This Spring, I was very fortunate to partner with the nonprofit Solidarity with the Persecuted Church (SPC) to document a fact-finding mission to the West Bank in Palestine. SPC's mission is "to share the generosity of the Christian people with the Church in countries where it confronts religious persecution." They are essentially a conduit of support to churches in conflict zones, and work ecumenically with Christian churches that provide for the local community. I have seen that in some instances the churches that SPC supports are the only organizations providing urgently needed goods and services to the people on the ground, regardless of the people's religious affiliation. This is what attracted me to SPC's work. So I traveled to Palestine in April to meet with members of the Christian Palestinian community to listen to and document their stories.
On this trip, I learned many things-- the first thing being that we, the general population in the "West," know little to nothing about Palestine or the Palestinian people, and even less about how the actions of our government enable the continued persecution of Palestinians. The Christian population in particular is unknown to the West, a fact that fuels the conditions that force those who can emigrate to do so and leave behind a dwindling group that makes up only 1% of the Palestinian population. The irony is that many Christian Americans continue to support the current administration, whose policies and decisions regarding Israel are actually making life much harder for Christians in the Holy Land. Much of the Holy Land is in Palestine, but American Christians are shielded from this fact by their government, mainstream media, and distributors of goods who are afraid that if they put "Palestine" on the label no one will buy it.
However, the most joyful and heartening part of this trip was meeting young Palestinians. As one businessman and father put it, "Palestinian children are diamonds. And how are diamonds made? Under pressure." I have to agree with him. The young people I met deeply impressed me. It is not unusual for a young Palestinian to speak three languages, sometimes four, and at least two. Living in Washington, DC, one might encounter an employee of the State Department or World Bank who speaks three or four languages, but never in DC have I met the children of a construction worker who speak Arabic, Hebrew, English, and Armenian. I met them in Jerusalem.
Unfortunately there are so few professional opportunities for young Palestinians, and daily life is such a struggle-- with no freedom of movement, discrimination and harassment from the Israeli government, water insecurity, etc.-- that most young people see their futures outside of Palestine. Many of those young people will not be able to leave, but some will, probably the best and brightest, and never return. The population of Palestine is a little over 4.5 million, but the Palestinian diaspora is about 6 million. Yet even some Palestinians who grew up or have been educated abroad, and who have foreign citizenship (even American citizenship), who would like to return have trouble doing so. Recently I met a Palestinian-American who visited Palestine on business. When going through a check-point he presented his American passport, and the solider told him to shove it up his ass, demanding to see his "real" passport (his Palestinian passport). This kind of treatment is utterly commonplace.
Now that I've begun to peel back the veil of ignorance, I'm eagerly looking for opportunities to return. I collected some very interesting stories that I would love to share with you, and am currently working on creating a photo exhibition. I'll post further developments here and on Instagram (@kateowagner_film).
(Featured photo is from the installation of a solar powered water heater, a project of ATS Pro Terra Sancta.)