Thursday, April 5, 2012

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.