Campus / International / News / January 21, 2009

Growing up in the West Bank

When trains pass through Galesburg and blow their whistles or helicopters fly overhead, most of us find the noise slightly annoying and continue with our work. For junior Bisan Battrawi the noise is startling and sends her back to her home, to a time when she feared for her life. The noise reminds her of what she used to hear before bombings when she lived at home in the West Bank.

“My brain here sometimes translates to think there is going to be a bombing,” said Battrawi. “I have to say ‘Bisan, you’re in America, you’re not going to be bombed.’”

She recalled a time about eight years ago when her city, Ramallah, was invaded and bombed. Israeli troops occupied the city for 40 days and everyone was forced to stay inside their homes. Battrawi said she was not even allowed to leave her house to go to school.

After several days, Battrawi and her cousin felt cramped inside the house so they decided to take a walk. A little way down the street they saw a tank approaching them so they ran into a neighbor’s house to seek protection until it was safe to go back home. During the invasion, Battrawi said the invading soldiers seized land and sometimes people were taken away from their families, which was always something to consider.

“I didn’t find it scary, I couldn’t find it scary,” said Battrawi. “When you are with people you love, it’s not scary.”

While the invasion was going on, Battrawi and her family slept at night with their shoes on so if they were in danger during the night, they could easily run away and hide. But even then she was not afraid.

“I was born in that place. In my life that’s how my routine is,” said Battrawi.

Even after the invasion, Israeli soldiers remained a presence in Battrawi’s everyday life. In order to move around in the different Palestinian settlements, one has to go through army checkpoints where armed guards are stationed. Sometimes it can take hours to wait for permission to be let through the gates. Battrawi said there are also snipers lurking around the city.

“It’s normal for me, I’m used to it,” said Battrawi. “For me, I feel safe because I’m used to it. But you’re not really safe.”

Israel also controls many of the resources for the West Bank, including the water supply.

“We don’t get water every day in the summer,” said Battawi.

Battrawi has relatives currently living in Gaza. For the past several days, Israel and the Palestinian Hamas have been in conflict and much of the Gaza strip has been bombed. Battrawi remembers visiting Gaza as a child to see her relatives.

“When I think of it, I think of beautiful scenes and nice people,” said Battrawi. “I can’t imagine everything being destroyed.”

Battrawi has had some contact through the Internet with her cousins in Gaza, but often there is not any electricity in that region. Battrawi’s relatives told her there is a lack of fuel and water for the people who live there. They have to be cautious about what they eat and ration the food for the entire family before consuming.

Battrawi’s relatives do not leave their houses for fear they will be attacked but they are not safe in their houses either. For entertainment, they play cards by candlelight.

They also leave their windows open so when a bomb comes that is strong enough to shatter their windows, the glass will not fall into their house.

“For them, there is nothing. No shelter, no nothing,” said Battrawi. “My cousin said they barely have food to eat. She said ‘all we have to support us is God.’”

Battrawi’s cousin also told her that the hospitals are full and having trouble admitting all the injured people. They are having trouble finding places to bury people as well.

It has been difficult for Battrawi to remain at Knox while the recent bombings have taken place. She is very far away from her family support and has to gather information about the conflict in the West Bank through pictures and news stories when she is not able to connect with her family.

“When major events take place it’s hard to be here. I worry a lot,” said Battrawi. “I’m the only Palestinian here and no one knows what it feels like.”

During past conflicts, Battrawi and her cousins at home have been able to talk and cry together about the grief and suffering they witness during bombings. But then they had to be strong and help out their communities.

“We can’t cry anymore because we are used to it,” said Battrawi. “It’s too much.”

Sometimes Battrawi talks to her friends at Knox about her home and the conflict, but she tries not to bring up politics.

“I hate complaining and I don’t want people to get worried about me. It’s a lot of pressure,” said Battrawi.

She would, however, like to raise awareness about Gaza’s struggles around the Knox campus. When she talks about living at home, Battrawi tries to tell the history of her area and is open about the things she’s experienced.

“I’m here, I’m representing my country, I have to represent Palestine. We’re humans, we’re just like any other. We have a culture,” said Battrawi. “Once you talk to people you can help them understand.”

Battrawi said this conflict is not new, but started decades ago and there have been several bombings in the past 60 years, since Israel became a country.

“We’ve been through a lot, for almost 61 years,” said Battrawi. “If you are born in Gaza, that means you are born in misery, but they keep going.”

For a week she tabled outside the cafeteria to raise money that will be used for medical supplies in Gaza. There will also be a forum on Thursday in the Gizmo to present information about Gaza and discuss the conflict. Battrawi knows that members on both sides of the conflict are being killed every day. She also realizes countless other conflicts around the world are happening and is able to put her situation in perspective.

“My life is luxurious compared to others. Other people can’t afford buying food,” said Battrawi. “There’s tragedy all around the world, not just me.”

Laura Miller


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