Saturday, September 21, 2013

New blog

These days I'm blogging from Tumblr, about activism in the Bay Area with my friend Susannah:

SuMo Gaza

See you there!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Skydiving Adventures and Misadventures

This last week, I experienced my first tandem skydive, my first broken bone, and my first orthopedic surgery.

When doctors and nurses asked me how I did it, I just said "Groupon."

Let me explain. Two months ago, my friend David sent out a Facebook message, announcing that a skydiving company in Hollister (an hour and a half south of San Francisco) had a tandem skydiving Groupon, 99 bucks for a jump.

I'd never been tandem diving. When I turned eighteen, I did do three static line jumps with my dad, which is where you climb out onto the wing of the plane, hang on for a few seconds, then let go and fall backwards. After seven seconds or so, your chute, which is attached to the plane with a cord, opens itself. You don't get to free fall for more than seven or so seconds, but you do get to float thousands of feet above the ground by yourself, and spend ten minutes steering yourself down to the landing field. It's an incredible feeling. The scariest part is before the jump, going up in the plane, and knowing that there's no way out of the plane except out of the door at eight or ten-thousand feet. That's the worst part, but as soon as you let go, there's no room to be afraid.

As soon as that chute was open, I sang "I'm on the Top of the World" and sailed through clouds and contemplated calling a friend and saying "guess where I am right now? in the motherfuckin sky!" Kinda glad I didn’t do that.

It was such an adrenaline rush. I contemplated getting my license, but I didn’t want to dive alone with a different company in Eastern Washington, where my college was. I needed at least one dive a month to keep progressing.

That was 2005. I stuck a pin in that dream. Honestly, I think that’s the last time I’ve had $2000 in my bank account. But I always thought I’d do it again, and maybe make a hobby of it when I had the resources. This was a good chance to experience an extended free-fall, so I bought the Groupon.

On Sunday, July 7th, I showed up at Hollister Skydiving with David, Brittany, and my boyfriend Verne (who had come for moral support). It was bustling with instructors, people waiting for their jumps, waiting for their friends, waiting for their photos and videos….the place was one big room, and nearly every inch of it was covering in Sharpie graffiti, saying “wooo I’m alive!” or “BEST DAY EVER” or “I flew!” I took a picture to send to my mom, because I knew it would put her mind at ease. It made me feel better, seeing all the evidence of survivors. I was a little nervous, but I remembered that it nothing compared to the feeling of being in the plane, so I felt…relatively fine. We put in all the paperwork, and waited.

Fifteen minutes before our jump, our instructors introduced themselves. Mine was a woman, in her thirties, brown semi-curly hair, big smile. She reminded me of Amy Poehler. I asked her a lot of questions. Her family encouraged her to start skydiving, so no, they weren’t freaking out about her job. She’d be diving with her co-workers for a little under a year now, but she trusted them with her life. At the end of the day they usually had time for a “fun jump” together, without a bunch of newbies strapped to their fronts. They could do all sorts of fun tricks, then go out drinking. Many of them lived together in a barn-type-building nearby. Adrenaline junkies. They really ranged in age, background, and even nationality. It takes a certain kind of personality to be a skydive instructor. What a day-to-day.

I was worried about her being at least six inches shorter than me. I thought instructors had to be of equal weight or larger. She said she’d jumped with people of all sizes. But the most dangerous thing that had ever happened to her was with a rather large woman who passed out in mid-air. She had to nudge her and somehow ascertain that she was breathing! yikes.

So I felt good, David and Brittany met their instructors, and we were all shooting the breeze. I mentioned that I had three static lines jumps under my belt, and my instructor said, “No way! Well…. you should totally land us! I’ll talk you down…” I agreed, after all, I’d landed myself three times before! I had no reservations about that.

Eventually the last jumpers arrived in the limo (yes, the company has a limo) and the instructors came in with their chutes billowing in their arms, hollering about something or other. They re-packed their chutes, and we all made for the plane. It sat about twenty jumpers. For a static jump, the planes were tiny…maybe eight could fit in the back. I liked the idea of a larger plane. It looked much more stable. We packed ourselves in there, new jumpers in front of their instructors. That was when I started giving David and Brittany the “holy shit!!” face. We were really doing this!

The propeller started whirring and that was enough to get us all squealing. Maybe the instructors were just cheering, but I must’ve been going “ahhhhhhhh” from then until the jump. The door to the plane was like a plastic garage door that wrapped around the middle of the inside, and surprisingly, it stayed open for the first minute after taking off. Poor Brittany, she had a front-row seat to the ground disappearing. David and I were further back on the benches.

I tried to chat with my instructor while she tightened our straps, and I managed to not sound too nervous, but this was terrifying. We were all crammed into a tin can, approaching 10,000 feet, the plane was loud, we were all yelling, and we were about to go hurtling toward the ground! The instructor in front of me opened the door. It was go time.

He and his jumper positioned themselves so they were holding a bar above the door and facing inward. Then they fell backwards, and our jaws must've all dropped at that point. Brittany was next. My heart was pounding as I watched her and her instructor tumble out. Then another pair. Then my instructor said “alriiiight, you ready?” and crabwalked us to the door. She told me sit with my legs out of the plane. We were going face-first. I stared at the Earth so far away, and within a second she had dislodged us. 

My stomach jumped. We tumbled a few times and I saw the plane disappear. This was free fall. But after a few seconds we were facing the Earth, and the free fall feeling stopped. Instead, it felt like air was being blasted into us from below. The feeling wasn't scary. I could imagine that’s how it felt to train in one of those chambers where the fan blows air up and you just float on it. It didn’t feel like falling, but it wasn’t as dainty as floating either. My face was plastered into a smile and my goggles were about to be lifted up. I tried to take someone’s advice and focus on the pretty sunset, but I couldn’t see for a few seconds with my goggles in my eye. Then the parachute was opened I was yanked up. My stomach jumped again, with the thought of something going wrong. We were jerked around a little bit, then the chute opened up fully and we were really floating.

It was finally quiet, and we could hear each other. I yelled, “holy shit!” My instructor laughed. She got me to grab onto the straps that control the chute, and showed me the position for landing. Shoulders, then boobs, then hips, or something. I remembered the motion from years ago.

There were some neighborhoods under us, but mostly golden fields. It was a beautiful view.

I abandoned the straps for a minute to fix my t-shirt and shorts. The straps had hiked everything up when the chute opened and I was in for a very unflattering landing photo. I did my best to scoot the straps down, but I did appreciate how snug they were. :) We did a few turns. I was hesitant to turn too sharply because I was afraid to go into a spiral. My instructor yanked at the straps a little harder to hang a left.

It happened really fast. We were approaching the landing field, and I could see the first two pairs had already landed, and another pair was approaching the field below us. I also saw Verne standing with his camera, and he was moving towards the spot we were closing in on. The ground was approaching. I lowered the straps to my shoulders, and tried to lower them more, but my instructor told me to wait. I didn’t know what to do. We were coming in fast and I started to panic. Worst of all, I didn’t have any sense of how fast we were going. I put my legs down and thought I could do a running land. The moment my foot hit the ground, I heard a pop, then I landed us front-first into the ground. After we finished skidding, I thought that overall it wasn’t a terrible landing. It could’ve been much more undignified. At least we made it. Even in that second I knew I was kidding myself, something was wrong. I felt sharp pains in my ankle and started shouting. My instructor sat me up and rubbed my back, and tried to comfort me. My ankle was swollen. I was letting out nervous cries of pain, and I told Verne we should go to a hospital first.

David and Verne lifted me up, and as soon as my foot left the ground, I knew it was dislocated. I flipped out, and put my legs down. David suggested I rest one foot on top of the other, and that’s how we got to the car. I was relieved to be stable, and relieved that I might be seen by a doctor soon. My instructor was able to remove all my straps without moving me. The whole interaction was so awkward, like “thanks for the dive, but now I’m all broken….” I asked for her number, so I could update her on my situation. It might’ve come off like I wanted to sue her. I don’t know, I really just wanted to tell her what the doctor said. Even then I hadn’t written off skydiving, or her. In the back of my mind I knew I was in for a long haul. At that moment I was just really bummed out that we couldn’t proceed like normal people into the limo and go back to the HQ and write messages in Sharpies on the walls and pick up Brittany’s skydive video and reminisce all the way home.

Instead, we drove to a nearby ER, which was too full to take me anytime soon, so we decided to book it to Oakland, where Verne’s parents, who are doctors, could help me find speedy ER care.

The drive was quiet, and really no fun for anyone. I was holding my ankle onto my other ankle in the front, while Brittany, David and Rusty the dog slept in the back. It was really hard for me to hold still for that long. I had to shift occasionally, and what freaked me out way more than pain (I was still in a little shock so it wasn’t a big problem) was the fact that my ankle bone started to stick out if I didn’t keep it splinted to the other ankle. It was a nerve-wracking two hours. We were nicely distracted by an NPR debate on whether science refutes God.

Eventually we made it to Oakland and Summit Hospital (al-hamdulillah!), where I got wheeled into the ER, and was seen within a few minutes. I was loaded onto a bed and given a splint, and over the next hour they got my x-rays done and I even got some morphine. It was lovely. The doctor told me I had broken my tibia and fibula, which I gathered was worse than just breaking one. I broke both my ankle bones?!? He told me I would need a surgery because I was so unstable, and they would need to put some plates and screws in.

Oh, sweet Jesus that sounds intense. I remembered my uncle had a lot of hardware put in when he broke his femur in two places while skiing. This must be a cakewalk compared to that, but I didn’t see myself ever having metal placed inside me to stabilize my bones. I have really strong bones. I just…didn’t expect this to ever happen.

Whenever a nurse or doctor came in, they’d ask, “so what happened here?”
I said, “a Groupon.”

That means trying something new because it’s irresistibly cheap.
“Maybe I’ll stick to happy hours.”

Eventually I was wrapped up in a new split and sent home. I wasn’t crazy about the idea of going home with broken bones and waiting for my surgery. My impression was that broken bones need to be stabilized right away, otherwise they’ll heal all wonky. I was told that the swelling needs to go down first. An exception would be if I was in excruciating pain, which I wasn’t.

So we went home to Verne’s, he stacked four pillows on his bed for elevation, and here I’ve been for the last eight days, elevating, watching movies, practicing some Arabic, and thinking about what I can do once I’m off pain meds and able to think again. It's been a smooth week of really good care, and I'm so blessed for that. The Verne’s found me an ankle expert, who saw me on Tuesday, and operated on my ankle on Thursday. I have great insurance from my parents since I’m still 25, and every time I say “it was skydiving,” clearly it could have been worse. 

The worst part of breaking my ankle is that I had to interrupt my Arabic studies. If this hadn’t happened, I would be in my 5th week right now. If it had been a milder break, I might have still been able to continue, but the pain and severity of the break are keeping me on my back, with my leg up until my next doctor’s appointment. I hope to hear good news. Until then, my biggest fixation is on how to stay comfortable. I’m adjusting my pillows every other minute, and I always settle on pretty much the same position, flat on my back with my right knee bent over four pillows. If the pillows aren’t right under my knee, my casted foot will roll off the pillow to my right. Try keeping your feet pointing up while relaxing completely. It’s damn near impossible!

Anyways, I’m only a week away from the break, and four days away from the surgery, so I think I’ve done really well. The pain is under control. Today my biggest problems were a stiff back and cabin fever.

I’ve been reading a lot of message boards and blogs about broken ankles. The breaks really range. Some people just fractured  their fibula, and went straight to a cast, and some people shattered their ankles into several pieces, and underwent a few surgeries with more hardware than I had.

Finding this blog made me really grateful for the internet, aside from all the healing tips I've found. This post got a lot of comments from people who seem to have found these kindred broken ankle spirits for the first time, and were really grateful to know they weren’t alone in feeling depressed and emotional during their healing.

The mental side of recovering from recovering from ankle surgery

One blog I found really interesting was this one. This woman didn’t have any insurance, so she had to jump through so many hoops and delay her surgery for three weeks. That would have really made me crazy. It was a really interesting window into our health care system. I’m so thankful for my insurance.

Diary of my broken ankle hell

Thursday, June 20, 2013

.استاذة من الجزائر و هي تحب عن تغني. انا و زملائي  عملتنا هذه الاغني من مصر في الاول يوم. 

هذه الأغنية هي المنومة.

Helwa Ya Baladi

غنوة حلوة و غنوتين حلوة يا بلدي
أملي دايما كان يا بلدي اني ارجع لك يا بلدي
و افضل دايما جمبك على طول
و ذكريات كل اللى فات فاكرة يا بلدي؟
قلبي مليان بحكايات فاكرة يا بلدي؟
أول حب كان فى بلدي مش ممكن انساه يا بلدي
فين أيام زمان قبل الوداع

كنا بنقول ان الفراق دة مستحيل
و كل دمعة على الخدين كانت بتسيل
مليانة بأمل ان احنا نبقى موجودين
 فى بحر الحب على شطين

كلمة حلوة و كلمتين حلوة يا بلدي
غنوة حلوة و غنوتين حلوة يا بلدي

Link to translation

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

انا تعبانة كثير.


Last words...

Yesterday morning I signed a pledge that I wouldn't communicate in anything but Arabic for the next eight weeks. Today is day #2 and I just couldn't help myself. I had to get out a few last words. It feels like being swallowed up by a giant tidal wave, and wanting to tell someone how insane and beautiful that tidal wave is.

Truth is, it is an insanely beautiful thing to be living with a few hundred people who won't speak English with you. It's disorienting, and awkward, and fantastic in a way I couldn't have foreseen.

 The Language Pledge has turned this campus into a strange social experiment, where people choose to speak in Arabic and sound like toddlers rather than sound their age in their native language. That's basically the trick to nailing a language, but you'd think college-age humans would be too self-conscious to pull this off 24/7. Even in the dining hall, when you're surrounded by young, interesting people, you have to accept the fact that you're not going to learn 1% of what you want to learn about them unless you step up your speaking skills. It's refreshing to see that kind of commitment, and vulnerability.

One of the most confusing things here is that most of us don't look like Arabic speakers. It's going to take another few days before I'm used to walking around campus, seeing a white person, and instinctively saying "marhaba," "ahlan" or "keef halek al-yom?"

We have six hours of class during the day, and around five hours of homework at night. I've never been so jazzed to study in my life.

 My goal is to emerge from this program an Arabic speaker. I don't know exactly what work I'll find myself in, but the ability to communicate effectively with Arabic speakers is something I value highly, and I think it's good for the world. I think my speaking Arabic is good for the world, at least in my experience, whether in the Middle East or in the States, it brings joy.

 I have an IndieGogo campaign set up to help me cover some of my tuition costs. If you'd like to help, you'll receive some calligraphy from me, with your name, your friends' names, and/or a prayer/blessing in Arabic. You can also request a phone call where I serenade you with Egyptian or Lebanese tunes. Here's the link!: Morgan's Arabic-Learning Adventure

I'll be updating periodically here, but for non-Arabic speakers I'll have Before and After videos of myself being interviewed at the beginning and at the end, in August. The difference should be clear, inshallah!

Thank you all, and surely ashufkom badain (see you later!)

Monday, June 17, 2013

T minus one night.....

Ashufkom badain actually means "see you all later..."

See what I mean.....this is going to be HARD.

                                          The possibilities are endless......

May the Pledge be with you...

Tonight was convocation for the language schools that are starting now. I think it's just Arabic and Japanese. The vice president of the language schools gave a very lengthy speech which, while at times I was like, why are you giving a synopsis of a book about a Russian interpreter, was overall really engaging and funny.

He wrapped up the speech by talking about the Language Pledge we were all about to take, and quoting Obi Wan Kenobi, sort of.

"The Pledge is what gives the Language School its power. It's an energy field created by all students and faculty. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the Language Schools together."

Basically, speaking English after today is like going to the Dark Side. He got a good laugh out of that.

It felt pretty daunting, sitting in an auditorium with 300 or so students, knowing we're all about to plunge into awkward communication for a while. It feels like we're all going to be without light or something.

The closest comparison I can make is going on a silent retreat. I imagine some will go crazy. Well, here goes!

W Hala La Wein?

Last night everyone in the Arabic school gathered in the Music hall to watch a film. It was a Lebanese film called W Hala La Wein? "Where do we go now?" 

When the director started it, there were only Arabic subtitles. Everyone immediately burst out We're going to watch this whole movie without subtitles? I wasn't faring much better than the Level 1 students, the colloquial Lebanese made almost no sense to me. Somehow it was funny and sad, that we all (ok, almost all) of us needed subtitles. The director promptly switched it to English and everyone chuckled and then, applauded wildly. 

I'm looking forward to the day when I can watch it again without, but I'm glad for the translation. It was beautiful, and hilarious, and I might have cried.

Talking about what TV shows we're going to watch on our last night before the Arabic pledge...

Game of Thrones, Freaks and Geeks.....

Fear of speaking a new language

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Two nights at Moishe

Last week, I went to the San Francisco Moishe House to attend a discussion hosted by the New Israel Fund. The discussion was about Israel's borders-what are they? what do they mean?

Call it infiltration, call it what you like. I'd been told by a young Jewish activist friend (who is also a kick-ass local musician) that the New Israel Fund, while being Zionist in nature, attracts a lot of people who want to hear different points of view and meet people with on-the-ground experience in Palestine. It made a lot of sense to me...the NIF crosses the green line more than any other Zionist organization I know of. They partner with Breaking the Silence, a very controversial group in Israel, to say the least.

It was a group of about twelve, all ages, very intimate, very respectful. Despite my initial anxiety that I would be dismissed for not being Jewish, I felt like I melted into the conversation like butter. At least I tried to mimic the facilitators by listening well and voicing peoples' thoughts back to them. It put my mind at ease that the facilitators were trying to push the boundaries--"you said the existence of the security Wall felt ironic--what made you say that?"

We looked at pictures of the Wall, and political cartoons from Arab and Israeli media.

There were some differing opinions in the room, there was an Israeli, an American or two with Israeli citizenship, and the rest American Jews, save for one guy my age who looked African-American and at one point described himself as Native American. It put my mind at ease to have him there, talking about his experiences with his Palestinian friends, and their obviously very different experiences with the Wall.

Even so, halfway through the discussion, I was bringing a glass of wine to my lips and I realized I couldn't keep my hands from shaking. I tried to put the glass down without wobbling it.

Really? I was that nervous?

I talked more than most. I had a lot to say about Area C, and demolitions, and traveling around the West Bank. A little later on one of the guys stopped mid-comment and looked at me and said, "Morgan, do you think it's Apartheid?"

"Umm, wow!" I stammered, instinctively trying to protect myself from I don't know what, and sheepishly laughing at everyone around the table. Maybe I was just shocked that someone had appointed me answerer of that question, in front of the group. Someone had just given me authority.

Then I got a hold of myself. "Umm, yes, I do. In the West Bank, I do think it's Apartheid."

I listen to people like Noura Erekat and Rebecca Vilkomerson. They're not just good public speakers, but they have their talking points stored away for all the questions and criticisms that follow. It takes a lot of memory to be outspoken on this issue, and to be respected. I got a small taste of that, and I still couldn't keep from shaking, because I'm not Jewish or Palestinian and I'm afraid of offending people.

At the end, we went around and talked about what we learned today. One of the guys, a house resident somehow brought up the MUNI bus ads that said "End U.S. aid to Israel" or "Boycott Apartheid Israel", and there was a lot of confusion in the group about where those ads came from, and there seemed to be a bit of dismay and a little scoffing too. I said the ads came from American Muslims for Palestine, with the support of Jewish Voice for Peace, and that at future meetings I'd be happy to have a discussion about different forms of activism, because I've been involved with campus divestment and church divestment, and it'd be great to sit down and debunk some of the myths associated with BDS. In any case, some of my friends would be engaging in the summer conversations and they'd be more than happy to talk about BDS.

That was it, I just threw it out there. Maybe BDS didn't sound as foreign, or scary when I said it. In any case, there was a handful of people who couldn't say they didn't know any BDS activists who cared enough, like they did, to show up at a group discussion. 

The take-away from the evening was that I felt like a valuable part of that conversation. One of the women said at the end that she heard from people, like me, who had experience on the ground. As I was about to leave, the young ladies who just seemed like awesome people and were facilitating the discussion thanked me for coming and asked me some more questions about my time in the West Bank. I got invited to a storytelling session with NIF. One of the Moishe House guys invited me back for Shabbat dinner the next night.

So I went back the next night. It was a full house, there was singing and breaking of bread, then we all ate, drank, mingled, and I had a lot of good conversations with a handful of people, who gave me their cards because want to see the website....again, I felt validated, like that was a place I could keep going back to.

This was my favorite interaction:
Me: Oh, you just got back from Birthright! Did you like it?
Guy: Hahaha, umm, yeah! Doesn't everyone love Israel?
Me: (same damn nervous laugh) Well, there are a lot of different opinions...

Then comes the "wait, you're not Jewish?" part. 

I imagined trying to explain this to my Jewish activist friends. Was this a refreshing experience for me because I'm an outsider? Was it something they considered to be much more stressful and exhausting?  Quite likely.  One of my friends told me it was painful for her that major parts of her Jewish life were severed-namely mainstream communal Jewish life, and her peace and justice work. That's why belonging to Jewish Voice for Peace was a point of healing and reconciliation.

Was it an unspoken rule that those kinds of Jews were unwelcome at institutions like Moishe House? One of my friends in Chicago had been disenchanted, he doubted that the conversation could broaden there. Best to continue activism from the outside. But many people do have the energy for working from the inside.

From what I've experienced after two nights, I have the energy, and growing confidence to do this a bit more....


In retrospect, I'm still glad I went, but I wished I had brought up in the discussion how problematic it was that there were no Palestinians present. The experience reminded me of this panel at the Cambridge Union that one of the Israelis backed out of for that reason. Honestly, it's icky to have a real discussion about the Wall when you're not the one being walled in.

The Wall was built by arrogance. That one people can build a wall on another peoples' land is so arrogant that it needs to be shamed. The Wall, the act of building it, and our own attempts to discuss it around a living room table over hummus. Again, again, I felt like I didn't do quite enough.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Human after all.

I heard a familiar 80's song on the radio yesterday, and have been binging on it ever since.

I thought the song was called "Human After All." I thought it might be by Tears for Fears.

It's actually "Something About You" by Level 42. If I were more savvy with my smart phone, I would've used that song-finding App while the song was playing. I think it's way more satisfying to Google the lyrics and follow the "what is that 80's song that says human after all called?" message board. There's a sense of camaraderie in it!

While I listened to this chunk of 80's cheese, I thought about the NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden. When I read this article in the Guardian on Sunday, the biggest thing I felt was relief. I was relieved that there was a human voice calling out from inside of what looks like an out-of-control machine, that his voice made it into a newspaper and people were calling him a hero. It's sad that it took this long for someone to speak up, and for people to pay attention (now that it's not mainly Muslims and activists being targeted) but the world felt a little more human because of what Edward Snowden did.

In other news, this video is a trip. The main guy's resemblance to Heath Ledger's Joker is crazy.

Level 42 - Something About You (Official Music... by fort55

Now, how can it be
That a love carved out of caring
Fashioned by fate could suffer so hard
From the games played once too often
But making mistakes is a part of life's imperfection
Born of the years
Is it so wrong to be human after all?

Drawn into the stream of undefined illusion
Those diamond dreams, they can't disguise the truth

That there is something about you, baby, so right
I wouldn't be without you, baby, tonight

If ever our love was concealed
No-one can say that we didn't feel
A million things and a perfect dream of life
Gone, fragile but free
We remain tender together
If not so in love
And it's not so wrong; we're only human after all

These changing years, they add to your confusion
Oh and you need to hear the time that told the truth

You know, there's something about you, baby, so right
I wouldn't be without you, baby, tonight
Because there's something about you, baby, so right
I couldn't live without you, baby, tonight

Something about you, the way you are, so right
I wouldn't be without you here tonight
There's something about you, the way you are so right
I couldn't live without you here tonight

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Before There is Nowhere to Stand

Last week I went to the Pena Cultural Center in Berkeley, to a poetry reading called Before There is Nowhere to Stand. Most everyone read a poem out of that compilation of poems. The writers are Palestinian, or Jewish and/or Israeli.

Some of the poems I found really powerful. The first poem was by a Palestinian, and the second by an Israeli. The first was about memories-of childhood, and family. It was really sweet. The second was about dividing Jerusalem (you take the dates, I'll take the figs) and the absurdity of separation. I really liked them both.

There was a Darwish poem too. Now I wonder what Darwish would have thought of his poem being in there.

People bare their souls in their poetry. The words can be so honest, and so raw. So how could you tell someone that their honesty, and their confession isn't enough? That allowing their words in this anthology could be misleading, and even harmful?

I looked for the poems I liked on Google, and found a few of them posted on The Velveteen Rabbi. One comment really resonated with me:

Thank you for sharing, these are both breathtaking poems. One thing that I was struck by in your juxtaposition of them here is the sense of equivalence evoked. Both poems begin with incredible tenderness and beauty and end with horrible violence. Reading them together suggests that there is a fundamental sameness between Israeli and Palestinian experiences of violence. I find this both profoundly true--when someone you love is killed, does the context really matter?--and also very troubling, because I believe the violence is unequal, both statistically and structurally. Clicking through to the book's site, I found some of my thoughts mirrored in Vivien Sansour's critique, which I'd encourage others to read. (Viven's letter is below)

Reading that allowed me to articulate what I'd been feeling. I was uncomfortable listening to a Darwish poem being read intertwined with an Israeli poem. Two poets, one line here, one line there, one line here, one line there. I was sitting next to a Palestinian friend who had just arrived. I'd heard his poetry at the Nakba day event, and thought he'd like to see this event. Sitting next to him and listening to this back-and-forth made me squirm. It sounded silly, the partnership. Carthartic for one poet to talk about fear and emotions, while imaginably mounted on top of the other.

I felt a strong connection to people at this event. Some are friends, Palestinian and Jewish/Israeli Americans with a long history of activism and family connections in Palestine/Israel. I can't claim to have either. Some of the poems didn't sit well with me...but how can I say the event wasn't enough? Several of us had a wonderful lunch and tea afterwards, and talked nonstop about Palestine and activism. I was completely at ease with everyone. So how can I complain?

I wasn't going to mention any of these questions here. But as I was looking for the poems I liked, I read a review of the book from Lost Horse Press, which includes Vivien Sansour's letter, "in lieu of an introduction." Vivien writes:

Unfortunately, I do not see myself participating in such a context. Perhaps I would if one day justice is served and we are in a state of reconciliation. However, this reconciliation whether through poetry or otherwise is not possible at this point. As I would like to describe it, it is like having to sit down with my rapist and understand his pain while he is still penetrating me.

I knew I had to include her letter, if I was going to mention the book at all. How would the poetry reading have been different, for better or for worse, had someone had gone up on stage and read these words? I think they're important, and something that everyone in the audience could have understood and appreciated.

Especially in Berkeley.


"Vivien Sansour gave permission to print her correspondence in lieu of an introduction, along with two of her poems. Even as the editors do not assume there to be a singular Palestinian or Jewish “voice,” Vivien’s letter may echo opposition and challenge normalization. Because what is absent is as telling as what is present.

from a Letter from Vivien Sansour
Dear Joan and Grace,

Please accept my sincerest apologies for being so late in responding to you. I have been reading the manuscript and really struggling with it to be honest. For the sake of full integrity I would like to share with you a couple of things. I do not feel a just representation and I am afraid that in the context of an unfortunately misunderstood political reality the anthology, although I know and trust that it is well intentioned, perpetuates an idea that I am very uncomfortable with and that is of framing the situation as two people who just need to get along and who just don’t understand each other.

I have been discussing it with my dear friend Ayelet who is a former Israeli soldier and currently lives in Los Angeles as she refuses to return to Israel and have her kids serve in the army. We had both performed poems we wrote to each other in the past and we have found that, unfortunately, the reality of a military occupation becomes clouded when the message of “bridging gaps of understanding between two people who just don’t get along” is perpetuated. In that spirit, I write you with my deepest regrets because I feel I cannot participate in your anthology; not in an introduction nor with my poems.

As I was making my trip from Jenin to the U.S. (via Jordan because I, like most Palestinians, am not allowed to use the airport in Tel Aviv) our car was stopped on the road by an Israeli checkpoint and we were forced out of the car and made to stand in the cold for half an hour. After being humiliated and screamed at by a young Israeli soldier (move, stop, walk, go back) we were finally let through to make it to the bridge to cross with thirteen different checks and stops in Palestinian-only buses that we were stuffed into like animals. It is hard for me on a personal level as well to compare and equate my experiences in the same context as my oppressor.

The poem for the people of Sderot, for example, makes it look like we all suffer from the same demon of fear. While all human suffering is awful, in the grander political context there is a political force, a powerful military force that the people of Sderot are supported and protected by. They are part of a system that is systemically and slowly exterminating an indigenous population. Not to mention that Sderot is a settlement built on stolen land. The people of Gaza are imprisoned with no access to sea or land to run away to even.

I do not want to focus on these details, I just want to explain why in the struggle to achieve justice, which is the only way to peace, I am growing more and more convinced alongside my Israeli and international colleagues who are also struggling for justice, that it is important for us to present the situation as it is: A military occupation and not a conflict between two people. Jews, Muslims, Christians have lived together in Palestine before 1948 and it was not until a European colonial project was started in the beginning of the 1900s that we started “not to get along.”

Unfortunately, I do not see myself participating in such a context. Perhaps I would if one day justice is served and we are in a state of reconciliation. However, this reconciliation whether through poetry or otherwise is not possible at this point. As I would like to describe it, it is like having to sit down with my rapist and understand his pain while he is still penetrating me.

My only regret is that I have taken a long time to come to this conclusion and I am afraid I have caused you an inconvenience in your process. But I would have also done you injustice to write an introduction that would not be in integrity with where I stand nor with how I think the struggle for justice is best served.

Silent Frisco, Ocean Beach

Recent presentations

On Sunday I presented at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in San Carlos, and yesterday I presented at St. Andrews United Methodist Church in Palo Alto! I'll have some pictures up soon. Both were small groups, which allowed for a lot of discussion, and it was a real pleasure getting to sit in on the Lutheran service as well. Holy Trinity is a lovely community, as is St. Andrews.
Washington Alliance for Middle East Peace
I'm crossing my fingers that my student loan comes through in time to start Arabic school this summer. The program starts in 10 days.

We just received an e-mail from the program asking if we'd like to observe Ramadan. Several faculty will be observing, and some students usually choose to observe.

I responded and said I would. What an amazing experience.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Pamela Olson's book tour


Just recently I moved to SoMa, South of Market street. It's a warehousey part of town where a lot of cafes, studios and clubs are opening up. There's also a fair amount of graffiti, but nothing like in the Mission. Here are some pictures I've taken walking around the neighborhood recently.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Bay to Breakers

Bay to Breakers is a huge street party/run/walk in San Francisco. It reminded me a bit of Mardi Gras, but for a few things:

Due to the hills, floats have been deemed unsafe at B2B.
San Franciscans are more fit than New Orleanians. San Francisco also has hills, and New Orleans does not.
B2B has more costume diversity. It's more like Halloween than a Carnivale/Mardi Gras.
B2B has public port-o-potties. Mardi Gras had people making money off their private potties. Needless to say there was a lot more public urination at Mardi Gras.
San Francisco has open container laws, and they're more or less enforced. Gatorade bottles and Camel Baks were the disguise of choice. There is no hiding of booze in New Orleans.
Both are more than LGBTQ-friendly.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Nakba Day commemoration

Today I went to a Nakba Day event at the Arabic Cultural Center. There was music, poetry, discussion, snacks....

It was nice to hear Arabic again. I was happy to understand a lot of it.

I heard a lot of personal testimonies. One person's family was from Jeruasalem (Sheikh Jerrah) and his family lived next to abusive settlers and his father had to leave Palestine and re-apply for a visa every three months for the last five years. Such is the life of a Palestinian in Jerusalem. What's more, the family found out their descendents were Jewish, and had converted to Islam around 1200. What an oversight...this family embodies Judaism more than the scores of fanatical settlers who show up on Shabbat to harass the non-Jewish residents into leaving. What a shit-show.

One song was called Al Rozana. Several people in the room were singing along, which was really heart-warming, especially hearing the low murmuring male voices. They were supporting the female singer, she was the center of attention.

After the event I went to get coffee with some of my new friends, and we wondered what the song meant. I found this description on-line at

The song "Al Rozana (ع الروزانا)" is a folk song native to the region of the Levant or بلاد الشام, ie Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine. The story behind it is that at the height of the intense wheat famine that the region experienced at the beginning of the 20th century, and Italian ship called "The Rosanna" was said to have been sent carrying food to the starving population of the Levant. Everybody was waiting in anticipation for the ship's arrival, but when it finally landed as the story goes in the song, it was carrying nothing but apples and grapes, on of the foods that the region was actually overflowing with at that time. The people cursed the ship for this reason.

Here are the lyrics.

Oh the Rosanna, the Rosanna, everything good is inside her
What has the Rosanna done?
God punish her!
Oh the Rosanna the Rosanna, all happiness is inside her
What has the Rosanna done?
God punish her

Hey you who are going to Aleppo, my love went with you
Hey you who are carrying grapes and on top of that apples
Everyone is with their beloved and my beloved has gone
Oh lord, may the breeze bring my lover back to me

عالروزانا عالروزانا كل الحلى فيها
شو عملت الروزانا ألله يجازيها
عالروزانا عالروزانا كل الهنا فيها
شو عملت الروزانا الله يجازيها
يا رايحين ل حلب حبي معاكم راح
يا محملين العنب فوق العنب تفاح
كل من حبيبه معه وأنا حبيبي راح
يا ربي نسمة هوى ترد الولف ليا

Panel at Stanford

Hada yom at-tinain, ruhet al jamia Stanford u shuft.....panel discussion an democratia Israelia.

oof. this is hard.

On Monday, I went to Stanford University to see a panel discussion on Israeli democracy.

The panel was Rebecca Vilkomerson, director of Jewish Voice for Peace, Joel Beinin, professor of History, and Hatem Bazien, professor of Near Eastern and Ethnic Studies at UC Berkeley.

The J Street representative cancelled the week before, so all the panel members were pretty much in agreement. I'd heard Hatem speak at the Students for Justice in Palestine conference in Ann Arbor last fall, and I'd heard Rebecca speak at the Jewish Voice for Peace conference last month. They talked about how non-Jews operate within Israel-proper, and the West Bank, and Gaza. How Israel is a democratic state for Jews, and a Jewish state for everyone else. They talked about the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement as a way to exert pressure on Israel when the diplomats have failed.

I really enjoyed listening to Joel Beinin talk about Israel/Palestine from a global perspective. How power shifts, how movements play was really calming.

Like...this has happened before, and this too...shall pass. 

Listen to history.

اسمع على التاريخ

It's really funny typing like a fourth grader again, with my two index fingers. 

Anyways, well done Stanford SPER (Students for Palestinian Equal Rights), they had a whole week of events planned, including a talk by Miko Peled, and a Palestinian lunch at the cafeteria. I'm glad I went down to Palo Alto.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013


I've had this blog for three years, and this is my first attempt to post in Arabic.

I have Arabic on my keyboard. I just have to get used to it.

اهلا و سهلا في موقتي
(that took me 1 minute and 30 seconds to type)

ana ismi morgan, u ana sakan fi san francisco. fi tafulati, sakanat fi yaban u al-hind kaman.

darasat allugha arabia wahad sana, fi jamiati, u fi brnamej fi amman.

sakanat fi falasteen thaman shahur, fi qaria zaghira. talamet arabia amiya hunak. haket arabia fellahia.

ana biddi ahki arabia quais. andi mushakil ma astaqdam al waqat l'udrus kul yom, u biddi amares al muahadatha.

ana mabsuta ktir ashan andi al fursa l'udrus hada soif fi brnamej mnih.

kul al-tulab sakanu fil jamiya, u bnaghdaresh nahki wala kalam bil ingleezi fil kul shaharain.

bas andi aher mushkila. al brnamej ghali ktir, u khalastu al-scholarship-at.

kul yom biddu mia u thamanin dolar, u fi sitta u khamzin eyam fil brnamej.

Kul usbua fil brnamej, sa'amel video ashan yimkanu yshufu taqadami.

Welcome to my website.
My name is Morgan, and I live in San Francisco. In my childhood, I lived in Japan and India too.

I studied the Arabic language for one year, in my university, and in a program in Amman.

I lived in Palestine for eight months, in a small village. I learned colloquial Arabic there. I spoke village Arabic.

I want to speak Arabic well. I have problems with using the time to study every day, and I want to practice conversation.

All the students live in the university, and we can't speak a word of English for the whole two months.

But I have another problem. The program is very expensive, and the scholarships are finished.

Every day costs $182, and there are 56 days in the program.

I want to find people to support my studies.

Every week in the program, I will make a video so you can see my progress.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Lovely Day

On Wednesday I went to the Students for Justice in Palestine weekly meeting at UC Berkeley. It was a great group of people. We all went around and introduced ourselves and said why we were there, and what superpower we want. One guy before me nabbed mine-the ability to freeze time and get everything done that you need to do. I think most of the time that would mean taking a long nap.

We also played Palestine Jeopardy, which officially made it the best activist meeting I've ever been to. What artist recently cancelled his performance at the Friends of the IDF Fundraiser in LA? Stevie Wonder!

Anyways, it was great to soak up that energy, and volunteer some future time to their tabling, flyering, event-attending...they're showing 5 Broken Cameras next week, and having a discussion with people who've been to the demonstrations against the wall in the West Bank. That would be really interesting to go to, I could find a lot of mutual friends there.

Here's a trailer for the documentary about the Berkeley SJP passing their divestment resolution. I haven't seen it yet but it looks fascinating.

"This not only student politics. What you are doing is taking place in the real world...."

"Pressure Points" trailer from Metier Productions on Vimeo.

Conversations of people walking by me at UC Berkeley:

"I just put some tofu and vegetables and sautee some brown rice..."

"And then you your mace..."
"Nah I have a taser"
"Good job! I'm not even gonna, wow..."

"And they were all eating crab, I guess that's like, a big thing..."

After the meeting I walked around campus a little bit. Around the main square there was an a capella group singing to passersby. That was really cool to see, and it made me miss my old grup in college. They were singing this song:

I didn't even know there was a version after Bill Withers, and how I could've possibly missed this 90's gem....

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Wadi Fouqin

Last week I had the pleasure of meeting with the Save Wadi Fouqin group in Alameda, across the Bay. Save Wadi Fouqin is a mission of the Buena Vista United Methodist Church in Alameda, and they have a great group of people, led by Pastor Michael Yoshii, advocating for the little village that sits in the path of Israel's separation wall. I didn't know that the village has an alliance with an Israeli town just across the line. The wall threatens to cut that connection.

It was great to talk about advocacy and social media and play off each other's energy, and now I'd like to promote their Lenten campaign!

40 Days of Love.

I love Wadi Fouqin because.....

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Pastor Shawn on Mardi Gras

I had to post this because Pastor Shawn (from my old congregation First Grace) is shouting out my home city.

It's weird to see people posting pictures from Mardi Gras on Facebook, and not being there. I only celebrated one Mardi Gras in New Orleans, but I still feel like I own it.

But this is well-said. Everyone owns Mardi Gras.

“Your Cadillac ain’t no hipper than my bus stop.”
The gospel according to native son,
Mac Rebennack (Dr. John)
Fat Tuesday People,

And so the story goes (and it may just be that...)
You may not know the name, Paul Allen, but surely you know his business Partner Bill Gates.  The two of them founded one of those little tech companies—Microsoft.  In a chance conversation this week, I was told the story like this…Mr. Allen, who now owns the Seattle Seahawks and just about anything he wants to own, brought himself and 300 of his closest friends to New Orleans the first weekend of 2013 Carnival to celebrate his birthday.  All stayed at a posh downtown, St. Charles Ave Hotel.  So good so far…Somewhere on the first Friday night of parading, Mr. Allen called for limo service for himself and friends.  How do you convince someone from Seattle with a million dollars in his back pocket that no personal treasure can stop a Mardi Gras Parade, but rather that Mardi Gras Parades, and sometimes just one brass band in the street can stop a whole fleet of Cadillacs.  Mardi Gras reality affects us all differently, but at some magical moment we all realize we are just another reveler looking for a pottie.  It’s not that Mr. Allen does not own Mardi Gras—he does.  But, he owns Mardi Gras like a kid with a ladder owns Mardi Gras.  We all own Mardi Gras. 

There is so much more to say, but for now…it is 11:58 PM.  Tomorrow on Fat Tuesday, my nine year old daughter will be dressed up like a “butterfly bird” in a handmade costume (thank you Adrienne Rathert), my 6 year old son will be a “reading egg”, my 29 year old wife is still working on three different costumes trying to decide which will weather the weather best, and I will be “the man in purple.”  Tomorrow we will wiggle our way through a city in which nearly all forms of commerce have been suspended, and static, worldly relational boundaries that no law can change will be gleefully grayed.  Revelers will pose for pictures, children will feel like queens and kings and joy will be the language.   It’s not heaven, but it is Mardi Gras.

Be good to yourself and happy Mardi Gras,
Pastor Shawn

Saturday, February 9, 2013

I'll Cover You

I watched the second half of RENT on the elliptical today, starting with this scene. This is the one that always gets me verklempt.

My dad took me to see the show when I was a senior in high school and I became obsessed with it and memorized the soundtrack. When I got to college there were a few girls on my dorm floor who'd done the same, and we had Take Me or Leave Me and La Vie Boheme singing sprees.

I don't remember when the movie came out, but my dad and I went to see it, and at the end of I'll Cover You, where Collins and Angel kiss, the row of boys behind us erupted with "ahhhhh gross, ohhhhh man, that's so nasty, duuuuuude."

My face went red. I wanted to smack them. Why did they even want to watch this movie?

How about love, measure in love....

Tuesday, January 29, 2013


Today on Facebook I saw a beautiful picture. It was a picture of the village of Buqayah, in the Northern Galilee. My friend Hanna was from there. 

 Even now when I think of destroyed villages, hundreds of destroyed villages, I think of scattered houses, shacks, tin-roofed barns, like Bedouin communities. There's an emotional detachment to those images, and legal uncertainties about land ownership, and if and when the paperwork changed with the regime....

But you see an image like this and it's so scenic, it's like a movie. It's colorful. Nurit Peled-Elhanan really had a point when she talked about Israeli schoolbooks and the depictions of Arab life as colorless, or brown and yellow. 

Look at this picture! 

It looks like a screenshot from a movie...about the Holy Land. This is the Galilee. And this community was forcibly re-written. How can that be Holy?

Here's a description I found from the document linked below:

Hanna is from the village of Buqayah, in the Upper Galilee inside Israel
Proper. On the maps of Israel the village is called Peqiin, or Ancient Peqiin,
because New Peqiin is now a Jewish settlement built on land originally part of
Buqayah. The village has been inhabited for millennia and, recently, a cave was
discovered with ceramic coffins, skeletons, and artifacts that date back seven
thousand years. Hanna grew up there, in a small community of five different
religious groups: Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Druze, Jewish, and Muslim.


I first met Hanna at a coffee shop in Wallingford, a Seattle neighborhood.  I was meeting with Ed Mast, a long-time Seattle activist who got the "End U.S. to Israel" bus ads put up. Ed had met his wife while they were ISM activists in Palestine. Ed reminded me of my politics professor at Whitman. I liked Ed. 

His friend Hanna was there too, and when Ed took off, I found myself alone facing Hanna, going "umm...hey, so...where you from?"  

We ended up talking for two hours. I didn't know much about the situation of Palestinians with Israeli citizenship. Some call them Israeli Arabs, some call them '48 Palestinians, they're often exploited to prove that Israel is a democracy. I mentioned that to Hanna and he said, "you want proof? I'll give you proof..." and he listed off several ways the system discriminates against non-Jews. I remember one: he has a number zero at the beginning of his ID number that sets him apart from Jewish Israelis. There were many others, anyways, I learned a lot from Hanna, and found out he spearheaded the Team Palestine soccer team in Seattle. I filmed them practicing and playing at the All Nations tournament in Tukwila a few weeks later. 

After I saw the picture of his village, I went back and Googled Buqayah. I found Hanna and Ed's theater project about a destroyed village. Their play actually got a lot of exposure.  Read's an amazing story.  

The play, titled Sahmatah, was performed in Seattle and around the Pacific
Northwest in 1996. In 1998, Sahmatah traveled to Israel/Palestine, to be performed
on the actual stones of the village itself.
The project began five years ago.

The story of Sahmatah

Also, check out the movie The Time That Remains. It's about a Arab family from Nazareth, from 1948 to today, and it's fantastic. 

Oh Jesulein Suss

When I went home this Christmas, my parents were looking at a German hymn in their Carol book. It's an old family favorite, and my mother wanted us to sing it as a Christmas present for her aunt, who's recovering from Leukemia. It was the first time we'd attempted something classical together, but we're all choir nerds, so it only took a few sessions in front of the piano to get it down...

At first I didn't find the song that interesting, but when we got all four parts together, I melted like buttah.

The words are so sweet too. God comes down from the heavenly kingdom to be like us softened the German language to me. I've sung in German in choir and lessons, but I don't have a strong relationship to it, unlike my parents. I still find it aggressive a lot of the time.

Michael was coming up from California to meet the fam on Christmas day, so I told my mom he could record us and help us Skype our song out. We were just deciding on whether to sing the words or sing on "doo's" and I suggested that yes, on the day my Jewish boyfriend meets my family we should bust some German out in 4-part harmony...

 "Dad, what's the literal meaning of Himmel reich?"

"Umm...heavenly kingdom."

"K...just checkin."


I'm trying to publish as much of my footage as possible, even if it's in bits and pieces.

My favorite videos are of kids....




Friday, January 25, 2013

Fool in the Rain

This is my favorite Led Zeppelin song. I learned it on piano in high school, but never got a real jam going on that end part. It's kind of like a tongue twister though, by the fifth time around it sounds like jibberish...

Yesterday was very, very interesting. Michael had signed himself up for a Bay Area meetup group called Yalla Arabi, which had advertised a screening of The Law in These Parts in San Francisco, and he said we should check it out! I was surprised, because joining that group is something I would've (or should've) done, and also because halfway through the last Palestine film I took him to (Five Broken Cameras), he looked at me and said, "you're not going back there."

I knew he meant to the demonstrations, so I assured him that Bil'in had calmed down a lot since the movie was made. I couldn't lie and say I wouldn't go back. I just tried to watch the movie from the eyes of someone who'd never been, and after the screening, I got Iyad to give him assurance that Bil'in is actually a nice place, and I was well taken care of there.

So we went to see the Law in These Parts. I was looking forward to getting some good legal background on the occupation. Most of the movie was a series of up-close interviews with Israeli military judges from the 80's and 90's.

In the end, it didn't stick with me that much. A little way through the movie I realized the target audience was Israelis, and what I learned from the judges was mostly swallowed up by the absence of Palestinians. The makers of the film had determined that they weren't in the scope, that it had to be done a certain way, and I tried to understand their vision. I tried to think, "if I were an Israeli and didn't know a lot about the Territories, I would need this information presented to me in this way...." like when Israel was credited with giving occupied Palestinians the chance to petition the Israeli High Court, I understood it was more than a fact, we were meant to put the occupation on a pedestal so we could scrutinize it more clearly.

 I tried to put myself in that mindset, to see fairness and balance as a tactic, to appreciate the candor, anything to forget the personal tragedy that wasn't shown, and may not have been felt by the target audience. I tried to remind myself of why the humanity of Palestinians wasn't really in the scope....

When the interviewer read testimonies from prisoners who had been tortured, it went on for minutes, showing videos of prisoners blindfolded and lying in strange positions....mostly the camera was tuned in on the judges' stoic faces. When asked if he knew there was torture going on, one of them said, "yes, of course I knew!"

I saw my friends. I saw countless friends of friends, and Ashraf, and Saed, and Souli, who never told me everything. I saw their families, mothers, brothers, friends, that I knew...and that fact that they weren't on the screen smiling and working and arguing politics and smoking argheela and eating maqloubeh and lamenting the slowness of head was too small a space for all of that, so I cried. Michael held my hand, and I kept crying.

One by one, the interviews ended and the ex-judges unclipped their microphones and got up from their chairs, after which they must've headed back to their houses and gone to sleep. I wondered if they slept the same or worse that night.

As the credits rolled I pulled myself together. We chatted with the girl who was sitting next to us. I'd recognized her face from her profile picture, she had organized the Yalla Arabi group. We learned that her grandfather was from Jaffa, and he'd been expelled to Nablus, but she'd never been to the Middle East. She'd been in the Bay Area her whole life, and was a photographer now. I told her I was interested in an Arabic lesson, and we talked about activism and politics as she drove us back to Michael's car.

We reviewed and discussed and argued and as we drove across the Bay Bridge and back into the East Bay, he said, "I still feel guilty for what we've done."

"Why do you feel guilty?"

"I can't help but say we..."


"What did you think about all this before we met?"

"That it was just a bunch of crazy Arabs and crazy Jews fighting each other for hundreds of years. I still kind of do, but at least now I know what the Palestinians have been through..."

"You thought the Israelis were crazy?"

"Yeah. That's why I didn't go on Birthright. A conflict goes on for that long, there has to be something wrong on both sides..."

Though my head was still swimming, careening up a suburban hill in the dark gave me a strange sense of peace. Who was inside these houses? We dodged around their fenced-in fortresses, through that neat little mess of slumbering humanity....I would always have one foot on the other side of the globe, but here I could put my thoughts to rest a bit. Until tomorrow.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

New blog to check out

Hey everyone!

My former student Urwa just starting his first blog! His voice is so important because he's an activist in the Jordan Valley while all these demolitions are going on.

Check it out:

Valley of Jordan-Urwa's Blog

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Shed A Little Light

One of my favorite songs :)

Today I'm meeting up with the Rebuilding Alliance team and the founder of Canaan Fair Trade! We're going to talk about how to better promote their Fair trade olive oil in the Bay Area. I lived so close to Canaan Fair Trade in Al Aqaba, it would've been about 30-40 minutes to Burqin, Jenin. I'll have to go next time!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Area C sumud projects

(sumud means steadfastness)

Pay attention to these peacemakers! Not only do these efforts help Palestinians stay on their land, but they invite internationals and Israelis to engage with these communities as well. Bringing people together on the ground, building bridges of trust, all that good stuff...

I've been to three of these places, and hope to visit more (and promote more) on my next visit! 

Al Aqaba Village (Tubas)

The Al Aqaba kindergarten and Rebuilding to Remain housing program were funded by Rebuilding Alliance in San Mateo. Since its kindergarten was built in 2003, most of the village has been under demolition order.  In the last two years, the Israeli army has demolished homes, two barns and two major roads (three times). The village continues to plan and build, even after its third master plan was rejected by the Civil Administration. No actions have been taken against the village in the last nine months (save for two live-fire trainings in and around the village), but since November, up to 1,000 Bedouin camps and small villages have been evicted and those people are still displaced.

Susiya Village (Hebron)

Susiya is a village of tents and caves in the southern part of the Hebron Hills. Its residents have been forcibly evicted four times, and the village is right now under another demolition order. Since their legal battle began in 1986, the 60 original families are now down to half of their original number. Rabbis for Human Rights and Israeli and international human rights groups and activists are supporting the village against the Israeli government and settler movement, which are trying to claim the southern Hebron Hills for Israel.

Hope Flowers School (Al Khader, Bethlehem)

The Hope Flowers School teaches non-violence, citizenship, social and community skills to children aged 5-14. It also works with trauma-recovery and special needs education. In 1999, the school was issued with a demolition order because of its proximity to the proposed Israeli separation wall. After submitting reports, attending meetings with the Israeli Civil Administration and continuous international pressure, the order to demolish was rescinded. The school applied for an Israeli building permit the same year and was successful, but the fee for issuing and validating the permit was beyond their capabilities, so they were unable to obtain the permit.

The directors of the school are still in a legal battle with the nearby expanding Israeli settlement of Efrat. The Israeli separation wall has isolated the Hope Flowers School and now prevents Israelis from visiting the school, which has been known as a home for peace education with bridge-building programs that have reached out to thousands of Palestinians and Israelis.

Canaan Fair Trade (Burqin, Jenin and farms all over the West Bank)

Canaan Fair Trade exists to benefit the farming communities of Palestine. “Before we began, farmers here were selling their olive oil for 23% less than it costs them to harvest it (8 sheckels per kilo). Now, that we're able to sell our oil around the world, our growers are earning 22 sheckels per kilo, enabling us to earn a living from the farm crafts our families have practiced for generations. Our motto is "Insisting On Life". A number of solidarity communities sell tree sponsorships and the Trees for Life project is solely funded by grassroots movements abroad. This project helps offset the enormous destruction of olive trees by the Israeli occupation army in Palestine.”

Tent of Nations (Bethlehem)

 Tent of Nations is a Palestinian family farm located south of Bethlehem. It is owned by Daoud Nasser (below), whose family has owned this land for four generations. His grandfather registered his land with the ruling Ottomans and the Nassars still have the original deeds of ownership from the Ottomans, the British and the Jordanians respectively. In 1991 the Israeli military initiated proceedings to expropriate the Nasser’s farm, which happens to be located between two Jewish settlements in the Gush Etzion Block.

 Despite Daoud’s irrefutable proof of his family’s ownership of the land, the legal battle over it has stretched on for well over two decades – and the Nassar family has spent over $140,000 in legal fees to date. Last May, the Israeli military issued demolition orders because the Nassers added some minor but essential additions to their property. Thanks to an international solidarity campaign, they were granted a stay by the Israeli courts. At present, their case is ongoing in the Israeli courts. In the meantime, the Nassar family has used their land to establish “The Tent of Nations” an inspirational center that provides arts, drama, and education to the children of the villages and refugee camps of the region. Daoud and his family have also established a Women’s Educational Center offering classes in computer literacy, English, and leadership training. Many pastors and rabbis are familiar with Tent of Nations as a primary destination for Encounter – a well-known educational program that promotes coexistence by introducing Jewish Diaspora leaders to Palestinian life.

Wadi Fuqin Village (Bethlehem)

Caught in firefights along the armistice line between Israel and Jordan, the village was twice demolished and in 1954, its residents forced out to Dheisheh refugee camp in nearby Bethlehem. Thirteen years later, Israel had occupied the area and began investing in settlement projects that swallowed up residents’ agricultural lands. Today, Wadi Fukin has grown from a population of several hundred to more than 1,238 people, surrounded on three sides by towering Jewish-only settlements built in part on the village’s confiscated land.

The series of walls, towers, barbed wire and patrol roads that Israel is erecting around Palestinian communities in the West Bank is slated to run along the fourth side of the village, placing Wadi Fukin in an isolated enclave. Buena Vista United Methodist Church in Alameda, California kicked off their Beehive Project in August 2009, and as of February 2010, 23 beehives have been sponsored for the cultivation of honey as a means of economic survival.

Marda Permaculture (Marda, Salfit)

The Marda Permaculture Farms seeks to address the local economic crisis at an individual and community level by promoting a range of Permaculture techniques so that Marda residents can more effectively provide for their own basic needs. It practices sustainable design principles and techniques such as rainwater harvesting, water and energy conservation and small scale organic gardening. In addition to providing training for the local community, Marda Permaculture Farms aims to develop a sustainable income stream through permaculture training courses for a wider international audience.