By Emma-Kate O’Reilly
December 21, 2012 is the end-date for the ancient Mesoamerican Long Count calendar. Maybe not the apocalypse as we imagine it literally but metaphorically. Maybe the Mayans were playing with the idea of a new collective conscience being born.
Something strange has a hold on the world. It’s palpable to the intuitive; even the not so intuitive are starting to question some things. People are really beginning to think things through rather than accept what the “Ministry of Truth” tells them to think, feel and act. Revolution, rebellion, uprising, usurping are rampant around the world.
Fearful whispers of wrongdoing have metamorphosed into defiant declarations of war against corruption. The streets are alive. The pulse is racing through every protestor. Pushed to the limit, on the edge, they are standing united, brought together in desperation in a crusade against their tyrannical leaders. From under the harsh whip of injustice and oppression, their survival instinct has been ignited. They have discovered a powerful weapon. It’s spreading like wildfire and the intense fire is burning brightly.
Images invoke an innate sense of empathy from within. Boundaries and nationalities have become blurred. Ground-breaking changes of Christians forming protective circles around Muslims at prayer epitomises this raw radicalism. Basic human rights should be the same everywhere. The thirst for change will not be quenched by empty promises.
However, this is not a new concept.
The sixties were a turbulent tempestuous time of protests and activism against the tyrannies. There will always be uprisings and always be war waged upon the wrongdoers. People, ideals, minority ethnicities, nations will be beaten down, but they will gather themselves up together and start again. There has been a domino effect unfolding all across North Africa. It echoes the revolutionary wave of 1848 that swept over Europe.
Ordinary men have taken it upon themselves to make a difference. The elderly who have lived in fear under the crack of the oppressive whip seem to admire the raw energy of the younger generation.
But where do we ordinary people who are not from such a place fit in to all of this?
We read about these war ravaged lands, then flick the page and forget about it. We watch coverage of these atrocities on the news, then flick the channel and forget about it. Advertisements come on and are much easier to digest than the destruction that is going on in the world.
Bombarded with so many images of war have we become immune to them? Have you ever wondered what it’s really like to be on the ground working in one of these conflict zones, instead of passively observing it from the safety of our own homes?
I spoke to two people who have to try to get a taste of the reality of living in such a place and to find out what these people do out there.
Kathy Keary was working for a human rights and development organisation based in East Jerusalem called Al-Maqdese in a research and advocacy position.
She said: “My role consisted mostly of writing socio-legal research projects on pressing issues in the city, such as the effects of housing demolitions on the women of East Jerusalem and worker’s rights in the city. It was a Palestinian organisation so it dealt only with Palestinian issues in the city. I was carrying out interviews with effected people and also reviewing available literature on the subject.”
In addition to the research projects she also did a whole myriad of other tasks including, “editing other people’s work (I was the only native English speaker in the office), applying to various human rights networks for membership, submitting documents to various UN special rapporteurs and committees, and attending UN working group meetings and conferences on behalf of the organisation. I also did a little bit of project proposal and development work.”
She spoke about the difficulties she faced in working for the organisation. She said: “Because I speak neither Arabic nor Hebrew I found it very difficult to carry out research without assistance and getting people to provide me with necessary information was almost impossible on some occasions. Also on a couple of occasions I disagreed with policy decisions of the organisation.”
Culture differences are another aspect of working in conflict countries. Things that we take for granted here have to be fought for there, like the freedom to go wherever you want.
“The culture differences between there and here are stark. The most difficult thing to get used to is the Israeli oppression and control. If you decide to travel anywhere you will more than likely have to pass through a checkpoint manned by soldiers and there are constant reminders of the occupation.”
She talked about how challenging it is to try to help the people and how restrained you are in what you can do. She said: “You are also constantly working on stories and cases of grave injustice and this can be quite frustrating when you realise that what you can do to rectify any of these is severely limited.”
When you are on the ground in a conflict zone you can’t flick. You can’t forget. Kathy said: “My office was right beside the wall that divides the West bank from Jerusalem so I was constantly reminded of the conflict.
“The strength and resilience of the Palestinian people is staggering and they are incredibly friendly.”
Michael McCaughan is a journalist who is no stranger to working in unstable societies. He has reported from all over the Americas, North, Central and South. From far flung places like Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, but he spent most of his time in a place called Chiapas in south east Mexico where he lived from 1993 to 2001.
The Zapatista Army of National Liberation is a revolutionary leftist group based there, seeking control of their local resources, especially land. The indigenous people there have, since 1994, declared war “against the Mexican state”. I asked him about what it’s really like to be on the ground working in a country of conflict.
“In a place of armed conflict, despite the chaos, people try to escape it by doing ordinary everyday things. When the Mexican army were on the verge of attacking these villages the people continued with their everyday life. They use normality as a form of resistance to what’s surrounding them.”
He talked about how people want to tell you their stories. He spoke of how harrowing it is to listen to testimony of people getting tortured and hunted down, imprisoned, mistreated and suffering cruel injustices.
He told me of how emotionally difficult it is to hear these people’s stories and yet as a journalist you have to fulfil your duty. “You are the voice of people who have no voice. It’s your responsibility to tell their stories. You are the bridge between what is happening to people in these countries and getting it across to the rest of the world.
“You develop relationships with the local people. They tell you intimate stories about what has happened to them. They have an emotional impact on you”.
He spoke about the strength of people, “the resistance they have against forced conditions of unjust authorities”.
He said, when amongst the locals, “You have to show respect, humility, compassion and just listening to them is terribly important.”
Some people think to help these countries we should just go in and take over. Tell them what to do.
But by speaking to Kathy Keary and Michael McCaughan, it has reaffirmed what I thought.
That by listening to people from conflict zones we can learn, be aware of what’s happening to them and through people going out and working with them, try to find resolutions.
Through this social awareness and coming together in defiance against injustices and oppression, maybe we can try to make the world a better place.