Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Shabbat Shalom, Bil'in

On Friday I went to Bil'in. I brought a French photographer who was also staying at Souli's on Thursday.

We were all sending off our friend Dasha who is leaving the country, by drinking wine and inevitably talking politics. This girl Marin told me she was interested in going to a demonstration in the morning and Souli volunteered me, somewhat mockingly: "go with Morgan, she goes to Bil'in every Friday." Alright, that's not true, but I did plan to go in the morning and I was happy to have her with me. In the end, we didn't go out to the bar like we'd planned, so I just passed out and woke up with a wicked hangover. But I managed to get of bed at ten to make shakshooka in honor of Dasha's last morning. It was her specialty, and I hope I did it justice.

At around 11:30, I rushed Marin out the door and we taxi'd to the service station to Bil'in. Sometimes I have rotten luck with last-minute taxis, but by 12:05 we were by the Bil'in village mosque, where the demonstrators were starting to assemble. I recognized a few of them, but it had been a while. One guy went up to me and asked if I needed a briefing before the demo. I declined, thinking I was experienced enough, but then I grabbed Marin, who was taking photos, and told her this would be interesting. I didn't know there were briefings!

We sat in a circle and listened as one of the Israeli regulars told us about how to deal with tear gas and what to do if we got arrested. I wondered if there were any first-timers and what they thought of this information. No foreigners would get arrested in Bil'in, but it was useful information. You can give two statements: "I deny the charges" and "I was subjected to such-and-such treatment during my arrest" and beyond that, "I prefer not to comment."

I saw a girl with curly blonde hair wearing a Northface jacket and a kuffiyeh, and I wondered where she was from. Maybe I could interview her for my foreigners in Palestine video. There was an image people didn't see very often.

We went outside and I recognized more regulars from Israel. I saw my friend Hamde from Bil'in, who just got back last week from a year in Germany. I introduced him to Marin, since she's a photographer as well. We went down the street to get some coffee before the demo. Cars started to stream past us, and we realized no one was walking this time because of the rain. I would've preferred to walk, but we didn't want to miss anything, so we hopped in a mini-bus. A British man was sitting in the front seat and I learned later he was a former MP, whose wife is active in Palestinian solidarity back in Britain. The blonde girl was also on the bus, and she introduced herself to me. Lindsay from Arkansas. I recognized her accent then, my aunt has the same one :)

Lindsay worked for Teach for Palestine in the Askar Refugee Camp in Nablus. She'd been here since August, longer than me, but was on her way out in a week or two. She was going to spend two weeks in India. I asked her if she was stopping in Delhi, where my aunt from Arkansas lives, but unfortunately she wasn't. That would've been awesome. But I liked Lindsay a lot, she was very genki, y3ani, spirited and enthusiastic.

We got off the bus at Abu Lemon, the little nature reserve near the wall, and the demonstration had already started. In fact, I saw a stone fly as I got closer and thought, "hoo boy, this will be a fast one" but there was no tear gas yet. A second later, we heard a boom, and another boom, and they sounded like sound bombs, but I realized they were rubber bullets being fired. Suddenly Abdullah Abu Rahma, who was wearing a yellow rain coat and using a shield covered in pictures of the martyr Bassem Abu Rahma to protect him as he clambered over the barbed wire fence, was on the ground clutching his leg. I heard Lindsay say, "oh, they shot him. unbelievable." She was obviously pissed, and went back by the ambulance, which then bleeped its way down to Abdullah, and was turned away. Abdullah came hobbling past me, a big red welt/hole under his knee.

After that, things moved pretty fast. I saw Marin on the front line, snapping photos from behind a mound of rocks, and was glad that she had found a mentor in Hamde, who was running around in his gas mask. The gas wasn't much today, but at one point the army decided this demo was finished, and shot the gas upwind. Some of us moved out of the way, then they shot more, and it became inescapable. I ended up retreating down the road with the other foreigners. The Israeli who had given the briefing went up to me and handed me a cleansing wipe, so I could sniff the alcohol. Alcohol and onions. I'm baffled by the onions, because they make you cry the same way tear gas does (minus the burning throat), but you're supposed to put an onion to your face after getting gassed.

I caught up with Lindsay and she agreed to do an interview, after taking a minute to stop crying. Now I have four interviews. cha-ching.

We then hopped into a car with Hamde and went to the Popular Committee office to drink apple juice and coffee and eat chocolate wafers. I gave Lindsay my information and she headed out on a bus with the British former MP and a bunch of other people. I was relieved to see that Marin had also made her way onto the bus, and I waved goodbye. I didn't know if I'd see her again.

I knew it was going to be difficult for me to get back to Ramallah if I waited too long. We saw two cars of Israelis headed to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. They bade farewell to Hamde in Hebrew and headed off. 

Hamde and I ended up walking around the olive groves, and he told me to be careful, because the ground sinks. It sinks? I saw that it was muddy from the rain, but I didn't know what he meant until he told me that an Israeli soldier once fell into a hole during a raid, because it had been covered up. Like a booby trap? I started to see more and more holes. Hamde explained that the ground underneath us was hollow, because people used to live in these caves. There had been archeological digs and they found ancient artifacts and tombs with gold inside-like the Egyptians were buried. I knew never knew this about Bil'in. I had no idea what its history was before the last five years, minus Hamde's boyhood days with nine siblings and teachers who always kicked him out of class. It was hard to imagine him a troublemaker when he was now arguably the most mobile, free person in Bil'in. Or maybe that makes it easier to imagine. Everyone was happy to see him come back, because he was one of the few people who could get along with anyone, regardless of age or politics....I kind of shuffled around inspecting the ancient tombs while he caught up with an old kuffiyed man who was out on the hill with his goats, and greeted the little kids from a family passing by.

"I don't want to wave at them and walk away like it's nothing, you know, I don't want them to think I went to Germany and now I'm part of that culture, I hate that, really...."

We stopped by Iyad's house to pick up his internet USB drive, then up to his brother Khamis' house where his mother was sitting. She can hardly see now, but recognized Hamde's voice, and I made my presence known. "Ah, Markojan," she said, and invited me to sit with her. She was cleaning her shoes that were covered in mud, and was struggling to put them back on, so Hamde put them on for her and brought water from the well to pour over her hands.

Asma, a tall, quiet girl in 9th grade saw me from her house and came over to sit with us. Hamde had forgotten his camera at Iyad's and went running back to find it after the boy he sent had come back empty-handed. Turns out they didn't let the boy have it because they feared he would break it.

Hamde announced that he would cook dinner with vegetables from their garden, and I started worrying that I would have to stay the night, which wasn't my intention. I wondered if I should try and make a run for it, go hitch-hike back to Ramallah before it got dark, but I knew it would be a battle, and I wasn't ready for it yet.
Hamde and I took a walk down the road towards where the old security fence used to be. The sun was setting and everything was quiet. Then I heard the call to prayer, but it didn't sound quite right. It wasn't coming from Bil'in, it was far-off and muffled, and it had....music in it. I realized it was coming from the settlements.

"Shabbat!" I yelled over at Hamde. It was Friday evening.

It reminded me of the call to prayer. I took some footage. I'd never heard anything coming from the settlements over a loudspeaker, that seemed like just an Islamic thing. After the music died down there was a prayer said and a quick "Shabbat Shalom." Then a child came over the loudspeaker and added another "Shabbat Shalom." We were standing a few hundred meters away as the sun set over Modi'in Illit, and everything went quiet.

I hear soldiers speaking in Hebrew, then I hear Israelis speaking Hebrew at a cafe in Jerusalem. I see giant flaming menorahs at Tappuah junction and Eli settlement, then I see little menorahs sitting in window sills in a Jerusalem neighborhood. I hear Shabbat music blaring from Modiin settlement, then I listen to my friends sing before Shabbat dinner in Jaffa.

How ugly these things look under occupation.

Hamde and I walked back to his family's house and started chopping spinach and tomatoes. Apparently the way I chopped tomatoes was ridiculous, and I had to humbly accept his advice, seeing as he'd worked three years as a cook in Tel Aviv. We sat down to bowls full of stewed veggies for dipping, while his family ate mansaf, made of rice, bread, and goat meat. Hamde didn't even have to say it, but he did: "I don't want to tell them how to eat..." but his mother was diabetic and her health was declining..."you need balance." He hated the taste of mansaf and didn't eat goat because he grew too attached to the family's goats growing up. No one else touched his food.

After that we sat for a while and caught up, then I fought a 30-minute battle and eventually convinced him to let me take a taxi back to Ramallah. We walked to Adeeb's house to see if he could drive me, and when the door opened I saw Tutu standing there. Her face lit up and she started jumping up and down, and my heart melted into a puddle. I went inside with Tutu attached to my leg and the whole family was sitting inside the front room, which was brightly lit and full of this infectious cheer. They yelled "Morjan! Ahlan!" welcome! and I shook the hands of Adeeb and his wife and his seven daughters. Little Ahmad was watching TV in the bedroom. They got me to sit down and eat some fruit and drink tea, and I showed them the picture I took of Tutu and Yazid in October.

After that I hopped in Adeeb's taxi, and Hamde warned him that if anything funny happened, he would find out and hunt him down. We'd heard of an incident of a foreign girl getting felt up in her taxi to Bil'in and all the guys who heard the story were incensed-what taxi? who was he? what did he look like? we know all the drivers! I don't know if anyone will find out, but moral of the story is, girls stay in the back seat.

Adeeb was of course, a perfect gentleman. He quizzed me on all the names of the villages we passed, and I aced the test, thanks to the friend I'd met from Deir Bzih and the English lesson I taught in Ein 3rik. Adeeb tried to explain the meaning of the word "Ein" and we ended up with the word "spring." He stopped outside the village mosque to show me the spring that ran underneath, and invited me to drink straight from it.

Then I was deposited in front of Zamn Cafe, where Souli was having coffee with Bader, and it became a regular Friday night in Ramallah.