Wednesday, September 28, 2011


Israel Closes West Bank Crossings for Jewish Holiday

(Ma'an) -- The Israeli army announced its closure of the West Bank from midnight Tuesday until midnight Saturday, a statement said late Tuesday.

The Allenby Crossing between the West Bank and Jordan will also operate under reduced hours on Wednesday and Thursday, as Israeli Jews celebrate Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year.

Israeli Minister of Defense Ehud Barak ordered the four-day closure of crossings bridging the West Bank to Israel and Jerusalem, the army statement said.

No Palestinians will be permitted to leave the West Bank during the holiday period, except patients cleared to receive medical care in Jerusalem or Israel, according to the release.

For four days, even the fraction of Palestinians with permits can't get into Jerusalem. aslfjng;dfkjgn;wdkhnprowepif.
This is the history of Al Aqaba village, as told by Rebuilding Alliance, the non-profit that paid my way here.


Al Aqaba is a small village that sits on the western edge of the Jordan Valley in the West Bank. Most of its residents depend on agriculture and animal herding for their livelihood. When Israel occupied the West Bank in 1967, the army built three bases around Al Aqaba and began conducting military exercises, often within the village itself.

12 residents were killed and 38 wounded as a result of these exercises. Among those wounded is the mayor of Al Aqaba, Haj Sami Sadeq, who has been confined to a wheelchair since 1971 when, at the age of 16, he was shot three times while working the fields with his parents. Due to the unsafe conditions, over the years 700 villagers have left Al Aqaba, leaving it with its current population of 300.

In 2001, the village won a historic victory when the Israeli High Court ordered the Israeli army to remove one of its military bases from village land and cease using the village for training exercises. The village hoped the reduced military presence would allow the 700 exiled villagers to return. In anticipation of this, Al Aqaba asked the Rebuilding Alliance for help with building a kindergarten that could accommodate the children of both the current and returning residents. The kindergarten has been completed and now serves 130 children of parents who live both in and outside the village.

Despite the court victory, in 2004 Al Aqaba’s very existence was threatened when nearly the entire village was issued demolition orders by the Israeli army. The official reason given was a lack of building permits. Because it resides in Area C of the West Bank, Israel is in full control of military and civilian administration, including the issuance of building permits.

These demolition orders ignored the fact that in 1998, Al Aqaba submitted a master plan to the Israeli Civil Administration in order to attain building permits for construction. The Civil Administration never responded, following a pattern of Israeli refusal to issue building permits to Palestinians in Area C while allowing Israeli settlements to expand. The village again submitted a land-use plan in 2006 only to have it ignored once more.

In 2008, the Israeli High Court rejected Al Aqaba’s petition to have the demolition order voided, citing the village’s lack of building permits, the very same permits which the village had previously applied for and been denied.

Here's more information: Rebuilding Alliance-How Did We Get Here?

September 27th

This has been in my head all day...

Dough, the stuff that buys my beer
Ray, the guy who sells me beer
Me, the one who drinks the beer
Fa, a long long way to beer!
So, I think I’ll have a beer….
La, la la la la la beer!
Tea, no thanks I’ll have a beer!
And that brings us back to dough, dough,dough,dough…

As a newly implanted teacher I’ve been thinking smarmily of Julie Andrews and Deborah Kerr singing “Do, a Deer” and “Getting to Know You” with their students. Mixed with the anticipation of Taybeh Octoberfest on Saturday and the Sigma Chi entry at Whitman Choral Contest 2009, I guess this is what you get…

September 26th

I can’t decide if it’s a good idea to play a song for my adult English class every day. It’s an exposure to American pop culture that my students wouldn’t get otherwise, and there’s something about music that teaches language so well. So far I’ve tried

Newsies-Seize the Day
James Taylor-Shed a Little Light
Rent-Seasons of Love

I also realized how effective it is to just hang out and converse. I have five guys that come to class consistently, and their English is pretty good. They just don’t have a lot of chances to talk. So tonight, I went with three of my students to a festival in Tubas. I think Haj Sami was a little alarmed that I just wanted to go out on the town with these young men, even though he knew them. I saw him giving Orwa a pep talk. On the way over, Orwa and Ameen were conversing with me in English and using the time words we talked about. “Before two days, I mean, two days ago…” I found out that one of my students had spent three years in prison for throwing stones in the first Intifada. From age 18-21. Can you imagine those three years of your life, being locked up?
We parked in the city and I saw that the empty lot they’d used for the demonstration was filled with chairs. Boys were standing on chairs in front waving Palestinian flags, Fateh flags, and DFLP (Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine) flags. They don’t like Abbas, but they do support his statehood bid. I heard them chanting,

Yalla, yalla Filisteen! (Go, go, Palestine!)
Miya-arba-wa-tisreen! (One hundred ninety four!)

We sat down behind them and bought coffee from one of the wandering vendors. But we couldn’t see anything, so they got me up on the roof of one of the buildings, while they stayed on the ground. This roof was for women. Not really an official thing, just so the women and children would be comfortable without menfolk hovering about. I stayed on my own side, watching the dancers from Syria and Lebanon, and taking some videos. One of the women came up and gave me coffee. A few minutes later, she came back and gave me orange juice. After 20 minutes or so, a few women and girls were on my side, checking out the view. The girls were giggling, and I knew they weren’t totally comfortable standing next to me. After a few minutes, one of them asked “what’s your name?” and we started talking. Her name was Lawan, her friends couldn’t speak English but English was her favorite language and she got straight A’s. They were all in 8th grade in the school in Fara (sp?), a nearby village. I was trying to speak Arabic so everyone could understand, but Lawan wanted to speak English. She was taller than the rest, and the only one wearing a hijab. She asked me if I had Facebook, and I wrote down my name for her before I went back downstairs to find the guys. It occurred to me that my former students in New Orleans were now in 8th grade. Rachael was really into Eastern culture, whether Indian or Arabic, and I’d taught her to read and write Arabic on our end-of-school trip. I think her and Lawan would really get along. The thought made me really happy.
I saw two foreigners on the street. Thought about asking them what they were doing there, but I didn’t. I also saw a boy wearing a “No Day But Today” shirt. haha! Ameen bought me a falafel, after I said I wanted to buy a falafel. Then he told me the empty lot where the festival was used to be a police building, before the Israeli army demolished it five years ago (using the vocab, of course) during the second Intifada. And now everyone gathers there.
They drove me back to Al Aqaba. Our driver, one of my older students, who’s usually really quiet and tells Haj Sami that I need to speak slower, really liked Seasons of Love and had been talking about what he measures his life in all evening.
How would I measure my year? Cups of coffee seems like an easy one, but here you could have anywhere between one and ten little cups in a day, so it’s not very consistent. Service taxi rides? English classes? Awkward moments. Calls to prayer….I think I’ll have a parody ready by the time I leave.

September 25th

This post reads nine and a half pages in Word, and contains several flashbacks within flashbacks. I apologize for the sheer length of it, but people seemed to like that Inception movie...


It’s Sunday morning, and school is in session. I showed up before 7am to try and print out my first-day hand-outs, but no one was there except for Ali and Ola, a first and third grader. We hung out for 30 minutes while the janitor cleaned, and I realized my class wasn’t during school hours. Everyone showed up at 7:30 for assembly. I learned from the English teacher that the 9th and 10th grade boys were expected to get up 30 minutes early to take my class. Oh. Oh no. That won’t do.
“I have brothers. Different time is good.”
They’re going to try to find 30 minutes during the school day when the boys aren’t so….yeah.

So now it’s 8:30, I’m back on my old schedule so this is still suitable snooze time, but there are enough things to do. I didn’t get a chance to log the weekend, I was so tired last night and Haj Sami wanted to have a long discussion about why American culture allows girls to be promiscuous before marriage. At first I was a little uncomfortable but I realized that there was no one he could ask these questions of, and for a moral guardian of a community that is trying to employ foreigners full-time, it was an important topic. There were a lot of points on which we agreed. Girls at fifteen are generally stupid when it comes to relationships and kids need positive role models and guidance from their families. I think most girls want to get married in America too, but they’re afraid of making the wrong choice and hurting someone else and themselves…and in the process of being afraid they hurt other people and themselves…no, it’s not a perfect system. But I’d say neither is one where young women never get the chance to live independently, and young men are expected to be financially stable before they can kiss a girl. Everyone has their own ideal, and I found it difficult to explain the compromise. The best I could muster was the “buying a car” analogy before I starting yawning so hard that Haj Sami said, “ahh ok, goodnight ya Morgan” and left.

So I didn’t get the chance to put down my thoughts from this weekend, which seems so distant already, but I’ll take a whack at it (as Lindsay Lohan says in the Parent Trap).

I need a Snickers first.

Ok, hunger managed.

Rules for getting from Al Aqaba to Ramallah: #1: Don’t have classes on Thursday evenings. In Palestine it is W-E-E-K-E-N-D, it’s weekend.

#2: Leave the village by 3, or there won't be anyone else going to Nablus, and the taxi fare will double, and you’ll have to wait a long time.

#3: Know the difference between the East and West taxi station in Nablus, or you will take a long walk.

#4: When relying on a Service (shared taxi), plan to be somewhere at a certain time, and tell whoever you're meeting you'll be there an hour after that. Riding the New Orleans streetcars was great practice.

#5: Don’t be afraid to talk to people in the shared taxi.

#6: If the man next to you is resting his elbow on your hip, this is not necessary or accidental. There is plenty of space, so scoot!

The story: I got to Ramallah at 6:30, about an hour after I said I’d be there, my friend Ahmad met me downtown. I met his father in New Orleans last year, while he was on duty at the gas station store on Bayou St. John. He got me in touch with his family in Palestine, and I was able to visit them on my trip last Christmas. I’ve been in touch with Ahmad, who’s my age, and Hamude, who’s just younger than my brother (17). Ahmad and I walked around Ramallah for a while. I saw at least six foreigners on that walk, which was six more than last time. In Manara Circle there was a 40-foot chair with the words Palestine’s Right on it, in anticipation of the UN vote for Statehood.
I asked Ahmad if it ever rained in Palestine, and he laughed and said no.
We caught a ride up to his village, Deir Jareer. One of his friends kept talking about the car lights on the hill opposite the village, and Ahmad told me the settlers might still be there burning olive trees. I kept joking about going over there and seeing if there was anything we could do, and he laughed, but I wasn’t really joking. I kept thinking about it. We got to their house and hung out with his twin Khalid, who looks just like his dad, and Hamude, who just started 12th grade. We ate Ouzi, a dish with rice, chicken, nuts, peas and carrots, then watched the news, flipping between Al Jazeera English and Al Jazeera Arabic. The Prime Minister of England was talking about democracy in the Arab world, and how Palestinians deserve a state, but he STRESSED the need for direct negotiations. So no, they don’t deserve anything but what Israel feels generous enough to give back. We watched Disturbia instead.
Hamude showed me the pictures his friend posted on Facebook of the hill that was burned that day. I didn’t know that Deir Jareer had problems with the settlers, it seemed like such a quiet village, basically a suburb, just 20 minutes outside the city.
Ahmad and Khalid and I smoked argheelah, which made me light-headed. Khalid doesn’t speak much English but Ahmad and I talked for a long time about life, work, and learning languages. He’s starting a Spanish course and applying to IT jobs with the company working on the new Palestinian city, Rawabi. He taught me how to say still, yet, and almost. Helikat (still) sounds like a cat helicopter, so I still remember that one.
That night, I slept in the bedroom on the only bed. Everyone else slept on mats and couches. Things like that aren’t even open for discussion. I was so tired by midnight that I thought I would fall asleep immediately. But as I started drifting off, I heard a mosquito buzzing by my ear. Game over. I put the blanket up over my head, but it found my face. They always do. I let it land on my cheek and I smacked it. Boom. I tried to fall asleep again but I anticipated the next one, and it came with a friend. The harmony was too much. I pulled my scarf out of my bag and threw it over my head, but the material was too thick to breathe through, so I wrapped it so that only my nose, mouth and chin were exposed. A mosquito tried to fly up my nose.
I’d had trouble with mosquitoes only twice this year. The labor day hike to Larch Lakes was the buggiest four days I’d ever experienced, but I was fortunate enough to have my grandmother’s mosquito net to walk around in, and our tent was kept bug-free. Since my family left India, I’ve always slept with my hair over my ear, just in case mosquitoes were buzzing around, but those cases were few and far between. What struck me was that the last time this happened was New Years morning, in the village I was headed to the next morning, in Bil’in. It was the calm before the shitstorm of New Years Day.

(diddly doo, diddly doo)

The mosquitoes were awful. Not like swarming awful, like “I’m going to hang out on the ceiling the dive-bomb you when you’re just getting comfortable” kind of awful. Several times I turned on the light and jumped up and down, thwacking the ceiling with my shoe. I couldn’t fall asleep until dawn, just like the previous night, which I had spent at a hostel in Jerusalem.

I had missed my flight out of Tel Aviv. It hadn’t even occurred to me that the most security-obsessed state in the world would have stricter airport procedures, and my arrival 1.5 hours before departure (throw in the fact that I’m an overly-confident traveler) in a line full of people that were 3 hours early…drew no sympathy. I was approached by three different security people about my Jordanian and Egyptians stamps. Why was I studying Arabic? Because I wanted to? My carry-ons were unpacked and re-packed without my American phone and notebook full of contacts, and I was singled out for a special screening, where a girl in training went over all of my hemlines. I missed my flight, and was grounded for five days. It was midnight, and I was a mess. I didn’t know how to get change, or make sense of the Hebrew instructions on my phone card, or call the airline, or Expedia, or home. I had no way of reaching my brother, who was in an ashram somewhere in Israel. I could reach him with internet, maybe in a day or two. I was confident of two things: how to find the Citadel Youth Hostel in the maze of Jerusalem’s Old City, and that I was welcome in the village of Bil’in, which was having its weekly demonstration in 12 hours.
I got to the hostel at 3am, slept on a bunk bed until 10, then caught a service taxi to Ramallah. It was Friday prayer when I arrived, and the city was almost deserted. I stuck out like a sore thumb with my little duffel bag, but stranger after stranger directed me to the taxi stand. There was no Service to Bil’in, but I paid for a private taxi. I was already late.
I think the most alone I’ve ever felt was getting out of that taxi outside the mosque in Bil’in. I didn’t know if anyone would remember me from the week prior, when I’d tagged along with a large group of French activists. We’d eaten makloubeh with one of the families and planted olive trees near the “separation fence,” which somehow invited a shower of sounds bombs and tear gas. How this is supposed to put down a solidarity movement I’ll never know. Going to Bil’in is like Occupation 101, you get to see the settlement, the wall, and the soldiers all at once. It’s a startling backdrop to the village, which is warm and friendly and often visited by foreigners on peace delegations, heavy-hearted by the time they get there, but more than willing to be uplifted. I fell in love with the spirit and the people there, and it might have had a little to do with the children who took care of the middle aged French activists as they cried and wheezed from the tear gas.
I smelled the gas when I got out of the taxi, which was strange. It was a little windy, but the demonstration was outside the village. Since it was a larger-than-usual demonstration, it made sense that there was more gas. I made my way out of the village toward the wall as some of the youngsters were heading away from the demo…I had missed most of it. But there were still dozens of people there. A drum circle from Israel, a sax player who played while dodging plumes of gas, and several other villagers and foreigners at varying distances from the action. I stayed up the hill, with my duffel, looking around. The man who’s home I stayed at the week before saw me and recognized me. He came up and offered to take my bag back to his house. I had a place to stay that night. Excellent. We went back to his house and I got to see his 2-year-old daughter Labiba (Lulu) again. When she heard the pfft pfft of tear gas being released she ran around in circles and yelled “Jeish! Jeish!” Army! Army!
“Wein al Jeish?” her dad asked playfully? Where is the army?
“Fil jadaaar…” she said like a 2-year-old. At the wall.
We sat out on their front stoop while my friend picked grapefruits from his trees and squeezed juice for the retreating demonstrators. Some of them politely declined, they had to get back to Tel Aviv, some of them took a seat. I went down the road to visit the office of the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee, and I saw one of the Israeli activists hugging one of the committee members goodbye, calling him “brother.” That stuck with me. I learned later that the activist was Jonathan Pollack, who had just been sentenced to three months in prison for participating in a critical mass bike ride in Tel Aviv against the offensive in Gaza. He was saying goodbye to his friend Hamde, who was leaving for a year in Germany. Suddenly Hamde was talking to me about Qalandia, and I realized we had had this conversation before. I had been with the French people at a demonstration at Qalandia checkpoint the week before, and after nine people had been detained for running past the gate (really it wasn’t the most productive demonstration), we were all hanging out by the wall, seeing if they would be released. Shortly before we left, I turned around and saw two Palestinians fighting in the street. I remember thinking, “we’re here supporting them and they’re fighting each other.” The two were separated, one attacked the other again, and the police were called. A minute later I saw one of the guys amongst our group, bleeding from his head. He put his head under a spigot and toweled off, and that was that…until I was in the committee office that evening and he apologized to me for what had happened. I was confused, I didn’t remember his face.
“I never fight, but these two were talking about the women in the group…”
“I didn’t think you were violent, don’t apologize…”
“No, no, my mother she will kill me…”
I realized that my assumption had been wrong. The two kids had made a crude remark about us, and Hamde had leapt up in defense. And now he was apologizing and talking about his mother, while people coming in and out of the office cracked jokes about him fighting kids and getting beaten.
“I’m so sorry, I’m not a violent person…” Here we were again, mid-conversation before I realized who he was and what he was talking about. I just laughed.
“I didn’t think you were-“
“I never fight, it was just these kids what they were saying, you know if someone says something about your mother or your sister…”
And that was that. He showed me some of the videos of the previous demonstrations, including the YouTube video of the shooting of his cousin Bassem Abu Rahmah, which I’d read about on the village website. Bil’in was still mourning his death two years later.
I went back to my friend’s house, where there was a band playing in a circle. They were a hipster-ish bunch with a saxophone, violin, trumpet, clarinet, and a few percussion instruments. They were singing Bella Ciao. It was an intoxicating sound. Afterwards I asked them what the song meant, and the clarinet player said “it’s anti-fascist song.” They were Italian.
Hamde showed up and said, “You should sleep at the international’s apartment. It’s for the internationals. Tell him you’re going there.” I did want to be around the younger folks, especially since it was New Years Eve, so I picked up my stuff and promised to return the next night. Apparently I would stay in Bil’in for a little while longer. I went to Hamde’s house first to drink tea and we talked about the village and Bassem. Hamde had been working in Tel Aviv illegally when he found out about his cousin’s death. He took a course in photography at Bethlehem University and became a full-time journalist at home in Bil’in. He was leaving for a year in Germany to teach photography and be closer to his fiancĂ©e. His brothers and cousins kept passing through and we all ended up in the international house smoking argheelah and laughing at my Arabic. And probably a thousand other things I couldn’t understand. This was where the boys left me to sleep, and I tried so hard, but those dammed mosquitoes…..
I woke up at ten or eleven, seeing that Hamde had come in. I wasn’t ready to be awake, so I played dead and immediately passed out again. I woke up again past noon and changed. While I was brushing my teeth Hamde came out of the next bedroom, apparently he had been napping. We walked up the hill towards his house, when a boy came up and rattled off something in Arabic. Hamde turned to me wide-eyed and said, “My cousin, she is died.”

The night before, his sister had told us that she was in the hospital because of the tear gas. That wasn’t uncommon, but this was only the second demonstration-related death in the village. Now Hamde was dashing up the hill while his sister beckoned me into their house. They shared their food with me, small plates of things while the women were preparing a gargantuan meal for their relatives who were in mourning next door. A cousin, a tall pre-teen girl in jeans, a long-sleeve shirt and hijab was across the room, fidgeting with her phone. She was staring off into space.
“Did you know her well?”
“Yes, she was my cousin. She was a very nice girl”
She pointed to the poster of Bassem in the house and said, “She Bassem sister.”
She continued to flip her phone up and down her leg, up and down, up and down, staring at nothing.
Then she heard something outside and said, “you want to see?”
I followed her outside.
It had happened so fast. The body had been brought from the hospital, and a crowd was carrying her to her family’s house, where the women were gathered in mourning. The crowd was so immense that I couldn’t see into the family’s house. Someone was shouting “Allahu akbar!” God is great! into the megaphone and the crowd of mostly men and boys joined in the chant. I was stunned. I was conditioned to think this is what you hear before a terrorist blows himself up, this is something you hear when you think of extremism, holy war, Westerners beware! And there were other Westerners there. Some I recognized from the day before, some were new, some were reporters. I saw the anchorwoman from Al Jazeera, who interviewed me at Qalandia because I was the only American. I wondered if she recognized me. She smiled back at me. I said hello to Rani, who hosted the lunch for the French group, and stood by him watching the procession. They carried the body into the mosque, then emerged after praying to bury her next to Bassem. There were hundreds of people standing in the street and watching from the cemetery. I couldn’t understand what anyone was saying, but I was told later that they were saying they would continue their nonviolent struggle for peace and justice. I looked at one of the posters on the village wall. It was a picture of her that had already been distributed and posted all over the village. She was a martyr. I read her name slowly…Ja-wa-hr. I’d never heard that name before, did I get it right?

When I found Hamde later in the office, he was writing a report with pictures to send out to the press. He told me his cousin who was there had told him that Jawaher wasn’t at the demonstration; she in her house and the wind carried the gas fumes and suffocated her there, about 500 feet away. I remembered the gas wafting in the village. Hamde asked me to check the wording of the report, and I ended up re-writing the sentence about Jawaher’s location. The reports sprung up everywhere, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Guardian, Al Jazeera, Haaretz. It wasn’t just the incident. Thousands marched in Tel Aviv to protest her death, and Americans marched outside a manufacturing plant in Pennsylvania that sold tear gas canisters to Israel. They marched in the snow in Boston too. In Tel Aviv, protesters threw used canisters over the fence of the U.S. Ambassador’s house. I was surprised at how much press Bil’in was getting. But it wasn’t all good press. Jerusalem Post and YNet started off their articles with “Palestinians claim…” and go off on the vagaries of the story. The hospital reports from Ramallah were suspect, the Israeli Defense Force reported that there was not an abnormal amount of gas fired. No interviews with witnesses other than soldiers. Jawaher may have had asthma, and her family was exploiting her death for the Palestinian cause. In fact, it may have been an honor killing! Whatever the point of skepticism was, it pointed to this: the people of Bil’in were lying, the hospital in Ramallah was lying, the Abu Rahma’s were lying, there was not a shred of integrity or humanity to be expected from this lot. Understanding, anger and nausea started to sink in. I’ve never seen hatred and ignorance so openly and collectively expressed. Now I knew what the Israeli activists who came to Bil’in and hugged their Arab brothers were up against. It’s not one people against another. It’s people who refuse to be afraid, to assume the worst in others, against this superiority complex and an occupation that feed off of one another.
A few weeks later, before reporting to prison, Jonathan Pollack stated that Jawaher was at the demonstration and was taken away in the ambulance from the same area. I told Hamde about it, just in case the discrepancy would cause problems. I think we’d wanted to believe the cousin’s story because it showed how strong the gas was. The arguments continued…where was Jawaher? I read a lot of comments from marines who had been tear gassed as part of basic training, it’s no big deal, they said. It just burns. I’m trying to imagine Jawaher in basic training.
Hamde found an article that pointed out his initial report, with my sentence highlighted. The writers of the article called him out specifically, asking, “why would her cousin lie about her whereabouts?” It was released in four parts, called The Jawaher Abu Rahma Hoax. I knew it pained Hamde to read it, not for himself, but for his family and Bil’in. I commented on a few articles, invited people to see Bil’in for themselves. As nasty as some of the refusals were, I couldn’t think that Bil’in was better off without them.

(diddly doo, diddly doo)

Ahmad woke me up at 10 and I was groggy and covered with mosquito bites. We ate breakfast and taxied down to Ramallah by noon. Again, no Service to Bil’in this Friday. We walked around the mostly empty city waiting for his friend to pick us up and generously take us to the village. The only people around were foreigners in cafes and ice cream parlors, and the press setting up to film the rally for statehood. There was a big stage and it looked like a lot of people were expected to show up after prayer. I debated staying in the city to watch it, but I had blindly counted on staying in Bil’in for the night, so the earlier I arrived, the better. We climbed through the hills and over, into several villages, and I realized I’d never really looked out over Bil’in. Past the settlements, you could see well into Israel.
Ahmad and his friends wouldn’t let me walk off by myself, so I told them to park by the mosque and wait for prayers to end. Some youths were amassing along the street, where Jawaher’s procession had been on New Years Day. I brought Ahmad over to a big clump of foreigners and rested easy. It’s always a fun sight to see. You have Spaniards, Swedes, Brits, Americans in all manner of dress, while the committee members pass out flags and balloons and everyone’s talking amongst themselves, explaining how the demo works, greeting old friends, and I saw Haitham. Haitham is in his thirties, and he’s a teddy bear. He’s a close friend of Hamde’s and I got to spend a lot of time with him in those five days in January. So I’d called him the day before, and he was the only one aware of my coming. We caught up for a few minutes, I introduced him to Ahmad, who was satisfied and headed back to Ramallah. The march began.
1, 2, 3, 4, Occupation no more! 5, 6, 7, 8, Palestine will be state! I saw Iyad Burnat, who had greeted me before, carrying an American flag that said VETO on it.
“Morgan, Morgan…..”
“I’m sorry we burn your flag today.”
“Haha, I’m sorry for a lot of things.” Behind me I heard a quiet chorus of “Amrikia? uhh. yes.”
We marched to the fence, and the fence was no longer there. In the last few months, it had been dismantled, as per the Israeli High Court’s order from 2007, I think.
We marched straight on through, following four or five cars. We walked through the olive trees, to the concrete wall around one of the settlements that stood on Bil’in’s land. Iyad put the flag on the barbed wire fence around the wall and all the activists snapped photos and video of the VETO flag burning. Ashraf Abu Rahmah took a cluster of black, green, red and white balloons and stood on a rock by the soldiers, hoisting them up high. The soldiers were peeping out from behind the wall. They looked a little sillier now. People were chanting, waving flags. After a few minutes they let the tear gas fly. I forgot how much that stuff burns. But I got some video of the gas. And some of Yonatan Shapiro flying a Palestinian flag kite. I’d heard his name, but I didn’t know that he was the pioneer of the Israeli pilot refusnik movement, and now was a well-known activist. It made me smile watching him because he looked like he was free of fear, like he wasn’t afraid to love his friends and fly a kite, even while being gassed by his own country’s soldiers. There’s a very real fear about it, like if something is flying at you, your instinct is to dodge it, flight or flight response, and the adrenaline rushes…but I could tell by the way this man was flying his kite, like Bassem flew a kite in the posters around the village, that there was a certain resignation to the cheapening of life in this conflict. Dammit, if I don’t have the freedom to fly a kite right here, right now, then what’s the point?

After the fifth round of tear gas, people started to head back to Bil’in. Haitham kicked someone out of his passenger seat and said, “Yalla Morgan.” I got in, and we beeped our way through the activists. He asked me if I wanted to see the land that was liberated. I said yes, and he swerved into a side road and started scrambling through the olive groves toward the settlement.
“This hummer,” he joked. The guys in the back seat were grumbling about the detour.
We stopped on a look-out where we could see two other large settlements, and Haitham pointed at the land sloping down, where they weren’t allowed to plant or build because there was a 500 meter buffer zone around the settlements. He took us back to Bil’in, stopped by Adeeb Abu Rahma’s house so I could visit his girls Tutu and Tala, but they were all at a wedding, so Haitham took me back to his house to show me his latest film projects. He has a really snazzy computer and new editing software, and I was really impressed/jealous. His wife brought us lunch and we talked about the last English teacher, Susie from Britain. I said maybe I’ll come teach in Bil’in next, and she said she’d be my first student. Their son Karme is adorable. He’s been sick for a long time, I think with a muscular disorder, but he’s the smiliest, most affectionate little boy ever. Haitham commented that he’d wanted to finish his house, since there were cracks in the walls and they weren’t painted, and there was no furniture. The money instead went to the doctor. I told him I used to paint houses, and I would do the painting for him. He seemed incredulous, strange females doing manual labor, it’s a tough sell. I tried his wife, she laughed too.
I started translating the weekly demonstration report for Haitham. The Google Translate English was so rough that it would’ve taken me about half an hour, but halfway through Haitham got a call from an activist in Qusra. He spoke through the window, “Ya Morgan, there is two people killed. I must go. You want to go?” I thought for a second. It’s hard to explain what was going through my head. All I remember thinking is that I was safe with Haitham, and then again, there’s the resignation. And if my presence was helpful, I wanted to help.
“I am sorry,” Haitham said as we left his house, “this is our life.”
We waited for a car to pick us up. I was given the front seat. That was another non-negotiable, and the only thing that made me feel like a nuisance on that trip. Generosity and propriety.
We went out of Bil’in a way I’d never been before, through other hill-top villages. Haitham joked about our driver’s English and I was supposed to test him. I said, where are you from? He said, “shoo?” what? and they all cracked up. He defended himself, saying that he understood almost everything, but he couldn’t speak. Same with my students. We climbed higher and higher, and our driver pointed ahead to the Mediterranean sea. I was blown away. I’d been around the West Bank and always looked inward at the cities, but I’d never looked outward and seen Israel and the sea. We were looking right down on Tel Aviv. Now I understood why the settlements were such an easy sell. They’re so close, and their views are astounding.
We drove right by Nabi Saleh, and saw that the soldiers had closed off the entrance to the village. I’d meant to go to one of their Friday demonstrations, it just hasn’t happened yet.
Four of us got dropped off at the next junction, and I didn’t know why were hanging out by the side of the road. We were right by a sign that read, “Area A-Palestinian Authority. No Entry for Israelis. Entry illegal by Israeli Law.” I read it and Haitham scoffed, “Israel put this and people think there is danger.” He mentioned the possibility of soldiers or settlers being in Qusra. “if there is problem you can go under here,” he gestured to his bullet-proof vest.
“If I died, my mother would kill me.”
“You can use this. Our lives are cheap. For what are we living?”
Our ride arrived. We hopped into the white sedan, me in front. We drove a few miles to a roundabout. All the signs were in Hebrew and most of the cars had Israeli license plates and women in the passengers seats with head scarves. They stared at us. What were we doing? We were now three white cars with Palestinian plates. Thirteen young Palestinian men were putting on bright green vests that read “Refusing to Die in Silence” in Arabic, English and Hebrew. And I thought Haitham had been called to come alone. This was a delegation.
We took off to Qusra. They weren’t abnormally reckless drivers by Palestinian standards, but we passed cars on blind curves a little more often than I would’ve liked. We passed Arabic tour busses, settler cars and Israeli armored vehicles. One of those little ways you get to say “meh. I do what I want.”Our new driver explained that a car in Jericho got fined by the Israelis 30,000 shekels for flying the Palestine State UN 194 flag on his car, and had his car impounded. Haitham translated everything into English for me. I didn’t mind being quiet, I was absorbing the scenery, the settlements, the villages, and I wasn’t despairing like usual. The Likud government and the settlers don’t care about peace with the Palestinians, so nothing they’re doing is accidental. But I see the signs to the university in Ariel and think, the international community will never stop boycotting you. You will never be normal, because these facts were put on the ground behind the barrel of a gun. How much unholier could you get? Even if the Ariel “finger” gets annexed, someday they’ll understand their own history. It’s harder to ignore when the indigenous people of Palestine weren't wiped out to the degree that America's were. What a depressing thought, but it gave me hope. There is no military solution here. There is no way Israel can "finish the job." Not in this century. What a lot of morbid thoughts. What a lot these people are up against.

We climbed up to Qusra, and onto a long, straight road that led us into the village. A large hill towered over us, shadowing us from the late afternoon sun. The village was nestled in a basin, with homes and buildings climbing up the side of hill. It was much bigger than I expected. As we drove up, the first thing I heard was a voice speaking in Arabic from the loudspeaker at the mosque. The voice was low and monotone, not the melodic sound of the daily call to prayer.

 “When they read the Quran you know someone is died,” said Haitham. All of this village was in mourning for this one man. It reminded me of Jawaher's death in Bilin. We made our way through the village streets to the house of the relatives. When we got out of the car and approached the house on foot, here were at least a hundred boys standing facing the house, chanting "there is no God but Allah," and how Allah loves the "shahid," the martyr. That's what I understood anyway. They all looked under fifteen. Their fists were pumping, somewhat tiredly, to punctuate their words. Across from the boys, outside the house were 40 or so women, all huddled together, many crying. The wife, the mother, the daughters on the balcony. Two of the sons were tear-stained. I couldn’t take it. I had to turn around and collect myself a few times. I wanted to be strong, but I knew it was ok if people saw me. It felt like the easiest way to apologize for what my country is helping Israel do. The gun that shot this martyr was probably American.

I was glad for the green vest, but I didn’t try to play reporter. I stood back and watched while Haitham and the others gathered footage. Then we walked back to the car, and drove up to the top of the hill, and over to where the shooting had taken place. A witness walked Haitham and our group around and explained what happened. I climbed onto a boulder and took a panorama of our surroundings. This really felt like the top of the world, the view was breathtaking. The Jordan Valley was unfurled before us, its crinkly hills lit up by the setting sun. I understood again why the settlers would want this hilltop. Haitham explained that the settlers from the neighboring outpost Eish Kodesh had recently burned down one of the mosques, but that a settler had been caught by the villagers a few days prior, and they turned him into the Israeli soldiers. Civilly, non-violently.

After this interview we were going to leave, and I was ready. Then we learned that one of the boys injured by the settlers was about to be taken to the hospital. We drove down the hill a bit to where the ambulance was about to leave. There were a few hundred people crowded around it, and I waited on the street while Haitham got an interview with the boy. I spotted six or seven foreigners. One of them was Haitham’s contact, the one who had called him in Bilin. I talked to the girl next to him and found out that they were from ISM, the International Solidarity Movement, the same group that protects the farmers and fishermen in Gaza from getting shot by the Israeli army and navy. When there’s a confrontation, or injury or death, ISM activists are called to go to the scene to gather information, provide an international presence, and report to the press. Their offices have been raided by the IDF for camera and computer equipment, under the pretense that they’re spreading anti-Israel propaganda and inciting violence against Israel. Incitement is a word that only seems to apply to Palestinians and their supporters. The girl was from Spain, and she reminded me of a girl who went to Whitman. The guy was British. Another guy in their group was talking to a bunch of little kids and I noticed immediately that he was gorgeous. Wait, this is neither the time nor the place.

After Haitham got the interview, he explained to me what the boy said, and this was hard. He had been arrested by the soldiers after the villagers went to confront the settlers who were attacking their trees. One of the settlers asked if he could beat the boy, and the soldier gave him permission to pick up a rock and hit the boy in the face. Then the soldiers kicked him in the head. Nothing like this had ever happened in Qusra. The shooting and killing of a villager, the collective beating of a minor. Eish Kodesh was a fairly new outpost and those settlers were just…nuts.
We were done for the night. The activists got dropped off near Nablus, and our car went back to Bil’in. On the way we almost hit a wild boar on the side of the road. At first I thought it was a rhino, it was so massive.
When we got back to Bil’in, Haitham transferred his footage and reviewed his interviews. His wife came over and watched the interview with the boy who’d been beaten. As he told his story she put her hand to her mouth and shook her head in disbelief. For all the mothers of Bil’in have to deal with, the demonstrations, the tear gas, the night raids, their sons getting pulled out of bed in the middle of the night and arrested and interrogated, thankfully they didn’t have to deal with settlers attacking their children.
Haitham set me up in Ashraf’s house, and Ashraf went to sleep in the school. It wasn’t up for discussion. I fell asleep fast and woke up early to the buzzing of mosquitoes. Haitham was waiting outside to take me to Ramallah, then back to Qusra to the funeral. I had just taken a shower, and was scrambling around, my hair still wet. I met Haitham and we caught a Service to the city. I could hear the radio blaring about Obama and Abbas and the UN and the state, but I couldn’t put it all together. I was missing a few key verbs. Haitham and I ended up meandering around Ramallah until we came to an apartment building where the meeting for the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee was housed. There we assembled about sixteen people, Palestinian and international, to go to Qusra to be present at the funeral. There were pictures from demonstrations all over the West Bank, several of Bil’in with Adeeb and Abdullah Abu Rahmah, and Haitham. I’d seen some of them on Facebook. Below one of the pictures there was a Martin Luther King Jr. quote that I’d seen back at the middle school I worked at last year in New Orleans:
(something like this)
Cowardess asks, “is it safe?”
Expediency asks, “is it politic?”
Vanity asks, “is it popular?”
There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because it is right.

I started thinking about the Order of the Pheonix.

We met around a table, and I can't remember exactly what was discussed, but a young woman looked at me and asked me if I understood how I was expected to behave once we got to the village. Her tone was a little incredulous, like "do you even know what our guidelines are?" but I understood the importance of them, so I nodded along politely. It was about non-violence, and not provoking confrontation. We were going there to establish a presence, which would hopefully minimize violence from soldiers and settlers. We left the apartment, walked across the street, piled into four cars and made our way to Qusra. I hadn’t eaten yet so I got some Pringles, a Twix, a water and a Diet Coke at the gas station. Unfortunately, halfway through the car ride I was already eyeing the olive groves to see where would be an appropriate place to tell Haitham and our car full of guys that I had to pee. I think the answer would be nowhere, but he stopped, and I ended up running across the highway and scrambling down the hillside in my neon green vest. In the rain.

As soon as we got into Qusra, the funeral procession was already headed toward us. The road that went from the village’s entrance to one of the settlements (not Eish Kodesh) had a few army jeeps and the soldiers were hanging out and watching the village through binoculars. There were already a few activists. It seemed like everyone was pretty heated up, like if someone started running toward the soldiers they would all run, especially the youth. Some of the men from the village and the activists in green vests had established a buffer line that couldn’t be crossed. The village was waiting for the ambulance to bring the body, and in the meantime there was a lot of chanting again, about the martyr. The soldiers looked on-edge. The air was so tense. I wondered what would happen if someone approached the soldiers and talked to them. I wondered if the soldier who killed the man the day before was with them now, and if he felt guilty, or felt justified. It seemed so ridiculous that we were so close and we all knew that one action could spark a confrontation, and all we could do was draw a line. When the ambulance came over the hill and past the soldiers, everyone crossed the line to meet it. It seemed that every man wanted to be the pallbearer, or be close to the body. The procession began. I got close at one point, but the crowd was pretty jostling, so I moved to the side. Those around me noticed my presence, but only for a moment or two. The general feeling was that the activists were good, the press was good. We walked for about 30 minutes to the man’s house so the body could be presented to his family. A young man came out carrying posters of the martyr and all the kids ran up to get them, so he finally threw them all up in the air. The body was carried back down the hill to a field, where all the elders of the village lined up and started to pray. Haitham finished collecting footage, and most of the foreigners gathered around the cars we came in. The group recognized one activist walking up the hill, and she came and joined us. After some discussion of how long to stay and how to get back to Nablus, since that’s where I was headed, she asked, “You live in Al Aqaba?” She lived in a nearby village and volunteered for Jordan Valley Solidarity. Both them and ISM had been to Al Aqaba during the demolitions in April, and ten days ago. We exchanged numbers, and I was glad to know they were nearby, in Jiflek.
Everyone was remarking that they were hungry. Then someone got a call that settlers were coming to the village in busses. My heart started racing. There were seriously coming to provoke the funeral? Three of the girls and I got in a car and drove up to the top of the hill, but when we got there, there were only soldiers near the settlements. No settlers in sight. The word for settlers is mustautinin.
Some of the shebab (youth) of the village headed toward the settlement to wave Palestinian flags and yell at the soldiers, so the internationals went with them. I hung back with a group of boys because I felt nervous encouraging anyone to go. More people meant more chances of a confrontation. The soldiers were firing tear gas now. I counted 56 soldiers spaced out along the hill where the settlement was. I couldn’t tell what the shebab wanted to do. They were all teenage boys and younger, they were unarmed, and they were shouting things I couldn’t understand. Maybe something about the man that was killed, or the settlers….maybe they wanted to show the soldiers they weren’t afraid, or stand up for the village. I didn’t know how they measured their success. They were just kids with flags against soldiers with guns and gas. It went on and on. It was pretty grotesque, how a Palestinian gets killed and the army's first reaction is to protect the settlements.

Haitham arranged a ride to Huwarra checkpoint so I could get to Nablus. The view coming down into the village was one of the most stunning things I’ve ever seen, and I wish I’d gotten a picture to send my grandfather to paint. It was a mostly cloudy day, but the sun was hitting the hills below so that parts of them were gleaming like gold. The other green vests were arguing about logistical things, and I was craning my head out the window like a tourist.
We got dropped off at the checkpoint before Nablus and caught a Service to the city. One of the Palestinian activists was catching another Service, so he walked with me to the West station. When we found out my Service to Tubas was at the East station across the city, he walked me all the way there and found my Service for me. I recognized the driver, he'd taken me to Nablus on Thursday. He asked where I was today. I told him Qusra. A woman in front of me turned around, and asked me something about Qusra. I said, “fi mishakel ktir, jeish wa mustatinin…” there are many problems, army and settlers…and she explained the situation with the man next to her. I think they’d heard about it on the news. I had a lot to tell them, but my vocabulary was limited.
We got to Tubas, I hopped out, bought some tomatoes, and headed to the Tayasir taxi, when one of the Al Aqaba busses honked at me, and I caught a ride back to the village. I showered, washed my clothes, and tried to think of what to teach my students the next day. The life of a live-in English teacher is pretty different from that of an activist or journalist, but it’s almost impossible not to dabble in both. I’m glad I went to Qusra. Next weekend I’ll go back to Bil'in for their weekly demonstration, then to Oktoberfest in Taybeh, home to Palestine’s only microbrewery.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The demonstration

I woke up at 8:30 this morning, which made my decision for me. There wasn't enough time to go to Ramallah, and I hadn't gotten in touch with anyone there, so I would go to Tubas. When I went to the office, everyone was getting ready to head out, so I hopped in a car with Rothman (sp?), who took me right to the demonstration. All the girls in the girl's school were making their way to the main square, waving little Palestinian flags. The boys were already amassed, waving huge flags and banners and dancing to the music. I think it was music written just for the Statehood bid. I was really out of place.

I suddenly thought of a few nights before, when Haj Sami had some visitors come from Nablus, a family. One of the men saw me and joked, "mukhabarat Israeli?" I shook my head nooooo, I'm not Israeli secret police. A few minutes later Haj Sami and I were drinking tea under this covered dining space outside his house, and he explained to me why his friend made the joke. In Tunisia, a senior PLO member was killed by a woman who had become close to his family. It turns out she was a spy for Israel. Haj Sami told me that some Israeli spies are women who get into Arab countries with Italian passports, American passports and get close to the higher-ups in government. Not to say that it hasn't been done before, but after the leader in Tunis was killed, people became a lot more vigilent about foreign women.

So that's what was running through my head as I watched the demonstration. I was getting a lot of stares. Not unfriendly, a lot of whispering, pointing, smiling. Haj Sami arrived and we all got into a covered area where there seemed to be a lot of important people sitting. I'm with Haj Sami, it's ok. Right? Rothman asked me if I wanted to watch the demo, and I went out into the crowd and stood by myself. The crowd was chanting. I heard the words "Amrikia" and "veto." That was awkward. I wondered if I should chant with them, nod my head, tap my foot, shout "booooooo!" Then someone came up with a little boy on his shoulders. The boy was decked out with flags, a kaffiyeh and a UN 194 hat that was half flag-half kaffiyeh. It was cool! His father let me take a picture. Then he introduced himself as a government employee, and said that Husam had called him about my bicycle. We had a laugh. I was glad to be standing next to a government official. I took out my camera and shot a few seconds of footage. People stared a little more. I had to handle that thing very deliberately, it kind of looks like a gun. When the procession started, Haj Sami came out and wheeled through the street with the help of Rothman and Mustafa. He greeted several people on the way, and was also approached by a few policemen. "Hiye mualema ingleezi," he said. An English teacher. Oh jeez. If I was trying to spy on the demontration, I had a pretty lousy disguise.

"Come, Morgan, stay close to me. The police ask about you."

We wove in and out of the banners, and the demo gathered in an empty lot, of which there are so many in Palestine. There were some speeches, an anthem was played, and Rothman made sure I had the best views, from behind the podium, to a rooftop across the street. I tried to capture the scene when they played the anthem, and everyone in the crowd threw up a peace sign.

If I only stay in Al Aqaba for three months, I might just re-locate down the hill to Tubas. Throughout the demo I had little girls ask me my name, and they were just heart-meltingly cute. I like the idea of starting a project in Al Aqaba for all the kids in the area, but there are so many in Tubas. I'm wondering if I can get government support for a project in the city. Recruiting English teachers, starting a cultural/community center, teaching kids about taking care of the city. The post-demonstration scene looked a bit like post Mardi Gras New Orleans, minus the beer cans and beads, but litter is a pretty big problem here.

I saw Husam after the demo, and he brought me a flag. Carrying around a big Palestinian flag certainly changed my image. Before I had no opinion, and now I did. I was visibly the only foreigner in the city, and as awkward as it could be, it was also very inspiring. Tubas isn't a refugee camp, it's not a city in crisis, but it far enough removed that it doesn't get much attention. I like the idea of helping this city.

Alright, over and out.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

September 20th

September 20th

Today I made my first trip to the Supermarket. I caught a ride down to Tubas, as usual, with someone who had come up to see Haj Sami. He seemed uncomfortable when I shook his hand, mental note: just nod hello unless they put their hand out. On the way to Tubas, I asked him a few questions in Arabic. He’s from Jenin, and works for the Ministry of Agriculture. He took a call, and afterwards told me, “this is my wife! she sees you with me, ohhhhhhh.” I told him to drop me off at the Supermarket, khalas, finished. But we picked her up on the way. She said a lot of things in Arabic and he laughed, I’m not if she was giving him crap for the fact that I was in the front seat and she in the back, I think she was just giving him crap in general. But she brought me into the store, and said she’d wait for me. I told her I would find the Service taxi when I’m done, and she shook my hand goodbye. Her name was Sana. I think her husband’s name was Amjad.
It was a small supermarket, five aisles, and everything but fresh produce, bakery items, and conditioner. It was the lack of conditioner that baffled me. I spent a good five minutes scanning the hair products and it was all Shampoo or 2 in 1. No conditioner. It’s possible one of the Israeli products might have been, but I didn’t really check. I checked the back of everything I bought. Milk was from Hebron, Palestine. Mayonnaise was from Oman, which is closer than Holland, at least. The first thing I saw when I walked in the store was baby formula, with cute Caucasian babies and big Hebrew letters. It reminded me of my friend Haitham. I’d asked him if he boycotted Israeli products. He said usually, yes, but if it’s a choice between baby formula and no baby formula, he has to buy Israeli. Same with fruit juice. I wonder if the people responsible for marketing these products in Palestine know how humiliating that is.
I only had to walk a few blocks to the Service station, but it felt longer than that. An unaccompanied blonde woman carrying five grocery bags up main street….I might as well have had five heads. But I crammed inside the taxi with five adults and two kids and here I am, back at the apartment. I made a sandwich out of pita, mayonnaise, tomatoes, salami, and a scrambled egg for good measure. Compared to the bologna, tomato and strawberry jam sandwich I had yesterday, it was…awesome. I just have to make my food last, I spent all of my 130 shekels on that trip, which is surprisingly expensive. Granted, I didn’t have to buy Betty Crocker cake mix, but I thought it’d be nice to share…at some point.

Tomorrow there will be demonstrations all over the West Bank in support of the Statehood bid. I don’t know if I’ll go to the one in Tubas with all the folks from Al Aqaba and Tayasir, or if I’ll venture down to Qalandia for the big one. My friends from Bil’in will probably be there, but so will most of the Israeli soldiers.

decisions, decisions...which poem to choose for english class?

September 19th

I just watched an episode of 30 Rock on my iTunes, in my room, in the middle of the day. I find myself thinking, well, when the wireless comes I’ll be much more productive. It takes about 45 minutes to complete one task like posting a Facebook note on Haj Sami’s computer. I managed to print off some pages for a debate I want to have in tonight’s English class, but Haj Sami asked me if this was for the children. The children? Haj Sami, are these the same guys from yesterday, or new students? He said he didn’t know, he will find out. So I don’t know how many students I have, what their levels are…it’s bound to be hectic in the first week, I know. If I had wireless I could conceivably print out a dozen pre-planned lessons ….but enough about the internet. Today we had a visit from an NGO called COOPI, one of the guys was Italian and had been in Darfur with the same organization for two years. They wanted to know how much Haj Sami would need to rent a steamroller for the demolished road. We spent a bit of time trying to think of the word steamroller.

Yesterday was my birthday. I woke up at 4am, polished off my bucket of Maltesers, and made some videos. My plan was to post a video every Sunday, but the dial-up (damn!) makes it impossible, so I’m just collecting footage for now. I wanted to go into Tubas to meet with Husam at the Governor’s office, so Haj Sami sent me there on the kindergarten schoolbus. This was an experience. It’s not a bus, it’s a van, albeit a nice one with curtains and nice seats, but there were maybe 25 kids crammed in there. They were just chattering away, standing up on the seats and packed into the aisle. One of the girls on her mother’s lap said something about the “shabak,” which means secret police, and I'm assuming she meant the Israeli soldiers that were in the village a few days before. Then she said, “mumnua,” not allowed. The teacher/mother exclaimed that she was so smart (shatr!)and kissed her on the cheek. We careened through Tayasir and Tubas, and I was the fourth student to disembark. I went into the governorate building, asked for Husam, and was shown up to the 3rd floor. Husam brought me to meet the governor, who was very nice and spoke good English. I don’t remember his name. We got approval to send some of their employees to Al Aqaba to take my English class. He invited me to a workshop on water issues in Tubas, and I said I didn’t have a lot of freedom of movement, but threw out, “I want to get a bike.”

Half an hour later, Husam and I were in a bike shop, and he said, “pick one.” A very merry, unbirthday to the Tubas Governorate!

It was a tough ride back to Al Aqaba. It was maybe 88 degrees and the terrain is nothing like New Orleans! I had to walk my bike up the hill to Tayasir, and whether I was walking or riding, groups of boys would just laugh and laugh. Fifteen minutes later, I stashed my bike in another bedroom in the apartment, and as I was about to call Haj Sami, he called me asking, “where is the biciclet?” Of course, he knows. Husam had called him. I went to see the Haj and he was still half-smiling when he threw up his hands and exclaimed “why????” I tried to laugh it off. He said it’s no good for girls to ride a bicycle alone, there are many boys in Tayasir and they will ask, where does she live? And it’s no good. I know he was concerned for my safety. I could ride around Al Aqaba and to his brother’s house, but it’s no good. I liked the idea of being the first girl to bike from Tubas to Al Aqaba, but if the taxi is only a dollar it’s not that important. But maybe I’ll do it again.

Class went pretty well, I need to get the guys to talk more. Their levels really range, and I remember how intimidating it was to talk in Advanced Spanish with native speakers, so I’m trying to think of ways to get them out of their shells. We sang Seize the Day from Newsies, had a debate on violence in the media, and translated the UN Statehood bid pamphlet that I found in the governor’s office. Halfway through making copies, Mustafa went to the office shelf and showed me about 200 copies of the same pamphlet.

After class, Mustafa took me to one of the houses in the villages, where Haj Sami was visiting. We all sat in chairs in front of the house, drinking sweet tea and trying to speak each others’ language. Mostly I listened to them talk to each other. It’s amazing what you can see in people even when you don’t know what they’re saying. This family is really down to earth. I loved watching the mother banter with Mustafa, her 5th grade son and her 10th grade daughter. The only boy, Sudki, is so charming. He asked me to sing in Spanish, so I sang Shakira. When the rest of the mothers showed up, they asked me to sing English, so I sang Newsies. Then in Arabic. I could only sing Amr Diab, but they knew all the tunes. When Haj Sami came back from praying, he said, this not good. Just the one I teach you, salala wa alay u Mohammad, salala wa alay u asalam. From these pseudo-jokes I’ve gleaned that he wants me to wear skirts and dresses instead of pants, and sing about Mohammad instead of crooning like Amr Diab. And no boys in the apartment! Damn! Actually, that was pretty direct.

We had a great time. Looking around I realized how much I was missing out on by not understanding Arabic. I could see everyone’s personality shine through, and imagine what our relationship would be like if we could converse. Haj Sami echoed my thoughts, “I will teach you Arabic.” and he began with “masa al-kher,” good evening. I know, but can you teach me to conjugate in the past tense?


Sunday, September 18, 2011

September 17th

It’s good.

That is what Haj Sami says if he’s pleased about something, and I have to echo that sentiment right now. I’m sitting in the Aqaba Village Council office with the Haj, his nephew and his assistant. I think his nephew Mustafa is being kept around in case I need anything, but we’re friends, even on Facebook, so…it’s good. I’m logging away on my laptop, hoping someday I can get wireless. Until then, I can copy my entries onto Haj Sami’s computer, which has dial-up. Remember dial-up? beeeeeep shhhhhhhhhhh gedong-edong-edong. It reminds me how precious time is.

I got through the border ok, but my alibi wasn’t quite complete. I said I’m going on a Green Olive Tour for ten days, then studying at the Tantur Ecumenical Institute in Jerusalem. For how long? One month. Ok, so he crosses out 3 Month Visa and write “Only One Month.” Forget that I’m supposedly staying ten days AND a month. I’m trusting he’s just bad at math and it wasn’t a trap. My new alibi is…I’m bad at math. And after a month (and ten days), I loved learning about Jesus so much that I want to stay for another three months.. Leave out the reference to a frequently-arrested activist friend in the West Bank. The guy next to me tried to help me… “My daughter wanted to do the same thing, study in Jerusalem, and take a tour…” I tried to smile while my visa guy left to ask his supervisor something. shit shit shit. “It’s because you know someone in the West Bank.” I nodded. I said it because….if I even try to lie and pretend like I don’t know anyone in the West Bank….it’s such an obvious lie. And there’s that little part of me that wants to act like it’s no big deal, like I’m going to make a difference, like his eyes aren’t going to glance up and bore through my skull. I’m sweating. “So you’re going to visit your friend?” “Uh hummm, well, the tour only goes through for one day, so I don’t think I’ll have time.” Again, I can’t say NO because it’s a ridiculous question, not one that I can satisfy without fidgeting. This guy is trained to recognize the signs. “Ok, I give you one month.” I start to go, “hmmmmm” and immediately stop fussing and take it and leave. At least it’s over. At least I didn’t get interrogated for seven hours like the last girl.

I left the terminal and hopped on a bus to Jericho. Isn’t that a little ridiculous?

The bus took me to the Palestinian Authority terminal. I walked in, looked around, and started breathing again. No questions, no stares, ahlan wa sahlan ya ajnabia. Welcome foreigner. I had to wait in the taxi station for almost three hours because I was the only passenger bound for Tubas. A private taxi would have cost over a hundred bucks. I’m almost broke. So I waited, sweated, passed out. All the drivers seemed curious, amused. What is this ajnabia doing in Tubas, of all places? I’ve been there and I don’t know that it has anything worth visiting. New batches arrive through the terminal and after three hours we accumulate five people. That’ll do. It’s night-time now, I’m exhausted, we’re careening through the Jordan Valley. My only worry was that I would be on the Palestine side of the border at night with four bags and no direction. It then occurred to me that in the last 24 hours I had barely touched my bags. At every step there was a porter or a friendly stranger to help me. I spent some of my dinars and shekels, but that’s how it goes. I was an easy target.

When the shared taxi arrived in Tubas, I called Haj Sami from another passenger’s phone. He told me to give the phone to the driver so he could direct him to Al Aqaba. The passenger took the phone back. They exchanged a few words and he hung up. “You want to go to Haj Sami? He is my friend.” The driver wasn’t thrilled about the extra distance, mumbling something about foreigners, and I gathered he had driven Haj Sami’s guests before. We reached the village, I gave the driver an extra 5 JD, and the passenger greeted Haj Sami and introduced himself to me. I’ve forgotten his name.
It wasn’t just the bags. I had tried to appear confident but I expected to come off a helpless American girl. And it didn’t matter. There was always someone who went out of their way to help me.

Haj Sami’s nephew was there to help me. Not Sadiq this time, but Mustafa, the next oldest. I remembered him from December. They showed me the apartment, which now had beds, desks, dressers, and kitchen appliances. We had a brief chat in my room, Mustafa brought me some bread/crackers, then Haj Sami said, “I forgot, the army come this morning and destroy the street and two homes.”

Awwhat?? Minor detail. I was glad I came today and not two days later.

The first time it happened was in April. The Israeli Defense Forces bulldozed one of the main roads to Al Aqaba, two houses and a few animal shelters. I remember freaking out. My brother and I had walked up that street (Peace Street, ironically) last December and I had a picture of my brother walking alongside Haj Sami in his wheelchair to juxtapose with the picture taken by Jordan Valley Solidarity. It was a morbid comparison. Now it’s intact, now it’s in pieces. After years of being under demolition order, it seemed the village was really in trouble.

But even though the demo orders were renewed, nothing happened after that. I found out that the Palestinian Authority had re-paved the road. I half-expected the bulldozers to come back, the timing seemed so arbitrary. It just happened the morning of the day I arrived.

“Tomorrow we will go to see the road and you can take picture.”

I stayed up for three hours unpacking. I love nesting. I took before and after videos. I was surprisingly thrilled to find that no one had cleaned the apartment since my benefactor Donna and her many guests had stayed here. The sheets and pillowcases weren’t washed, the bathroom wasn’t mopped and many of the dishes were still greasy. Admittedly, I expected the space would have a caretaker, like Haj Sami has a caretaker for himself and his house. I loved the idea of being the caretaker of this apartment.

I slept until noon prayer. At one, Haj Sami had Mustafa drive me down to Tayasir to have lunch with his brother’s family. I sat down on the mats in their middle room and became transfixed by their TV. It appeared to be a government-sponsored channel that was continually broadcasting on the statehood bid. In the bottom corner was a UN 194-Palestine State logo. I’d seen the same logo at the Jericho terminal. What the channel showed then was a schedule of events at the UN. I saw September dates but didn’t know what they pointed to. Next it showed a concert with the same logo in the background. Abbas and Fayyad were there and everyone seemed very happy. Lastly, and this was fascinating, it showed a film short.

A family is riding in a van. They’re going on a trip. I think the daughter is snoozing. They get stopped at an Israeli checkpoint. The little girl looks out, and suddenly she’s having a dream. The family is at the Palestine National Airport in Jericho. They’re greeted by a friendly Palestinian airport official. They get their passports stamped with a Palestinian exit visa. Then they roll their bags past check-in. Smiling. The girl wakes up in the van. UN 194-Palestine State. Dowla Filisteen.

I asked Mustafa, proud of my complete Arabic sentence, “Kul wahad biddo dowla? Does everyone want a state? He nodded, “Kul wahad.”

I knew this wasn’t true. Not everyone is a fan of the Palestinian Authority, and what about the rights of the refugees?

Mustafa let me use his laptop, which had wireless (alhamdullilah!) which Haj Sami then spent a bit of time on. I guess YouTube doesn’t work on his dial-up, so he never got a chance to see all the videos posted about the village. I knew there were 8 or 9 in English, but there were far more in Arabic, with way better footage. Sometimes I forget that Palestinians have normal things like news stations.

We ate Maqlouba, which is like rice pilaf with chicken (or goat) and cauliflour and carrots and potatoes. Doused with yoghurt. My favorite! It was heavenly. But the end result is always a little unpleasant. I get served again, and again, and again. The food coma was so intense I passed out at 5, woke up at 8 o’clock prayer, and slept again until 2am. So much for fighting jetlag.

I spent this long morning re-editing the video of my school's 7th grade end-of-year trip this last May. I woke up in a foul mood because I couldn’t find my camera cord, and thus was a useless photographer, but seeing the videos of my old students made me happy again. At 6:15 I watched the sun rise, and the women arrive to set up the sewing co-op. I must’ve looked strange in my sweats, climbing down from the roof with my laptop. Haj Sami called me at nine and invited me to the office. I spent a few hours translating and responding to e-mails at an excruciatingly slow pace. I was very interested by the steady stream of men going in and out of the office. There were at least three meetings with Haj Sami. At least two of them had to do with the demolitions. Several men were from the Governor’s office in Tubas, inquiring about the costs of rebuilding the road and houses. One guy was a filmmaker from Ramallah, and we went out with him to the demolition sites while he filmed the scenes. The roads looked just like the pictures from April, and the houses were nothing but cement foundations. It looked like a father and two sons were clearing rubble from their former house. Twenty-two people were now living in tents. I realized that my apartment was the nicest place to live in Al Aqaba, and I felt silly for investing in it.

Husam was a representative from the Governorate of Tubas. At the office, he handed me a sticker “for my handbag.” It read UN 194-Palestine State, but the logo was a little snazzier. I thanked him and put it in my camera pouch. It reminded me of the sticker I got in Jordan that said “Kulna Urdan Al-Awal.” We are Jordan First. Nice try, King Abdullah! I did a bit of thesis work on the disgruntled Jordanian masses. But my cab driver in Amman assured me, Abdullah is good, Hussein is good, it’s…all good. But what about that protest at the Israeli Embassy scheduled for today? I never checked that out, did that happen? I thought it would impact my crossing.

So it was a familiar feeling, mmmmm yes, Palestinian Authority is good. I can understand why Palestinians in Area C have statehood fever. They either have to deal with settlers or army demolitions…or both. Al Aqaba is lucky, you could say. No settlers here. Just the Israeli Defense Forces. Al Aqaba isn’t a village that takes up arms. I don’t even sense much anger over what's happened. It helps that the mayor got a fax from the Prime Minister (who’s in Amrika now) promising to re-pave the road. And there are NGO’s and foreign governments and embassies and an American non-profit who devote their time, money and energy to the village. It’s a very warm place. A hopeful place. It’s just been inhibited for so long. Husam pointed out all the hills and valleys we could see, saying that Palestinians couldn’t build on those lands, even though they had the Ottoman paperwork. “This is why our cities and villages looks like camps.” I had wondered why Tayasir looked the way it did. It didn’t seem right. Now I hate to admit it, but I didn't see it as looking...civilized.

I’ll be gathering English students in the next few days, then learning how to teach English, then teaching English. Husam asked me if I wanted to come to Tubas to teach some of the government employees. I said I had a responsibility to Al Aqaba first. He said, of course, not every day. He’s going to talk to the Governor about it tomorrow. After he inquires about my camera cord at the media department. In this governorate, the PA provides….

As soon as we got back from that sweltering tour, I came back to the apartment and faced the kitchen. I knew I was in charge of cleaning, but it didn’t occur to me that the bags of tomatoes, potatoes, cucumbers, rice and pita bread were mine to cook with. So I made french fries. Palestinians are big on french fries. Mine were all misshapen and oily, but just as I was turning off the burner, Mustafa knocked on the door and delivered my lunch. Fried fish, vegetable soup, and….french fries. Much prettier than mine. I showed him my pot of potato chunks and said, “awal mara,” first time. He laughed. I think we’re good friends now.

So here I am, in another food coma and trying to resist the urge to pass out. My goal was to stay up until ten tonight. It’s 4:42. I should be going out and exploring and attempting to talk to people in broken Arabic. Donna told me there were still landmines around. Just follow the road and go where the goats go. Or as my brother said, the four-legged goats.

oh man. I’m fading. the fish was…so….good.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Ali Wall

Winner of the "It is Apartheid" film contest, called "Ali Wall:"

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Friday, September 2, 2011

This is really awkward. New Orleans City Council President Jackie Clarkson made a nostalgic reference to the 40's and 50's, offending several members of the African American community, and when a woman brought up the comment at a meeting with the mayor, this is how Jackie defended herself.

*squirm* offends crowd with remarks praising ’50s as a golden age, refuses to apologize

Thursday, September 1, 2011

An Invitation Rep. Jackson Should Have Declined

Jesse Jackson Jr. was one of 81 Congresspeople who just returned from the lobby-sponsored junket in Israel. I wonder if he caught yesterday's issue of the Chicago Tribune....

Jackson also approvingly quoted Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who has called for the forcible transfer of Israel's Palestinian citizens and whose stances have regularly been criticized internationally for their thinly veiled bigotry. The day that a prominent African-American and the son of a civil rights icon embraces a man like Lieberman for the sole purpose of greasing wheels in Washington is a sad one for anyone who cares about equality and justice.

Full Op-Ed by Rashid Khalidi

The Holy Land Five Case: Echoes of Korematsu

Noor Elashi
August 31, 2011

As we approach the tenth anniversary of 9/11, and my father remains incarcerated in a modern-day internment camp, the time in which we live begins to feel less like 2011 and more like 1942. But this week could determine whether today’s justice system is capable of rewriting the sad chapters of our history. I say this week because on Thursday, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals will hear the long-awaited oral arguments in the Holy Land Foundation case, involving what was once our country’s largest Muslim charitable organization.

Meet my father, Ghassan Elashi. The co-founder of the HLF. Inmate number 29687-177, sentenced to 65 years in prison for his charity work in Palestine. He is an American citizen from Gaza City, who before his imprisonment, took part in the immigration rally in Downtown Dallas, joining the half a million people wearing white, chanting ¡Si, se puede! The prison walls have not hindered his voice, as he writes to me, heartbroken about the homes destroyed during the earthquake in Haiti, the young protesters killed indiscriminately in Syria, the children lost to the famine in Somalia. Most frequently, he writes to me about the Japanese-American internment.

Now meet Fred T. Korematsu, who after Peal Harbor was among the 120,000 Japanese-Americans ordered to live in internment camps. This was in 1942, when President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which authorized the military detainment of Japanese-Americans to ten concentration camps during World War II. Mr. Korematsu defied orders to be interned, because he viewed the forced removal as unconstitutional. So on May 30, 1942, Mr. Korematsu was arrested. His case was argued all the way to the Supreme Court, which ultimately ruled against him, stating that his incarnation was justified due to military necessity.

Nearly forty years later, in 1983, Mr. Korematsu’s case was reopened, and on Nov. 10, 1983, the conviction was overturned. Judge Marilyn Hall Patel notably said, “It stands as a caution that, in times of international hostility and antagonisms, our institutions, legislative, executive and judicial, must be prepared to exercise their authority to protect all citizens from the petty fears and prejudices that are so easily aroused.”

Fast-forward six years. It’s already 1989, when my father co-finds the HLF, which becomes a prominent American Muslim charity that provides relief—through clothes, food, blankets and medicine—to Palestinians and other populations in desperate need. Then, in 1996, President Clinton signs the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, giving birth to the Material Support Statute, a law that in time would come under fire by civil libertarians for profiling and targeting Arab and Muslim Americans.

Two years later, in 1998, Clinton awards Mr. Korematsu with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest citizen honor, condemning Mr. Korematsu’s persecution as a shameful moment in our history.

Three years later, the towers fall.

And President Bush declares a “War on Terror.”

In 2001, President Bush signs the Patriot Act, which strengthens the Material Support Statute. The law’s language is so vague that it gives prosecutors the authority to argue that humanitarian aid to designated terrorist organizations could be indirect, and therefore, a crime.

In my father’s case, he is charged with conspiring to give Material Support in the form of humanitarian aid to Palestinian distribution centers called zakat committees. Prosecutors admit the zakat committees on the indictment were not designated terrorist groups, but according to the indictment released in 2004, these zakat committees are “controlled by” or act “on behalf of” Hamas, which was designated in 1995. Their theory is that by providing charity to zakat committees, the HLF helped Hamas win the “hearts and minds” of the Palestinian people.

The HLF case was tried in 2007, lasting three months, and after 19 days of deliberations, the jury deadlocked on most counts. The judge declared a mistrial and the case was tried the following year.

In 2008, after essentially the same arguments, the retrial ended with the jury returning all guilty verdicts, and in 2009, my father was sentenced to 65 years in prison, for essentially giving humanitarian aid to Palestinians.

In 2010, my father was transferred to a “Communications Management Unit” in Marion, Illinois—the aforementioned modern-day internment camp. The CMU received the nickname “Guantanamo North” by National Public Radio since two-thirds of its inmates are Middle Eastern or Muslim. The purpose of this prison—which has another branch in Terre Haute, Indiana—is to closely monitor inmates and limit their communications with their families, attorneys and the media. Thus, I only get to hear my father’s voice once every two weeks, for fifteen minutes. And our visitations take place behind an obtrusive Plexiglass wall.

My father and his co-defendants—now called the Holy Land Five—are in the final stages of the appeal as the oral arguments approach on Thursday. In the Fifth Circuit Court in New Orleans, defense attorneys will urge the panel of three justices to reverse the HLF convictions based on errors that took place in the trial process.

According to the appellate brief, there’s a major fact that undermines the prosecution’s claim that Hamas controlled the zakat committees: “The United States Agency for International Development—which had strict instructions not to deal with Hamas—provided funds over many years to zakat committees named in the indictment, including the Jenin, Nablus, and Qalqilia committees,” writes my father’s attorney, John Cline. He continues stating that in 2004, upon the release of the HLF indictment, “USAID provided $47,000 to the Qalqilia zakat committee.”

Furthermore, defense attorneys will argue that the district court:

a) Violated the right to due process by allowing a key witness to testify without providing his real name, thereby abusing my father’s right to confront his witness. They are referring to an Israeli intelligence officer who became the first person in U.S. history permitted to testify as an expert witness using a pseudonym.

b) Abused its discretion by allowing “inflammatory evidence of little or no probative value,” which included multiple scenes of suicide bombings.

c) Deviated from the sentencing guidelines when they sentenced my father to 65 years.

When putting the lawyerly language aside, human rights attorneys have deemed the HLF case as purely political, perpetrated by the Bush administration. Likewise, the decision to intern Japanese-Americans was based on “race prejudice, war hysteria and failure of political leadership,” according to a 1982 report by the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians.

I can only hope that my father’s vindication won’t take 40 years as it did for Mr. Korematsu. Let us learn from our old wrongs.