Remembering A Good Time I Had While In Gaza in 2016

ISRAELI–PALESTINIAN CONFLICT NEWS

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I thought long and hard before I accepted the work in Gaza when I was asked late 2015. I just got home from a 6-month emergency response mission in Nepal when it was requested, and I made my decision to join the team on Christmas day of that year and completed all my preparations to leave by the end of January 2016.

It was not easy because of the story one hears about the Middle East and of Palestine. I followed the story of Yasser Arafat when I was younger, and I had vivid in my memory the image of him barricading himself with rubbles during the intifada and him shaking hands with other dignitaries to commit to a peaceful solution in the situation between Israel and Palestine.

I almost backed out when I was asked one document where I have to give proof of life messages in case something happened and when all the precautions were told to me, including turning off my Facebook account in fact I get checked in the immigration.

In the end, I am glad I accepted the post.

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I was met with resistance on all sides when I arrived.

One will think that because I am from the Philippines, I will have it easy in Israel, well it was not smooth as most Filipino I knew who had been in the country before because of my different situation, but it was still good comparatively.

I entered using a tourist visa, and I was told after waiting for some minutes in the side room that I  should get my work permit, or they will deport me. So you guess right, I got it in time and stayed in the country for at least a year.

When I finally crossed the border to enter Gaza, I was not welcomed by the national staff like I am used to in my other projects and by the technical referrent in the region. Eventually, the cold reception in Gaza thawed but not the one in the area.  But that is ordinary office drama, and I don’t very much care about that.

What I care about are the professionals I meant to work within the community and the people with disabilities they visit in their homes. That was more fulfilling and more worth my time because it gave me insights into the lives of people living in what’s dubbed to be the biggest open-air prison.

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Camels are welcome (Dhidhak Collections / Palestine 2016)
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Enjoying the afternoon under the blue umbrella (Dhidhak Collections / Palestine 2016)

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Day and Night view from my window 

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Out in the field 

Apart from work, I had the opportunity to experience a little bit of social life while there – horseback riding (and falling off the horse), olive picking, and some visits to restaurants where we are allowed to go.  I also learned to make one of my favorite desserts in that part of the Middle East – Knufe (spelling varies) from one of the best sweets makers in Gaza who happens to works with us.

 

 

 

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The mornings and afternoon in Gaza give me the hope that life is what you choose it to be looking at the sunrise and sunsets (mostly the latter as my room faces the Mediterranean seas).

 

Traveling with Purpose

Two thousand and sixteen was my best travel year so far! It was not just simply traveling; it has purpose and meaning.

I was working in the holiest of the land and was able to do my pilgrimage to two other sites that all Christians wish to walk through and relieve the journey of the first pilgrims beginning from Jesus Christs.

Although I lived in the Gaza Strip, in the occupied Palestinian Territory three weeks in a row, I get to spend at least two weekends in a month in Jerusalem when I am commuting to work in the West Bank five days in a month. Inside Gaza, I attended the only Catholic Church – the Holy Family Church every Saturday located in the middle of the old city under the Latin Patriarchate and joined the less than 100 Catholics living there in the celebrations.

When in Jerusalem, every weekend I get to go and walk in the Old City of Jerusalem and experience first hand (over and over) the sights and sound of the lives of the first Christians, Muslims, Orthodox, and Jews. Walking on the pavement where Jesus carried the cross to Mount Calvary and be laid in the tomb that is now enclosed by the Basilica of the Holy Sephulcre. I even got to spend the Holy Week in Jerusalem when I first moved to Israel, and it was surreal.

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The door of the Basilica of the Holy Sephulcre (Old City, Jerusalem / 2016)

“In my opinion, if you really want to experience the grace of being in the Holy Land visit first as a pilgrim with every intent to live out the life of Jesus, Mary and his apostles, then return as a tourist to better appreciate the experience”.

When I took my two-weeks break towards the end of November 2016, I decided and went to visit the seaside province Galicia in the northwestern part of Spain via Madrid spending a week in the small town of Santiago de Compostela and end my days for a week embracing the statue of St James.

I didn’t do the famous walk along the Camino. I went straight to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. I immersed myself in reading books about the pilgrimage, at the same time meeting those that completed the journey with certificates to show for it. I was also in touch with one of my former colleague that made the same pilgrimage years back after he recovered from a traumatic health condition. Staying put was enough for me back then — I was there at the time when I needed to sort myself and see what I would do next.

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At the courtyard with the Cathedral of Santigo de Compostela in the background (Galicia, Spain / 2016)

It was one of the most exciting experiences I had. I was supposed to spend it with a friend from long ago, but I guess that trip was meant for solo travel because a companion would have been a distraction into my communion with the higher spirits when I was there.

My pilgrimage in Europe would not have been complete without me visiting San Pietro in Roma.

I missed my train from Santiago de Compostela to Madrid. I thought my train was 5 in the afternoon and when I got to the train station, I realized that it was meant to be 5 in the morning. The night before I packed my bags and planned my day of nice pork meals and hang around the church courtyard until I go to the train station embracing  St. James one last time and said my goodbye. In the end, I had to pay extra to buy my new ticket, leave much later in the night and instead of me resting before I take my early flight to Rome I arrived very late and spent only a few hours with my friend instead of one whole night and meet her family.

Then it was time to go and fly to Rome. I have few friends and family in Rome, part of my trip was a reunion of some sort — meeting again friends from Nepal and the last housemate I had in Gaza Strip before she ended her mission earlier, and a very old college buddy who was running a hotel close to Roma Termini while I stayed with family. I get to see again the small city of Vatican. The last time I was there John Paul II was still Pope, and he passed away the year after that. Then I get the chance to visit his crypt and venerate the now Saint John Paul II and attend the weekly greetings made by Pope Francis.

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At the altar of the Saint Peters Basilica (Roma, Italia / 2016)

Then it was time to go back to my original playground, the Holy Land with the promise that I will spend my Christmas in the town where Jesus was born with good friends and be home to my family in the Philippines in the New Year!