’s company so much that I don’t take much time alone, just to spend time with myself and reflect on the situation in general rather than being engaged in a specific taking-care towards goals. So I took off my keffiyeh, grabbed the soccer ball, and went strolling down the streets of the neighborhood which is my temporary home here.
The first thing you notice around here, once you start trying to blend in, is how normal the place is. Sure, there are security guards at some of the restaurants, and if you’re attentive you can see some signs of what was here before 1948 (hopefully we will have a tour of the history of this area at some point). But in general, it’s just a normal upper-middle class neighborhood, similar in feeling to Kitsilano in Vancouver, or the Beaches in Toronto.
I can see how people might be lulled into, might want to be lulled into the sense of security and normalcy present in this neighborhood, and others, since the construction of the Separation wall and the successful victory of Israeli security forces over suicide bombings. Why would someone living here want to think about the Kalandia refugee camp and the conditions there, the lack of opportunity, the lack of proper medical and dental services? Is this so different from Toronto where it is easy to live in the Annex and never think about underprivileged neighborhoods which are victims of structural injustice. Of course it’s different – the structural injustices here are much more extreme: military occupation, differential citizenship rights, and what amounts to state-approved racism against Palestinians.
But just walking down the street, you can start to forget the facts and the international law. This normalcy is part of the tragedy for Palestinians. When the IRA declared its ceasefire in 1994 it mattered to all people in Belfast, because nothing about that place was normal when terrorist attacks were ongoing. The Northern Irish republican’s military capability was one of the contributing reasons forcing the British to recognize the legitimacy of their political project, and allow them to continue the war by other means. But here, the Israeli security forces have successfully reduced terrorist attacks to near zero with the annexation wall and the blockade of Gaza. This means they can continue the war against the Palestinians indefinitely, at marginal cost to their own population.
No one likes to see violence. But it’s even worse to see violence that is structurally one-sided, where the lack of parity between the parties might be a factor contributing to the difficulty of achieving a just peace.