Home sweet home

“Madness in great ones must not unwatch’d go.” Hamlet

It feels great to be back in Ramallah after a solid 4 days on the road. And yet, catching up on news makes me as confused as I felt during my time traveling around Israel. First alerted by Nicolas Kristof of the NYT to this blog post written by Martin Peretz, the editor-in-chief of The New Republic, where he states, “But, frankly, Muslim life is cheap, most notably to Muslims. And among those Muslims led by the Imam Rauf there is hardly one who has raised a fuss about the routine and random bloodshed that defines their brotherhood. So, yes, I wonder whether I need honor these people and pretend that they are worthy of the privileges of the First Amendment which I have in my gut the sense that they will abuse.”

It makes me really sad to read statements like this made by influential, and not even politically right-leaning, Americans. I’ll leave you to your own opinion but I think it’s important to read.

And it ties in with my confusion of traveling to Haifa, Akka, and Nazareth in Israel and finally to Jenin and back to Ramallah in the West Bank. It is such a beautiful country, with so much to offer, and it’s so hard to reconcile the present-day with the ongoing tension and conflict over the land. I saw places over this past weekend that most Palestinians are not allowed to travel and see.

Haifa, view of the Mediterranean Sea from the Baha'i Gardens

But, like everything here, there’s no use in planning, really, because nothing will ever turn out like you plan it! This time off for Eid was perfect for a weekend of traveling… if it hadn’t also been Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year! This meant that all public transportation in Israel, as well as all shops, car rental agencies, and pretty much EVERYTHING was closed. For Thursday-Sunday. As we left Thursday morning for Haifa, we realized that we were somewhat screwed. A rather surreal situation ensued, where we wandered the streets of West Jerusalem trying to find transportation to Haifa, without much luck. We finally found a cab driver who would take all 5 of us (another problem, as most cabs only seat 4 people!) straight to Haifa for a decent price. Our cabbie turned out to be a wonderfully nice Arab, who spoke to us in Arabic most of the time (I was so happy to pretty much understand about 85% of what he said!). He drove us straight to our hostel (thank God, since everything on the streets was closed for Rosh Hashana!).

I’ll give a little recap of our cities:

Haifa: port city on the north coast of Israel, a really big, sprawling city and very cute old neighborhoods. Home to the Baha’i Gardens a staircase of 19 terraces extending all the way up the northern slope of Mount Carmel. The classic golden-dome Shrine of the Bab was covered for renovation, so I think our pictures are more subdued than usual.

Looking up at the Baha'i Gardens from the street below

Haifa also has beaches!! I spent a lot of time at the beach, forgoing other sightseeing activities in Haifa, for some mental rejuvenation. Very much worth it. We went to two beaches, one was much better than the other, but I only took pictures of the first, less good, beach.

Beach!

Other fun things ensued, but really the city was pretty much shut down for Rosh Hashana and then Shabbat. There’s a significant Arab population, though, so we found many cafes on the streets on Thursday night for drinks and nargila. And we were in Haifa for the first night of Eid, which was lots of fireworks and noise on the streets!

Akka: A beautiful, old, Arab city just north of Haifa. We were only there for about 4 hours to meet up for dinner and walk around a bit, but I really loved the charm of this walled-in city. It was also the second night of Eid, so really crowded and busy with everyone in the streets, eating, and laughing, with camels and horses and all parading around or being raced with young little boys bouncing along on top!

Akka!

We had dinner at this fantastic restaurant situated on top of the wall that surrounds the Old City, looking out over the sea. It was glorious to have good, local seafood.

Not the restaurant but looking out over the wall of the Old City

Nazareth: I loved this old city. We stayed at this fantastic hostel (shameless plug for Alatabeh Hotel), went to the Basilica of the Anunciation (where the angel Gabriel told the Virgin Mary she was pregnant with Jesus), walked around the Arab market in the Old City, and had a delicious dinner in an old Ottoman mansion. But, the majority of our time was spent at our guesthouse courtyard, drinking and smoking nargila and talking politics with the owner and employee and other guests. Another post will come after I’ve thought through what I’ve heard this weekend, but needless to say it was a fascinating experience.

The guesthouse courtyard!

Statue depicting the angel Gabriel telling Mary she will carry Jesus

Then, the last day of our trip we needed to get to Jenin, in the West Bank. Yikes. Needless to say we walked a lot, were confused a lot, unsure of which bus to take, unsure of how to really get there, as Israeli transportation will not go into the West Bank. It even consisted of an Israeli shop owner in Afula (yes, we had to travel to a third Israeli city just to find a cab to take us to the border) telling two of my traveling companions that, “You will get shot in Jenin! They will kill you!” Uhh, I feel more uncomfortable walking around Afula, which is a big bus depot city, with a billion Israeli teenage soldiers and their guns, than I would ever feel in Jenin from the Palestinians.

Jenin: Needless to say we made it, though the biggest trouble I’ve ever had at a a checkpoint to cross back into the West Bank, including about 30 minutes without our passports after the Israeli authorities took them. Jenin is the third-largest Palestinian city in the West Bank. It’s interesting to begin to comprehend the differences in the West Bank cities. Ramallah is such a bubble. You can see the more hardcore spirit in the northern West Bank. It’s hard to describe. Jenin is known to Palestinians as “the martyr’s capital.” We walked through the Jenin refugee camp, which has about 13,000 residents.

A quick side note on refugee camps. I know most people back home think of Haitian or Sudanese refugee camps when I say that. The term here is political. These official UN-refugee camps look almost like the rest of Jenin – concrete buildings, schools, streets, etc. But, Palestinians continue to call them refugee camps because it connotes a need to return the residents to their rightful homes. Most of the residents are descendants of Palestinian refugees from ’48 (the 1948 Arab-Israeli War), mostly from Haifa.

Jenin - much greener than Ramallah, though not as green as before, according to our friend who grew up there

Jenin refugee camp

It was a great city, and really nice to be back in the West Bank. For a couple different reasons we ended up coming back to Ramallah last night, which meant sleeping in my own room (pure joy!) and being able to decompress.

Sorry for the long post, and there was so much more that happened, which I’m sure I’ll post about in the coming days. More pictures posted on facebook!

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4 responses to “Home sweet home

  1. Beautiful pictures and educational commentary. This blog has been an absolute blast to follow. Keep up the postings. Everyone from the fam says hello!

  2. Glad you a had a good time traveling, I enjoyed the pictures on facebook 🙂

  3. I’m really enjoying reading you blog! As someone else trying to navigate a new culture, I’m running into a lot of the same frustrations (though in different contexts). Hope everything is going well, sorry we won’t be running into each other on the DC streets anytime soon!

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