Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Alright, more photos from the conference!

It went really, really well. I gave my presentation on Saturday morning before Alison Weir, and led a discussion the following night. I got a great response, people came up to introduce themselves afterward and say that it was important to see a non-Palestinian caring about Palestine. I didn't really believe, until people told me, just how impactful it can be. The Sunday night discussion was awesome as well. I got to hear the students reflect on their experiences with dialogue and activism, and in the end a lot of stories about their treatment, as Palestinian-Americans, getting in and out of Palestine. They'd had their American passports spat in and stomped on, been interrogated for hours, strip-searched, had their phones and computers looked into, been followed and segregated on airplanes and buses, and of course, in some cases, been denied entry into to the balad, the homeland. A place that I was allowed to live in, because I'm the right kind of American, the "civilized" kind. I was so angered and saddened by that.

Maybe it's something that would make a good media campaign. Palestinian students with American accents, telling their stories.

I also got a lot of support for a Tubas youth project, some kind of exchange. Hopefully that will bring more attention to the Northern Valley before any more expulsions take place. I'm excited to utilize the energy I found at the conference!

Posting from the phone will have to be....a sometimes thing.

That just reminded me of this song....

PAYL Conference Pt. 2

I've had this blog for about 3 years now, and this is my first blog post from my phone! Donna asked me I mind typing full sentences on here, and I responded, unfortunately yes.

Let's see how this goes!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

PAYL Conference

Here I am at the 3rd Annual Palestinian American Youth League  (PAYL) conference, in Dallas, Texas.

This is the first time I've ever been invited, and flown to go and speak somewhere. It's my first time in Texas.

The Palestinian-American Council in Chicago invited me. I met with five or six men in suits in a small office building and a few minutes into my presentation, they asked me to come to Dallas to speak to the youth. I was ecstatic. I didn't know there was such a thing as PAYL. I also didn't know what my role would be in this organization, and in this conference. They wanted me to propose a project for the youth to get involved in. Would American kids be interested in Al Aqaba? What an opportunity for kids in the Jordan Valley....

Am I ready? Am I qualified? Will I be effective? I was a little nervous while I was supposed to be relaxing in my hotel room. I was jotting down last-minute notes and cutting and adding slides to the presentation. Do I mention the young man in Gaza who was shot in the face today? I've seen that face dozens of times in the last few hours and I can't get him from my mind...he's my brother's age. Do I mention water scarcity in the Jordan Valley? These hotel showers have amazing pressure.

In the end, things were running behind schedule, and my talk was postponed until first thing tomorrow morning. I don't mind it really, in fact it was really valuable for me to sit in on the last guy's talk about strategic planning. His English wasn't great, he spoke like an uncle and I could tell right off the bat he wasn't holding the attention of the university student crowd. I understood then why my presence and message was considered important, and that made my nerves subside. The man said some really interesting things though, and he got a nice response from the students. He said that he knew most of their parents (most of them being from Chicago), and though they're wonderful people, they're not strategic planners. They didn't have the resources their kids have, so it's their responsibility to think long-term for their communities, and the international Palestinian community as a whole.

"Did you know, there are around 128 Zionist organizations in DC? And there are only a handful of Palestinian organizations, and they go against each other...why is that? Why are we not united?" I would disagree that all the Zionist organizations agree with each other, but considering even J-Street's placid response to the latest Gaza assault ("First and foremost, Israel has the right to defend itself..."), they seem to be united...enough. It was interesting to see this conversation going on, "we can throw the blame around forever, but the real issue is, we're not doing any long-term strategic planning."

I also sat in on one of the rooms where the younger kids were doing a workshop. They looked like they were 10-14 or so, and I'd just caught the end, so one by one, a kid would go up and read what they'd written about their family history. It went, my name is ________, my parents names are ______ and _______ and they were born in Amman, Jordan. The reason they lived in Jordan is because they were kicked out of their home town in Palestine. The name of my grandparents' village in Palestine is __________. The town was mostly destroyed, except for a few buildings. My grandparents left all of their things because they thought they would be able to come back. I'm very proud to be Palestinian. 

And all the kids would hoot and holler, and they are just regular American kids, full of sass and silliness. I wish this community were more visible. Someone should make a movie about Palestinian-American youth. Hmmmm.

So now I'm in my room, my roommate Alison Weir (creator of If Americans Knew) is arriving shortly, and there is a big banquet starting downstairs! I'm going to head down. Hasta manana.....

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


Busboys and Poets, cafe, bookstore, venue for concerts, open mics, and social justice-y type things
Langston Hughes was on the menu

...or a woman. damn.

Visited and talked at Georgetown Law, and attended an Israel/Palestine class!

DC Metro....another Metro...

State Department gift shop

Playing at Starbucks:

Monday, November 19, 2012

This Old Heart of Mine

After the football game, this place went to the News. I was going to take a picture of the local news showing bombs in Gaza and all I got was Mark Regev! ugh.

Me and my friend Elena from our SIT Jordan semester (Spring '08)

Walking to church today....I love buildings like these.

Architectural variety...DC's got lots of it...


Pretty neighborhoods

The Lutheran church I went to had inspirational figures on their stained glass. I took immediate notice of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the famous Lutheran anti-Nazi activist, and Harriet Tubman.

As I walked into this church, I saw that everyone had circled up to pray for peace in the Middle East. People were calling out popcorn style, calling for safety for children, and a just resolution. As soon as I heard "just resolution," I knew I was in the right place.

I met up with my cousin, and my aunt and her husband who are visiting from Alaska. I'll be spending Thanksgiving with them!

The sermon was great. Pastor Karen talked about the church being open-minded and taking risks, especially by trusting the energy of the congregation's youth to reach out to different networks and projects around the city. One young member declared she was going to a conference on race, and the church partnered with the event and their presence encouraged other people to take interest in the congregation and expand their activities in the community. It was a cool message.

Most Lutheran church services I attend make me miss my church in New Orleans. I miss gospel music and dancing and raising a ruckus. On the way to this church, I actually passed a church that was pumping music, and thought, "that's....probably not a white church." Hmmmmm.

Still love them Lutherans though. I made a great contact in Pastor Karen, and I might be able to go back talk to some of the congregation. There seems to be a lot of interest there in social justice and the Middle East.

The longest escalator I've ever been down, and it was broken. I had to keep thinking of Mitch Hedburg as I gingerly descended ("Escalators temporarily stairs...sorry for the convenience...")

Peppermint mocha with extra curls, my holiday treat from the Mothership

Protest for Gaza in front of the Israeli Embassy

One of the speakers. Miko Peled was there too!

Song of the Day: this was playing at Starbucks. It's one of my favorites.

Saturday, November 17, 2012


I walked back to my friends' house from the Senate office building, and fortunately their housemate was home! Not fortunate that he has to stay home studying for the GRE's for days on end, but I wasn't keen on standing out in the cold much longer, so to see him was just wonderful.

As I put myself down, he said, "pretty interesting timing, everything happening in Gaza while you're on this tour."

I said, "yeah, well, it's about the Israeli elections."


"Yeah, the government gets to decide when the elections are, then they can turn up the heat in the occupied territories and start a war so the people will vote conservative.

"So you think that's one of the reasons?"

"Yeah, most of the big offensives have happened surrounding Israeli elections. But it's not just Gaza. The West Bank is also under attack."

"Really? I haven't heard about that on the news."

"Even the liberal media isn't paying attention to the West Bank. Everyone's eyes are on Gaza."

Then I showed him the map I showed this Army Fellow at the House offices today. It's a map of Palestinian villages in the Jordan Valley. I showed him that the Northern Jordan Valley villages are getting evacuated in the next month, so the valley can get annexed.

"How did the army guy respond?"

 "He was actually really receptive. He didn't know about the demolition policies. I don't think most people on the Hill know."

Didn't he try to go with his party lines, and talk about Israeli security?"

"No,  there was nothing really he could say. We built a kindergarten, it's under demolition order. Palestinians can't build on their own land in Area C. What can you say to that? Nothing....sometimes Israelis try to justify it to me, but you can justify anything if you try, and man do they try. Like Gaza....."

He had been to Israel, to visit Shelby, our friend, for a few days, but it was a whirlwind trip, he said.

"Still, it's amazing to meet people who've been over there." Not surprising that he was keeping up with the news, then. Or is everyone keeping up? I'm somehow still perplexed when people post non-Palestine related things on Facebook. Turn out that between the 70% of posts about Gaza (ok, my mini-feed is a little skewed), there are still dinners, bars, sports teams, weddings, vacations, homework, and national politics still happening! Especially now that I'm in DC, observing my friends and the students and interns and staffers I see, part of me wants to tone down the language and jump into the system and let la la la la life go on.

And when I don't feel that way, it's when I'm walking from one place to another, checking my mini-feed, and reflecting on my role in all of this. I'm getting number and number. 

The Quakers helped me a lot today. At eleven I went to my Senator's office, and found that I was an hour early for the FCNL meeting, but the aide who was taking a break went to high school near me and we had at least ten friends in common. I came back at noon and met the Washington State crew, which had a dozen people assembled to meet with Senator Murray's Deputy Chief-of-Staff. We went around the table and said where we were from and why we were supporting our Ask-to decrease the Pentagon budget by 1 trillion dollars over the next ten years. Most people talked about accountability, one woman said her son was in AmeriCorps, and I jumped on that train, though I was definitely the oddball talking about military aid to Israel. As soon as the Chief-of-Staff passed out his business card, I saw his name and thought, "if he's Jewish, can I talk about Israel? Here? Now?" I thought about watering down my statement, but I didn't have much time to think. It came to me, and I said I worked with communities facing demolition by the Israeli army, and I'm concerned with our unquestioned aid to Israel and to other foreign security forces that aren't making us safer. It was a little awkward, not bad for a first-timer though. Then I mentioned the map we're developing, so we can come back and show them how many constituents care about this issue..."to make your job easier." I got a lot of murmurs of approval for that.

That meeting was my first lobby meeting. It was immensely helpful. I realized the system isn't as inaccessible as I thought. Now that I've seen who works in my Senator's office, I feel more comfortable with cultivating a relationship there. 

Then I visited my cousin, who works for a Minnesota senator. She does research, and is busy busy all the time, but she loves her job, and working in the Hart building, which is much newer and snazzier than Russell, where I'd just come from, where my Senator works.

On the way home I re-affirmed this feeling that I don't want to take a position that someone would otherwise fill. But how much longer can I support myself this way?


Me: "It's so cool that you guys have a record machine."

"Yeah....did you just call it a record machine?"

"Hmm, I think it's the same thing. Maybe I'm a total martian. I think there's a song where they talk about record machine."


5 minutes later...

"It's from Grease. 'Droppin dimes in the record machine, ah ah ah rock 'n roll party queen...'"

"That does sound like Grease. Though....I think what you're talking about is a jukebox."



Now we're listening to the Smiths on the record player....

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


The train from downtown Chicago to Oak Lawn, where I stayed for 3 days
Me and Taghrid and Sama and Nada, family of my friend Mahmoud

My best friends this weekend :)

The girls' joint birthday party was princess-themed


My friend Dan took me to Chicago to get Dim Sum in Chinatown
Last November, my friend Nancy from Luban Asharqia and her sisters told me I had to go visit their brother's sweet shop in Chicago. One year later, I found him!

Just a sampling of Bridgview, Illinois, a.k.a. "Little Palestine"