Friday, April 22, 2016

walking each other home

Well, the daily blogging thing didn’t quite work out like I planned. I found that the days were so emotionally and physically exhausting that I just couldn’t bring myself to write at the end of each day.

I must look like a friendly, helpful person, because I was sitting at a charging station in the Madrid airport responding to some work emails when a Nigerian man approached me. He introduced himself as Timi and wanted to know where I was going. “Chicago,” I told him. A look of relief spread over his face. He would be flying to North Carolina, but his elderly, wheelchair-bound mother was going to Chicago. Timi wanted to know if I would accompany her, ensuring that she was able to make her connecting flight to Minnesota.

I agreed, and next thing I knew there were two other Nigerian women who were part of this deal. They had all come from Nigeria, strangers (except for Timi and his mom) sticking together to navigate the Spanish landscape of the Madrid airport.

I am reminded of the day that the Pal Craftaid ladies and I were waiting to board a bus in Jerusalem. We had spent a long day meeting with our artisan partners and were heading back to our apartment in Bethlehem for the evening. I saw a young Muslim woman approaching with a baby in a stroller. She picked up the baby – who was dead asleep – and was struggling to fold the stroller and load it into the storage compartment under the bus. In a moment of frustration, she looked up, saw me, and asked, “would you mind holding her?” “Of course not,” I said. And I held that sweet, sleeping baby while her mother got the stroller situated.

In a world where violence, mistrust, and division are widespread, it is a comfort to remember these human moments. We all have mothers. We all have babies. In the words of Ram Dass, we’re all just walking each other home.

Israel/Palestine can be a depressing place where peace and justice feel like a faraway dream. The situation is incredibly simple in some ways, and in others, overwhelmingly complex. I think this is partially the reason for my sense of paralysis when it came to writing during this visit. Always the same question: Where to begin?

Because it’s the human moments that matter most, that’s where I’ll leave you. A few of my favorites from the second half of the trip:
  • Sitting on the bus on one of our many trips to Jerusalem, eyeing with dismay a blister on the back of my heel in light of the long day of walking ahead, a voice came from behind me: “excuse me?” I turned around to find a young Muslim woman holding out a bandaid to me. “Put this on your foot,” she said.
  • Spending an afternoon with the Giacaman family: 3 brothers who own an olivewood shop at Manger Square in Bethlehem. They are part of a huge, extended family of Palestinian Christians (Catholic) who have lived in Bethlehem…well…forever. Prior to meeting the Giacaman brothers, I would have cynically assumed that most of the olivewood products sold in Israel/Palestine were made in China. Touring their ‘factory’ in the lower level of their ginormous family home/compound, however, showed me an entirely different reality – woodshavings everywhere and various fascinating and impressive stages of production, from olive branch to finished product. The really meaningful part of the whole experience was having dinner at their family home – the 3 brothers, their wives, and children (and one grandbaby). One of the brothers, Robert, shared with pride about his daughter, Natalia’s first communion just a few days prior. Laughter and good food abounded.
  • Being covered in kisses by Usama and Lorette, our hosts, and by the three elderly women whose homes we visited. These three (Naemeh, Helen, and one whose name I can’t remember at the moment) would live in poverty and isolation if not for the care of ATTA (Aid to the Aged). They welcomed us into their homes and gave us glimpses into the joys and wounds of their lives.
Now in Chicago and approaching 24 hours of travel, I am nearly home. Two of the three Nigerian women have made it to their connections – Timi and I have spoken, so he knows his mother is well and in the right place – and one final woman is still with me; her destination is also Indianapolis. We’re walking each other home.

With prayers and hope for peace and justice in Israel/Palestine, and until next time,
Robert and his daughter, Natalia
Visiting Helen, pictured with her late
husband on their wedding day
Dinner with the Giacaman family

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Day 3

Diyar graduates + Pal Craftaid representatives
This post was written on April 15.

Today was the best day we have had yet. It feels impossible to come up with a good place to start, but I’ll just stick with telling you about Alia (AHL-ya), an artisan with whom we hope to work in the future. 

Alia is a Palestinian Muslim whose livelihood is embroidering stoles (and she is GOOD at it. Hers is some of the best needlework we've seen yet.) We met her and five other female artisans today at The Diyar Consortium, formerly known as the International Center of Bethlehem, whose institutional vision is “that we might have life and have it abundantly.” This vision is coming to life for Alia ever since she participated in Diyar's free, three-year art training program for women. We loved talking with her so much that we were delighted when she invited us to come to her home after the meeting. She served us tea and tabbouleh and was proud to show off some of the art she produced while in the Diyar program. 

With Alia, modeling one of her stoles :) 
Alia gets asked a lot about being a Muslim and yet making stoles for Christian clergy. “So what?” she says. “I am a Muslim because of a Christian.”

Alia was raised as a nominal Muslim. For most of her upbringing, prayer, reading the Koran, and other practices of faith were not a part of her life. Around the age of 14, she started to learn embroidery from a Belgian nun. In the course of many years of working with this nun, Alia would see her and the other nuns doing good things, helping and teaching other women like her. "I wondered, ‘why are they so good?’” 

Around the age of 25, Alia finally asked the nun her question. In response, the nun shared about her Christian faith, and even made connections about what the Koran says. “It is one God, Alia,” the nun told her. And so Alia decided she wanted to learn about her own faith. She, too, wanted to live a life of purpose – a life of prayer, service, and devotion. “Only then,” she says, “did I really become a Muslim.”

Before Alia was born, her family lived for generations south of Hebron. Her father was the head of the village, and their family was one of the wealthiest in the area. In 1948, they, like countless other families, were driven from their home and fled to a safe place – what would become Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem. They had nothing, just a tent.

The road to Aida Refugee Camp, where Alia was born and lives
Almost 70 years later, this is where Alia lives. The youngest of nine siblings, Alia was born in the camp. Her father died when she was just two years old, and her older sister dropped out of school at the age of 9 to help her mother take care of the family.

At the age of 17, Alia’s mother told her that it was time to get married. Alia refused. “I decided I didn’t want a husband or a family. I wanted myself.” She wanted an education, and while she initially attempted to pursue a degree in English, it got too expensive and she dropped out. 

Alia with her nephew (center) and a neighbor kid
One of Alia's brothers is divorced and works in Jerusalem. At the end of every week, he comes home to Bethlehem to spend the weekend with his two sons, who live with their Aunt Alia. 

“I didn’t want to be a mother,” Alia says with a smile, “but now I am.”

But at 40 years old, she is happy. She loves the boys and the life she has built for herself. Her work is fulfilling, and she takes an incredible amount of pride and joy in constantly innovating and imagining new designs for her stoles.

“I don’t want to be rich,” she said. “I just want to live.”  

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Day 2

The Old City of Jerusalem
According to Carol’s Fitbit, we got 20,000+ steps in today. We walked ALL OVER the Old City of Jerusalem. Just after 9am, we took the bus there from Bethlehem. Twelve hours later we are back at our apartment, and sitting has never felt so good.

Talking business with the Karakashian family
Today was a mixture of business and fun. We had the entire day to explore Jerusalem, seeing a few of the sites (Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Western Wall) while hunting for new items for Pal Craftaid’s inventory. Presently, most of what we sell (at church sales, conferences, and online) is Palestinian olive wood and needlework. The most exciting connection we made today was with an Amenian-Palestinian family that produces some of Jerusalem’s best pottery, as well as handmade silver jewelry. We had a great time getting to know the husband, wife, and their teenaged daughter. Kirsten, in our group, actually knows one of their cousins, who lives in the US. Small world!

Dinner tonight was a delicious traditional Palestinian meal with Nathan Stock, who works for The Carter Center as the Jerusalem Field Office Director. Nathan’s wife, Kate Taber, is the PC(USA) Mission Co-Worker in Israel/Palestine. Kate couldn’t join us for dinner as she is currently accompanying another group of visiting Presbyterians in the Galilee area.

Nathan’s work requires that he is constantly up-to-date on the situation in Israel/Palestine from all angles and perspectives. He travels to Gaza every few weeks and is in regular contact with a number of individuals – Israeli and Palestinian – at various levels of government. In the course of our conversation, Nathan shared that there have been no conflict-related fatalities on either side in the past two weeks – the longest ‘streak’ of this nature in six months.

After a wonderful dinner, we started the journey home, having to switch taxis at the Bethlehem checkpoint due to the fact that the mobility of Palestinians is restricted according to where your ID card says you live. If you live in Jerusalem, you cannot cross into Bethlehem, and vice versa (unless you apply and are approved for a special work-related permit).

On deck for tomorrow: meeting with some of our established artisan partners in Bethlehem. 


Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Hello Bethlehem!

Day 1 breakfast. Yum!
In October 2012, I came to Israel/Palestine for the first time. I was with a group of (mostly) Presbyterians from California; our small group joined up with a much larger group of internationals and participated in the fall olive harvest.  This was a wonderful, eye-opening experience, and this blog, “Harvesting Hope Amongst Olives,” was my personal record of that time.

Almost four years later, here I am again. Not to harvest olives – which I would happily do again! – but with three fellow board members of Pal Craftaid – Carol, Sarah, and Ervin (who will arrive Friday) – and Carol’s daughter, Kirsten, who handles Pal Craftaid’s distribution. We are here to meet with our artisan partners and the organizations Pal Craftaid supports. I have decided to revive this blog in order to share experiences from the upcoming week. 

green almond (tastes about as green as it looks)
Getting here was a piece of cake up until my connection in Madrid. I initially wrote a much longer description of this, but suffice it to say that the El Al security staff must have thought I was suspicious, as all my belongings got thoroughly searched and my passport and boarding documents were held while I was questioned in a special room on and off for an hour and a half by five different individuals (at different times). At one point, two gentlemen were questioning me; they'd ask me questions in English, consult one another in Hebrew, and so on. While I had some serious reservations about whether or not they were going to let me on the plane, here I am (in Bethlehem) and I guess we are friends now because they sure do know a lot about me - my dog's name and everything. 

A view of Wi'am Center playground
We spent our first morning here having breakfast with our hosts, Usama and Lorette. Lorette was kind enough to make us fresh falafel and an assortment of other dishes, and this gave us just the energy we needed to walk to the market near Manger Square - only two blocks away but up a big, STEEP hill - and get some breakfast supplies for the upcoming week. We tried something new - green almonds - and made a quick stop at the Church of the Nativity on the way home.

Much of the remainder of the day was spent at the Wi'am Palestinian Conflict Resolution Center. In addition to providing conflict mediation within the community, Wi'am runs all kinds of programming for women, children, unemployed young adults, and more, all with the goal of helping Palestinians cope with and even thrive (as much as possible) in the context of the Occupation. From summer camps with drama and art for kids, to teaching women new skills or about inheritance laws, Wi'am strives to generate and sustain hope. It was sobering to see Wi'am's playground in the shadow of the Wall.

Zoughbi Zoughbi
Over tea and conversation, Wi'am's Founder and Director, Zoughbi Zoughbi, shared with us his gratitude for our presence and for Pal Craftaid's work. "When you come," he said, "you are telling us we aren't alone. You uplift our spirits. You walk our walk. Thank you."

Our final stop for the day was Aida Refugee Camp, located right behind the Wi'am Center. Aida was started in 1950 when just over 1,000 Palestinians from around Jerusalem and Hebron were forced to flee their homes. They lived in tents at Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem, waiting to be able to return to their homes. That never happened, and eventually the tents were replaced with cement block structures. As families grew, there was no room to expand out, so they had to build up. There are currently around 5,000 refugees living at Aida Camp, just one of 19 camps throughout the West Bank. The UN's conservative estimate for the total number of Palestinian refugees in these camps and displaced throughout the world is 4.7 million people.
Our group (minus Ervin) outside Aida Refugee Camp

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

kindred spirits

Sunday, October 21st was our last day of olive picking, at a farm in Ja'ba. Our labor force was reduced this day--a few had gone to their respective places of worship, a few had had to leave in the preceding days--but we still had a wonderful core group. Our smaller probably accomplished more, even, than we did on our first day of olive picking (when the group was at its full size) due to having gotten into a sort of 'rhythm' throughout the week. By Sunday, everyone knew what they were good at/enjoyed doing, and we all fell into our roles easily, feeling rather second-nature at this whole olive picking thing.

It was a beautiful morning. This particular farmer's trees were the type that offer plenty of shade, and as we worked our way from tree to tree, not even the settlement school at the top of the hill could bring us down (although it did play some very strange/creepy music during the breaks between classes). 

Marietta, from the US, and Marcel, from Belgium 
One of my favorite things about the olive picking experience (second to the act of helping the Palestinian farmers and their families and learning about their lives) was the opportunity to get to know my fellow olive pickers. The work of olive harvesting is more tedious than anything, but this gives ample time for conversation while stripping the branches of their fruit. I can't begin to tell you the variety of things we talked about throughout the week. Put together 40+ people from different countries, language backgrounds, religious backgrounds (or lack thereof), political persuasions, etc, and you can probably imagine that our conversations scoped just about anything and everything. In addition to this diversity of background and belief we shared a love for justice, and that was an amazing thing to have in common. It's hopeful, really. It is to find kindred spirits; to think there are people all over the world who care about these things, too...and I know some of them! 

It's an interesting experience, being one of the few Americans amongst a group of internationals. If you've had the experience you know that when people start talking about something related to the US government or foreign policy, you feel a weird sort of responsibility, even though you know that no one actually thinks that any of these matters are your fault individually. Many people, throughout the week, voiced their opinion (not directed at me or any of the rest of us from the US, just in broader conversation) that the biggest obstacle to peace in Israel/Palestine is the United States, due to our unequivocal support (financially and otherwise) of Israel, which allows the Occupation to persist. Of course, Marietta, our group (from the US), and I basically agreed, and admitted our own frustrations about this. If anything, however, this is a reminder to all of us, wherever we are from, that much of the work to be done for justice begins at home--this is probably true of many issues. 

Lorna, from England, and Heleen, from Holland
So that's how we passed our days under the olive trees--harvesting and talking. Not always about serious subjects; sometimes singing, sometimes just listening to each other, oftentimes laughing. Humanity in all of its breadth has a lot in common, you know.

For me, our last day of olive picking best exemplifies the shared fellowship among those who come together around a common cause. When our work was done and we were enjoying our lunch under the trees, I couldn't help but feel gratitude for these people with whom I got to share this experience, and gratitude for the experience as a whole. Marietta and I joked about not needing to go back to school--that we would be content just staying in Palestine and picking olives each day. How easily we forget how enjoyable hard, dirty work can be. I think we both (and probably many who came for the olive harvest) rediscovered that in the fields of Beit Jala, Ja'ba, and the other locations where we harvested.

We arrived back to our hotel in Beit Sahour in the early afternoon. Perhaps the cumulative exhaustion from the week was finally taking a toll; perhaps it was just a good afternoon for a celebratory nap that our work was done. In either case, that's what most of us did, and I realized with delight upon awakening that, for the first time in our whole trip, it was raining.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

sacred stories

This post was written on October 24, regarding October 20. Read the group blog's account of the day here.

"Do you see that man?" the Israeli soldier asked Will, pointing. "He was a terrorist."

It was true. The elderly AfroPalestinian man approaching us as we stood near the Damascus Gate of the Old City of Jerusalem, hobbling with a cane, was our tour guide for the day, Ali. During the first intifada he was part of a political group that was engaged in back-and-forth violent attacks with an Israeli political group. One day he planted a bomb in West Jerusalem which injured seven people upon exploding. Ali was sentenced to 20 years in prison but only ended up having to serve 17 years, during which time he read volumes upon volumes and left prison dedicated to peaceful resistance. He worked with a group of anti-Zionist Israeli journalists for several years after that and now spends most of his time giving political tours of the Old City of Jerusalem. 

We knew Ali's story before we met him, so the Israeli soldier's comment to us didn't come as surprising news. If anything, it was amusing, as Ali's reputation obviously precedes him everywhere he goes. The only one who was surprised, when all was said and done, was the Israeli soldier, when he realized that not only did we know who Ali was, but that it was him for whom we were waiting. After Ali joined us, we set off to explore the Old City.

Ali's heritage goes back to Chad, but he is a second-generation Palestinian and completely identifies as Palestinian. There are other AfroPalestinians, too, and while most of the outside world is aware of the Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and Armenian Quarters of the Old City of Jerusalem, few know of the African Quarter. But it does exist, and we saw it! This 'behind-the-scenes' tour of the Old City was fascinating--there is a lot that goes on that the average tourist misses. Ali pointed out several different spots where Muslims and Jews have been killed (by each other) and told us the accompanying stories of each of these individuals. 

I won't try to recount all that we saw and learned, but I will end with a brief, tense incident. We were in the Muslim Quarter, momentarily paused while a couple of members of our group were buying bottles of water. Out of no where we heard the sound of approaching voices, singing. A throng of Jewish teenaged boys was coming up the narrow street, making their way through the crowd with an old bearded Jewish man at the center of their group. As they got closer to us, we all pressed ourselves up against the walls to let them pass. Some of the Muslims around us threw things at them--an empty soda can, and something else I couldn't identify. Part of me was poised to duck away from the fight that was surely going to ensure, but the mini-parade continued on its way, still singing. Someone translated the song they were singing (in Hebrew) for us: "Thank God for giving us back the City." 

In the Muslim Quarter, no less! Religious tension is alive and well. Why did these Jews feel the need to parade through the Muslim Quarter signing that song? Why did some of the Muslim onlookers throw things at them, provoking confrontation? Where is God in all of this?

Following our morning with Ali, we spent the afternoon with Angela Godfrey-Goldstein, a Jewish Israeli woman who has dedicated her life to being an advocate and activist for the Palestinian cause. She has worked for the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions and now does a lot of work with bedouin communities (watch the documentary, Nowhere Left to Go). Angela took us to the illegal Israeli settlement Ma'ale Adumim. We passed through the checkpoint into the settlement without being searched or asked for identification…no soldier even poked their head into our bus (we have never, actually, been checked at any check point)--this shows, as Angela pointed out, that these 'security' measures aren't for security at all. They're not about security, they're about racial profiling.

Once inside the settlement, it was like we were in an oasis. Everything about it was beautiful. The perfect landscaping--green, lush everywhere. The buildings. The perfect roads. The perfect signage. Angela took us to an overlook on the top of the hill where the settlement is located, and we got out of the bus to enjoy the view of the valley (and the settlement's sparking blue man-made pond…cue everything I've said about the scarcity of water (for Palestinians) in previous posts) and to hear Angela talk more about the implications of settlements in the West Bank. Within a matter of minutes a couple of young Jewish Settlers approached our group. Angela greeted them, told them we were visiting their settlement, and invited them to listen. Only one of them ended up staying, and toward the end, as Angela talked more about the settlements, the Palestinian refugees they have created, etc, and how the Occupation is antithetical to the principles of Judaism and the teachings of the Hebrew Bible, she looked at the remaining young Settler and said, "I'm saying some of this for your benefit--I'm sure you know that." Some of us watched his face throughout Angela's talk--it appeared as though he was hearing some of this information for the first time. At the end, he volunteered to the group, "there were no Arabs here when we came." 

"You're only 17," 50-something-year-old Angela replied, not unkindly. "Of course there weren't."

I found myself thinking of that boy throughout the rest of the day. Perhaps hearing about the realities of the Palestinian narrative--from another Jew, no less--will prompt him to go home and try to learn more beyond what he learns from his parents and in school? Or perhaps he will go on as normal; he will serve in the military; his allegiance will be to Zion. One can't know. But one can hope.

After visiting Ma'ale Adumim, we next visited a bedouin community (this was a completely overwhelming day, can't you tell?). We were greeted with warm, genuine hospitality, and invited to sit in a large seating area on rugs, sort of in a large circle. We were served coffee and tea, and began to hear from one of the leaders of the bedouin community (Angela translated what he was saying for us). He told us that they originally lived well under Israeli rule until the Settlements began to be built in 1978; from that point onward, the land available for their use and became more and more constricted by fences and Settlement boundaries. 

Today, their existence is precarious. Bedouins need large amounts of land in order for their way of life to survive; they depend on being able to graze and herd their animals. But this community is surrounded by settlements (we could see one at the top of the next hill) and they are prevented from taking their animals to graze. While they used to have over 1,000 head of goats, etc, they now have just over a hundred. While they used to be able to sell the milk and cheese produced by their animals in Jerusalem daily, they now, like other Palestinians outside of Jerusalem, are not allowed to go into Jerusalem. Thus their livelihood is cut off in multiple ways. They also have been cut off from water, and sold their one car since the Israelis blocked the road entrance into their community (what's the point of having a car if you can't get it in or out?). Their one access point to water is 3 kilometers down the highway, and the women of the village make the trek to fetch water for all the people and animals daily. 

What I found most sad was the situation of the bedouin children (who make up 70% of this particular village). The nearest school is in Jericho…but the children have no way to get there. The Palestinian Authority can't send a bus for them because their village is in Area C, meaning it is under complete Israeli control. (Of course, there's a school up the hill at the settlement--but the bedouin children aren't allowed to go there). The Israelis told the bedouins to have their children walk, then, to the nearest school in Jericho…but after at least one incident of a child being hit by a car on the highway (it is a legit highway…NO parent would want their child walking on it), the children were too afraid to walk to school, and their parents were too afraid to let them. Refusing to let their children go uneducated, the bedouin leaders did all that they could do--in spite of being denied a building permit by the Israeli authorities, they built a school in their village.

We saw the school during our visit. It's a modest building made of mud and tires; there are several classrooms, all with desks and chairs. There's a small playground. They fought tooth and nail to get five teachers to teach at the school. After it was built, the bedouin leaders wanted to extend the proverbial olive branch to the neighboring settlement, and went there one day to invite the settlement's school to do an exchange program with the new bedouin school. Representatives from the settlement school visited the bedouin school soon after, and accepted the bedouins' tea and coffee and welcome into their community. But as the saying goes, no good deed goes unpunished--Three days later, the bedouins received a demolition order for their school from the Israeli government. 

Ever since, the bedouins have been fighting to save their school. "It is like a patient in a hospital," said the bedouin who was telling us the story. "We don't know if it will live or die."

olives all day and meeting Sam Bahour

Most of our days of olive picking were half days. We'd set out from the hotel at 8AM, arrive to the field, work all morning, and finally end with lunch prepared by the farmer's family. Friday, October 19, however, was our one full day of olive picking. A long day, yes, but a more fulfilling one because of it. Read the group blog's account of the day (and see photos) here.

One of the privileges of harvesting in a different location each day is the opportunity to get to know so many different families. On Friday we found ourselves at Mohamad Abu Dia's olive grove. Mohamad's family made us an extra amazing lunch, including stuffed grape leaves and other dishes I hadn't seen before. We learned that Mohamad's mother and one of his brothers were killed in the first or second intifada (I can't remember which). They were in their home in Bethlehem at the time, and the entire city was under curfew--no one could go outside. The Israeli Military was randomly shelling different parts of the city, and Mohamad's mother and brother were hit inside their home. No ambulance was allowed to come for three days, and they bled to death.

Mohamad's land is next to an illegal Israeli settlement called Efrata. When I say next to, I mean next to. I mean I was picking olives from a tree and could reach out and touch the barbed wire of the fence separating Mohamad's land and Efrata. Four years ago (when some in our group were here last), this part of the settlement was simply a 'caravan' (impermanent dwellings that are eventually replaced by permanent structures…this is how the settlements expand). On Friday, of course, the structures just feet away from the barbed wire fence were, indeed, permanent. The settlement is expanding…and Mohamad's land is under immediate threat. Four years ago, Israeli settlers came up to the fence with machine guns trying to intimidate the olive picking group, but this year, there was no such confrontation. I did see as couple of settlers coming in and out of their homes…they looked a bit puzzled to see us there on the other side of the fence, but did not speak to us or bother us at all. Maybe this is a good sign? (I'm not sure of what?). 

We arrived back to the hotel more than ready for a shower, and excited for the evening's program of meeting Sam Bahour, a Palestinian American businessman who moved with his wife from the US to Palestine following the Oslo Agreement and developed Palestine's telecommunications system, PalTel. Sam has written frequently for the New York Times and other major publications. 

We've heard many captivating stories in our time here, but Sam's was captivating in a unique way…it was relatable. Most of us in the room were either American or European…and here was another Westerner (he grew up in Youngstown, Ohio)--Palestinian, too--with a special lens through which we could see. We, too, hold passports that can get us basically anywhere…and to hear how Sam came to Palestine with his and was eventually stripped of its authority added a new nuance to our understanding of the the apartheid situation in Israel/Palestine.

When Sam came to Palestine with his wife, she already had a Palestinian I.D. (unlike Sam, she was born in Palestine). He applied right away for a residency permit and set to work developing PalTel. Without a residency permit, he had to leave the country every three months in order to be issued a new three-month tourist visa each time. He did this for fifteen years. For fifteen years, received no response about his residency permit application. Every three months for fifteen years, he would go to Jordan, usually to have a cup of coffee and then come back--never knowing if he would be let back in the country each time. Never knowing if this would be the time he had to call his family (two of their daughters were born in Palestine during these years) and say "they wouldn't let me back in." While that never happened, there did come a day--about thirteen years after originally applying for his residency permit--when, upon trying to re-enter Israel, his US passport was stamped a little differently. It was stamped with the usual three-month visa, but with an additional stamp that said "last permit" in Hebrew, Arabic, and English. At this point, Sam raised hell. The clock was now ticking and his family and business were at stake. 

After the battle that followed--fifteen years after he originally applied for it--Sam was given a Palestinian residency permit. The government officials told him to bring his US passport when he came to pick it up, and Sam complied, thinking that it was as case of needing to prove his identity. What they wanted, actually, was to stamp something new in his passport: "this person is the holder of a Palestinian I.D." With these words, most of the rights and privileges that came with his US passport were gone. While still (then and now) a US citizen, obtaining a Palestinian I.D. card changed Sam's life immediately. He immediately lost a third of his business in Jerusalem because his residency permit was for Ramallah, and he was no longer allowed in Jerusalem. The roads he was used to using he could no longer use. He could now only travel on Arab buses, not Israeli…and even the very car that he was driving was now illegal, as it had a yellow (Israeli) license plate, and Palestinians can only drive with the white and green plates (on roads designated for Palestinian use, of course). As a Palestinian I.D. holder, checkpoints that used to take him minutes to go through (as an American) would now take hours. Upon getting that much awaited residency card (congratulations?), his whole life changed. 

Sam learned from others in the Palestinian business community how to navigate his new status as a second-class human being. He learned that in order to get a one-day permit to enter Jerusalem he needed a letter of invitation from an organization there…that he had to take said letter to the permit office…that today there was a new rule stating that one must have a 'business card' (a card issued by the government legitimating one's business)…that the next day one must also have a 'magnetic card' (a card issued by the government after they make sure you're not a terrorist)…etc etc etc. These 'rules' aren't posted anywhere, and they change all the time. Lucky for Sam that he had the time and resources to jump through all of these hoops just to get a one-day permit…most people never could. He's in the process, now, of trying to get a 3-month business permit for Jerusalem. Again, he is lucky to have the means to do this. For most Palestinians, one's life and mobility are determined by which 'bird cage' one's I.D. card says one belongs in--the bird cage of Jerusalem, the bird cage of the West Bank, the bird cage of Gaza, etc. That's the bird cage you're going to stay in. If you want to marry someone from another bird cage (and actually be able to live together), too bad. If your business is in another bird cage, too bad. You're not going anywhere.

In response to a question that someone asked Sam about his view of Palestine's future, he replied that few people in his generation can fathom anything other than a two-state solution. They have too much love and hope for Palestine; too much invested in the daily struggle to be heard and to preserve the Palestinian identity. "But there is a new generation coming," he said. "My daughters' generation. There will come a day when my daughters and those in their generation will say to Israel, 'You win. It is already one state. Now give us our rights.'" 

So, it could be that the two-state battle will be given up for a one-state civil rights battle. It was obvious that Sam himself finds it hard to accept such an outcome…even I do, and I'm not Palestinian! How sad for them to have to give up, after holding on for so long. How sad for the bully to win. But perhaps there is also something empowering about admitting that it is already de facto one state; that we (Palestinians) are holding on to a dream that is increasingly (due to the actions of Israel and the inaction of the international community) impossible. So have it your way, Israel…it's already your way. And now you have to treat us as equals.

"The international community" Sam said, "can look away from a people's plea for their land and for recognition. But no one in the world can look away from civil rights."

[Much of what Sam said came to mind the other day (10/23) when I read an article written in Haaretz by Israeli columnist Gideon Levy. It can be accessed here, but I've copy-pasted the entire text below:

"As elections draw near, the season of public opinion surveys is upon us. But here is a survey that is more disturbing and significant in its revelations than those informing us whether Yair Lapid is soaring or Ehud Barak is crashing in the polls.

This one lays bare an image of Israeli society, and the picture is a very, very sick one. Now it is not just critics at home and abroad, but Israelis themselves who are openly, shamelessly, and guiltlessly defining themselves as nationalistic racists.

We're racists, the Israelis are saying, we practice apartheid and we even want to live in an apartheid state. Yes, this is Israel.

Among its terrifying results, the survey discovers a certain innocent candor. The Israelis admit this is what they are and they're not ashamed of it. Such surveys have been held before, but Israelis have never appeared so pleased with themselves, even when they admit their racism. Most of them think Israel is a good place to live in and most of them think this is a racist state.

It's good to live in this country, most Israelis say, not despite its racism, but perhaps because of it. If such a survey were released about the attitude to Jews in a European state, Israel would have raised hell. When it comes to us, the rules don't apply.

The "Jewish" part of "Jewish democracy" has won big time. The "Jewish" gave "democracy" a knockout, smashing it to the canvas. Israelis want more and more Jewish and less and less democracy. From now on don't say Jewish democracy. There's no such thing, of course. There cannot be. From now on say Jewish state, only Jewish, for Jews alone. Democracy - sure, why not. But for Jews only.

Because that's what the majority wants. Because that's how the majority defines its state. The majority doesn't want Arabs to vote for the Knesset, Arab neighbors at home or Arab students at school. Let our camp be pure - as clean of Arabs as possible and perhaps even more so.

The majority wants segregated roads in the West Bank and does not flinch in the face of the implications. Even the historic connotation does not bother it in the slightest. It wants discrimination in the workplace and it wants transfer. Enough with the whitewashing and pretense. This is what we want. Because that's the way we are.

The right will probably attack the New Israel Fund for commissioning the survey. Gevalt! It will screech. Leftists, Israel-haters. But the right's hollering will not change the result. This was done by a reliable, well-known polling firm. Besides, what's wrong with the survey? What didn't we know before, apart from the loss of shame? Let the right prove that this is not the way we are, that most Israelis want to live with Arabs. That most of them see Arabs as people like themselves, their equals in rights and opportunities. Let's see them prove it wrong. That would be a true cause for celebration.

The survey does not only confront Israelis with their present, but with their future as well. This appears to be the survey conductors' main goal. It tells them: You wanted settlements, you wanted occupation, you want Netanyahu and you've done nothing for the two-state solution, and it's died. Now let's see what's the alternative.

The alternative, as every infant knows, is one state. One state? Most Israelis say it will be an apartheid state, yet are doing nothing to prevent it. Some of them even want it. They don't even ask, Where are we going? Where are we being led? What's the vision for the next 10, 20 years? Well, if all goes well, if all continues they way it is now, the Israelis know the answer and it's a bitter one indeed.

Until then, the image of Israel 2012 is this: We don't want Arabs, don't want Palestinians, don't want equality, and the hell with all the rest.

Values-shmalues, morals-shmorals. Democracy and international law - those are matters for anti-Semites, not us. We will vote for Netanyahu again, recite that we're the only-democracy-in-the-Middle-East and wail that the whole world is against us."]