Monday, March 3, 2008
Sonia has my car and seems to know the roads fine on her own now. she's a great traveler.
i should mention that getting past the bridge was hugely frustrating. my name is apparently on some list. i had to wait 7 hours again. that must be the magic number, btw.
let me mention that the Salon du Livre and the Turin book fair are celebrating Israel this year. European nations have aligned themselves once again on the side of aparthied, racism, and religious persecution. history will reveal them on the wrong side of justice, again. they have learned nothing.
Saturday, March 1, 2008
me at the rental office:
Sonia and my cousin, Karam
Friday, February 29, 2008
Yesterday, Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai said on Israel's army radio that "They (the Palestinians) will bring upon themselves a bigger holocaust because we will use all our might to defend ourselves."
Please read the following press release for a glimpse of what Israel is doing:
Palestinian Child Arts Center appeals protection for Gaza children
Thursday February 28, 2008 23:43 by Saed Bannoura - IMEMC
The Palestinian Child Arts Center issued an urgent press release appealing international human rights groups and organizations specialized in the rights of children to intervene and protect the Palestinian children in the Gaza Strip as they face a real humanitarian disaster.
The Center stated that what is happening in Gaza is a grave violation to the rights of the children and to all Children Rights Conventions. The Center called for immediate protection for the residents in the Gaza Strip, especially the children "as they are being killed and injured while all want they want is to live as they love life and want to live as any child in this world does".
The statement of the center came after the Israeli army killed 27 residents, including several children, in less than 48 hours. On Thursday afternoon four Palestinian children were killed and one was critically injured when Israeli jet fighters shot several missiles at civilians in Jabalia town, located in the northern Gaza Strip on Thursday afternoon. Medical sources identified the four as, Mohamed Hamudah, 7, Ali Dardonah, 8, Omer Dardonah, 14, and his brother Deib, 11.
Israeli Air strike in Gaza Destroys Medical Relief Head Office, Kills
Ramallah, 28/02/2008. An Israeli airstrike aimed at the ministry of interior building in Gaza City also destroyed the nearby Palestinian Medical Relief Society (PMRS) head office in Gaza and killed a 5-month-old baby in a residential building in the same area.
The PMRS head office was housing the main PMRS clinic in the Gaza Strip, the main pharmacy, an ambulance, a loan centre for handicapped people and all the administrative offices. The ambulance, all the medicine and most of the equipment have been destroyed. The building itself is badly damaged and cannot be used again without extensive repairs.
The attack also hit a nearby residential building, killing Mohamad Nasser Al-Borey, 5 months, in his family home.
Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi MP, president of PMRS, declared "the collective punishment of Palestinians in Gaza has reached unbearable levels. This latest attack destroyed a key part of the already badly hit Gazan health system. Israel has lost all sense of humanity, and the silence of the international community enables its murderous escalation against a people imprisoned in a giant jail. These relentless violations of international law must be put to an end. It is a war crime under the Geneva Convention to target medical personnel. Regional organisations and individual States have to take actions to protect the Palestinian people from Israel. This must stop, now".
Dr. Abdel Hadi Abu Khussa, director of PMRS in the Gaza Strip, declared that "the destruction of the main clinic, pharmacy, office and one ambulance are a terrible blow to PMRS activities and will increase the suffering of the people of Gaza. We are victims of Israeli collective punishment".
Background: PMRS' Work in the Gaza Strip
PMRS is one of the largest non-governmental health service providers in Palestine, reaching 1.4 million Palestinians in over 490 cities, towns and villages in 2007. This was achieved through the extensive physical and human network built in Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in the 29 years since PMRS was established.
In Gaza, PMRS maintains four primary healthcare centres, two ambulances and two mobile clinics as well as an effective program to help people with disabilities, especially children. PMRS also runs an Individual Relief program for patients in need and a centre providing physiotherapy and assistive equipment to the disabled.
In response to the complete Israeli blockade of Gaza since January 2008, PMRS had declared a status of emergency and was stepping up its emergency program to support the needs of the people of Gaza.
Palestinian Medical Relief Society (PMRS) – www.pmrs.ps
Quality Health Care For All
Palestinian Medical Relief Society
Al-Bireh , PMRS Building
+ 970-599-55 77 55
OR: +972-599-55 77 55
Today and tomorrow are/will be spent showing and introducing her to as many people as possible so she can have a fruitful trip. Here are some pictures. I went back to Nablus, btw, because Shaher is going to help her get around the WB to some extent and i wanted to make sure they got a chance to meet while I'm here. ACTUALLY, I wanted to go back to Nablus because i didn't get a chance to eat k'nafe yesterday and it's just a cultural sin to go there without eating Nablus k'nafe! I ate k'nafe, nammoura, and just about every kind of ba'laweh the place had. I kinda feel sick right now to tell you the truth. I've definitely gained a few happy pounds while here.
I had to blow off a lunch that I really wanted to attend hosted by a well-known publisher for Arab writers! There was just no way I could make it to Haifa and back in time to fulfill a promise [a long and personal story] I made to a friend in Ramallah [which, to me, is ultimately more important]. But I still got a chance to speak with the host and that's worth a lot.
Oh yeah...we stopped by the playground we built in Nablus three years ago and it's in excellent shape! I'm going to post them on our website, but here are a few for now:
From now on, if you want to know more about this trip and how the assembly will progress, check out Sonia's site. I am leaving here with mixed feelings. I don't want to go on many levels. I love it here. I like the person I am here. The way I feel. The sense of being grounded and close to the earth. The strong bonds with friends and the family ties. The cousins I have everywhere I turn on the Mt of Olives. But if I miss Natalie any more, I'll lose my mind. I can't wait to see, hug and kiss her. To talk with her and watch her fall asleep. I want to see Dennis and be there for him. I miss my dog, Gypsy, and cat, Onika.
Here are some pictures from today.
Israeli settlements are very different, built by developers [government] and sold with a different set of priorities. They are usually built on hilltops with two priorities: 1. to have a strategic military advantage in the area; and 2. To build as many units as possible on as much land as the available money will allow. The hills are thus carved in terrible ways to create large stretches of flat surface, upon which very small row homes are set close together in perfect symmetry and separated by roads arranged in grids and suburban planning logic. Their roofs are always red, giving the impression of some sort of earth infection!
BTW, the pictures of Arab towns here were taken from Jenin yesterday. I just didn't have time to post much more last night and this morning I left early. Just one more picture below of the Wall in Jenin. It cuts beyond the Green Line [unlike popular belief] and actually separates the homes of two brothers who used to be neighbors. It also cut a school in half, with a brand new playground now on the Israeli side.
Thursday, February 28, 2008
I wish everyone could see these hills through my eyes and feel as I did driving to Nablus. The drive took about 1.5 hrs; so, I had plenty of time to soak up what these hills exude of secrets, grief, and promises. Here are just a few pictures that I took along the way; although my photography does not do nature justice.
A friend of mine asked if I could bring back a container of Palestinian soil and I've been gathering dirt from every place that I go in the West Bank. The dying wish of a dispossessed Palestinian man was to be buried in his homeland. His children tried but failed to get permission from Israel to transport his body. At the very least, they want to sprinkle earth from Palestine over his grave to fulfill their father's wasiyyeh, a sacred request in Arab culture.
I have known and heard of similar stories, including my own grandmothers, of that generation that lived and died in exile with the persistent dream of returning home. I tried to imagine his loss and look around me through his eyes today, as if seeing my homeland for the first time since childhood, remembering the life and culture that the world took away from me, and finding it once again at the end of my life. My heart swelled with such love and longing and I felt my throat tighten with tears. I so wanted to pull over, get out of the car, find a place on the slope of one of these hills and lay there until the sun set. But Shaher was waiting for me at Huwarra, so I settled on pictures.
Balata is on fire; Shaher and I go to Nablus and Jenin
I wasn't allowed to drive my car past the Huwarra checkpoint and tried to drive to another entry with the hope of finding a more accommodating soldier. But no luck. I had to park my car and cross by foot. It was okay because Shaher was waiting for me on the other side and he was able to at least convince the soldiers to let me park my car at that entry. It took a while to get through this process. In the meantime, there was an ambulance carrying a patient that arrived at the checkpoint while I was waiting. Look carefully at this picture and you can see the ambulance just behind the barrier. I was there for about 20 minutes, and when I left, the ambulance was still waiting.
I had planned to stop by the Balata refugee camp to see Sol and sit in on her class with the kids; but there were difficulties in Balata. Four young men had been killed by the IOF [israeli offense forces - as we call the IDF] and the funeral procession was bringing people out into the streets. Soldiers often come to these demonstrations and start shooting; so, we decided to skip Balata. However, we still had to drive through the area. The march was just beginning to start up, so we still had time. We stopped to ask a few people if the road was open, even though we knew it was. This was so that people knew we were Arabs. Shaher was driving a Jeep marked with a Canadian affiliation. We didn't want to risk being mistaken for an enemy. Tires were burning in the streets and I took a picture of one on our way into Nablus and onto Jenin.
Jenin has been largely rebuilt since the massacre in 2002 when I was last there. BTW, that's how I know Shaher. He and Amjad, whom we met up with later, became like my brothers during that time. They stuck with me nearly the whole time I was there and helped me get in and out of unfamiliar places. If anyone is interested, there are videos on "google videos" from that time that all three of us shot of the camp during that time. You can also go to http://susanabulhawastuff.blogspot.com// and find them there.
We got to the NGO that I'd like to work with in getting a playground into the camp and spoke at some length about an implementation plan. The group runs a complete children's center with summer camps and ongoing activities throughout the year, including libraries, after school help, sports, etc.
We talked about many aspects of getting a playground into Jenin. The biggest and most delicate issue in erecting these playgrounds is not funding or land, but how to build it in such a way to ensure that the kids will not destroy it. It's difficult to understand the psychology that develops in children who are constantly awoken in the middle of night by the sounds of helicopters and gunfire; who live with a real insecurity that they might not live to adulthood and who face violence from multiple sources. They have a lot of anger and fears that manifest in destructive tendencies. But as this is a given reality, so is it a given reality that they have the right to play and they deserve outlets of creative and positive expression of play. The only solution then is a creative way to give them play areas that will want to take care of.
Our experience, especially with the playgrounds we installed in Gaza, has taught us that if the children themselves participate in the construction and are allowed to have their names and hopes associated with the playground, they will keep take care of it as if it were their own homes. In Rafah, the kids and their parents have constructed a beautiful garden around the playground that they helped install, for example.
The location in the Jenin refugee camp for a new playground
The site was quite large, with a dirt field where kids play football. It's located in a central location between homes and next to a school. Perfect! Here are some pictures.
We talked about the potential layout and came up with a tentative plan to install a playground next to existing old and run-down swings, to paint the surrounding wall so the kids themselves can draw murals, and in some sections, to tile the wall with tiles that each kid can paint and individualize with expressions of themselves. We also spoke of getting the kids involved in landscaping the area and naming some trees after their relatives who are shaheeds [martyrs].
The end result will hopefully have a nice playground, the existing football field in a nicely landscaped and decorated children and community area. We also talked about putting up a small store that would be offered to a needy family as a business in exchange for them taking responsibility over general upkeep of the site.
I got some action pictures of the kids taking foul shots on the goalie.
They were all like little men, but one in particular made an impression on me. He was the youngest, smallest, most fierce, and best ball player with a great smile [when he finally agreed to smile]. His name is Ayman and he's five years old going on 18.
Amjad arrived at the location while we were surveying the site. It was really great to see him. He married a couple of years ago and now has a little boy. Both he and Shaher are two very gentle souls with a deep love of the land and passionate desire to help their communities. Later on in the day, I learned that both of them had been shot after I left Jenin. Shaher was shot in 2002, not long after I left, while on his way to a wedding. A tank in front of them opened fire for no discernable reason, shattering the windshield and front dash of the car. Shaher was hit by several bullets through his left arm and abdomen. Obvisously, he recovered, but he still has shrapnel in his body and some functional impairment on his left side. The groom in the passenger seat was not hit. Amjad was shot on a evening in 2004 while on his way home from a card game with friends. A group of plain clothed soldiers surrounded his serveece [he drives a cab for a living even though he has an engineering college degree] demanding in Arabic that he get out of the car. Afraid, he sped off, but they opened fire and a bullet went through his door and through both of his thighs. It took two hours to get him to a hospital in Jenin because they had to first get an ambulance and find someone in town who had a permit to cross the checkpoint who could drive him in the ambulance to the hospital. After a couple of surgeries and two years of physical therapy, he can walk with an imperceptible limp, but with no sensation in his lower leg, much atrophy, and no control of his toes.
Wafaa; more playground sites, a great meal and a wonderful time with good friends
Amjad's wife, Wafaa me up with us and all of us ran a couple of errands together to distribute some mawa3een from the World Food Program to a couple of families in a village called Taybe [there are three Taybe's in Palestine, btw], which is also where Amjad lives. We dropped Wafaa off at their house and went to see a couple of other potential sites in Taybe. Shaher has started his own charitable organization and works there on a volunteer basis in addition to his paying job and he has the ability to get things done in Taybe. The whole thing took about 20 minutes and when we got back, Wafaa had already made a meal that would have taken me all day to prepare!
She and Amjad are clearly deeply in love and it was so nice to see them together. She and I bonded instantly and I really didn't want to leave them when it came time for me to go. Still, we had a good 2-3 hours together, eating and talking. Amjad and I shared a sheesha [hubbly bubbly] after dinner, too. The last time I had a sheesha was equally special and I couldn't help but remember that time as well.
Shaher and I left around 6:15 and on the way to Huwarra, he remembered that the checkpoint closes at 7pm and we had about an hour's drive. [Actually, it isn't Huwarra, but the adjacent gateway - remember they wouldn't let me through Huwarra]. Anyway, Shaher stepped on the gas and we got there just in time, but it seems the soldiers had decided to close up early. The gate was closed, but I could cross by foot to get to my car. However, it was dark and dangerous to be walking around. So we waited in teh car with teh headlights on until a soldier emerged from the tower. We explained the situation and he came back after 10 minutes with permission for me to get out of the car and walk across the checkpoint. Shaher was not allowed to get out of the car and the dude followed by movement with a gun pointed at me until I got to the car. whatever! what the hell kind of man points a gun at a clearly unarmed woman walking to her car in the dark. They're such little people inside all that armour and behind their guns.
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
I spent the afternoon and evening with Esperansa (SP) today. We started out in a yoga class in Rammallah and went to dinner afterward. [not to worry, i got the PfP stuff done too. the interviews with interns and with the reporter]. A month ago, SP was in the US visiting her sisters in Boston and several of us girls who lived at dar el tifl got together for a reunion. Most of them I hadn't seen in over 25 years [by the way, my faithful commenter on this blog, Naife, is one of those girls...actually, i should say 'women']. Amazingly, that time span did not inject any bit of strangeness into our gathering. It was as if we simply picked up where we left off when i was 12 years old. The experience at that orphanage bound us all in a very special way and I left that weekend invigorated with sense of sisterhood and friendship. I felt that way again tonight and saw clearly how truly blessed I am. I have so much for which to be grateful. Natalie and I live in relative safety, prosperity and freedom. There are no helicopters raining death from our skies and no one deliberately cutting off our food and water supply. We're healthy, with access to education and healthcare. I am blessed with the love of friends and family. I continually get to meet and befriend interesting and exceptional individuals. I guess I'm just trying to say that for whatever reason, when I'm here, it's so much easier for me to see what a great life I really have.
I can't wait to hug Natalie in a few days...and that's the only reason I have to leave. Otherwise, I want to stay!
I should also add that I'm grateful for that scary experience at the Bethlehem hajiz. Like Tom Neu reminded me, 'what doesn't kill you, only makes you stronger.' I had been frightened in the extreme; but when I look back, it wasn't fear of being physically hurt. In the back of my mind, I knew that the US embassy knew where I was and that the IDF would have to think twice about hurting me, especially for taking pictures. I wasn't scared of rotting in the vault; I knew they'd have to let me out eventually. Although it felt like it, I knew I wasn't going to freeze to death. I had been frightened out of my mind because I had no idea what was going to be coming at me. Faced with the unknown, I irrationally invisioned the worst and unlikely. There's a lesson somewhere in there, I think.
I'm meeting with a reporter in Ramallah later who wants to write about PfP and about my book. And on Friday, Israel Shamir invited me to go with him to a dinner with Arab writers. Considering the ongoing boycott against teh Salon du Livre and the Turin book fair, I am really interested in talking to these folks.
In the meantime, I hung out with more cousins and we had brunch together. After the interview, I'm meeting with intern candidates then will be taking a Yoga class that Esperansa teaches and plan to spend the rest of the evening in Kobar again with her family.
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
The road to Hebron is simply beautiful, with the exception of the settlements spreading down some of the hills. Posting some pictures here. All along Route 60, the hills are dotted with grape vines. el Khalil is known for it's grapes, pottery, and quarries. Once in the city, Karam took some pictures driving through the souq because it's utter chaos. I love it! there is only one rule: whomever gets there first has the right of way, whether in a car, on foot, a donkey, a horse, whatever; we're all on the street together fighting for space to move. Of course, horns sometimes blare and occasionally you might hear a curse here or there; otherwise, it's quite civilized and exciting. Vendors with fresh fruit and produce and just-out-of-the-oven bread and other baked goods line the street.
We were supposed to meet M. at 10 am, but he was a no show for a while. I was worried because he wasn't answering his phone, but he got hold of us eventually.
In the meantime, I drove into the Old City of el Khalil, near the Ibrahimi Mosque. I was pleasantly surprised to remember how to navigate my way through the maze of narrow corridor streets [pictured here].
Karam and I went into the offices of the Hebron Rehabilitation Committee to say hi to some folks and see about getting some equipment to Beit Anan. I spent some time talking with Emad Hamdan [director] about new locations, the equipment, and some recent issues in Hebron with the settlers. He gave me a couple of presentations that he had prepared and I'd like to show you a couple of pictures from those slides depicting the demolition of 500 year old Arab homes in the Old City so that settlers in Kiryat Arba can have a shortcut to the Ibrahimi Mosque [which they've pretty much taken over]. Some of you might recall Dr Brauch Goldstein, a settler from Kiryat Arba, who walked into the Ibrahimi Mosque in 1996 while worshipers were praying and he sprayed them with bullets until some were able to overpower him. Goldstein is revered in Kiryat Arba for this heroic act of killing Arabs in cold blood. Since then, the Ibrahimi Mosque has a metal wall running down the middle of it: one side for Jews, the other for Muslims. Anyone except settlers wishing to enter the mosque must go through the usual searches. In effect, the mosque has a checkpoint at the door!
[HEY GUYS..I'M REALLY BEAT. IT'S AFTER MIDNIGHT HERE AND I HAVE AN EARLY START TOMORROW TO NABLUS. I'M GOING TO SIGN OFF FOR NOW AND WILL TRY TO GIVE THE REST OF THE UPDATE ABOUT TODAY AND EXPLAIN THE REST OF THE PICTURES IN THE MORNING. I NEED FIVE HOURS OF SLEEP AND WILL BE READY TO ROLL.]
Back! It's about 6am here and I've had a couple of cups of coffee; life is good.
Oh, by the way, if anyone is actually reading this blog, will you please leave comments after the posts? So far, it appears my friend Naife is the only person seeing this [Thanks girlfriend! for leaving messages].
Jesus, i forgot that Sonia is coming in today; so, I have to talk to Shaher to see if we can go to Nablus and Jenin tomorrow. I think Sonia will enjoy going there too, anyway.
Back to yesterday. While I was in Hebron, I was able to get hold of a couple of guys who had helped me build the playground there and also the one in Nablus. Haitham is now working in Israel and can't help out this time, but Hamza [pictured in the baseball cap] is happy to oversee the installation of the playground in Beit Anan. He made a very good point, though: It's too damn cold to do it now! and he suggested we wait until March to put it together. I have to agree with him, but will talk to Sonia when she gets here.
[I just got off the phone with Shaher and was able to change our trip until tomorrow. He's going to talk to the NGO in Jenin to let them know. This is good also because I haven't been able to hold of Sol Jones and I want to pick her up in Nablus because she asked to meet people in Jenin. So, SOL, if you're reading this, call me! 52-68-20-393]
M. showed up at the HRC office and we went to his hometown village of Ezza. The landscape pictures I have here were taken on the way there and back. It's a remote village on the outskirts of el Khalil [Hebron] with rolling hills and lush valleys. I'm told that when the weather is clear in the Spring, from their house, you can see clear to the Mediterranean Ocean on Gaza's shore. Nice, eh?
Esperansa called while I was there and I had forgotten that we had agreed to get together. So, I had to bail out on her. This is another reason why I'm happy not to go to Nablus today. We can meet up today in Ramallah or Jerusalem.
So, on to M.'s house. His family home is a series of three or four houses [more like small mansions] where his parents, uncles and siblings live just on top of a hill. His family owns that whole area, but they aren't allowed to build anything on it. Instead, they can plant it; so they have fields of crops and grape vines cascading down all sides of the hill. Must be really something to wake up to that every day.
His mom had made Kabseh for us and she seemed very impressed by how much food I was able to shovel down my throat. I could have eaten more, but at some point, when everyone else was done eating, I got a little shy about filling up yet another plate full. But let me just say in my defense that it was my first meal of the day. M.'s little nephew is like a mini-me old man. Really funny kid. He let me take a picture of him after I begged several times then threatened to take a bad one and show it on the internet. I got to meet most of M.'s family and had a fantastic time. Once again, I had the pleasure of meeting more wonderful people and making new friends. Additionally, I got to see more of the countryside and visit a place I'd never been to before. This might not sound like such a big deal, but I seem to derive great enjoyment from this, and from driving through these hills of God.
On the way back, I called Muayad and we made a date to meet at the Ambassador Hotel. Karam was loving all this running around, btw. The previous day she had called into work with some excuse and yesterday she got someone else to take her shift. So, around 7pm, we all met up at the Ambassador. Muayad is a talented filmmaker who grew up in California. We came up with a pretty cool plan for a short film about PfP, the impact of playgrounds, and the general psychological state of children who live under military occupation. It'll be a while before we can pull it all together. But we have a plan and shall proceed accordingly.
The rest of the evening had little to do with PfP. There are a couple of people that I haven't gone to see yet, and I've been terribly embarrassed that I've been here this long without showing proper respect and visiting soon upon my arrival. So, as soon as i dropped Karam off, I stopped by my uncle Sasoon's house and had a nice time at their house. I actually lived with him and my aunt Intisar for one summer when I was young. He's my dad's cousin [and my mom's too - my parents are cousins]. Anyway, I was really happy to have that time with them. Uncle Sasoon is full of stories from the old days, before Israel conquered the West Bank and Jerusalem. And he has pictures of his grandfather [who would be my great great uncle]. He also has a couple of family birth certificates from the Ottoman Empire. Really cool stuff. More and more, I want to end up living here some day.
I also stopped at my cousin Mohammad's house. He has 7 kids and was in and out of jail during the first intifada for throwing stones. Once when we were young and he was walking me back from Dar el Tifl, he got into a fight with a soldier who decided to pick on me. He took a good beating so I could run off and hide. I thank him for that every time I see him.
So, after uncle Sasoon's house, we went to my cousin Kholood's. She has 6 kids and the youngest is a little terror. A really cute little terror who was still wide awake as I was falling asleep around 11:30pm. It had been a long day.
I'm going to get ready to go pick up Sonia from the airport. She has decided to have her own trip blog and i'll post that link later on. More to come...