Sunday, October 30, 2011

"sawarni!" take my picture! ali and jack=BFF

rachel's apartment in jaffa...these girls are mad crafty.

shabbat dinner!

so instead of finding 15 regular-sized pumpkins, i found 3 massive ones. it's not the season, but we will make do!

costume couch. someone will be drew brees.

for a quick jaunt, that trip to jaffa was really emotionally draining. i'll try and put it into words bukra. tomorrow.
I don't like eating dates. I think they look (and feel) like cockroaches.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Weekend in Israel

So, last weekend Haj Sami and I got a visit from two American girls who are volunteering in Jaffa. They invited me to come and visit them, so here I am, at their apartment, listening to The Tallest Man on Earth and Bon Iver while they make crafts and decorate for their Halloween party tonight. They're trying to find pumpkins too, not a lot of luck. We might carve a watermelon. :)

Tomorrow morning I'm heading out to Jerusalem early. I need to meet the driver from Al Aqaba in Nablus so we can load up our pumpkins and take them back to the village!

Went clubbing in Tel Aviv last night. Talk about culture shock! I had a great time trying to explain to people where I live.

I'll write more about the girls' visit when I get back. That was a real turning point. For now I'm going to walk around their neighborhood, maybe check out the beach, and a party store/second-hand store that might have cool things for the kids' costumes....

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Donation request!

To donate:
Go to
Account name (e-mail address):
$7 will buy a pumpkin!

Demo pumpkin. Think we can get 20?

p.s. this isn't cultural imperialism. it's cultural ambassadorship. ;)

Pumpkin update

Good news! Phil's friend Saed from Nablus just happened to be standing near a sweets shop when I called him and inquired about the Nablus' pumpkin situation . There's a man who makes sweets only from pumpkins, so he imports them and keeps his storehouse full of them. Saed said he could probably get me a discount, since it's for a good cause. I'm guessing a 9-kilo pumpkin could end up costing about 6 or 7 dollars. I could go for some smaller ones too. Saturday morning I will make my move, hopefully with the help of Hashem, the driver of the Al Aqaba van.

It's happening!

Pumpkin-hunting in Jenin

Today, after teaching the boys' class, I spent some time in the principal's office trying to explain the idea of the Halloween party, with some help from the English teacher. The principal said he would probably be able to send a few classes over to the party at the end of the school day. Then I found Abu Abed, the groundskeeper, and asked him what he'd heard from his vegetable guy, and he said that pumpkin season was almost over, so they'd be hard to find. But his friend was headed to Jenin, so I could go with him and try to find a pumpkin there.

Sure, why not?

I hopped into a car with Abu Abed's friend, a man who works for an NGO called COOPI. He introduced himself as "Osama...but not like bin Laden." I told him I had a student named Osama, so he was the second Osama I knew. He wanted to stop by one of the houses in the village that was demolished last month, so we took a side road to the house that stood on the village outskirts, and while Osama checked in with the family, I waited and took pictures of the remains and the tent they were sleeping in. COOPI is helping the family build a room on the edge of their property so someone could stay near the goats, without having to sleep in the barracks (ya haram, the mother told me, that was shameful). Osama checked on their progress. It was a warm, sunny day and the hills were beautiful. I understood why the people of Al Aqaba loved their land. I felt lucky to be standing on it.

As we got back into the car, Osama told me the family had wanted to use their home for their son's wedding party, but they had to postpone the wedding after the demolition.

"What are we going to do? We hope there will be peace, but in reality, I don't think...."

We drove to Jenin, which I'd never been to before. Between Zababdeh and Jenin there were lush fields and greenhouses and sprinklers and when I started filming, Osama said this was the first year they could grow these crops, since they started bringing water in from another city. It was beautiful. At a few points, it reminded me of Minnesota. 

We got into Jenin, which had a bustling main street market, and we headed straight to a vegetable shop. I saw three yellow pumpkins, two quite misshapen. Osama offered to buy me the good one. 9 kilos. 9 dollars. I cringed, that was a bit more than I thought. He also offered to bring more to Al Aqaba if he found them, but I said thanks, I'd try my luck in Nablus, where the pumpkins were originally purchased. Then Osama took me to his brother's bakery, and loaded a bag full of bread and rolls for me to take home. Then he took me to the Service station, paid the driver, and saw me off. I didn't spend a shekel on that trip.

The taxi brought me back into Tubas, where I hopped in the taxi to Al Aqaba. One of my students, Urwa came in after me, and said, "heyy, MorgAN!" He lived in Tayasir, between Tubas and Al Aqaba. He told me that Abdel Naser (another students') car had finally been fixed, and we could go on our Jordan Valley tour this Saturday. I told him I might be busy with Halloween shopping, so I needed to think about this. I reached for my purse to pay the driver.
"Don't pay," he said. He gave the driver ten shekels and said, "ithnain." Two.

Now I'm in my room with a big yellow pumpkin. I think I'm going to carve it outside the kindergarten as they're getting out of school, as a demonstration. I could wear something silly too.

Hopefully it all works out. 

Tent on top of the demolished house, Al Aqaba
The new room in construction
The Arab-American University in Zababdeh
My baby
One night in Bil'in, I gave Tutu the camera and this just happened...

The Harvest

From Sunday...

One-Month Reflection

From two weeks ago...I wrote this as a thank-you note for the donors who paid my travel stipend to get to Al Aqaba. I just realized I don't talk about Al Aqaba that much...

I can’t express how grateful I am for the opportunity to be in Al Aqaba right now. One month ago, I was in my family’s home in Seattle, trying to fit my life into two suitcases and trust that everything would be alright. I was looking forward to the flight, to Amman, to the adventure that is traveling in the West Bank, but I was most looking forward to rolling my suitcases into my new home, the Al Aqaba Guest House.

It’s been a great month. I’m settled into the apartment, and finally settled into a routine. As soon as I kicked the jetlag, which afforded me several gorgeous sunsets and national anthems from the secondary school downstairs, I started to get up around 8:30. At 9, I lead two lessons in the kindergarten. We’re working on our ABC’s and recognizing letter sounds. The kids are also having fun with Total Physical Response-sit down! stand up! turn around! Next, I want to work on sounding out three-letter words, with some props and visuals. I need a stuffed cat. I’ve never taught little kids before, but it involves a lot of theatricality and enthusiasm, and you really get what you give. They pound on their little tables and shout loudly and try to respond to the in-between English instructions they don’t understand. I’ve gained a lot of respect for kindergarten teachers. I can’t speak yet with most of these women, but I see how close they are with the kids and I want to express my admiration. I think they can tell I’m new at this.

At 10 I teach the 9th and 10th grade boys. Past 4th grade, the girls of Al Aqaba attend school in Tayasir, so there’s a lot of boy energy in this secondary school. My students are, well, 14 and 15-year-old boys. They’re too cool for school, and my class falls in the middle of their morning break, which can be hectic. At least it’s an improvement from the original 7am arrangement. These guys are goofy and charming, much like my students in New Orleans, and they have a lot of enthusiasm that I can play off of, but it’s directed more at me as their portal to the outside world than it is for conversing in English. I want to say, “Conversing in English is your portal to the outside world!” Some of them just don’t want to speak at all, but even those who do have few opportunities to practice. But they want to see my pictures, videos, music, and be my Facebook friend. I think it’s great that I get to show them all these things, but the challenge is harnessing it into something they can use. Setting up the new English program to reach students earlier and coming up with creative, non-class opportunities to practice English is going to be key.

I teach an adult class at 5, and I have ten regular students. They’re students, lawyers, teachers, parents from Tubas and Tayasir and they’re all eager to improve their conversational skills. I make up a new lesson every day, based on language patterns I read or hear, or common mistakes I notice. Then at the end, I play a song that demonstrates that pattern. The atmosphere is getting more relaxed, and more of my students are comfortable holding casual conversations. They catch me up on the news, invite me places, and I know it’s in those conversations where they get the best practice. That, and it’s nice to have friends in the city.

As my routine becomes more solid, so do my relationships. The people who work for Al Aqaba have become my teachers and helpers. Othman and Amira and Tahrir who work in the office, Abu Saleh, the groundskeeper, Hisham, the driver, Mohammad and Hekmat, who run the sewing co-op, Mustafa, Haj Sami’s nephew, and of course, Haj Sami. I’ve learned so much from everyone, and the positive energy here is infectious. Everyone is working for the village because it’s their home, but there’s a care and awareness that can only come from the threat of destruction, and that’s a common story in Palestine.

I felt the same feeling in New Orleans. I had a friend once ask me, “isn’t New Orleans a really sad place?” and I replied, “No, New Orleans is the happiest place I’ve ever seen.” But a people have to go through hell and back to know what they’ve got, and there’s a fierceness about the way they celebrate it.

Likewise, there’s a love that can only be borne from the loss, separation, and the unpredictability of life under military occupation. I wonder what Tahrir was thinking when she tried to get to work on the morning of September 15th. Did someone come to tell her the news, or was she already in the Service taxi, trying to get into Al Aqaba? She would’ve seen Israeli jeeps surrounding the village, and bulldozers coming down the hill, bringing the pavement with them. This smiling, gentle young woman who helps me with the copy machine. I love her all the more for the fact that she’s smiling in spite of it all.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


I jut sent a message to CouchSurfing. If your city or town isn't recognized, you have to send them coordinates. I found them on Wikipedia, and I requested Al Aqaba, Palestine.

For now I'm under Tayasir, West Bank, Palestinian Territories.

Al Aqaba is like, a kilometer away, but it's in Area C. Can it be recognized as Palestinian?


Stop the JNF

I got an e-mail from Stop the JNF today.

Hello Stop the JNF signatories and supporters,
The international campaign to Stop the JNF is organizing a 5-day fact finding mission in Palestine from December 28, 2011-January 1, 2012.
Initial ideas for the second part of the trip include:
-Planting a garden in Silwan and a village whose orchards have been destroyed with funds raised through the Stop the JNF campaign Plant-a-Tree in Palestine project that is a collaboration with the Palestine Farmers Collective and Stop the Wall in the West Bank.
-Visiting the Galilee to document current JNF constructions and visit Lake Hula that was destroyed by the JNF
-Visiting the Golan Heights to document the Israeli control of water and occupation of Syria
-Spending time at Independence Park/The JFK Memorial to document organizations that partnered with the US government to establish a park on over 5 Palestinian villages

If you'd like more information, please feel free to email us at:

Basically, Stop the JNF aims to educate people about the Jewish National Fund and revoke its charitable status. Stop the JNF Factsheet

The JNF describes itself as a "charitable organization specializing in development of Israeli land and infrastructure, especially planting trees."

It's no accident that these forests and parks have been planted over the remains of Palestinian villages, physically erasing the memory of those who lived there before 1948. And they're developing the Jordan Valley, which accounts for 30% of the West Bank, and calling it Israel. wtf?

I don't understand this annexation of the Jordan Valley thing. Netanyahu said Israel will never cede the Jordan Valley, so does that mean he's annexed it already? Or he's just getting ready to annex it, and will declare said annexation at a time when it won't cause the most uproar? The next US election day?

I wonder if the Jordan Valley will ever be un-occupied. I wonder if Sadiq and the cadets-in-training in Jericho will ever be able to convince the world that they're indeed capable of guarding the Jordan-Palestine border, so Israel won't have an excuse to grab the entire valley.

Al Aqaba would be annexed.

Sadly, the JNF has charity status in over 50 countries, including the US, even though it's a state-funded program. The problem is....the name. "What, you don't support the Jewish National Fund? You must not support Jews!"

In response to British PM David Cameron's decision to step down as honorary patron of the JNF, a refugee in Aida Camp in Bethlehem responded that he was "delighted to hear the news that the British Prime Minister has decided to withdraw his support for this sinister organization involved in ethnic cleansing. My village, Ajjur, was taken by force from my family and given to the JNF who used money from JNF UK to plant the British Park on its ruins."

This is a place where people can go and learn about the Jordan Valley as if it were Palestinian-free. Creepy.

Jordan Valley Solidarity-The Jordan Valley Meeting Point-The Jewish National Fund's Racist Alternative Reality

Here's an interesting video of a Stop the JNF action. A few activists crashed a JNF fundraiser...

Yukhi's visit to Al Aqaba last Sunday!!

Last night I stayed in Tayasir with Abu and Umm Sadiq. Abu Sadiq is Haj Sami's brother. They fed me and let me use their wireless and lent me silk pajamas. I don't think I've ever owned silk pajamas! Feels like buttah.

There were a lot of namoos (mosquito), which was annoying, but in the middle of the night, Roya (three years old, cutest kid ever) jumped into bed with me and started to snuggle. I was like, "awwwwww, hi!" But then she started whimpering and I think she was sleep-snuggling her way out of a nightmare so her mom woke up and took her away. :/

I woke up at 9:30, planning to walk up to Al Aqaba on time for the boys' class, but I realized it was rude to leave before the host serves you breakfast. So Umm Sadiq had me sit down while she prepared breakfast with Roya's mother "bsura, bsura!" quickly, quickly! We ate bread with eggs, avocado, and hummus. And I was called out, for the second time (Adeeb did it first) for eating with my left hand. "This food," said Umm Sadiq, "from God. Only the right hand."

Then Abu Sadiq drove me up to the village, to the boy's class.
Hi Saman,
Thanks for the welcome, I'm excited to be involved with Couch Surfing. The problem is, the village I'm living in isn't recognized on CS, only the village next to it. What can I do to get Al Aqaba (which is just to the East of Tayasir) recognized?

Monday, October 24, 2011


Last Thursday I saw the Smurfs movie in Ramallah. Starring Neil Patrick Harris (DOOGIE) and Emma from Glee. Needless to say, it was pretty damn cute.

Gargamel: (after tossing Asriel into a force field or alternate dimension) "Asriel? Are you dead?"

I used to watch the cartoon during our summers in the States, but my brothers and I grew up the Smurfs and the Magic Flute movie. Wow, it's been a while since I heard this song: "Pee Wee Wants a Smurf"

The Arabic word for Smurfs is Sanafer. In Palestine, college freshmen are called Sanafer.

I laughed so hard when Ahmad told me that.

"because they run around and they don't know what they're doing..."


This morning I was surprised to wake up and find that I knew where I was. The village of Luban Al Sharqia is right under the Israeli settlement of Eli, on the other side of the main road between Ramallah and Nablus. I'd passed it a few dozen times, but I never really noticed it. Israel controls the main road, and the settlements take priority. The signs are in Hebrew first, and I don't think Alloban Alsharqia is even marked, unlike Eli. The other reason I never noticed it is that…it didn’t really look like a village to me. The moment Nancy mentioned “her village,” it was a home, a place with a name, an identity, and a council… not like those collections of houses I passed on my weekly taxi rides.

I’m going to see this village every time I go to Ramallah, and a lot of other villages too….:)

Today I harvested olives with the Daragmeh family (not the same Daragmeh’s as my students in Tubas, but they know of each other!). I was really tired and grumpy in the morning, but by the time we got going out in the fields, it was smooth sailing. It's easy to get into the zone while picking olives. You have a tree, all the olives go on the tarp, all the good olives go in the bucket. It was me, Mama Daragmeh, little Abdullah, and three sisters, Nancy, Diana, and Yasmeen. Like most young Palestinians I know, the sisters all had music stored on their mobiles, so we rocked out to the Arabic Top 40, as well as Rihanna, Black Eyed Peas, and Justin Bieber. We listened to “Take a Bow” a lot, which reminded me of Glee. And my student from last year, Rachael, who tried to sing for her lunch on the end-of-year trip and got as far as “You look so dumb right now…” before cracking up. She and her friends settled on Umbrella instead.

Nancy taught me a lot of new words. I try to come up with devices, but it’s hard to know what’s going to stick. I asked her how to say “change,” like change clothes, and she said “yatahawal.” Yatahawal. That doesn’t sound like anything. No, wait. Yatta, that J-Pop song, and Howl….’s Moving Castle? That one stuck.

The houses of Eli were right above us. I took some pics.

We de-olived one tree, then sat down to a picnic lunch. Mama Daragmeh is really fun to talk to, even though my Arabic is limited. She would holler at all the passersby, which were all male, and I realized how important age and marital status was here, since the daughters couldn’t have hollered at any man or boy their age. Obviously, that’s not just Palestine, but it was cool to see how much respect everyone had for Mama Daragmeh.

Really, her name is Umm Ala, meaning “mother of Ala,” her oldest son. Even if she had ten daughters then one son, she would adopt her son’s name. I wonder if that tradition is going to stick with the younger generations.

Yasmeen pulled out a packet of chocolate wafers after lunch, and Nancy joked that I didn't want any because there was Hebrew on it.
"Ma shteret," I didn't buy, I said, and took two wafers.
"Ah, made in Beit Shemesh."
"Fi thamania arbein?" In Palestine 1948?
No one knew. I googled Beit Shemesh and other people are asking what side of the green line it's on. A lot of people say the green line doesn't exist. anywho....

After Baba joined us and we tackled a few more trees, the girls and I headed up the hill to shower and get ready for makloubeh. I’d eaten a lot at lunch (it’s hard not to when you’re eating with an Arabic mama), and it’s an ominous feeling, sitting down to makloubeh when you’re not hungry hungry. My plate was heaped high with rice, potato, cauliflower and chicken. I just barely polished it off. Afterwards, the sisters gave me clothes and took me to meet their grandmother. I spent the rest of the night chatting on various peoples’ balconies, singing Arabic songs and trying not to get set up with brothers and cousins. We ate knafe back at the Daragmeh apartment, and now here I am.

I'm really looking forward to getting back to Al Aqaba.

Olive Harvest Update

Turns out my day of olive picking was pretty cushy...

International Solidarity Movement-As Settlers Disrupt Olive Harvest, Israeli Officer Declares "I am the law, I am God."

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Alluban Alsharqia

I got picked up by an 18-year-old girl at a football game and now I'm wearing purple pajamas and getting my makeup done by my new friend Nancy in a village called Alluban Alsharqia.


So here's what happened today. I left Moheeb's and headed to the Service station at what I thought was 2pm. Bas, turns out his clocks weren't set to winter time and I had another hour to kill. I indulged in my third shawarma in the last 36 hours and set up on the second floor of the restaurant with my shawarma panini and laptop. This song came on the radio and it was really catchy, so I asked the servers who the singer was, and they grinned and said, "I'm waiting for you." It was Elissa. "Min Lubnan?" From Lebanon? Yes, they said. Sweet. The repertoire has expanded.

I caught the bus to Nablus and spent most of the ride scribbling in my daftar (notebook). Daftar is more fun to say. But I was writing down ideas for Al Aqaba. Village website: Paypal account, couchsurfing, movie nights, international holiday celebrations, volunteer coordinating, house-building, guest-hosting, weekly cultural workshops, visiting artists, news coverage, networking, funding for it all. It's gonna be a busy week, but first things first: Halloween!!!! More on that later.

I got to Nablus and walked to the Municipal Stadium, but I went to the back gate by accident. I walked around and couldn't find an entrance, and this other girl in a hijab holding a daftar was lost too, asking the security guards if there was a way through. She looked annoyed. I left the back gate and started hauling buns around to the front of the stadium. I'd missed the first 45 minutes already! Then the other girl caught up with me and asked me if I spoke English. Yes. From America? Yes. Ahh, I have brother in America. Chicago. And my sister too, in Puerto Rico.

We walked to the stadium together. She was a student at Al-Quds (Jerusalem) Open University in Nablus. Her name was Nancy. We got into the stadium and her friend told her the score was Japan 4-Palestine 0. Not very surprising. I noticed all the players were wearing shorts and t-shirts except one girl, who wore long pants, long sleeves and a hijab. A few hundred girls were on this side, cheering with Palestinian flags. A girl scout troupe was there, with flags painted on their cheeks. It was pretty adorable. There were a fair amount of foreigners too.

I couldn't find my friend Yuhki, who was helping coordinate the event with Al-Najah University, but Nancy told me to come with her, and brought me to her friends. It wasn't strange, being adopted by a stranger. After we'd gotten some water and returned, she asked me if I'd come to her village. I didn't really hesitate. Sure! Why not? "Really, I love you," she said. "Oh, thanks! I love you too!" Then we took a picture in front of the game. A swarm of girls surrounded us and they all wanted a picture with me. Nancy thought this was hilarious. As we headed out, she told me "many peace people come to my village and sleep at my house because my father is the head of the majlus (council). They come to take pictures of the settlers." It was happening again. Of course I'd met the mayor's daughter.

After the game (Japan 4-Palestin 1), we found the other girls from the village and all piled onto a bus. Immediately it turned into a party bus. I remembered Club Whatever in New Orleans, the purple bus with poles and speakers inside. On this party bus the teenaged girls were mostly piled in back, dancing to the music and waving their flags out the windows. The teachers from their school took role, and we were off. Nancy and I sat together and compared favorite music, and I pulled out my laptop and showed her a video of my students from New Orleans. They were on a bus singing "Lean on Me" during the Civil Rights Tour of the South, and I told Nancy that this bus reminded me of my students. I probably would've taken a video for comparison, but in my experience a lot of women who wear the hijab don't want to be filmed. That might just be older women, but I let it be.

We passed Huwarra checkpoint, and got into the village. Alluban Alsharqia. I could see why people came to photograph the settlements. From the bus I could see the streetlights lining the hilltops. They were so bright. Nancy brought me to her apartment, on a hill, on the top floor. The family had a rooftop apartment too, and we got to climb up another level and see the whole village. Many people in Alluban Alsharqia live abroad, in the States, France, Germany....They had very nice houses. Very large, dignified houses. I thought immediately of that word, dignity. How dignified could it be to live under those lights?

I told them, while we were hanging out on the kitchen balcony, ma bujeb al-mustautinin, al-odwou, baqdaresh ashoof al-najun. "I don't like the settlers, the lights, I can't see the stars." They laughed. I asked them if they had demonstrations, they said yes, all the time. The settlements were build on their land. I asked if they had any problems with the settlers (pantomime a fist-fight), and Diana said, "Yes, of course. they burn the olive trees and they made a fire in the mosque and the Qur'ans too, they burned them."

I read in the news that according to Oxfam, settlers cost Palestinian farmers around $500,000 this harvest.

We ate dinner, soup and bread with yoghurt and hummus and egg and olives and jam. Then I took a shower and changed into a new pair of purple ruffly jammies. They were a little small, but my clothes were so stinky I didn't care. Along with Mama and Baba, there are four sisters here, and a five-year-old brother, Abdullah. He loves action, and wrestling, just like Karim. He has John Cena jammies.

I called my parents and my grandpa on the family's Magic Jack. That was absolutely wonderful. My grandpa told me to send him a photo of the olive harvest and he'd make a painting out of it.

So here I am, surfing the net with Nancy. She plays Enrique Iglesias and Westlife and Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely. I played my song from Bil'in, "Ya Ward Ala Ful Wa Yasmeen," and the sisters all knew it and sang with me. One of the sisters reminds me of Amy Poehler.

Tomorrow we're going to harvest some olives, and I'm going to take a tour of the majlas with Nancy's dad. I think there might be some makloubeh and knafe to be had. Why did I not bring my toothbrush? This weekend turned out to be longer and more sugar-filled than usual.

Sweet, sweater-knitting dreams from Palestine,

Alluban Alsharqia

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Crashing on the floor of Moheeb's apartment taught me a valuable lesson: I don't want to live in Ramallah.

I heard music playing and people talking on the street below until 2 in the morning, and thought, I would wither away here. And I've always considered myself a city girl. Before I came to Al Aqaba, I was surprised by my willingness to live in a village. I would joke, "as long as there's internet..."

It's something I feel when I'm in Al Aqaba, or Bil'in, or even Kobar for two hours. There's soul in the villages. There's no soul in Ramallah.

When I was growing up overseas, I always fantasized about living in a small American town. Like Stoneybrook, Connecticut, the mythical home of the Babysitters Club. Everyone knew everyone and you never had to say goodbye to your friends. People stayed. There was permanence.

But how would I find permanence in Palestine? The truth is, I love moving around and hotels and airports and navigating cities and being cosmopolitan. But now I think about working and studying and living in Jerusalem or Ramallah and it makes me uneasy. Getting comfortable with the cafes and bars and the urbanites and foreigners makes me uncomfortable. And I think it's more than just the fear of losing inspiration or becoming cliche. I'm just a little enamored with the villages.

Friday, October 21, 2011


Going to Kobar (Kobra? Karbo? Korba?) with Moheeb and the Turkish reporters was amazing and....tiring. But I learned that Turkish is a beauuuutiful language and Kanan, the cameraman, likes to sing and recite poetry, and his voice is like BUTTAH.

We got to Kobar, which is only 15 minutes outside of Ramallah, next to Birzeit. We all got out of the cab and walked up towards the mosque, where the kids were all walking around with plates of knafeh. This voice inside said, "I want, I want!" We approached a large outside sitting area, where a line of men was waiting to kiss and shake hands with the released men. There were three, and I immediately recognized one of them. I'd seen him on TV at the Mubarak's the night before. It might have been Al Jazeera, or Palestine TV, or Hamas TV (Ahmad was showing me all the channels), but I was told, "this prisoner is the oldest prisoner that was released." I was surprised, because I'd heard that many of the hundreds of prisoners were elderly. I was also surprised that the man on the screen was the released Palestinian. I mistook him for a foreigner. He was tall, light-skinned, and kind of resembled a movie star. Like a gentler Clint Eastwood.
This was the man we encountered in Kobar, and it turns out he wasn't the oldest man released, but he had served the longest sentence...34 years. His brother next to him had served about six months less than him, and I'm not sure how much time the third man had served. We waited for the line to die down, and in the meantime we were served knafeh (yesss) and coffee and water. Noorsal, our older lady reporter with shocking white hair, and I were the only two women there. She was more used to it than I was. She'd been reporting for the Turkish news from Jerusalem and Tel Aviv for seven years. She told me she'd spent the last three New Years' in Gaza.
"You were there during Operation Cast Lead?"
She nodded.
When things quieted down, Noorsal got her interview with the first brother. I wanted so badly to squeeze in after her, because I doubted he'd gotten any interviews from American reporters. Not that I was a reporter. Just a blogger. But it still would've been great footage, even with my little "activist camera," as Haitham calls it. Moheeb poked fun too, pretending to shave his face with it.
Twice during Noorsal's interview the line of men reappeared, so she had to stand aside and wait while they all kissed on the cheek three times and hugged. In the meantime, Moheeb took me to visit his sister. The village was pretty quiet, but it looked bigger than Bil'in, and a little more affluent. A group of young women stopped to chat with Moheeb, it wasn't surprising because it was his village, but he was a member of the Barghouti family, so everyone knew him. His cousin is Marwan Barghouti, the imprisoned leader who's on a lot of the banners during the demonstrations. He didn't make the cut on this prisoner swap. The Barghoutis are a prominent family in Palestine, but Moheeb is a bit of an odd duck. He lives by himself in Ramallah, and he's quite a character. Very loud, very in-your-face, a compulsive jokester and and brutally honest. Every time in our squished taxi he yelled, "yalla, listen to me, listen to me...," we all cracked up because his constant hijacking of the conversation had ceased to be annoying and now was just funny.
Moheeb was trying to explain to Noorsal that it was a problem that she only interviewed one brother. She defended herself, "did you see that situation?" She had to keep stopping the interview and it was really awkward. Then he said straight-up, "one brother is Hamas, one brother is Fatah. I tell them both you will do the interview, and you only interview one. There are many problems right now for Hamas and Fateh, so this is a problem for Erdogan and Turkey."

We all sat in silence for a while.

Then I told Kanan to sing a song, and he performed for my camera. I asked him if he liked American music, and he said, "Yes, Rihanna. And Justin Timberlake." I sang some of Umbrella. Noorsal said, "I only like 50." I asked, "the 50's?" She said "No, 50 Cent."
"...and Timbaland!" said Kanan.
Then we sang The Way I Are.

We parted ways at the shawarma stand, and I'm the only girl in the cafe in Ramallah now. There are three men performing on the couches, singing and playing the violin, drums, and oud. It's beautiful.

Bil'in Demo-Ashraf gets detained

I'm sitting in a cafe in Ramallah with my friend Moheeb and three Turkish reporters. We're on our way to Kobar soon to see some of the prisoners that were released in the Gilad Shalit swap. This should be interesting.

Today I was fortunate enough to find a Service taxi from Deir Jareer to Ramallah, and Ramallah to Bil'in. This can be a tricky business on Fridays. I met Moheeb in Ramallah and we headed up to Bil'in, through a different route. We were stopped at an Israeli checkpoint, and Moheeb told me to tell the soldiers, if they asked me, that I was going to Harbatha to make olive oil. Not to Bil'in. My stomach churned in anticipation of this lie, but the soldiers waved us through.

Today's demonstration in Bil'in was more spread out than usual. There were about 40 people there, and the shabab (youth) went straight for a different side of the wall, because they saw the soldiers gathered there before we got to Abu Lemon (the nature reserve next to the settlement where the village maintains a presence with a few one-room shacks). I joined up with the boys next to the wall, but they were throwing stones and I knew they were going to get gassed, so I joined most of the other internationals, who were standing around Abu Lemon. Then I thought I should get some footage of the gas, so I kept going back and forth. There was a system to it, you keep your eye on where the soldiers are shooting, and which direction the wind is blowing, and you don't have to breathe any gas. But the wind kept changing direction, and the cat-and-mouse game got tiring. I hadn't eaten or drank any water, and my shoes weren't good for blind rock scrambling, so I set up camp on a hill overlooking the boys and soldiers. A lot of the boys had gas masks, so they just kept throwing stones through the gas, and even lobbed the canisters back over the wall. They have to be careful because the canisters are really hot.

Two things were different today. The canisters ignited A LOT of fires. Usually there was a small brush fire, but this time the trees themselves caught fire. It was a terrible sound, this dry, crinkly whoosh and the olive branches were up in flames. One fire would die out, then the soldiers would shoot more gas into the same area, where there were no people, and the fire would spread further. I wanted to run down and help put it out, but I wouldn't have gotten far in the gas. I wished I had a mask.

The second thing. Once the shebab had left, the internationals and journalists were starting to head back, when three army jeeps from over the hill towards us. The Turkish reporter said, "Let's go...there's nothing to be afraid of, we're just internationals." They said the soldiers were looking for some of the boys in Abu Lemon, and I could see Ashraf running towards the jeeps with his flags. We started following them into Abu Lemon, and I wasn't sure if they were arresting villagers or foreigners, but one foreigner had his hands up. Moheeb waved me away, I didn't have a Press pass. Three reporters caught up to me and said, "why are you waiting?" I followed them to the soldiers. There were about a dozen of them from three jeeps, and the internationals were asking them questions. They'd arrested Ashraf. I stood around the semi-circle of foreigners, wanting to shout something like "why did you take Ashraf??" Later I thought I could've busted out "Ma pitom!", the Hebrew equivalent of "wtf!!" One of our visitors to Al Aqaba had taught me this...

They took Ashraf away behind the wall, and the other two jeeps proceeded over the hill to Bil'in, presumably to look for shebab who were throwing stones. We saw them rambling through the village on our way back.

Moheeb and the Turkish folks went to Abdullah's house to do another interview, after they'd talked to Ashraf's friend, a law intern who had confronted the commanding Israeli officer. He said he'd been with Ashraf the whole time, and Ashraf hadn't thrown stones, he'd only held his flag, from the beginning to the end. Because he was accused of throwing stones, he could be detained behind the wall for an hour, a day, a week, or months without charge. This is administrative detention under the Occupation, and it applies to Palestinians only.

I went to the committee office to collect my bag and help Kefah edit the weekly report. After I'd been there for ten minutes by myself, Kefah came in and collapsed on the couch. The army jeeps had followed him and his friend, and he'd ducked into a house to change his clothes. One of the soldiers had threatened his friend and pointed a gun at him from the jeep. That's the last we knew of him.

Half and hour later, I was crammed into a taxi with six people, heading to Ramallah, while everyone argued about Turkey and Palestine and Erdogan and his policy towards the Kurds. It was mostly Moheeb shouting at everyone else. He'd been in Iraqi prison for four years and had his peace to speak, but by the time we reached Ramallah, our brains (as well as our butts) were numb from that attempt to have a civilized debate.

So here we are, in a cafe on a Friday night, the Turks are uploading videos and writing reports, men are smoking argheelah everywhere and I'm not sure what's going to happen next. Just assuming that since it's already dark, I have a place to stay in Kobar.

"Yalla!" our friend says...and off we go...
It's Weekend #5 already, but I want to do a video post when I get back to Al Aqaba. Tomorrow I'm going to Bil'in for the demo, and on Saturday I'm watching a women's soccer match in Nablus-Palestine vs. Japan. This should be interesting. I remember watching the Women's Finals at Fat Harry's in New Orleans, and I think I was the only one rooting for Japan. That was such a sweet win!!

Anyways, I postponed my tour of the Jordan Valley to catch the match. But none of my students seemed that interested. It's women's football. Some people have problems with the dress. Well...that's to be expected in Nablus.

...I'm pumped.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

On Sunday night I stayed over at the Daragmeh's (five of my students') house in Tubas. We picked up barbequed chicken and beef on the way home and feasted. Then we skyped their other sister in Nablus, who invited me to stay with them next week. Then their dad requested that I sing a quiet song, and I sang the first verse of "Power of Two" by the Indigo Girls.
We all went upstairs and smoked argheelah on the balcony of the second floor, and talked about English and Arabic and the news. Saed had been in Israeli prison for four years. I asked what for, he said, "Hamas." They'd come and arrested him in his house for his political affiliation. That was during the Second Intifada. Some of the people he knew in prison were being released for Gilad Shalit. Again, the news was hitting home.

We saw police car lights going around the block. I asked my students what the number was for calling in an emergency, and they said they didn't know. 100? 101? 102? "I think, 102 is the ambulance...but we don't call the police." Not like in America.

I could see it too. This place didn't seem to have many murderers or robbers or pedophiles or prowlers. Everyone was at home, with their family, every night...

We drank Nescafe and their aunt (I think) made me some soup, then we went to bed. It was a nice visit. The next morning after class, Haj Sami asked, "when you get home in the evening?" I said I stayed over in Tubas, and he said, "no, only sleep in Al Aqaba!...the police, he ask me about you. I tell him, you sleep in Al Aqaba."

These guys must be pretty bored...

Weekend Update #4

Last weekend I had to go to Jordan to renew my Israeli visa. I went to Tubas to find a Service to Jericho, which people told me ran every hour. Not correct! The Service that showed up was empty, and the driver was calling people, trying to get more passengers. We ended up sitting outside his house, and he told me, the other person, they want to go in 30 minutes. ooooook. I'll wait.
"You want to drink something? Eat?"
".....umm, sure."
My taxi driver brought me up to his apartment, where his mother served me mansaf and salad and olives and cola and tea and coffee. His father and brother also came and sat on the couches, but they mostly just sat there and joked about Altayeb's foreign guest. His brother had studied at Arab-American University, so his English was the strongest. I attempted conversation in Arabic. They invited me to come again, his mother would teach me to make makloubeh, and we would be great friends. I didn't really see that happening, but I left stuffed and happy.
The woman we picked up on the way out of town was a free-lance trainer for women starting businesses in the West Bank. She was awesome. I asked her about jobs in Palestine, and she suggested She also knew an Italian family in Ramallah that needed a nanny for their kids. I gave her my number. The idea of having any job sounded exciting, and I can't afford to be choosy at this point, but I'm still holding out for something fulfilling. Lucrative and fulfilling. Ha!
I saw the Jordan Valley for the first time, since I'd made the last journey at night. It was beautiful. It reminded me of Wenatchee, Washington at times, the dry, scrubby hills and lush valleys. After hearing so many depressing things about camps and settlements, I could see how much growing was being done by Palestinians and it was uplifting. I took a lot of videos out of the window. When we stopped at an Israeli checkpoint, everyone started getting out. Altayeb told me, "no, you stay." I asked, "leish?" Our woman friend said, "because you're not Palestinian." They took their bags and walked through the revolving doors to the side of the road. Altayeb and I drove up to the soldiers, and I showed them my passport. We waited for the others, and I took pictures of the Hebrew signs that pointed to the settlements up the hill. I can't see these checkpoints and junctions ever being dismantled, if their purpose is to protect the settlements...
We kept going on to Jericho. We passed farms and settlements, and I tried to guess which crops were Palestinian and which were Israeli. The other passengers affirmed, they were mostly Israeli. I saw a warehouse that said "Carmel." Aha, the Carmel of Carmel-Agrexco.

“Carmel Agrexco-established in 1956, is Israel’s largest exporter of agricultural produce, with the European Union one of its major markets. Today, the Carmel label markets 350,000 tons of fresh produce and flowers exported around the world, yielding an annual turnover of $580 million.”
-Carmel website

They supply to British supermarkets, mostly, but their depot in England has been shut down several times because of protestors. Here’s a link to a funny protest in Italy.

Anyways, we got to the Palestinian Authority exit terminal, and I lost the nice lady I was with, but I found a British guy named Joe. We were escorted together as the only foreigners, and after our passports were checked we caught a shared taxi to Amman. Joe studied Arabic at Birzeit University, and was also doing the “visa run.” He’d been to Palestine a few times before, and once with his family. His mother was also visiting in November. I was curious about living the modern life in Ramallah. Joe was able to go out on the weekends, but he shared an apartment with a Palestinian, who didn’t help him much with his Arabic because he always wanted to speak English. I asked him what his excuse was for the Israeli border, and he said he told the truth. It got him through the Tel Aviv airport. And the worst thing, he said, is getting caught lying. It’s true, but I think Allenby is tougher. No question, they will make him feel like shit for being interested in Arabic and Palestinians. I have a strong desire to tell the truth, it feels like the courageous thing to do, but it’s not worth getting my visa rejected. My friend was rejected after a year of teaching art in Nablus and some time in Gaza, and it’s so sad to think of how much good work could have been done by now if people like us weren’t seen as security threats. Jesus, she was an art teacher…

Joe got dropped off in Shmeisani, where the CIEE abroad students live in apartments, and where my friends and I would go out on the weekends in spring of 08. By that time I realized my first contact was out of town, and my second (Hamude, of the Deir Jareer Mubaraks) was at a family reunion and couldn’t host any guests. I realized that I’d been really stupid. I was standing on a sidewalk in Amman, waiting for a taxi, deciding whether or not to surprise my host family from three years ago, or see if a taxi driver understood the word for “hostel.” Maybe I could check into that one hotel with Club Nai in the basement, where we would go to for all-you-can-eat sushi. What was the name of that hotel?

I finally hailed a taxi, and told him “Dahit al-Rashid.” He nodded.
“Moktar mall.” He nodded.
“Funduq al-Quds.” Jerusalem Hotel. He nodded.
Yamin hun. Right here.
Jame al-rawda. Al-rawda mosque.
Hun quais. Here is good.

I walked by the mosque, wondering if Baba was praying there right now. There were a bunch of kids playing by the grocery store outside the apartment, and I recognized the first kid immediately. It was Karim, my host nephew from three years ago. He was five now, and way bigger, but it was him! I wanted to say something, but I felt like a creepy old lady. I walked into the elevator, tried the second floor. Nope, not this one. Tried the third floor. I think this is the door, yes, it has the star and crescent light…I rang the doorbell, and stood there awkwardly. If they weren’t busy tonight, they would feed me and likely ask me to stay over. If it wasn’t a good night, I’d visit for a bit and go find a hotel. Their maid answered the door. Then she closed the door. 30 seconds. Mama opened it a crack. 5 seconds. Her eyes went wide.
She hugged and kissed me. Her daughter Ola had told them I’d be in Amman in the next couple weeks, but I hadn’t specified what day. She sat me down in the TV room, which overlooks Amman, and we caught up. Her mother was on the couch, and she remembered me. We talked about Palestine, she showed me around the house, which had a lot of new furniture, and she got the maid to go fetch Karim. He came up and didn’t seem to remember me, but after a few minutes of kicking a ball around he got up the nerve to shake my hand.
“How are you?”
“I’m fine, thanks.”
Wow, he speaks more English than my teenaged students. He showed me his room, and his PSP. His favorite game was WWF wrestling. He explained the rules to me in English. I wish I’d recorded that conversation, and how he pronounced Undertaker. Like Undarrtakarr. It was great. Then he demonstrated the People’s Elbow on his stuffed rabbit.
“You do this with your friends?!”
“Yes!!” he exclaimed with a huge grin.

We went back downstairs to Mama. She had the maid bring us tea. I thought I remembered this maid, but the family had gone through three maids while I was there for three months. They were all from Malaysia or Sri Lanka, like most of the domestic servants in Jordan. The Qawasmi’s were a good family, but I was always sad for the girls. One afternoon I remember Al Jazeera was doing a report on domestic servants from Sri Lanka and our maid sat down and watched it with me, following the language of the interviews that were dubbed over. I think she recognized some of the places. I realized how little freedom she had. But a few days later, we had a new maid. I never knew what happened.
Ola came home from work at the Arab Bank. She and I ate dinner together, rice and meat and vegetables and salad. Mama is a great cook. They kept raving about the chocolate bundt cake I’d made, but Mama served us two desserts, one an Arabic sweet like cold rice pudding that you drizzle with syrup, and the other a layered chocolate custard cake. It was so good. I had two pieces. Then of course, we drank Nescafe. At that point, Ola’s brother was home. I’d never met him, while I lived there he was living in Belfast with his wife and daughter. We talked and told riddles and ate and drank coffee and a few times I paused and thought, I am in complete bliss right now. They laughed about how I came home early from my desert homestay because I couldn’t stand living there for four days, and how Karim kept asking for “Jessi” after I left. They still called me by my first name. Ola’s brother went to get a movie, he wanted The Hangover 2, and Morgan Ahmad Morgan for me, but he couldn’t find either, so he bought a bunch of Egyptian movies. They tried for a while to turn on subtitles, but the pirated movies didn’t have them, so after much apologizing, we settled down and watched Asal Aswad, Black Honey, a comedy starring Ahmad Helmi about an Egyptian-American who wants to experience Egypt for a while. He leaves his American passport at home, but gets treated like crap when he uses his Egyptian passport. He sends for his American passport, then gets beat up by anti-American protestors. It was pretty slapstick, but it got serious in the second half, as he started to fall in love with Egypt.
He spoke a lot of Arabeezi. It was pretty easy for me to follow along.
I slept in Ola’s bed, and Ola slept with her grandmother. I kept thinking, holy cow, I lived here.
Karim woke me up at 6. For the next two hours I practiced my grumpy Arabic: “leeeeish? badain, ana tabana, ana mish jahez, nus sa3a, hamstash daqaeq, hams daqaeq…..” why? later, I’m tired, I’m not ready, half an hour, 15 minutes, 5 minutes….I could have locked the door, but I really didn’t think he’d keep coming in and poking me.
Mama and Sitti were up. They gave me Nescafe and a sandwich to take on the run. I’d messed up…Palestine was one hour earlier than Jordan because they switched to winter time early, but I’d still slept in. By the time I gotten to the border it was 11:40.

The crossing

My contact at Rebuilding Alliance was concerned that my re-entry would be rejected without references from Israel, so she contacted some people in Nazareth, and I planned to use my contact at the Christian institute in Jerusalem I'd supposedly been studying at for the last month. In the end though, I gave a few names of people I knew in Israel and the authorities were satisfied. My agent was nice, an Ethiopian guy, and I tried to chat with him about the States...he'd been to Kentucky. Which is close-ish to Louisiana....I was sweating.

"My grandparents gave me a month of study in Jerusalem, so now I want to travel and see my friends before my parents come to meet me at Christmas."

They didn't even ask me about the West Bank this time, just how I spent my last month, and they seemed suspicious about the 1-month visa I'd received (crossed out from 3). I knew that was because I'd told the last agent about my contact in Bethlehem. Can’t have foreigners running around with friends like that…

It was nauseating as usual, but this time was a little different. I'd just paid $94 for a V.I.P. shuttle ride to the Allenby bridge after having missed the last Friday bus from the Jordan border. I missed it by ten minutes. The officials on both sides could see I was verklempt and they tried to make it easy on me...they showed me to lounges with coffee and escorted me through the V.I.P metal detectors. The only benefit I could see was that I looked visibly annoyed, instead of nervous.

I got my 3-month visa to Israel, got escorted to the exit by my V.I.P chaperone, and no one seemed to care that I got on a bus to Jericho with all the Palestinians. I went through the terminal for the Palestinian Authority, which sadly doesn't have the authority to stamp my passport, and I recognized a police officer who looks like a friend from home. Haj Sami's nephew is in the Palestinian police force, training in Jericho. He should be home to Al Aqaba soon.

I missed the demonstration in Bil’in, and the Service ride to Ramallah took forever, since it dropped off everyone in their respective villages, including a family that was visiting for six weeks from Wisconsin. Big Palestinian population there, apparently. I got to Ramallah and immediately found a cab driver. His name was also Karim, meaning generous. He let me drive the cab to Bil’in. Ohhhhhh that was fun. But there are too many speed bumps in Palestine.

I got dropped off, and went straight to the office. Kefah was finishing the Arabic report for the demonstration. Lots of gas today. The demonstration was in solidarity with the prisoners on hunger strike, and in celebration of the olive harvest. Some of the villagers tried to climb over the wire fence around the wall to get to an olive that stood between, but they were fired at before they could reach it.

I finished the report, sent some e-mails, and went to find Haitham. His wife was on the front stoop-“I tell Haitham you’re here, I see you in the car, but he says, no, Morgan is not here…” She showed me the footage from the demo that Haitham had just finished, before he came in. We all talked, they made me a ridiculous amount of food, and Haitham walked me towards Khamis’ house. I was looking for Khamis or Tutu or Tala or Filasteen, whoever I found first. We found Khamis, and they walked me to Adeeb’s house. His two middle girls were in there, and the guys dropped me off. Ooook. I sat with the girls, tried to converse, then they decided to go to the wedding. So we went to a wedding. I stood in the wedding tent, where all the women were sitting and watching the girls and the bride dancing. This time, no one waved me up to dance. Thank goodness. I sat in the back while Wala chatted with her friends, and the song “Ma Fi Nom” came on, by Najwa Karam. Everyone loved this song. My students talked about it, people played it on their cell phones…I wished I knew the words. After a while, Farhat’s daughter Lulu found me and came and sat on my lap. Wala asked me, “you know this girl?” “Yes, Labiba.” She seemed satisfied and left with her friends. Farhat’s wife came up with baby Jude and sat next to me. We just sat…watching the wedding. After a while I had to pee so I went to the apartment behind the committee office, where I was staying that night. Kefah had given me the key. I laid down for a bit. The wedding was right outside, and I wondered how late the music would be playing. Then a song came on and I loved it. I whipped out my camera and took a 3-minutes video of the window. I could have it deciphered later. It was the same feeling I felt after I learned Ana Ayesh by Amr Diab, which sounds so cheesy now, because he’s a cheeseball, but to me, the key to a culture lies in its music, and if I can enjoy Arabic music, I can feel at home here. I wondered what kind of song it was. It sounded like it was from a musical. Maybe people thought it was stupid. I hoped not. It was my favorite.

I returned Farhat’s call and went to see his family back at their house. We ate some fruit, then went to visit his brother. They asked me all the regular questions, and we ate candy and played with the kids. Lulu sat on my lap. Then I got tired, and they dropped me off at the committee office. I surfed the net for a while, then passed out in the apartment. The next morning, I walked to the Service station, and saw Tutu playing on the way. In some ways I think Tutu is the queen of Bil’in. She’s the village darling. She’s got the power. But she was sheepish, and I just said “bashoofek usbu3 al-jay!” See you next week!
Her brother Ahmad recognized me at the station and shook my hand. We picked olives together last weekend. My friend Ahmad called me while I was in the Service. He was also coming to Ramallah. We met up and got some coffee and argheelah at a cafĂ© overlooking the city. Ahmad taught me more Arabic, and we talked about the demonstrations in Bil’in. He didn’t think the demonstrations accomplished anything. I disagreed. His village had had problems with settlers and soldiers and land confiscation, but they didn’t demonstrate. I didn’t understand how that was better. Why not demonstrate? I didn’t realize that other Palestinians might look down on Bil’in for its activism. Or think that it was counterproductive. But his village didn’t look directly at settlers, or stand in the path of the wall. It wasn’t a demonstrating community because it didn’t feel constrained to be, and a lot of its residents were able to live their lives and make money without their land. Not so in Bil’in. I learned that Ahmad had been involved in the DFLP in university, but now he wasn’t political. Two of his friends had been killed by Israeli soldiers, because the soldiers “thought they were involved in something bad.” I didn’t ask what it was, or if it was true. I was just amazed, that even someone so seemingly neutral, and unaffected, has a story. Everyone has a story. The argheela was making me light-headed, toja arasi.
I Serviced back to Al Aqaba. Again, a quiet homecoming. For the next few days people would ask me how Jordan was, or when I was going to Jordan. Already went, one day, back again. I have so much freedom.

Letter from Jewish Voice for Peace

Maybe you know Cecilie Surasky, Jewish Voice for Peace Deputy Director. She's smart and tireless, passionate and committed. And, without a doubt, she is one of my heroes.

Turns out, I'm far from the only one that thinks so. A young rabbinical student and member of JVP's Rabbinical Council nominated Cecilie for the Jewish Federations' Community Heroes Award. We knew what nominating someone like Cecilie means for our movement: recognition of the many many Jews, young and old, who support equality, democracy and human rights for Palestinians and Israelis.

We let folks know about Cecilie's nomination on Twitter and on Facebook, just like the competition organizers suggested. And Cecilie was steadily running in 9th or 10th place in the voting among thousands of nominees. We couldn't have been more proud—or more excited about her moving on to the semi-finals as part of the Top 10.

And then...suddenly...she was gone. In what can only be considered an act of fear and discrimination, the Jewish Federations of North America removed her nomination.
I wish I could say I was surprised. But, sadly, I'm not. This is what happens when you speak the truth with and for the hundreds of thousands Jews and friends in this country and beyond—those of us who are not represented by the large Jewish institutions, the self-appointed spokespeople—and, apparently, gatekeepers—of who belongs in the Jewish community.

It's certainly not the most important issue we're dealing with. But it is so indicative of the attempt to engineer what is acceptable to talk about, think about, and care about in the Jewish community that we just can't take it sitting down.
Standing up is what we do. It's what Cecilie does, it's why she was nominated, and why she was winning.

Sign the petition to the Jewish Federations of North America:

We are writing to you today in the spirit of our shared history to say one thing:

It is simply unacceptable for you to have removed Cecilie Surasky, Jewish Voice for Peace activist, from your Jewish Community Heroes nomination list.

It is censorship. It is fear-based. It is not what being Jewish means. And it is wrong.

Here's another thing: removing Cecilie from your list doesn't remove us - all of us who believe in a peaceful solution for Israelis and Palestinians - from the world. We're here. We aren't going anywhere. We will keep raising our voices. All we ask is that you keep listening.

This action will not silence us. We are more committed than ever to keep speaking up.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A little lesson in sumud


I'm angry. And impatient.

The internet here is really slow. Really, really slow. Haj Sami will give me a task to complete, like respond to an e-mail, while I'm researching something for an English class, or trying to upload a photo. For the next hour I have to choose one task to complete, or the internet will freeze. That's dial-up. Haj Sami keeps clicking and clicking, like that's going to make it go faster...

The sewing co-op two floors up is allowed to have wireless during working hours. It's very weak and it fritzes out all the time. I'm on it now. I tried to upload a video of a visiting workshop so our Global Giving account can post it before their big fundraising event, but I can't. I want to link the video on my e-mails so we can get more workshops and visiting teachers, but I can't. I want to post a picture of the kids on Facebook, but I can't.

The sewing co-op, as a business is allowed to have wireless, like the Israeli settlers and the military camps, but the office and the rest of the village can't have wireless because they say this is "Area C." Read: They can't have wireless because they're Palestinians in Area C. They can't build houses because they're Palestinians in Area C. They don't have the right to exist on their own land because their land is a closed military zone. They should have thought of Israel's security first. Netanyahu said whatever land Israel wanted to keep could easily be declared a security zone and no one would question it.

"Why do the people in Bil'in keep demonstrating even after the army moved the fence?"

Because the wall and the settlements still sit on a third of their land, and they'll never accept it. The settlers are going to see a demonstration every Friday and someday they'll have to understand why.

In Palestine it's called sumud. They'll keep clicking until they get through.

We have two American girls visiting from Israel today. Sammy and Rachel. They helped harvest olives today :) I'll post pictures when I can...

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Arab Bank

Last week I set up an account with Arab Bank. I felt like such a jerk, showing up on Thursday afternoon, right before they closed for the weekend asking for an account with no proof of residence or salary. But the employees sat with me for an hour and gave me tea and coffee and candy (only at an Arab bank) and tried to figure out my situation.

"You're here alone? You're not afraid? Good, good...."
"How do you see Palestine? Beautiful?"

People are always surprised that I want to live here, because they're usually trying to get out. They ask me if I know how they can get an American visa, and how they can improve their TOEFL score. I have the luxury of not knowing about these things.

My favorite question was...

"Morgan..this is your father's name?"
"No, just my middle name."
He looked down at the form. The second name space said "Father's name"
He wrote Morgan.
"Bach, this is your grandfather's name?"

After skimming all this Occupy Wall Street news, it occured to me that all of my money is now in Arab Bank. Haha!

Friday, October 14, 2011

When Phil Weiss came to visit us in Al Aqaba, he took this video of Haj Sami. Today he posted an article with the video on Mondoweiss called A Palestinian mayor explains how Israeli army starves his village of water. Check it out.

One time I asked my friend if he had family in Jordan. He responded, "Noo, of course not, I'm not a refugee!"

So when I told Kefah I came from Amman this morning, and he said he had family there, I asked, "are they refugees?"
"No, no..."
"No...they left in 1975 and their permits were revoked. I didn't meet my brother until last year."

I'm back in Bil'in. I missed the demonstration, but showed up in time to edit the report, here it is!

Dozens teargassed in weekly demonstration in Bil'in:

Palestinians and international and Israel activists marched this week in solidarity with Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike, and in celebration of the olive harvest.

Demonstrators were fired at with tear gas in the weekly march organized by the Popular Committee Against the Wall and Settlements in Bil'in, which was attended by dozens of Palestinians and international and Israeli peace activists.
The march began from the center of the village after Friday prayers, and headed to the land that was liberated in June with the removal of the separation fence. Participants raised Palestinian flags and banners with images of Palestinian prisoners. They chanted patriotic slogans calling for the departure of the occupation, the destruction of the Apartheid wall, and freedom and rights for Palestinian prisoners.
After arriving at the Abu Lemon protected area adjacent to the wall, demonstrators tried to access an olive tree standing between the barbed wire fence and the wall in order to harvest its olives and show solidarity with the farmers of Bil'in. In response, occupation forces stationed behind the concrete wall fired tear gas toward the participants, asphyxiating many of them and preventing them from accessing the tree. Participants then threw stones over the wall. The heat of the gas canisters ignited fires on the lands adjacent to the wall, but the demonstrators were able to control and extinguish the fire.


I'm back in Palestine with a 3-month visa!!! alhamdulliah!!!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Today I'm going to try to "make" olives. Saleh, the groundskeeper, helped me pick olives from the trees in the village today, and tried to explain the recipe, which I think I remember. 10 cups of water, 1 cup of white vinegar, a lemon, some crushed hot pepper, and a cup of salt. Not regular salt, like sea salt. I need to find some sea salt before my zeitoun are past the point of no return.

I'm going to Jordan tomorrow. I'm nervous about my re-entry being rejected, but I'm trying to keep a stiff upper lip. Jordan tomorrow, Bil'in on Friday, and a tour of the Jordan Valley with my students tomorrow.

It's good!

Today I met my first Holocaust denier...

Today I met my first Holocaust denier.

He’s in my English class, and he’s a 26-year-old math teacher.

Today was an especially chill class, because half of my students, who are siblings and therefore come as a group, weren’t there. I had prepared the song Independent Woman for this class to practice the verb “depend,” but since my only source of females didn’t show up, I had to sing it for the guys. They didn’t throw their hands up at me, but I think they enjoyed it.

After class I told them I was afraid that something had happened today, since they'd showed up late.
I'd gotten a call from my friend Mohib today and he told me he was in Ofer prison. At first I thought he was IN prison and for some reason still had his cell phone (?), but then he told me that soldiers were firing live bullets and rubber bullets, so I understood that he was at a demonstration outside the prison. I didn’t get a chance to read the news, so I was letting my imagination run wild. Maybe my students went to go join the revolution. No class today. I stopped Hekmat, the manager of the village sewing co-op, and asked him if he knew if something had happened with the prisoner movement. He said no, “but tomorrow morning, there is no shopping.”

My students confirmed that there’s a general strike tomorrow, as well as a possible march at 10am. The news had recently broken that there were hundreds of Palestinian bodied buried by the Israeli army in numbered graves in Israel, and the High Court had finally decided that the remains be returned to their families. One of my students (the one who’d been imprisoned for 3 years) suggested that the army is dragging their feet because they want to keep the remains as bargaining chips.
“We have one, Gilad Shalit, and they have thousands.”
I didn’t know much about the story that was broken, but I found it disturbing, the secret graves. I told my students it sounded too much like what happened in the war in Europe.
“You mean Germany?” my student asked, and everyone was like, “ahhh, yes.”
“Yes, Germany.”
“I don’t think this thing happen…”
It was a first, hearing someone say it, but it wasn’t that startling. I still had troubling responding.
“Well, no, it did happen, but it doesn’t make what Israel is doing right….in America we learn about Germany all the time. All the children know about Germany, but they don’t know about Palestine.”
“It’s the media,” another student said, “the media war.”
They all headed out, and I walked back to the apartment, made some spaghetti carbonara (with some leftover shawarma and hummus thrown in) and sat down to reflect. My student. The evil Holocaust denier. Ahmedinejad. What was going on here?
The Holocaust isn’t taught in Palestine. So any reason Israel gives for its victimhood is easily dismissed. To my students, Israel is not the victim, but the victimizer. The protector of the settlements, the demolisher of homes, three years in prison for throwing stones. The reason these professionals, with their Masters’ degrees and Doctorates, are denied entry into Jerusalem. So the Jews suffered. Who cares?
The term “Catch-22” doesn’t do it justice. To ignore the Holocaust is to remove the humanity of the Jews, just as omitting the Nakba from Israeli curriculum allows Israeli children to dehumanize Arabs. The difference is, one is the occupier, and one is the occupied. One incomplete education ends in military conscription, and the other ends in thinking that the Jews are doing it all for kicks. Because they’re just like that.
So can you teach the Holocaust to Palestinians living under occupation? Can you teach it in Jordan Valley schools that are under demolition order, can you teach it to refugees? Who can you teach it to if this man, this family man, this degree-holding math wizard, this education-seeking…educator…doesn’t want to hear it?

Can you teach this lesson under occupation, and can the occupation end without it?

Devin and the Bullet

A few people in Palestine have asked me why there's so much violence in the US. Not the military kind, or the systematic kind. In the US, why do people go up to you and put a gun in your face?

For one thing, it's easier to buy guns there. For another thing, families here, even if they have ten or twelve children, are so tight, that you don't really see kids being left behind. When I asked a friend about the idea of adopting a Palestinian child, he seemed almost offended at the implication that there were abandoned children here. If there are no parents, there are always grandparents, or aunts and uncles, or siblings that will take care of them.

Last year I worked at a middle school in New Orleans. Every weekend, the principal sends an e-mail to the staff, with highlights, shout-outs and announcements.

A few days ago I was forwarded the weekend e-mail, and it made me cry. I taught some of these students last year and it's overwhelming...the challenges they're facing, the history they're carrying, and the strength they have to show.


Wednesday was an incredible day for me. The combination of an intense, emotional, conversation with our senior class, followed by a fantastic team and family trip with freshmen rolling down a hill over and over again, reminded me of just how extraordinary middle school is.

I’m simply not a strong enough writer to capture the beauty, the anguish, the hilarity, the sadness, the hope, and the doubt of the journey from 10 years old to 14 years old. Some of it was captured on Wednesday though.

Tuesday at lunch the Senior class was asked to confront Devin for bringing a bullet to school, for showing it off, for trying to have it make him cool. They were asked to confront themselves for the fact that at least 10 teammates had seen it and none had challenged him on it. The Tuesday conversation was at times forced. Seniors wrestled with whether or not it was really a big deal or not.

Devin, after having done phenomenal reflections of where he was at in his own life in my office, put up a front for his teammates.

When asked where the bullet even came from, Devin smirked and replied, “My friend’s gun.” We closed the conversation right there. Despite his reflections earlier in the day, when facing his team he still worked to sound as hard as he could. The conversation ended at 1:30pm.

At about 3:00pm Tuesday, on the other side of the city, less than two hours following our conversation, the 17 year-old friend that had given Devin the bullet, was shot 10 times and killed.

Wednesday afternoon the Senior team came back together. This time there was no fronting from Devin, only tears. This time the conversation was not forced. There was not a right answer we needed to get to. There was just honesty, fear, reflection, and strength. Devin asked me to share the reflections he’d done in my office the day before. I read excerpts from the 10 pages he’d written, including his anger at his father for leaving them poor and never coming back, including the voice in his head constantly telling him that he is weak, that he is fake, that no one would ever like the real him.

The seniors began to speak. Every word loaded with the pain and the hope of trying to figure out a world with too many hard moments and not enough proof that it gets better.

* Sasha - “My dad left me, too. I’m just going to make him sorry for it. We don’t need them. We have to find a way without them…”
* Sha’Quan - “Devin, you need to be the man that your dad wasn’t. Getting involved with bullets and guns won’t bring your dad back to you. You need to do right and one day you’ll be the dad you wish you had.”
*Malik – “Mr. M, I don’t think you understand how hard this is. I think if you grew up with what Devin and the rest of us are growing up with, you’d be struggling with is just as much as we are.”
* Cristina, through tears of her own – “Devin, I’m so sorry you lost your friend. This all just hurts and it shouldn’t be this way. It just makes me feel so bad for how much we all go through.”
* Mikelle – “Teachers talk about college and changing the world, but that just seems so make-believe to me. I just can’t see how that could ever be true for me.”
* (Devin’s brother) – “Devin, I miss him, too. We just have to move on. We have to find people that will be there for us and will cheer us on.”
* Mr. K - “I just wonder who that 17 year-old was four years ago. Was he walking through school showing off a bullet he was given at 13? What happens at 13 that makes us who we are at 17?”
* Senior after senior shared the common sentiment, “Devin, none of us ever want to go to your funeral. When I look at you I don’t see what the voice in your head sees. I see a good friend. You are part of this team. We’ll accept you and like you for who you are. We’re here for you.”

The theme quickly became how important it is that we (the seniors) support each other and hold each other up through all the challenges. We are all going through a lot and if we could count on each other to be there, to accept us for we are, we can make it through this together. We really can.

Two hours later I watched as freshmen raced up the hill to lay down and roll down it, giggling with all the joy of a beautiful afternoon in a park with friends. Seniors came up to me declaring cool was totally uncool and dorky-independent thinking was the way to go. I don’t even know what kind of magic was happening in the air, but no doubt an important piece of the journey from 10 to 14. At one point I took a step back and just tried to soak up all the joy and happiness of kids in a park, hot dogs on a grill, never-ending football games, boogie circles, team, family, and laughter.

I wrestled with how to put together the pieces of the day. How do you synthesize Devin’s sobbing, Lyndell’s dancing, Sasha’s empathy, the Cupid Shuffle, life’s pain, and life’s hope?

I came to the conclusion that the love and community in the park is what can carry all of us through the challenges we face. The journey from 10 to 14 in New Orleans for our kids can be so hard. Our kids need so badly a place where they can feel success, where they can dream, where they can laugh, where they can be themselves, where they can lean on each other, where they can ace tests, where they can play, where they can lead, where they can make mistakes and come out of them feeling stronger than ever. Our school needs to be all of that and more.

I left the park as inspired and motivated as I’ve ever been in this mission to give our kids the experiences and love they need to live the lives they deserve. Every moment counts in what we do. Thank you for sharing in the journey and for all you give to support our kids every day.

Weekend Update #3: The Olive Harvest

On a scale of 1-10, I'd say the stars in Palestine have ranged from a 4-7.5. They’re better than the stars in New Orleans, where the French Quarter is lit up all night, or the Seattle suburbs. Here we can see more than just Orion and Cassiopeia’s Chair and the Big Dipper. Every time I look at the stars (najma, in Arabic), I see the Seven Sisters. Sabae Akhuwat. I haven’t learned the word for constellation yet, but I try to converse, when I’m with someone new, about the “pictures in the stars,” and how Japanese children see a bunny (arnub) in the moon. Then in those long silences between sips of tea or puffs of argheelah I play hide-and-seek with the Sisters. It’s a good work-out for the rods and cones. If you stare at them long enough, you lose a few, then you have to glance away and back again to see them clearly enough to count them. A few times I thought I saw the 7th sister, who is notoriously flighty. I think I read somewhere that she’s impossible to see with the human eye. I can’t remember. Compared with the rest of the najma, The Sabae Akhuwat look like a smudge. Like God was texturing the sky and His trigger finger slipped and laid it on a little too thick right there. I did that a few times in New Orleans on construction crew. Those smudges would always stand out to me, even if no one else noticed them. Now when I drink tea and smoke argheelah, I see God's smudge in my periphery.


This weekend, I was only away from Al Aqaba for a day and a half. I left the village at 8am on Friday, and got into Ramallah at 10:15. I’d been counting on a ride to Bil’in from Mohib, whom I’d met at the demonstration the week before. I waited in al-Manara circle for twenty minutes, which is a little awkward for a lone ajnabia, called him a few times, then gave up. I didn’t want to spend 50 shekels on a cab ride, but it became inevitable. I called Nazme, who told me he was in Jericho, but that he would call his friend to pick me up. I said alright, though there were probably a dozen drivers at the station I could ask. But it was good to have a recommendation. And he’d said he’d call Adeeb. Adeeb, how many Adeebs could there be? One minute later, Adeeb zoomed around the circle, flashing his lights and shouting, “Nazme, Nazme!” Walla, we recognized each other. It was Adeeb Abu Rahma. He’d shouted at me the week before in Bil’in, when I was walking with his daughter after the Olive Festival. He said, “You know my daughter? You are welcome in my house!” Other than that, we’d never been formally introduced. I’d seen his picture on the net, and signed the petitions when he was in prison. Now he was my cab driver. Of course the man had a day job. I had that familiar feeling that some things were just meant to be.
Adeeb called Nazme and asked him how much he’d told me to pay. I perked up and said, “arb3in,” 40. But then I remembered I’d given Nazme 50 before and acquiesced to that request. I was pleased to find out that I could understand more Arabic than the week before, and we conversed pretty easily for the first 10 minutes. But I always hit a wall somewhere, maybe when I’ve exhausted the “I’m an English teacher, I have two brothers, I’m not married, but there is still time” bit. He called his wife and asked about me, then his eyes opened wide and he turned to me and said, “ghani!” sing! Then he handed the phone to me and told me to talk to Tutu, his youngest daughter. I fell in love with Tutu last December, when I found myself in their living room after Jawaher’s funeral. I was a little over-loaded, and I wanted to get going back to Jerusalem. On my way to pack my bags, one of the girls invited me in. They convinced me to sing, and I sang eight or nine songs for the girls, of whom seven were Adeeb’s daughters, the youngest being Batool, Tutu. I remember she was incredibly sharp for a three-year-old.

Adeeb and I rolled into Bil’in, and were met by a van with two foreigners in the back. I thought, why are these foreigners going the opposite way? The driver talked to Adeeb, and Adeeb said I should go to the school first. That was fine, I hopped in the van, we still had an hour and a half to kill before the demonstration. The driver introduced himself as an actor. He was putting on a show about Jerusalem, and he wanted to gather more audience members. I was interested; pictures of Jerusalem and the Haram al-Sharif are everywhere in the West Bank, in the schools, in offices, and in peoples’ homes. Most of the people in the Tubas region aren’t refugees, but their exclusion from Jerusalem is taken very solemnly. The kids learn about the cities in “Palestine ’48,” but Jerusalem isn’t included in that list, it’s still considered part of Palestine, even though it’s mumnuaa, forbidden.

We climbed to the top floor of the school, where there was a puppet show stage set up, several Japanese people, and a few dozen kids. I sat down with the Italian from the van ride, and the actor and his wife started the show.

“Sorry the audience is so small,” the actor told the Japanese, who must’ve helped to organize the event, “the children are harvesting the olives with their families.”

The actor’s wife got the kids going with a few songs, then the actor introduced the show. Then he said something about “Jehud Israeli,” which means Jewish Israeli. He gave the kids instructions, then put his hands behind his back and growled, “Israel, Israel” after which the kids yelled “Filasteen! Filasteen!”

“Ana buhibbak Israel…”I love you, Israel.
“Ana buhibbak Filasteen!!” I love, you Palestine!!

I had whipped out my camera, this was fascinating. In our school in Al Aqaba, to my knowledge, the kids don’t learn about Israel. They learn about cities like Haifa, Askalan (Ashkelon), and Yaffa (Jaffa), but the curriculum doesn’t mention Israel at all. So the only education they receive about Israel is from living under Occupation. When I try to see what these kids have seen, I can understand why the Ministry of Education doesn’t include Israel in their textbooks. What are they supposed to say to the children of Al Aqaba? Are they supposed to make excuses for why the army is trying to destroy their village? I wonder, why is it considered racist or inciting to not recognize Israel if Israel doesn’t recognize Al Aqaba, and is actively destroying it?


The puppet show started. I couldn’t understand a lot of it, but I could tell it was funny. There were two characters, one named Darwish, and Ibrahim, the real-life helper, played by Ashraf. The two puppets lived in Khalil, Hebron, and wanted to sell their grapes in Jerusalem. They were happy, mischievous little puppets. They went to Bethlehem, to the door of Jerusalem, where Darwish was chased out by a mean, oafish Israeli soldier.
“What are you doing?!?” he growled
“something something….Jerusalem…something something”
“Jerusalem?! Forbidden! Go home!”
Then they started to fight, like puppets do, and Darwish was defeated. The soldier laughed.
“Israel, Israel”
“Filasteen, Filasteen!” the kids shouted.
“Ibrahim!!” he called to the helper. Ibrahim hopped up. The soldier expressed his dismay at these children. They argued for a minute and Ibrahim waved him off, “go! go, get out of here.”

In that one motion, Ibrahim took the soldier puppet’s authority. This adult was telling the children, “you can free yourself from this situation if you don’t let him have power over you.” This was a strong message in Bil’in, where most men had been some combination of beaten, arrested and imprisoned, but they kept marching every Friday because they would never forfeit their right to live on their own land, and they wouldn’t accept any authority that told them otherwise.

I was fascinated by this soldier puppet, because he made me uncomfortable. I wanted to tell the puppeteer, after I invited him to perform in Al Aqaba, to make the soldier a little less monstrous. It could send the wrong message. But what message were the kids getting? If they tried to get into Jerusalem, they would be rejected by an armed soldier. If they protested, he would shout. They weren’t being encouraged to “puppet fight,” if they ever got to the Bethlehem-Jerusalem crossing they might be angry at what they see, but in the end it was just a sad story. Darwish never made it to Jerusalem, except in a dream where he turned into a bird.

After the performance, we all danced dabke together. It was an easy step, not like the ones Mustafa and Omar had busted out in Al Aqaba the night before, but it was surprisingly tiring. I got some footage of the Japanese visitors dancing with the kids. I tried to converse with one of the guys about growing up in Osaka, but most of them spoke little English. I did learn that I’d met them briefly at the Taybeh Oktoberfest, where they were serving sushi. They were touring Palestine and bringing investment opportunities back to Japan.

All of us foreigners walked down the hill towards the demonstration, sharing stories. When we got to the place where the old fence used to be, we saw cars headed away from the demonstration. Haitham told us it was a short demo, for Yom Kippur, he joked. But we found out that we’d missed it entirely. Last week was the Daylight Savings (Winter Time) change, but the prayer times stayed the same, so now the post-Friday prayer demo was at noon, not at one. Ah well. We collected the handful of activists that were there, including the Israeli Anarchists Against the Wall, and headed back to the village to have tea with Waji. Farhat asked me to come eat makloubeh at his house, and I said yes, but after tea!
“Ahh, Waji my brother, you know?” I didn’t know. These families are so huge.
We all gathered outside of Waji’s house: Waji, five Israelis, a German, two Italians, one Japanese and me. Farhat and Rani joined us later. I knew that a lot of the men in Bil’in spoke Hebrew, but it was still strange to hear. The Israeli activists would switch from Hebrew to Arabic to English and Waji would switch with them. Right then I wished I could implant Arabic and Hebrew in my brain, like Neo learned Jujitsu. I used to want to learn both. I still do, but I don’t think I could devote myself to Hebrew like I could to Arabic. Last week I was sitting with my friend’s family in Bil’in and as his brother was talking about how I only knew a few sentences in Hebrew, his mother said, “Ebri mish hilou,” Hebrew is not beautiful.

I felt what she was saying. When I visited Jerusalem during my semester in Jordan three years ago, I heard two of my friends speaking Hebrew and it sounded beautiful. It seemed so gentle, with all the shhh’s. “Hebrew is a beautiful language,” I would say during a discussion/debate, and it would diffuse tension…and it was honest. But after the trip last Christmas, with the checkpoints and the demonstrations, it didn’t sound beautiful anymore. It sounded aggressive and authoritative and mocking. And that’s the only Hebrew she had ever known. So I felt what she said. And it was disorienting, eating lunch with all the activists and hearing the language tossed around so casually. The activists were all from the Tel Aviv area. I said I wanted to go again, I’d only been once.
“Tel Aviv’s not that interesting.”
“I mean, all around. I want to go to Haifa, and Ashkelon.”
“I grew up near Ashkelon. But on a kibbutz, unfortunately.”
“Which kibbutz?”
“Mine was called __________, five kilometers from Gaza.”
“So…wow. you…”
“Because we were so close, we only got the grad rockets, you know them. But we could hear everything that fell on the other side.”

I wanted to dig deeper, and learn more about their background, but I’d promised Farhat I’d go with him, so I got some e-mail addresses from the Europeans and said I hoped I’d see the anarchists at the next demo.

Farhat took me to the Committee office so I could edit the weekly report for Kefah. This week the march had been in solidarity with the Palestinian prisoners who were going on hunger strike. I don’t know much about the prison conditions, but I know they’re routinely deprived of visitation, new clothes, exercise, and as my formerly-imprisoned student mentioned the other day, meat and sweets. Meat? No meat? No, no meat or fish. I’ve been on a steady diet of pita bread, pasta and corn flakes, but that punishment is self-inflicted. When the village women feed me meat it’s like Christmas. I need to go to the butcher. I have a deep fryer, good gracious.

The report went pretty easily this time. The demonstrators showed up, did some marching and chanting, and they got hit with a barrage of tear gas. I liked that word, barrage. Kefah is in Level 4 in the AMIDEAST English program, so I still feel impressive, but once he graduates Level 8 I’ll probably be out of a job. I’d missed the whole demo, so I asked him jokingly, “any stones this week?” and he said, “yes, I throw stones” with his hands to his face, laughing.
“We all throw stones!!” I couldn’t help but laugh with him. The boys weren’t even at the demo today, it was the men who partook. I read the end of the report and it said “then some participants threw stones over the wall.”
“Hey, you put it in this week!”
“Yes, it was gas first, then stones, so I told him (the Arabic writer) to put it in.”
Last week I’d mentioned stones in the English report for the first time. Now it was in the Arabic report. Awesome.

I took some photos of Farhat and Lulu for his Facebook picture, then we headed to their house for makloubeh. Farhat went to the store while I played with the girls, and he brought back pineapple juice and pineapple flavored non-alcoholic malt beverage because he thought ajanab liked things that resembled beer. I said I liked juice. But Lulu cried over the pineapple juice so Farhat went and got more.

After the makloubeh, the family was heading out to the park in the next village over, and invited me, but I wanted to explore my options, so I called Haitham. He was at a wedding in Ramallah. I called Khamis. He was with Tutu, “come over, close to my house!” I bade farewell to Farhat and Lulu and made my way across town. A boy on a bicycle escorted me to Helme’s house, next door to Khamis. His family was gathered round, drinking tea while Helme smoked argheelah. Tutu was so much taller. I think she’s four now. I think she kind of remembered me. We all settled in, and I used the new Arabic I’d learned, and Umm Khamis made me sing Ana Ayesh, and Tutu made me sing it again, and I made a mental note to learn another Arabic song, because it had gotten embarrassing a while ago. Then everyone else left, after inviting me to stay in Umm Khamis’ house again, and for the first time I felt imposing, because I would be in Alham and her sisters’ room again and they hadn’t been asked. But not having a plan was part of my plan, so I swallowed my pride and accepted, and followed Tutu and her sister Filasteen into Helme and Douaa’s house. We sat down in the TV room and the girls immediately heaped on me the couple’s two wedding albums. Again, I realized how beautiful this woman was when I saw pictures of her with her hair down. For the two-day wedding she wore three dresses, one ruffly like Belle from Beauty and the Beast, only deep blue, one pink and more oriental-looking, and one white. She looked gorgeous. Tutu and Filasteen were also in coordinating blue and white ruffly dresses. It was a huge affair. Honestly, I would love a wedding like this, but I don’t come from a large family like Douaa and Helme do. Essentially, it’s the whole village plus relatives from out of town. There were two pictures Douaa pointed to, of Helme and four other men: “Helme’s friends from prison.” They looked like average joe’s, five guys who’d grown up together or knew each other from university. Imagine someone at an American wedding going, “Ok, now the prisoners all together! Say cheese!” I could tell the way Douaa said it, that it wasn’t supposed to be normal, but there it was, in the wedding album.

We went over to Umm Khamis’ house, where Mustafa showed us his new snakes, the biggest being two meters long. It was pretty lethargic, so I let him put it around my neck and take a picture. The next one he brought out was scary though, it was wriggling every which way. After that exhibition, everyone departed, leaving me alone with the girls and Lazid, Mustafa’s son. I gave Tutu the camera and she started interviewing Lazid. I picked out a few words, army, wall, and realized she was actually playing reporter, and she knew how to do it. When Adeeb was in prison for a year, his girls were interviewed for a YouTube video about how much they missed their dad and how he was arrested for protecting their land, and someone commented on the video, “please, please don’t use kids for political messages” or something. I couldn’t entirely disagree, although I was thrilled to see Tutu in a movie because she’s too cute not to be in one. The interview was too scripted. They could’ve said they missed their dad, and that would’ve been enough. But now here she was, with another four-year-old, asking her own questions. I needed to translate this exchange.
Then we heard the evening prayer and Filasteen tried to get Tutu to come home. Maybe it was their curfew. Tutu put up a huge fuss, so I walked them home. Everyone had migrated to Adeeb’s house, apparently. Helme and Douaa, Khamis and Aseel, and Adeeb’s four other daughters, Ala, Wala, and Yasmine, minus Rajaa, who was in medical school, were there. Adeeb invited me to stay at his house, so I dashed back to Umm Khamis and told one of her daughters I would be with the little ones tonight. I felt impolite for declining their offer, but I think someone in the family would’ve been stuck looking after me, and I knew Tutu and Fufu were much more eager for that job. So I went back to Adeeb’s and they were all eating dinner. Adeeb conjured a chair and handed me a chunk of khubs, which is bread, but dense, and puffy. If that makes any sense. There were at least a dozen things to dip the khubs in, and I was instructed to try all of them. Not a problem. The first topic of conversation was my marital status. No, no husband, no boyfriend, it is difficult in Palestine, there is time, it’s ok…..did I want to find a husband in Palestine? Haha, maybe. In all of ten seconds, Adeeb was on the phone with a co-worker, telling him this ajnabia wanted to marry a Palestinian. I kept saying, no, no, khalas, stop, Helme, help me out here….and everyone was chuckling. The daughter whose English was the best relayed to him, “maybe she will marry a Palestinian, but she wants to choose.” A few more throat-slicing pantomimes, and he had hung up, I think a little defeated. There was an awkward silence. His daughter then translated, “There is a man who works at his taxi station. He says he wants to marry a foreigner. My father says he’s sorry if he annoys you.” I turned to Adeeb and said, “Maybe a Palestinian, but not any Palestinian, sa?”
“Ahhh,” he said, grabbing more bread, “Mahmoud Abbas?”
“La, too old.”
“Salaam Fayyad?”

Everything was put away, and the girls got me ready for bed. They laid two mattresses down in the sitting room, which was mine for the night. Then we had a mini-slumber party and I tried to teach Fufu the moves for “Oops, I Did It Again.” She got it all until Britney goes “I played with your heart” and her knees go open-closed-open-closed. It looked a little slutty, and I abandoned that project. Then the girls went to bed, and I settled in and checked the clock. It was 8:30. Damn.

The mosquitoes were crazy. I didn’t sleep much.

By 7:30 everyone was moving around. Fufu opened the door and said, “if you want to pick olives, we’re leaving soon” except in Arabic but I understood. Bless these children and their clarity of utterance.

We ate breakfast, more khubs with things for dipping. I laid waste the yoghurt, it was so good. Then I chatted with Alaa a little while. She went to Birzeit University, and she was a first year, studying accounting. I told her my brother was also a first year. She said I should bring him here. I said yes, and maybe they could get married (hopping on the pestering train). She laughed and said, no, she already had one. She showed me her mobile with a picture of her and her boyfriend. “Very handsome,” I said. She smiled. She was gorgeous, like Douaa.

I went with Tutu, Fufu, their brother Ahmad and their mother to the olive trees. It was the first year they were allowed access to their trees without going through the security fence. Before, they had to take identification with them to pass through the fence. Now that it was removed, they could tend to all of their trees, except those inside the settlement buffer zones. From this viewpoint I could see how suffocating the settlements were. There were three just around Bil’in. I asked Tutu “what is that?” and she said, “ahh, musta…mustautinin.” Settlers.

I picked olives for three hours. It was hot. It was fun. It was a community affair. Kind of like a day in the States where everyone goes out to barbecue. Or tailgate. Well, there was music, and food. At least the kids were climbing trees….

At noon, I started to head back. I was escorted back to the village by Mohammad, a teenager who was with his family. He had to work in Ramallah, so I used his internet and chatted with his sister while he got ready. She was in 8th grade. I told her I could get her a pen pal if she wanted. I don’t think she really understood, though. Mohammad and I headed out. We had some trouble parting ways in Ramallah. He wanted to get coffee, and I think he was enjoying the prestige of escorting a foreigner around, but he’d been a little too cheeky for someone eight years my junior, so I told him I needed to go pee before getting on the taxi and hugged him goodbye. Rather, let him hug me goodbye after he asked. Sometimes I forget that’s a big deal here.

I did some video editing in the taxi, to save myself some time later, but I was so drowsy that I passed out. Hopefully I didn’t sort. I do that on airplanes. I woke up in Nablus.

The trip is getting easier now. I start out in bustling Ramallah, hopping into an already-loaded taxi to Nablus, then I get to the Nablus East station, which takes you North, where fewer people want to go, then I arrive in Tubas and get into a Service that slowly fills with people from Toghbi and Tayasir, and I’m the only one continuing on to Al Aqaba.

I can’t put into words how it felt walking back into the village at sundown. I felt blessed for having a place like this to come back to. While Ramallah and Nablus were still restless and bustling, I had my little perch on this hill in the Jordan Valley. No one expected anything from me this evening, I could shower, clean the apartment, upload my videos, do some writing, plan tomorrow’s classes….and I had a full bag of candy bars.

Life is good in Al Aqaba. No sounds except the dogs barking in the distance, and the crickets chirping. I can’t see any constellations tonight, the moon is almost full. But I’m still thinking of Douaa, Alaa, Walaa, Yasmine, Filasteen and Batool, the seven Abu Rahma sisters, minus Rajaa, the flighty one.