Saturday, March 31, 2012

the shit is falling...

Today is al Yom al-Ard, Land Day in Palestine. I've been hearing about it for weeks, and today I went to the big protest at Qalandia checkpoint. For some background, here is what wikipedia says about Land Day:

Land Day (Arabic: يوم الأرض‎, Yom al-Ard; Hebrew: יוֹם הַאֲדָמָה‎‎, Yom HaAdama), March 30, is an annual day of commemoration for Palestinians of the events of that date in 1976. In response to the Israeli government's announcement of a plan to expropriate thousands of dunams of land for "security and settlement purposes", a general strike and marches were organized in Arab towns from the Galilee to the Negev. In the ensuing confrontations with the Israeli army and police, six Arab citizens were killed, about one hundred were wounded, and hundreds of others arrested.

Scholarship on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict recognizes Land Day as a pivotal event in the struggle over land and in the relationship of Arab citizens to the Israeli state and body politic. It is significant in that it was the first time since 1948 that Arabs in Israel organized a response to Israeli policies as a Palestinian national collective. An important annual day of commemoration in the Palestinian national political calendar ever since, it is marked not only by Arab citizens of Israel, but also by Palestinians all over the world.

This morning, instead of going to Bil'in or Nabi Saleh I met up with Hamdi and Simon and a bunch of Swiss and German journalists in Manara Circle in Ramallah, and from there we Service'd to Qalandia checkpoint.I downed some coffee (mostly on my sweatshirt) and chatted with the journalists, but I was feeling nervous about this demonstration.

Qalandia is a few things. It's the biggest checkpoint in the West Bank, sitting between Jerusalem and Ramallah. It's a huge traffic bottleneck. It's a refugee camp. It's a place that doesn't get taken care of, because it falls into Greater Jerusalem, but the powers that be don't give a poo about Arab Jerusalem, no matter what side of the wall it falls on. So it's not a pleasant place to be. A lot of poverty, a lot of people shuffling around, smog and horns honking, and the checkpoint. And the wall. The only thing hopeful there is the graffitti, because it reminds me that there is a voice of resistance, of opposition, of sanity in this absurd place.

We got out of the taxi once we saw a group of foreigners walking down the sidewalk. Hamdi and Simon identified them as the ISM people, from the International Solidarity Movement. I'd seen them in 2's or 3's before, but not in a big group. This must be the Ramallah contingent. I recognized one of the blonde guys from the Nabi Saleh demonstration the week before

We all congregated and it ended up being about 15 foreigners with cameras skirting the shops on the main road, weighing the go next to the shebab throwing stones? or go behind the soldiers? option 1 involved being in the line of fire, so most of us kept skirting and ended in a big mass of press and soldiers. When I first saw them it looked more like some casual gatherine, like a festival. Then a gun would go off and people would flinch, then they would send the tank full of shit water out, or shoot tear gas, and everyone would clutch their kuffiyehs and run to find a hiding place.

I felt safe surrounded by so many foreigners, it was just obnoxious having to run behind the fruit stand and inhale alcohol pads every time the wind carried gas or shit water out way. I don't know what else to call it. The man in the fruit stand said, "the shit is falling," the "khara," that's what we say in Arabic. We emerged from the fruit stand and I said, "al khara fil hawa," the shit is on the wind, and he laughed. The more Arabic I spoke, the easier I felt my presence was. There is usually secret police at Kalandia demonstrations, and I didn't feel comfortable pointing my camera at journalists or locals...even though I found them most interesting. Not that secret police don't speak Arabic. And sometimes they cross-dress. haha.

All in all, it was a pretty unproductive demo. I know this isn't exactly an MLK situation, or a Gandhi situation, but I tried to imagine what the army would do if everyone just walked up to the checkpoint. It feels so patronizing telling a people how to resist their occupation, and I feel nothing but disgust for someone who returns a stone with a bullet, but I couldn't join that march with kids throwing stones. It's not a mental isolation, I know that support is growing for their cause, but there's a physical isolation if the internationals feel provocative and fear for their safety...

I left after about an hour. I caught a service taxi back to Ramallah, and it took about 45 minutes instead of 15 because we hand to wind through clogged backroads in Qalandia refugee camp. I was listening to the radio and picking out pieces about the demonstration. Weird, I was just there.

972 Magazine-Land Day at Qalandia Falls Flat

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

My CouchSurfers from South Tyrol

On Saturday night I hosted two CouchSurfers in Al Aqaba. It was supposed to be one originally, an Italian design student named Andreas, but then his roommate Matthias came along. They met up with me and Souli and Megan in Zamn cafe (in Ramallah), then I took them and Megan up to Manara Circle. I learned that they were actually studying in Jerusalem, not just traveling around. On the way to the station we were met by Hamdi, my friend from Bil'in, and Simon, a Swiss photographer who was living in Bil'in for a month. They'd come to Ramallah to check out a demonstration that was supposed to happen, but apparently there were only a few people there. So instead the five of us stood around and chatted and I wasn't surprised that the Italians knew German, so they spoke to Hamdi, who'd just returned from a year working in Germany. Then we decided to delay our departure and go out for hummus and falafel. So we all ducked into a little restaurant and spent a good 45 minutes bullshitting and laughing way too loudly for that little family place. Two Americans, two Italians, a Swiss and a Palestinian.

Then I bought a lamp for the guest house and the boys and I proceeded to the Service Station to catch the direct ride to Tubas. I spent that 75 minutes pointing out all the things I knew, villages, settlements, checkpoints, how the road system village had a big mount of dirt and rocks blocking its entrance because the Israeli army wanted the people to leave. There was a paved road near Nablus that had been demolished just like the one in Al Aqaba. I hadn't noticed these things until I'd made the trip a few times.

When we got into Al Aqaba the sun was already setting, and the boys seemed eager to take some photos, so dropped our stuff off in the guest house and ran around for a while. Haj Sami met us after ten minutes. I hadn't specified that it was two males staying with me, but I think he liked the fact that they were both holding cameras. The rules had relaxed considerably since I got here in September. We took a walk around the village, then sat in Haj Sami's office while I helped him with some correspondence. Then his niece prepared dinner for us and his nephew brought it up to the apartment. pita bread, eggs, stewed tomatoes, vegetables, hot dogs, yoghurt, his niece whipped it up at a moment's notice, and Haj Sami was hoping to present a big lunch for the boys the next day, but I told him I was making shakshooka for breakfast and then we had to go back to Ramallah. Thanks to the fundraiser, I can buy groceries if we have Couch Surfers.

oh my god. i'm so tired. i'm nodding off in this cafe and i just wanna put my head down on the table. yalla caffeine!

Anyways, after dinner I hung out with Andreas and Matthias and we played guitar a little bit (they'd brought their own mini-guitar!) and then I proposed we go for a walk. I'd never just gone on a night walk in the village before. We turned right on the big road and headed toward the demolished street. Then we veered left and started walking along the gravel road by some of the village barracks. I doubt the villagers had ever seen three ajaneb walking around in the night. It was windy, and cool and completely dark. I heard footsteps and saw two cigarettes bobbing up and down, and wondered who was on the other end.

It was one of the village drivers (or his brother) and they asked me where we were going. I said, bas nimshi, we're just walking. Tfadal, he said. Come on inside.

As we made our way up the hill to his home, I thought to myself, maybe this is the beginning of an Al Aqaba night-life.

So we went into his home, two small rooms made of cement blocks. Four of his young children were sleeping on a mat under a big blanket. I thought again of the guest house fundraiser and made a note to set aside some funds to buy something for this and the other barracks-homes. Maybe someday this family would get a Rebuilding home, but it would take a while. I didn't know if the priority was on returning families or the existing barracks, perhaps a combination.

So we were served coffee, then cake, then tea. The boys didn't speak any Arabic, so I made conversation with our host and his wife and brothers/nephews/who knows, and translated into English. He said that in the past, if we were just walking around this area at night, we could be shot by soldiers. oh...jeez. I didn't know how people responded when I told them my guests lived in Al Quds, Jerusalem. They were foreigners, and they could go to Jerusalem, but the villagers couldn't, even though they considered it their country's capital city.

After an hour or so, and after one of the guys had exhausted all the tea in the kettle (he kept refilling our glasses so we couldn't leave, haha) we took off back towards the guest house. As we walked in the dark up towards the lights on the mosque, Andreas remarked that in Italy, people wouldn't be that hospitable. Even if you hitch-hiked in your own town, people wouldn't stop for you. I was glad we had the opportunity to sit inside a village house...that was a rare experience for a first-time visitor to the West Bank :)

I wanted to show them the sewing co-op, if my friends the managers were up late working, but the lights were all out up there, so we went back to the guest house. I fired up the projector and showed them the film made by our last guest from the States, Melissa. The film is called I Stay Here, and it looks at different leaders and forms of non-violent resistance in Palestine. It's great!

Afterwards the boys showed me a video of them spray-painting graffiti on the Wall, and it looked so funny because they had to sit on each others shoulders. Then Matthias drew a picture of a Palestinian flag crossed with the flag of his province on my white board, with the words "Resist to Exist." They explained to me that they knew about occupation. I thought of Palden, and what he said about Cornwall and the English occupation.

Without even connecting the dots, I suddenly asked, "why do you guys speak more German than Italian?" They looked at each other.
"We come from a province that was annexed from Austria."
What? I went to Wikipedia and typed in the name of the province, and thus began my lesson on South Tyrol. The territory was annexed from Austria in 1919, and the fascist government, in various stages, has been Italianizing it ever since. Initially, German language and education was outlawed, towns and geographical features were assigned Italian names, and Italian citizens were given incentives to move into South Tyrol to tip the demographic scale.
"That sounds familiar," I said. This was so fascinating.
I remembered discussing Puerto Rico in Spanish class. Should they stay a territory, become a state, or gain independence? There were people in South Tyrol who wanted a return to Austria, some who wanted complete autonomy, some who felt the facts on the grounds were irreversible. Today it's still 70% German-speaking but the Italian government allows for a fair amount of fascist influence in the region. There were several points in which one of the guys was talking and the other would go, "whooooa, whoa, whoa..." and it was so interesting hearing their different opinions. I asked them what they're vision for the future was...
Andreas replied, "I think there's a lot of potential for the two people to come together, they could have a really interesting fusion of cultures."
"Really, you think so?" replied Matthias. And they continued on.

I thought about Palestinians and Israelis and the annexation of the West Bank and the eventual one-state solution. In one hundred years the two people could be so integrated, but would one still dominate the other?

They showed me pictures of South Tyrol and fascist monuments and it turns out Andreas submitted a proposal in the "what do we do with this Mussolini art on the city hall?" contest and five winners were selected and compensated, but Andreas' idea was used and he was never recognized for it.

1) Here is a picture from South Tyrol. yowza.
2) The Bolzano victory monument, erected by Mussolini- it says "Here at the border of the fatherland set down the banner. From this point on we educated the others with language, law and culture."
3) Here are Andreas and Matthias eating shakshooka in the guest house :)

Now it's two days later, I'm sitting in the Educational Bookshop in East Jerusalem, and once Andreas and Matthias are out of class I'm going to surf their couch!

Seriously, CouchSurfing is awesome.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Some pictures of our trip with my church group to Nabi Musa...

So crowdy

A few days ago I was sitting in the manager's office at the company working on the Al Aqaba website. He makes websites for a lot of other villages, especially the vulnerable ones. He himself is from Yanoun, which is next to Itamar, a particularly violent Israeli settlement. His land was confiscated and made into "state land" for the settlement, so he's fighting a legal battle with the Israeli courts. He served me coffee and we talked about my situation with my work and the visa. He told me he went to New York one time for a conference, with some people who had never been out of Nablus. I looked down at the traffic below and imagined never leaving Nablus.

He told me they got into New York at night and went immediately to Times Square. He described the experience, I just remember his hands motioning all the screens and buildings and the look on his face. Pure wonder.

"But so crowdy," he said as he turned around and poured another cup of coffee.

What can we do?

My uncle recommended that I install a viewer's map on my blog. I liked how Palden has a Flag Counter for his visitors, so I adopted that idea. So far we have one flag from Palestine. Yalla internationals!

I also put a video bar on the sidebar, but the function is messed up, so sometimes you might see my YouTube videos, and sometimes you might see some weird thing about cars. Anyways, my channel is mobach18 and you can access it through any of the videos I post. Even though I made a channel called AlAqaba2012 for serious videos, I've only posted three there and can't seem to separate my silly videos from the serious ones. walla I just don't care.

I shot two hours of footage with my new camera, basically it was two hours of me and my American friends pre-gaming and gaming throughout Ramallah, then I accidentally reformatted my memory card in Bil'in the next day and lost all two hours. I'm hoping my friend can help me recover the files. That'll teach me to press buttons in Arabic. But I'm still moving forward (shway shway) with the idea of this website for Americans in Palestine. Technically I've also started the blog, but I would really like to make a legit website out of it.

Basically I'm frozen in promotional mode. I'm carrying around my new business cards, fliers and brochures for the guest house and I have no schedule whatsoever. I need to visit universities, information centers, cafes, other guest houses and hostels, send an article to This Week in Palestine, and not forget my cards at home like I did yesterday. I ended up at a conference in Beit Sahour called Encounter for Jewish Americans and local Palestinians and I had no cards!

With the money I got through the IndieGogo fundraiser, I bought the promotional materials, and commissioned an iron-worker in Tubas to make five bunk beds. It didn't take long to learn that Palestinians associate bunk beds with prison. What can we do, it's efficient.

I also put the Guest House blog on my blogroll. Now I'm uploading ALL of my Al Aqaba photos into the Al Aqaba Village Facebook group so I can link to all the albums on the Guest House website. Village website is still a mess but it should be up soon, insh'allah. My cousin Kai is helping me.

I went into Intertech today. Ghassan, one of the members of the Rebuilding Alliance board, referred me to his friend Marwan there to make my business cards, and now I consider Marwan a good friend. He travels all over Palestine and Israel and the world and takes amazing photos. Today in his office I heard Fairouz, the Lebanese singer everyone listens to in the morning, then it turned to a song I'd heard in his office many times: Que Sera.

Que sera, sera
Whatever will be, will be
The future's not ours to see
Que sera, sera...

My Israeli acquaintance who was dressed up like Mario for Purim told me that this phrase "what can we do" is "ma lasot" in Hebrew. I'm starting to say and think it more. What can we do? It's not in our hands. Even in the midst of a bitter land dispute, Haj Sami said, "this is not our land, this is God's land. What's with the God." God is at the tip of everyone's tongue here. Yesterday at this conference in Beit Sahour with Souli, Bader, and two of my American friends from church, Souli talked about how some Muslims say "bsmillah", in the name of God, before everything, before eating, before driving, before going to the bathroom, before having sex....I almost spat out my Sprite at that image. Would it be worth killing the mood just to see the look on his face.....

And what can we do? I said it to Souli that night after the laptops were put away and there was a silent alone-ness that we usually tried to fill. It had been a very engaging day, a day that felt good. We'd convinced Bader to get out of Ramallah and drive us to Wadi Qelt to join my church group on an afternoon outing. He blasted Usher most of the way there, while Souli was trying to point out all the valleys he used to walk through. Between the church group and the hotel conference that the rest of us crashed, there were a lot of connections made, and I think the girls enjoyed doing something new. He told me then that I was so good to him, and I knew what he meant. We'd been through so much shit in the last week, my clothes left the closet like a riptide and came back throughout the week, slowly, without emotion....

I knew he meant I was good because I didn't pressure him. Before last week it was a sore subject, but all I could do was shrug and say, "what can we do?" However much space we made would be the right amount, and it would never be zero. He smiled, and I felt like we were finally at peace.

For now, I'm sitting in Zamn Cafe, Adham (the guy in flannel that everyone avoids because he just sits there awkwardly) just left so I'm sitting here contemplating my next move. I'm visiting the U.S. Consulate tomorrow. Did you know our consular officials and their families can't enter the West Bank without an armed escort? Whilst the European officials just drive their private cars right in there whenever they want? Walla, my country baffles me sometimes...When I reflected on that yesterday I realized maybe it's not race and ethnic studies that really fascinate me. The Dirty War in Argentina wasn't about race, it was about a military government and the manipulation of fear. Maybe I'm just fascinated by fear. Anyways, I'm looking forward to my visit tomorrow and talking to the diplomats about the work I'm doing.

The guy at the next table just said, "sah, o la la?" which means, "am I right or not?" I'm getting better at droppin eaves...

Walk through Al Aqaba with Melissa and Jeff

Helping dad pick peas!

Check out the Guest House blog post about Jeff and Melissa's visit to Al Aqaba. Here are some pictures and a video of the walk we took around the village!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

A few days ago, a crew from Palestine TV came to Al Aqaba. My friend Yuhki who works at Al-Najah University had told one of his friends from the station about my project and about Al Aqaba, so they set up a time to come and interview me and Haj Sami. When they arrived on Wednesday morning we started with the Guest House. They set up lights and cords and put a microphone on me, and a nice women named Dalal interviewed me about what the heck I was doing in a village like Al Aqaba. They worked in Ramallah, and hailed from cities. It was always a long explanation, why I was there, but I did my best. I was self-conscious about my hair and wondering if the camera really did add 10 pounds. I almost wanted my stomach bug back. Anyways, we finished up and one of the guys made tea in my kitchen, and Dalal invited me to her house in Ramallah to meet her three girls. She looked about my age. I really liked this crew. It would be fun to visit them in Ramallah.
They ended up staying for a few hours, getting all the information they could about Haj Sami and the village, then as Haj Sami and our two American guests and I were walking down to Tayasir to eat maqloubeh, some of the guys on the crew jumped out of their van and handed Haj Sami the camera so he could get footage from the point-of-view of his wheelchair. Then the van sped off and they joked, "ah well, we'll stay here with you." Then we caught up to the van, one guy got in, and the van lunged forward again, stranding the last guy. And the game continued for a few more minutes, making us all laugh as we watched this news team play cat-and-house. The sun was setting, the fields were green, and the wind was strong. I felt this was a moment I could lock away, that I would someday want to capture, even in retrospect. This is a beautiful place, a place that will never cease to make you smile.
I walked down Rukab street in Ramallah and passed by the European Bakery and their display of cakes. All kinds of cakes, chocolate cakes, cheesecakes, turtle cakes...a beautiful sight. Then I side-stepped a young man, scholarly-looking with glasses and a nice coat, who was just standing in front of the cake display.

I smiled, and kept walking.

Seattle Pinkwashing Event

Dear Jessica,

I have been an activist since I was 13 years old, and last night is one of the most powerful moments I've ever experienced. I will never forget the feeling of jumping up and down and shouting for joy outside Seattle City Hall.

You see, last night, 6 brave members of Seattle, Washington’s LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) Commission did the simple, honest and right thing. And it took my breath away.

And because the backlash is sure to be fierce, if you feel as I do, then I want you and everyone you know who is a part of or ally to the LGBT community to thank them. Today. This very moment.

What happened?

In my region of the United States, the Israeli Consulate and militant pro-Israel group Stand With Us partnered to promote a tour of Israeli LGBT activists—not to advance gay rights—but to divert attention from Israel's occupation and abuses of human rights. Their well-documented strategy to rebrand Israel as a "safe haven" of tolerance, even as millions of Palestinians live under Israeli control without the right to vote, as second-class citizens inside Israel or as refugees—is called Pinkwashing.

People throughout the northwest had been organizing for weeks. Groups were hosting teach-ins, organizing protests, writing letters, and making phone calls, and it was working. Activists had already mobilized to successfully cancel events in Olympia and Tacoma earlier in the week. Change was in the air. But the City of Seattle LGBT Commission event was the headline of the whole tour, and in spite of all the organizing, we knew it would be hard for the Commission to stand up for what was right.

And then, at an open hearing last night, Seattle LGBT commissioners heard several hours of ground-breaking testimony — from queer Jews who cleared away the debris of anti-semitism accusations, and queer Palestinians who brilliantly detailed the racist and violent effects of Israeli policy in their own lives, and the way that Pinkwashing has furthered that violence by invisibilizing their lives, identities, and communities.

At one point, Selma, Palestinian-American and LGBTQ rights activist explained:

My life and upbringing in Washington State isn’t a coincidence. My family settled here after my father’s ancestral home was ethnically cleansed in 1948 Palestine. He became a refugee as a young person, and it is by this very truth, and the trajectories that follow, that have led me to settling in Washington state and Seattle. My queer identity is steeped in and inextricably linked to the dispossession of my family and community by the state of Israel...Events like this have become part of a strategic campaign where LGBT culture is exploited and manipulated to promote the idea that Israel is a great place for all LGBT people. This strategy has come to be called pinkwashing by those who oppose it. It directly hurts queer people like me, and our entire community.

Local Jewish Voice for Peace activist, Wendy Elisheva Somerson, pointed out that we are not against dialogue, and would be happy to hear stories from Israeli LGBT activists, were they not funded by the Israeli government and Stand With Us:

Any true dialogue on queer issues in the Middle East has to address the Occupation and include queer Palestinian voices.

It was clear that the room was moved by Selma's and every else's remarks, but at first it seemed like the event would go on as planned. The chair thanked everyone for coming and informed us that the event would happen anyway.

But then, Jessica, then something happened I could never have imagined.

One of the commissioners, his voice full of emotion and tears in his eyes, told us if it was up to him he wouldn't let this event happen. He said it pained him to be invisibilizing the most marginalized LGBT folks in our community. And then another commissioner said he felt sick to his stomach about going ahead with the event, knowing now that it was not just LGBT individuals but state-funded propaganda, and then another said this was one of the most difficult weeks of his life--realizing how little he had known and how much harm he was unintentionally doing--and then another said she didn't want us to feel silenced.

And then someone made a motion for a vote, and then, all at once, it had happened: this group of courageous and humble public representatives voted with a clear answer: no to Pinkwashing, not in this town. It is not easy to stand up for what is right, and we can't thank them enough.

You can be sure that the LGBT commission will be hearing an enormous amount of criticism for their brave stand. Right now, they are being flooded by emails telling them they are wrong for refusing to spread government-funded propaganda. Let's show them that we don't just protest, we also celebrate. That we have their back, as they've had ours.

Join me in thanking them for choosing what was hard, and what was right.

Stefanie Fox, Director of Grassroots Organizing
Jewish Voice for Peace

The storm is passing over (2 weeks ago)

Take courage my soul!
and let us journey on,
though the night is dark,
and I am far from home.
Thanks be to God,
the morning light appears!

The storm is passing over,
The storm is passing over,
The storm is passing over,

Today is the first clear day after five days of non-stop shittah. Now it's March 4th and spring may finally be here! Outside this apartment window the clouds are large and fast-moving, but it looks like they're on the retreat.

I'm sitting in a kitchen in Beit Sahour while my friend Basil and his friend study for their computer programming test. Basil's Ukrainian girlfriend Tatiana is eating toast and drinking coffee, and I'm contemplating my next move.


Tatiana and I ended up walking to the supermarket to get some tea and milk for the apartment. Being outside felt so good, the air had that fresh post-rain smell. The streets were mostly deserted because it was Friday, and our first supermarket option was closed. The guy at the clothing store kitty-corner told us maybe at 4 they would open. No no, that wouldn’t do. I learned that Tatiana was also looking for feminine products. That was our first bonding moment. So we headed up the street.
Tatiana was wearing a down jacket with a furry collar and tights and heels, and looked a little uncomfortable walking down the street where there were some shebab (youth) hanging out. They did take some interest in us, but I waved and smiled and rolled my eyes to let her know that it was just annoying, not frightening. It seems like every city is worse than the last, these boys are so bored.
We walked by the street where my brother and I joined in the Beit Sahour candle-lit walk last Christmas. There had been marching bands and scout troops, just like the New Orleans Jingle Mingle, and banners that read “Pray for Peace in Palestine” and “Light a Candle for a Palestinian State.” My mind was so blown. How could I have not known that these are the Christians of Bethlehem?
And now we were walking down that street mid-day, with no one else around, so I was waxing nostalgic, and we found a store open in front of us. It was something like “George’s,” so they were clearly Christian and open on Fridays.
We got our milk and cheese and tea and stuff and headed back down the street to Basil’s.

DWG and a stolen camera

So last last Thursday morning I woke up at Gloria and Fred's on the Mount of Olives. I forced down a piece of toast (Gloria also knew about BRAT-Bananas, Rice, Applesauce and Toast) and kept an eye on my e-mail account. If the weather didn't permit, the Displacement Working Group would meet in Jerusalem at 10 instead of leaving for Susiya village at 8:30.

The weather didn't permit. It was the most ridiculous unending storm I'd ever seen, and it looked even more ridiculous because we were surrounded on all sides by distraught, dancing olive trees. They are strong trees, alhamdulillah.

Since the meeting was pushed back, I took the opportunity to nap for another hour. Then Gloria drove me down the Mount on her way to run some errands, and dropped me off at the UN OCHA office. I dodged puddles past all the UN vehicles (white cars with a big "UN" across the front and side) and wandered timidly into the lobby. There were a couple people hanging out, including one guy I recognized from the Jerusalem Hotel restaurant. I went there to meet Alon, who works for BIMKOM, an Israeli planning rights group, and wrote the report that Rebuilding Alliance references when it talks about Area C. Anyways, this guy (who's name I forget) was talking to Alon about the newest relocation of Jahalin bedouins to a site where the settlement Ma'ale Adumim dumps its waste. I was just sitting there waiting for them to finish their meeting having one of those despair/relief moments, despair that this is actually happening, and relief to know that someone is paying attention. I didn't know he worked for the UN.

Apparently the basement of the OCHA office was flooded, so our meeting had to be relocated once again. Katleen, the woman I was put in touch with, was running the meeting and suggested we go somewhere with coffee. No one argued, so we piled into UN cars and drove a few blocks (it was still pouring) to the Legacy Hotel. As we dashed inside, I noticed that the hotel was right next to a building that read "Jerusalem YMCA" in big letters. This is where my dad coached tennis in 1973? That gave me a bit of a rush.

We got into the lobby, and the hotel people offered us the restaurant upstairs for our meeting. They were familiar with the drill. As we climbed the stairs, I noticed posters that read "Jerusalem: Capital of Arab Culture 2009" and 2010, etc...prior to this I'd only noticed Israeli hotels in Jerusalem. I just didn't know there were Palestinian-owned hotels. I didn't know anything about East Jerusalem....!

So we settled down in the restaurant upstairs, by the windows directly facing the Mount of Olives (hey, I was just there!) and ordered cappuccinos and teas. I never would've ordered a tea, but my stomach was just not feeling coffee.

Once everyone was assembled, about sixteen of us, the meeting began. Katleen handed out pages about the situation in Susiya, which the group would hopefully get to visit in a few weeks. Here's some more information about Susiya.

I was the youngest person there, not employed, and not really affiliated, so I didn't feel like I had much to contribute. I just wanted to go and absorb information. But Katleen gave me a chance to introduce myself and Al Aqaba, so I told everyone about the situation in the village, and my guest house project. I didn't realize until then how in line I was with their work. The point of our meeting was to discuss ways to bring attention to Area C villages like Susiya. One guy seemed to speak for the Ecumenical Accompaniers, which was a Christian group that placed volunteers in houses around the West Bank and East Jerusalem, just to witness and record incidences between Israeli soldiers/settlers and Palestinian civilians. The idea of a guest houses, or several guest houses, was another way to go. If we could promote them and link them together, I suggested, we could open up Area C to more visitors and resources. Someone added that there might be funds for a project like that. I told Katleen I’d e-mail my project to her so she could forward it to everyone in the group.

I left feeling really good, not just about my project, but about the energy I saw in that meeting. Though, I remember in the middle feeling really discouraged that there were so many people and organizations devoting their energy to this cause, because how much progress were we really making? I wondered why I wasn’t trying harder with my writing and filmmaking, and the answer was simple, I was self-conscious….and I felt a little more defeated. But anyways, it was nice to make those connections.

When the meeting ended I gathered up my stuff and left the hotel and walked down towards the Educational Bookshop. My goal was to send my blurb about the Guest House and do some writing/website work for a few hours, then go back to Ramallah. While I was walking down the street by the Old City walls and Damascus Gate, I was approached by a man selling postcards. I told him “la, shukran…” no thanks, but he was really persistent. He put the line of postcards up in my face and kept pace with me for at least a block. It was really obnoxious, so I crossed the street and continued down the road barrier until I could re-cross. About five minutes later I was at the Education Bookshop trying to pay for a piece of chocolate cake and I realized my camera wasn’t in my purse. Had I been walking around with my purse unzipped? Shit. I told the bookshop guy, and turned around and headed back to go look for it. As I walked, it started to rain harder and my backpack felt heavier and I realized that I wasn’t going to find my camera. Even if the purse had been unzipped, and the camera had fallen out, I would’ve heard it. I know that sound very well. I think it was the postcard man. But I was so annoyed by him I didn’t look him in the face…how could I recognize him? He was short, and old. So I walked all the way back to Damascus gate, to a building I’d recognized before as an Israeli police station. It wasn’t a police station anymore, but the Arab guys hanging out inside referred me to the big Israeli police station on Salah-addin street, where I’d just come from. So I walked all the way back, and stopped at a camera kiosk and pantomimed someone stealing my camera and trying to form the sentences in Arabic to ask him where they think a stolen camera might end up around here. But I didn’t succeed, and walked back to Sala-addin. A few Arab guys outside the smoke shop shouted, “beautiful!” at me. I wasn’t in any mood, and kept walking despite their cat-calling. At first I walked into the post office and really confused this guy at the front desk, but then I found the police station next door. The two Israeli soldiers, one male, one female, were a little surprised to see me. The girl had me open up my backpack, “all of it,” were the only three words she commanded in English. I went through the metal detector and after pantomiming again, the guy behind the glass just told me “shalosh.” shalosh. That means three. Room three? I picked up my stuff and went down the hallway. There was nothing there, so I went up the stairs, past a floor where a soldier was sitting, and nothing else, and up another story. The shalosh floor. Two Arab guys were standing outside a locked door. I stood behind them for a few minutes, but there was no indication that anything was moving, and no one was responding to their knocks. I thought, “this is dumb, no one’s going to care about my camera,” and went back downstairs, and around the soldiers who were bored and kickin it, and walked back around the corner towards Damascus Gate so I could get on a bus and go back to Ramallah and crawl in bed and take a nap. It was still raining.
The Arab guys were even worse the second time around, and I stopped and turned around. I walked up to them and explained my camera situation. I think I was hoping to get the underground, gangster solution. Like someone would say, “yeah, this is where all the stolen shit goes…” The guys understood my predicament, and walked with me down the street. We made conversation, they were really nice. I kinda figured that the more interaction they had with women, the less they would cat-call. We got to the place where I’d been hassled by the postcard man, and apparently they just wanted me to identify him, but he was nowhere in sight. A shopkeeper listened to them explain the situation, and told me there wasn’t any way except going to the police station. I really didn’t want to go back there, but maybe he was right. I said goodbye to my new friends. All they knew was my name was Morgan, like “Morgan Ahmad Morgan,” that I knew the film, and I was a volunteer in Palestine. It was still raining.
I went back to the station, hurriedly motioned to the soldiers that I wanted to go back upstairs, and they didn’t make me re-open my bag. I went back to the third floor, and rang the buzzer on the locked door. The Arab guys were gone, so many some progress had been made. No one answered me. After a few minutes a guy came out of the door, and I shadily crept inside. No one seemed to be around. I walked by one open office where two women were hanging out by the coffee machine, and pantomimed to them that my camera had been stolen. One of them nodded and indicated, “left.” Left, ok. Left. I went back into the hallway. There was no open office to the left. I wandered around the hallways. I didn’t see anyone. So I gave up, finally. I went back downstairs and went around the soldiers who were kickin it…there were three now, and I had the feeling they were laughing at me. As I went down the steps I heard the third soldier say “Free Sheik Jarrah.” I turned around and looked back at the sniggering soldiers, and I feigned innocence…. “what?” I knew he was making fun of me, I just wanted to react in some way. He didn’t say anything else, he just kept smiling. I turned around and wondered what was worse, cat-calling or that. This soldier wasn’t incorrect in his labeling…I was an international walking around East Jerusalem, naturally I like Arabs and Palestinians and therefore I’m anti-occupation and I even attend demonstrations in the West Bank. I’d never even been to Sheikh Jarrah, but because I was foreigner walking down an Arab street, this soldier assigned me my cause and laughed at me. I probably knew a lot of people who demonstrated in Sheikh Jarrah. Whatever. My mood was getting steely.

I hopped on the 18 Bus to Ramallah, and hummed the country tune I was writing about the 18 bus. It involved lines like “and if you take me anywhere in all of Filisteen, just take me to Ramallah on the old 18….” and something about seeing my baby….old country style. Honestly, I could tell at that point that Souli might not be thrilled at my coming back tonight, since he was hosting Couchsurfers and cracked a joke (but not really) about kicking me out on Thursday. I was becoming disenchanted. But it was still my safe place, with no one asking me questions or trying to put me in their pocket. Maybe the disenchantment was what I needed, if it gave me some quiet time. It was still pouring.

Old 18, the old 18,
Take me to the “height of God” if you know what I mean,
And if you ask me where to go in all of Filisteen,
Habibi, take me to Ramallah on the Old 18…

Monday, March 5, 2012

Shouting Stones

After getting back to Ramallah from Jaba, Jenin, I had to decide where to head next.

It was still pouring rain, my stomach was starting to ache, and I hadn't gotten any sleep the night before, because I'd stayed with a friend's family, and their toddler was up all night next to me, flailing and coughing. Poor baby. So at that point the only thing I could think of was taxi'ing to Souli's and taking a 1 or 2 hour nap. The kind of nap I used to take between early morning swim practice and Core class back at college, or between 8am Arabic and 11am history. This was going to be the best nap ever.

But by the time I arranged my evening, I only had 55 minutes to sleep. It was a blissful 55 minutes, even though I was preoccupied by thoughts of ordering business cards and sending photos for the website and why was everything happening so slowly and why wasn't I trying harder and damn these sheets are fuzzy.....

I hit my snooze button twice, and gave myself 8 minutes to dress and pack and get out the door.

Downstairs I hailed a taxi to the bus station, and in the wink of an eye I was on the bus to Jerusalem. It was rainy and miserable outside, and Qalandia was flooding. Fortunately, the soldiers didn't make us walk all the way to the big pedestrian checkpoint (the "chicken run"). We all filed out of the bus and went through the little pedestrian checkpoint. It was still miserable. There was a cover over us, but the rain was coming in sideways and it was freezing, and why didn't I have a jacket? When the green light went on I went through the revolving door, put my backpack and purse on the conveyer belt, and scanned my passport picture into the kiosk. The girl didn't make me show my visa, and I went back on the bus. It took another 40 minutes to get around the wall, through East Jerusalem and back to the Old City Damascus gate. I called my pastor and found his car waiting for me a block away. It was a big, spacious car, and four people were already in there...I was the last pick-up.

There were three girls my age, one from the States, one from Canada and one from Finland. We spent the thirty-minute ride talking about our work and our experience in Israel/Palestine. One girl was studying art at Hebrew U, and the girl from Finland was an intern for a bishop in Jerusalem. She was really overwhelmed at her second trip to Palestine, because her first tour had been organized by an Israeli Jewish group and completely left out the Palestinians (which is a pretty ridiculous omission since the Christians in Israel are Palestinians). But that's a common story. Her second experience here was actually with local Christians, so she felt like she was seeing a completely different place.

We got to Jeff and Julie's and bolted out of the car into their warm, lovely house. We were greeted by about 20 members of the congregation in the living room. I poured myself some orange juice and took a seat next to the girls who work for the Lutheran church. They're my age, from Portland, Iowa, etc...this whole atmosphere was making me feel right at home. Megan from Portland asked me if I knew this girl from Whitman College, and she happens to be in my sorority. Small world...small Northwest.

At that point I was starting to feel achey and nauseous, maybe from something I ate in Jaba, so I was looking forward to finishing up with the service and crashing at Fred and Gloria's. But it really surprised me. One of our readings for the night was a story from the Mount of Olives, where I was headed soon after.

As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen saying, "Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!" Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, order your disciples to stop." He answered, "I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out."

Gloria asked us, "Why would the stones shout? What does that mean, shouting stones?" Immediately I thought of throwing stones, and the image of the stone in Palestinian resistance. I didn't want to lay that on the table straight out, so I listened. People talked about a message that was so strong, it was bigger than humanity. It was a message that couldn't be stopped. I thought about a people's connection to their land, and if this connection was threatened, the land itself would rise up in protest.

The connection was so strong, and we were all thinking it, between that time and now. But no one said it out loud. I was reminded of the fine line we walk as foreign residents and international observers in this political mess. Were we doing all we could, or could we do more? I'd been staying with my friend from Britain the night before, and he told me had so much respect for the Christian Peacemaker teams, the ones who were out in the field, protecting Palestinians from soldiers and settlers just with their presence. He said, "I have a lot of time for people like that, they really embody the spirit of Jesus as a radical in his time."

We were all doing something, whether it was writing home about our lives, engaging with local communities, teaching kids, being advocates and leaders like Fred and's such a crazy reality for us to live in, knowing that we are walking through the Bible, Bethlehem, the Mount of Olives, Nazareth, Jericho...But for all the work we do, so many of the tourists who make it over here end up on tours that show them the places, and not the people. The Palestinian Christians, the ones who worship Jesus in the Holy Land, they are Palestinian Arabs, under occupation! What a stark contrast from that image of Bethlehem I carried with me last year, of that little ancient town on a hill, untouched by modern problems. But this is place we live in, and these are the people we live with, and they are a beautiful people. And now we are reading from the Bible in a living room in Bethlehem and talking about stones, and I smile a sad smile.

We sat there in silence for a while, watching the candles flicker, until Gloria closed out the conversation, reminding us to reflect on the theme until next week. Then Fred started us on a round of introductions, and I told everyone I was a volunteer in the Jordan Valley, and everyone was invited to visit the Al Aqaba guest house. Several people confirmed during our Soup Supper that they wanted to visit, so I took down a bunch of e-mail addresses.

My stomach was still upset, so I wasn't very hungry, but I dove into the spinach soup and bread and cheese anyway. Afterwards the girls and I started a little sing-a-long (begun with Megan strumming "Hero" by Enrique Iglesias on the guitar) with the worship booklet. I wasn't familiar with any but three of the songs, but the first song was from Holden Village in Washington State, where my parents met.

After we were all sung out, Fred and Gloria started the train out the door, and we hopped in the van and drove back to Jerusalem in absolutely terrible fog. I talked to Meghan about the possibility of doing an art project, like a mural in Al Aqaba. She said she like to come visit, and spread the word in her program. At the Rothberg International School at Hebrew U, a lot of her classmates were Birthright alums who returned to study, so the idea of going up to a Palestinian village would be a pretty unique opportunity to promote.

Fred and Gloria and I got back to the Mount of Olives, and it was pouring down rain as we pulled into the Lutheran World Federation Campus. We ran into the house and I settled down into their guest room, so excited for a good night's sleep. Gloria mixed me up some TheraFlu before she and Fred sat down with their laptops and a glass of wine in the living room. We all worked for a little bit, checked up on the headlines, Gloria referred me to an event next week, the Sabeel Study Circle with Rev. Stephen Sizer, called "Seven Biblical Answers to Popular Zionist Assumptions." I might just check this out.

The storm was raging through the olive trees all night, while something similar was happening in my stomach, but in spite of that I slept well and woke up to a hot shower and ginger tea and toast.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Visit to Jaba

I mentioned in one of my last posts that there was a policeman in Al Aqaba who invited me to go horseback riding and shooting in Jaba on Tuesday...well, I didn't end up horseback riding or shooting, but I went to have lunch with his family and ended up staying the night. Here's the story.

Nizar had been calling me from the day he met me in Al Aqaba until the morning I arrived. He wanted to confirm that I was coming, then have me talk to his wife, then to his niece...3adi, I get this a lot. It's kind of annoying, but I was a rare kind of guest and most people don't end up with an American girl's phone number. I'm starting to re-examine my policy, especially now that there's a taxi driver (incidentally also from Jaba...?) who wants me to visit his family and put me on the line with his wife, etc....I just don't know if I'm going to go back there.

So that morning I hopped in a service from Ramallah to Nablus, which took about an hour. Once in Nablus, I walked from the main bus station to one of the village service stations. This was the same station my grandma, my mom, my friend Catherine and I had gone through on the way to have lunch in Jit with my friend Mohammad. I knew Jaba was North, not West like Jit, so it was a shot in the dark. But before I approached the drivers to ask where I should go, I spotted the word " جبع"
Jaba, on one of the services. Bingo! I got into the service with my big backpack, and drew some attention from the other passengers. The old women with three children around her smiled, and started striking up a conversation with me. She invited me into her home in Jaba. I told her I was visiting a friend, but thank you. When the service left, I called Nizar and asked him where I should go in Jaba. He told me to hand the phone to the driver. I felt self-conscious when the driver announced Nizar's name out loud, now the other passengers knew I was going to visit a man, I didn't know his reputation, just that the first question he'd asked about me was "is she married?" (not unusual, like I said, mostly annoying) and immediately invited me to his home, appealing to my love to horses. But mostly I was just aware of how well everyone knows everyone, even in a big town like Jaba, and I felt really uncomfortable being in that position.
The driver got us to Jaba after a beautiful, and slightly harrowing 15 minute drive through the hills, and I stayed with him as he deposited all the passengers one by one. The last passenger asked me where I lived, and I said "Al Aqaba Village, in Tubas." He seemed to recognize it. "They have the mosque like this," he said in Arabic, and gave me a peace sign. I laughed, "yes, that's the one!" He said it was a beautiful mosque, and wished me luck. As the service climbed back up into the village to go find Nizar, I smiled at that mini-conversation. It was a beautiful day.

We found Nizar and as he got out of his car to greet the driver, he was chagrined to find that I'd already paid my fare. I transferred my stuff and myself into his car, and we climbed up the hill towards his house. On the way, just down the street I saw my friend Fadi's brother's house, where I'd stayed for a night last December. I pointed it out, and Nizar said, "yes, our neighbors."

We got to his house, and his wife and mother greeted me. His mother kissed me six or seven times on the cheek, she was clearly very enthused. The house was big and perched near the top of the hill overlooking most of Jaba. It was a beautiful view. I sat with Nizar's mother in the living room because it was so windy outside, and one by one the kids came and said hello to me and then ran off giggling. Some of them were Nizar's, some of them were nephews and nieces. I stayed there for a while, drinking coffee, then juice, then tea, then Nizar's wife showed me the view outside. I saw that the family lived in a compound of houses that went up and down the hill. We waved at another mother and child walking around below. I pointed out a house far away that I'd visited last December, and she told me their family name, which I'd forgotten.
I went back inside and they offered me a seat in front of the TV with the kids. They were watching an anime show that was dubbed in Arabic. I told them this program was Japanese, I used to live there, and it was very nostalgic. I was trying to make conversation with my limited vocabulary, but I didn't know if talking about my travels was a starter or an ender. They didn't respond with much but, "ahh, really...." but we managed to talk about lots of things, my strange life, mostly...
I'd seen maqloubeh being cooked in so many kitchens, this was a beautiful little kitchen, modern and decorated with fake flowers. Nizar's wife and her mother and sister was bustling around, filling this and that like clockwork, roasting nuts, frying cauliflower and generally ignoring little Mahmoud, who was tugging at his mother's dress and whining. I was secretly glad to see this. Children get so much affection in this culture, which is a wonderful thing, but you end up seeing a lot of spoiled little boys. Or maybe it's that I haven't been paying attention to how Americans raise their children and it's actually similar. I don't know. I just love to watch fathers doting on their little girls. I took a video of Nizar tossing little Rawand up in the air as she shrieked with delight. It was so cute.

The adults and I congregated to eat our maqloubeh, which, like every time before, was the best maqloubeh I've ever had. This batch was very moist, the chicken was perfect, and the cauliflower and eggplant was soooo good. Nizar heaped more and more on my plate and finally I had to put my foot down and say "Alhamdulillah, ana shaba3na," I'm full, which I'd finally learned how to say right, after many corrections.

After lunch, several of their female relatives came to sit down and meet with me. Several of the schoolgirls had just gotten out, so they were still in their uniforms. The other girls were in brightly colored sweat suits with matching hijabs, or just their hoods up.

I wish this was something I could portray well enough with words, the beauty I see in Palestinian women and girls. Almost always they don't want their picture or video taken, so I just have to forget about it and enjoy the moment. We talked about many things, my travels, their studies, many of them were able to carry basic conversations in English. In such a big village, the schools must be preparing them better.

One of the young women in bright blue sweats and hijab was the most outspoken. I realized she looked like Hayden Panettiere. She asked me my age, said I was young, and showed me that she was married. She must be seventeen, not even out of high school. I remembered this wasn't unusual in the villages. We talked about where I'd been recently and I said Ramallah and Al-Quds, Jerusalem. I asked her if she'd ever been (why did I ask this??) and she told me no.

"It's the capital of my country, and I can't go," she said with a sad laugh.

She asked me if I could stay in her house tonight, and I said sure. I guess I was staying the night!

Nizar and some of the girls and I then took a walk up the hill. The girls took photos of me and I took some video of all the kids running around on the street at sunset between the olive was a beautiful sight. We walked up a rocky hill and hung out for a bit, then Nizar asked me if I wanted to see Sebastia. I'd heard of it, but I'd forgotten what it was! Yes, I definitely wanted to see it. So Nizar and Hayden (I forgot her name, haha) and his two sons and I hopped into his car and drove to Sebastia. I took so much footage of the drive over, it was sunset over the Nablus hills, and the valleys were astoundingly green.

As we approached Sebastia, I saw an Israeli settlement and military outpost to our right. I wondered what kind of access they had to the historical sights, because as we climbed up the hill towards the park, we were climbing through Sebastia, which was now a Palestinian village. I could see rock walls in the village that were clearly hundreds of years old, and I was reminded that the people here live amongst ancient wonders, no big deal :)

Sebastia is an archeological wonder indeed..."The ruins dominate the hillside and comprise remains from six successive cultures dating back 10,000 years: Canaanite, Israelite, Hellenistic, Herodian, Roman and Byzantine" This is Sebastia'swikipedia page.

So we got to walk around the ruins at sunset, which was great. I took so many pictures of wildflowers and the boys running around. We found the foundation of an old church with steps leading into a small grotto with pictures of Jesus and Mary inside. We took more pictures and drank juice and ate chocolate, before heading off down the path towards the village and back home to Jaba.

On the way back, Nizar started playing a rap mix, something akin to Girltalk. He asked me if this was ok, and I said sure. It sounded pretty annoying and out of place, really. Hayden asked me if I understood what they were saying. I said about fifty percent, haha.

We got back to Jaba, and it started pouring. Nizar's wife made us coffee, then we ran over to her grandfather's house in the rain and perched in their living room for a while. I sat on a mat on the floor in front of the chanoon, the iron stove filled with coals. I talked to Nizar and his father-in-law, whose English was pretty good. We were watching the news. They asked me why Obama supported Israel. I told them Obama needs the support of Jewish Americans, but didn't know how to explain why Jewishness was equated with support for Israel. They already understood the distinction between Jews and Zionists, it was just a sad fact that so many Americans didn't. Nizar asked me what I thought about 9/11, if I thought it was the Zionists who did it, since he'd read that all the Jewish workers left the building before it was hit. I told him the government had information that it was going to happen, and they used it to go to war with Iraq. I told him, yes of course the people in government who wanted war the most are strongly connected with the Israeli lobby. But I couldn't agree with his conclusion, as if the people who exploited this tragedy had some connection with Jewish employees in the World Trade Center. That's a really terrible misconception. I hope my Arabic gets good enough so I can discuss this more eloquently. I think the Zionist-neoconservative connection in the U.S. government needs to be discussed, because it is damaging, but it also needs to be defined as not a massive (Jewish=Zionist) conspiracy. There's too much good work being done on the part of non-Zionist Jews, it's so important to recognize the dialogue that's happening (see next post).

After we ate a big dinner of bread, hummus, avocado, cheese, and yoghurt, and I smoked some argheelah (which I think was a curious sight for the women to see), we ran back to Nizar's house in the (still) pouring rain, and I got ready for bed.

Twenty minutes later, I was hunkered down in the master bedroom, by myself, with the TV on and my Arabic book in my lap. Nizar's wife came in to get some things, and she sat with me and helped me practice some my sentences. She was really interested in my book, and it was fun to point out some of the funny phrases in there, like "if I find out you've been going to nightclubs I'll break your legs!" Yes, I admit that a lot of them are kinda obscure, but seeing the way sentences are put together in colloquial is invaluable, since there are so few books written in spoken Arabic.

So I was happy about our conversation, and relieved to know she wasn't peeved about me spending all that time with her husband. She put Rawand in her crib then got into bed with me. That was a new sleeping arrangement, but it didn't bother me. I was bothered by the light that she kept on, but I could throw the blanket over my head.

Then 3-year-old Mahmoud came in yelling about how his throat hurt, then the baby started crying, it was all downhill from there. Mahmoud got to sleep between me and his mom, and the next nine hours involved a lot of coughing, kicking, and squirming. It was absolutely miserable, for all of us.

At 6 in the morning, I got up and went into the living room to "read," i.e. nod off, which I knew was disrespectful but I just couldn't take it anymore! But mom detected that the guest was awake so she came to put the heater next to me and make me coffee. She would have slept until 9 and didn't understand why I didn't want to go back to bed (really??) but after 20 minutes or so of awkwardness shuffling around we were eating breakfast and conversing pleasantly with her mother. Her mother also enjoyed the phrases in my book, and invited me to come back to Jaba again and again. After Nizar got back from Jenin with Mahmoud and his medicine from the hospital, he drove me to the Nablus service, which was already 6 people full and waiting for number 7, me.

On the way to Nablus, the girl sitting next to me struck up a conversation. Her name was Hala and she had a beautiful smiling face. She was a student at al-Najah University. I told her that was a great school, and asked if she knew a Japanese man named Yuhki. Yes, she knew him! She was in her first year. I said, "haha, sanafer." smurf. She smiled, yes, she was a smurf.

I told her about Al Aqaba and my work, then the service dropped everyone off, and brought me to the main bus station.

And that was my trip to Jaba.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Pride March

This was really cool to see. A bunch of the teachers at the school I worked at in New Orleans last year posted pictures of a pride march they did around the school neighborhood. This is the same school I talked about in the post Devin and the Bullet. These kids are truly amazing. Glad to see they've picked their mascot-Lions have pride!!

Under Attack: The Golani Brigade's Treatment of Palestinians in Al Khalil/Hebron

This is an article put together by Christian Peacemaker Teams and the International Solidarity Movement, groups that are witnessing what's happened in Hebron since the Golani Brigade was sent in....

Thalj, thalj....

This is a video taken of the snowstorm that's hitting Hebron!

It's been raining/sleeting/snowing all over Palestine for four days now. I'm hunkered down in the guest apartment on top of the Hope Flowers School in Al Khader, Bethlehem.

I listened to this Fairouz song at Souli's in Ramallah this morning. Thalj means snow in Arabic, so it reminds me of the "snow" song from White Christmas. I remember the first time I heard that song at my aunt Lois's, it annoyed me so much. Snow, snow, snow, snow, shut up about the snow!

But I like how this one sounds like an old Disney Arabic.

Friday, March 2, 2012

from yesterday...

I decided long ago
Never to walk in anyone's shadow
If I fail, if I succeed,
At least I live as I believe
No matter what they take from me
They can't take away my dignity

Because the greatest love of all
Is happening to me
I've found the greatest love of all
Inside of me

I'm in a sappy mood. I'm lying in bed trying to kicking a stomach bug, it's been pouring rain/sleet/snow for the last three days, and I got my camera stolen by a postcard salesman today.

From the beginning....

1) Last week I spent six days in Al Aqaba. I'm usually traveling for about 4 days a week, so that was a bit of time. It just happened to coincide with a 3-day army training that brought the soldiers onto village land and into the village itself. Haj Sami told me that when he learned about the soldiers, he wasn't sure if I was even in the village, but he called me at 6am anyway. So that was an interesting and somewhat infuriating three days.
There were two sides of it though. There were the trainings, and there were the responses to my Youtube video. Responses that basically said there seems to be no problem with the army's presence in the village, that I didn't seem to mind, the villagers didn't seem to what's the point in making the army look bad with this video? I was then inspired to run around the village and interview people on how they feel when the army comes into the village. When people tried to assist me with the children, asking them, "how do you feel? afraid?" the children would automatically say "I'm not afraid!" and I gave up. I didn't want to bait them, or deny what they said. I just didn't know what to do with them. But some of the mothers (with the camera facing away) gave me interviews. I think they were on the memory card in my camera. :/

While I was discussing these interviews with the guys who run the sewing co-op (who taught me the word for interview, muqabala), this other guy started asking them questions about me. It's annoying when they do that, as if I don't know the most basic questions in Arabic...what's her name, what's she doing here, is she married...that one especially. But I learned that he was a police officer from Tubas, and lived in Jaba, Jenin. I told him I'd been there before. He invited me to come horseback riding and shooting with him. I kind of sort of agreed (note I love horses) and confirmed once his commander assured me that he is an upstanding gentleman. So I guess I was going hunting on Tuesday...?

2) I decided to stay in Al Aqaba for the weekend because one of the women who works in Haj Sami's office had invited me to her wedding. I knew I would stick out like a sore thumb, but I was excited to attend a community event in Tubas, which feels kind of like my home governorate...

I was also excited to be in the village on a weekend because now I could finally take a walk into the hills! There aren't any trainings in the area on Fridays and Saturdays because the soldiers all go home. I was concerned that this weekend would be an exception because of those 3 days of madness, but by Thursday afternoon all seemed quiet. After finishing a few interviews and drinking quite a lot of tea on people's porches, I ran over to this lady Na'ama's house to eat dinner with Haj Sami, Umm Sadeq, Suzan, Mustafa, and little Roya, who I haven't seen in ages! Still cute as a button, and more fashionable than I'll ever be. I wanted to whip out my camera, but I realized that I'd taken so much footage of Roya already...I should just eat. I told Haj Sami that I wanted to climb the mountain/hill thing, and he told me to go with Na'ama. Really? I asked. Yes, she loves to walk, he said. Na'ama told me tomorrow at 8:30. I knew that would be a struggle for me but it seemed like a good time to start a walk, so it was set. I wondered how far she would want to go. I wondered what we would talk about.

I stayed up until about 2am, working on the blog and various things, and at 8:25 Na'ama banged on my door. I'd hit the snooze button, damn! I let her in and got myself ready in 5 minutes. Then we set out for the mountain.

Na'ama didn't take the gravel road down to the olive trees, like I had on my first exploration. We took a side path and bushwhacked our way down the hill. I saw a scampering fox and was really excited about it, even though it disappeared in 2 seconds. The little wildflowers were beautiful. Na'ama was talking about the history of the village, about a third of which I understood. The bedouin family that I visited a few weeks prior had seen me by that point and Sarah (or Hagar) was waving at me to come inside, but I made a walking gesture with my fingers and yelled "bnimshi!" we're walking! We descended to the olive groves and after all that steep descending, finally started walking up the hill. At that point I was already sweating and had to shed a layer. The sun was out, but the clouds were moving fast. We walked through the olive trees, and Na'ama found some bullets on the ground. She picked them up and said the boys liked to collect them. They were an inch and a half long. I picked one up and put it in my purse. Na'ama commented on some of the imprints on the ground...the soldiers had been sitting here.
I realized why Na'ama had brought rubber gloves and a knife. That was a little puzzling at first. She was gathering pieces of a certain prickly plant to take home and cook. The plants were growing everywhere, but most of them were too young, which she lamented ("you need a bedh, an egg" she gestured, referring to the round center of the plant), but she still managed to take home a full bag.
I never could have realized how deep those hills were before I walked through them. They're so picturesque from Al Aqaba, I thought they were simpler...Jack and Jill go up the hill....I didn't realize that the hills would open up and engulf us. After thirty minutes we were past the olive groves and walking up gently sloping pastures with ancient-looking cisterns and rock walls, and tons of purple and yellow wildflowers. I stopped to take a lot of pictures, and Na'ama stopped to snip a lot of plants. I noticed certain places had a lot of toilet paper tossed on the ground, and a few places where the soldiers had left their business. "Crikey, what do we have here..." I thought, before realizing I was thinking in a Steve Irwin accent.
We walked for another hour, and ended up skirting the lines that are visible from Al Aqaba.
We walked along the rocky paths and I realized that Na'ama was extraordinarily active for a woman in Al Aqaba. She was a widow, and she didn't have a family at home to take care of, so she had time to take day-long walks. She told me if there were people to walk with, she'd do this walk every day. I told her maybe I could find some visitors who would be interested in taking her up on that.
We passed another shepherd with a herd of goats and walked up to a cave underneath the summit of the big hill. Na'ama pointed out the rock outline of what used to be a small house. She said she used to live up here with her family when she was small. She walked around the outline and pointed out where she used to sleep. They used to keep their sheep in the big cave. That was in the Jordanian time. When the Israeli army started training around the hill, her family moved to the village.
Since I'd promised the reporter Hakam I would eat lunch with his family at one, I had to decide whether to summit the hill, or walk to the Roman ruins. Na'ama assured me there was time to reach the ruins (or the tower, "burj" in Arabic) and that she would take me up the mountain another day. She told me there was an old Israeli plane that had crashed into the hill and the plane was still there.
We walked along the meadows for another twenty minutes..I walked ahead while Na'ama clipped. I could see the village off in the was such a beautiful view. I could also see Tayasir checkpoint and finally got a sense of its location. Tayasir checkpoint, Al Aqaba, Area A. I shot a few takes of video explaining that Al Aqaba is in Area C, but the checkpoint separates it from the "greater" Area C so Israelis need a permit from the army to visit it, just as they would need one to visit Area A. I was pretty far away, but I wondered if anyone at the checkpoint or camp could see me filming.
We finally reached the Roman ruins, 2.5 hours after we'd set off. It was a small site, mostly crumbled, but we could see the outlines of rooms, small caves and steps...Na'ama said they used to execute people here. I took a lot of pictures.
Then I asked her if we could take the road back to Al Aqaba instead of walking all the way back. I wanted to be in Tubas by 1. She told me she didn't have her howiya (ID card) but we could try the checkpoint. But first we had to have tea in the Malehh! Even by that point I didn't believe we were close enough to the bedouins to just drop in for tea, but as soon as I looked over the Roman ruins, I saw that they lived just below. So we dropped down and had tea. As we scrambled down the rocks the kids spotted us and started waving and shouting. We got down to their animal barracks and Na'ama greeted the women who were waiting for us outside their tent. The children were surrounded by scampering baby goats. I melted into a puddle right there. I tried to take pictures but my memory card was full, so I looked like a silly tourist while I tried to root out videos that I could delete. We sat down in the tent with the women. There were five of them, and they were absolutely beautiful. We sat with them and their daughters (who had just gotten back from school in Tayasir) for a while, and they asked me all sorts of questions about myself. How old, what do you do, how do you see Palestine, how do you see their life, would I marry one of their husbands and live in a tent with of the women used to be an English teacher, though her language was pretty basic. she asked me if I had a boyfriend (3adi, normal, in America, she said). I told her there was someone in Ramallah. "ajnabi?" they asked? foreigner? no. "muslim?" welll....kind of but not really. "sharmout!" the woman next to me cried out. "he's a whore!" I started to protest but when they saw the look on my face they all burst out laughing. We ROFL'd for a good two minutes and I realized what a special place I'd just stumbled upon. If I brought any male visitors on a walk through a hills, they wouldn't be able to drop down and have tea with these bedouin women. It was just me and Na'ama, who got along so well with anyone but was also anything but 3adi. They asked her why she used to live in Amman (the big city!) and she explained that she used to live there with her husband in the winter, and come back here in the summer. They asked her what happened to her three husbands..."mat!" dead! she exclaimed in a "wtf, oh well" kind of way and somehow made us laugh again. She was a fifty-something lady and completely on her own. But she said she loved someone in Tubas. "bamout fi." she's crazy about him.
The women fed me bread and goat cheese and yoghurt, and I tried not to eat too much since I was having lunch in Tubas in an hour, but I indulged in the fresh goat cheese. at 12:30 I told Na'ama I had to head back, so we bade farewell and headed out of the Malehh. We walked along the highway for about twenty minutes. Above us on the cliff was the Roman tower, Na'ama asked, "can you see where we were?"
By then it was a beautiful sunny day and the valley was green before us. Some farmers from Tubas were working on their land, and I wondered how difficult it was for them to access it during the week with the trainings. Tire tracks were all over the field.
An army jeep came down the highway from the checkpoint. It stopped by us and the soldier inside asked, "what are you doing here?" I told him I lived in Al Aqaba. He asked me what I did. I told him I taught English. She asked Na'ama in Arabic what I did. I re-iterated, so she could here me, "I teach English." He told me, no, he wanted her to answer. She told him I walk around and take pictures of the land. Dammit. He asked me if that was true. I told him I did both. He asked for my ID. I took out my passport, which I now regret. Not because they were concerned by my multiple entry visas, but because I didn't have to conjure my passport...a driver's license would've been fine. I was only out for a walk, after all. The soldier told me this was a problem, that I kept coming in through Jordan to renew my visa. I told him I could've gone through the Interior Ministry, but I have friends in Jordan. He suddenly looked at me, handed me back my passport, smiled and said in a syrupy voice, "ok, have a nice day!" The jeep drove off. Na'ama started going on about how the soldier was Arab and what he was asking her, but I was shaking. I didn't have the Arabic to explain to him that I'd gotten into Israel by telling the truth-that I work in a Palestinian village. So now he thought I was an activist sneaking into Israel like a tourist, and he had my name. I tried to explain to Na'ama that telling the army I liked to take pictures of the area wasn't a good thing, but I dropped it. A car drove by and we waved it down and got a ride to Tubas, where I had lunch with Hakam and his family in their apartment above his film studio. I practiced English with his fourth-grade daughter Takreem and told her she was "ashtar minhu," smarter than her father. This made them both laugh. She's at the top of her class. She wanted me to help her study the English unit on playgrounds. Slide. See-saw. Swang. No, it's swing. There's a song that goes "swing, swing, swing from the tangles of..." Takreem smiled. It's not often that a teacher sings. Then there was the climbing frame. A jungle gym? Who calls it a climbing frame? I wondered if I could blame the British for that one. All the Palestinian English books teach British English. Climbing frame...hmmm. I pointed to the frame of their mirror, and their door, and pantomimed climbing a ladder. Like on the slide. Ok, next. Roundabout. Is that what we call it? Maybe we call it a merry-go-round. Oh well. There's a song called Roundabout! It goes, "I'll be the rooooundabout...the words will make you out 'n out..." Takreem smiled again. Hakam was happy that I was helping her with her pronunciation. He brought his son in from watching TV so he could listen to me sound out the words. His son was also first in his class. I wanted to visit the schools in Tubas, maybe teach an English lesson. I'd been thinking about starting a network between the Tubas schools so international volunteers could access them. But first I have to finish the Al Aqaba website, then make a website about Americans in Palestine, then paint with all the colors of the wind....

This post ended up being one fifth of what I intended to write. Oy. More tomorrow.