Why I Learn Korean: a message to Korean people from a Palestinian girl, Dina

This story was presented at the year-end-party of Palestine Peace and Solidarity in South Korea on 7th December 2017. Dina is from Beit Sahour, Bethlehem and she’s studying Korean in Seoul now.


This is my story about how I came to love the Korean culture and why I decided to learn Korean. I was first introduced to the Korean culture when I was in elementary school when a Korean missionary and his family moved to Bethlehem. Their oldest son, Simon, became my first Korean friend. In middle school, I asked him to write down the Korean alphabet for me on a piece of paper. I held on to that paper hoping that one day I would get the chance to learn this language. In 2011, when I was a sophomore at Bethlehem University, I got the opportunity to go to Korea for the first time as an exchange student.

When I arrived at Incheon airport, I only knew how to say hello and thank you. The school I was going to was located in a city that is five hours away from Incheon by bus. Halfway through the bus ride, we made a rest stop. As I was not sure how much time I had to use the bathroom and buy a snack, I stood from my seat and asked the strangers around me. A kind gentleman told me I had 15 minutes. Fast-forward to the end of the ride. After we got off the bus, that same gentleman came up to me and asked me if I needed help to get to my dorm. He helped me drag my suitcases and find a taxi. It turns out, this man was a part time professor at the university I was going to, he spoke Arabic, and he knew the Korean missionary family living in Palestine. That day I learned how small the world is and I saw a glimpse of the true kindness of Koreans.

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In the short four months that I spent in Korea, I learned a bit of the language, but more than that, I fell in love with the Korean culture. I was determined to learn more; so in 2015, one month after graduating from Bethlehem University, I was back in Korea working on my master’s degree.

When I am in Korea and I say I am from Palestine, the most common response I get is “Pakistan?” Even when I try to explain, “Palestine, the Middle East, near Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria,” I am usually faced with a blank expression of confusion. When applying to events or filling out forms online in Korea I am rarely able to find Palestine on the list of countries. Even on official forms, my nationality is usually listed as 기타(other).

Even when I am in Palestine, I try to stay involved with the Korean community there by being involved at the Korean Cultural Center. I used to teach K-pop dance and perform with my team for local and Korean guests. Whenever we would have Korean guests at the center, I would spend time with them, introducing them to my country and culture. Just as much as I was eager to learn about Korea, I was excited to help visitors learn about my country. However, the more I tried the more I was faced with disappointment.

One particular group of visitors consisted of high schoolers and college age young adults, like me. The dance team and I spent a whole week with the visitors because we were preparing for the upcoming show. After rehearsals, we spent hours with the visitors cooking Korean food and sharing our stories. They truly felt like friends. Several weeks after the group left, one member posted seven albums of our photos on social media captioning them “Israel.”

Another similar incident was when we welcomed a team of volunteers who were offering acupuncture sessions to local Palestinians. This time, the volunteers were older. At the end of each day, we would all have dinner together and pray. One particular lady seemed to like me. She held my hand during prayer and asked for my contact information. Again, after the group left, she started sending me text messages about how she will continue to pray for Israel.

Most of the Korean visitors I met in Palestine would go home and make posts on social media saying how their experience in Israel has touched their lives. They did not mention being in Palestine at all. I was frustrated because I had tried my hardest to share with them the situation in Palestine and explain to them the difficulties that Palestinians go through, but it seemed like my efforts had gone to waste.

In the end, I realized that it is my job, as a Palestinian, to educate the world about my country. Since I love Korea so much, I decided to start there. Although both times I was in Korea, I learned a bit of the language, it was not enough. That is why I decided to come back for a whole year just to focus on learning the language. I hope by the end of this year, by learning Korean, I would have taken my first step toward becoming the first Palestinian ambassador in Korea.

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Prawer Plan is symptomatic of wider system of racism in Israel: An evening with Noura Mansour

You can listen to an audio recording of Noura’s talk (in English with consecutive Korean translation) here.

Noura Mansour is a highschool teacher in Acre near the northwestern coastal city of Haifa. She is also a member of the National Democratic Assembly (Tajamoa Party) which currently has three representatives in the Knesset, offering perhaps the strongest voice for Palestinians inside Israel’s political process. Her ability as a debating instructor brought her to Korea with other international debating trainers to work with young Koreans. It also gave us the opportunity to invite her to hear from her about her own personal experiences as a Palestinian living inside Israel and Israel’s plan to forcibly evict tens of thousands of Bedouins from their homes in the Naqab (Negev). Palestine Peace & Solidarity’s very own Sarah helped out by providing interpretation for our Korean speaking audience.

Noura Mansour before her talk at fair trade Cafe Tripti on Tuesday, August 6.
Noura Mansour before her talk at fair trade Cafe Tripti on Tuesday, August 6.

She told us that the Israeli state has always treated the Palestinian minority to which she belongs with suspicion and mistrust. After 1948, Israel imposed a military regime which lasted for two decades, coming to an end in the early 1970s. The regime imposed military rule only on certain geographic areas which were mostly populated by Palestinians. She reminded us that Palestinians have not still forgotten the massacres committed by the Israeli military forces against their communities.

Following the military regime, Israel began to carry out a number of land confiscations, forcibly expelling many Palestinians living in Israel from their land. This continues today and the latest chapter is the so-called Prawer Plan which aims to expel tens of thousands of Bedouin communities from their homes and lands in the Naqab Desert (a subject to which we will return).

Having has lived her life as part of the Palestinian minority of Israel, often referred to as Palestinian citizens of Israel, she told us that she is constantly reminded that she remains in the land that hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were driven from in 1948. Palestinians today make up some 20% of the total population of Israel but face many obstacles and forms of discrimination. Part of this systematized discrimination includes separate schools for Palestinians and Jews.

Anti-Arab racism is common and many village councils actively encourage the Judiazation of their communities – the promotion of racially exclusive communities which of course entails the exclusion of Arab inhabitants – in the name of ‘cultural cohesiveness’. Another sign of what I will refer to as the deepening of apartheid with moves such as the potential passing of the so-called governability law which aims to force out minority parties such as Balad out of the Knesset by raising the voting threshold from 2% to 4%.

An engaged audience learning about what it is like to be Palestinian living inside Israel.
An engaged audience learning about what it is like to be Palestinian living inside Israel.

Every Palestinian has her or his own painful stories to tell. Noura discussed what is was like to lose her childhood friend during the Second Intifada who was executed by a gunshot to the back of his neck after tripping and falling to the ground while being chased by Israeli soldiers. She also discussed the time her father was attacked by angry neighbors after he raised the Palestinian flag in solidarity with his fellow Palestinians in the occupied territories during the First Intifada. The freedom to raise one’s flag, a simple act that many people take for granted, has a very different meaning to Palestinians, especially given that it is illegal to do so inside Israel.

While forced evictions and home demolitions are commonplace in occupied East Jerusalem and other areas of Palestine today, the expulsion of Palestinians from their lands inside Israel also has a long history. The latest chapter is the so-called Prawer Plan to expel tens of thousands, some estimates suggest up to 70,0000 Bedouin Arabs from their homes and lands in the Naqab (Negev) Desert. Noura has taken part in demonstrations inside Israel against this plan and discussed its history and the implications if it is to be fully carried out.

If it goes through, which is a likely possibility with only one more reading to pass through the Knesset, the plan will forcibly displace at least 30,000 Arab Bedouins from upwards of 35 villages and now perhaps as many as 50. These villages are considered ‘unrecognized villages’ by Israel and the state prevents them from accessing water, electricity and other basic necessities. One village, al-‘Araqib, has been demolished more than 50 times in the last two years but has rebuilt itself again each time. Essentially, the plan would see these communities forcibly resettled in established villages within 1% of the Naqab. It is believed that the emptied land will then be used for Jewish-only settlements and some is already marked out for the development of national parks.

The Prawer Plan, which has been condemned by the UN high commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pilay, Amnesty International and others, has two main components: ownership claims and compensation and planning arrangements. Ownership can be proven only by the holding of a deed to the land dating back to before 1979 and compensation will be set by law at about 50% of the value of the land and will not be subject to negotiation, meaning there will be no appeal process. There are some other rather strange clauses including a stipulation that in order for compensation to be applicable, the land must not exceed a 13 degree incline and must be productive agricultural land. Noura asked us to consider for a moment the fact that this land is all in the middle of the desert! The second component, planning arrangements, refers to the relocation plan, which would involve all 35 plus villages being resettled in a seven pre-existing villages.

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Noura finished her talk with a question and answer session and the audience was deeply engaged and clearly moved by her talk. Sadly, she told us at the end that she is unable to get this kind of receptive audience and support back home. Palestine Peace & Solidarity was extremely grateful that she was able to spend the evening with us and share her personal experiences and also bring everyone up to speed on Israel’s plans to ethnically cleanse the Naqab. We hope that many were and will be moved to take action.

Click here to take action to demand the Prawer Plan is stopped! Please also help by spreading the word and sharing this post.