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I am ready: A young woman's visit to Palestine
Lauren Ballester holding a giant chickpea during a recent protest against companies supporting the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.Photo: AFSC
My Quakerism is what brought me to Palestine.
I have always had a very strong sense of direction rooted in my spirit. That said, there are few times in my life where I have felt as called as I did this spring.
I have been working on Palestine advocacy on Penn’s campus for the past year or so, and have always felt very emotionally invested in the struggle, but I had never been there. There came a point when I became so invested in the movement that it felt disingenuous of me to be advocating so fiercely for a place I had never visited.
Through the encouragement of some friends, I found out about the Interfaith Peace-Builders delegation co-sponsored by AFSC. My heart felt full at the prospect, and I am so glad I decided to go.
For centuries, it has been the work of Quakers to seek truth. With seeking truth comes advocating and pursuing justice. I believe that where justice is absent, truth is absent, and justice is certainly absent from the day-to-day lives of Palestinians.
This was apparent from the very beginning, even from our drive home from Tel Aviv to East Jerusalem. We saw the wall that divides not only illegal settlements from Palestinian villages, but Palestinian villages from each other; families from families.
We drove on roads designated for Israelis only. We saw the black water tanks atop each Palestinian home; a dark reminder of the scarce (usually only weekly) access to water that their neighboring Jewish-Israeli settlers don't have to think about (even though they pay the same, sometimes more in property taxes). We saw the red warning signs that adorned the entry to every Palestinian village, cautioning settlers of the threat these people pose by simply existing, and complete with gates and roadblocks.
All of this was incredibly overwhelming, I found myself constantly on the verge of tears. It is very discouraging to see how well the truth has been hidden from us.
Discouraging and demoralizing as witnessing occupation was, it was also incredibly humbling and beautiful to witness the work Palestinians and Israelis are doing on the ground--from non-violent resistance in the communities of At-Tawani, Bil’in and Nabi Saleh, to the amazing work of Israeli refusers (their version of conscientious objectors, but not recognized under Israeli law and, in fact, criminalized), to conflict resolution centers that work to empower communities to resolve the interpersonal issues that are symptoms of military occupation. I saw the human spirit, the Light, prevailing everywhere.
I am ready to bring this Truth to my own community and work towards altering the power structures that make existing difficult for Palestinians. We heard again and again “tell our stories, bring the truth to Americans,” and I am so ready to do just that.
Palestinians are not asking for us to feel sad for them. They are busy working hard for their freedom, and they need us to get busy building this movement too.
I am ready to tell stories. I am ready to campaign for the boycott, divestment and sanctioning of a, settler-colonialist occupation built on fear. I am ready to struggle for justice and counter that fear with love.
About the author: Lauren Ballester is a junior studying Materials Science Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania. She grew up in Philadelphia attending Quaker school for most of her life. She is involved in student activism on campus as a member of Penn for Palestine, Penn BDS and the Penn Haven Housing Cooperative. She recently spent two weeks in Israel/Palestine with Interfaith Peace Builders, connecting with peace activists, families, and communities working to end the occupation and learning how to bring the movement home.
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