Tag Archives: West Bank

Nablus

In our nature, however, there is a provision, alike marvelous and merciful, that the sufferer should never know the intensity of what he endures by its present torture, but chiefly by the pang that rankles after it. The Scarlet Letter

Nablus is a beautiful city in the northern West Bank. I’ve been before, but I’m beginning my final countdown of cities that I need to visit again before I leave. It’s a city that has a lot of pain and suffering from the two intifadas, and has a much different vibe than Ramallah, or really other West Bank cities.

My friend, who is from Jenin and spent time in Nablus during the second intifada, and has taken me around Nablus before, was able to join us again for the afternoon. When we first arrived, we went to this hidden restaurant that my friend had told me about – though he wagered that I wouldn’t be able to find it (stipulation: I was not allowed to ask anyone), and if they hadn’t actually recently posted a sign outside with the words “mud3am” or ‘restaurant’, I definitely would not have guessed where its location was. But, the food was delicious and cheaaaaaaaap and we ate a lot. My other friend who joined had never been to Nablus before, so after eating, we began the basic tour around the Old City, a labyrinth of alleyways and markets and houses and stores. We stopped at the hamaam, the Turkish bath, al-Shifa, which was built in 1624 to have some coffee and tea. We walked around, and as he had done for me before, he showed us the intricate alleyways that connect houses and apartments, a true maze of interconnectedness. This is one of the reasons the IDF wouldn’t enter the Old City of Nablus during its incursions during and after the second intifada, because the risk of getting lost or cornered was just too high. My friend, who lived in the Old City, said it took him 3-4 months to remember exactly how to find his house!

Then we grabbed a service taxi and went up to An-Najah University, the largest and (some argue) most prestigious university in Palestine. It was founded in 1918 as a school, then became a college, and then a university in 1977. Between 1988 and 1991 the Israeli military declared the university a ‘closed military zone’ and it was shut down. As with other Palestinian universities, when the Israeli military shuts them down for extended periods of time, the faculty and students meet for lectures and classes at homes and other private places.

It’s a beautiful campus – well, two campuses, actually, a new and old, to account for the massive number of students. There are over 16,500 students in 19 faculties.

view from An-Najah University over the beautiful countryside!

the view again. sigh.

The library - farrrr nicer than the one at my grad school!

We walked around, my friend had actually gone to university there so he knew his way around and, per usual in Palestine, all the security guards and faculty and administrative people (at least those who were there during his time there many years ago) remembered him and welcomed us warmly. Of course, we were quite a show for the actual students who were hanging around campus, two American girls taking in the sights! But it was fun, and a wonderful view of the mountains of Nablus, and it was great to see another Palestinian university to compare it to Birzeit, where I took classes.

the campus

Then of course we went back to the Old City and ate knaffeh. Having thoroughly stuffed ourselves, we hopped into the service back to Ramallah.

Back in Ramallah, one of my best friends here, a Palestinian, it was his last night before leaving for 6 weeks in the States on a cultural exchange program. Which, if you recall correctly, I will actually already be back in the States by the time he returns to Ramallah. It was really the first serious goodbye, and really very difficult to handle. I got home after saying hugging possibly for 5 minutes straight, and started thinking about all the good times we had together here, both just one-on-one time and also all the group times our friends had together, over the past 9 months or so. All of our weekly brunches at the same exact restaurant, all of our trips together, all of our movie-watching nights and hanging out at restaurant nights. Of the people here who made me feel less like a tourist, this guy is one of those who tops the list, though the list is blessedly long. I’m not really sure I’m going to be able to say goodbye to this place or these people.

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!

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.

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!