Friday, April 20, 2012


My taxi from Jericho dropped someone off in Qalandia refugee camp, and as we got squeezed into a market place, the driver goes "badain tishtari bandura ya haje," which made me laugh before I even translated it in my head. "Buy your tomatoes later, old woman!" Though "haje" can't really be translated into English, we don't have that kind of word for addressing the elderly. You can use it when you're exasperated, but it's still a sign of respect.

Askin all them questions....

That had to be the sloppiest, most ineffective visa-extension EVER. I'm so mortified I'm even going to share it.

But I'll share the ending. If it hadn't been the start of Shabbat, I would have been escorted to the border and dropped off in Jordan. Not one more day in Palestine, not one more hour.

But thanks to Shabbat and this guy's extreme generosity, I have five days to leave the country.

Yesterday I went to the opening of the Ramallah Contemporary Dance Festival at the Ramallah Cultural Palace with my friend Megan. It was a phenomenal performance by a UK group called Ballet Boyz. I took some video, which I'll post later. Anyways, I remember looking around the swanky lobby at all the people in dresses and suits and thinking, "damn. they get to stay here and it's not even that controversial." And yet the fact that they live and work with Palestinians is controversial to the people who issue their visas to Israel. How fascinating.

I need a job.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

To the citizens of the world

This is the letter Haj Sami wrote today...the update from today is near the end....

We, the 300 residents of the community of Al Aqaba, which has been in existence for generations, owners and inhabitants of the land even before the entrance of the IDF, are addressing you as a last resort. For decades Israeli soldiers used the village as, a training area a playground where live ammunition was used, which took the lives of 8 of our people and injured 38. Amongst them the head of our municipality Haj Sami Sadik, who as a result is now paralyzed from the waist down
Despite those acts of aggression, we have never resorted to violence, no terrorism has come from our people, no stone was ever thrown and we continue to call for coexistence and peace. In 2003, after petitioning the Supreme Court, the training camp was evacuated from the village only to have the civil administration place demolition orders on most of our buildings in 2004. Included in these demolition orders were the mosque, kindergarten and local health clinic with the rationalization that these structures were built without permission. In area C, which comprises more than 60% of the west bank, including Al Aqaba, the civil administration has rejected 94% of building permits requested by Palestinians. Meanwhile, Israeli settlements have been expanding at an accelerated rate. In 2007 we brought a demand to the Supreme Court for the cancellation of demolition orders, as well as presenting a renewed zoning plan for the community. In response the civil administration offered to approve permits for the small central area where most of the public facilities are located, but more than half of the residential areas would continue to have demolition orders outstanding. This offer excludes the residential area where most of our population's homes stand, as well as all of the cultivated land. Obviously this is in contrast to Israel's obligation as an occupying force, which according to article 43 of the Hague International humanitarian law must "restore and ensure public order and safety" in the occupied territory.

Today April 18th 2012 at 11:00 am IDF soldiers accompanied by private contractors appeared without with out prior notification to demolish 2 access roads to the town, named "Road of Peace" and Road of Displacement". The roads we build with our own hands in order to exercise our right to freedom of movement. These roads are part of our lifeline, as our sole source of income relies on our ability to move our agricultural goods to the market. This is the 3rd time that the "Road of Peace" has been demolished. On all of the previous occasions we did not take any action. This time the demolition came with a threat. An abusive officer in a jeep numbered 65539 advised our Mayor that he will return for larger scale demolitions in retribution for the observation of the road demolitions by internationals. These threats were made to a man who is in a wheel chair urging away the small group of less than 10 curious individuals. We are upset and disconcerted that our children witnessed this atrocity and fear for the psychological effects that it may have on them in the future.

We, the community of Al Aqaba, our international and Israeli guests, are calling for you to visit and see for yourself the harsh conditions we are forced to live through daily as a result of this harassment. Please help us circulate these words and help us live in peace.
Citizens of Al Aqaba

Demolition in Al Aqaba

The last demolition in Al Aqaba happened on September 15th, the day I arrived. Now the day before I leave for Jericho to renew my visa...they strike again. No one called me because I was supposed to be renewing my visa today. Instead I found out at the Wednesday night potluck on the Mount of Olives, when my friend Ryan asked me, "did you hear the news?" About what? "There was an SMS about Al Aqaba." I thought it must be impossible. Someone would have called me, and it could easily be Aqraba or Aqqaba. But I called Haj Sami just in case. In the middle of that crowded potluck table I asked, "Fi ay mishakel al-yom?" Are there any problems today? "mishakel ktir......" and I heard him say the word "street." He was choked up.

Now I'm back in Ramallah with internet, and Janice, who's staying in the guest house, sent me the e-mail she sent out to her list back home:

I've had a lesson today of what it means to live under occupation in a
part of Palestine called "Area C". it means living at the whim of the
Israeli military with very little recourse for justice. It means
that we can come into your peaceful world/village and cause as much
disruption as we think we would like to inflict. Palestinians living
in Al Aqaba are peacefully going about their business - children
attending school, the Mayor Haj Sami Sadeq busy in the office
preparing for the arrival of the Palestinian President tomorrow to
open the Tea Factory - a local initiative of producing herbal teas &
drying & packaging them with the cooperation or the Japanese Business
Association when his day was shattered to discover that militia from
IDF (Israeli Defense Force) were supervising their civilian
contractors to demolish two access roads to the village. One
ironically called the Peace Road has been destroyed twice before but
the 300 people living in the village and who have owned this land for
generations have never reacted violently at the continued destruction
of their village infrastructure. They have never thrown a single rock
at the soldiers or shown them anything but peaceful resistance. Haj
Sami Sadeq is a paraplegic as a result of being shot by the IDF when
he was 15 while working with his family on their land and yet he
harbors no resentment towards the occupying forces and has spent his
life working towards a peaceful solution to this oppressive situation.
The military were extremely angry today because their actions were
being recorded by "internationals" & even an Israeli citizen – an
American man & myself. The soldier threatened the Mayor Haj Sami
Sadeq that because of the fact he, the Mayor had invited people into
his village the military would return to carry out all the demolition
orders outstanding in the village.
The roads that have been destroyed are essential for the villagers to
carry on their everyday lives – moving stock around and working on
their land which they have done for generations – they are totally
dependent on agriculture as their sole source of income.
The military are trying to intimidate people into leaving so they can
continue to build settlements which are already breaking up the land
causing many restrictions on the lives of peaceful Palestinians trying
to get on with their lives…or at least some sort of life.
Just take a look at the photos & judge for yourself. Please take the
time to learn about & then inform others about infamous "Area C".

If I get this visa, I'm going back up to the village. There's probably going to be a demonstration on Friday. I'm guessing this happened because the President is about to come and there's usually a correlation between high-profile visits and demolitions. Hopefully the threat they gave isn't realized.


If you give a Palestinian the right to bike in the Jordan Valley….

On Sunday, over a thousand international activists attempted to fly into Ben Gurion airport so they could openly declare their intention to visit and volunteer in the occupied Palestinian Territories. Hundreds of the plane tickets were cancelled by the airlines at the urging of the Israeli government, many were deported on arrival, and a handful were allowed to proceed to occupied Bethlehem.

Prime Minister Netanyahu issued a letter to the activists, thanking them for choosing to visit Israel, though their efforts would be better directed against the crimes of Syria, Iran, and Hamas.

Around the same time, the Prime Minister was confronted with the “Jordan Valley incident,” where a senior Israeli military official slammed a Danish activist in the face with his gun. The incident, which took place after a joint Palestinian-international bike ride was stopped by the army, was recorded, and the IDF and the Prime Minister immediately condemned the action and suspended the offending officer.

I wonder when the Prime Minister will thank these international activists for bringing this incident to light.


If you give a Palestinian the right to bike in the Jordan Valley….

Last Saturday I went on the saddest bike ride ever.

A few days prior I’d gotten an e-mail about a bike tour of the Jordan Valley, and I registered immediately. I thought it would be a great way to get some exercise, meet new people, and lend my support to Palestinian sumud (steadfastness) in the Jordan Valley. I volunteer in a village a little further north, so I'm familiar with the issues Palestinians face there: demolitions, land confiscations, resource theft, and the looming annexation threatened by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamain Netanyahu in 2010.

At 7:30 in the morning (a time I rarely see), I managed to be in Al-Manara circle in Ramallah, and after standing awkwardly on the sidewalk for a few minutes, I identified a group of fair-haired foreigners that looked sporty and out of place enough. I went up and introduced myself, and found that most of them were European, many of them Danish, in fact. I shared that my father’s family was Danish, but I couldn’t remember from where. It wasn’t a very good story. The organizer then led our walk to the bus. For five minutes the fair-haired foreigners ruled Rukab Street, before we climbed into our big maroon bus and waited to move out. We were joined by a handful of Palestinian girls who looked much more bright-eyed and bushy tailed than me. I spent the next hour and a half drifting in and out of sleep, while trying to catch the conversations around me and take in the view of the desert hills we were descending from. We were taking the windy Palestinian route, not the highway that connected the Dead Sea and the Jordan Valley with Israel ’48. That straight shot gives Israelis and tourists easy access to a part of the Territories that doesn’t look very disputed, with Hebrew signs and rest stops and military monuments. And here we were, a bus full of ajaneb (foreigners), descending on the valley first and foremost to go for a bike ride, but fully aware of the situation and the statement we were making by riding bikes with Palestinians.

I was excited to see that a Palestinian group was organizing this outdoor adventure. I’d heard of hiking trips and Christian walks, but I’d never participated in them because the touristy stuff always cost money and I just wanted to do something spontaneous and cheap. Naturally, any Palestinian tourist venture has a political slant to it, especially if it ties the Palestinian people to their land, and especially if that land is in Area C. This area, which covers 62% of the West Bank and includes the Jordan Valley, is under full Israeli control, and as evidenced by the settlements and military camps scattered throughout, it would not be easily relinquished. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared two years ago that Israel would never give up the Jordan Valley, even though the international community considers it part of illegally occupied Palestinian territory and essential to the contiguity and economic survival of a Palestinian State.

But two states or one state, Palestinians surely have the right to bike from one village to another, and that question didn’t seem to create any anxiety as we snoozed on our way down to Jericho. We live among Palestinians, so the fact of our presence here is in some way an act of solidarity, and we can never escape politics. But this felt like an escape, something therapeutic. At least we were getting out of the city and enjoying nature.

The hills came up around us, and as the bus squeezed onto a tiny valley road, we started to see bikers streaming past us. There were dozens of bikers, mostly Palestinian youths and some foreigners wearing kuffiyehs, and most of them had Palestinian flags attached to their bikes or bags. I was surprised and pleased to see that the event was so well-attended, and anxious to get off the bus and get on a bike!

Finally we parked and lined up to pay our 20 shekels for bike rental. I hopped on a bike and waited for everyone to get moving, but it turns out we didn’t have enough for everyone, so the team was bringing in more bikes in a big truck. I made some conversations with a guy from Ramallah, and everyone else was chatting and drinking coffee and waiting for the bikes to arrive. Then, one of the organizers came back in his car and announced that the Israeli army had set up a checkpoint and were stopping the bikers, and the bike truck from reaching us. If we wanted to get on the bus and join our friends where they’d been stopped, we were welcome to do so.

That was the first time I thought, “I just wanted to go for a bike ride.” My new friend echoed that sentiment. I was surprised that the bikers had been stopped, but I was also surprised that I didn’t see it coming. This occupation was ridiculous enough to thwart solidarity in any form. A few of us already had bikes though, so we decided to bike as far as we could and support the other riders. I just saw an absurd picture of lots of bikers and a truck full of bikes, in front of soldiers at a checkpoint who for some reason were like, “no.”

I saw some waiting, maybe a victorious passage, maybe a retreat. I didn’t see confrontation.

We rode for about fifteen minutes. It was a beautiful ride. The air was perfect and dry, and there was a small canal of rushing water along our road, which constituted the most water I’d seen here in a long time. Just the sight of running water made me happy. The valley was stretching out below us, and it felt good to be outside in the sun, cruising, working out, and laughing over our clanky, misfit bikes. I was glad I came, and even forgot where we were headed for a little while.

We passed a small traffic jam where an ambulance was wailing, and at first I thought it was my wild imagination that led me to believe a biker had been attacked. I realized later that this was where the first wave of bikers was stopped. I concluded that this had been a traffic accident and I need to stop assuming the worst. We continued for a few more minutes down the highway and approached the flying checkpoint that was waiting for us, in front of a long line of cars. My two friends and I wove between the cars and found three army jeeps and a dozen soldiers standing with guns. A few of them were on the bank above the road, to stop bikers from carrying their bikes around the blockade. We saw that a few bikers had gotten away with this.

I watched the scene unfold in disbelief. The bikers were being treated like a real security threat. More jeeps arrived with border patrol officers in green berets, and I watched two of the participants, one man and one young woman with curly hair, arguing heatedly with the officers in Arabic. The officer in front was sneering at what they were saying. At one point, the woman said “we can go by foot? We can go by foot? Ok, I’m going by foot…” and she picked up her bike and motioned like she was going to continue forward, but the officers would have none of it. It made the bikers laugh. We recognized the absurdity of the situation, but the soldiers were mobilizing for crowd control and I could feel my heart thumping in my chest. I was the only foreigner in this group. I didn’t know where the activists in the kuffiyeh’s had gone, or how far behind the others were in the bus. There were a few moments where I felt like riding my bike between the jeeps while all the attention was focused on the argument going on, but would that be too intrusive? Like I felt the need to put myself out there and be provocative because I would get more attention as a blonde girl? I couldn’t figure out what my role was here, all I knew was that I didn’t want to hide in the back.

One of the soldiers kicked the woman’s bike really hard. Another soldier took a bike and threw it in the canal by the road. They started to charge at the people. I saw red and I yelled, “are you fucking serious?!” to which the commander replied, “yes, I’m fucking serious!” Then I got ordered around from this place to that, but I stayed on line with whoever was in front, holding my bike, looking innocent and expectant.

I wanted to ask, “Why are you being such a bummer?” “Why can’t we just ride our bikes to Jiftlik?” and “What would happen if you just let us pass?”
I was afraid. They were clutching their guns and their faces were so cold. This wasn’t going to happen.

So the organizer of the event got everyone’s attention and told us that they would allow us to proceed on the bus, so we should leave our bikes by the road, and ride the bus to Jiftlik.

I retreated towards the bus with this tugging feeling that I hadn’t done enough. As I walked down the aisle, I met people’s eyes with a hopeless look, like “did that just happen?” So we sat. And we rode past the jeeps.
We rode to the village of Fusayal. There we got juice and water, and used the bathroom in the youth center. Then all the participants gathered in a covered area and listened to a few of the organizers giving us a re-cap of what had happened and the mayor of Fusayal explaining the situation in this village. Fusayal was in Area A, B and C, and if they built a house or dug a well or planted crops or held this meeting in Area C land, they would be met with the “same kind of hospitality we received today.” I recognized the tone of some of the speeches, which was the same in the village where I worked. The visitors had to know the situation of these villages “tahet al-ihtilal,” under occupation.

Once the speeches were done, we all piled on the bus to head to Al-Jiftlik, our final destination. On our way out of Fusayal, we were surprised to see the same three Israeli army jeeps waiting for us. They had stopped one of our cars coming out of the village because it was flying Palestinian flags out of the window. Eventually our caravan of two busses and three cars was allowed to exit the village and proceed onto the highway. My bus was pumping music and the atmosphere was pretty light-hearted, in spite of it all, but we looked back everytime the bus turned to see that the army jeeps were following us. Twice they passed our bus and headed off the caravan to search one of our vehicles. The second time it looked like all of the first bus had to disembark before we were allowed to continue.

This was absurd. Not only were we not allowed to bike down the highway, but now we were being stalked like criminals. By this point I was exhausted and just wanted to go back to Ramallah. But we made it to Jiftlik, with our soldier friends in tow. They parked outside of the school and watched us all stream through the gate, being greeted by local girls with fliers. There were villagers and students everywhere, looking strangely unperturbed, just happy to see us. I asked one of the girls if this was “3adi,” normal. She laughed and said, “3adi, you can relax.” The soldiers were just standing with their guns and watching us.

The event was like the one in Fusayal times a hundred. Here we had a pavilion, a microphone, and three different dance performances. The boys’ dabke was phenomenal. The speeches were again, mostly in Arabic and talked about the occupation and remaining steadfast. The organizer of the bike ride thanked the soldiers for taking their time to provide security for our event, and everyone laughed. At one point the three activists who had been injured in the first wave of bikers showed up with bandages and scars on their faces, and everyone clapped and cheered for them. I wondered what the soldiers thought of that, like we were fawning over our martyrs. I knew at least one of them spoke Arabic and wondered what he thought of the speeches.

Most of all I wondered if the soldiers enjoyed the dabke. Seeing the boys with their legs flying and their hands clasped is an image I’ll never forget.

After the event in the pavilion we were served lunch, then we made our way back towards the busses. My new friend from Ramallah went up to two soldiers and asked them if we were so important to deserve their attention, and the soldier replied, “no, you just make trouble” and gestured for him to move on. I could see in my friend’s face that although he was cracking a joke and probably wasn’t expecting a real answer, the experience nonetheless left him a little deflated. Like the guy with the gun always has the last word.

And so we headed back to Ramallah, blasting that new pop hit, Ti Rash Rash. I was on my way to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and I wondered if I could convey to my friends what happened outside of Jericho today.

I did notice that Tel Aviv is a very bike-friendly city.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Haflah (party) with guests in Al Aqaba

Land Day demonstration

Khirbet Atuwayal

That's my daughter in the water...

I was sitting with Bader and Jehad and my couchsurfer at Zamn cafe in Ramallah, and Bader started showing me pictures of his daughter on his iPhone. He told us "in Arabic, we have a saying, ayouni illak, which means, my eyes to you." This means you give them your attention, your support, everything.

He said this phrase is so normal, people say it as a sign of respect, but with his daughter, he would actually do it. He would go to the doctor and....

Sabrina and I laughed. Jehad said, after showing us his daughter in his phone, that he thinks in this culture, the father loves his daughter more than his son. I told him this is something the West doesn't see, we're only shown images of patriarchy and the oppression of women here. He said this is a very bad picture.

There are so many instances where I've seen Palestinian men doting on their little girls and I wanted to whip out my camera and film them. In Jaba I filmed Nizar throwing his daughter up in the air, she was squealing with delight and had the hugest grin on her face. With every bouncing knee, every massive grin, a stereotype shattered.

As Sabrina and I were walking home from the bus station today, my friend Adeeb from Bil'in drove by in his taxi and shouted "Morgaan!" I shouted "Adeeb!" before the cars behind him started honking madly and he had to keep going. I told Sabrina that I met Adeeb after I fell in love with his daughters, of which he has seven. He's always bragging about his eldest daughter, who is now a doctor and just got engaged to one of her classmates from med school, and he has a kindergarten picture of his youngest daughter Batool (Tutu) below his rearview mirror.

What song would I put in the background of a Palestinian father-daughter film? John Mayer's Daughters? Or perhaps Daughter by Loudon Wainwright...

I recommended this song to John, the owner of Beit Anissa, as we were sitting outside the bar last Friday afternoon. I told him it was one of the sweetest songs I knew, and he might like it because he had a little girl. Though I realized immediately as I sang him the chorus that water is a touchy subject here. As a successful business-owner in Ramallah I'm sure his daughter had access to a swimming pool and they'd probably traveled to a country with a beach or a lake or something....but she'd probably never seen the Palestinian coast, which is about 28 miles away. I don't mean Gaza, I mean Jaffa/Tel Aviv.
Maybe John had seen his "daughter in the water" many a time and the lyric wasn't controversial for him. But watching this video made me realize how unrelatable that idea is for most Palestinians, who don't have enough water for recreation (except for a handful of private hotel pools) and can't get a permit to visit their sea.

That's my daughter in the water
Everything she knows I taught her,
Everyhing she knows.

I asked Bader what his daughter likes, and he responded "me." I laughed and said, "well, I know that." Jehad chimed in, "no, she doesn't mean what she looks like, y3ani, sho bt-heb, what does she like?"
To which Bader replied, "aha, she likes to draw, and to look at books. She likes to go to the library, and the mall. When we go to the mall, first thing, we have to go to the bookstore..."
Jehad added, "For children, the books have to be in the right package...or they won't be interested..." I told him I loved pop-up books when I was a kid. He said his youngest daughter destroys pop-up books, and said "ooh, bird" and pantomimed yanking a bird out of a book.

This made me think about the library in Al Aqaba. The kids there don't have this same love for books because they don't have a lot of them, let alone "well-packaged" ones. Fortunately our new librarian is on the job. I have a video of her tour through the library that I need to get translated for the website, which should be live within a week, insh'allah.

One day at a time :)

Mr. Minister, greet them with flowers!

I got this e-mail from a friend of Al Aqaba, Adam Keller of Gush Shalom. It's about the "flytilla" that's happening this Sunday, when a thousand or more people are planning on arriving at Ben Gurion airport and declaring their intention to visit the West Bank and join volunteer projects with Palestinian civil organizations. In a nutshell, you can only get into the West Bank through an Israeli airport or border terminal, and if you declare that you are visiting the West Bank, you risk being denied entry. Because of this, most people just lie.

The title of this article is in reference to last year's Fly-tilla, when Israeli "Tourism minister Stas Misezhnikov sent his people to the airport to hand flowers to those arrivals that are not planning to travel to the West Bank." Article here: Air Flotilla successful in exposing Israeli blockade of West Bank.

Gush Shalom, the Israeli Peace Bloc, calls upon the Minister of Public Security to cancel plans for flooding Israel's Ben Gurion Airport with a massive police force, in preparation for the activist "Fly-in" expected on Sunday. "More than a thousand international activists are due to arrive, among them aged persons, parents with their children and handicapped people in wheelchairs. They have no intention of carrying out any provocation, and there is no need to mobilize massive police forces. All that is needed is to say the word 'welcome' and perhaps also give a flower."

Here follows the full text of our letter to the minister
To Mr. Yitzhak Aharonovitch
Minister of Public Security

Dear Sir
According to reports published in the media, Israel's National Police is preparing a large, complex, semi-military operation as its response to the "Fly-in", due on Sunday. It was announced that Deputy Commissioner Benzi Sau has drawn up the operational order, providing for Ben Gurion Airport to be flooded by hundreds of police, with the stated goal of creating "a critical mass facing the demonstrators". Officers are to be drafted for this "operation" from numerous police stations, and also the Special Anti-Riot Unit and other highly trained forces will be deployed. A senior Central District officer was quoted as saying "We will certainly be firm with them. They will not be able to do anything, when faced with the great force which we can bring to bear".
It is sad to note, Mr. Minister, that you - as well as the commanders of the police force for which you bear responsibility - have learned nothing from the events of the previous "Fly-in". At that time, more than a hundred international activists managed to make their way to Ben Gurion Airport. Not a single one of them took any provocative or violent act. I would like to reiterate the basic facts - though they have already been published extensively by the people concerned themselves, presented on numerous occasions to the international media and published on various websites - and therefore, you must already be familiar with them.

More than a thousand international activists are planning to arrive at Ben Gurion Airport on Sunday, including aged persons, parents with their children and handicapped people in wheelchairs. Their sole aim is to get in a quiet and orderly way to the passport control, like any visitor. Once there, they intend to declare openly and explicitly that they are coming to visit the West Bank at the invitation of various Palestinian civil society organizations as well as of the Mayor of Bethlehem, Dr. Victor Batarseh. If allowed to go through, they intend to leave the airport with no further ado and proceed to their destination. Their program includes being hosted at the Peace Center in central Bethlehem, participating in laying the foundations of a new elementary school in the city, planting fruit trees, rehabilitate wells at villages in the area, and inaugurating a museum. I would like to repeat this point once again: they had no intention of causing any incident at the airport, and therefore the mighty police mobilization is completely unnecessary and a total waste of the taxpayers' money. All that is needed is instruct the passport control officials to answer each and every one of the visitors with the word "Welcome". At a small fraction of the cost of the planned police operation, it would be possible to give each of the visitors a pretty flower on behalf of the State of Israel.

As I wrote to youon the eve of the previous "Fly-in", this mass arrival of activists is a direct reaction to the consistent policy of the Ben Gurion Airport officials, evidently under governmental instructions. When a traveler shows up at the Ben Gurion Airport and openly declares his or her intention to visit West Bank Palestinians, this frank statement would lead to an immediate deportation from the country. Conversely, by lying and fraud, claiming to be an ordinary tourist to Israel, a traveler can get through without any problems and go from the airport directly to the Palestinian territories. Participants in the "Fly-in" could have easily done that, too – but they decided not to lie or cheat and to explicitly declare their intent. It seems to me that the State of Israel, and Israel's National Police specifically, should have encouraged rather than discourage a behavior of honesty and truthfulness on the part of persons arriving at Ben Gurion Airport.

Each day there arrive at the airport delegations of people, Jews and non-Jews, who support the government of Israel's position in the ongoing conflict with the Palestinians. As long as the Palestinians do not posses their own international airport, through which those who want to visit them could come directly, it is inevitable that there would arrive at Israel's airport also people who support the Palestinians and their positions. The State of Israel should respect this fact.

I have no great illusion, Mr. Minister, that this letter will cause you to change your position and cancel the huge, aggressive and completely unnecessary operation which the police intends to carry out at the airport on Sunday. Nevertheless, as an Israeli citizen who cares about this country and its future, I feel duty bound to make this call upon you.

Wishing you and yours a happy Passover

Adam Keller,
Gush Shalom spokesperson

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


Yesterday I went to Andareen pub for Monday night film night with Megan and Sarah, my American friends who volunteer with the Lutheran Church in Ramallah and Beit Hanina.

Tonight's film was BUDRUS, a movie I've been meaning to see for a long time, but never got around to. Here's the reason why...I've been to a lot of demonstrations so I figured I knew the whole movie, people march to their land, army shoots at them, this village wins their land back. I knew the film had been screened in Al Walaja village in Bethlehem, which is also in the direct path of the wall, and people were so inspired by the success of non-violent resistance in Budrus. So I was happy to learn that Budrus was the film, but I personally wasn't expecting to learn much from it.

The film is about a village that was threatened by the Israeli separation barrier to be cut off from its olive trees. The people of Budrus demonstrated peacefully for almost a year and in the end, the route of the wall was changed. In response to the question, "where is the Palestinian Gandhi?" Just Vision put together a film following the village's resistance. They did all the interviews and editing themselves, but all of the footage of the struggle was collected from activists and reporters. The stuff they It speaks to the sheer amount of footage that was taken, that you feel like you're a fly on the shoulder of every villager and every soldier.

Now I understand the hype. This film is incredible. I've seen footage from Bil'in and Nabi Saleh, but not packaged like this. They focused on the main players, the organizer of the demonstrations, remarkably the women (who participated intensely and spoke on camera, like so many Muslim women would not do) We had the good fortune of having one of the filmmakers present at the event, so she was able to explain the project and answer follow-up questions.

The army looks bad. It looks really bad. You start to see the nitty gritty when the Israeli activists show up and the soldiers say they can't use force against them. Don't worry, we're only gassing the villagers, one of them said. That was one of the moments where people in the pub couldn't help but gasp or click their tongues, even though I doubt many of them were suprised. It was very clear in this film that the villagers were the good guys, and the soldiers were the bad guys. The words echoed in my head from Israelis I'd heard saying in the last week, "the occupation is evil, it is destroying the fabric of our society and the Jewish people." Then again, I know Israelis who would say the occupation is a necessary evil. I don't know how they would respond to this film. I don't think the soldiers are evil people, but I've had more than a few moments here where the occupation is a movie and there are bad guys, classic movie bad guys. I don't like this feeling, but that's the way I feel.

There were funny moments too, with the kids, and when the village women call out to the one female soldier and tell her she should leave the army and come and marry one of their sons and they'll give her sheep...strangely enough the filmmaker told us that this soldier, who was interviewed extensively for the film (and kinda looks like Idina Menzel), had ordered copies for her family and friends because she thought it was a good picture of how she was doing her job well. Everyone scratched their heads at that one. At least it was interesting hearing her testimony.

I drank two pints of Taybeh and between the four of us (we'd befriended a British journalist named Ruth), we probably downed two dozens plates of popcorn and dishes of peanuts and carrots. It's not even a joke anymore, just a fact of life.

At one point during the film, when the Israeli activists and internationals started marching with the villagers, for half a second I saw a young man scrambling down some rocks wearing a grey WHITMAN COLLEGE t-shirt and I started flailing my arms around like "what?!" and had to explain to the table....that's my school! Who is this Whittie in Budrus?? I was beaming for the rest of the night.

But it was draining, like always, watching a movie about the "situation." The credits roll and you're like, "huh...I'm still here," like a dream you can't wake up from. The filmmaker told us that the people of Budrus were still demonstrating, because there were still reasons to...the army installing cameras to watch the village, leaving sirens on throughout the night...they're still being punished.

I glanced over at the man I'd said hello to before the film started. His name was Hatam and he was a web designer at the company that made my business cards and fliers for the guest house. He was going to finish the Al Aqaba website. I thought, now that Al Aqaba is starting to have Friday demonstrations, I need to do two things: I need to screen Budrus in the village, and I need to get this website finished STAT, if anything like what happened to Budrus would ever happen to Al Aqaba.

Anyways, it's an incredible film, I highly recommend it.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Easter Service on the Mount

This was our Easter Service. Before the sun rose there was a big glowing checkpoint behind Fred and Gloria. It was one of those moments where I looked at my camera screen and thought, "well....what can we do?" ma lasot? sho bidna nsawi?" From the Mount of Olives we could see a checkpoint, the wall, and a few settlements, so naturally it was mentioned in the sermon....what can you do.

and so it goes.

Gloria encouraged me not to log onto Facebook from their house because the Orthodox settlement next door frequently hacked into their internet and everytime it crashed they had to pay $100 to re-activate it.

No Facebook for 24 hours?

And because of street closures on Passover my friends couldn't get back to Bethlehem and I couldn't get back to Ramallah. So we're staying another night at Fred and Gloria's on the Mount, which is ok by us, it's just kind of ridiculous...and sad. I hope these closures will soon be a thing of the past.

On a more positive note, today was a very fun and relaxing day, the first time I've spent all day on the Mount. After Easter service we ate breakfast (eggs and bacon!) at Mark and Suzanna's house and I relayed the video I'd just watched about the Australian comedian singing "you don't eat pigs, and I don't eat pigs, why don't we...not eat pigs together!" and everyone thought it was really funny, then I got to thinking about it, and you can't ignore when you're sitting on the Mount of Olives eating bacon with a bunch of Christians that this conflict affects three faiths, not just two. What about the bacon-eating Christians? They're just as occupied as the Muslims why paint it as a war between Muslims and Jews? I guess it makes for a funny song....

Before we ate, some of the guests were introduced, including a family from Bethlehem who hadn't been to Jerusalem in 12 years. Fred had to point it out, "7 kilometers away, and it's their first time in 12 years!" Everyone clapped because they were happy for them, but it was another one of those "wtf" moments....

After we ate I made a very easy decision not to go down to the Old City for the 9am service. I just really wanted to upload my photos and take a nap. So that's what I did. Fred and Gloria came back from the service around 11:30, and for some reason I was embarrassed to be sleeping, so I walked around for a minute, then went back to sleep. Then I read a book out in the yard for an hour and a half, mostly to get some sun. Souli called me and told me he was heading to Jordan. The apartment in Ramallah was mine to use, I might be inheriting a CouchSurfer soon, and the FIFA football project for Al Aqaba would soon follow by e-mail. This was the most natural thing...I was happy that he was finally on the move because that's how he wants to be, and that's how I want to be, when I grow up and get a real job. Being in Ramallah all the time was killing us. So now I'm going about my life while my boyfriend heads to Jordan then to  Bosnia to finalize his divorce...and I'm going home to the States in 2 weeks or 6 weeks, depending on the outcome of my appointment at the Interior Ministry. And somehow everything is alright. Got some new freckles today...

As I watched the members of my congregation and their friends playing night volleyball on a court overlooking Jerusalem, I realized that I could stay here for a long time. As long as there are people here who play volleyball on Wednesday nights, I want to connect them and tell their stories to the world. There are people in this place who stay sane in spite of what they see and experience, there are people here who stay human in spite of it all, and that is one of the most powerful images I could ever hope to capture.

Dentro la piel y esas marcas
Posee la extrana mania
De creer en la vida....

Sunday, April 8, 2012

I got this e-mail forwarded to me today, from an article that was re-published in CounterPunch.

It’s hard to believe that ten years have passed since I wrote this piece, which was, at the time, an email update to friends and family. It’s even harder to believe it’s been a decade since the events this essay chronicles (the spate of bloody suicide bombings inside Israel, the large-scale invasion of much of the West Bank, and the flattening of a large section of Jenin Refugee Camp. 248 Palestinians and 53 Israelis were killed in April 2002.) But perhaps what’s hardest to believe is how little has truly changed in these last ten years. True, many details of the violence and occupation are different. But one essential element remains unchanged: it is human beings who are most impacted by the continuation of the conflict, and, as the possibility of a just peace grows more and more remote, it is their lives that are being utterly, and unforgiveably, disregarded. –JM

Jen Marlowe-What Really Matters

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Palestinian Passover Seger

I didn't celebrate Passover this year, which is unfortunate, because it's my first spring in the Holy Land. I've enjoyed two Passover Seders in my lifetime, one in Amman (among my American study abroad friends), and one in New Orleans with fellow teachers. I know I could have appealed to friends in Jerusalem or Jaffa, but I decided to forego the fishing for invitations, and continue celebrating the Christan Holy Week, which overlaps with Passover this year. Last Sunday I walked with thousands of local and visiting Christians down the Mount of Olives to mark Palm Sunday, and tonight I'll be staying at my pastor's house on the Mount of Olives and attending a sunrise Easter service at a church on the Mount.

I saw my friends' Passover (Pesach) posts on Facebook, they were all so joyous. I think I really would have had fun at a Seder in Israel.

Yesterday I'd been debating whether or not to go to Jerusalem early to hang out with my friends from my congregation, but then I learned on the news that the checkpoints into Jerusalem have been closed since Thursday night and will be through Saturday. I was really caught by surprise, even though I remembered the closures on Yom Kippur. Was I supposed to plan ahead and get into Jerusalem before Passover? Would I not make it to the Mount of Olives for the Easter service? I was really frustrated because I'd been looking forward to this for weeks. My friends had crossed over on Thursday and I thought I was going to miss out on everything. I asked my boyfriend about the closure, and he said not to worry, I would be able to get through because I'm an international. That makes sense, unfortunately. It's only West Bank Palestinians that can't get through on Jewish Holidays. On the news they said the closure would last until Saturday, and on the internet I read until Sunday, which meant he probably couldn't join me and my friends for the sunrise service.

He has a permit to enter Jerusalem, so he's been security checked and stamped "ok," not a threat to Israel. He speaks fluent Hebrew. He's traveled to more countries than most people I know and flown through Ben Gurion airport and has more Israeli friends than most Palestinians I know.
But today, his permit is worthless. The security check he passed doesn't apply today, because today is a Jewish holiday. I know there's a history of Israel being attacked on Jewish holidays, I expect that to be the first response to my complaining about movement restrictions.
I just wondered as I rode the bus out of Ramallah toward Qalandia checkpoint at how much this mentality is fueled by facelessness. People want to feel safe while they celebrate their holidays, but at what cost? Today they buy into the unpspoken justification that even the fraction of West Bank Palestinians who have been deemed safe to enter Jerusalem are not safe today. On Thursday they were safe, but today they are not safe. Like the prisoner Khader Adnan is not safe today but he will be safe on April 17th. Like there is any real justification.
So today I experienced Passover the Palestinian way. Not with a Seder, but with a seger, which means closure in Hebrew. It was another word Palestinians preferred to say in Hebrew, like the word for checkpoint, machsom. Maybe it's a way of saying "that's their thing..."
The lane for busses going into Jerusalem was closed, so everyone got off the bus and made their way to the chicken run, as my mother called it when she visited. Between my mother's claustrophobia and my grandmother's pacemaker it was an especially nerve-wracking experience. So we squeezed into the iron-barred rows and waited in line for the light above the revolving door to turn green and allow four people in at a time. Several old women had to take off their shoes and people were groaning and looking around impatiently. I asked the man behind me, "al-yom, bas Jerusalem ID?" Only Jerusalem ID's today? My boyfriend had asked me to check to see if there were people coming through with green West Bank ID's, but I only saw blue. The man asked the man next to him, "seger?" and the other one shrugged. He said he thinks so, but it wasn't announced. They were Jerusalem residents, so they had the privilege of not knowing.
I showed the soldier my driver's license, since I'd forgotten my passport in Ramallah. I considered that they would reject my entrance, and I had this whole "forget about Pesach for one moment, there's this Christian holiday called Easter and I'm supposed to go to church!" schpeel ready, but when I pushed the card onto the window and told her I'd left my passport in Jerusalem, she just furrowed her eyebrows and waved me through. I don't think she even wanted to deal with that card, but my blonde hair probably played a small role in her apathy. I walked out of the checkpoint and onto the 18 bus. When we got to East Jerusalem, I asked the driver, "fi seger fil hawajes?" using the Arabic word for checkpoints. He said yes. "Bas al-yom ou bukra?" Just today or tomorrow? He said he didn't know exactly and for some reason, I found that infuriating.
I walked out of the bus feeling heavy. He's not holding out for any good news, he knows the drill. But I still have to text him that there is a seger today and I got through the checkpoint without my passport. His security clearance is no good today. He's having devious and dangerous thoughts today. I wondered if there could be an extra security check to be declared safe on Jewish holidays.

It didn't immediately occur to me why I saw this seger on the news. There was a seger on every major Jewish holiday (Neri Livneh-"Where were you for the seger?") but they didn't get this much news coverage. Then I realized that because Passover overlapped with Easter this year, the seger seemed to especially inhibit Christians during their holiday, and that was just a killjoy. The other segers were probably justified for security reasons, but don't mess with Easter! Another example of a bandaid being stacked on a gushing wound....I was told it was the European Union that donated the cages that protect Hebron Palestinians from settlers who throw garbage and rocks from their apartments above the marketplace. I just feel bad for those settlers now, being deprived of such satisfying targets...they must have so much pent-up frustration.

I don't know if there's anything I can say to challenge this "security trumps all" mentality. It just seems to me like this seger is in place so that someone can check off that Israel tightened security, not because it accomplishes anything. Or maybe our case is just regrettable, and the vast majority of those permit-holding people kept out of Israel today are actually thinking devious and dangerous thoughts. I have no proof, just one story.

I've never had my movement restricted. I don't know how it feels to be closed in by a checkpoint because of the color of my ID card. But I remember the day he learned the word “restless” in English and it’s been on the tip of his tongue ever since. I watch the suitcase by the door slowly filling up day by day. Until the U.S. visa. Until the Jordanian passport. Until the seger lifts, but he doesn’t really care. It's adi, normal. I remember the day I learned that in a way, Palestinians are more free than I’ll ever be with my magic blue passport.

Though it would be nice to see him at Easter service.
Yesterday was a long day in Al Aqaba!

There was a big party outside of the kindergarten, the whole village and a lot of people from Tayasir and Tubas were there. In addition, about thirty Germans had arrived off of a massive bus to join us. Turns out they were all part of the same family, on a very thorough tour of the West Bank! I can't many family trips make it so far north! But they joined us for the halflah, and their tour guide translated all the Arabic into English through their tour earphones...snazzy. Haj Sami and Marwan Toubasi gave very long speeches about the effects of the occupation on the area, and I wondered if it overwhelmed them. Clearly, they were interested in the occupation if they'd come all the way to Al Aqaba, was it necessary to pull out all the stops? Anyways, the kindergarteners performed some really cute dances for us, and I got to meet some of the visitors, who are lovely and were interested in the Guest House, so I gave them my card. Their guide was a Christian from Beit Jala. woot.

But I spent most of the morning and afternoon getting 13 applications ready for the Seeds of Peace conference in Maine this summer. They extended the deadline specially for Al Aqaba, so I went into the school with a stack of applications and the English teacher and I went over the instructions for the 10th grade boys. I made sure to ask if they were all seriously interested in the camp, and I got an overwhelming yes. It was really fun going through basic form questions with them, and I couldn't have done it without Othman, the English teacher. (Othman: intkom "male," you are all male!) They had to answer questions like, "how did you feel during the attack on Gaza in 2008/2009?" and "if you were on a negotiating team, what would be the most important issue you would not compromise on?" It was a first for me, and I wish I'd been more prepared to coach them on application-writing, but the best I could do was come back after school and tell them to finish all the long answers or I wouldn't bother sending them! There are two boys I know will be considered, it would just be so awesome to have a representative from Al Aqaba traveling to the States and making all those connections for life!!

So I spent a few hours in the office making sure the applications were complete and getting two last-minute submissions in, and once I realized that Donna was going back to Ramallah in the evening, my restlessness set in and I decided to forego the fax machine and deliver the applications myself.

So after a wonderfully wonderful lunch of makloubeh, I hopped in the backseat of a truck with three other people and Donna, and we headed off to Ramallah.

I went to Souli's and showered (it had been a realllly hot day in Al Aqaba) then our friend Basil arrived in Ramallah and he wanted to interview Donna, so I went to go smoke some argheelah with him while we waited for Donna to finish her meeting with the lawyers about releasing money for the building project in Al Aqaba. So we hung out on a roof cafe with a guy from Hebron that Basil had met on the service (who just asked, "where can I get some argheelah?") and he was really cool and invited us both to Hebron before we parted ways. Oh, and I ate a hot brownie with chocolate ice cream and it was the best thing ever.

Then Basil and I headed to my friends Nick and Derrar's house, where they were getting ready to play some beer pong. In the end, we just smoked a j and listened to dance music. I didn't film the guys this time because I already have so much film that I need to edit. They have such a funny dynamic though, it's going to make for a great video.

So then Basil and I walked back to Souli's to drop off Basil's film equipment, and we were going to meet the guys again at Beit Aneeseh, but we busted out the laptops instead and just worked until Souli got back.

So today!! Basil had convinced me to go back to Al Aqaba with him because he wanted to make a film about the village, and I was alright with going to see the demonstration. Yes, Al Aqaba is now in the business of Friday demonsrations, but I don't think the army has caught onto it yet. May it stay that way.

But then Donna ended up not going to Al Aqaba, so Basil wanted to intervew her before we left.  We met up at Zamn cafe and he set up all his equipment and interviewed Donna about how she got involved with Rebuilding Alliance and the Al Aqaba project, then he interviewed me on how Donna and I connected, then the graphic designer for the Al Aqaba project showed up and he interviewed him too. Apparently this guy wasn't allowed to leave Ramallah for years because he was from Gaza and some...restriction. Anyways, I really like him and Donna said he's a website-designing wizard, so I'm going to have him finish the Al Aqaba website starting Monday. alhamdulillah.

It was a cool thing, watching Donna and Basil and this graphic designer sitting watching Donna's presentation on building homes in Area C and mapping the West Bank, it's so well put-together and I could see these three people had so much to offer each other. Anyways, Basil offered to connect me to the Siraj Center in Beit Sahour, and Donna to people who know Palestinian philanthropists, and that's just the way it happens.

Then Donna took off because she had to fly out of Tel Aviv tonight, and I left Basil with Souli and Jehad and Bader (who were sitting outside for the first time!) and had to console Bader because his laptop and iPhone were stolen out of his car the other day. a Beamer with an open window...ouch.

Then I took off to go interview Nick at his place. It was only supposed to be a two-minute introduction for the first Amrikeen video, but it turned into a 12-minute discussion on Palestinian culture and politics, which Derrar had actually warned me about. Ah well, I got some good stuff. Then Nick went off to teach a tennis lesson at his school. I got some footage of him walking down the street in his aquamarine swim trunks. Good lord.

Then I went down the street to get some work done at Cafe La Vie, but it was closed, or being mopped, or something, so I wondered, "should I just go to Jerusalem?" A bunch of my friends and Gloria and Fred had done the walk with the cross up the Via Dolorosa at the crack of dawn this morning. I knew it was an important thing to do while I was here, but I knew I'd be miserable at that hour...with all the crowds....of tourists. no no.

So I started walking back to get my backpack and head to Jerusalem, then I saw Beit Anisseh. It was a bar, and I'd only been there at night, but people told me the food was good, so I tried my luck for somewhere quiet to sit. I walked around the house (it's a house-turned bar) and through the garden/yard thing, and saw that it was empty inside. But when I asked the manager if the place was closed, he just said, "but you can get a drink if you want..." So I sat down at an outside table and set up my computer. The man brought me orange juice and a piece of really dense chocolate cake. He asked me if I smoked, and I said something, but I don't buy ciggarettes. So he brought me an ashtray with two ciggarettes in them. haha.

I spent the next few hours chatting with the owner of Beit Anisseh, who was a few tables over. He was from Ramallah, but was raised in Houston. He was a filmmaker and PR specialist, in addition to running this bar, which had been his great aunt's house. He wanted to open up a new place, for live music and more American food. I asked him if he would consider karaoke, and he said maybe, but he was interested in amateur night, open mic stuff....I agreed, that would be a great idea. At least, the ajaneb would love it.

He was interested in my work, and I gave him my card. He said maybe he and his wife would come and visit Al Aqaba sometime. We kept talking on and off while I sorted my videos and pictures. He encouraged me to write a proposal for one of my projecs in Tubas, and send it his way. Maybe his wife, who worked for a council for churches in Palestine, could help me network and get some financial support. It was a beautiful sunny and my new friend John had just made it way better. His wife and kindergarten daughter came by, and his daughter Mia ran circles around me then picked purple flowers from the garden and gave me one, then her mother put the rest in her hair. I tried to take a picture of Mia but she kept running away and darting behind the chairs. She was so cute.

I kept talking to John about politics and religion, and he thought religion was just another institution, and we weren't living like the peple we worship anyway, and it was a lot of bullshit, basically. He also didn't like doctors, as he'd been in and out of hospitals for so long. I wondered what that meant, and didn't realize the next story was explaining that. He told me he'd been driving around Jericho over a decade ago, when he hit a checkpoint between Jericho and the Jordan River. The Israeli soldiers told him he couldn't drive down this road with a Nablus license. So he asked what road he should take, and the soldier directed him right, then straight. So he followed his directions, and ended up in a military camp. Not that strange, for that area. But he was approaching a group of soldiers and jeeps with heavy artillery, and the ordered him to put his hands up. So like a smart-ass (or would we all do the same thing?) he put his hands up and the car starting swerving, and when he stopped they threw gas in his car. The next thing he knew he was being revived by an Israeli parademics team. He went home and a few weeks later, he lost feeling in his legs. He went back to the States to get diagnosed and they said he had some form of multiple sclerosis. So he's been in wheelchairs or walking with a cane since then. But he had gotten married and had a daughter and ran a business, and things seemed to be ok. But he couldn't predict if the symptoms would get better or worse. I hadn't noticed the cane by his chair, or really wondered why he'd just been sitting around. The owner would probably be up and running, right? We started talking about other things. I brought my computer over and he gave me his card and I friended him on Facebook. He inquired about where I got all of my technology and how much I paid, since he was a film editor and photographer himself, but he hadn't been taking pictures lately because his hands were getting shaky. I gave him my camera and asked if he could fix my photo settings to make the quality better. I realized it was difficult for him to hold the camera steady enough to look at the photos, so I told him not to worry.

I worked on my project proposal for a little while, but he kept making conversation. He referred me to a song by an Australian comedian about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that goes "you don't eat pigs, I don't eat pigs, why don't we not eat pigs together?" and I watched it and cracked up. When I saw his daughter again I told him about one of my favorite songs, "Daughter" by Loudon Wainwright. I think he'd like it.

Eventually the sun started going down and I figured it was time to head out. I hadn't told Basil or Souli or anyone where I'd gone, I just wanted to work. But I hadn't gotten any work done sitting by John, so I looked up at Ankars Hotel and the Sky Bar on top and wondered if they had wireless. So I made my way up to the top floor and sat in that swanky restaurant for a few hours, watching the sun set over Ramallah. I did a lot of research on Tubas for my project proposal, but I didn't get to weed out and start editing my film clips like I wanted to.

I walked back to Souli's and decided I wanted to watch a movie. I really want to watch that movie Say Anything but I haven't found it anywhere. So I hunkered down and turned on MBC4 and watched the end of Red Eye and got some more work done. Then I turned on the news and learned that Qalandia checkpoint was closed today. There was a clip of Christians walking through Beit Jala, because they couldn't get to Jerusalem (because of today's closure or the general lack of permits)

I'd been debating whether or not I should go to Jerusalem for Good Friday today. Turns out I wouldn't have been allowed to, because the checkpoints are closed for Passover.

I check the internet news, and one of the articles said the checkpoints wouldn't be opened until Sunday. I said, no no no no, that's no possible. I'm supposed to go to Gloria and Fred's tomorrow and have a slumber party with all the Lutheran volunteers before the sunrise Easter service! I've been looking forward to this for weeks!

Souli corrected me. I would be able to get into Jerusalem, and Jerusalemites would too. Just not West Bank Palestinians, like him.

What am I hoping for tomorrow? Damn.

Friday, April 6, 2012


GOP-Glimpse of Palestine

I’m sitting in the garden at Beit Anissa, a house-turned-bar in Ramallah. The place isn’t open yet, but the owner let me sit and work outside. I found a table under a tree where I could plug. One of the guys brought me orange juice, an ashtray with two cigarettes, and a place of rice and chicken. I chatted with the owner for a long time about the “situation” and how life is different in New Orleans and Texas, where he grew up. He offered me some contacts for my fundraising campaign. Now the head of the kitchen is sitting with him, and he’s going over the menu with a new employee. It reminded me of when I worked in the food industry and I had to learn the menu. Now what we need in Ramallah is a good Indian/Thai fusion restaurant. Haha.

My feet are mad sunburned now.

Thursday, April 5, 2012


new lamp, janice in the house (hizzouse?), the status of the new playground, kindergarteners love getting photographed, some resiliant red flowers outside my front door, visitors from norway and next-door tubas, the new painting comissioned for Land Day, and a view of Tayasir.

Last week we had some great day guests. Rasha, who works for World Vision, Peace It Together, and Seeds of Peace, and two young filmmakers from the Peace It Together program, which brought them to Canada to make films with Canadian and Israeli students. When I explained the concept to the school director and English teacher, I just said there were three from Bethlehem coming to talk about their experience filmmaking in Canada, and maybe this could be a good connection for the students, if they're interested in programs like this. I didn't mention the Israeli bit, because I didn't think I could explain the experience nearly as well as the group could, in Arabic. I know they get called out for normalization, and their films sparked a lot of comments in this vein at the Beit Jala screening I went to. I missed a lot of the Arabic, but I could tell they were commenting on the films' portrayal of the two sides as equal, which misrepresented the situation on the ground and ignored the occupation. I was just keen for the discussion to happen, so I introduced it carefully. But the English teacher told me the boys are open-minded, they don't object to things like that.

So Rasha and Basil and Ibrahim came up to the village to screen the films that they made, and I managed to keep eight of our high school students waiting an hour after school (not an easy task!) for the first screenng. Then I assembled a group of twelve from the village for the second screening, which wasn't too bad, considering that among them were students, a lawyer, a driver, a farmer, builders, a really interesting group for analyzing films and discussing the conflict. Some used their experience as family men and men of age, some used their knowledge of law or history. I caught about half of the disucussion and translated what I could for Donna (who has been with us for two weeks!) What made me really happy is that our guests really seemed to enjoy the village. Basil told me he was thinking of doing one of his university film projects here, and Rasha kept thanking me for bringing her here, though it was Souli who made that connection by taking me to the Beit Jala screening and recognizing Rasha as someone who could help Al Aqaba with her World Vision work.

Turns out, she saw Al Aqaba as an ideal place to interview for Seeds of Peace applicants. She got the deadline extended and encouraged me to get as many applicants as possible, for both campers and leaders. While we were eating a massive lunch that Abu Abed (the chef who used to work at the Intercontinental in Riyadh) had been cooking in my kitchen all day, Rasha told me, "I could stay here forever." After all the stress of running around the village and collecting audience members, I finally relaxed. They like Al Aqaba!

After a short walk and the second screening, I decided to go back to Ramallah with the group, so I packed my bag and jumped in their taxi. Donna would follow behind two days later.

We didn't go to Ramallah directly, instead we headed up to Zebabdeh, just before Jenin, to see Basil's uncle and Rasha's friend. After that long day of coordinating, I was happy to just relax and enjoy everyone's company. Somewhere between Tubas and Zebabdeh, Rasha stopped the taxi near a field of trees and said, "shweya, let's pick some loz." So we hopped out of the taxi and I said "only in Palestine," as we climbed down to pick almonds off the trees. These aren't ordinary almonds, they're green and fuzzy, and sour. But once I got over those aspects, they grew on me. People give me handfuls of these things several times daily, and usually I'll find a few leftover in my sweatshirt pockets.

So we filled our pockets and got back in the cab and jetted to Zebabdeh. I'd only been through the town, not in it, which was unfortunate, because everyone had told me to visit the Arab-American University there. It's still on my list. But we got out at Basil's uncle's house and sat in his living room for a while. There were Christian things all over the house, and it was quiet a change, since I didn't visit a lot of Christian households. We talked for about an hour or so, and I got to practice some more Arabic. His uncle had heard of Al Aqaba once, but his wife and mother, never. And it was 20 minutes away! He said he'd seen something about it on the news. Haj Sami and the double minaret mosque frequently appear on Palestine TV, thanks to our reporter friend Hakam.  

We left the house and took a walk with Rasha's friend George, who was in tawjihi (meaning in 12th grade, about to take his tawjihi exam). He had dual Canadian citizenship and spoke good English, but I used my Arabic and he said 3njad, your accent is really good for six months here. That made me happy.

We walked to a park, then found out it was closed, so then we walked to a cafe called Twilight, which was the strangest place. The walls were painted red and black, and the lights were red lights, and there was a big poster of Leonardo DiCaprio on the stairs. Anyway, we settled down with two argheelas (one apple and one lemon with mint), and bullshitted and told dirty jokes for a while. They were a fun group. Then Basil asked the guy if they served beer, and he said no. Only him and I seemed to be disappointed at that, but he got a call and said, "my uncle can bring us some beer and take us to Ramallah, yalla!"

So we left George and Ibrahim in Zebabdeh and got into a royal blue VW Vanogan, almost like the one my parents drove in the 90's, and even though we had to cross half of the West Bank in the boring dark, the beer made it a lot more fun. I can't even count the number of times the boys had to stop and pee by the side of the road. But the one time I asked them to pull over, they rejected my request and drove to a sweet shop instead, where I could use a toilet and they could get their knafe fix. Sitting in that brighly-lit sweet shop with a plate of knafe and a buzz, was some kind of euphoria.

An hour later we were in Ramallah. I invited Basil to stay at Souli's so he wouldn't have to catch a Service to Bethlehem at 10pm. So we went to Beit Anisseh, got a drink, I ordered a salmon and lox sandwich, we stood and chatted for a while because it was so crowded there was nowhere to sit, then I got really tired and said khalas, I need to go to sleep. So we walked back to Souli's and hung out for a while, and I realized I had another incredibly full day. And the next day I was going to the Qalandia demonstration. Really, one day at a time....

I swear I've seen that Vanogan on the road twice since then....

bidoun sabab (without reason)

I stayed up late last night editing videos, but I couldn't upload any of them because the internet is slow. Though my machine is only one that gets internet, not the guest house desktop, and not Haj Sami's office computer. I've called Coolnet a few dozen times, and apparently we have to buy something called an access point. But this signal problem is happening all over, not just in Al Aqaba. Shway, shway, internet independence is becoming a reality. Trying to patient on that one.

Last night I was on the phone at midnight, and Janice came outside and asked me, "is that gunfire?" I stopped and listened, and heard the tat-a-tat-tat from down the hill. I said, "yeah, from the camp." She'd been here for a week, but I was still surprised she hadn't heard it before. It went on for another couple of hours. In the morning she told me she'd heard camp trainings when she lived in Korea, she just didn't know what to expect in this case since it was an occupying army.

Haj Sami told me last night that once an Israeli soldier walked into office and asked him if anyone had seen a small communication device, like a black box with wires. Haj Sami said no. The soldier said if any of the boys found it, they would get 200 shekels, and he left to join his jeep, which was parked outside the kindergarten. Raghad, the secretary, the one who's wedding I went to last month, looked up from her desk to find the soldier with the gun standing in front of her and told Haj Sami later she felt a pain in her heart.

When Haj Sami told the story to our Norwegian visitor this morning, I realized it happened the day before yesterday. I felt...angry. Will there be a day when there will be no guns in Al Aqaba?

All in all, today was a day of good energy. Haj Sami stamped and sent letters to USAID and CHF, asking for assistance for village projects, I did an interview with the new librarian, a young woman who just returned back from training in Hebron. I flipped through the new books we recieved and she told me what the library still needs. That video will need some translation. Finally, there was a big party for the kindergarteners outside, and the older boys and some of the village men did a dabke demonstration for the little ones, some of whom were eagerly joining hands and jumping up and down, trying to imitate their elders. Something tells me I won't know what to do with all my footage until I get back to the States. I've collected so much.

So with all the dabke music playing, and the warm sun, and the greenness of the valley, today in Al Aqaba felt pretty good. I warmed up some mujadara (rice with lentils) and ate with Janice at the house before heading down to Tubas.

In Tubas I spent a few hours doing two interviews with families of men who've been imprisoned in the last few months. I decided to do the project because my student, Saed, was arrested in February, and I wanted to see if there were similar stories in the area. I talked with Saed's father and brother, and his sister lent her voice. I didn't learn a lot of new things because most of their testimony was in Arabic, but I learned that Saed's children were sleeping when he was arrested, so they didn't know he was gone until the morning. When I asked them to describe his personality (shakhsia, a word I just learned), they said he was always joking around, and his students loved him for that. I could relate that it's important for a math teacher to be funny. But I didn't know Saed was funny, because I didn't understand his jokes, and he probably didn't make many around me. I knew he was devout, a gentleman, a shepherd of sorts, since he always had younger siblings in tow.
I had to grill them on why, why, why. Why was he imprisoned before?
Because of his politics, he supported Hamas, with his ideas and words.
Was he violent? No, he was religious, and it was easy to target him for this.
Why did they arrest him now? For no reason.
Why did they arrest the others in Tubas, the same thing? No reason. They want to collect all the people who were in the prison before...
Hussam: The Jewish, they don't want anyone to be free...

I didn't get that last comment on film. It reminded me of the kids interviewing each other in Bil'in. "Why do the Jews come here? They come here to shoot us." I was called an anti-Semite for posting that video. It looked to some that I prompted the kids to say those things, or I took pleasure in what they said. I don't know what response I was looking for. Maybe people would be curious about the situation in Bil'in, maybe they would be sad that there are children who think such things, and use the word "Jews" instead of soldiers.

Hussam is not a first grader, he's twenty years old, and this is the conclusion he's drawn. I didn't get it on camera, and I didn't know how to respond.

I looked at my phone and realized my other student had been calling me about seeing this bunk bed in Tayasir, so I told him I'd meet him soon, but then Hussam told me he'd located another prisoner's family in Tubas, so I hopped in the car and he drove me across town, to a house overlooking the valley. He said, "insh'allah, they will agree to interview." I was grateful to have him there to explain to the family what my intention was. It was hard enough pointing a camera around Muslim women, but prisoners' families are especially wary of secret police. I was very polite and smiley and assured the grandmother that despite Hussam's objections, I was not in a hurry and yes, I would love some tea.

The man's name was Ashraf, and I interviewed his wife, while pointing the camera at his kids. She told me he was arrested in December, so it had been four months now. The soldiers took him in the middle of the night, and the kids were asleep. She said a lot of other things in Arabic that I would figure out later, but I caught "bidoun sabab, wala ishi," without any reason, nothing. I wished I could convey the expression on her face as she talked about her husband. The kids ended up next to me, they were fascinated by the video camera. So I was just pointing the camera at their coffee table. I asked her what Ashraf's personality was like, and she said something I didn't understand. Hussam helped me with the question, and she said that Ashraf was very tender with the children, very tender with their home, and then she stopped and I realized she was crying. I didn't know what to do, if I should tell her I understand, or touch her shoulder, or just sit there quietly. Hussam said, "ana fahem," I understand. I closed my eyes and tried to collect myself. I would never understand, Saed's humor, or Ashraf's tenderness....I only saw a void, and love, and sadness. The grandmother prodded Ashraf's little boy, "talk about your father!" and I turned off the camera. He didn't want to talk, and I wouldn't make him.

After they fed me some goat cheese and bread, and Hussam explained my living situation, I told them all "shukran" and "ma salama" and headed out to the car. The view from their house is stunning. Tubas is really a beautiful place. Hussam drove me to the Service stop  and I headed back to Al Aqaba.

I missed the welder in Tayasir, but my two ex-English students were in Haj Sami's office filling out an application for the Seeds of Peace camp in the States this summer. I helped Haj Sami prepare some of the applications for the 9th and 10th grade students the following morning, which was going to be interesting. I'd have to get up early and go through the application with the boys who were interested. They were going to have to answer the essay questions in Arabic, and I didn't know how to coach them on what the interviewers were looking for. Haj Sam and I were going back and forth on the merits of sending many applicants versus a few. Fewer would take less time and disappoint less students, but including everyone would force the students to prepare for an interview and practice introducing themselves in English. So I typed up a page of practice phrases and different ways they could describe themselves and the village, and we'll see how it goes in the morning. Janice also offered to give the boys a practice interview next week.

My adult student did something funny, though, and I apologize because I know you're reading this. He answered all of the essay questions and I thought he did a good job at them, though I wondered why he twice used this analogy of Palestinians and Israelis diving in and "fishing fishes" together and sharing fish with their neighbors. I didn't know he liked fishing so much, but I thought it was symbolic and endearing and I didn't even think to mention it. Then my other student, who was flipping through the application, which he hadn't filled out yet, asked us "what is diverse?" I tried to explain that it means everyone is different. My first student asked, "do you mean dIverse, or divERse?" I said it was the same thing, just with a different pronunciation. But he seemed confused with my definition. He told me he googled the word "divers," and understood the question to be asking, "how are all Palestinians divers?"
I handed him a blank application and we had a good laugh. Or maybe I did, in my head. Now that the application is all finished I think it's safe to bring up all the time.

Haj Sami then showed us the news special on the shooting that happened in the Al Aqaba mosque in 2006 (I believe). A crazed American-Israeli soldier from the camp next door snuck into the mosque to shoot worshippers (in a tiny village in 2am, not too bright either) and the Israeli army thought he'd been kidnapped and the armed madman was a Palestinian, so they raided the mosque and shot him. Then they cleaned up thoroughly and declared it a suicide. Channel 2 did a 15-minute special on it, in my opinion they zoomed in on the blood stains a little too often, but it was a critical review on how the army handled the affair (trying to send Haj Sami in as a human shield should be in there somewhere).

Anyways, Haj Sami asked me if any of my Israeli friends could translate it from Hebrew to English. I told him there was a lot of information in there, and it would take some time. So he picked up his phone book and called Adam Keller from Gush Shalom. I told him it was 8:30 at night and maybe he should wait, but he was already waving the phone in my face. So I said, "hello?" and Adam told me, "hello, Haj Sami said you wanted to ask me something?" I glared at Haj Sami and threatened to smack him like he always does to me. To my inquiry about the translation, Adam referred me to the Alternative Information Center in Jerusalem. I knew the AIC in Beit Sahour, and I knew those guys would offer technical and language help, so I took down the phone number. Then Adam asked me about the two American visitors we had, Jeff and Melissa, and asked me my impression on their work in Al Aqaba. He'd been invited to our concensus-building workshop but couldn't make it. I told them we didn't get any response from the army, but they were able to help us with a local land dispute and their presence was very helpful and appreciated. Adam reiterated what had been told to us by most of the people we invited. He said that he didn't think it would be possible to arrange any meaningful dialogue with the army because all they want in Al Aqaba is to rid the area of Arabs. I told him that most of our invitees were similarly incredulous, but we agreed that any international support for Al Aqaba is good news. I told him I would be in Tel Aviv in the near future and would keep him posted so we could finally meet.

Then we all got up, closed down the office and I headed up to the guest house to hang out with Janice, drink some night coffee, and get something down. This post turned out much longer than I expected. 24 hours in Al Aqaba....

And this dog outside is carrying on like a convulsing squeaky toy.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Palm Sunday

Some very persistant boy selling water...

The wall

I did the Palm Sunday walk on the Mount of Olives yesterday!

What I liked most was that every twenty feet there would be another group singing another song in a different language or style. If I'm here next year I'll bring my guitar and find all the American Bible camp kids (because there were people who were more obnoxious than that).

I CouchSurfed with my friend Matthias in the Old City the night before, so all I had to do was roll out of couch and walk up the market for a few minutes and I was at church. I was feeling a bit sick so I got  fresh orange juice across from the church and it was 18 shekels! That moment made me appreciate Ramallah.

Church proceeded nicely, though I couldn't help but remember my congregation back in New Orleans, waving their palm leaves in that big, bright chapel. This chapel was ancient and rocky and cavernous, a bit more badass, but I was missing the folks back home and most of all the gospel made me think again about organizing a gospel tour of the Holy Land. It was done before from Louisiana. This would take a lot of planning, but gospel and's too good.

Anyways, during the service, Fred announced that there was a Palm Sundy walk on the Mount of Olives. I should've known, all I had planned was to go to the Educational Bookshop and hunker down with my laptop for seven hours, before going to dinner at the Tantur Institute near Bethlehem (in Gilo actually, which is a settlement...) but I guess, if there's a lot of people doing this walk....that would be fun.

A lot of people? Holy moley. I think all of Christiandom was there.

So here's the story. After hunkering down at the bookshop for few hours, I made my way to bus 75, which goes from the Old City up to the Mount of Olives. Today it was a big bus, and it was packed full of foreigners and nuns and priests. Some more foreigners and priests jumped on the bus as it pulled away and thought, I can't be that late. At least these guys are with we arrived at the top of the Mount, and I realized I was going to get a little toasted today. The weather was gorgeous, too much so for my three layers. So I started shedding and saw my friend Ben, who works at the Tent of Nations farm in Bethlehem and two of his friends. We followed the crowd together, and ended up at a church, where I lost them and watched the service on my own. (you can see this on the upcoming video). Then I processed out of the church, listening to everyone singing worship songs in Arabic. I particularly liked one called "Shukran lillah," Thanks to God, if that's what it's called. It was particularly joyous.

I walked with local Palestinians, either Jerusalemites or Christian West Bankers who had special permits for the holidays, I walked with American youth groups, who reminded me a lot of the rebuilding volunteers we got in New Orleans, not of typical visitors to East Jerusalem, who were mostly political, hipster types. Holy Week was certainly an acception. I saw some groups wearing t-shirts or hats that read Israel Holy Week 2012, and I wondered who their guides were and what they'd been told about the local Christians. I don't think a local Christian tour would put the word Israel on their shirts, though it would make it easier to get the group through the airport. Maybe freedom of movement had something to do with it, but I got the impression that these guys had chosen the wrong tour company.

It wasn't a very political march, not like the Christmas walk in Beit Sahour, Bethlehem. I saw that some palm leaves had little Palestinian flags attached to them, but no big flags or speeches. But halfway through the walk I saw a group of people standing on the sidewalk, across from a contingent of Israeli soldiers (coincidence?) holding signs representing their parishes in the West Bank and Jerusalem. They read:

Parish of Bethlehem
Just 9km outside Jerusalem

and Bethlehem and Taybeh and Jenin so on. They were trying to remind the Jerusalem tourists that the Christians of the Holy Land are Palestinians, that their West Bank cities are safe to visit, and that they consider their Jerusalem parishes to be located in Palestine. That sign was the most controversial. And it can (and is) seen as a very threatening statement. I don't consider it to be. If the Christians of Jerusalem are Palestinian Arabs, why can't they say they worship in Palestine? The narratives are overlapping, not mutually exclusive, unless you go with the Zionist Greater Jerusalem ideology, where there is no other narrative, just a minority population with 5% of the municipal budget. That really can't stand, no, no....

So I processed among this massive crowd, trying to get some good footage before my battery ran out (why do I always forget to charge it??) and I did get good footage but like always, I go crazy at the beginning of the event and at the end...well, it involved everyone descending down onto the Old City, and it was a mental picture I'll never forget :) By that time I'd found two of my American church friends, and we stuck together until the end. By the time we got into Lion's Gate, we were tired and thirsty and hungry and ready for some grub.

I contemplated joining them for pizza up at Fred and Gloria's because that food was so much closer, but I reminded myself that I signed up for the Tantur dinner tonight and it would be much more productive to meet new people. Even though I was so tired I felt drunk. I bought a large bottle of water and hopped onto the 21 bus to Bethlehem.

I almost nodded off several times, and I half-expected myself to sleep through my stop and end up in Bethlehem. But I kept tabs on the street signs, and when I recognized the big Tantur campus, I clambered off. I walked around the corner to the entrance reading "Tantur Institute" and I made my way up the hill to the campus. As I climbed I looked left and saw the sprawling hills of Jericho and Jordan. What a gorgeous view! Unfortunately, perched in between us was a settlement, a particularly ugly, blocky one that could only have been hastily assmebled in annexed East Jerusalem. Then I saw the snaking concrete wall on the other side of the hill, and realized that Tantur didn't really fit here. When I first saw the Gilo address, I wondered why they chose that location. But sometimes the location just happens around you. I could already tell this was an oasis of sorts, and that the surrounding wall and settlements surely influenced what went on inside.

It was a beautiful facility, and about 30 people showed up for dinner. I think they were mostly Australians, here for a Holy Week program. I talked with two people from Brisbane, and one Brit.

The culture shock didn't come from the two bottles of wine on each table, or the big group of foreigners I found myself in. As I made my round at the salad bar I spotted three types of dressing. Salad dressing! omg. I haven't even seen salad dressing since I left the States. I went for the Ranch.
"What's over on the other end?" one of the guys asked eagerly.
"Pork!" replied another.

Ok, this was just too much. I'm not even a huge pork fan, but I indulged. I hadn't eaten pork since September. So I ate a ton of food, and drank a good deal of wine while my table talked politics and asked me questions about Al Aqaba. I felt like I had a lot of local knowledge to offer, it was really fun.

So after the brownies and coffee and final glass of wine (one of the women made me finish the bottle with her) (seriously), I met with the director of Tantur, Tim, and talked more about my work and the possibility of joining up with this goup later on in their program. Maybe Galilee...that would be fun.

Then it was already 8:00 and the busses would be stopping soon, so I traipsed down the hill and to the main street where I'd gotten off the bus. There was a small 21 bus waiting by the road, so I made my way over to it, but a big 21 bus rolled by and honked at me, so I got onto that one instead. There were only a few people in there. It was surreal, coming from the darkness into that almost empty, well-lit bus, like I was in Totoro or Harry Potter. Of course my mind was wandering, I was five glasses deep and the extra caffeine didn't help. Or it really did. I thorougly enjoyed that ride. At one point a Fairouz song came on, and I asked the driver the name of the song. He turned it up and started singing it. He told me it was something....hawa. hawa means wind. I was going to conjure up something profound like "daiman an al-tabieh," always about nature, Fairouz, but then my favorite Fairouz song came on and we both went to town on that one. "Keefak inta, mala inta!" (it means how are you, oh you...)

Then I got off the bus at Damascus gate and walked to the other station and found a few remaining 18 busses.

And you say I have to stay
I'm not too Amrikeen,
Just take me to Ramallah
On the old 18...