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."]

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

why olives?

October 18th was our 'free day.' (Read about it on the group blog and see photos, too!). We hopped in a bus and went to Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, followed by a swim in the Dead Sea. Being so buoyant was a very bizarre sensation, but so much fun. I floated on my stomach and lifted my arms and legs out of the water like Superman. We covered ourselves in mud, and after a brief stint as scary-looking sea monsters, rinsed off and continued to just play. 

If you've been keeping up with my blog, you know that our group came for the Keep Hope Alive Olive Tree Campaign. This project is through the Joint Advocacy Initiative of the East Jerusalem YMCA and the YWCA of Palestine. Twice a year, internationals come from all over the world to be in solidarity with Palestinians through this program, and to help with the olive harvest (or planting, if one comes for the February trip). After returning to Beit Sahour from our 'free day' floating adventure, we had the opportunity to hear Baha and Kristel, two organizers of the Olive Tree Campaign, speak about its purpose and history.

First, some quick statistics related to olive trees in Palestine:
-they account for 40% of the Palestinian economy
-at least 700,000 have been destroyed by the Israeli military and Israeli settlers since 2001
-Currently, there are around 600,000 Israeli citizens ('settlers') living in illegal settlements inside the West Bank

The olive tree is a well-known symbol of peace, and is significant for all 3 Abrahamic faiths. But the Joint Advocacy Initiative didn't decide to rally the international community around the olive tree for this simple reason. The olive tree, rather, is a great entry point to the conflict in Israel/Palestine because in addition to representing peace, it has social/political/economic implications, too. You can't talk to someone about olive trees in Israel/Palestine without talking about farm land owned by Palestinian families, and the deep sense of identity and connection they have with the land. You can't talk about olives without mentioning the 700,000 olive trees that have been destroyed by the Israeli military and Israeli settlers; the thousands of acres of land that used to be covered by olive trees and is now the site of settlements, Israeli-only bypass roads, and 'buffer zones' for each. You can't talk about olive trees without telling the story of Palestinian farmers who still 'own' their land…but who are prevented from reaching it because of walls and checkpoints.

You can't talk about olive trees without mentioning a particular Israeli law--the one that is modeled after a law during the Ottoman empire which states that land that is uncultivated for a period of 3-5 years can be seized by the state.

So the incidents of violence against olive trees by Israeli military and Israeli Settlers aren't just random hate- and fear-fueled outbursts. Blocking Palestinian farmers from reaching their land isn't just an unfortunate consequence of 'needed' security measures. It's not just a way to make their lives economically impossible. Rather, destroying olive trees is a means of LAND GRABBING. If the Palestinians can be prevented from cultivating their land, their land is legally up for grabs. It's part of the process that started in 1948 of taking Palestine off the map, piece by piece. 

This is why the work of the Joint Advocacy Initiative's Olive Tree Campaign is so important. Not only does it help spread awareness about the realities that Palestinians face; not only does it promote peacemaking, dialogue, and international cooperation; not only does it show Palestinians that there are people all over the world who are in solidarity with them--it literally safeguards the land of Palestinian farmers. It buys them a little more time to hold onto their land. Israel can prevent or make it near-impossible for Palestinians to access their land…but its much more difficult for them to prevent Internationals from doing so (this has happened in years past, but did not happen this year). Where a Palestinian I.D. will prevent a Palestinian from going, we Internationals with our passports of many origins can go. We can join hands and harvest olives and plant trees and help these farmers keep their land and their livelihoods…for a little while longer, at least.

Sadly the violence against and destruction of olive trees by Israeli military and Israeli settlers continues even today, and these incidents are regularly documented. Just two weeks ago, 120 trees that were planted by last February's Keep Hope Alive group for a particular Palestinian family were destroyed by Israeli Settlers. As Baha told us this story during the presentation, the sadness on his face was evident…but so was his resolve (a resolve shared by all of those working with and for the Olive Tree Campaign). "They destroyed some of our trees," he said. "But we will plant new ones in the same place. And if they destroy them again, we will plant new ones again. This is how we fight back." 

His words reminded me of a phrase I have seen many times during our stay in Palestine: "to exist is to resist."

Thursday, October 18, 2012

picky picking and getting political

This post was written on October 17. Read the group blog's account of the day here.

Today marks being halfway through our time in the Holy Land. We have seen, done, and learned so much--and yet so much more remains!

We spent the morning olive picking at the field of a farmer named Adam.* For those of you who read my last post about my surprise allergy to olive dust, I'm happy to report that I emerged from the olive grove unscathed today. Not only has the rash on my face virtually gone away, I was able to particiapte fully today without a problem. Rather than be up in the trees picking olives as I did the other day (in close proximity to the nefarious olive dust), I performed the equally-important, safer-but-not-as-exciting task of picking up the fallen olives from the tarps under the trees. Marietta and I likened this to being a child at a parade, scrambling after every piece of candy thrown from the floats. The olives rained down consistently all morning, so this kept me quite busy.

Adam's olive trees are located in an area that lies between two settlements (illegal Israeli settlements on West Bank land). This area is historically part of the town Beit Jala--but has recently been annexed by Jerusalem. Because Adam has a West Bank I.D. card, he is technically not allowed in any area that is part of Jerusalem--but thankfully the Israeli authorities have given him a special permit to access his olive trees. The only people who are allowed to accompany him are his mother and brothers--which is not exactly a great labor force with which to tackle a formidable field of olive trees. That being said, we felt extra needed today.

The care and pride that Adam takes in his olive trees was more than evident (and for good reason--his trees reputably produce some of the best oil in the area!). More so than the other farmers for whom we have harvested, Adam was very particular about the way in which we harvested the olives ("don't pick them one at a have to milk the branch, but don't strip the leaves"), how many people were to work on each tree (two people up in the branches of the tree, two people on ladders on the perimeter of the tree, two picking at face level, and a few gathering the olives from the ground), the positioning of the tarps (no ground left uncovered!), and when a tree could be considered 'done' (only at his approval). Under his careful direction, we went about our work--interrupted by a tea and cookie break, of course.

Adam's mother prepared lunch for us, and after enjoying their hospitality we were on our way. We next went to the Badil Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights, where we heard a presentation from their Legal Advocacy Coordinator, Amjad Alqasis. Amjad asserted that one cannot begin to understand the situation in Israel/Palestine without taking into account the reality of the 7.5 million (as of 2007) Palestinian refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)--this number being a result of the first Arab-Israeli War in 1948 and the second Arab-Israeli war in 1967. In addition to these two major events, new refugees are created daily. Palestinians become refugees and IDPs as the result of the taking/destroying of their land and villages and livelihoods. Many have--decades ago or a few years ago--fled the country...some live in refugee camps (like the Aida Refugee Camp I wrote about the other day), or have settled nearby their previous home and struggle to start a new life, usually without official recognition or basic services like water, electricity, etc (such as the village Ayn Hawd, which I also wrote about recently). It was interesting to be able to connect to these concrete examples while listening to Amjad's presentation. Some of the pieces of this incredibly complicated puzzle are starting to come together.

I'm overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information I should/could share with you right now. IDPs are also created, for example, by measures taken by the state of Israel that make Palestinians' life as they've always known it impossible. By this I refer to measures such as the Separation Wall--which in many cases separates Palestinian families from the farmland upon which they depend for their livelihood. Oftentimes the only choice they face is to move elsewhere where some other type of employment may be found. These types of measures, combined with the outright taking of Palestinian land (for military/'security' purposes, the expansions of illegal settlements, etc.), result in the number of Palestinian refugees and IDPs that exist today. Many would say that this is exactly what the state of Israel is hoping to achieve--the ethnic cleansing of Israel. They want the Palestinians to be forced to go elsewhere. This differentiates apartheid in Israel from apartheid in South Africa. In South Africa, apartheid was intended to go on indefinitely. In Israel, apartheid is a means to acheive a certain end--a Jewish nation.

In most countries, the terms 'citizen' and 'national' are used interchangeably, with the same rights and privileges afforded to both categories, as they are essentially one and the same. In Israel, however, one can be an Israeli citizen without being a Jewish national. This distinction creates the two-tier system in which Arab Israelis, whether Christian or Muslim, will never receive the same treatment as Jewish Israelis. A situation in which one can be a citizen but not a national, and nationality is seen as more imprtant than citizenship, will never result in equality.

During the question and answer part of the presentation, someone asked Amjad what gives him hope. He had two answers: 1. the resilience and perseverance of Palestinian farmers, who face uncertainty and deal with the unimaginable daily, and 2., his estimation of peace and justice as invevitable (a similar stance to what our group heard from Elias Jabbour). "Look at history," Amjad said. "Empires inevitably fall. And Israel isn't even an's just supported by one."

(Note: Amjad's statement was not intended to be Anti-American, but rather to point out the true extent of Israel's power (or lack thereof). Furthermore, I realize that much of the content of this post is challenging and political in nature. My intent here was only to present the information as it was given. While it only represents only one 'side' of the story, it is a vitally important perspective, that simply cannot be ignored, and that should challenge us). 

*Name has been changed to protect his safety/privacy.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Hebron and a visit to the doctor. Or, Mom, stay calm

Yesterday (10/15) we visited the city of Hebron. It was a lot to take in, and I'm going to defer to the group blog for a description of the day and what we learned. Read here.

I have yet to mention my new friend Debbie. Debbie is a PC(USA) pastor who is spending her 3+ month sabbatical in Bethlehem. Will introduced her to our group our first night in Bethlehem. 

Debbie joined us yesterday on our trip to Hebron. About midway through the day she looked at me and, in true mother fashion (she has two daughters close to my age), said: "We need to get you something for your face."

She was right. In the past couple of days I had gone from having a minor sunburn to some sort of red, itchy, uncomfortable rash on my face. I couldn't put sunscreen on it because that made it worse--so I spent the entire day in Hebron constantly hunting for shade, or, when there was none, shielding my face from the sun with my head scarf, leaving only my eyes uncovered. Not only did I not want to get more burned, but the sun/heat made the rash on my face worse. 

After returning from Hebron Debbie kindly offered to drive me to the pharmacy to get something to help my face. The pharmacist was SO helpful. She insisted that my face was not sunburned, but that I had experienced an allergic reaction to something. In response to her asking what I thought it might be, I said, "well, I don't know. I've been in the sun a lot…but all we've done is visit places and pick olives…". It was at that point in the sentence that the pharmacist interrupted me. "You are allergic to olive dust," she said. "Don't worry, this is common."

Wel, that's an easy fix, right? I figured I could pick up some Benadryl and be on my way. The pharmacist informed us, however, that such items (antihistamines, cough syrup, etc), while available over-the-counter in the US, require a prescription here (though antibiotics, interestingly, are available over-the-counter). She directed me and Debbie to the nearby clinic, where I could see a doctor.

The doctor confirmed the pharmacist's diagnosis. She gave me a prescription for an antihistamine and hydrocortisone cream, and we returned to the pharmacy to get these items. In conversation with our new friend the pharmacist, Debbie and I remarked, "wow, it was only 20 shekels [the equivalent of $5] to see the doctor! That could have been $300 dollars in the United States." The pharmacist replied, "yes, but for us 20 shekels is like $300 dollars."

Now that the arrogant Americans had been given (not unkindly) a reality check, we ventured to the neighboring shops for some miscellaneous purchases. Mission accomplished, we arrived back to the hotel in time for dinner. I'm thankful for Debbie and for my no-longer-itchy face!

Currently it's near dinnertime on Tuesday (10/16). The doctor said I needed to say out of the sun and away from olives for 24 hours, so though I did meet up with the group for the scheduled afternoon programming, I had some unanticipated downtime this morning while the rest of the group was out olive picking. It was a good opportunity to catch up on some blogging (as you may have noticed)…although I unfortunately did not have enough time to work on studying for Greek ;)

Shalom, salaam, peace be with you!

olive picking day 1, and the Separation Wall

Tuesday (October 14) was our first day of olive picking! Read the group blog's account of the day here--photos included, as always.

We set out for the field around 8AM armed with hats, sunscreen, ladders, and tarps (to collect the olives as they fell to the ground).

We worked in the field of a Palestinian farmer named Ali. I was up a ladder picking olives near the top of a tree when I was joined by one of Ali's sons, Ahmad. Ahmad told me about their family--he has six sisters and two brothers. His brothers, Mohamad and Nizar, were also there to help.

The morning was spent tackling the trees in Ali's field. Ali, his sons, and the 45 or so internationals used the 'divide and conquer' method to harvest the olives from all the trees. I tell ya, olive picking is hard work!! Not at all the action of picking itself, but rather the climbing up and down the trees/ladders, the constant sweating, and the hours of exposure to the sun and dust. When it came time for lunch, we had certainly earned our keep.

Ali's wife and family hosted us very hospitably. One image that has stayed with me is Ali drawing bucket after bucket of water from the well and pouring it over each of our hands to wash off the dirt and dust. He and his family were so thankful for all of our work, and when we left them it was with the feeling that we had done something worthwhile.

In spite of our sweatiness/dustiness, we proceeded with the afternoon's plan of a tour of Bethlehem. We visited Aida Refugee Camp, one of three refugee camps in Bethlehem. Aida houses Palestinian refugees from 42 villages that were seized by Israel and are now part of Israel proper. Many of these families still have the keys to their homes.

We also spent some time walking around the inner perimeter of the Separation Wall, which essentially makes Bethlehem an open-air prison. Twenty feet high and an eye sore in anyone's estimation, the wall has become an outlet for people's frustrations, hopes, creativity, and desire for justice and peace. It is covered in graffiti, the work of Palestinians and others. Words cannot do this artwork justice. The pain, hope, and suffering conveyed through it is haunting, beautiful, and to be honest, more profound and evocative (for me) than some of the holy sites we have visited thus far.

"We can't live, so we are waiting for death."

noticing differences and a visit to Zebabde

On October 13th (the morning after we encountered the closed checkpoint), we were successfully able to enter the West Bank. When we crossed through the checkpoint from Israel to Palestine (the West Bank--Jenin, specifically), there were some immediate differences. The road went from perfectly smooth to bumpy and in disrepair. While in Israel we had been surrounded by fertile, green fields growing myriad, if incongruous, crops (pomegranates, cotton, olives, corn, and more), the land in Palestine was mostly brown and dry. Signs were no longer in Hebrew but in Arabic; the Palestinian flag flew instead of the Israeli one. License plates were no longer yellow but white and green (the occasional yellow plate belonging to an Arab Israeli). 

We drove to Zebabde, where we visited the Latin Patriarchate Secondary School and met with three members of its administration. They welcomed us with coffee, answered our many questions, and gave us a tour of the school. One of the biggest problems facing the school (and Palestinians in general), they said, is water. The Israeli water company pumps out the water from under the West Bank, uses it for Israel's needs/purposes, and sells back what remains to Palestinians for three times the cost. This explained all the barren fields I noticed immediately upon entering Palestine. Will said it well in the group's blog: "this is a structural inequity that allows Israeli settlements in the West Bank to have swimming pools, while Palestinians are rationed." 

Marietta and I learned that this particular school has hosted volunteers in the past to teach English--an important skill for children to learn if they hope to have a chance at higher education and jobs in the future. Upon becoming aware of my and Marietta's possible interest in such a position, they essentially offered it to us--a prospect that was at once flattering, exciting, and revelatory of how big the need is. They showed us the school's 'language lab,' which has not been/will not be in use until they can get a couple of volunteers (whether me, Marietta, or someone else :)) to fill the position. After leaving the school we drove to Bethlehem. Read the group blog's account of the day here.

"Let there be work, bread, water, and salt for all." -Nelson Mandela

Saturday, October 13, 2012

we all dance anyway

We left Ayn Hawd both in awe of Mohamad's lifetime of work and feeling dismal about the whole situation. We carried his stories with us throughout the rest of the day, which included visiting the city of Akko, touring a mosque there, and walking around the Old City. At the end of the day, our ultimate destination was Jenin, an Area A part of Palestine. This would be our first time in the West Bank! (The designation 'Area A' is used for any part of the West Bank that is fully under the control and governance of the Palestinian Authority. Israeli citizens or military are not allowed to enter places that are Area A. I'll have to explain more about Areas A, B, and C in a later post). 

Around 7pm, we approached the checkpoint through which one can pass through from Israel to the West Bank (in this case, Jenin), passports in hand and with a little apprehension about what our first checkpoint experience would be like. We were stopped short by a closed gate--the checkpoint was closed, and apparently had been since early afternoon. There was a group of Palestinian boys who were also stuck on the Israel side of the checkpoint, wanting to get into Jenin. They confirmed for us that the checkpoint was closed, and we were left to brainstorm amongst ourselves as to what to do next. 

The boys stranded outside the gate of the closed checkpoint
Our trip leader, Will, got out and approached the Israeli military complex that was next to the checkpoint. He stood at the fence, looking for someone, anyone, inside who might be able to help us. Maybe they could let us through? We did have hotel reservations in Jenin, after all. Will also made several phone calls to various contacts in the area to try to get around this roadblock. Eventually, a couple of Israeli soldiers came out to talk to Will (the rest of the group, myself included, observed this from inside the bus). After about 10 minutes of discussion, Will came back to the bus to let us know our options. It would be impossible to cross through this particular checkpoint. There was another checkpoint, the Israeli soldiers said, about 40 minutes down the road, and they assured us that it was open. Our driver, however, said that that location was actually about 2.5 hours away…and one of the people Will talked to on the phone said it was more like 4 hours. Being that we were getting very conflicting information, we decided to go back to Nazareth and spend the night there, leaving for Jenin in the morning when the checkpoint would be open again.
Will talking to the Israeli soldiers

The ride back to Nazareth provided ample time to reflect on what had just happened. Frankly, I am glad we couldn't get through the closed checkpoint. Had they for some reason allowed us to pass, I would have been ashamed. Sure, we could have continued on with our day as planned. We could have stayed in the hotel we intended to stay in. We could have started the next day on track. But had I been one of those boys with their backpacks, stranded outside the checkpoint all night, and witnessed such a thing, I would probably hate Americans. For their (our) sense of entitlement; for their (our) expectation for things to always go their (our) way; for their (our) audacity to believe that doors can/should open for them (us) that don't/won't open for others. I am glad we got turned away. I am glad our plans got messed up. I am glad we could know for one instant what it feels like to be a Palestinian who faces these barriers every day. 

These thoughts were still running through my mind when we arrived to our hotel in Nazareth. After checking in and putting our stuff in our rooms, most of the group congregated in the hotel lobby (where there was also a dining/bar area and a beautiful outdoor patio). That place was happening! The room was full of the hum of fellow travelers from all over the world talking and laughing together. Marietta and I elected to sit on the outdoor patio, which had a beautiful view of all of the lights of the valley at night. 

We talked mostly about the events of the day, which as you can probably gather was not entirely lighthearted. It wasn't long, however, before our conversation was interrupted by blaring Arabic music coming from inside the hotel. Upon poking our heads in the door to investigate, we found a Palestinian folk dance troupe performing for the crowd. Immediately we were mesmerized by the music and their dancing; the smiles on their faces. They were incredible, and it was sort of redeeming to see the joy in these young, smiling faces after what we had just experienced earlier in the day.

"We all dance anyway," Marietta said. Even in the face of sorrow, people everywhere dance. In spite of the things that divide us, all people dance. Every culture, every country--all people dance. No matter what we face--the realities of conflict in the Holy Land, the death of a loved one, an unexpected disappointment--we all go on dancing. After performing three songs, the dancers started pulling up some of the audience to dance--and before you knew it, there was a crowd on the dance floor. Even after the dance troupe left, the other hotel guests kept on dancing. When the DJ played "Gangnam Style," at least half the room knew the dance. 

At one point one of our new friends was trying to get us to join in on the Limbo. I had no idea what language he was speaking, but I knew exactly what he was saying. 

We all dance anyway.

witnessing struggle

Read the group account of yesterday here. For me, yesterday was the day that things started to get rough. I don't know how anyone could see what we saw and say that it is not injustice. 

When considering the conflict in Israel/Palestine, the situation often gets boiled down to two groups: Jews/Israelis, and Palestinians (both Muslim and Christian). But what about Arab Israelis? The Galilee, for example, where Nazareth is located, is all part of Israel (meaning, not part of a Palestinian territory). In this area, there are at least 100 Arab villages--and all of the inhabitants of these villages are Israeli citizens. How have they fared?

Yesterday we visited one such Arab village--Ayn Hawd. Located in the state of Israel, all of the 300 inhabitants of Ayn Hawd are Israeli citizens. We met with Mohamad Abu El-Hejah, a now-elderly Arab Israeli who grew up in Ayn Hawd, and whose family goes back there for generations. Mohamad told us the story of his village.

"Our village was over there," he said, pointing out the window to an area in the distance. In 1948, he explained, the Zionist militia came and the inhabitants of Ayn Hawd had to flee their village to the surrounding land. When they tried to return to their homes, they were prevented from doing so. Their village was taken and settled by Jews, and had even been renamed Ein Hud (the Hebrew-ized version of the old name). The previous inhabitants of Ayn Hawd were told by the government to go live elsewhere.

These families were simple farming families who grew things and herded cattle. They couldn't afford to leave the hills of Ayn Hawd and go settle in Haifa or elsewhere. How would they get there? How would they get money to buy houses? It was an impossible situation. Not to mention the fact that this was their land, and their identity was/is bound up with the land.

So they did the only thing they could do: start over. They slowly rebuilt their village a short distance away from the homes in which they had dwelled and the farmland they had cultivated for generations. But there was no end to the problems they would face. Their old village had a well, which was the source of water for their whole village, their livestock, and all of their farming. This new area of land had no water source--and worse, the Israelis had PUT UP A FENCE to prevent the Arabs from accessing their old well. The Arab children would look through the fence and see the Israelis' cows drinking water and ask, "Why do the cows have water and we don't?"

The Israeli government would not provide their rebuilt village with services (water, electricity, a road, etc) because it was not a recognized settlement. "You are squatters on agricultural land," the villagers were told. Nevermind that it was their land, and that when their old village was taken they had no where else to go. And why should they go elsewhere, anyway? The land belonged to them, whether it had been zoned as 'agricultural' by the new government or not.

Also because the village was not a recognized settlement, they were not allowed to build a school. But they did, in secret. They did not have electricity, but they were able to get it illegally for a while. They did not have water, so going down the mountain to get it and haul it back up (manually--no one had a car) was a daily task. They lived in this manner until 1994, when they were finally recognized by the state as a legitimate settlement--and were finally 'entitled' to receiving something as basic as water. They didn't officially get electricity until 2008.

This brings up one of Mohamad's points--that Arab citizens of Israel are second-class citizens. Even third-class, he added. 

One thing I have neglected to mention is the way in which Israel finally gave recognition (and services) to the village of Ayn Hawd starting in 1994. They did not just decide to benevolently do it on their own accord. Rather, it took 30 YEARS of dedicated work from Mohamad and other village leaders. He told us that during his career of advocacy for the villages he has spoken with leaders from all over the world; spoken repeatedly at the United Nations; and authored or helped author 70,000 publications in newspapers and other types of print media throughout the world. "The story of my village is proof that one person change the world--a country--its laws. I did that."

This acknowledgement of his success on behalf of his village came with a caveat--that there are other Arab villages in Israel--again, whose inhabitants are Israeli citizens--who have a similar story and who have not been as successful, or successful at all (at securing basic services). It was at this point of the conversation that the humorous fatalism that Mohamad had exhibited throughout our time with him became quite strong. "I have worked for this for 30 years," he said. "I 'retired' from it 6 years ago. I could not do it anymore. I was done. There is no future for my village--I know this." He elaborated that there was no possibility of growth for Ayn Hawd--that even though they now had the 'right' to be there, that even to build one additional house required permission from the government--that is, if one could pay the price of $250,000 dollars for the land to build a home--a sum that the entire village doesn't have--not even close--even collectively. "Can you imagine, having to buy the land that has always been yours?" he asked. 

Toward the end he came out of the reverie of storytelling, and with a deep breath and shake of the head said, "anyway, I can only look forward. I don't like history. I can't look around me," gesturing to the village in the distance that has for years been inhabited by strangers.

Friday, October 12, 2012

leaving it all on the shore

This post was written on October 12, re: October 11. I'm only describing one event from the whole day, but there was plenty else that I could have written about. Read the group blog's account of the day, entitled "Dancing on the Sea of Galilee, Holy Sites, and a Jewish Mystic Peacemaker" here.

Had you told me prior to this trip that I would dance on a boat on the Sea of Galilee with people from all over the world to both Jewish and Arab traditional music, I probably wouldn't have believed you. 

This happened yesterday. The sky was blue, nearly cloudless, the water of the Sea of Galilee calm. We set sail around 12:30pm, and so began what was no less than a magical boat ride.

Our group was joined on the boat by a group of Japanese tourists, only one of whom spoke English. As we departed the shore one of the Arab boat operators hoisted the Israeli, American, and Japanese flages on the ship's mast, and we listened and stood respectfully for each country's national anthem. 

It was already at this point that I was marveling at the many juxtapositions--Arab and Israeli, Japanese and American. Though both events happened long before my lifetime, my mind immediately went to Pearl Harbor (1941) and Hiroshima (1945). These events are still part of people's consciousnesses; in Japan, there are those who still suffer negative physical effects from the radiation. And there we were, on the Sea of Galilee, a group of Arabs, Israelis, Americans, and Japanese, honoring each other and enjoying this beautiful day together. 

Then the real fun began. One of our boat operators (a couple of whom were Arab), started blaring over the speakers the traditional Jewish song Hava Nagila (literally, 'let us rejoice'). At first there were just a couple of brave dancers in the middle of the floor--Marietta and our (Arab) guide Raedwan (I'm sorry to keep belaboring the point of who was Arab as if you didn't read it the first time, but this is just a detail that can't go unnoticed.  An Arab and an American, dancing to a traditional Jewish song!). 

A few moments went by and I joined them, followed by other members of our group, as well as some from the Japanese group. As we held hands and danced in a circle, I had a moment where time seemed to freeze and I really saw what was happening...all of us dancing, together, on the Sea of Galilee, as if this were the most normal thing to do, following Raedwan's lead. There wasn't one face without a smile among the dancers, or among those observing and clapping to the beat. 

Next, one of the boat operators put on an Arabic song. The dancing continued, and someone even pulled out a couple of white paper napkins to wave around as we danced. The napkins got passed around from person to person, and almost everyone had the spotlight at some point. 

It was a time of joyful being among people who left the things that normally divide us on the shore. There was no memory of or resentment for past or present conflict; no isolation due to the language barrier; no suspicion because of differing religious beliefs or political ideologies. We simply danced.

Not quite walking on water, but still pretty miraculous, if you ask me. 

"And we should consider every day lost on which we have not danced at least once. And we should call every truth false which was not accompanied by at least one laugh." -Friedrich Nietzsche 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

peace for our--everyone's--sake

Our trip leader, Will, has posted a fabulous blog with a full recap of yesterdays people, places, and events--including photos! Check it out here.

This saves me the time of repeating ad nauseum what has already been described perfectly well. Instead I would like to elaborate on the most memorable (for me) part of yesterday: meeting with peacemaker Elias Jabbour in his home. Elias is a Palestinian Christian living in Shafer' Am, an Arab village in Galilee. His father, now deceased, was the mayor of Shafer' Am for 36 years, and saw three different regime changes during that time (Ottoman, British, and Israeli). Elias is committed to honoring the legacy of his father and carrying on his father's work of servanthood and peacemaking.

Our group had lunch with Elias in his living room, listening raptly to his stories. Growing up under British rule, he and other children learned English in school, in aspirations of doing higher education in England one day. He remembers very clearly July 14, 1948--the day a Jewish army commander knocked on the door of his home--the one Elias still lives in today--and captured his father. It was surreal to look at the front door; to imagine being a child and hearing such a knock.

Elias spent the majority of our time together talking about peace. "It will not just happen," he said. "We have to intentionally seek it. This requires effort, and education, just like anything else."

Elias travels the world speaking about peace in the Holy Land. He is the founder of House of Hope, the first Arab-initiated International Peace Center in the Galilee area, and is a major proponent of peace education, starting with children as early as preschool.

One of the most difficult parts of Palestinians' current situation, he said, is the feeling of invisibility to the larger world. "Palestine is almost gone from the map. The most difficult thing is to be left alone...We are really afraid of being forgotten. What I want is for people to remember us. Pray for us...we ask for prayer because prayer is safe. When people ask me what side to take, I say, "don't take anyone's side. Take the side of peace and justice, for everyone.'"

"Palestine is almost gone from the map." Some of Elias' words felt hopeless...and yet he spoke them with such hope. It is his opinion that peace in the Holy Land is inevitable--meaning that it's just not possible for the present conflict to go on forever. History, to him, shows that it won't. "We don't want to die for the sake of the problem," he said. "The problem must die for our sake."

At some point, Elias stressed, people have to forgive. Peace will be the eventual outcome, he is sure. The sad qualifier he added, however, was that this may not happen for another 60 years--long after the time he will be alive to see the fruit of his work. In spite of these sad realities, to hear Elias speak is to be in awe of his candor, congenial nature, and joviality. He can express even deep pain with a smile that conveys not only sadness, but wisdom and hope. 

Elias compared the Holy Land to a house, saying, "you live in half the house, and I'll live in the other half." Our tour guide, Sadeek--who is also an old friend of Elias'--was also present for this entire conversation. In response to Elias statement regarding the shared house, Sadeek, somewhat cynically and sarcastically, added, "that would be great." I appreciated Sadeek's comment because I think it reveals the pain and hurt felt by many Palestinians, who are not necessarily content to wait around for 60 years or for eternity for simple things like dignity and equality; who are tired of being promised such things and not receiving them; who are tired of being treated as 'less than'; who want justice now.

"There is no way to peace; peace is the way." -Mahatma Gandhi

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

the royal treatment

This post was written on October 9.

Shalom, salaam, peace to you from Nazareth! It has been a long road to get here, but the journey was worth it. As most know, even the best laid plans can go awry when traveling, and while we did miss our connecting flight to Tel Aviv (due to a mechanical problem with our first flight), this little mishap resulted in an upgrade to Business First on our later flight.

Our obvious giddiness upon seeing our seats (huge, fully reclinable, fancy menu for the multiple course meal, etc.) made it quickly apparent to any other first class-ers that we clearly didn't belong. As I watched the other common folk shuffling past to Economy, I exclaimed, "Marietta, we don't belong here!!" She chided me for acting as if my chair were made of gold, and seeing that she was, unlike me, naturally first class material, I proceeded to address her as Queen Marietta for the duration of the flight.

All good things must come to an end, but the Queen and I were equally excited to finally be on the ground in Israel. We met up with the rest of our group in the Tel Aviv airport and boarded the bus to Nazareth. We arrived to our hotel fairly late and have spent the evening settling in. Tomorrow will be a full day of sightseeing, including Tel Meggido, the Church of the Annunciation, and more. 

The security measures we have encountered throughout our journey have been interesting. In the Newark airport, after we had already gone through regular airport security, there was an additional security checkpoint in order to get into the waiting area for the Tel Aviv flight. We were individually searched, and our carry ons were manually searched, as well. Throughout the whole process, our boarding documents and identification were checked at least three different times. Once on the plane, however, things were relaxed. Nine hours later, we were notified that 45 minutes before entering Israeli airspace, the bathrooms would be locked and no one would be allowed to get out of their seat for the remainder of the flight. 

Somewhat surprising in light of these measures, it was relatively easy to get through passport control/customs in the Tel Aviv airport (although I have heard that getting out of the country is a different story).

So here we are, at the end of day 1! My favorite part about our short time in Nazareth thus far has been hearing the Muslim call to prayer sounding out over the city. It took me back to India :) We also went on a really nice after-dinner walk with some of the ladies from our group. The air was cool, the night quiet, and we found a lovely outcropping overlooking the many lights of the city of Nazareth by night. 

Peace be with you!