SHE TALKS PEACE: Happiness is Drug of Choice in Gaza

QUEZON CITY (MindaNews / 21 November) — My co-host on She Talks Peace, Malaysian writer Dina Zaman, said there are so many bad things happening in the world and we must always look for the moments that give us happiness.  Otherwise we will spiral into depression and go crazy.

Our guest this week, Bethlehem Councilwoman Lucy Talgieh, agrees completely.  Several year ago, she led a group of young Palestinians to a conference in Paris.  On their free night, she organized a little party for her youth group and their colleagues from the conference.  The Palestinians sang and danced, smoked the hubbly-bubbly.  One young man asked her quietly if the Palestinian youth had taken drugs. Surprised, she asked why he would think that.  “Because they are always happy!”  Lucy said, “Yes.  The drug is happiness.” She says there is no other choice but to smile.  Smiles relieve stress.

Lucy Talgieh shared with us how Palestinians “make fun of their bad situation” in order to survive their day-to-day suffering (like having no water at home for a month and paying $100 for 10 days supply of water) This attitude carries over to the work her group does.  To serve with a smile is their motto.

How bad is the situation?  Some of the descriptions she used: “Ultimate victims of the Holocaust,” “last country under occupation,” “apartheid.”

A normal day is like living in a prison, where they are not allowed to move freely.  She lives in Bethlehem, beside the wall constructed by the Israeli government as a defense.   This “apartheid wall” prevents free movement.   She cannot enter Jerusalem without a pass.  To go to her university should take only two hours travel time but it takes her 10 hours a day because of the checkpoints.

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), in the first half of November, the Israeli occupation authorities demolished, seized or forced Palestinians to demolish 49 homes, buildings and a mosque for lacking Israeli-issued building permits, displacing families and cutting livelihoods or access to services in the occupied Palestinian territory.  Last May,11-days of intense fighting  between Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups in the Gaza Strip killed hundreds, including 260 Palestinians, 66 of whom were children. Tens of thousands of Palestinians were displaced.

 

COVID makes the situation dire with the low percentage of people vaccinated, limited medical supplies and no COVID facilities.  Double, triple whammy.

 

Lucy wonders how the Jewish leadership of Israel can accept oppression of other faiths when they had suffered so much during the Holocaust.  Israel is the only country on earth with a Jewish majority (75% of the population).  However, 17.8% of Israelis are Muslim, 2%  Christian, and 1.6% are Druze.

Jerusalem is a sacred site for Jews, Christians and Muslims.  The whole area of the Temple Mount (Haram esh-Sharif or the Noble Sanctuary for Muslims) where Al Aqsa Mosque is situated, is Islam’s third holiest site after Mecca and Medina.

Lucy decries the loss of the right to worship.  She is a Christian Palestinian, born in Bethlehem, and cannot go to sites holy to Christians because she is Palestinian. Not all Palestinians are Muslim.  She shared another funny story.  Once she was asked when she converted to Christianity.  She replied, when Jesus was born in Bethlehem.

Her family, like all Palestinian families, has suffered tremendous loses.  She lost her grandfather, aunt and uncle in the 1967 war, when a victorious Israel occupied the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem which was subsequently annexed by Israel.

Lucy is also very critical of the rich Arab/Gulf countries who she says have not done much to help and have betrayed Palestine, some normalizing relations with Israel without any regard for the Palestinians.

Of the United States, she had condemned then President Donald Trump’s moves, including the transfer of the US Embassy to Jerusalem: “U.S. embassy moved to Jerusalem on a bridge of Palestinian bodies.”  When asked if she is more optimistic with the Biden Administration, she believes nothing will change: “Nothing for us.  They don’t see us.  Equation is always we are down and they are up”

The Palestinians will have to work hard for the peace and sovereignty that they dream about.  The olive tree is the symbol of Palestinians, who are deeply rooted in the land.  Like the olive tree, they will survive and thrive in a barren land.

Young Palestinians were raised to fight the injustice, to get power back.  In spite of the hardships and humiliation they suffer, Lucy continues to work for building a culture of peace, for societal transformation and reconciliation.  She believes that Palestinians and Israelis should learn to live together, as peoples of The Book.

The way forward?  She asks us in South East Asia to help lobby Israel to respect human rights and accept two-state solution.  Tear down the wall that divides.  Continue the dialogue, the peace process, the non-violent struggle. Thus, she works with Wi’am – the Palestinian Conflict Transformation Center.  ‘Wi’am’ in Arabic means ‘cordial relationships.’ Developing relationships is the essence of Wi’am, according to Lucy.  With Wi’am, she pays particular attention to women empowerment. Palestinian women, in particular, are overwhelmed.  Lucy says that a woman can become a widow in a minute, with five to six children to feed.   How will they survive when most are uneducated, with no jobs?  For those who manage to have livelihood, they get by on $2 or P100 per day.

Lucy believes that “women have an essential role in peacemaking. They can and will make change if they are given the opportunity, and it is important to understand that no sustainable and positive change will ever happen without the inclusion of women.”

Lucy Talgieh, in spite of the horrors of armed conflict, still serves with a smile.

If you wish to learn more about Wi’am and how you can help, visit their website: https://www.alaslah.org/

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Amina Rasul is the President of the Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy, an advocate for Mindanao and the Bangsamoro, peace, human rights and democracy)

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