Tag Archives: TEDxRamallah

TEDxRamallah

So does a whole world, with all its greatnesses and littlenesses, lie in a twinkling star. And as mere human knowledge can split a ray of light and analyze the manner of its composition, so, sublimer intelligences may read in the feeble shining of this earth of ours, every thought and act, every vice and virtue, of every responsible creature on it. A Tale of Two Cities

Well, Saturday was an exhausting day at TEDxRamallah, a day to inspire and educate and share ideas. So I got up at 6am, got ready to be at the bus by 7am, to take us to Bethlehem. Of course, this being Palestine, the buses didn’t leave until close to 7:20, and stopped twice in the first half hour to pick up people who were late to the original bus lot. Then, on the way, when we were close to Bethlehem, our giant bus pulled over to the side of the road, close to a monastery and a large hill… and waited. Our bus driver got out to smoke a cigarette, of course, and there were crowds of people standing outside from other buses/vans. But we couldn’t figure out if there was something significant about the site? And of course no one on the bus knew what was going on either. So after about 15 or 20 minutes of just chilling, our bus driver got back on the bus and we continued on our way.

The event website had stated that registration would close at 9:25 and the doors would close at 9:45 sharp in order to start the event on time at 10am. We arrived at 9:30 at the beautiful Convention Palace in Bethlehem to the longest line I could have imagined! Organization is not the strongest point of events here, so there was just one line for hundreds of people to pick up their badges and event bags from the poor 4 or 5 volunteers. So we waited… and waited… And finally got our badges and bags, and then went to get coffee and find seats for the event to start… an hour late.

But once the event started, it was interesting to say the least. It wasn’t exactly what I was expecting – from the tedxramallah website, it stated its purpose to showcase inspiring stories of Palestine. And there was a great speaker list – Steve Sosebee, the founder and CEO of the Palestine Children Relief Fund; Alice Walker, the first African American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize; Suad Amiry, architect and founder of Riwaq and author; Huwaida Arraf, co-founder of the International Solidarity Movement and many others. Entertainment performers included Rim al Banna, DAM, and spoken word artist Mark Gonzales.

The videos are all online and there are plenty of blogs and tweets about each act, but a few highlights: Huwaida Arraf made everyone cry, I think, as she remembered Vittorio Arrigoni, someone she personally knew and worked with, the Italian activist who was just killed in Gaza. Mohammad al Dahshan is an Egyptian who blogged about the revolution from the beginning. He encouraged us to remember, from the big picture of the revolution, that it was made up of stories from each person who decided to participate. Julia Bacha, documentary filmmaker best known for the film “Budros” about the nonviolent movement in the village named Budros in Palestine against the separation wall, gave a wonderful talk about cognitive dissonance and the importance of being aware of when new information is trying to take hold in our minds given our preconceptions. Khaled Sabawi, president of MENA Geothermal, gave an entertaining presentation on geothermal processes for heating and cooling houses. Alice Walker spoke about her ordeal at the Allenby border crossing between Jordan and the West Bank, which is controlled by Israelis, and how she spoke to her Israeli soldier interrogator like she would to her son – “Do you know what you’re doing? This [occupation] isn’t good for you.”

It was a good day, I’m glad I went, and I hope next year’s is even better. If the goal of the event was to tell stories from Palestine or share the struggle of Palestine to the outside world, I’m not sure I would call it a success. Many of the speakers would say, “well, but you know about that already, as Palestinians, so I won’t talk about that,” whether they were speaking about the Wall, or the checkpoints, or the degradation or humiliation of the occupation… but most of the outside world who might have been streaming these videos don’t know about those things! But, I think there were inspiring stories and stories about success despite the hardship of the occupation and good ideas for the future. I wish there had been more time in between sessions or at lunch, because even though I ran into a few people I knew from outside my usual social circle, it would have been interesting to meet more people. Plus, we made our insanely large badges with our pictures and three key words for people to come talk to us about! Could have put those to good use.

Then, after the event ended an hour after it was supposed to, since it did begin an hour late, we hopped in the bus again and headed through the narrow and windy Wadi al-Nar (Valley of Fire) to get back to Ramallah, around 9:45pm. Exhausted, but having promised friends I would join to watch the Real Madrid-Barcelona game, I met some friends at a restaurant, pigged out on food because the TEDxRamallah conference food was so poor, and then sat sleepily through the game.

Not the best picture, but the only one I have from the conference!

Palm Sunday in the Holy Land

Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it. Rumi

It was quite a weekend! Friday, some of us went to the beach in Tel Aviv for the day, after an arduous wait at the Qalandia checkpoint. It was Friday, the day for prayer, so it’s usually a crowded day at the checkpoint, but we thought we had left early enough to dodge some of the traffic, but we stood in line, in that degrading place with hundreds of other people, waiting to walk through turnstiles to walk through a metal detector to show your passport to some of the rudest people you’ll ever meet and then finally walk through another turnstile to walk on the other side. After a little bit more than an hour of waiting, we were through and enjoyed as best we could the rest of the day at the beach and the yummiest place to eat – the Old Man by the Sea in Jaffa, just south of Tel Aviv.

Saturday, we attended the TEDxRamallah conference (though held in Bethlehem because the venue in Ramallah is under construction). It was an interesting day and I’ll blog about it soon, because it deserves its own blog post, but look here to watch the speeches online. Some of the best talks were Alice Walker, Suad Amiry, Khaled Al Sabawi, Huwaida Arraf, and others.

But yesterday was Palm Sunday, commemorating Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem before his death. In Jerusalem, there is a procession from Bethphage on the Mount of Olives to St. Anne’s Church in the Old City. Bethphage is where Jesus picked up the donkey to ride into Jerusalem. So, some friends and I left Ramallah around 11:30 and … got stuck at Qalandia, again. We didn’t even get to Jerusalem until almost 1:45.

The Christian community in Palestine (Kairos Palestine) has issued a statement decrying the lack of freedom of movement for all religious pilgrims who wish to be in Jerusalem to celebrate the Holy Week – see it here. The statement points out that ‘in every country that respects (and practices) freedom of worship, they do so without ‘restrictions from the governing authorities.’ It bemoans the fact that the occupying power has denied access to Holy places of worship to both Christians and Muslims. Kairos Palestine decries the unjust and one-sided policy which compels Christians and Muslims to apply for permits to enter while Jews continue to have free access. At best, not more than two or three thousand Palestinians Christians will receive entry permits.

Once in Jerusalem, we cabbed it to the Mount of Olives, to Bethphage, where we joined the thousands of others gathered on the sidewalks to wait for the procession to start. Then the procession started, with a group of priests leading the way, then the scouts groups (so cute!), and then the masses of people trailing behind. The sight of all of the palm fronds waving in the air, the groups that brought music instruments and were singing, the very atmosphere of starting the Holy Week in the Holy Land, was phenomenal.  There were also some of the greatest views of the Old City from the Mount of Olives, looking clear over to the Dome of the Rock.

So we joined in the procession!

There are a couple other pictures that won’t load, so hopefully I can post those tomorrow. These pictures don’t do justice to the living and vibrant atmosphere, the music and drums and loudspeakers, and choirs singing, and the huge variety of nationalities and languages you could see and hear. It was electric.

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!