Musings

Fear of danger is ten thousand times more terrifying than danger itself. Robinson Crusoe

Well, I have a little over a month left here, only 4 weekends until my mom gets here and we depart for Istanbul and then home. It’s a time to reflect, definitely, and think of what I’m going to say to people that I’m leaving here and people that I’ll be seeing back in the States; to think about what I’ve done here in my 9 months and what I still want to do in my last one. It’s ironic that as I have all this time on my hands, all of my friends here are busy with work, so I’m gearing up to do some trips on my own and with whoever I can wrangle into missing work!

Two trips that I have somewhat planned for two weekends are (1) the Golan Heights, and (2) the Negev desert.

I really want to see the Golan, I’ve heard it’s the most beautiful place, and there are tons of nature reserves and places to hike and sit and enjoy the scenery. I’m hoping to go next weekend, rent a car, get some friends, and enjoy the spring weather here! It’s quite far north – right along the borders with Syria and Lebanon, so we’ll rent a car and drive, it’s about 3 hours from Jerusalem and then most of the parks and sights are within 30 minutes of each other. So, hopefully this will work out! Fingers crossed.

It’s also the two days before Easter, which I hope to go to Jerusalem for, join the masses of crowds to walk the real Stations of the Cross, where Jesus walked before being crucified at the location where the Church of the Holy Sepulchre now is. I can only imagine how ridiculously crowded it will be, though a friend told me, surprisingly, it’s usually not that crowded. We’ll see! I suppose with this Sunday being Palm Sunday I’ll also head to Jerusalem. Maybe I’ll ask around to get a feel for how Easter will be there.

I also really want to go to the Negev desert, there are supposedly some beautiful hiking trails and sights and flora and fauna (and no, I will probably not remember any of the names or be able to recognize any sort of plant that I see, but I can still appreciate its beauty, thank you very much!). That might have to be a trip on my own, because I haven’t heard too much interest from other friends on going, so we’ll see. But I find it hard to resist going to see something like this:

Makhtesh Ramon crater, photo from (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Makhtesh_Ramon)

So we’ll see how that works out. I have some free time on my hands, in any case!

And of course some day trips back to Nablus and Jenin and I absolutely have to go to Jericho, since I’ve unfortunately never been in my 9 months here, which is practically a sin.

This Saturday, I’m heading to Bethlehem for the TEDxRamallah conference. If you’re familiar with TED talks, it’s this for Palestine – bringing together inspiring individuals on stage from within Palestine and beyond from at least 10 different disciplines to enlighten us with inspirational stories of Palestine. It should be a fascinating day, so I’m uber-excited. Check out the link above, like most TED talks, I think the speakers and performers will be posted online, plus the website has this interesting section called “Palestine Stories,” which is pretty self-explanatory. Enjoy!

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Hebron

Under the yoke of our mornings
the sun crumbles
and in the darkness of our steps
our panting breath is on fire
these incomplete homelands
in which we appear to be
nothing more than prisoners of war
Ibrahim Muhawi

Two days ago, two friends (of Palestinian origin but both grew up outside Palestine) and I went to Hebron for the day. I’ve been before, it’s in the southern West Bank and is the largest city in the West Bank, home to around 165,000 Palestinians and over 500 Jewish settlers concentrated in the old city quarter. Hebron contains the traditional burial site of the biblical Patriarchs and Matriarchs and is a very holy city to all religions. This is the supposed site where Abraham buried his wife Sarah; Abraham, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob, and Leah were later buried in the cave as well. This is now the Ibrahimi Mosque on one side, and a synagogue on the other side.

To get to the mosque from the old city, you have to pass through a checkpoint. Hebron is a very depressing place. Because of the presence of 500 settlers, there are a bazillion Israeli soldiers around, and Palestinian movement is severely restricted. The city is divided into two sections – H1 and H2. The H1 sector holds about 120,000 Palestinians is under Palestinian Authority control. H2, which was home to 30,000 Palestinians stayed under Israeli military control to protect the settlers; a huge drop in Palestinian population in H2 occurred, due to extended curfews, strict restrictions on movement – there are sixteen (16!) checkpoints in H2 alone. But mostly, Palestinians moved out because of settler harassment. Just like all settlements in the West Bank, the Jewish settlers in Hebron are there illegally under the UN Fourth Geneva Convention. Israel disputes that Hebron is “occupied territory” and claims that because the Fourth Geneva Convention provides for retention of territory for security purposes, its settlements are legal. Right.

Regardless, it’s one of the saddest sights to see Palestinian restriction of movement like it is in Hebron. Palestinians are not allowed to use Shuhada Street, the principal thoroughfare. They’re not allowed. At all. In fact, the street right by the Ibrahimi mosque that leads to Shuhada Street, is divided by a large concrete barrier and manned by Israeli soldiers in watchtowers – because Palestinians are only allowed to walk on one side of the concrete barrier, which fits maybe 2-3 people side by side, and the Israelis (and foreigners) are the only ones allowed to use the actual street.

 

You can see two Palestinian women approaching Shuhada Street, where they are not allowed to walk

The Israeli organization B’Tselem has a more detailed analysis of Shuhada Street and Palestinian hardship there, click here for more information.

So, we got to the Ibrahimi mosque right at prayer time (of course!). This very nice Palestinian guy told us we just had to wait another 45 minutes or so, and he invited us to walk with him to his apartment building, near Shuhada Street, as it had a rooftop panoramic view of Hebron. He was so helpful and informative and pointed out as many checkpoints as we could see from his rooftop, and which streets were off-limits to Palestinians.

How many Israeli watchtowers can you spot?

This street is also closed off to Palestinians.

 

View of the Old City

The taller buildings across the street from the white roofs were historical Palestinian homes that are now occupied by settlers

Then, we met up with some friends (from Hebron) of my friend, and we walked to the mosque. You had to go through two metal detectors – manned by Israelis – to get to the inside. But it was beautiful inside.

 

Ceiling of the mosque

The burial place of Ibrahim (Abraham) - there was a tour group of young schoolage boys there so it was difficult to get a good picture!

After the mosque, we grabbed lunch and then headed over to the keffiyeh factory – Herbawi Textile – the last keffiyeh factory in Palestine. The keffiyeh is the internationally recognized symbol of the Palestinian national resistance, the checkered headscarf. I’ve been before to this factory, but my friends hadn’t and I wanted to buy yet another one, but an original this time.

Then, we headed back to Ramallah, after quite a tiring and interesting day, like most days here.

Easygoing life

Talking nonsense is the sole privilege mankind possesses over the other organisms. It’s by talking nonsense that one gets to the truth! I talk nonsense, therefore I’m human. Crime and Punishment

My female friends and I joke about how being female and walking through the streets of Ramallah is kind of a ego-boost. The stares, the funny comments… though the funny comments are usually only funny if they’re said in English (I’ve recounted the “Good morning, teacher,” comment I got in the middle of the afternoon in Nablus last fall). Otherwise, Arabic is a pretty indirect language, in a cultural sense. You don’t ask or request something directly. You don’t say what you mean directly. So imagine my surprise when, last week, I’m walking to class in the morning, it’s 7am, I walk by a group of shabab (young guys), just standing there watching everything go by. [Background information: the slogan in the Arab revolution protests recently has been: “alshaab yureed isqaat alnizam” – the people/youth want the overthrow of the regime”] As I walk by, one of the guys in the group says, “alshaab yureed… hiya binat!” (the guys/youth want this girl!)

I almost died laughing. I didn’t want to break out into laughter in the middle of the street, plus I had no one to share the absolute joy of such a creative pick-up line with. In addition to the fact that I didn’t want to encourage these young guys to continue their staring and making comments at women who walk by. So I laugh-coughed into my hand and continued walking to school. Needless to say, it was a good morning.

This past Saturday, some friends and I went to Bethlehem, a place where I’ve been multiple times before. But it was a very nice day, we walked through the Church of the Nativity again (we had a friend who had never been to Bethlehem before with us), and the Arab guard again let us sneak down the back way to see the birthplace of Jesus to bypass the incredibly, disgustingly long line. But Bethlehem is a beautiful, little city, and I love the fact that this man who owns a scarf/haTTa store just off Manger Square recognizes me even though I’ve only been to his store twice before (both times around Christmas time). And he still gives me a great discount.

Since I now have all this free time on my hands, I’m hoping to do a lot of traveling throughout the West Bank and Israel, little day trips and whatnot. Just yesterday, I went with some friends back down to Hebron, which I’ll write about tomorrow since it’s an intense little city and deserves a full blog post.

PS I don’t want to leave this place and the people. I’m coming home in 6 weeks with quite a scarf collection, my argileh, some beautiful jewelry, and the most amazing memories I ever could have imagined having.

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!

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!