Friday, December 30, 2011

Well, shit. The Gershon event was cancelled because anti-normalization activists threatened to demonstrate outside the hotel. But I guess they got Combatants for Peace (a respected organization here) confused with another one, I don't know....anyways, maybe it'll get re-scheduled, maybe not. I think this was a loss. Another headache for the Palestinian Authority, which is taking this stance on normalization and getting its own approved events shut down by activists.

But hey, I met my first Couch Surfers tonight, Marjorie from Switzerland and Ed from England. We had a beer in Pronto Cafe, coffee in Karameh cafe, and some more beers in the Sky Bar at Ankars hotel. I told them I was trying to culture-shock before their village stay. We'll bus up to Al Aqaba tomorrow with Dasha from the Czech Republic and Philip from Chile and Palden from....Bethlehem. Even though no one was able to make it from Tel Aviv, as originally planned, this came together quite nicely.

Today I taught English lessons in Ein 3rik and Ein Yabrud. The first village is one I always passed on my way to Bil'in, and the second is a village I always passed on my way to Deir Jareer. I never knew their names. Or, people told me when we passed them and I forgot. Now they have life, and meaning, and adorable children.

After the lesson, Olfat took me out for dinner with her friend. We talked about languages and customs and ate chicken sandwiches. On Monday I'll go to Beit Rema to have dinner with Olfat's family, then on Tuesday I'm going with Sulaiman and an international group to Nabi Saleh to meet with Bassem Tamimi's family.

For now, I'm enjoying my first Couch Hosting experience, even though the couch isn't technically mine.

This is the prayer sent out in the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer newsletter. In light of all this anti-this and that, I thought I'd share....

Spirit of the Living God, come afresh on your Holy Land.
Help your people to restore broken relationships.
Give them patience to break down barriers of suspicion and mistrust;
ability to discern personal prejudice and the courage to overcome fear.
Teach them to respect each other’s integrity and rights
so that your kingdom may be established on earth.
For Jesus’ sake.  Amen.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Sunset from Ras Karkar

I narrowed it down from 12 to 2. That was hard. Apparently there's a castle up the hill to my left, I'd like to see the view from there someday.
I'm nursing a cold and bundled in blankets on the couch in Souli's apartment. I made a vat of vegetable soup and fresh-squeezed orange juice, and I'll be turning in very shortly. Souli's running around setting up a meeting tomorrow for internationals, Palestinian ex-prisoners, and Gershon Baskin, the Israeli who negotiated the Gilad Shalit deal. It's cleared with the PA and there's security arranged. The only threat is anti-normalization activists, who don't seem to be aware that there are people working productively for their cause. But I don't blame them, I wouldn't know it if I weren't sitting on this couch, listening to the phones blowing up. 

And are they ever...the Palestinian Authority is furious over this last piece of news:  Right Wing, Palestinians Brainstorm at Ariel Parley. The event, which discusses a joint Israeli-Palestinian federation, was shut down by anti-normalization activists in Jerusalem. So where did it move to? Ariel. Ariel! An illegal settlement of 17,000 that cuts so far into the West Bank it's known as "the Ariel finger." Academics and performers worldwide have boycotted Ariel, including 165 Israeli academics, who signed the following statement in January:

According to the petition, the settlement “is not part of the sovereign territory of the State of Israel, and therefore it is impossible to require us to work there. Our conscience and our social responsibility demand that we bring forth an obvious stance on the matter.”

The petitioners also say that Ariel “was founded on occupied territory. Only a few kilometers from the flourishing settlement, Palestinians live in villages and refugee camps under difficult living conditions, and lacking basic human rights. Not only do they not have access to higher education, a number of them don’t even have access to running water.”

The contrast between Ariel and the surrounding Palestinian areas constitute “two different realities that forge an apartheid state,” the petition adds.

The PA is riled up because one of the main speakers is a Palestinian-American (born in Jerusalem, raised in...New Orleans?!) who is going over their heads and legitimizing Ariel at the same time.

I have to say, this event is intriguing, and this American has guts. Settlers have so little exposure to Palestinians on that level because they're so segregated. Is it actually smart to bring Palestinians onto their turf, and did the outcome legitimize the means? I'm all for settlers waking up to reality, and this was a once-in-a-lifetime event (I don't think there will be many more...), and in order for it to happen, it had to normalize the settlements, even while it threatened them, in a way. What a strange tug-of-war.

Well, tomorrow is a big day. I'll be leading classes in two villages around Ramallah, then meeting my couch surfers, going to the Gershon meeting, hanging out on the town, then heading to Al Aqaba on Friday morning. Then the next day is New Years Eve. What a cruddy time to be sick!

Thank goodness for fresh orange juice. Time to hit the hay.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Ras Karkar

So a few weeks ago I was in a Service on my way to Nabi  Saleh for the first time to see Mustafa Tamimi's funeral, and this young woman named Olfat tapped me on the shoulder and started conversing with me in English. She was an English teacher for an organization that sent her around the West Bank...we exchanged numbers and a week later she called and asked me to come meet her boss in Ramallah. I knew it was some sort of job offer, but I just went because I was curious about the organization. Maybe I could help them in some way, help them connect to more internationals...English education in Palestine is in such a sorry state, thanks to the Ministry of Education and their curriculum writers who know nothing about children! Child abuse, my friend Mahmoud called it...I still need to visit his classroom in Jericho. Anyways, I showed up to Olfat's office on Monday and along with her colleague, Sawsan, we planned two days for me to accompany them on their rounds and teach a handful of 30-minute lessons. They were concerned about their students pronunciation, and under pressure to deliver what their students really wanted, which was native English speakers. They designed their own 4-part conversation curriculum. I found a few errors in the Level One and they asked me to review the books for other mistakes. They asked me what I thought of their books. I couldn't say, I wasn't experienced in teaching English, but I noticed the books sometimes made the same mistakes as the government curriculum. They over-complicated the material. "Are you able to come to the party tonight?" "I'm afraid not." That's not introductory....

Anyways, so that took up most of my day today. I met the four teachers at the office for Middle East Institute for Academic Studies, and we Service'd to the village of Ras Karkar, which is about 25 minutes from Ramallah, and really close to Bil'in. It's nestled in hills full of olive trees, so I enjoyed the ride over. I wasn't excited about arriving though. I love visiting new villages and meeting new people and interacting with kids, but I'm still not thrilled about leading classes. I felt the same way in New Orleans, when I observed all the working parts of a large middle school. I was much more attracted to the position of counselor or program coordinator than I was to lead teacher. I want to provide for kids in my own way, and I just don't have the patience for lesson planning. I like art, and music, and film, and sports, maybe I'm meant to serve in those realms...

When I walked into the school, all the students' faces lit up, seriously. The girls were like, yessss, and the boys, well, they were boys, like my students back in Al Aqaba. In Ras Karkar I worked with second graders, fifth graders, and high schoolers.  I reviewed colors, objects, past and future, and in general had them ask me a lot of questions. The teachers were pickier about their grammar than I was. Another thing, I'm a total push-over. But I'm also a little goofy, which they all liked. One of the high schoolers asked me to sing a Christmas song, since I'd just been in Bethlehem, so I sang Hark, the Herald. After class we all took pictures together and I was invited (literally, by everyone) to stay for the evening, but I must have lost my spontaneity chip after two weeks in Ramallah, and I hopped in the bus with the other teachers.

It was a really inspiring day. When I got to Palestine I had this notion of creating a network of English teachers in villages, whether they were living-in or just passing through to teach a lesson. I figured Al Aqaba could be a great prototype, since they're looking for both at the moment, and we'll be able to reach out with the new website. But I wanted the same opportunities for the kids of Ras Karkar, and tomorrow I'm sure I'll feel the same way about my students from the next two villages. There's a lot of brainstorming to be done.


I found this article on Mondoweiss today- Israeli Construction in E1 is slap in the face to U.S. and realized that when I was on the Mount of Olives the other day I was looking down on E1.

Having just crossed the something-or-other checkpoint, I looked back on the wall separating East Jerusalem from the West Bank. Beyond the wall is E1, where Israel has re-started construction on a settlement that will cut the West Bank in two.

Normalization pt. 2

The word normalization has been on everyone's lips around Israel and Palestine because almost two weeks ago, according to the Jerusalem Post, Fatah Declared War on Normalization With Israel.

Sulaiman showed me the JPost link and the comments that followed his posting of it on Facebook. I could tell by his mood that he considered this a positive development, so I don't remember what my own first impression was. Living in the West Bank, I understood normalization and the dilemma of it, but the reaction that trumped all was "THIS IS A PR NIGHTMARE." For one, the article was from the Jerusalem Post, for which I have few polite words. Secondly, the comments that followed this Facebook post were from mutual Israeli friends who were all alarmed at the news. The work they were doing in their reconciliation groups seemed to be going unappreciated by the Palestinian powers-that-be. Counterproductive....inciting....very, very unfortunate news. I had no way of reassuring them, I was just as confused about how this move was supposed to get anyone...anywhere.

Then I read the article:
"The Fatah leadership fears that the Israeli government would exploit such meetings to tell the world that there is some kind of dialogue going on between Israelis and Palestinians and that the only problem is with the PA leadership."

Alright, so that was the beginning of my understanding. It isn't hard to believe that the Israeli government is better at exploiting the Palestinians than reconciling with them. But I still couldn't wrap my mind around the logistics, I saw a huge FREEZE sign, and no way around it. What was going to happen now?

Now Sulaiman has two phones, one Palestinian, one Israeli. They were both blowing up non-stop after this story. Israelis wanted to know what his take on the situation was, people from the Palestinian Authority as well, the reason being that he was quite squarely in the middle. He co-founded Combatants for Peace and did reconciliation projects, films, events with Israelis, but he was an ex-fighter, and an ex-prisoner, and thus had a lot of connections in Palestinian government, which employs a lot of ex-prisoners. This sounds strange, but most of my friends and adult students have been in prison, some for throwing stones during the Intifada, some for nothing at all.

Anyways, so Sulaiman was always on the phone, arguing in Arabic or Hebrew, and I knew it had something to do with the reconciliation projects he worked with. They needed to re-organize, and register with the government and get a permit before they get involved with Israeli groups. Ok, I'm starting to understand the logistics a little more, but it still doesn't sound right! It still sounds like we're discouraging dialogue, and that just sounds...bad.

So I was confused.

The next news article read thus: Israeli-Palestinian Event Cancelled Over Threats from Anti-Normalization Activists

One of the comments on this Facebook post read: Where is the international outcry protecting Palestinians right to have Freedom of Speech?????Yet another example of how no one sincerely cares about Palestinians (or any Arabs) if they can't blame Jews or America....

I found that comment rather annoying, but I still didn't have any answers. I also didn't have the time or energy to respond to someone who probably hasn't had many positive experiences with Palestinians or Arabs. That's not something you can tackle easily over Facebook.

So I asked Sulaiman, when we were driving somewhere, some day, after he'd hung up his phone, "what are you actually doing?" He was understanding to my misunderstanding, and explained his last phone call. And it finally made sense.

So, Sulaiman is the general director for a Palestinian organization for promoting dialogue and understanding, and they work especially with youth, in the realm of sports. One of their biggest partners throughout the years has been an Israeli NGO based in Tel Aviv. So they've been working closely together, bringing Palestinian and Israeli soccer players to Germany, Australia, etc....and this center, on the Israeli side, is able to help their Palestinian partners get travel visas. That sounds all well and good, but it's also where the problem arises. If the Israeli center doesn't want to plan its joint Israeli-Palestinian activities through Sulaiman's organization, they can find another group or individual to represent the Palestinian side, and in a lot of cases, the incentive is money or travel permits. So they can choose to work with Palestinians who are naive to politics and power, and are easily manipulated because they live under occupation. In the end, the image of this "equal" partnership brings millions in the Israeli side.

So in one sense, what Sulaiman has been doing is contacting the families of the program participants and withdrawing his organization's (and the government's) support while the Israeli center is going over their heads and working with people who aren't cleared by the government. So now, the participants are dropping like flies and the Israeli center is starting to freak out. One of Sulaiman's colleagues relayed his conversation with their liaison at the Israeli center, who asked, "what about Sulaiman? What is he doing? Doesn't he need permits?" to which his friend replied "Sulaiman knows a hundred organizations, he can take care of himself."

I told him that story was the only thing in this whole mess that made sense to me. His position isn't representative of Fatah or even a general consensus on normalization (not that there is one!) but it's the one that will probably stick, because it goes through the Palestinian Authority and the NGO's. The result being, this isn't the end of reconciliation meetings. But now there's a PA committee that's in charge of re-organizing the system, because all the groups need to be registered, and all the events need to be cleared in advance.

Anyways, this issue is getting horrendous press, so I felt it important to share that story. More to come, insh'allah...

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Remember Stuff White People Like? Well, now there's a website called Stuff Expat Aid Workers Like. I really liked this one:

#17-Pretending not to see each other

When I see other foreigners in Ramallah or Nablus, or even Tubas once (!!) it's a mix between "sweet, Palestine is getting hip" and "I wonder if they can tell that I've been here longer. Look at me blending in!"

That was a fun find.
I got my first two CouchSurfing requests this week! Along with Palden, I'll have a Swiss traveler and a British volunteer from Nablus coming up to Al Aqaba on Friday!


Last week I went to Hebron with my friend Palden, a British volunteer in Bethlehem.

Here's what I already knew about Hebron:

Part of the city is designated Area H2, which means it's a "special case." So it's not Area A (under Palestinian control) or area B (Palestinian administrative control and Israeli security control) or even Area C (full Israeli control).

Israeli settlers occupy the top floors of buildings above the Old City of Hebron, and throw trash down on the markets. The nets that separate them are sagging with garbage.

Some streets are designated Jewish-only, and the Palestinians are constantly harassed by armed settlers and soldiers.

All in all, I wasn't enthused about seeing all this, but I realized as I glimpsed Hebron for the first time, that I was holding onto assumptions that I should have done away with long ago. Just last year I learned that the West Bank was a safe place to visit, Bethlehem was Palestinian, and a whole lot of other things that blew my mind. Why was I still assuming that Hebron was too intense, too depressing to visit? I knew more about Hebron than the average bear, but everything I'd learned from my YouTube and blog binges on Palestine had discouraged me from going there. From what I knew, all of Hebron was like H2, and Shuhada street.

I hadn't caught any messages of warmth and humanity from Hebron, and who's to blame for that? Was I just not looking hard enough?
While I was in Hebron I took a lot of footage, but I couldn't accentuate the positive. That would involve me pointing my camera at people moving about their lives, and that felt bothersome and disrespectful. I need to strike a better balance. All I managed to do was be an "occupation tourist," capturing the settlers' homes and the Israeli guards stationed on rooftops. I didn't care about bothering them. It didn't feel right taking footage of Abraham and Isaac's tomb at the Ibrahimi mosque....but it wasn't mumnua, forbidden at all, so I did.

Here is Palden's blog post, please accept it as a substitute for mine, he's much more experienced at capturing the positive.

I just want to say that the kids playing soccer in the shut-down marketplace were so cute. One of them kicked his shoe off and starting laughing hysterically. I wish I could have captured him.

You've got to spread joy up to the maximum
Bring gloom down to the minimum
Have faith or pandemonium's
Liable to walk upon the scene

Palden's Blog-Visiting Abraham the Patriarch Again

Papa's Christmas Card

This is my grandfather's Christmas card for 2011. It's a picture of his house in Plain, WA. He's made a card every year since...1980, I think? I can't find any of them on-line, but here's a link to some of his paintings. :)

Dear Papa and Nana Mut,

Merry Christmas and thanks so much for the wonderful card! I wish I could teleport myself to your doorstep! Christmas has always been flexible for us traveling folk, but being without family for the first time was hard to get used to. But my mom skyped me last night and surprise, surprise, my mother, father and two brothers popped onto my computer screen. It was a dream come true.

It's been an interesting few days. I spent Christmas Eve in Bethlehem with the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church. It's the beautiful church that Tris and I went to last Christmas, and I was happy to return. I was the only Christian amongst my friends (they were in Bethlehem to partake in late-night Christmas festivities), so I ran off by myself to nab a seat, as the church is pretty small and fills up fast. I sat next to two mid-westerners, Kate and Matt, who were visiting a friend working in Beit Sahour. Turns out their friend is doing the same thing Greta Steeber did in 2008, volunteering at Dar al-Kalima College through the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Jordan and the Holy Land. I was studying in Jordan at the time, and I remember you, Nana Mut, sending me all of Greta's monthly newsletters. I didn't know anything about Palestine, and even though it was a mere 30 kilometers to the West, it still seemed so inaccessible. But her updates were part of what kickstarted my involvement here, so thank you again.

The service was led by Reverend Mitri Raheb and Reverend Fred Strickert of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Jerusalem. My dad had e-mailed him last week, basically summarizing my Lutheran-ness and asking if I can use him as a connection this Christmas season. The thought hadn't even occurred to me, but dad scored major points. I introduced myself to Reverend Strickert at the post-service reception, and got directions to his house in Jerusalem for his Christmas Day brunch. I didn't know exactly what to expect, but I was excited at the prospect of meeting a new community, and partaking in this familiar tradition.

Back to the service. Reverend Mitri Raheb, who leads the Bethlehem congregation, opened the service in Arabic and English, with this introduction:
"From this town that is being made as little as 4 square miles, surrounded by a mighty 25 foot high concrete walls and military watch towers, we reach out during this Christmas season, reminding the Christian community world-wide that Bethlehem is a real city, still under occupation, and that the people of Bethlehem are Palestinians, not an "invented" people, but still part of the same people who heard the Gloria in Excelsis and who hosted the baby Jesus, believed in him and went out to proclaim him King and Savior. We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year."
It was the most concise description of Bethlehem's situation I'd heard yet, and I scribbled it down in my program. It boggles the mind that a Reverend in Bethlehem still has to remind the Christian community where Bethlehem is. Then I remember that before I visited the West Bank last year, I thought Bethlehem was a sleepy little town that had remained unaffected by the modern world. Maybe it would be touristy, but political? Controversial? Under military siege? Such a thing could never happen, or we would know about it!

So I took down his message, and wanted so badly to videotape the entire service so I could share it with everyone. In the end I got a little bit of footage of the candle-lit procession out of the church, with everyone singing Silent Night in English, Arabic and German simultaneously. You can see the congregation that night was about 65% foreign, 35% Palestinian.

This is the message on the back of the Program:

Dear friend and fellow Christian:
We welcome you to Christmas Lutheran Church, to our multilingual Christmas Eve service and our community of faith. Bethlehem has the honor of being the city in which we remember and celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Chris, and since the days of the first Pentecost, the Christians as well as across Palestine, have kept alive the faith of Jesus as heirs of the "first Church." Today, the Christian Church in Palestine is comprised of Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Catholic and Evangelical (Protestant) families.
Christmas Lutheran Church stands as part of that ongoing witness and proclamation of the Christian faith. It is the oldest Lutheran Church in Palestine, started in 1854 by German missionaries. Today, it is one of the 6 Lutheran Churches of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Jordan (and Palestine). Our congregation has about 200 Palestinian Christian members, as well as a few internationals. Our primary worship language is Arabic, the language of our people.
The Church itself was built 1886-1893. Unique in the architecture is the shape of the tower reflecting the typical Bethlehemite woman's hat of the 19th century. The 14 stained glass windows are original. The three in the center tell the Christmas story, as this is Christmas Church. The 3 in the left apse show the life of Christ until his baptism. The flight to Egypt, portraying Jesus and his family as refugees, has been a powerful image for this congregation, 2/3 of whom are refugees themselves. The three windows on the right portray the passion and resurrection, with the crucifixion in the center. The remaining windows in the main sanctuary are related to Bethlehem's biblical history and landscape.
Since all the writing on the windows is in German, the copula was painted about twenty years with Arabic calligraphy: "Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth, good will to men." The organ, manufactured originally in Berlin around 1890, was rebuilt for the 2000 Millennium celebration here in Bethlehem through a fundraising campaign led by our partner church, the Lutheran Church of Christ the Redeemer in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA.
Let us together this night worship our God in truth and in spirit. In Bethlehem, the birthplace of our Lord, we would like you to feel at home.

"So come let us adore him, Christ the Lord"

We had a great brass quartet from Germany, and everything in the service was done in 3 (or more) languages.

After the service we processed out of the church with our candles, and realized it was pouring rain! So we dashed into the reception hall and drank wine and ate little baby sandwiches. I met up with my friends there, and thus began a long, rain-soaked journey to nearby Beit Jala. We had reservations for a Christmas party, but it wasn't so much a Christmas party as a Palestinian restaurant party that happened to be on Christmas. With our entrance fee we got appetizers (hummus, eggplant, potatoes, things for bread dipping) and a main course, and live music. I couldn't believe the music wasn't recorded, and I couldn't resist the urge to dance, the drumming was so catchy. The beat went straight to my shoulders, and that's how Arabic women dance, with their shoulders, and their hips. I can still hear the drums now. tikka tikka tum tum.....

After my girlfriends from Jaffa (also American volunteers) started falling asleep, we wandered back through the rain to a Service taxi, and back to Ramallah. We had to wait ten minutes at a checkpoint, and watched as six teenage boys were unloaded from their car and escorted to some unknown location. A soldier opened our taxi door and inspected us, checked the driver's ID, and let us pass.

Back in Ramallah, we crashed at our friend Sulaiman's apartment at 3am and woke up six hours later. I played some Mannheim Steamroller, the Sulaiman played some Fairooz, a most beloved singer from Lebanon. A lot of people listen to Fairooz in the morning. I showed everyone the conclusion to my virtual Advent Calender that my mom uploaded and sent to me. The Christmas village was fully animated and singing "We Wish You a Merry Christmas." I was feeling festive.

I went with the girls to Jerusalem, since they were headed back home to Jaffa, and I was headed to my Christmas brunch. We all had to get out of our bus and walk through Qalandia checkpoint and press our passports and Israeli visas against the window. Then we got back on the bus, rode alongside the concrete wall, passed through East Jerusalem, and ended up at Damascus Gate in the old city. The girls continued on toward the Central Bus Station and Tel Aviv, and I hopped on a 75 Bus to the Mount of Olives. Semi-remembering the pastor's instructions, I got out at the top of the hill and walked up toward St. Augusta Victoria Hospital. By that point it was pouring even harder, and Sulaiman's umbrella wasn't helping much as the rain was coming at me sideways. By the time I got to the hospital my jeans were drenched. Across the street I saw the gate that read Lutheran World Federation. I rang the fourth button down and yelled "This is Morgan to see Fred Strickert!" The door opened. I crossed over, then realized I didn't know where on the campus to go. So I ran around the campus, ringing bells and peering in windows, and getting more soaked. Finally I walked across the olive tree groves with no phone didn't work in Israel because I have a Palestinian SIM card. So I walked down the hill a little and saw a 70's-ish looking house. As I approached I started to smell food and thought, this had to be it. I rang the doorbell and Fred let me in. As I stood in the foyer, shedding wet layers, I could see people gathered in the living room, doing introductions, holding glasses of wine. I tiptoed into a seat, looking and feeling very disheveled. I forgot about the feeling in seconds. As people went around the circle and introduced themselves, I learned they were mostly from the Midwest, either volunteers, or members of the Pastor's family, or people visiting their friends for Christmas. All of a sudden I forgot that I was in the Middle East, or that I'd just walked through a rainstorm. I introduced myself as Morgan from Seattle, a volunteer in the Jordan Valley. Then we sang carols, O Come All Ye Faithful, Angels We Have Heard on High, Hark the Herald.....and I was in pure heaven. We could have been anywhere, honestly, but right there it felt like home. Gloria, the Pastor's wife, announced that they were serving egg-bake in the kitchen, before the buffet, and there was plenty of wine, spiced apple cider and coffee to go around. I heaped my plate with egg-bake, turkey, salad, coffee cake and cookies and sat down with four other volunteers. One was working at farm near Hebron through Tent of Nations, two others were working in schools in Beit Sahour and Beit Hanina through the Lutheran Church, they were all my age and people that I could easily see as friends back home, at school, or at church. They weren't allowed to get involved in politics or attend demonstrations during their service, as they'd be risking the reputation of the Lutheran Church in Palestine, which relies on Israeli and American support. But they were all living in the thick of the occupation, and if their newsletters were anything like Greta's....I knew we had a lot to talk about. But mostly we just introduced ourselves and laughed at the Pastor's granddaughters running around and whispering that such-and-such boy likes to play with Barbies. I related to them so much, being a third-culture kid. What an adventure, to go from Iowa to Jerusalem.

After the lunch I introduced myself to Gloria and a few other grown-ups (haha), one of whom is an administrator at St. Olaf (well dontcha just know....)
and another of whom is the Lutheran World Federation representative for Israel/Palestine and invited me to his family's New Years Eve party. It was a great day. I walked down the Mount of Olives in the rain, and caught my bus back across the wall, and the checkpoint, back to Ramallah, which is also decked out in lights.

And that's my Christmas story. I miss you guys so much, and Nana Mut, I can't believe it was less than a month ago that I was saying goodbye to you in Jericho! That visit was so special for me, and I'd love to hear your impressions, after having been home for a while. Papa, she wasn't too traumatized, was she? Does she still eat fruit? I sent my mom a few pictures from our visit to the village of Jit, I'll remind her to forward those if she hasn't already.

And Papa, I'm getting this website for the village set up in the next two weeks, the project has been coming along very slowly, but I'm still interested in designing a logo or something we can use as a visual on the website, if you still want to be involved. :) I'll keep in touch about that, seriously, even though I've been a lousy correspondent.
Merry Christmas again,
I love you so much,

Monday, December 26, 2011

A Merry Lutheran Christmas

I wrote this message to my old roommate from New Orleans, a Seattle-ite turned Minnnesotan.

Merry Christmas, Lindsay!
I was thinking of you today. My dad got me in touch with the Lutheran pastor in Jerusalem, and I got to join him and his congregation for a Christmas brunch at his house on the Mount of Olives. Basically, I wandered into his house, confused and rain-soaked, to a room full of mostly mid-western Lutherans who were working around Palestine or just visiting friends. We sang carols and ate egg-bake and I was thinking of how much you'd like the girls I met. A lot of them are working for the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Jordan and the Holy Land, like my cousin did a few years ago, and it made me realize how bad-ass Lutherans can be, even while eating egg-bake. That constitutes a hot dish, right? Anyways, I just wanted to drop you a line, I hope your Christmas was joyous, what did you do this year?
Much love,

Friday, December 23, 2011

Oy. I just realized I've been downloading my Hebron video with a 90 degree rotation. Try again.

I'm in Zman Cafe, organizing my vids and reading the news. I've had my double cappuccino (thanks Blogger spell check) and I'm thinking about all the Christmas treats at the counter downstairs. I could go for a cream puff, or a chocolate-covered strawberry.

My dad got me in touch with the pastor at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Jerusalem, Fred Strickert, who e-mailed me the same day. I'll be meeting him at the Christmas Eve service in Bethlehem tomorrow, and going to the Christmas Day brunch at his house in Jerusalem. I did the touristy thing in Bethlehem last year, so it's really nice to have a local connection and I'm looking forward to meeting the congregation in Jerusalem. I miss First Grace in New Orleans. I remember bringing my mom and dad to my choir practice when they visited me for Christmas, and we all sang up front in the Christmas Eve service. This is my first Christmas without the family (even last year I was traveling with my brother), so I'm so thankful to have these things to look forward to. On Christmas evening, there's also the Shepherd's Night festival, with the candle-lit procession and dance troupe performance. It was so beautiful!

 My first glimpse of Bethlehem

 Dance performance at the Shepherd's Night Festival

Scout marching band on Christmas Day

After the Christmas Eve service, I'll be joining Sulaiman and two of my girlfriends from Jaffa, also American volunteers for Christmas night festivities at some club or hotel. Who knows. Ana 3rif. Bethlehem will be party city.

I've been photographing and filming and learning all this intense stuff about settlers and soldiers and occupation and I'm really not in the mood to post about it right now. Even though the information weighs me down and I feel responsible for relaying everything I see. I'm good at traveling and absorbing and keeping cool, but there's no other place where I feel this alternating combination of overloaded and desensitized and inspired and despairing.

At our Mid-Year conference for AmeriCorps, one of our speakers said, "if you're not outraged and in despair, you're not paying attention."


these girls at the booth behind me are playing rihanna's "we found love in a hopeless place" from their cell phones.

who dat?

Last night I had a two-part dream where Israeli soldiers stormed my house and the Saints won the NFC championship. Saints were tied 3-3 with Atlanta in the 5th quarter and I watched them win on my iPhone in an airport. The conclusion of my dream was, if my next visa gets rejected, I'll be watching the Superbowl in New Orleans. That, and I want an iPhone.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

I'm staying in the volunteers' apartment at the Hope Flowers school in a village outside of Bethlehem. Palden is the sole resident, and as I got out of the taxi, I wondered, how can he live out on the edge of nowhere? (it's easy to think this at night when you can't see anything) Then I realized that people asked me the same question, and I just think, "but this is the center of the world." Everyone's place is the place to be. Palden told me to be ready to hear the Palestinian national anthem blaring from below at 8am. I told him I also live above a school, and will undoubtedly sleep through it (it's 2:05 right now). But I think I'll set my alarm to 7:55 so I can watch the students from 5 stories up...and go back to bed.

Bilādī bilādī
Bilādī yā arḍī yā arḍ al-judūd
Fidā'ī Fidā'ī
Fidā'ī yā shaʿbī yā shaʿb al-khulūd

My country, my country
My country, my land, land of my ancestors
My redemption, my redemption
My redemption, my people, people of eternity

I thought Hope Flowers was a small operation. This is a very large school. I'll take pictures tomorrow. Palden and I have been drinking tea and talking about life in Palestine and the history of the school. It's a fascinating and disturbing story. But now it's time to sleep. Until the Fida'i.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

My new favorite thing to say in Arabic is "kul ishi teht assaitara," everything is under control.

It's taken on a new meaning today.

Yesterday Haj Sami had some good news. Representatives from the Israeli Civil Administration  came to Al Aqaba to meet with him and talk about the status of the village. They sat with him for an hour and a half, drinking coffee and tea and answering all of Haj Sami’s burning questions-“why do you damage our houses?” “why do you stop Israelis at the checkpoint when they want to see Al Aqaba?” “why do you not give us permission to build here?” The general’s responses varied…. “I’m just doing my job,” “Well, just don’t build too quickly” and “I want to help you with the checkpoints, and make a Master Plan for the village.” Haj Sami told me all of this over the phone, and he sounded pleased. A visit like this hadn’t happened for a long time, and it seemed like communication with the army was finally opening up.
The next morning I taxied to the Palestinian Red Crescent Society, where Haj Sami was attending a conference for rural development. After he gave me directions over the phone, he told me hurriedly, “the soldiers came to Al Aqaba today, to give seven new demolition orders.” He hung up. As I got into the taxi, I called my friend and told him I’d be late for our meeting, but I’d call him when I was finished at the conference. He asked,
“Kul ishi teht assaitara?”
“Kul ishi teht assaitara.” Saying it made me feel fluent, and confident. But I didn't feel under control. I was thinking,  there are bad guys. This isn’t a movie, but there are bad guys. 
The next hour was disorienting. Haj Sami and Ribhi, the engineer from Al Aqaba were at the post-conference buffet when I joined them. I looked at Haj Sami, someone had retrieved him a plate of food but he didn’t look hungry. I didn’t know what to do. The world was still turning, the Ramallah bubble was still a bubble, and these dozens of rural developers who lived under occupation were chatting away and eating from plates heaped with chicken, fish and stuffed eggplant. This was a time to relax, a time for a little bit of optimism. But after we finished our lunch and I escorted Haj Sami down to the parking garage, he asked me, “why, why do they say this, and do this?” He was choked up…“why are the Jewish like this?” He’d never asked that question before. I didn’t know what to say.
I helped Ribhi hoist Haj Sami into the driver’s seat of his car, and promised to visit the village tomorrow, and write some letters. As the car drove off and I headed for the elevators, I wondered what the hell I was doing. I want this visitor’s program to work, I want tens of thousands of dollars for Rebuilding Alliance so the 2nd and 3rd house can get built, I want to put a roof and windows over the 4th floor of the kindergarten, I want to make a football field, and an arts center, I want to smack as much infrastructure down in that village as humanly possible.

It gets so desensitizing after a while, it really does. To see human beings controlled like animals.

The army is training outside the village right now. If I open my front door I can see them on the hill with their red lasers and flashlights.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Mohammad Khatib released

I got this e-mail from the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee today. Mohammad Khatib was arrested at last Friday's Nabi Saleh demonstration, and he was just released...

I have just been released from jail, after three days inside. I was arrested last Friday, together with 22 others, in the village of Nabi Saleh, during a demonstration commemorating the murder of Mustafa Tamimi. Our arrest took place as we peacefully protested near the entrance to the Jewish-only settlement of Halamish, which is built on lands stolen from Nabi Saleh.
Minutes after we got to the gate, Israeli Border Police officers moved in to remove us from the scene. Palestinians, Israeli and international activists, we were all shackled and dragged away into military jeeps that transported us to the adjacent military base, which is in fact part of the settlement.
In the military base, still shackled, I was assaulted by a settler who hit me in the face, leaving me with a bloody nose. Shortly after, the settler also attacked a female Israeli activist who was by my side. The soldiers and policemen present did not prevent the attack, nor did they bother to detain the settler after the fact. Instead, the zip-tie locks on my hands were removed, only for my arms to be bound again, this time behind my back.
Hours later, at the police station, I learned that to cover up their responsibility for my attack, the soldiers have laid a bogus complaint against me for assaulting them. My hands were tied, my face was bleeding, but it was I who spent the night in the inside of prison cell.
Mohammed Tamimi from Nabi Saleh was also arrested during that same demonstration. While the police decided to release all the others, he and I were to remain in jail. During our demonstrations, soldiers often take pictures, to later use them as "incriminating evidence". This time, the soldiers used one such picture to accuse Mohammed of throwing stones during a demonstration a few weeks or months back. The man pictured in that photograph is not Mohammed Tamimi from Nabi Saleh, regardless, he remains in jail. Military law allows Israel to keep us Palestinians in jail for eight days before seeing a judge, and even then, it is a soldier in uniform who is the so called neutral arbitrator.
As the prison doors closed behind me, my happiness was clouded by the fact that Mohammed Tamimi was not released. The battle for his freedom is only beginning, as our lawyers prepare the petition for his release. If you can, please help us fund legal aid for him and for the countless others who are regularly arrested protesting Israeli Occupation.
I would also like to use this letter to extend my gratitude to Ayala Shani, an Israeli comrade who was arrested with me. She refused the injustice of being released while both me and Mohammed Tamimi were still detained. As these words are written, she is still in jail, despite having been offered her freedom twice already by Israeli courts.
Mohammed Khatib

Prisoner Release

I was walking down to Sulaiman's place from downtown Ramallah when I saw a car speeding down with Palestinian, Fatah and Marwan Barghouti flags flying out the windows. I wondered what was up.

Turns out tonight was the release date for the second wave of prisoners from the Gilad Shalit swap. Tonight, 550 prisoners were released.  Souli and I heard the procession of buses and honking cars outside a cafe around 10:30pm, so we walked to the Mukataa (government palace....area) to watch. This wave of prisoners was mostly from Fatah, and mostly serving short sentences, unlike the last swap.

Here's the article from CNN.

"This deal is a formality that doesn't meet our expectations. The second stage of this deal didn't include old, ill or handicapped prisoners. It also didn't include the remaining five female prisoners inside Israeli jails. This deal was solely controlled by the Israeli side," Issa Qaraqe, the Palestinian Authority minister of Detainees and Ex-detainees Affairs, told CNN.

"We will welcome and celebrate the prisoners in the Mukataa upon their release. The fact that the release will take place during the night will not affect our celebrations. Israel decided to release them at night with the wrong assumption that this will affect the intensity of the celebrations. The celebrations will start tonight and will continue for several days in different districts and towns, each prisoner will be celebrated in his own hometown," Qaraqe said.

Here's some of the video I took:

Not that I'm trying to beat this connection to death, but it made me think of the celebration in New Orleans after the Saints won the Superbowl. Everyone was so ecstatic.

Pictures of Jaba

 Little Rose

 Me on my hamar

 Fadi's friend made this in prison, Azam draped a chain over it. You know, symbolically....

Best ouzi I've ever had...
I learned one way of thanking the cook, salaam adek, peace on your hands....

One year

It is December 19th. The one-year-anniversary of my first trip to Palestine. Fitting that I went up to Deir Jareer to visit Ahmad and the Mubaraks, since it was Ahmad who picked me and my brother up when our taxi dropped us off in the middle of nowhere...on December 19th. So last night I got to see the next-door Christian village of Taybeh, all lit-up for Christmas. I was also fairly buzzed on Taybeh Golden Ale from the rooftop bar in Ramallah...

These are photos from last year:

Taybeh, Christian village and home of Palestine's only microbrewery

 The random American guest got a free shave, naiman! ("you look good")

 Deir Jareer

That pretty much sums up my life right now.  Moving from from village to city, city to village, navigating the in-between, feeling a constant buzz...I'm waiting to find out if I have some source of income for the next three months, and if I can get my next three-month visa. Until then, the adventure continues...

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

My Christmas Plans

After my mom went back to the States, she bought and sent me a Jacquie Lawson Advent Calendar. I've never had a virtual Advent Calendar before. They're pretty genius. You can't not get stoked about Christmas with the prospect of these little surprises every day. I loved the mini-doors and pictures when I was a kid, and I loved the chocolate calendars so much that a few years I made Christmas come early.

Today I clicked on the snowy globe in the corner of my desktop and entered the Christmas village. Thirteen animations had already been played, so I could see the kids sledding on the hill, people skating on the pond, a horse pulling a sleigh, people feasting in the cafe, toys playing music in shop window, and the Christmas tree lit up in the town square. Over half way there! I clicked on (14), which took me inside a house where a cat was playing with the ornaments on a Christmas tree. It shorted the lights and I had to turn the switch back on. All the the tune of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas." It made me miss my cat. We changed our decorating style because she was pooping tinsel.

It's strange to be in Palestine during the holiday season. This time two years ago, I was working construction and listening to the same ten songs on repeat on the radio. I hated that stupid radio. After two days, the only song that had retained its magic was "Last Christmas" by George Michael. And the
occasional Mannheim Steamroller. I just realized, if I marry a non-Christian, this is going to be an awful big quirk, dancing around to a prog-pop version of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.

Anyways, it's almost funny that I feel so removed from Christmas now, now that I'm in the Holy Land and just a stone's throw (is that a bad joke here?) from Bethlehem and Nazareth. I don't happen to know any Christians here. When I showed my daily advent animation to my adult students, one of them said, "ah, but this is for children!" Haha, it is indeed. Somehow, the bell still rings for me.

Tomorrow is the 15th, ten days from Christmas, and I'm going to be embarking on a CouchSurfing journey through Israel and Palestine. A few days will be spent in Ramallah, but otherwise I plan to spend every night in a different place. I want to see Nazareth and the Galilee. I wonder if I can adopt a family for Christmas.

It'll be an adventure. Advent-ure. whoaaaaa.

One word-nostalgia.


 Hi, I met you in Bil'in....
You're the American, right?
Yes, from Al Aqaba.
Yes, I remember you. Great what can we do for you?
I wanted to know if you can come to Al Aqaba and perform....
Yes, yes, of course. We're performing everyday now. Today in Nablus, tomorrow in Bethelehem...
The end of the month would be best. The 30th? Before then is not good.
Wow. Interesting, we actually have a group of Israelis coming on the 30th.
Like for solidarity?
Well, not exactly, they're a peace group, kind of...
But like the Israelis in Bil'in?
Well, they're not activists, no...
See, I must say that I'm against any kind of normalization, you know...
Ahhh, I see. I know what you're saying. It's not like that, they're not....

And then we discussed the details. This man and his wife have a new shadow puppet show and he wanted to know the dimensions of our room. This show was about a princess, not about Jerusalem, like the show I saw in Bil'in. So probably no call-and-response (Israel, Israel...Filisteen! Filisteen!) I saw no problem with having the performance and the pilot visit on the same day. The kids would love it, our guests would love it, why not? leish la? lama no?

December 30th is the pilot visit day for the Guest House project I presented at the GVS conference in Beit Jala. Two Israeli women I met there are coming to Al Aqaba and bringing some friends and family. Palden Jenkins from Bethlehem is also coming. They'll stay in the Guest House for one night, and meet with Haj Sami, and we'll talk about the program and what it needs, and I don't know what it will yield, if anything, but the visit itself is important and I'm really looking forward to it. As Israelis, they need permits to cross the checkpoint from the North of the West Bank. They could technically use public transportation from East Jerusalem, like I do, but if the Beit Jala conference was their first time in the West Bank (the hotel was about ten meters from the wall), I think we'll have to play by the rules for now. If only I knew what the rules were...

But that was the second time I've been called out for normalizing. It's true, I'm not living under occupation...I can leave anytime I want, and go to Jerusalem, or Jordan, or the States. So I can't know how it feels to be under someone else's heel. But I know what normalization is. When the Israeli theater troupe gave Playback therapy to the conference of Palestinians and Israelis alike, I couldn't enjoy it. The actors weren't the enemy. They were talented, and sweet, and funny, and I respected their work and the fact that they were doing it in the West Bank. But this was how I felt:

My culture is civilized, we colonized and oppressed you, and because we're civilized, we can heal your pain. Let us help you.

That's what made me squirm. These nice, wonderful people going up and introducing themselves with funny anecdotes-"When I moved to New York, I was like, why is everyone so nice? You don't genuinely care about my day. Then I moved back to Israel, and was like, why is everyone so rude?" Hahahaha.

How dare you show your complexities to me! Why are you trying to be funny and lighthearted? Don't you know what your country is doing? Why aren't you more cynical? I want you to be cynical. I can't talk to you or laugh with you until you show me're cynical.

Why aren't you disenchanted like the Israeli activists in Bil'in, who choke on your army's gas to show that their friends' lives aren't worth less? Why aren't you anxious like the foreigners in Palestine who cling to their three-month visas while they try to undo the damage that your government has done? Why aren't you royally pissed off? Why aren't you TRYING HARDER??

There's no in-between. Either you're warring against your state, or you're naive to the situation and you'll never understand me. Give me a sign. Give me a gesture.

Maybe that's what the man was asking me...are they cynical Israelis? Are they angry, and self-hating, and full of confessions? No, I doubt that they are. But if we're talking about normalization....Israelis who want to come to Al Aqaba aren't normal in the first place. That's a fact. They aren't normal for wanting to come here, so their experience in this Palestinian village, any Palestinian village, will be anything but normalizing.

Maybe someday these ventures will be mainstream. Maybe Al Aqaba will be a weekend get-away, a retreat center, or a hotspot. Maybe someday the world will know how this little village was once under demolition order, and how we showed 'em.

Insh'allah. All I know is, we can't do it alone.
Stop the segregation! Stop the hafrada!

This is fascinating. What is discrimination in an education system? When one group is left behind in under-funded, substandard schools? This was one of the first things I learned about New Orleans: white kids go to private schools, black kids go to public schools. That's when I began to understand segregation, post- segregation.

You hear something like that and think, huh. For the parent who can afford the better school, this is just a personal choice. They want the best. But you know that nothing good can come from educating privileged and underprivileged kids separately. As the mother in this video says....these kids are so cute.


This is what happens when I'm left alone for too long.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Call to Prayer

Record number of Palestinians displaced in 2011

Link-Maan News

Since the beginning of 2011, more than 500 homes, wells and other structures have been destroyed in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, displacing over 1,000 Palestinians, UN figures show.

This is twice as many people over the same time period last year and the highest figure since 2005. Half of those displaced are children.

Around 4,000 housing units have been approved in East Jerusalem over the past year, the highest number since 2006, the Israeli organization Peace Now said.

Settler attacks against Palestinians have increased by over 50 percent in 2011 compared to 2010, and by 160 percent since 2009, UN reports show.

Meanwhile, over 10,000 olive and other trees have been destroyed this year.

"The Quartet should call ongoing settlement expansion and house demolitions what they are: violations of international humanitarian law that Israel should stop," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

Phillip Luther, regional director for Amnesty International, said the figures show the Quartet's approach has failed.

"Israel’s escalating violations show the fundamental failure of the Quartet’s approach. It’s time for the Quartet to understand that they cannot contribute to achieving a just and durable solution to the conflict without first ensuring respect for international law."

Monday, December 12, 2011

For Mustafa Tamimi

“Ahwe, ahwe!”

There’s a blind man selling coffee on the street outside. One of my friends told me that he was so well-known in Ramallah, that if he didn’t hear this call, he’d think something was wrong.

I’m sitting in the second floor of a pizza parlor, uploading videos onto my computer and eating a pastry with cheese and parsley. It’s both compulsive and cathartic. A little unnecessary too, seeing as I’m already keeping Haj Sami waiting, and it’s a two hour Service ride to Al Aqaba, where I live. I’ll be late for my adult class, but I’m still in the city, eating comfort food and uploading. My mind is numb, and I don’t want to think, I just want to feel productive. I stood by and watched tear gas canisters fall on Nabi Saleh, adding insult to injury on the day of Mustafa Tamimi’s funeral. I have it in my camera, now what?

Now I’m thinking about accents. In the villages people say “qahwe,” but in the cities they drop the “q,” and just say “ahwe.” Somehow I was surprised the man outside had a city accent, since I equated city with rich and village with poor.

Ahwe. It means “that which prevents sleep.”
I had read that on a poster the night before, in a beautiful little café called La Vie. The poster was called the History of Coffee. Sulaiman was drinking coffee, I had a juice, and his friend Alison was drinking whiskey and staring at the wall.

We had just come from a small demonstration in downtown Ramallah. A group of people from Nabi Saleh were gathered in Manara Circle chanting for Mustafa Tamimi, the 28-year-old who was shot in the face with a tear gas canister the day before. He’d died that morning. Alison was so close to the people of Nabi Saleh, Sulaiman referred to her as Alison Tamimi. She had done photography projects with the kids.

That was the first time we met. She’d just come from Jenin, where her friend had been killed six months prior.

“I hate them.” She was shivering. “I hate the Israelis. They’re monsters.”

I didn't know what to say. She was from Seattle, like me. Actually, she was from Bellevue, just fifteen minutes down the freeway. Unlike me, she was Jewish, and at the age of twenty she made aliyah, moving to Israel and taking Israeli citizenship. Her work was in the arts, and reconciliation, and human rights, and it wasn't long before her work took her over the Green Line into the occupied West Bank, to the Palestinians. Now, at the age of twenty-five, she's relinquished her Israeli identity. Now she considers herself Palestinian.

We ducked into La Vie for the whiskey, and caught up, or in my case, got introduced. Her and Sulaiman talked about old things, people they knew…she told me she went to Newport High School and Mt. Holyoke. I think we have some friends in common back in the States. She pulled out her mini-laptop and read us a poem she’d written, just before she’d heard of Mustafa’s death. It began, “Palestine is in mourning…in the morning.” It was about how morning doesn’t bring a new day here, it only shines light on a painful reality. Night is more hopeful, because you can’t see the settlements, and the checkpoints, and the occupation.

I didn’t bring up Luban Sharqia, where the settlements are lit up like Broadway. But I agreed, nighttime is peaceful here. I thought of barbecuing chicken and smoking arghellah in Bil’in, playing with kids and babies who stay up way too late. I imagined Nabi Saleh was like Bil’in, and wondered what else we had in common, apart from our suburban area codes.

Sulaiman offered her the same consolation as he did to me. Welcome to the club, habibti. You can’t let this stuff affect you, it’s too much. He’d read Victor Hugo’s A Tragedy in prison. Or Revolutionary University, as he called it. But it was more than the book that inspired this philosophy. During the Intifada, those demonstrations in Manara happened all the time, with a thousand strong, instead of fifty.

I’d never been to a Nabi Saleh demonstration, but on Friday Sulaiman and I drove by the village while it was in full swing. Army jeeps were blocking the entrance, and soldiers were patrolling on all sides.

They’re preventing the villagers from reaching their natural spring, which was confiscated by the settlers of Halamish. Every week they try, and every week they get gassed and shot at. We were actually thinking of visiting the Tamimi’s later that day. The leader Bassem Tamimi is still in prison, falsely accused of inciting violence. Sulaiman had to sign a paper saying Bassem was with him on the day he was accused. But we couldn’t get into Nabi Saleh until the demonstration was over, so we postponed the visit.

A few hours later I saw on Facebook a picture of a man’s face covered in blood. I read the word “Tamimi” in Arabic and asked Sulaiman to translate the news. He saw the picture and went eughh, that must be a photo from the anniversary of something. I thought, ok. They must have been demonstrating in commemoration of a past event. Bil’in does that all the time.

It wasn’t until the next morning that the headlines came out in English, and it was all over the internet. Mustafa Tamimi was dead. And the Israeli press used words like “activists say…” and “protestors claim...” I remembered the same headlines from Jawaher Abu Rahma’s death on January 1st, and how shocked I was. The racism wasn’t shocking anymore.

That was before the Israeli soldiers tweeted pictures of Mustafa’s slingshot. Like the knives and poles and axes aboard the Mavi Marmara flotilla, capable only of instilling fear in an already hysterical society. Mustafa was killed in cold blood, and his killer would be protected by tweets.

I was angry, so I took a walk. I walked into downtown Ramallah to pick up some things for Al Aqaba, and on the way I ran into a friend from Bil’in. He was sixteen, and worked at a coffeeshop in the city. He asked me if I was going to Nabi Saleh in the morning. I hadn’t considered it. Another martyr funeral. Yes, ok, I told Mohammad, I’ll see you there.

That night I went with Sulaiman and his friends Abed and Mahmoud to his family’s house in Hizma, to eat makloubeh. I was planning to go the Alternative Information Center in Beit Sahour to hear the discussion on apartheid and drink with my new friends from Europe, but I gave in to the Khatib family. And it was the best makloubeh I’ve ever had. After we ate, we hung out with with Sulaiman’s nieces and nephews. As it turns out, little Mido is quite the performer. After dancing dabke for us, he took over the camera and started asking questions in Arabic, English and Hebrew. When his brother asked, “where are you from?” He replied, “I am from Palestine.” and started wailing dramatically, which made everyone crack up. Then Mido handed me back the camera and acted out a scene. Him and his brother laid side by side on the ground, like martyrs, then Mido woke up, said something about Palestine, and fell over his brother, wailing once more. Everyone was laughing, and exclaiming that they didn’t know Mido had this in him. When asked about Obama, Mido said he’d throw a shoe at his face. “Wallahi, so smart. He was so small when this happened.” It reminded me of when I gave my camera to 4-year-old Tutu in Bil’in, and she interviewed her cousin Yazid about the occupation. Their family was amazed at their conversation. I wish these kids all had cameras.

After eating fruit and kanafe, we bade farewell to Hizma, and Sulaiman and I went back to Café La Vie to watch the Barcelona game. He liked Barcelona because it’s the people’s team, unlike Real Madrid, the rich team. That’s all I gleaned, I know nothing about football. Really.

At 10:30 on Sunday morning I headed up to Nabi Saleh. It was Sunday, a workday, and I was anxious about getting back to Al Aqaba at a decent hour, after having missed my classes. Then one of the women behind me in the Service tapped me on the shoulder and starting talking to me in English. She was an English teacher. She reminded me of one of my students, a beautiful smile, and unusually open for tapping a foreigner on the shoulder. Her name was Olfat. The first thing she did was invite me to her village, Beit Rema. I said I was going to Nabi Saleh, but I forgot the word for funeral. Are you a journalist? No. There is one died. Yes, Mustafa. I told her I would love to visit Beit Rema soon, so I gave her my Facebook name and we exchanged numbers.

I’d been a little confused on the timing, so I got to Nabi Saleh halfway through the funeral procession. Hundreds of people were walking slowly through the village, and I found a friend from Ramallah who told me that Mustafa’s body had already arrived from the hospital, and was being presented to his family at their home. I walked with the procession as he was carried to the mosque, and waited outside as the men of the village prayed, then we processed to the graveyard. It was the same in Bil’in in January, and Qusra in September. There were dozens of journalist and foreigners, and a handful of people I knew from Bil’in. I was mostly interested in the children. Some of them were carrying wreaths and posters and wearing solemn faces like their fathers and brothers. Some of them were climbing onto rooftops and treetops, trying to get the best view, and the younger ones were darting through the crowds and playing like it was a normal day. Maybe they wondered, if this was like a festival day, why no one wanted to play with them. I saw Mustafa’s brother, a tall skinny boy of eighteen in a red sweat suit, being carried out of the crowd, weeping. He was singing at the demonstration in Ramallah the night before. I thought of my brother, who is also a tall, skinny eighteen-year-old, and likes to sing.

Someone gestured that I should move. I was standing on a gravestone. I shuffled away, embarrassed.

The speakers began, and I picked up their nouns. Occupation, freedom, land. I looked at the mound of fresh dirt next to the circle of mourners and photographers.

Your ground is disturbed.
It sounded like a poem.

After the speeches, I stood with my friends from Bil’in, one of whom waved down a Service for me. I bade farewell and sat in the taxi, taking a deep breath. I’d have to go back to Ramallah, then to Nablus, then to Tubas, then to Al Aqaba. At least I could rest in the taxi.

As the Service made its way down the hill to the entrance of the village, we were passing dozens of funeral-goers on their way down, as they do in the demonstrations, and I saw two army jeeps approaching from the highway. It seemed we were getting out just in time. But as we passed the armored jeeps and started up the hill away from everyone, I said, “biddi enzel hun.” I want to get out here. I wanted to see what they were going to do. I leaned against the highway barrier across the street and started filming. They brought in the tanker full of sewage water, and the jeep shot a shower of gas over the people walking down the hill. Water, gas, water, gas, shebab with stones, stones and more stones. Busses of settlers drove by, and I felt like I was part of an amusement park ride. Just your friendly neighborhood Defense Forces controlling the natives, nothing to see here. A little girl stuck her tongue out at me. I decided I was finished, and hailed the next Service coming out the village. Unfortunately, it smelled like sewage. Fortunately, no one could tell I was farting.

And here I am in this little family café, eating pizza and drinking Diet Coke and pushing buttons on my laptop. I was starting to understand why Alison said she needed a break. I’m still ready to stay until summer, visa permitting, and I want to live here in the long-term, but I haven’t lost anyone to violence. Touch wood, as they say. So Alison was going back to the States for a while. Who knows, maybe I’ll see her there someday. Maybe we’ll get some coffee, like two girls from Seattle.

“Ahwe, ahwe!”

Saturday, December 10, 2011

J:okay, tell me
it doesnt show up on google maps
J: yeah
M:oh weird
han gon
what it close to?
M: oy
if you type in tel aviv first
then ramallah
it'll find it
J:oh, okay
M: today i'm going to bethlehem
J: cool
is ramallah in israel
cu zthats what popped up
M: nah
it's the occupied palestinian territories
someday google will get it right
if you ask someone from bethlehem where they're from, they'll say palestine
J: hmm
i see
whats it near?
M: ramallah?
it's near jerusalem
J: ok
M: hmmmmm
k, so in a nutshell
you can see the west bank divided from israel if you google image it
the west bank is under israeli military occupation
so its status is "disputed"
when i'm in the west bank, i say i'm in palestine
cause that's what the people who live here, the palestinians, call it
J: the weskbank like - across the mississippi?
M: hahaha
same name

Dammit Google Maps!

Here's the illegal Israeli settlement of Eli, near Ramallah, and here is the Palestinian village of Luban Sharqia, where my friend Nancy lives. Eli has street names, and a shopping center, and a swimming pool. Luban Sharqia is a gray blob, as is the considerably larger village to the north. Obviously, Eli has PR people who are solely focused on legitimization. And the people of Luban Sharqia just want to live on their land. Wait, they need a PR firm for that? It's easy to see how people don't venture into the topic of Israel/Palestine have the impressions that they have. Palestinian PR is so behind in funding and development, that the information is only available to people who actively seek it out.

We need to get Al Aqaba on the map, it's just an empty space next to Tayasir. But now the city of Aqqaba is Aqaba, so I think my Couch Surfing correspondence has had some misleading effect...oy.

Thursday, December 8, 2011


Maan News-Palestinian Children to Learn Brazilian Capoeira

RAMALLAH (Ma'an) -- The Ramallah based representative office of Brazil will sign an agreement with an NGO on Tuesday to implement a "capoeira" project in refugee camps across Palestine.

The project is supported by UNRWA and will entail training sessions by teachers in the Brazilian martial art. The project will take place in Jalazoun and Shufat refugee camps and will be run by the Bidna Capoeira NGO, a statement from the representative office of Brazil said.

A pilot project took place earlier this year. Children from the project will perform at the signing ceremony which will take place in Jalazoun camp.

Capoeira is an art form which combines martial arts, dance, sport and music. It was developed by African slaves brought to Brazil.

I took one Capoeira class in New Orleans. It was so satisfying! But I was a little flustered when we were asked to try a hand-less cartwheel on the first lesson.

Defy gravity. Just do it.

The brighter side of Gaza

These are beautiful photos of Gaza, taken this summer. I rarely seek these images out, so I fall into the trap of thinking Gaza is a forlorn pile of rubble. Like the West Bank is a dangerous place, and New Orleans is a sad place.

I also have this assumption that going to Gaza would harm my ability to get back into the West Bank. Unfortunately, the occupation doesn't have a brighter side. But I'd like to check this out.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


I was sitting at computer when a jet ripped right overhead. It was so low and so loud I thought, "oh shit, they're going to bomb us." I ran to the front door, unlocked it, and saw the plane flying away at almost eye-level. It had gone right over the apartment. My heart was racing. How could they do this when they know there are children here? Do they think it's a game? I grabbed my camera and perched outside for a few minutes and captured two more of the same sounds. I saw about six or seven planes at different altitudes. One was flying close with red lights but it was almost silent.

Yesterday I heard a sonic boom over Tubas. It doesn't phase anyone anymore. This is so messed up.

"Free Shipping on Chanukah Gifts from the JNF Store."

Oy, I just got an e-mail from the Jewish National Fund. I forgot I was still on their list.

Bring the Joy of Chanukah into your Home with Rite Lite Chanukah Candles
Enhance your holiday celebration with beautiful hand-dipped candles and support JNF at the same time.

Share a Holiday Greeting with an All-Occasion Water Card
A folio of all-occasion greeting cards highlighting JNF's achievements in water resource management in Israel. These cards are a perfect way to send greetings to your family, friends and business associates for Chanukah or any occasion.

Send a Message of Peace with a Sderot Tulip
This unique flower is sculpted from the steel of a Kassam rocket that landed in Sderot. Limited quantities available.
On the JNF website it shows the mayor of Sderot giving one of these to Jason Alexander...

Honor Your Loved Ones with Personalized Tree Certificates for Chanukah
Learn how to save up to 50% on trees by opening an E-Z tree account today.

Support JNF's work to alleviate the water shortage in Israel. And now for a limited time, double the impact of your contribution. The Gene and Marlene Epstein Humanitarian Fund has offered to match dollar-for-dollar every gift for water.

Could they at least wait until they suck the Palestinians dry before crying about their water crisis? How about a tear-desalination plant...

Incidentally, Adam Keller posted this in his blog today:

JNF Losing the Battle for the Reputation

And a bit different, yet similar, issue: Since 1967, the JNF has made an effort to take control of Palestinian lands and properties, and was not very scrupulous about the means used in achieving this purpose. For example, the JNF had been conducting a years-long struggle to evict the Sutrin Family from their home in the village of Silwan in East Jerusalem. The state authorities declared the family house to be "absentee property" and therefore transferred ownership to the "Custodian of Absentee Property", who transferred ownership to the Jewish National Fund, which intended to remove the Palestinians from the house and hand it over to the settler association Elad, which had already taken over in similar ways many Palestinian buildings and lands in Silwan. Last week, the twelve members of the Sutrin Family were going be thrown out of their home by a court order issued at the request of the Jewish National Fund.

Had the story not burst out in the Israeli and international media, by now the settlers would have already been in possession of the house. But the publicity caused the JNF a lot of confusion and headache - especially when the Rabbis for Human Rights organized a campaign of letters of protest to both the JNF directors in Israel and their fellows in the United States, who could be expected to be more open to the arguments. The JNF people tried to assert that it was not them demanding expulsion of the Palestinian family, but only the settlers who asked the court for the eviction order. But it turned out that the request to the court to issue the eviction order was lodged by the lawyers in the name of the JNF (though, indeed, the same lawyers also happen to represent settlers). In the end, JNF announced that (at least for the time being) the eviction order would not be carried out ...

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Makloubeh Diaries

One of the women who works in the kindergarten taught me how to make makloubeh yesterday. I think I'm ready to try it myself :)

Highlights of a distinguished makloubeh-eating career:

You flip it over and....

Boom! Delicious makloubeh. This was made by my host mum in Amman, Jordan.

In Deir Jareer (near Ramallah) with the Mubarak brothers...(and my brother Tristan)

In Tayasir, made by Haj Sami's sister...

In Bil'in, at the home of Rani Burnat, with French activists...

In Tubas, my students invited me over for my favorite dish...

In Haj Sami's house with my mother, our friend Catherine, and my grandmother.

And this is Umm Waed's batch from yesterday, with eggplant, cauliflower, potato, and chickpeas....mmmmm.


This is why I avoid Hebron.

What do you call this, but terrorism? It's sickening.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Three stories caught my eye last night.

One was another walk-out at the University of Michigan. I love these guys.

Another was the approval of 650 new units in the Israeli settlement of Pisgat Ze'ev. The Jerusalem Municipality approved the construction on land stolen from the villages of Beit Hanina and Hizma. Usually they're just names of villages I don't know, except now I know that Souli is from Hizma, and I ate mansaf there with him and his cousins. One of the little boys speaks in classical Arabic because he mimics his cartoons, and one girl looks like Gaby Hoffman, with a movie star smile. So now it's a little more than a name.


Lastly, a statement from Avraham Duvdevani of the World Zionist Organization:

Of the average 19, 000 annual olim to Israel in recent years, 9,000 have come from the former Soviet Union and 2,000 from Ethiopia.

"To have less than 10,000 a year from the Western world is a terrible situation," he said. "It puts Israel in danger.

"Every year the [population] gap between the Arab citizens of Israel and the Jewish citizens of Israel is closing by 60,000 a year. So we need 60,000 Jews a year to come to freeze the gap between us and the Arabs."

This is why people are going to care less and less about the preservation of the Jewish state. We're being spoonfed this clash of civilizations BS, like it's Arabs against Jews, wait, which Jews? Aren't there people called Arab Jews? Or are they not Western enough to matter?

Orientalism is so fascinating.

Anyways, here's the Mondoweiss article: A Zionist Appeal to Western Jews Contains Racist Overtones


KKG Stocking Stuffing Philanthropy

Come join your Kappa friends and give back this holiday season!
We will put together stockings to benefit children through
Communities in Schools of Greater New Orleans.
Light fare and refreshments will be served.

These were always awkward and fascinating events. Awkward because I didn't know anyone and sorority alumnae functions don't really fit into the New Orleans welcome wagon. They were fascinating because of the shoes, and the hats, and our conversations.

Last year I went to a cocktail hour, a tea party, and a crawfish boil in three different Garden District mansions. Save for the Symphony Chorus concert after-party, I didn't have any access to this world. I think AmeriCorps gave me the best of New Orleans, by default the accessible side. My friends and I went to no-cover shows, Ms. Mae's for dollar drinks, and joined the volunteers and gutter punks for free Indian food at the Hare Krishna temple every Sunday. We knew the homeowners of the shotgun houses we fixed and the charter school students we taught, but our interactions with the upper class were few and far between.

To me, the Garden District could have easily been a theme park, just a huge lavish exhibit full of well-landscaped, strategically lit, hollow homes. But as I biked down St. Charles at night, sometimes I'd slow down and try to see inside their windows. There were big parlors with pianos, and mantlepieces and big paintings. It didn't make the houses any more real, they looked like blown-up doll houses to me. The massive oak tree canopies and the sudden rambling streetcar with the flickering lights made it even more surreal. One time the sight of the yellow-lit streetcar approaching through the darkness reminded me of the cat-bus from My Neighbor Totoro. But...oftentimes I was drunk.

My point is, thanks to the oaths I took my freshmen year, I was thrice given the opportunity to (attempt to) assemble a matching outfit and see how the other half lives in New Orleans.

When I gave a shpeel about AmeriCorps to a Kappa chapter meeting, I mentioned my plans to move to Palestine, and got a room full of wide eyes and blank stares. They were all sitting on floor cushions, and I remember it was raining that day, and most of the girls were wearing galoshes, which were probably cooler than UGG boots at that point. I remember always wanting a pair for New Orleans, I just never got around to buying them.

Palestine was usually a conversation-slower at the alumnae parties too, but at Cybill's tea party, a nice lady in a large black hat told me to forward my blog link to the group, because she really wanted to keep track of my adventures. That was a really nice feeling. I was glad that I'd taken a chance and gone to the party alone, even though I was wearing a navy blue dress and black shoes, and made a conscious decision that I was too hungry to eat gracefully. If my Kappa chapter had etiquette dinners, I must have skipped them. But they couldn't have prepared me to be an AmeriCorps on food stamps next to a fancy buffet. All protocol goes out the window....

Anyways, if you're in New Orleans and you want to crash a stocking stuffer party, see me for details. I'll show you the secret handshake.

jkjk. but do support your local schools.

Europeans invade Al Aqaba

Eighteen people stayed at the Guest House on Friday night. For a while I just called them "the French group" because I thought they were like the French group from last Christmas, foreign activists traveling around the West Bank, but I was quite mistaken. They were from all over Europe, and they mostly lived in Beit Sahour (next to Bethlehem) and worked for the Alternative Information Center.

While I'd been fretting over how we're going to fit everyone in with only 11 beds and 3 winter blankets and no heaters, the leaders of the group assured me that Haj Sami had been upfront about our situation, and their standards for accommodations were fortunately very low. They'd been told to expect tents...or something. So I relaxed a bit.

We started off with a meeting with Haj Sami, where everyone whipped out their notebooks and Haj Sami had Nassir, the translator, explain the story of Al Aqaba in English. People asked questions about the military camps and demolition orders, and I was able to answer a few questions, like the army said that Al Aqaba looks like South Lebanon, that's why they used the village for training...I made a mental note to learn more history because some of it still baffles me.

After the meeting, the mood lightened quite a bit, and slowly but surely, eighteen people in one Guest House evolved into something of a party.


Realizing that I'm so grateful for having lugged my guitar to Palestine. We heard Hasta Siempre, Comandante and several Italian revolutionary songs.

Playing Mafioso, which has to be the most fun summer camp game ever. While everyone had their eyes closed and Simone was explaining how the mafia was patrolling the streets of Al Aqaba deciding who to kill, Yassir was translating to the other Palestinians and they were all cracking up, which made Simone's storytelling even funnier. Every morning, the village would awake to find a body in some horrendous fashion, and every day they would gather in the town square to decide which villager was mafia, and who to kill for the crime. After the accusations and the defense, we would vote, put one person to death, then the villagers would go back to sleep, and the mafia would open their eyes and decide who to kill next. In the end, the mafia triumphed by having a 5 to 4 majority in the village. I was mafia. That was fun.

Our resident Dane reading Where the Wild Things Are to everyone...sho y3ani "rumpus?"

Playing Dixit, a much more beautiful version of Apples to Apples where one person says a word or phrase, then everyone puts down the picture card that could match it, and people get points for choosing the original correctly, and so on....I loved it because the cards are stunning.

Then we played some more music and went to bed. We had to put mattresses together and put three people on them, someone slept on the couch, I'm quite positive that everyone was cold in their little summer blankets. Fortunately, some brought sleeping bags.

We woke up at 7:20AM to Abdullah yelling "the mafioso has killed our driver, and stolen our bus, and now we have to go back to Beit Sahour by walking!" I'm usually the grumpiest person in the morning, but I was so happy then. I didn't want them to go.

Then we took a tour of the village and the demolished roads, most everyone signed my guest book, and I promised to visit them all in Beit Sahour the next weekend.

"Ahh, next weekend should be a good Saturday to visit."
"Yeah, why?"
"We are having a discussion on Apartheid. Then we drink."
"'s called the AICafe, but there's no coffee....just beer."

I think this is the start of a beautiful friendship.