Most of this poetry was written during my time interning at UNRWA’s West Bank Field Office in East Jerusalem. UNRWA stands for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency and was mandated by the UN in 1949 to care for Palestine refugees until a “just and lasting solution to their plight” is determined. Currently, UNRWA’s foremost priorities are to provide primary education, primary healthcare, and social services to millions of Palestine refugees within the Palestinian Territories and neighboring countries. While at UNRWA, my main assignment was travelling to other field offices in the Palestinian Territories and conducting interviews with some of UNRWA’s most vulnerable beneficiaries. The project was an incredible opportunity to see humanitarian aid and development work at various levels. Gracious social workers were often my “translators” during the project. We worked together, recording the beneficiaries’ narratives with a patchwork of English and Arabic.
So often in my interviews, I felt torn between listening to the staff explain the situations of the families, looking at the physical realities myself, and giving attention to the human being in front of me. I felt like I could not look around the homes and neighborhoods I visited too much. I was unsure of how to do so without shaming the person the home belonged to or making people feel like they were on display. I was only able to take a few pictures.
Combining poetry about those moments with images that represent what Palestine and Israel were for me daily is my way of replicating that feeling for you. It is looking in glances, not stares. Few details are shared, but emotions are. It is a humble window into peoples’ lives. It juxtaposes what I glanced at in villages and camps with what I saw in city streets. Please read knowing these verses represent real people who greeted me with kisses and coffee; they are worth every bit of your time.
To learn more about UNRWA’s work see their website: https://www.unrwa.org/
For more general information about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I suggest reading The Lemon Tree by Sandy Tolan. It weaves together the politics and history of the region with personal stories in a way that is easy to follow and brings new perspectives.