Kalimatna: The Palestinian Disabled Union
I walked in from the noise and heat of the street to the shaded and cool office not a minute too soon, as I'd speed-walked from TYO to the city center in record time. I was immediately greeted by a lovely girl sitting at the front desk and the director of the organization who was seated across the desk. We had met a few days beforehand and he warmly extended a hand to me in welcome. Haya was already there and taking photos of two men who were flipping through profiles of the Union's members, looking for candidates for the Paralympics that were going to be held shortly. As we chatted, I was brought a cup of tea. Palestinian hospitality is really not to be beat.
The Palestinian Disabled Union, snug between two large buildings, is located with just an unassuming sign designating its presence. I'd passed it dozens of times before on minibuses from the bus station without noticing it. The office is small but welcoming and intentionally so—one of the persons with whom we spoke said that she could only be herself and feel comfortable inside of the glass sliding door of the Union. It serves its function as a place for advocacy for disabled persons' rights, for organizing events and classes for disabled persons, but also crucially for a place for disabled Palestinians to gather in comfort and camaraderie.
All of this I was able to gather by speaking with the current director of the Union, watching a film produced by the Union and speaking with two of its members. Both the director and the film projected a positive image of their work there, focusing on the empowerment of disabled persons in Palestine and, having worked with the mentally handicapped in Peru, I was familiar with and appreciative of this tone. The film was a montage of images of capability—the director driving his car, a young blind girl singing the short film's song, pictures of sports events featuring those in wheelchairs. The director elaborated on the union's activities in securing classes for its members at the local university that met their needs, organizing other types of classes specially for its members, organizing sports events and much more. After all of this, I was left with a very positive impression of the state of Palestinians with disabilities. It seemed to me that there was work to be done, but that progress was being made.
This impression was not entirely negated by my speaking with two of the members, but I began to come to a fuller understanding of the life of those who are disabled in Palestine. Both of our interviewees seemed to really feel their position as disabled persons in relation to the greater Palestinian society as being, essentially, a handicap. Having a physical disability in Palestine, they explained, affects your job prospects, your prospects at starting a family, even your ability to walk down the street comfortably. I have no illusions about how difficult it is to be handicapped in America and I'm sure that many of the concerns would be similar even across such a geographical, cultural and linguistic divide. I did begin to think , however, about how many places in Nablus were handicapped accessible. Of course this could just be a question of means rather than a question of intention, but what my two interviewees spoke of led me to believe that it was not just a means-based issue, it was an issue of ignorance of the subject.
Regardless, my two interviewees were happy to be able to be in a place like the Disabled Union. A place where they were accepted, understood and considered. Through the Disabled Union they'd each found employment and one had joined a basketball team for the wheelchair-bound. If each did not exactly hold an optimistic view of their future or place in life, they seemed to do what Palestinians have become adept at—adapting to their situation while striving to improve it.
Bieta is an intern at TYO Nablus and a participant in the Kalimatna Initiative.