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Two Wyomingites reflect on a trip to the occupied West Bank

Messages of solidarity and resistance are painted onto a tall concrete wall with wire over time. "Make hummus not walls" can be seen, along with a portrait of George Floyd, two hands grasping each other in a firm lock, and doodles of stars and peace signs.
Wyoming4Palestine
Messages are painted onto a wall separating Bethlehem from Palestinians in the West Bank.

Wyoming 4 Palestine is a group with members across the state that advocates for freedom of Palestinians. They’ve held teach-ins about the Israel-Hamas war and organized a protest at the state capitol earlier this year. Recently, two of their members traveled to the West Bank, an area of Palestinian territory that’s occupied by Israel. Wyoming Public Radio’s Jordan Uplinger spoke to Dee Smith and Taylor Pajunen about what they saw on their trip.

Editor's Note: This story has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Jordan Uplinger: Can you talk about your organization – where they're located in Wyoming, some of the work they've been doing and what the beliefs and goals are?

Dee Smith: Wyoming4Palestine formed in early November [2023]. Many of us have been doing Palestinian liberation work on and off before this time and some of us haven't. Some of us are newer to Palestine and Palestinian liberation work and it's a very grassroots organization. We have member groups in Lander, in Casper and Jackson Hole, in Cheyenne and in Laramie. We believe that Palestinian people deserve the right to return, to remain and to resist.

JU: Why did you both travel almost 7,000 miles from Wyoming to the West Bank? Why now?

DS: I am a nurse as well. And I actually was thinking of trying to go to Gaza to help. I'm still thinking of that, but this felt like a really important place that I could actually support with my body and my smartphone and then my privilege.

Taylor Pajunen: We answered a call from Palestinians for Internationals, whether it be the U.S. or Europe, mostly to come and stand in solidarity, what is termed a protective presence. So a protective presence really just signifies that we are standing next to and documenting what is happening. Internationals are being asked to stand next to and with Palestinians in the West Bank who are facing persecution from Israeli settlers and the Israeli Army.

A sign reads, “This Road Leads To Area 'A' Under The Palestinian Authority The Entrance For Israeli Citizens If Forbidden, Dangerous To Your Lives And Is Against The Israeli Law." It's written in Hebrew, Arabic and English.

Wyoming4Palestine

JU: Can you give people from Wyoming a sense of density? Is [the West Bank] similar to Cheyenne [or] Denver? Perhaps New York?

TP: Population density [is] similar to Wyoming, in that there's cities and then rural areas. But something that we don't see here in Wyoming is the very blatant segregation that's on signage, and then military posts, Israeli military posts that maintain the segregation. For people that have experienced the U.S.-Mexico border, whether it be in California, Texas or Arizona, it's much more similar to that, where you see the border and then there's checkpoints everywhere. This wall is based off of the U.S.-Mexico Border. Same technology, same construction, and it's around the whole entirety of the West Bank, and then also goes through and cuts through certain areas.

JU: Of the media that Americans do see, especially in the West Bank, it's often through this kind of lens of violence: a child throwing a rock at a tank, or the charred remains of a car while crowds walk around. From your experience, would you say media portrayal is an unfortunate grim reality for more people than not? Or would you say that it's an over-representation of the violence in a place that has more going on than just conflict?

Goat white goat with black lines of fur on its ears looks to the sky.
Wyoming4Palestine
A goat belonging to a Palestinian family.

TP: Every day people are just existing. Grazing sheep and goat harvesting, a livelihood through agriculture. That was really beautiful to see. Just being in community and building relationships with people. But that being said, yeah, it is every day. Spontaneous and routine violence. People just existing is always interrupted by settler violence, and I don't think that Western media is showing the full picture. We're not being told why people are fighting. I don't even want to say fighting. [Israeli settlers are] trying to expand these settlements. Settlers are armed with military grade equipment. Palestinians, obviously, are not armed with military grade equipment because they are not backed by world powers like the United States and other European countries. And because we're not told this bigger picture, we don't understand why a kid would throw a rock.

A young man wearing dark green pants, a flak vest and helmet stands amid desert scrublands while holding an automatic rifle. His nose and mouth is covered by a gray cloth.
Wyoming4Palestine
A young, armed individual from an Israeli settlement approaches a Palestinian home.

JU: Have either of you, or any of the organizations involved in some of the protests and demonstrations, had any contact with any local, state or federal officials to perhaps talk about grievances, demands, policy objectives, that kind of thing?

TP: Before our demonstration on the capitol, me and my spouse went to a couple community meetings that Gov. Mark Gordon was at. There is actually one that was specifically around veterans and mental health. My spouse was able to go inside and actually talk to Mark Gordon and ask him some questions. Interesting responses. I can't really speak to them exactly just because I wasn't there, but Anti-Zionists in Solidarity with Yemen and Palestine (AZSYP) is really trying to make connections and sees the connections between the funding that we are giving Israel each year, and continue to give throughout this genocide, and the lack of funding that is being used in Wyoming to take care of veterans.

JU: [Some] protesters and demonstrators in Wyoming have spoken in favor of action that leads towards a two-state solution. This tends to be a common answer among any conversation involving Israel and Palestine from the American perspective and I'm wondering what the narrative around a two-state solution is like inside the West Bank.

TP: We met many Palestinian Christians [and] Jewish Palestinians, especially in Bethlehem, whereas the majority of the Palestinians we were within in the south were Muslim. But all that to be said, it's not a monolith in thought. A two-state solution – the West Bank is a perfect example of why it doesn't work, because it is supposed to share jurisdiction. But Israeli powers overrun Palestinian Authority, quite literally. That being said,people just want the violence to stop. That's the overall goal.

Jordan Uplinger was born in NJ but has traveled since 2013 for academic study and work in Oklahoma, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. He gained experience in a multitude of areas, including general aviation, video editing, and political science. In 2021, Jordan's travels brought him to find work with the Wyoming Conservation Corps as a member of Americorps. After a season with WCC, Jordan continued his Americorps service with the local non-profit, Feeding Laramie Valley. His deep interest in the national discourse on class, identity, American politics and the state of material conditions globally has led him to his current internship with Wyoming Public Radio and NPR.

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