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Just Another Day in the Office

Nikki Hodgson | Posted June 24th, 2011 | Middle East

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The Alternative Information Center is a joint Israeli-Palestinian activist organization focused on political advocacy, grassroots activism and an end to occupation. Here you find news of resistance within Israeli society, settler violence against Palestinians, the economy of oppression, and the daily struggle to carve out a life within the fissures of a long-standing conflict.

It is within this organization that I am beginning to find my place. After my morning run where I keep an eye out for wild dogs and taxis zipping too quickly around the corners, I head to the office. There is a portable stove with two gas burners. It’s a daunting nest of wires and cables and the knob to turn on the gas is broken. We use a spoon to turn the switch and there is a whoosh as the flames spring forward, licking the sides of the coffee pot. I suppress the urge to make the sign of the cross every time I light this contraption. Boiling the coffee 7 times for good luck (Hey, it can’t hurt…) I set it on a tray amongst an array of mismatched cups and carry it downstairs to offer my colleagues coffee.

When your addiciton to coffee is stronger than your fear of explosion...
When your addiciton to coffee is stronger than your fear of explosion...

Then I scan the news. I start with the BBC and move to the Christian Science Monitor, the New York Times and the International Herald. From there I check Reuters, the Jerusalem Post, Haaretz, Arutz 7, Ma’an, Electronic Intifada and the Palestinian News Network. I’m looking for stories and information to fill in the gaps between what I glean from the ground.

There is no water again. Why? An impromptu checkpoint has been set up just out of town. Why? Internationals are no longer able to board the bus to Jerusalem from Beit Jala. Why?  Two Palestinian minors were arrested and detained last night. Why? The IDF has destroyed wells in Hebron. Why? The settlement across the valley is expanding. Why? The talks have been derailed again? Why?

As a child I was under the impression that I could dig to China. I set about with a plastic shovel and began digging in the sandbox of my school’s playground. I felt that if I could just dig a little deeper, a tunnel would appear before me and I would tumble through and land in China. Only that didn’t happen. Instead I hit a wall, a layer of cement. It is the same thing here. I keep digging and digging, believing that at some point I will come through the other side. Instead I hit walls of every form imaginable.

Every day I face an inner struggle to keep moving forward and to continue as undaunted as when I first began. Every day I learn a little bit more about journalism and about finding that line between the truth and personal safety. My own and that of those around me. Every day I become a little more exasperated with ideological extremists and a little bit more enamored with the hopeful idealists.

And I ask myself, why have I chosen such an impossible situation to muddle through? I can’t answer that. I didn’t choose this place. I fell into it and when I tried to pack it away neatly under “interesting academic experiences abroad,” I could not.

I look at my colleagues furiously typing away or conducting loud conversations on the phone, cups of coffee and ashtrays litter their desks and plumes of smoke curl lazily toward the ceiling. They are Palestinians who are clinging to this land as daily oppression beats their hands away. They are Israelis refusing the complacency of a life that does not question what happens on the other side of the wall. They are Italians, French, Americans, and British who have somehow ensnared themselves in this beautiful and tragic place. Perhaps they came out of curiosity or a desperate attempt to fix a problem they feel partially responsible for. We reach through the barbed wire hoping to clamp down on some elusive symbol of peace. A dove, a rainbow, an olive branch. Something to assure us that the end of checkpoints, fear, and degradation is nearer than we think.

But as we tumble our languages together over yet another cup of coffee, we realize that the English word for the bird of peace is too similar to the Italian word for “where.” Dove. Dove (do-vay). One subtle flick of the tongue is the difference between finding peace and searching for it, reminding us that what works on paper does not always correspond to reality.


Fellow: Nikki Hodgson



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