Since we started running visits to Palestine we have learnt so much:
We’ve learnt we struggle to match Palestinian hospitality – but to try our best to return it,
We’ve learnt what to say and what not to say at the airport,
And we’ve learnt how valuable politicians, researchers, activists and those involved in politics find the visits
Our visits are a lot better than they were when we first started out in 2011 with a bunch of Councillors, members and friends from Manchester and London. Although a huge amount of work went in and we received great feedback for that first visit (and still work with those who joined us) there were plenty of learning curves along the way!
The last two visits in January were possibly our best: 100% of those delegates who gave us feedback said they were ‘extremely likely’ to recommend our visits to others. Yep, that is everyone who replied to the survey. We are pretty chuffed with that.
Over 90% thought the visit represented “excellent value for money”, with 10% saying “good value for money”. Given our visits are a cost price, we think that’s well deserved.
We’ve recently started meeting representatives from the Israeli Labour Party – who vocalise mainstream Israeli political views on possible solutions for the conflict. We don’t apologise for this: all of our delegates thought it was useful to hear this perspective, and almost 80% thought it was ‘vital’ to do so. The solution – when it comes about – will come about not only because of international pressure but due to dialogue between Israeli and Palestinian leadership, so it is important to hear those voices.
We do meet with Israeli NGOs and politicians from the radical left, who represent an important, life-affirming – but none-the-less – a minority perspective.
But these visits are about the occupation of Palestinian land, not Israel and Palestine more generally, so the overwhelming focus of our visits remains Palestinian communities, Palestinian politics and civil society.
If you come on a Travel2Palestine visit to see the sites of Israel and Palestine, to be frank you are going to be disappointed – we do see some, but we recommend that people book a little time and the beginning and end of their visit if this is important to them. So we were glad our delegates generally ranked ‘seeing cultural and historic sites’ as less important to their visit.
We’ve had some lovely comments. Here are some of those that made us blush:
“It was an amazing experience. Martin and Elizabeth made it so and I am full of admiration and gratitude” Cllr Jane Streather
“It was a great programme and although very busy there was nothing that wasn’t interesting and useful. It was important to get a variety of perspectives and inputs from the UN, British Consulate, Israeli politicians and NGO’s alongside those from Palestinian politicians and people. I feel this triangulation of inputs enabled me to develop a realistic and deeper understanding of the issues.
Euro candidate, Julie Ward, said “Thanks for making it possible for me to travel to Palestine for the first time to visit and talk with such a wide variety of people and organisations from grassroots’ activists to elected representatives. I knew very little before my visit so making the journey to see for myself has been fundamental to my understanding of a hugely complex situation.”
Miranda Townsend said: “This was a brilliant visit. The formal talks added a lot but the images – the house surrounded on three sides by the wall, the first floor blacked out so those who lived there couldn’t look over it; the wasteland settlers have created in the middle of Hebron – shops closed, Israeli cars only, graffiti Free Israel; the museum in Jerusalem commemorating the beautiful settlement that was Gaza before it was ‘wrested’ from the settlers; the young woman who, as a 7 year-old and for three years after that made a five hour journey, every Sunday, with her then 10 yr old sister to visit their father in prison (for a crime he hadn’t committed) because neither his wife nor his mother was allowed to go; the elderly women being pulled out for searches at the checkpoint; the house demolitions – in one case to make a park ‘on land King David walked on’; the day in/ day out oppression and humiliation all Palestinians experience.
The mayor of Bethlehem talked of the totally abnormal being now the norm. To see that is a powerful experience”
Paul Woodhead’s feedback will let you know many people come back with more questions than answers, but many of those questions are the right ones, developed through personal experience and understanding:
“Witnessing the demonstration at Bil’in and experiencing first hand the gratuitous use of tear gas by the IDF was an a profound and humbling experience which will stay with me for a long time. The visits to the refugee camps were a reminder that these issues and problems remain long after the media headlines and interest have faded. I was struck by the importance of supporting not only the Palestinians but also progressive Israeli politicians and activists who are also struggling for peace and justice. Overall the visit was a deeply moving experience, I was impressed by the dignity and humanity of the Palestinian people Imet and even though I thought of myself as being reasonably well informed I was shocked at the level of oppression and the total injustice of the military occupation. I was left with the unanswered question of how can the Israeli Government get away with their actions and policies?”
As for feedback on “what you would like to see but didn’t” we do hear you, and will be doing our best to fit in more meetings with women’s groups (there are some excellent groups doing brilliant work) and youth groups. That is what these surveys are all about: continual learning.
We do hope many of you will get a chance to meet with our visitor, Raed from Fateh’s youth section, who is in the UK until early May 2014.
So it is our determination not only to keep visiting, but to keep learning too – until this occupation and conflict is over.