Category Archives: Uncategorized

Nature

It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade. Great Expectations

As the weather increasingly gets better, I become less inclined to want to stay in class! Thankfully, this is the last week of class, and then I have about a month and a half of my own free time to maybe volunteer, definitely explore, travel, and enjoy myself. I have really loved my Arabic classes, don’t get me wrong, and I have definitely learned a lot from them, but as the last week winds down… I feel that common desire of all students to just.be.done.already.

So this past weekend, a bunch of us took advantage of the good weather and went out to nature (yes, the second weekend in a row for me!). Really, we hiked a little to a patch of grass where we could set up our bbq and blanket, and I looked out into the hills of the outskirts of Ramallah, and thought to myself, “How am I supposed to go home after all of this?”

There aren't any words

It was a great afternoon of sun, laughs, friends, and food. Hard to disagree with that.

Even though at one point, we were literally surrounded by sheep. There are lots of sheep that roam through Ramallah and the hills surrounding the city (it still amuses me when our service back from university in the middle of the day is stuck behind a herd of sheep just meandering their way down the road). So it shouldn’t have been a surprise to get invaded by sheep, not once, but twice, this past Saturday! And yet, sheep look really adorable in pictures and from far away, but they are kind of frightening animals when they’re that close to you – and that undomesticated! They are eating machines.

the shepherd definitely didn't care about our freaking out over the close proximity to the sheep!

Really, they surrounded us on all sides!

Even though it got quite chilly with the wind, some of us braved it out (honestly, I’m always cold anyway!) and stayed to brew coffee over our homemade bonfire (no, I had nothing to do with that construction) and watch the sunset. It was definitely worth it.

Happiness

Perfection.

Then on Sunday some friends and I went to Jerusalem, walked around the old city and a little through West Jerusalem. Surprisingly, there was no trouble at the checkpoint and life seemed back to normal (after last week’s bus bombing attack). I bought two homemade leather bags at this stall in the old city, and my friend, the bargaining queen, struck such a deal with the owner I almost thought he was going to cry (whether out of lost sales or because he was so happy she could bargain so well, I’m not sure). I got my two bags for 300NIS, or about $85 – really, in the States, each of the bags that I bought would probably have been sold for $200 each. My friend got three bags, including one messenger bag to fit a laptop and all, for 600NIS, or $170. Ridiiiiiiiculous. And amazing.

(I actually started writing this post a couple days ago and just realized I never posted it, so I’m finishing it now!) I made it through this week’s classes, finished my 15-minute presentation on Algeria in my amiyya class, and now just have my final in my fusha (modern standard Arabic) class on Monday! So tomorrow, it’s supposed to be like 85 degrees in Tel Aviv, so some of us are headed there for the beach! Saturday, I think we might head to Bethlehem in the morning, do some walking around the wall and some sightseeing, then it’s our friend’s going away party in the afternoon. Sunday… I should probably study!

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Attacks

How blessed are some people, whose lives have no fears, no dreads, to whom sleep is a blessing that comes nightly, and brings nothing but sweet dreams. Dracula

Well, there has been quite an uptick in violence recently here. To recap: early March, the Israeli government demolishes some illegal Israeli settler outposts in the northern West Bank. Israeli settlers respond, as usual, with “price tag” attacks of retribution against Palestinians who are unlucky enough to live nearby. These price tag attacks include: blocking roads, hurling stones at passing Palestinian cars and people, entering Palestinian villages and throwing Molotov cocktails at houses and cars… The list goes on. And while it may be a surprise to some, since the American media publishes usually only Palestinian attacks against Israelis, it must be known that settler violence against Palestinians is a daily occurrence.

Then came the murders of an Israeli settler family in the Itimar settlement in the West Bank. No Palestinian group has claimed responsibility for the attack, sparking a general consensus that it was not a Palestinian who committed the atrocity. Indeed, the Israelis detained Thai foreign workers, and then placed a gag order on the entire case. The assumption you have to take away from this is they don’t want information to be leaked because they don’t want the world to know that it wasn’t a Palestinian terror attack.

Then came the multiple settler price tag attacks against Palestinians, operating under the assumption that Palestinians were responsible for the Itimar murders. These included stabbings of Palestinians and other, very personal attacks, as well as the general harassment acts.

In addition, there has been a rise in violence in the Gaza Strip. Israel repeatedly conducts air strikes in Gaza, for often unclear reasons (‘security threats’), and a couple of weeks ago, the militant part of Hamas (the political movement who rules the Gaza Strip) began firing rockets into southern Israel. Hamas has had a truce with Israel since after Operation Cast Lead in winter 2008-2009, during which the Israeli army invaded the Gaza Strip, and in three weeks, around 1,300 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were dead (yes, those numbers are correct). Operation Cast Lead was so devastating to the Gaza Strip that Hamas has pretty strictly enforced a ban on rocket attacks into Israel from Gaza, in order to avoid an Operation Cast Lead II.

But, you can’t take the truce out of the context of the occupation. Militants fired rockets into southern Israel beginning a little over a week ago after an Israeli air strike killed two Palestinians. Last weekend, the rocket fire peaked, with something like 50 rockets fired from the Gaza Strip in one day. No fatalities resulted from any of the rockets. Israel of course responded with force, killing many Palestinian civilians, including 8 killed on this past Tuesday. Three were youths, 12, 16, and 17 playing soccer, and an adult relative who walked outside his house just before dying.

I’m giving this particular attack such attention because the mainstream media has failed, as it so often does when it comes to this conflict, to inform the public about the atrocities committed by the state of Israel against Palestinian civilians in both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. (A very good Huffington Post article explains this position in more detail here).

Then came Wednesday’s awful Jerusalem bombing near the central bus station in West Jerusalem (the Israeli part of the city). It’s the first of its kind in Jerusalem in something like 4 years, and a big surprise to everyone. Again, no Palestinians have claimed responsibility for the bombing, which is leading some to say that, like the Itimar murders, it wasn’t a Palestinian group who planted the bomb, though of course the media immediately spinned it as a Palestinian terror attack. Innocent until proven guilty? Not in this conflict.

Simultaneously, we see the Israeli Knesset (the Parliament) passing 2 laws that are discriminatory against Palestinians. First, the “Nakba Bill” requires the state to fine local authorities and other state-funded bodies for holding events marking Nakba (Arabic for catastrophe) Day on what Israelis call Independence Day. Secondly, the Admissions Committee Law formalizes the establishing admissions committees to review potential residents of Negev and Galilee communities that have fewer than 400 families. Even though such committees existed before the bill was passed, it legally empowers the committees to reject candidates if they do not meet certain criteria. Possible reasons for rejection include if they do not fit in with the community’s way of life, or do not fit in with the community’s “socio-cultural” tenor. There is also a third bill, which I’m not sure if it passed, that would force residents to pay for demolition costs for illegal buildings, forcing Palestinians to pay for their own eviction.

So now we have an escalation of violence in the Gaza Strip and some Israeli Knesset members arguing for the need of an Operation Cast Lead II into Gaza; an escalation in settler violence against Palestinians in the West Bank; a bombing in Jerusalem… Needless to say, I’ve stayed in Ramallah for the most part, except for our little side trip to the desert last weekend, which I promised to post pictures of, and I figure is a better way to end this depressing post.

Friends and I ventured to Nabi Musa (in Arabic, means Prophet Moses), near Jericho. It takes usually just about an hour to get there, with traffic and the roads. But, it’s so close to the Dead Sea and is so far under the sea level, that it’s usually about 10 degrees warmer there than in Ramallah or Jerusalem. The landscape is also completely different – it is desert. It’s a beautiful place and a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon!

Catching up

“I shall take the heart,” returned the Tin Woodman, “for brains do not make one happy, and happiness is the best thing in the world.” The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Well, it has been a crazy time here. I have finished my thesis for my graduate school program, hence the long absence from the blog. In addition, I only have two weeks left of Arabic classes, and less than two months left here. It’s so hard to believe everything that has happened in the past 8 months, how much I’ve learned, how much I’ve changed, how comfortable I am here, and how I’ve come to love feeling some discomfort in life …

I haven’t been doing too much recently besides writing, but I have been able to spend some time with friends. My Palestinian friend received a permit to go into Israel until 7pm at night, so we took advantage of the good weather two weeks ago and went on a Friday:

 

park in Jerusalem

beautiful weather, beautiful place

On Tuesday, March 15, there began a youth protest in multiple cities throughout the West Bank and Gaza, calling for unity among Palestinians. There have been demonstrators in al-Manara, the main city square of Ramallah, consistently since that day, and they are still there today. Each night, the demonstrations get co-opted by government forces, but violence has been limited (though still present through disproportionate force by the Palestinian security forces).

 

It took me a few tries to get this picture right, but I love it. Demonstration, Ramallah, March 15

Yes to Reconciliation, No to Division

Only Palestinian flags were flying

This is a short blog, but just to let you all know I’m alive still, and tomorrow I’ll post with pictures from Sunday, when some friends and I went down to Nabi Musa in the desert, sat on a cliffside far away from the rest of humanity, and had a nice afternoon barbeque…

Alice in Wonderland… in Palestine

“I wonder if I’ve changed in the night? Let me think. Was I the same when I got up this morning? I almost think I can remember feeling a little different. But if I’m not the same, the next question is ‘Who in the world am I?’ Ah, that’s the great puzzle!” Alice in Wonderland

Yesterday, some friends and I took a little adventure up to Jenin, in the north of the West Bank, to go see the last showing of a play at the Freedom Theater in the Jenin refugee camp. Like always, nothing goes as planned, and during our ride in the service up to Jenin, which passes through the city of Nablus, we heard that the main road in Nablus was closed because of settler disruption.

Later, we find out it was a settler rampage in protest over Israel’s demolition of homes in unauthorized settler outposts in the northern West Bank: see here and here. Just because all you usually hear of is Palestinian ‘acts of terror’ against Israelis, it’s important to realize that there is uncalled for acts of violence in the opposite direction too. Jewish extremists call these acts “price tags” – violence against Palestinians following Israeli government action to curb settlements. In yesterday’s case, settlers fire-bombed a Palestinian house and burned several cars in the Palestinian village of Huwwara before moving on to Burin, where Israeli soldiers prevented them from attacking a mosque. In addition to this, the Israeli army shut down the main road for Palestinians. Yes, this is actually all in the heart of the West Bank, but because there are so many Israeli settlements in the West Bank, there are still Israeli army checkpoints and tanks on the roads, and they can decide to shut down the Palestinian roads. Which they did yesterday. So, we had a harrowing round about trip up to Jenin, but it was absolutely beautiful scenery. All the rain that has happened in the past few months has turned what was a beautiful, stony facade into the greenest grass I’ve seen since maybe I was in Scotland.

Once in Jenin, we saw “Alice in Wonderland” put on by the Freedom Theater, which gives voice to the children of the Jenin Refugee Camp. It was a very well done production, though not what I was expecting, with lots of crazy music and lights and somewhat sensual dancing… But, all in colloquial Arabic and I was very happy with how much I could understand! Especially given the fact that I hate Alice in Wonderland and don’t really know or understand the story in English, and this was clearly a Palestinian adaptation – Alice originally ends up in Wonderland because she is running away from an arranged marriage and an abusive father.

Then, we walked around Jenin a bit, ate some falafel sandwiches, had some of the most amazingly delicious strawberries I’ve ever tasted, very local strawberries, and then hopped in the service for the ride back. We had arranged with this driver to take us back because transport between Jenin and Ramallah at night is sometimes iffy and we wanted to make sure we would get back. So, we left at about 5:30, but the driver had forgotten that he told other passengers he would pick them up at 6:30. So we stopped in this little village, called Arraba, just outside Jenin, where we had some tea at a little shop – I think causing quite a scandal, as we were the only women, sitting outside, at what I think was a men-only coffee/tea shop. Regardless, it was quite a phenomenon to have three foreign girls in this little village, so we were local celebrities if you will. We had about 20 minutes left to kill, when one of the locals came up and told our driver that he should take us up the street to the old palace of Abd al-Hadis, a merchant whose family because feudal-like during the Ottoman empire because of how much land they owned. So, adventure as always, we went up and started walking around. The town has turned this old, beautiful stone palace into a youth center, with computers and meeting rooms, etc. We met the director, who took us all around, and even up to the roof! It was amazing, and a beautiful view. Unfortunately, my pictures did not turn out very well, but here are a few:

 

From inside the open-air palace/youth center!

From the roof!

From the roof

We hopped back in the service, and again had to take a very roundabout way to bypass the closed roads. We were with a friend of mine who is from Jenin, who pointed out places along the way where he has horrific memories from the second intifada. He spoke of his time hiding in Nablus, where the Israeli army would impose 24-hour curfews for 10 days straight, meaning they would have food for two days, and when that ran out, they would have to sift through garbage for food. He pointed out buildings along the road, where he used to have to walk from Jenin to Nablus, 8 hours everyday just to get to university. He has other astonishing stories, but they’re not mine to tell. It makes the conflict hit home, however.

Finally, we got home, the service driver thankfully dropped us off right by our house. It was a wonderful, surprising, somewhat spontaneous adventure for the day!

Prague

The future was with Fate. The present was our own. The Poison Belt

Only two of us ended up going to Prague, as our other friend stayed in Budapest and we decided to meet up in Vienna. Our itinerary was to leave Wednesday afternoon at 3:30pm on a bus from Budapest to Prague, arriving around 11:30pm. The bus, one of those nice chartered buses, is actually a really good way to get around these three “Golden Triangle” cities (Budapest, Vienna, and Prague) because they’re so close to each other and the buses are so cheap!

Well, this bus had free hot drinks (hot chocolate, coffee, mochas, etc), movies, free headphones, all the works. And we were the hottest we have ever been. I don’t really know why we didn’t ask them to turn the heat down, probably because it’s the first time we’ve felt that kind of real heating since winter started here in Palestine, but really, it was almost disgusting how oppressively hot the bus was. And 7 hours of sweating later, we arrive in Prague. Actually, funny enough, my blackberry sends me text messages when I arrive in a new roaming zone, so I realized when we got off the bus that we had actually traveled to 4 countries on that one bus: Hungary, Austria, Slovakia (we stopped in Bratislava for some travelers to get on and off), and finally the Czech Republic!

Once in Prague, we went to the hostel that had been recommended to us by many friends (thanks guys!), the Czech Inn, grabbed a drink at the bar downstairs and then crashed for the night. We had planned to only be in Prague the entire next day (Thursday), planning to leave Thursday night at midnight to get to Vienna by 5am on Friday morning. So we knew we needed to get our sightseeing butts in gear early Thursday morning.

We started out with a 2 hour walking tour of the downtown, old city of Prague. Of course, we’re used to “Arab time,” so having to use public transportation and of course find our way around the city to the main square where the free walking tour was starting, we arrived about 15 minutes late. Thank goodness these guides wear bright yellow jackets and we were able to jump in without missing too much. We walked around, saw again some amazing architecture, walked through the Jewish Quarter, the old Jewish ghetto of Prague, which was an interesting contrast to think of the wall built to keep the Jews in this certain area of Prague, without allowing building or development or economic investment… and think of the wall between Israeli and Palestinian lands and the restrictions on building or development or economic investment for Palestinians.

 

Wall of the Jewish Ghetto in Prague

The walking tour was great, absolutely freezing. At this point, I had gotten used to wearing under armour under all of my clothes, layering a ton, wearing my friend’s wool coat, I stole my friend’s wool hat to wear, gloves, and two scarves, one of which I wrapped around my lower face/nose. It was a great look, but wow, it was cold. Some pictures from walking around in the morning:

 

Prague street

Famous clock tower

We took a coffee break, to warm up, after the first tour, and decided to go with the same company for an afternoon, 3-hour walking tour of the Castle District. What a great decision. Like I said yesterday, there is just something magical for me about castles! Plus, there were these amazing churches in addition to these beautiful castles, so the walking tour was definitely worth it. And, it’s up on the hill on the other side of the river from the rest of the city of Prague, so we got amazing views. Too bad it was so overcast and gloomy looking, because the pictures don’t capture it!

 

Prague Castle is that dark structure toward the back!

church within Prague Castle

Back of the church still in the compound of the Prague Castle

View of Prague from the Prague Castle

Then, after the tour ended, we had dinner, went back to our hostel to chill out until we would leave around 11pm to get to the bus station for the bus to Vienna. We get to the bus station and have to wait around for the bus to show up. This being not tourist-season, and us not having any problems before, we hadn’t actually booked anything for this trip before showing up – no hostels, no bus tickets, etc.

Of course, the bus is sold out. So we’re stranded, at 12:30 in the morning, in Prague at this deserted bus station. We’re supposed to be meeting our friend in Vienna in about 5 hours. So we get a taxi back to our hostel, get another two beds for the night, and quickly get on the internet to book tickets for the next bus or train to Vienna. All the buses for the next two days from Prague to Vienna are booked solid. The next train was going to be almost $200. We decided to cut our losses and stay an extra day in Prague and take the bus the next afternoon back to Budapest. We quickly book the last two seats on the bus back to Budapest, and go to bed. But this actually allowed us to enjoy another day exploring Prague, and we saw two phenomenally beautiful churches and had wonderful coffee and cake.

 

Church of Our Lady before Tyn - epitome of beauty!

Same church

Beautiful, same church

Again, same church

Then we walked across the Charles Bridge, which is known for its crazy beautiful statues!

 

Statue on the bridge

View off the bridge

Another statue

And another one

I’ll leave you with some more views of the streets of Prague, and another fantastic basilica we walked into. Our bus ride back to Budapest was relatively uneventful, though there were not hot drinks and it was almost just as hot on the bus as the first one.

 

Street!

So beautiful

Sigh. Basilica

So ornate

It was a wonderful, wonderful vacation, 5 days away from my usual routine, everything in the past 7 months. Neither of us had any trouble at all, so surprisingly, at Ben Gurion when we arrived at 4am in the morning, which was thankfully just a perfect ending. We came back to the most disgustingly cold, rainy, hail weather in Ramallah, but the past couple days it has been mid to high 60s and sunny. My roommate and I took a spontaneous trip to the beach in Tel Aviv on Wednesday afternoon and I actually was sweating in my bathing suit! So amazing.

So much to say!

If all the world hated you, and believed you wicked, while your conscience approved you, and absolved you from guilt, you would not be without friends.” Jane Eyre

Well, Qaddafi’s conscience seems to approve his actions, while the rest of us are left scratching our heads and wondering about his sanity. If you find a good English translation of the transcript of his speech tonight, Tuesday Feb 22, 2011, please let me know. I pity the translators the news agencies had attempt to translate his rambling tonight, but honestly, I’m still a little confused by most of his hour and a half long diatribe. And if you don’t know at all what I’m talking about, please look up here or here, (or really any news site) and put the Libyan people in your thoughts, as really I don’t think anyone can predict how far Qaddafi will go in his quest to stay in power. He is supposedly bombing his own capital city, Tripoli, and has ordered fighter jets and helicopters to shoot on peaceful demonstrators in the streets below. Fun facts about Muammar Qaddafi: he is the longest-serving of all current non-royal national leaders and one of the longest serving rulers in history. He is also the longest-serving ruler of Libya since Libya, then Tripoli, became an Ottoman province in 1551.

What else is there?! Check out protests in Bahrain and Yemen especially. Nicholas Kristof has good posts on happenings in Bahrain here.

In Palestinian news, the Obama administration on Friday exercised its first veto at the UN, vetoing a Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements in the West Bank. All other 14 members of the Security Council backed the resolution, which had been endorsed by the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization). Most likely, the Obama administration was under intense pressure from Israel and Congress, with its strong pro-Israel lobby (check out AIPAC), to use its veto. And yet, this veto risks a LOT of anger in a region and time of mass street protests. In fact, there were demonstrations on Friday, after the vote, in multiple West Bank cities against the US veto; there were demonstrations on Sunday in Ramallah (though semi in conjunction with solidarity with the Libyan people and Bahrain? I was confused, and wasn’t actually present, being in a deep coma after my exhausting but wonderful vacation). And there is a “Day of Rage” (named after the now-infamous Day of Rage in Egypt just a few weeks ago) planned in Ramallah for this Friday, endorsed by Fatah and the Palestinian Authority, against the US veto.

Some facts on settlements: There are nearly half a million Jews/Israelis who live in more than 100 settlements built since Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. They are held to be illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this (I’m not exactly sure how you can dispute this). You can check out credible sources of information: B’Teselem or the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs to get both sides of the argument, both from Israeli organizations. Or the Palestine Monitor. Or just google it.

Plus Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian Prime Minister, resigned last week, along with his entire cabinet. Most here assume it was to appease any potential protests against Fatah and the Palestinian Authority, similar to those that rocked Egypt and Tunisia and are currently rocking many Arab countries. Though, Fayyad actually resigned once already from Abbas’s government, back in 2009, after elusive power-sharing talks for reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas.

So, like I said, a lot of news to catch up on. Considering I had such a wonderful 5-day break from reality, touring Prague and Budapest! Yes, we only made it to two cities, missing the bus to Vienna as we mistakenly assumed that, it not being tourist-season, we did not need to pre-book anything. But, the trip was amazing, and expect posts in the coming days about our adventures. For now, here are some pictures of the freezing, beautiful cities.

Castle in Budapest with an unpronounceable name!

Mass graveyard at the Great Synagogue in Budapest. And yes, it snowed our first night there.

Surreal, beautiful Budapest

More pictures tomorrow, as my internet is just too slow to upload anymore!

Updates

It is a most miserable thing to feel ashamed of home. Great Expectations

Things have been very busy since school has started up again, in the middle of writing my thesis, and catching up with friends who had left for the holidays.

But probably the topic most on the mind here right now is the Palestine Papers, some 1,600 previously secret documents that al-Jazeera has obtained, a decade of meeting notes and internal documents of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Al-Jazeera has been ‘leaking’ these documents since Sunday and, while for the most part things have remained calm in Ramallah, there is a general sense of confusion, betrayal, sadness, etc. It’s important that this information is presented, and I think everyone should go and read for themselves or watch al-Jazeera’s coverage of it. The Guardian, a UK news source, has also been given access to the documents, so you can check out their articles on it as well here. I’ve heard very different opinions from my Palestinian friends, some of whom think much of it (claims that the PA negotiating team offered was willing to concede illegal Israeli settlements in Jerusalem, was willing to compromise on the right of some 5 million Palestinian refugees’ right to return, etc) is taken out of context, and some who believe that this is proof of the weakness of the PA in negotiations. Definitely go check it out.

So far, nothing has changed daily life here. Though there are mannnnnyyyyy more people just in the streets in main Ramallah (the offices of al-Jazeera were protested against yesterday in Ramallah), and a much higher police/security presence around town, daily life is continuing. I think people here feel like these Palestine Papers show that, really, Israel holds all the playing cards in negotiations, that even if the PA were to offer all of these concessions to Israel, they still refuse a deal, because Israel knows they hold all the power… I think that’s something the coverage of the Palestine Papers is missing, blaming the PA for betraying the Palestinian people, when what power does the PA have to begin with?

Between these documents, the coup d’etat in Tunisia, the nomination of the new Prime Minister of Lebanon, protests in Egypt, there has been a lot of political change (turmoil?) in the region.

Otherwise, I’ve seen two good films in the past couple weeks. One was “The Wind That Shakes the Barley,” a film by Ken Loach, about the civil war in Ireland with many, many similarities to the situation in Palestine – that a divided people will never win. Similar to claims that a British general said, during the war, that Britain doesn’t need to defeat the Irish, let the Irish defeat themselves by splitting up, that the Palestinian people, divided as they are between the West Bank and Gaza, will defeat themselves before Israel. Very, very well done film.

The second was “One Family in Gaza,” a 23-minute, extremely powerful (SAD) documentary film. The director, Jen Marlowe, filmed a family talking about their experience during the Gaza War/Operation Cast Lead in Dec-Jan 2008-2009. It’s free to watch on vimeo, so click the link above if you have time and watch it.