My involvement with Palestine began in 1992, became more concrete from 1998, intensified from 2002, peaking by 2009-2014, reducing and then ending when I contracted cancer in 2019.
I become part of the lives of many people young and old, and what I did out there grew wider and deeper - less to do with specific tasks and roles, and more to do with playing a part in projects, events and people's lives, becoming more part of the scenery.
My main focus and base was the Hope Flowers School and Centre in Bethlehem, where I worked as an adviser, webmaster and outreach editor. But I did plenty of other things too in other situations.
This humanitarian work involves several main activities:
- Webmaster and English-language outreach editor, helping Palestinian people and organisations state their message well.
Ideas, perspectives and solutions for individuals, groups and NGOs.
Counsel, emotional and spiritual support for peacemakers, humanitarians and social leaders.
- Photography: giving the wider world a look at real life in the Holy Land, beyond stereotype and prejudice.
- Beavering away in the background: fixing and facilitating things, sometimes personally and sometimes being part of a process or team.
I felt I was making a greater contribution to society in Palestine than in my own country, and people were grateful for my presence and input. One thing I had to learn is that it's not really about what I do, it's about being there for people. One person simply said, "Balden, when you're here, we feel safe".
Bethlehem was like a second hometown to me. Except I could not live there permanently, for visa reasons. Also, since my main contribution was to offer clarity, insight and perspective, it was best to remain more of an outsider so that I could best contribute what I'm really good at.
I've written a trilogy of books on Palestine, available here.
As a 'social healer', I worked only with those who requested my input. I started out working both with Palestinians and Israelis, but over time I gravitated toward the Palestinians. Since Palestinians seek assistance (Israelis generally don't), they were who I worked with.
Peace-building is not a quick-fix activity. It's a lifetime's work. Peace doesn't work if it omits justice and fails to improve people's life-possibilities. Unfortunately, thus far, only one side has tended to benefit from the peace process of the last 20 years - Israel. Next, it's the Palestinians' turn.
Events over the decades have forced Palestinians to live for today without making many plans - things can easily be scuppered by conflict, outside meddling and social dissonance. This survival mindset - fire-fighting - is understandable, but it's still necessary to think ahead, building a culture of peace and cooperation and preparing the way for a new time.
This has to happen while also respecting the fact that the Palestinians are still under attack and deprived of the basic justice that would serve as a foundation for real peace.
Some Israelis think I'm anti-Semitic. No, I'm pro-human, dedicated to helping those who suffer most. Israelis aren't the only people who are important in this equation.
Life is not easy for Israelis either. No one will progress unless people on both sides feel okay. By helping Palestinians, I indirectly help Israelis because Palestinians are having a harder time. No one is going to win this conflict. Everyone loses except military interests, arms suppliers and those who gain from conflict.
Conflict is hard for everyone. Yet, in my observation, Palestinian society is happier than Israeli society. This says something about the illusion of military victory.
Peace will come when the whole of the Middle East returns to its historic united condition, where different ethnic groups find mutually-assured security not through control of territory or of each other but by occupying different niches in a multi-ethnic, multicultural society, appreciating the role that others play in the social tapestry.
NEXT: About Palestine
Privacy note: I'm not interested in your private data. This site collects stats of general traffic only. There's no capturing, mining, storing, sharing or selling data here. I don't keep a mailing list either. I'm happy you're here. Any issues, please contact me. Enjoy your visit!