A Lancashire student who has just returned from four weeks in Palestine has started writing online about his experiences.
Nineteen-year-old Lewis Holden has penned a blog about his experiences in the Middle East, where he stayed just 40 miles away from the conflict zone.
The history and politics student, from Walmer Bridge, near Preston, went on an organised trip after hearing about the opportunity during his studies at Warwick University. Lewis lived with a host family in Bethlehem and the summer programme, organised by The Holy Land Trust, where he was involved in setting up a history museum.
He said: “Living with a host family was the best element,
“There was lots of tourist things to see, Jerusalem, the Dead Sea, I was there for four weeks, it’s a really great programme.
“We were 40 miles away [from the conflict] but I did hear air raid sirens and a rocket landed in the next town – it wasn’t a million miles away.”
During his trip Lewis attended protests about Gaza, which he describes as “surreal”
Lewis said he wanted to do the trip to help him understand first hand about the conflict.
He said: “I didn’t want to make a judgement from the sidelines, I wanted to understand it first hand – it went someway to help me understand.”
During his stay a rocket hit a house in a neighbouring town, which Lewis put down to being a miss-target from a home-made Hamas rocket.
“That was quite scary,” Lewis said: “It hit home that I was living very close to a war zone. It has been very hard to put into words.”
Here are some posts from Lewis’s blog
‘Water restrictions shock me’
Aside from the lack of freedom to work or even to move for Palestinians, no other restraint was more shocking than the politics of the water supply to West Bank homes.
Since Israel controls the supply, Bethlehem residents receive water one out of every 17 days and must therefore carefully conserve it in between these times. This contributes to the psychological attrition that comes with having to remember how scarce something as basic as water is.
This is made worse by the fact that Palestinians experience this reality in full knowledge of how green the grass is on the other side, quite literally.
The average Israeli settler receives and consumes four times more water than their Palestinian equivalent, enjoyed at a subsidised price.
When exposed to this water apartheid, how can a ‘normal’ life ever be possible?
‘I had to dig beyond politics’
When I first arrived in Palestine, some of the earliest advice I received on how to make the most of the trip was to engage with the people I met on a ‘human level’. Of course, the ongoing conflict and tension in the region was something with which we and not least the Palestinians themselves were well acquainted with.
The challenge of the trip was therefore to dig beyond the bluster of politics and war to discover the human stories that were often lost behind it.
While the occupation was a pre-eminent part of Palestinian life, especially given the ongoing Gaza conflict at the time I was there, we had to remind ourselves that our host families and volunteer colleagues had careers, ambitions and hopes beyond the immediate political problems. Indeed, a consistent request from many of the people we met was to go back home and tell people how ‘normal’ Palestinians actually are; they want to study and work and party just like me. The occupation, the war and the fighting was all just by the by, life goes on.
However, the more time I spent hearing about daily life in Palestine it dawned on me that it cannot perhaps be so neatly separated from the issues that derive from the Arab-Israeli conflict. This was nowhere more true than in my conversation with my host mum Dana. She was in her late 50s and had lived all her life in the West Bank town of Bethlehem. Dana confessed that life there was hard. In a wider conversation about the current atmosphere, she gave a fleeting glimpse into how the conflict has and indeed was affecting her personally.
You can visit Lewis’s blog here findingthehuman.blogspot.co.uk