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New Mexico activists discuss their experiences from a trip to the West Bank of Palestine

Santa Fe resident Samar Awad left her home in a small village in the West Bank of Palestine when she was a teenager. In front of an audience gathered at the Travel Bug bookstore and coffee shop for a presentation on the current state of the West Bank, she recalls a memory of Israel Defense Forces soldiers breaking into her family’s home in the middle of the night when she was a child.

“They had no excuse. We’d start crying, and they didn’t care. They literally stepped over us when we were sleeping,” she said. “My mom was scared they were going to take one of us—but they just liked to scare us. They came in with their uniforms, their guns. They pointed a gun at my mom’s head.”

Awad, who now has children of her own, says she would like to return, but cannot because she fears for her children.

“I don’t want them to witness or go through what I went through,” she said. “I don’t want them to have somebody pointing a gun at their head. That made me stronger, but I’m not sure how my kids would feel.”

Before Awad addressed the audience, two community organizers with Showing Up for Racial Justice’s Northern New Mexico and Albuquerque chapters—Jo from Santa Fe and Iusti from Albuquerque—hosted a presentation about their recent visit to the West Bank as a “solidarity trip,” in which they stayed in the occupied Palestinian territory to witness the everyday life of the Palestinians living there, to document with photos and videos and in some cases “gently intervene” in escalating situations before returning to the US and sharing the experience.

Both Jo and Iusti requested for SFR to not publish their surnames because Jo says they believe this “could cause an issue” with the Israeli government, citing National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir’s recent establishment of a special police task force to target both Israeli and international left-wing activists in the West Bank, as reported in the Times of Israel in April.

“Any act of solidarity is seen as a threat,” Iusti explains.

At the event, Jo and Iusti gave a brief lecture on the history of Palestine’s occupation dating back to the early 1910s, before explaining how the West Bank is governed today. Since the early 1990s, an agreement between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization has divided the West Bank into three administrative zones: A, B and C. The Palestinian National Authority has administrative control of all of Area A and parts of Area B, but Area C—where Jo and Iusti visited—is administered by Israel, and makes up around 60% of the West Bank.

“This leaves Palestinians, in their own communities, on supposedly their own land, with no recourse whatsoever when they’re dealing with settlers,” Jo said. “They only have the Israeli military or police to call.”

Jo described how many Palestinians have been forcibly removed from their homes in the Masafer Yatta region of the West Bank, made up of 19 Palestinian hamlets, after the Israeli High Court of Justice rejected appeals against evicting Palestinian inhabitants of the region, issued after Israel declared the area to be a “closed military zone” in the 1980s.

“Lots of communities there have been completely displaced, and the people we were staying with are people who are still holding on to a small bit of their land,” Jo said. “We’re just hoping that sharing the realities of everyday life in the West Bank and what the experience of being there right now is will help to contextualize what’s happening in Gaza—that it’s not something that just started, that it’s not just in that area.”

Jo and Iusti explained several aspects of daily life in the West Bank that impact Palestinians, such as a lack of freedom of movement throughout the territories. While visiting, they encountered several checkpoints staffed by the Israeli military (and sometimes private companies), roadblocks and barriers of all kinds while attempting to move from one village to another.

Jo said that driving an equivalent distance from Santa Fe to Albuquerque sometimes took more than 4 hours for them to complete in the West Bank due to these roadblocks. Some roads, she noted, would just be bulldozed to create a ditch that the public taxi they took from place to place could not safely cross.

Iusti drew comparisons between the West Bank and New Mexico, saying their visit reminded them of New Mexico in terms of “topography, relationship to water and many of the plants that grow in Palestine,” and Jo tells SFR in an interview that the similarities she saw between Palestinian and Indigenous Americans was “a constant presence” throughout her trip.

“I was aware there was similarities around Indigenous resistance and the way colonization is playing out, but being there on the ground was really profound for me in terms of every single day, having experiences where I just felt like, ‘This is exactly how things happened [in the US], where I reside as a settler, 500 or 600 years ago,’” Jo says. “This is the exact same rollout.”

They also discussed Palestinian protests they attended—in Kafr Qaddum, a town in the northern West Bank, Palestinians hold a protest every Friday against the Israeli military’s 2003 closure of the town’s main entrance leading to the city of Nablus, further restricting the inhabitants’ freedom of movement. Jo explained that the Israeli military is often present at the protests, and that it has been common for them to use tear gas and rubber-coated bullets against protestors—and since October 7, Jo says inhabitants told her, live gunfire.

Jo and Iusti also read aloud poetry they wrote inspired from their trip.

“This poem is for the love of children, playing and laughing despite the occupation and fighter jets overhead, flying the 35 miles to Gaza, for the love of children in all occupied Palestine lands,” Iusti read.

Jo and Iusti encouraged attendees to get involved with the numerous local organizations and movements protesting Israel’s attacks on the Gaza Strip who also sponsored the event at Travel Bug, including New Mexico Jews for a Free Palestine; the Santa Fe Ad Hoc Committee on Palestine; Santa Feans for Justice in Palestine; the Southwest Coalition for Palestine; the Anti War Coalition; Albuquerque and Northern New Mexico’s Standing Up for Racial Justice chapters; and Jewish Voices for Peace in Albuquerque.

“Please take anything that inspired you from this experience that touched you, or maybe opened another door of understanding or awareness for you and share it with somebody in your community,” Jo urged attendees. “You can donate to organizations on the ground [in Gaza], you can donate to the Middle East Children’s Alliance…donating directly to families that are posting to try to help raise funds to get their families out of Gaza—there’s lots and lots of ways.”

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