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An Earthian in Palestine

- by Amber Johansen -

It is August. The sun is rising in a pool of amber and gold, the last tinges of charcoal are smudged away and the Mediterranean coast is bathed in a warm glow. The morning is orange-hued and ripening like mango flesh and the streets of Tel Aviv are tranquil and uncluttered. There's a hum of early risers, bracing themselves for the crash of day. I am waiting patiently on the curbside of HaYarkon Street, a street running parallel to the coastline, lined with a hodgepodge of glassy high-risers and low-rise apartments with a Pantone palette of peeling paintwork.

Soon I will be collected for a tour I rather spontaneously arranged to Hebron and Bethlehem; two cities nestled within the densely populated Palestinian West Bank territory. The British education system has led me to associate these cities with defining moments in history and prominent juxtaposing symbols of life and death; biblical Bethlehem with the birth of Christ and heart-broken Hebron with the devastating massacre in 1929. I originally planned to solely visit Israel, and perhaps Jordan if my budget so allows, but had not considered the Palestinian Territories until a couple of days ago. However, after some thought I realised how naïve and terribly ignorant I am regarding Palestinian history, culture and daily life. I have only previously heard the story of Palestine and the ongoing conflict with Israel through the veil of media bias; every news outlet favouring a different side of the complex and multi-faceted history between Israel and Palestine. Diction and word choice affect my interpretation as reports are rarely neutral. How different the words 'disputed' and 'occupied', or 'terrorist' and 'freedom fighter' sound. Violence is either downplayed or over-exaggerated, events de-contextualised and selective reporting distort my perception. Flurries of these contradictions and contrasting viewpoints have ultimately fogged my mind over the years, so I am eager to gain clarification and make my own judgements through a first-hand experience. As I enter the car and greet our Israeli driver, I tear up each pre-judgement written in my mind and toss them to the desert wind.

A couple of hours later, on a dusty street corner in Bethlehem, the golden dawn has now dissipated into cloudless azure skies. The only shadow cast on me is from the 25-foot-high Israeli West Bank barrier that looms over, more towering and intimidating than I had anticipated. A matte grey shade of oppressive symbolism; it embodies segregation and looks suspiciously like apartheid for a primitive 21st century. Of course, it can be argued that the wall is a safety-measure, but it is difficult to comprehend when safety is embellished with barbed wire and guns.

The wall is also now a canvas for world-renowned street artists to adorn with political murals, or catchy one-liners; 'make hummus not walls', 'may every sunrise hold more promise, may every sunset hold more peace' and 'migration is not a crime' to quote a few. The latter is infamously accompanied with a stencil of Paddington Bear, who I know as the lovable anthropomorphic refugee bear, arriving to Britain from darkest Peru. I wonder if the art could be interpreted as romanticising the violence and bloodshed, or if it is a satirical way to express the deep resentment for what the wall represents. Near Paddington, I see a monochrome stencil of a passport that reads 'Earthian passport', which is simplistic yet profound.

As humans we have an innate desire to create labels, for they give a sense of order and avoid ambiguity; eastern, western, immigrant, native, black, white. But what labels fail to represent is togetherness, unity and our 'Earthian' status, instead creating xenophobic tendencies, prejudice and bigotry among other ill-disposed intolerances.

Standing under the shadow of the West Bank barrier, I realise that as humans we are all 'Earthians' silently interwoven and connected like an elaborate, delicate embroidery. However, with the growing global presence of walls such as this, the tapestry of life is unpicked stitch by stitch until all that remains is a frayed and tattered divide.

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