Saturday, March 17, 2012

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…