Saturday, December 22, 2012

Christmas in Palestine

 I pulled this together from the last 2 Christmases in Bethlehem!

Internationals in Palestine video removed from YouTube

And re-uploaded, for now.

Last year I compiled the interviews I made with some of the internationals I met in Palestine. I wanted to show the faces and voices of foreigners traveling, volunteering and working in the occupied Palestinian Territories, to give a solid portrayal of people like me who experienced the occupation with our own eyes. I uploaded the video on October 27th, 2012. The next day, my video had at least 17,000 views and only 5 likes. I knew the numbers had been manipulated, but I didn't report it; I was told that this kind of thing happens all the time on YouTube. A few weeks later, the view count instantly jumped to 24,000.

On December 19th, YouTube sent me a message notifying me that I'd breached their Terms of Use by launching "robot," "spider," or "offline reader" that artificially inflated my view count. I can re-upload it, but if I'm found in violation again, my entire account will be suspended without appeal.

I got a great response on this video. I also got the usual comments suggesting we go to Syria or Yemen and see how long we last there, and one commenter called me a "news nazi."

I'm an amateur filmmaker, and I'm hoping to release a lot more videos like this, showing real people on the ground in Palestine, and the work they're doing. I've sent a message to YouTube, but feel free to comment and share. Inshallah, my channel will stay online.

Hello Seattle.

I'm home for Christmas in Woodinville, WA now. Yesterday I went into downtown Seattle to meet up with my mom for lunch. While she was working I hung out at the Seattle Public Library, which is an amazing building. I sent some e-mails and caught up on the news, and was really, really sad to read this:

Testimony:Soldier fired directly at Bil'in demonstrator killed in 2009

"A soldier who served in the same brigade as Abu Rahme’s shooter told the NGO’s researchers that officers informed the troops that the shot was illegal, that soldiers would watch Reeb’s video of the incident and laugh about it, and that the shooter marked a victorious X on his rifle, signifying a successful kill."

And they're talking about my friend's cousin Bassem.

It wasn't surprising, but it still made my blood boil right there in the library. You know when you're surrounded by people and you just want to yell "ARE YOU F&*KING KIDDING ME?!"

I'm still desensitized, in both my thoughts and words. That my friends back in Palestine are treated as subhuman has become so. ridiculously. normal.


Later on in the evening I watched the first segment of John Adams with my dad. It was about Adams' controversial representation of the British commander who was accused of ordering his soldiers to fire at the Boston Massacre. Adams accepted the request because he believes in the law and that "counsel is the last thing an accused person should lack in a free country."

It was interesting listening to Adams and the British soldiers defend themselves against the people of Boston. In Adams' defense, the public's grievances against the army weren't supposed to sway the verdict. Abigail told him to include them in his closing remarks. Recognize taxation without representation, address the causes that are inflaming the people, while recognizing the humanity of the soldiers. That will bring them to reason.

The soldiers and their commander were found not guilty. It's a great introduction to Adams. You're supposed to root for him and his impartiality, while the Bostonian mob is falsifying information. You're supposed to pity the young soldiers, even if you're surprised to pity them, because in middle school history class, you were taught that the Red Coats were all around bad guys.

It reminded me of the strange exercise of crossing the border from the West Bank into Israel and interacting with soldiers as civilians. I lived in the "hornets nest," as many would say, but I was never perceived as threatening. Sitting in a tavern with classic rock blasting, over a beer, I guess it's hard to be threatening. And I experienced the humanity of active and retired soldiers to a degree that many Palestinians don't get the opportunity to.

I went to a lot of demonstrations in Bil'in, and stood with the people in front of soldiers with guns. I knew the soldiers perceived the people of Bil'in to be a threat to them, even though their army stole over half the village's land. In this case the accused have not even been accused. Bassem was unarmed, and his killer shot him from a distance, directly in the chest, with a high-velocity tear gas canister. The soldier should be charged with murder and sent to prison. But he's allowed to walk free.
It's the little moments. Sitting in a coffee shop in Seattle, listening to two well-dressed men chatting in Japanese. One of them is hitting the punchline.....a 2-syllable word. The other man bursts out laughing. -------

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

My last two days in Chicago were great. On Wednesday I transferred myself from the suburbs of South Chicago to the city and met up with my friend Danny, a former classmate who now works at the American Friends Service Committee. Then we went to see Iyad Burnat's speaking tour presentation about the popular struggle against the wall in Bil'in. It was great going up to Iyad and surprising him, he didn't expect to see me in Chicago! Afterwards we all went out to dinner with the organizers of Iyad's Chicago tour, and had many fascinating conversations over dinner. More later...

Christmas Medley

I'm now in Piedmont, California. Just played "Walking in Memphis" on the piano (minus the bridge because I forgot that gospel-y bit) and I'm thinking about where to go from here. I'm alone for the first time in five days.

I'll be home in Seattle for the next nine days, then back to the Bay Area.


I'm listening to a Christmas medley sung by my college a capella group in 2008. This much is true, I miss performing...

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Circle Game

I'm back in Chicago!

Members of the Palestinian American Youth League pointing to where they're from in Palestine

Al Aqaba!
We were taken out to dinner in Bridgeview, often referred to as Little Palestine.

Yesterday I visited the office of American Friends Service Committee, which is active in a lot of different social justice causes, one being Israel/Palestine. Mt friend Danny from college works there on a lot of demonstration/BDS actions. Here is their website:

Song of the Day: Circle Game. I sang this in the car with my relatives from New Jersey. They love Joni Mitchell, and it's one of the few songs I know by her, because my choir in middle school sang it.

Just this morning I saw lyrics from the Circle Game on a piece of art in Danny's house. So perfect.

There'll be new dreams, maybe better dreams, and plenty
Before the last revolving year is through...

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Empire State of Mind

Right now I'm in Brooklyn. It's my first time in Brooklyn. I've been in New York for three days now, and I'm flying to Chicago tonight.

 The first night in New York I hung out with a friend I met in Jaffa last spring. He's a long-time Israeli activist who's now getting his PhD at Columbia. We walked around Central Park, Mid-town, Times Square, and ended up in Greenwich Village. It was great to do a long, touristy walk around the city, and hearing my friend's stories of Israeli airport interrogations was a crack-up.

Approaches security in a three-piece suit and pink bow-tie
"Alright, strip search him."
'Well alright, but I want him to do it, and sweetie, just two fingers and no latex, I'm allergic."
(*awkward looks*)

To see someone so at ease with their activism is incredibly refreshing. No dancing around, just brutal honesty and with that an extreme sense of calm.

The second night I stayed with my mom's cousin, who runs a Lutheran church in the Upper East Side. It was amazing to sit in that service and look around, knowing I was part of the family that shaped this church. I wondered which pieces of art were my grandfather's.

The pastor and the congregation were so welcoming. After the service I got bagels and coffee, and was directed to my mom's cousin's apartment, where I stayed for the night.

Now I'm at the Institute for Middle East Understanding office, bouncing news and names and ideas off the walls with my friend Chris and new friend Andrew. I don't often feel like the one who's behind on Israel-Palestine. Now what if I did this for a living?

Hmm *strokes chin*

Now I'm off to LaGuardia! Tonight I will be in Oak Lawn, Illinois. I'm meeting with the Palestinian American Council tomorrow, then going up to Evanston on Wednesday to see Iyad Burnat and present at a house party with some of Rabbi Rosen's contacts and congregants.


Lookin good, Trump Tower...
Times Square!
NYC on a Saturday night is a little crowdy

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Sister Suffragette

Right now I'm back at 30th St. Station, like I was 24 hours ago. I'm leaving Philly already! My cousin and I are training north to meet his folks for dinner, then they're taking me back to their place in New Jersey. That will be so. wonderful. 

This has been stuck in my head since the Constitution Center...obviously, I didn't understand this song as a kid, I just thought Mrs. Banks was kinda silly. The word "suffragette" was also lost on me, I thought she said  "sisters of frigette," like that was a place :)

We're clearly soldiers in petticoats
And dauntless crusaders for woman's votes
Though we adore men individually
We agree that as a group they're rather stupid!

Cast off the shackles of yesterday!
Shoulder to shoulder into the fray!
Our daughters' daughters will adore us
And they'll sing in grateful chorus
"Well done, Sister Suffragette!"

From Kensington to Billingsgate
One hears the restless cries!
From ev'ry corner of the land:
"Womankind, arise!"
Political equality and equal rights with men!
Take heart! For Missus Pankhurst has been clapped in irons again!

No more the meek and mild subservients we!
We're fighting for our rights, militantly!
Never you fear!

So, cast off the shackles of yesterday!
Shoulder to shoulder into the fray!
Our daughters' daughters will adore us
And they'll sing in grateful chorus
"Well done! Well done!
Well done, Sister Suffragette!"

Friday, December 7, 2012

For Once in My Life

Hellooooo Philadelphia! 

I just went to the National Constitution Center, and I was inspired in a way I didn't expect. I only had an hour to spend, but I decided to try for the whole shebang-show, exhibit, and special exhibit on Prohibition.

The show was 17 minutes long, and involved a lot of videos and cursive script projected on the ground and around the amphitheater. A man in the middle recited his part- "We the people...who are we? What makes us...a people?"

The Declaration of Independence was written, the Revolutionary War played out, the Articles of Confederation sparked debate, and it culminated with the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movements.

At first I thought it was kinda cheesy, and why had I spent 17 of my 60 minutes on this? But the montage with its crashing music reminded me of what I'm responsible to teach. I was brought up with this knowledge. It's a part of who I am. But what I've learned on top of that foundation also calls to me.

I saw the words "nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted" flash on the screen, and I thought of Abu Ghraib and U.S. dollars funding oppressive regimes around the world.

It's my responsibility to help lay the groundwork for a presidential election that recognizes the International Declaration of Human Rights, that doesn't pit a war criminal against a war criminal-to-be.

I also feel a responsibility for following through on what I started in Al Aqaba, and Tubas. I remember that the mayor of Tubas told me there used to be a Palestinian-American school in the city, but it had to close. I remember sitting in on an American Studies class at the University of Jordan, taught by a professor from the University of Portland. They were talking about the dust bowl, that wasn't very interesting....but what would I teach? What would Palestinian students want to know about?

Our Founding Fathers? Native Americans? Our revolution? Our martyrs? Our government, slave trade, immigration, Civil War, suffrage movement, Civil Rights Movement, protest movements, foreign wars!

The relationship between religion and the government, interfaith relations, Evangelicalism, Zionism....

I'm amazed by my country's history, more now because I've seen how it touches the rest of the world.

The American Consulate in Jerusalem has a small grant for projects that enhance Palestinian-American relations. So I know the spirit of what I want to do is, in theory, supported. 

You know what they say, Knowledge is Power!


The Prohibition exhibit was also really cool. I learned how to Charleston at a Speakeasy, and got my mugshot taken with Al Capone.

DC to Philly bus

30th St Station in Philly

Philly subway...quite a departure from the DC metro!

I stayed with a friend from high school, ended up making a usual.

Looking at City Hall from Broad Street

I wandered around with my camera looking like a tourist, yeahhhh

William Penn!

Prohibition exhibit!

So cast off the shackles of yesterday....

I was just dancin all over this....

William Penn looks over the city like Batman

Cool mural


This song was playing at a cafe....I enjoy Stevie Wonder a little more since he cancelled his gig at the Friends of the IDF fundraiser in LA. He said that "such a performance would be incongruent with his status as a UN “Messenger of Peace." Good on ya, Stevie!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

This land is your land, this land is my land

Last week my aunt told me that she'd just been to the National Museum of the American Indian, and I knew I had to find time to go before I left D.C.

Since I've been involved in Palestine solidarity I've witnessed an ever-growing emphasis on joint struggle and coalition-building. We need to join with all movements that seek equality and justice. I was really impressed to see a panel discussion in San Francisco for the World Social Forum that represented the feminist, queer, African-American, Chicano, and Palestinian causes...and for that event those activists were coming together for Palestine.

A few people have asked me why I single out the Israel-Palestinian conflict when I myself belong to a settler-colonial society. Would I be willing to give up my house in the States if it belonged to a tribe? or something?

Well, I don't own a house, or any land. I could try and say I'm too transient to really reap the benefits of my settler colonial society. But I do....reap the benefits.

I don't brush off the accusations that I'm a hypocrite. Even if though the "one ethnic cleansing justifies another" argument makes me sick. But here's no excuse not to know the history of the land you're standing on. So why not take every opportunity to educate yourself? 

And what is our responsibility, once we learn the truth?

Mitsitam Native Foods Cafe...amazing
This story really struck's about a martyr...

 These are the types of guns used by Native Americans to attack American settlements.

On the other side of this wall was a display of bibles written in a hundred different native dialects. A British guy walked past me and said, "this is more impressive than the guns, don't you think?" 

The sun was setting on the Capitol when I got out

I thought I'd zoom out a bit

Teepee in the foreground, Capitol in the background, and a little surprise...

Now at this coffeeshop there's a funky cover of This Land is Your Land playing. Amazing.

You and I

My time in DC is coming to an end! Headed up to Philly tomorrow, then New York the day after. I really, really hope to return to DC soon.

Today was great. I woke up, packed out of my friends' house (they, as all my DC friends and fam, have been so amazing and flexible while I've been coming in and out of the city and changing plans and dropping in and leaving stuff...what a blessing to know people like that :)

Big thanks to Donna, who swapped her little suitcase for my huge one and deprived me of at least 25 pounds! This morning I was able to power-walk to the Senate building with that rolly suitcase in tow and make it to Senator Cantwell's office right on time!

On the way I caught up on my emails (and didn't trip on those bricky sidewalks or get hit by a car, I know it was pretty poor judgement) and managed to finally get a hold of my new Congressperson, Susan DelBene. My Congressional office has been pretty much vacant for months, as my Congressman Jay Inslee just ran for Governor and won! So finally I tracked down DelBene's new Washington office and scheduled a meeting with her staff tomorrow. I was seriously planning on walking out of Cantwell's office, buying a MegaBus ticket on my phone, and getting on a MegaBus to either Philadelphia or New York this afternoon. I was fine with staying in DC an extra day, especially since I didn't know where I was staying in New York!

Now I got that on lock. It's hard for me plan more than day in advance, I really amaze myself sometimes. I could actually envision myself getting off the bus in New York City and wandering around and looking for a place to stay. Just like in the movies!!

yeah, but no.

So, Senator Maria Cantwell has a weekly constituent coffee at her office, and though I missed it the week before (I didn't know to register, and it was cancelled at the last minute) I extended my DC stay to catch the Senator this week. She had walked up to me last summer and shook my hand at the Seattle Gay Pride parade, and my friend and I were like....."was that our Senator?....sweet!"

Governor-elect Jay Inslee was also marching in the parade. Washington has definitely become a leader in LGBT rights...woot!

So I sat down in a meeting room with about 15 other constituents. It was mostly older folks, one teenager, and one internship interviewee. This was more people than I expected, and I wondered what I would have time to say! As soon as Senator Cantwell walked in, she started going around and getting peoples' names, cities, guy worked at the port of Tacoma, another was in aviation, then I told the Senator I was from Woodinville and Leavenworth ("ok, so you shuttle back and forth down the 2?" "eeeeeyeah. pretty much, haha!") and that I'd spent 8 months with a non-profit working in the West Bank. I cut it short there and told her I was happy to see her! She's a very personable Senator, very friendly and enthusiastic, but she just kind of nodded and looked at me for a few seconds, which was a very noticeable interruption. I was holding out for a question later, keep it light, keep it casual! I just smiled at her and kept nodding. She kept going around, and met another man and his service dog named Heehaw.

For the next 30 minutes or so, the Senator talked about Boeing, and the tech industry, and how we need to encourage our students to study science and engineering. I was really interested in what she was saying, and I was also wondering what it was like to be a Senator, and looking at the pictures of past Washington Senators, and noticing that Cantwell was the first woman pictured. I was also making a mental note that maybe this wasn't the place to talk about foreign affairs.

Cantwell was talking about the geoducking industry and how a geoduck, which takes a dollar to grow, is being sold for $25 a pound to Asian markets....and one guy asked "what's a geoduck" and everyone laughed about how ugly they are...and another guy reminded us that the Geoduck is the mascot of...

Evergreen State! My younger brother goes there. Rachel Corrie went there. I'm a Washingtonian. This isn't as irrelevant as I'd pushed myself into thinking it was. I'd convinced myself that this coffee meeting was still worth it if I could get a more formal meeting with the staff later. It's still worth being here, even if I don't say anything. Why was I silencing myself?

 One of the staffers motioned to Senator Cantwell that it was almost time to wrap it up. The Senator looked around and any last questions? Anyone? No? ughhh.

Then she looked at me and asked, "anything you want to say about Palestine?"

Oh my. I glanced at the staffer and said, "Yeah! Well, I don't want to take too much of your time, of a growing constituency in Washington that really cares about this issue (nods all around) and I'm working with a non-profit organization that is actually mapping this constituency to make your job easier and show you how many people in Washington care about, not just security in the Middle East, but justice for all people...I worked in a village in an area where there are over 12,000 demolition orders standing from the Israeli army, and what can that be for except to oppress people and steal their land? (nods from the Evergreen folks) So you were talking about Evergreen, my brother goes there, you know this is a big issue in Olympia (nods), and now a growing issue in Seattle. So I want to show you the communities, like the Quakers, and Jewish Voice for Peace, that are coming together, I want to help make their voices heard so it's easier for you to stand up on this (nod from the Senator) and I'd like to stay in contact with you and your staff as we continue this work."

She responded, "that's great, thank you for your leadership, the staffer you want to talk to is Amit over there..."

And that was it! We all shuffled out and lined up for pictures, and after I got mine, the Senator thanked me again, and asked me if I was involved with J Street, and said it's really a shame what's happening over there, in reference to the demolition orders (which was surprisingly strong, I thought!) but we both agreed that Washington was relatively progressive on Israel/Palestine. I finally told her that I wanted to maintain a relationship with her office because I would be going back to Palestine and wanted to make sure they were aware of my work. She seemed a little confused..."because American aid workers have been in dangerous situations with the Israeli army and I want to know that my government will stand up..."

She got what I meant, and reaffirmed that she appreciated me coming to do that. I had a really good feeling from her. We shook hands again and I rolled my suitcase out of the office, out onto Capitol Hill. What a beautiful day! Union Station and its gargantuan facade was in front of me, with its three mondo wreaths hanging between the columns. I would not be getting on a bus today. I needed to secure a place for the night (cousin! check!) and figure out how to maximize my time in Philly and New York. 

First, onto the National Museum of the American Indian. I have some American history to learn, while I'm advocating for indigenous rights on the other side of the planet...



This song got stuck in my head because my friend Austin was singing it. He expressed horror that I didn't like it. urghhhh.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

DC happenings

Rabbi Brant Rosen read from his book "Wrestling in the Daylight: A Rabbi's Path to Palestinian Solidarity" at an event sponsored by Jewish Voice for Peace
Me and my friend Shelby visiting her Senator, Suzan Collins! 

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Speaking Tour: One-Month Reflection

Updated Schedule:

November 2nd-8th: Michigan
November 9th-13th: Chicago
November 13th-23rd: Washington D.C. (Friends Committee on National Legislation conference, Middle East institute conference)
November 24st-26th: Dallas (Palestinian-American Youth League conference)
November 26th-December 5th: Washington D.C.
December 5th-10th: New York City
December 10th-15th: Chicago
December 20th-30th: Seattle
January 2013: California!


I can't believe it's only been a month. This experience has been so jam-packed and inspiring, and I've learned so much already.

Here are the highlights:

-Going to the Students for Justice in Palestine conference in Ann Arbor. I got to meet student activists from universities around the country, learn from grassroots organizers and distinguished speakers (Noura Erekat was especially great), and join in on the planning of SJP's new national organization. I left the conference feeling strengthened and inspired by all the people I'd met there. 

-Speaking at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Ann Arbor. This was a speaking event I picked up after the original speaker, Iyad Burnat, was unable to enter Jordan. That was bittersweet because I know Iyad and his message is so important (and he should be able to travel wherever he wants!), but I was so grateful that Mares, a long-time friend of Rebuilding Alliance, was able to connect me to the church's social justice mission and arrange for my presentation in his stead. The organizers are very active on this issue and were very supportive of my work!

-Spending Election Night at the Democratic Headquarters of Livingston County, a conservative Michigan County. Mares introduced me around to all her friends as the teacher from Al Aqaba village, and they were very curious to know more. It was also cool to see the national election results with people who had worked so hard for Obama. 

-Spending two days in Detroit with two amazing community organizers and artists. We shared our work with each other and they took me around Detroit and showed me what's being done with youth and building and theater and gardening and community improvement and social justice, and though I could only be there for two short days, to make initial contact with churches, journalists, and the Arab-American community, Detroit is definitely a place I want to return to.

-Meeting the Palestinian American Council in Chicago. My friend Mahmoud, who I met initially in Ramallah, introduced me to his friends in the suburbs of Oak Lawn and Bridgeview ("Little Palestine"), and that connection turned my tour around! The men at the PAC heard my presentation on Al Aqaba for five minutes, and immediately invited me to speak at their youth conference in Dallas after Thanksgiving. I was amazed! I didn't know there was a Palestinian-American Youth League, or that someone could want to send me, all expenses paid, to speak to a young audience! I said yes, and Rebuilding Alliance was very, very supportive. I started brainstorming a project that I could set up between the Palestinian-American youth and the youth in Al Aqaba/Tubas area. Those same few days had been really difficult, because of the Israeli military trainings around Al Aqaba that drove people out of their homes. I was really down in the dumps, not knowing what I could do to help my friends back in the Jordan Valley, and this invitation to Dallas felt like really, really great sign that there was something I could do, something I was uniquely suited for. That ended up being a very good day. 

-Attending the Friends Committee on National Legislation conference in Washington D.C. Over the last few years I've learned that the international Quaker community is a very well-organized, effective peacemaking force. I didn't know how impressive their presence was in Washington. This conference brought people (and not all Quakers) from around the country to learn about the status and direction of our national military budget. That was a pretty dismal introduction, but looking around and seeing all those people who had come to learn and challenge it more effectively was very inspiring. The people I met were amazing, as was their energy. After one of my friends asked me if they served good oatmeal on Facebook (much love to you anyway! :) I knew I had to explain a little bit more about my experience with the Quakers. I was really impressed by their internship program, which brought young people of all faiths to the Capitol to research and lobby on specific issues like Kenya, Iran, Israel/Palestine, Native Americans, disarmament ...I actually started looking into their internship program. The best thing that came out of the FCNL conference was the opportunity to learn how to lobby Congress! I went with twelve other Washingtonians to our Senator's office and talked to her staffer about our reasons for support the FCNL "ask," which was to cut the Pentagon budget by $1 trillion in the next ten years. I was a little nervous, but on my turn I told everyone that I'd lived in the West Bank for eight months and was concerned about our military spending that supported policies, especially demolition policies that violated basic human rights and made our country less safe. In my head I was thinking "ahhhhhhhh don't mess it up" but I could see the pens scribbling, and heads nodding. I felt so good walking out of the Senate building knowing that I brought a unique experience to the table, and knowing that Congress isn't as intimidating and inaccessible as I thought. I will definitely cultivate a relationship with my Senator's staff, and as it turns out, one of her aides knows at least a dozen of my friends from back home in Seattle. :)

-The Palestinian American Youth League conference in Dallas! I was flown out of Baltimore, picked up at the Dallas airport and taken to the Hilton Anatole, where I stayed for three nights. There were about 200 participants in the conference, ages 12 and up. A lot of them were high school and university students. I gave my presentation on Saturday morning to all the youth, and it went really well! I had people shout out names of Palestinian governorates, and got Ramallah! Qalqiliyah! Jenin! Bethlehem! Then I introduced Tubas, which virtually no one had heard of. I knew this isolated, very vulnerable place was a perfect place to direct attention and mobilize action. Though I got an outpouring of handshakes and introductions and thanks! after that, it wasn't my slideshow presentation, but my conversation with the youth on Sunday night, that yielded awesome results. I managed to lead an hour-long discussion on Palestinian-American activism, and in the process I learned which of my experiences were most resonating, I heard a lot of inspiring and heart-wrenching personal stories, and I left with dozens of names on my sign-up sheet for a partner program with Tubas youth. These guys were ready for action! Talk about the right place at the right time. I've been blessed to have so many of those moments. My hope was that I'll be able to keep up this momentum with good communication and follow-up. In the last week it's required a lot of Skype dates to Palestine, and explaining to my former student in Tayasir village what exactly I've tapped into. It's strange to remember that it's all in my head at this point, and I'm the one to make it happen! I'll be going back to Chicago to get together with the Chicago youth group and flush out more ideas with the conference organizers who sent me to Dallas. I'm really looking forward to laying the foundations there, given that the adults who have the money and resources are so supportive of projects that channel the energy of the youth into service! It's so exciting!

Now I'm in Washington D.C. again, this time with Donna. We're staying at the William Penn Quaker Guest House, and I'm learning a lot about networking, organizing, and maintaining contacts from Donna, who has quite a bit of experience with this!

Something our tour has needed so badly is a designated planner. Now that we're on the road, it's hard to be going to meetings while scheduling meetings and sending follow-up messages and looking into contact referrals all in the same business day. We are on the move or on our laptops all the time. (If you want to join our team as a scheduler, please give Donna a call at 650 325-4663)  We've visited Senator Maria Cantwell's office, held an in-depth meeting with Senator Feinstein's staff, and met with sister organizations that could partner to move our Rebuilding to Remain and our Stay Human Advocacy programs forward. Our work has been very well received. We just need it to be more widely received. 

So I'm currently learning about all the go-to organizations that are involved in the Middle East, interfaith dialogue, humanitarian aid, and diplomacy. On the flip side, we're also learning about all the best coffee shops to perch in for extended periods of time. Ebenezer's and Busboys and Poets are current favorites.

Donna goes back to San Mateo on Monday, after we meet with people from FCNL, CMEP (Churches for Middle East Peace) and Rabbi Brant Rosen, who linked to my blog while I was in Palestine. I'm looking forward to meeting him in person.

On Tuesday I'll be going with my friend Shelby to talk with her Maine Senator, Susan Collins, then on Wednesday I'll be meeting my other Senator, Maria Cantwell, at her Wednesday morning constituent coffee. Then I'm off to New York, Chicago, and home to Seattle for the holidays.

Like I said, I can't believe it's only been a month. I'm looking forward to December and January, and the new experiences, contacts and confidence they will bring.


Do you want my message to reach more people? I still need your help! We raised $1,400 on our first fundraising page, which has made it possible for me to get this far. Help me continue this journey to New York, Chicago, Seattle, and California by the end of January! Help us spread the word about Al Aqaba and their vision for peace!

Thanks for your support!
Much love,

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Alright, more photos from the conference!

It went really, really well. I gave my presentation on Saturday morning before Alison Weir, and led a discussion the following night. I got a great response, people came up to introduce themselves afterward and say that it was important to see a non-Palestinian caring about Palestine. I didn't really believe, until people told me, just how impactful it can be. The Sunday night discussion was awesome as well. I got to hear the students reflect on their experiences with dialogue and activism, and in the end a lot of stories about their treatment, as Palestinian-Americans, getting in and out of Palestine. They'd had their American passports spat in and stomped on, been interrogated for hours, strip-searched, had their phones and computers looked into, been followed and segregated on airplanes and buses, and of course, in some cases, been denied entry into to the balad, the homeland. A place that I was allowed to live in, because I'm the right kind of American, the "civilized" kind. I was so angered and saddened by that.

Maybe it's something that would make a good media campaign. Palestinian students with American accents, telling their stories.

I also got a lot of support for a Tubas youth project, some kind of exchange. Hopefully that will bring more attention to the Northern Valley before any more expulsions take place. I'm excited to utilize the energy I found at the conference!

Posting from the phone will have to be....a sometimes thing.

That just reminded me of this song....

PAYL Conference Pt. 2

I've had this blog for about 3 years now, and this is my first blog post from my phone! Donna asked me I mind typing full sentences on here, and I responded, unfortunately yes.

Let's see how this goes!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

PAYL Conference

Here I am at the 3rd Annual Palestinian American Youth League  (PAYL) conference, in Dallas, Texas.

This is the first time I've ever been invited, and flown to go and speak somewhere. It's my first time in Texas.

The Palestinian-American Council in Chicago invited me. I met with five or six men in suits in a small office building and a few minutes into my presentation, they asked me to come to Dallas to speak to the youth. I was ecstatic. I didn't know there was such a thing as PAYL. I also didn't know what my role would be in this organization, and in this conference. They wanted me to propose a project for the youth to get involved in. Would American kids be interested in Al Aqaba? What an opportunity for kids in the Jordan Valley....

Am I ready? Am I qualified? Will I be effective? I was a little nervous while I was supposed to be relaxing in my hotel room. I was jotting down last-minute notes and cutting and adding slides to the presentation. Do I mention the young man in Gaza who was shot in the face today? I've seen that face dozens of times in the last few hours and I can't get him from my mind...he's my brother's age. Do I mention water scarcity in the Jordan Valley? These hotel showers have amazing pressure.

In the end, things were running behind schedule, and my talk was postponed until first thing tomorrow morning. I don't mind it really, in fact it was really valuable for me to sit in on the last guy's talk about strategic planning. His English wasn't great, he spoke like an uncle and I could tell right off the bat he wasn't holding the attention of the university student crowd. I understood then why my presence and message was considered important, and that made my nerves subside. The man said some really interesting things though, and he got a nice response from the students. He said that he knew most of their parents (most of them being from Chicago), and though they're wonderful people, they're not strategic planners. They didn't have the resources their kids have, so it's their responsibility to think long-term for their communities, and the international Palestinian community as a whole.

"Did you know, there are around 128 Zionist organizations in DC? And there are only a handful of Palestinian organizations, and they go against each other...why is that? Why are we not united?" I would disagree that all the Zionist organizations agree with each other, but considering even J-Street's placid response to the latest Gaza assault ("First and foremost, Israel has the right to defend itself..."), they seem to be united...enough. It was interesting to see this conversation going on, "we can throw the blame around forever, but the real issue is, we're not doing any long-term strategic planning."

I also sat in on one of the rooms where the younger kids were doing a workshop. They looked like they were 10-14 or so, and I'd just caught the end, so one by one, a kid would go up and read what they'd written about their family history. It went, my name is ________, my parents names are ______ and _______ and they were born in Amman, Jordan. The reason they lived in Jordan is because they were kicked out of their home town in Palestine. The name of my grandparents' village in Palestine is __________. The town was mostly destroyed, except for a few buildings. My grandparents left all of their things because they thought they would be able to come back. I'm very proud to be Palestinian. 

And all the kids would hoot and holler, and they are just regular American kids, full of sass and silliness. I wish this community were more visible. Someone should make a movie about Palestinian-American youth. Hmmmm.

So now I'm in my room, my roommate Alison Weir (creator of If Americans Knew) is arriving shortly, and there is a big banquet starting downstairs! I'm going to head down. Hasta manana.....

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


Busboys and Poets, cafe, bookstore, venue for concerts, open mics, and social justice-y type things
Langston Hughes was on the menu

...or a woman. damn.

Visited and talked at Georgetown Law, and attended an Israel/Palestine class!

DC Metro....another Metro...

State Department gift shop

Playing at Starbucks:

Monday, November 19, 2012

This Old Heart of Mine

After the football game, this place went to the News. I was going to take a picture of the local news showing bombs in Gaza and all I got was Mark Regev! ugh.

Me and my friend Elena from our SIT Jordan semester (Spring '08)

Walking to church today....I love buildings like these.

Architectural variety...DC's got lots of it...


Pretty neighborhoods

The Lutheran church I went to had inspirational figures on their stained glass. I took immediate notice of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the famous Lutheran anti-Nazi activist, and Harriet Tubman.

As I walked into this church, I saw that everyone had circled up to pray for peace in the Middle East. People were calling out popcorn style, calling for safety for children, and a just resolution. As soon as I heard "just resolution," I knew I was in the right place.

I met up with my cousin, and my aunt and her husband who are visiting from Alaska. I'll be spending Thanksgiving with them!

The sermon was great. Pastor Karen talked about the church being open-minded and taking risks, especially by trusting the energy of the congregation's youth to reach out to different networks and projects around the city. One young member declared she was going to a conference on race, and the church partnered with the event and their presence encouraged other people to take interest in the congregation and expand their activities in the community. It was a cool message.

Most Lutheran church services I attend make me miss my church in New Orleans. I miss gospel music and dancing and raising a ruckus. On the way to this church, I actually passed a church that was pumping music, and thought, "that's....probably not a white church." Hmmmmm.

Still love them Lutherans though. I made a great contact in Pastor Karen, and I might be able to go back talk to some of the congregation. There seems to be a lot of interest there in social justice and the Middle East.

The longest escalator I've ever been down, and it was broken. I had to keep thinking of Mitch Hedburg as I gingerly descended ("Escalators temporarily stairs...sorry for the convenience...")

Peppermint mocha with extra curls, my holiday treat from the Mothership

Protest for Gaza in front of the Israeli Embassy

One of the speakers. Miko Peled was there too!

Song of the Day: this was playing at Starbucks. It's one of my favorites.