Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Currently in a little hotel in Nablus. I wrote this entry in a mini-notebook at 2am after getting into al-Aqaba. More on that later.

December 20, 2010
I just finished reading The Lemon Tree's chapter entitled "Expulsion," which attempts to boil down th most complex 12 years of Palestine's history into 25 pages. I re-read it for three reasons:
1) I'd forgotton most of it
2) I'd visited a monument in Be'er Sheva with Israeli friends a few days prior and unsuccessfully tried to spark a discussion on the accuracy of the site's plaque, which hailed the victory of bedraggled Jewish forces against superior Arab forces. I didn't bring up the motives for that narrative (it was awkward enough), but I tried to explain that the Arab side was also fractured. In other words, it wasn't the Goliath it has been made out to be. I tested the water a lot in Be'er Sheva, but I found it's pretty useless to muddy it unless you know how far you're going. But the experience left me determined to know more.
3) I just arrived in al-Aqaba, in the Northeast corner of the West Bank, and the drive from Ramallah, I'll never forget was horrifying. You can say what you want about corruption and terrorism in the Arab world, but I've seen no finer examples than those of the Israeli occupation and settlement expansion. I felt the first twinge of anxiety when we passed from Area A to Area C and the signs reverted back to Hebrew. Wait, aren't we still in Palestine? Then Haj Sami pointed out an Israeli settlement. Ah, ok. There they are. Then a bigger one, and a bigger one, all perched on hilltops. Then he gestured to the left, where we saw a checkpoint with Israeli flags flying, and young soldiers waving cars up a long, winding street that disappeared over a hill. Welcome home, to your hidden suburb. Welcome home to the New Israel.
Further down the road was a sign that read "Samaritan University" and "Ariel," the settlement so big its cultural center has become the subject of a world-wide cultural boycott. Tris turned to me and asked, "nervous?" I'd been chewing on my straw, apparently very audibly. As it got darker we passed a refugee camp, which looked like concrete projects with a major trash problem and a lot of really listless people walking around. At the edge of the camp there was a stone monument written in Arabic topped with the number 194.
Every Palestinian village in Area C looked neglected and forlorn, places I can't imagine anyone wanting to live. And you wouldn't either, if you were forbidden by occupation forces to build on your own land, your commute involved an unpredictable and discriminatory checkpoint wait (while settlers drive by in their own lanes), and your water supply was limited by the sprinklers and swimming pools of a nearby settlement that you can't even see. I can imagine why someone in Area C would leave, maybe for Jordan, or the Gulf, or the States. Then I remember that the settlements are expanding, and many West Bankers who leave are denied re-entry. Then I remember it's not a coincidence, the flag, the signs, the 20-year-old girl with the gun, the lights on the hilltop, the blatant discrimination, the mass humiliation. Then I can imagine why someone would want to live in a forlorn village in Area C.
"This is why I wait the long lines at airport security in Tel Aviv. This is why I put up with all of it," said a Palestinian American student at the General Assemby protest last month. "They're not going to scare me away."
4) The Lemon Tree was the only book I brought.

We've had a wonderful evening in al-Aqaba. Haj Sami, the mayor, has welcomed me and Tristan as guests of honor, and we'll be visiting the new kindergarten and secondary school in the morning. The village is perched on its own hilltop so I should wake up to an amazing view tomorow, though I'm a little apprehensive about what I might see.

The chapter leaves off with a scene from Ramallah in 1948: "Now tens of thousands of refugees milled about, stunned and humiliated, looking for food and determined to return home."

Sixty two and a half years later I traveled an hour northeast of Ramallah and saw settlements, training camps and Israeli checkpoints in Palestine. And a refugee camp that still asks for UN Resolution 194, the right to return.

So, here I am, in the corner of Palestine, on top of a hill. I usually like the feeling of putting a book down and living in another world while I fall asleep. It's just odd knowing that I'm not going to wake up from this one.