My involvement with Palestine began in 1992, became more concrete from 1998, intensified from 2002, fully committed by 2009 and now I can't extricate myself! I've become part of the lives of many people young and old, and what I do out there has grown wider and deeper - less to do with carrying out specific tasks and roles, and more to do with playing a part in projects, events and people's lives, part of the scenery.
My main focus and base is the Hope Flowers School and Center for Education and Community Development in Bethlehem, where I work as an adviser, webmaster and outreach editor. But I do plenty of other things too.
This humanitarian work involves several main activities:
Webmaster and English-language outreach editor, to help Palestinian people and organisations state their message well.
Strategic ideas, perspectives and solutions for individuals, groups and NGOs.
Counsel, emotional and spiritual support for peacemakers, humanitarians and social leaders, to keep them going under difficult circumstances.
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 financing them, sometimes making a critical difference and sometimes being part of a process or team.
I feel I make a greater contribution to society in Palestine than in my own country, and people are grateful for my presence and input. One thing I've had to learn is that it's not really about what I do, it's about being there for people. One person simply said, "Palden, when you're here, we feel safer".
Bethlehem is like a second hometown to me. Except I cannot live there permanently, for visa reasons. Also, since my main contribution is offering clarity, insight and perspective, it's best to remain something of an outsider so that I can best contribute what I'm really good at.
See my book Pictures of Palestine - a humanitarian blogging from Bethlehem (published 2012).
As a 'social healer', I work only with those who request my input. This is the only way true benefit can arise. 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're who I work 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 of recent years have forced Palestinians to live for today without making many plans - things can easily be scuppered by conflict, Western meddling and social dissonance. This survival mindset - fire-fighting - is understandable, but it's still necessary to think ahead to the longterm, help build a culture of peace and cooperation and prepare 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 the people on both sides feel okay. By helping Palestinians, I indirectly help Israelis. But Palestinians are having a harder time.
No one is ever going to win this conflict. Everyone loses except military interests, arms suppliers and those who profit from conflict.
Conflict is hard for everyone. Yet, in my observation, and strangely, Palestinian society is happier than Israeli society. This says something about the illusion of military victory.
Peace in the Middle East 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