Tag Archives: checkpoint

Tel Aviv… and Gaza?

“If you could say, with truth, to your own solitary heart, tonight, ‘I have secured to myself the love and attachment, the gratitude or respect, of no human creature; I have won myself a tender place in no regard; I have done nothing good or serviceable to be remembered by!’ your seventy-eight years would be seventy-eight heavy curses; would they not?” A Tale of Two Cities

Well, there have been some adventures lately! Very unexpectedly, we got an invite to spend the night on the beach in Tel Aviv Thursday night, which of course sounded like so much fun. So we got to the beach around 2am on Friday morning. Thank goodness we had a car and someone to drive us – though we did have trouble getting through Qalandia checkpoint on our way. The soldiers picked two people out of our car and made them go walk through the checkpoint, though they were changing shifts and it would have meant waiting another at least half hour. So we turned around and went through the Hizme checkpoint, a little bit out of the way, but not too shabby. When we finalllllly made it there, it was so much fun! It was so crazy, the beach is just open for everyone to sit, drink, sleep, play in the ocean, all night long! So we swam – it was kind of cold… – and sat and had fun, and even though it felt like it was a bazillion hours that we were there probably because we didn’t sleep at all, we actually left Tel Aviv around 7am to drive to Ashqelon, a city just north of Gaza, where our friend’s brothers live.

Tel Aviv sunrise!

Ashqelon was beautiful – the beach was wonderful, really calm, beautifully clear water. And crazily enough, it was so surreal, you look down the shoreline, maybe a mile – it seemed really close – you can see the buildings of Gaza City. Not unclearly, not just the outline, not hazy, you can actually see the buildings of Gaza City. It’s so unbelievable that we’re hanging out in the ocean and you look to your left and you see the blockaded water stuff, you see military aircraft overhead almost continuously, and you hear the sirens going off every now and then.

We only stayed at the beach for two hours or so, and then went back to our friend’s brothers’ house and they cooked us the most delicious meal, and perfect food for not-having-slept-for-36-hours! Local fish, rice, homemade sauces, olives, bread… absolutely mouth-watering.

We finally got back to Ramallah around 4pm on Friday, after which I had about an hour to get ready for my friend’s going away party, but our cold water was not working! So I couldn’t take a shower without scalding burning water… which meant I took my first ever bucket shower. My roommate was very amused. It’s a very difficult thing to do! Plus, you all know I’m not the most coordinated person in the world, so it was a struggle. But our water is back on now, so hopefully that’ll be the first and last time!

Advertisements

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!

Adventure!

“That was a memorable day to me, for it made great changes in me. But, it is the same with any life. Imagine one selected day struck out of it, and think how different its course would have been. Pause you who read this, and think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day.” Great Expectations

Where to begin?! Yesterday, we went to Hebron (al-Khaleel in Arabic), which began with a most ridiculous wait at the service (pronounced ser-vees) terminal. It’s this dark parking multi-level parking garage full of orange Ford or Volkswagon vans. There are no signs, of course, so you have to ask someone (preferably a driver and not someone just waiting around – differentiating the two can be fun) where to stand depending on where you want to go. Since we wanted to go to Hebron (south of Bethlehem), we were told to wait in a corner where all these other people were going. After waiting maybe 5 minutes, a service pulls up – without any real marking except some tiny Arabic on the passenger door – and the crowd all surges forward to try to grab one of the 7 seats. Of course, all the guys push to the front and get in – and that happened for the next 4 service that came through. Finally, one of the other drivers took pity on this Palestinian girl and us, and when the next one pulled up, he pushed all the guys out of the way and let us get on – since we were going only to Hebron and not to Bethlehem. I have never been more terrified in my life. These service are ridiculous! Going 140 km/hr in a posted “70 km/hr” zone, granted no one is going 70, but still. Flyyyyying around these curves – and there’s no way to describe these roads. Up and down these hills – ummm, more like mountains – SO incredibly steep, zig-zagging up the side, maybe 40 degree angle turns. Palestinians are not allowed to use the Israeli roads, which are more direct from city to city, so we were driving on all these back roads, quite a round-about way.

But finally, we made it to Hebron, and went to a friend’s house for a traditional Palestinian dinner. It was so nice to get a home-cooked meal, some meat and rice, salad, soup. Even though not everyone in the house spoke English, everyone was very welcoming. The views were gorgeous:

Looking down at Hebron, from the house in the NW of the city

Sunset in Hebron

Then, the interesting part of the night started. Because we got to Hebron so late, we would have only had an hour there. So we stayed longer and after, we were driven to Bethlehem by one person in the family who has a Jerusalem ID and therefor has the yellow plates on the car and is allowed to drive there (another post will come about the inequities on the road). Because that was as far as they could drive, we walked through the Bethlehem checkpoint. What a maze. It’s this huge maximum security style checkpoint, multiple buildings to walk through, multiple turnstiles – and not the DC metro turnstiles, like military base turnstiles. The first ones are all controlled remotely, so you don’t even see any guards at first, you hear this huge buzzer, the light turns green, and you can walk through. (This was around 9 pm, so we waited for about 5 minutes before we could walk through the first turnstiles, there were only maybe 6 of us waiting – I can’t even imagine what this is like during the day.) Then, you put your bag through a conveyor belt just like at an airport, and you walk through a metal detector – again, controlled remotely, no guards around. Then you walk through some more maze-like paths, and finally you get to the passport check.

Once we were through, we had to grab a cab quickly to get to Jerusalem (only maybe 10 minutes away without traffic – yes, things are this close around here!), because we needed to catch the last bus at 10pm to Ramallah. Which, we did, thankfully, catching the last one as it was pulling out of the terminal station. It’s hard to believe it all happened in about 6 hours last night!

Then, because last night started Ramadan, we set our clocks back one hour for the “winter” time. It was a good thing the university emailed me about it, because orientation started today! It’s a beautiful campus, only a 15 minute drive from Ramallah (on another crazy service), set high on a hill, with just gorgeous views (pictures to come later). We have our placement exams tomorrow, then classes start Monday.

So far, I’ve only noticed that “rush hour” happens on the streets around 3pm, when all the shops and businesses close down for Ramadan. The streets were just as packed with people shopping for food to eat at iftar, the breaking of the fast after sunset. Both Ramallah and Birzeit have big Christian populations, so not everyone is fasting, but it’s still not respectful to eat or drink in public, which is easy enough to handle.

The more I see of the country, the more I love. It’s a beautiful place with a lot of history, all of it affecting the people who live here now.