Thursday, March 25, 2010

You begin to take it for granted.....

You begin to take it for granted... that there is an 8-meter high wall next to you, surrounding you. "This is a confined land that we inhabit and that inhabits us.  A confined land, not big enough for a short meeting between a prophet and a general…" (Mahmoud Darwish, "A Shameful Land")  You begin to take it for granted… that there is an Apartheid Wall snaking through the countryside, carving out destinies. ("A huge metal snake coils around us, swallowing up the little walls that separate our bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and living room.  A snake that does not move in a straight line, to avoid resembling us as we look straight on."  Mahmoud Darwish, "The wall").  You begin to take it for granted… that your brother is in jail. "He's in prison because he was working illegally in Jerusalem and got caught.  But his family speaks to him every day on the phone.  It's normal.  He'll be out in 7 months."  You begin to take it for granted… the head-aches, the anxiety, the depression; you are relieved to talk about your feelings at your lifelong learning class for women in Ethics and Psychology. You begin to take it for granted that you dress up and smile and wear makeup and heels and make light of things that are heavy, that you don't want to hear about heavy things anymore. You begin to take it for granted that people leave … ("My uncle and his family moved to Canada and now they are in the Emirates of Dubai."  "I have a sister in Pennsylvania."  "My daughter lives with her husband in Germany." "My brother ran away to Greece.") You begin to take it for granted that they can never return.  ("My husband's brother and his family live next to us but it is on the other side of the Wall and we need a permit to see them so we never see them.") You begin to take it for granted that no one comes to help you defend your land anymore—because there have been too many "after's,"  there is always an "after." ("After the Oslo agreement, they began constructing Route 60 from Jerusalem…After, they dynamited… After, you weren't compensated for your land and the damages to your house.  After, they put you in Area C where you can't build anything or change anything because you're a threat to their security. After, they won't grant you a permit.  After, this road is used by Israeli settlers.  After, you are a threat to the soldiers at the checkpoints, to the settlements. "Because we live in a very critical road. This road is used by Israeli settlers–who go to Hebron, Har Gilo… and by the Israeli army who are stationed at the checkpoints..." After, "they closed all the roads to downtown Beit Jala, isolating us completely from our friends and these checkpoints covered all the roads and you could not enter your home for 4 yrs." After, people died in their homes who tried to run away from the shelling. After, the plan for the Wall was to go from Route 60 to reach the border of the houses and confiscate the surrounding land.  After, "the Wall would be 5 meters from our home and would confiscate from all 3 sides – so we would be trapped in a box."  After, "we weren't notified by the Israeli government or any soldier.  If you're lucky you're find this paper telling you that they will be taking the land and you have 2 weeks to file for an appeal…"  After, you hear gossip that they will be building a new settlement behind you…..) You begin to take it for granted that it will always be like this.  That there are no jobs as there used to be and that you are at your wits end to figure out how to support your family.  You begin to take it for granted that you must pass through turnstiles and checkpoints, that you must leave at 6 in the morning to get to Birzeit University or line up at 5 at Checkpoint 300 because you are one of the fortunate ones to get legal work in Jerusalem.  You begin to take it for granted that everything that seems normal is not normal.  You begin to take it for granted that…  "They have special schools for special needs because the children cannot function as they used to – special needs for slow learners and hyperactivity  -- They couldn't control their urination –they would become aggressive to other kids." You begin to take it for granted that the land that was once yours has eroded, that it is sealed in concrete, that the life that was once yours has been taken away from you.  You begin to take it for granted that to resist seems hopeless.  You begin to hope and you try not to take "hope" for granted.


"What will they take next?"  Yes, that's the general understanding... "What will they take next?"  Yet underneath lies the fear "And how?"  "And when?" 

    So.... they live with it.  You live with it. 


You begin to take it for granted.


"And he said: 'But indifference is a philosophy

It's one aspect of hope.'"  (Mahmoud Dharwish, "The indifferent one")


(from talks with Raneen, Nora, Taha, Christie, Jala, Claire, Rania, Johnny amidst

 countless other voices)



Sunday, March 21, 2010

A Play, A Verse, A Stone

I am watching a play…

First row, theatre in the round: "Confinement" – It is so well choreographed, I hardly need to understand the Arabic. People are closed up in a glass bottle…It becomes harder and harder to breathe… They go through a series of contortions trying desperately to solve their problem. 1

Front Row, Center. We listen to the Beethoven concerto with cello, viola, violin and piano. The pianist swoons over the music. The audience is gallantly dressed. I watch the fingers of the string players deftly touching the strings and bowing their instruments. 2

Hundreds of Palestinian men and boys are bowing to Mecca. How quietly they bow and kneel together on the hard stone pavement. Forbidden to enter, they are praying on the ground. 3

Kids are throwing stones, setting tires on fire under showers of rubber bullets, stun grenades and tear gas. "It is like a war."

The women carry a stone, think about the stone, write about the stone:

'Fawda. "When I see my stone, it brings my memories back to my childhood and to the high hill in Beit Jala where I used to live. On that mountain there were many beautiful stones which my friends and I used to play some games such as hajalae and seven stones:

Nowadays my children's life is not the same….."

Sarah: "I hold my stone and remember that I have to stay in this land with Sumud like the stone despite all the difficulties."

Elaine: "During the first Intifada, children resisted occupation by throwing stones at the military tanks, and they were called children of the stones." 5

Israeli News reports: Some 50 Palestinians throw stones at security forces stationed there. The soldiers returned fire with tear gas. Rabbis for Human Rights claimed that the Palestinians arrived on the spot in order to conduct a quiet protest against the separation fence in the area and sought to plant trees. 6

"March 21

Kol Sana Wa Inti Salmeh. My husband is on the way home from Amman, he & our daughter had to cross the Jordanian & the Israeli boarders by noon. I haven't heard from them yet. I hope they will be here at 4 in the evening.

I think you can come to visit me at 11 am Friday. Then we'll have lunch with my family at 2 pm . I'll be cooking Maklobeh, Up side down dish which is a Palestinian food. We like to have you with us as we prefer to serve the main meal at this time

Looking forward to our getting together,

Love, Jala" 7

"Separation wall to isolate Bethlehem village from Beit Jala"

1 The International Center of Bethlehem, presented by Al-Harah Theater, Beit Jala

2 Concert Hall, Tel Aviv.

3 Outside the Damascus Gate, Jerusalem. Inside stands the Al Aqsa Mosque.

4  Shu'fat Refugee Camp, East Jerusalem

5  Sumud Story House, Rachel’s Tomb Area, Bethlehem

6 Beit Jala, two kilometres from the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem

7 E-mail from Jala in Beit Jala to myself in Bethlehem on the occasion of Mother's Day, March 21

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Inside the walled city of Bethlehem: Walking. In the Rachel's Tomb area where the Wall looms high ("Rachel is my neighbor but I can't visit her anymore." Antoinette has told me. Rachel's Tomb is walled off to the Palestinians and Netanyahu recently announced that it would be added to the list of Israel's "Heritage sites.") Walking…The Arab Educational Institute Sumud Story House. (A.E.I.'s Sumud Story house works with women and families surrounded by the Wall to foster creative non-violence and "sumud"-- steadfastness.) Walking…. The Paradise Hotel (A cordon of Palestinian Authority soldiers and police abut the sidewalks, guard the streets, leery of a third "intifada"—uprising-- alerted to stop protestors.

The recent closure of the Al Aqsa Mosque to men under 50 and Netanyanhu's announcement to build 1600 new homes in Occupied East Jerusalem have brought thousands of Palestinians to the streets of Jerusalem, crying out; some stone-throwing, burning of tires, and in response, pummeted with tear-gas, stun-grenades and rubber-coated-steel bullets.. Mustafa Barghouti confirms on Al Jazeera that it doesn't matter if the Palestinians protest peacefully or violently—they are treated by the Israeli authorities with violence.) Walking… Bethlehem Bible College. (The recent international conference "Christ at the Checkpoint: Theology in the Service of Peace and Justice" is just letting out.) Al--Azza Refugee Camp (Kids have thrown an old couch into the middle of the Camp's one street and are using it to block the way, playing at "Checkpoint;" waving a stick in the air.) Walking… The Mosque of Salah Al-din. Walking…

Bethlehem University (the highest point of the city. Toine tells me the library holds an excellent collection of Palestinian women's history… Wild lilies are blooming.) Walking… Children Street (Epheta Institute for Audiophonic Rehabilitaton; Hospital of the Holy Family; Church of the Holy Family; Women's Union Club)…Harat Al-Batin (Neighborhood), St. Joseph's Sister's Convent, Madbasfa Street, Salesian Convent and Church. Walking… Terra Sancta Girls' School… Walking… Climbing. The Mosque of Omar, Manger Square, Basilica of the Nativity, Milk Grotto Street. (A group of Italian tourists are visiting the Milk Grotto Chapel and the guide is speaking to them: "La Madonna vi si sarebbe rifugiata durante la fuga in Egitto…..") Further up the street, A.E.I. Youth Center. Walking...

Look over what was once a peaceful terraced countryside. Confront the white skeletal settlement of Har Homa–hovering closer and closer like a death cloud --built where the most beautiful forest used to stand. Two years ago, in Bethlehem, Uri Avnery spoke at a conference against the Apartheid Wall: "I want to apologize to all of you here for the terrible things done to the Palestinian people in the name of our government – even as I speak. I weep when I see Har Homa… I weep for the blockade and the siege of Gaza. This Wall will fall… (Applause) The Occupation will Fall… (Applause) And when I'm in Bethlehem--especially in Bethlehem--I think how beautiful this country could be if we had peace…"

Back to earth: On the Wall across the street from the "Bahamas Fish Restaurant" someone has written the menu: Bahamas Seafood Fish Shrimps Calamari Millet Mussels Beef Filet Scallops Garden Lobster Blue Crabs Desert. And at the edge of the Wall, someone else has scrawled another menu: Freedom Menu: Starters: Hope Faith Joy Knowing God Loving people Willing Hearts. Jesus He Paid for U.

Rest from walking. Hear the Islamic Call to Prayer rising over the city of Bethlehem.


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

"Colors for Free!"

Sunday, March 14.  This last evening in Tel Aviv, Marcey and I walk over to the beach.  Kick off our sandals. Walk barefoot in the sand.  Wade in the water.  Rest by the seaside.  Watch the tide rolling in.

Monday Morning, March 15.  I take a taxi from Ezra ha Sofer to the Jerusalem sherut; get off at the  last stop in Jerusalem; taxi to the bus station by the Damascus Gate; board bus number 124 to Bethlehem.

Arrive at Bethlehem Checkpoint 300.

The Wall.  Metal turnstile. Walk to paroled Checkpoint.  Another metal turnstile. Walk through long steel mesh corridor. Arrive on other side of Wall.  See Wall snaking through countryside.  Walk down road next to Wall. Walk through alley. Walk by closed shops. Walk by emptied houses in shadow by the Wall.  Walk to end.  Here's where I am.
"Diamonds, Jewelry, Olive Wood and Mother of Pearl"

"Go to Hell Hearts.  I want you my best Love.  Carol M. will bring this Wall Down.  I don't ask to be Palestinian -- I just got lucky.  With Love and Kisses; Nothing Lasts Forever.  Democracy Now?  Jesus Wept.  Where's the USA?  Love Conquers All.  Love to All; Not Just to Jesus.  Atheism: A Brilliant Alternative.  Israel: Kiss my Ass.  Where There's a Will, There's a Way.  I Want my Ball Back!  Thanks!  Only God Can!  Nobody Else Can!

Colors for Free!  Colors for Free!

Here is the sea of Bethlehem:  a 25 foot high concrete wall stretching as far as the eye can see, snaking through city and valley, blocking the sunlight (See the lemons, how small they are); blocking the houses ( See the houses, how the wall towers over the roofs); blocking sight (Say cheese to the cameras on top of the Wall.)

But, I find it again--in front of  Claire's home:  Blue sky.  Fluffy white cumulous clouds.  Calm waters.  A yellow sandy shore.   Here it is, the sea, the beach, the seashore – graffitied in bright colors on the Wall.  So children can see where they can't go anymore.. So everyone who journeys here can see.  But few make that pilgrimage anymore.

Saturday, in Jaffa, as a finale to a meeting of Israel's Women in Black, the "Raging Grannies" donned silly aprons and straw hats with huge fake flowers and sang  in their uproarious sardonic way (to the tune of "Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho"):

"Is there a Wall in Jericho, Jericho, Jericho?  Is there a Wall in Jericho? Jericho?  No!  There isn't.  But, there's a Wall in Mos'ha, in Bi'na, in Bil'in.  There's a Wall in Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Tulkarem.  There's a Wall in Abu Dis, Jayous, Qalqilya… When will that Wall come tumbling down?  So… there's no Wall in Jericho, Jericho, Jericho.  There's no Wall in Jericho.  --   Not yet!"


Sunday, March 14, 2010

Friday, March 12, Tel Aviv

Friday evening, March 12

Sunset: I walk south along the beach front and hear the drumming. Ta ta-ta-ta-ta ta ta ta ta. A mass of people—old, young – children bouncing on their father's knees, four hands beating out the rhythm together, young women in the center of the circle flanked by the crowd on one side and drummers on the other, women waving scarves, beads of light, fire, dancing to the beat. Everyone claps, moves to the rhythm. This is Woodstock Green Sunday afternoon to the power of 10, but it is Tel Aviv at the beach Friday night at sunset.

Earlier Friday afternoon on a hill behind the houses at Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem, crowds of people –young and old – gather and begin their drumming – Ta ta-ta-ta-ta ta ta ta. A mass of blue-clad police surround them, ready to encroach, send them away, take the protestors to jail. Israelis and internationals gather here weekly to protest the illegal settler confiscation of homes. Rabbi Arik Ascherman is among them.

Friday afternoon, in Tel Aviv, I follow the map Marcey has drawn for me so I can find my way from Ezra Ha Soffer to Hakovshim up through the Shuk, left to Allenby, cross to Shenken, then over Rothschild Boulevard to Carlebach and the Cinematheque. She says to leave an hour for the walk. I understand why as I thread my way through the packs of people who flock from stall to stall in the marketplace alive with the pungency of fish, herbs, falafel, ripe melons, strawberries, radishes the size of your hand, dark long eggplant, giant bulbs of fennel; and garments, shoes, toys, necklaces —stall after stall, one on top of the other; vendors calling out their wares, one voice louder than the other. A far cry from Price Chopper in the states. Here in the shuk, I am part of the gesticulation of hands, the concaphony of voices, the throng of people with their hand-carts, the rawness of fresh fruits and vegetables -- breathing, container-less. A caloused hand -- not a hand in plastic, not a sterile swipe across a computerized counter nor a polite voice in monotone repeating "Have a nice day."

I feel heady and get lost making my way to the Cinematique. This afternoon at 1, there will be a screening of Simon Bitton's film "Rachel." The film-maker will be present, as will Cindy and Craig Corrie who will speak with the audience after the film.

Standing in front of the Cinemateque, I see a vigil of Women in Black and recognize Israeli women I met at the international gathering of WIB in 2005 in Jerusalem. Now, 5 years afterwards, we remember each other. We've got more wrinkles and grey hair, but we're the same. These Israeli women are strong—they haven't given up standing against the Occupation. They've been standing in vigils throughout Israel since 1988.

The theatre is filled with people I recognize from Israeli's peace movement – among them, Uri Avnery (founder of Gush Shalom, the Israeli Peace Bloc and frequent commentator to the newspaper, Haaretz), Adam Keller (a founder of Gush Shalom, supporter of Yesh Gval, refuser of reserve military duty in the Occupied Territories, author of "The Other Israel" a bi-monthly newsletter of the struggle for Israeli-Palestinian peace) and Rami Elhanan (co-founder of Parents Circle-Family Forum) who tells me-- with a note of disparagement-- that here in the theatre, I'll see all of Tel Aviv's progressives.

The lights dim, the theatre darkens, the film lights up the darkness. It is an explosive film, an intimate recounting in Hebrew and English of Rachel's story, Marcey sits by my side and translates from the Hebrew for me. Here, five years afterwards, are the young internationals who stood with Rachel in 2003 in Gaza, telling her story, reading her diary; here is an interview with a religious Israeli who served in the military; here, an interview with a soldier who drove a caterpillar to demolish homes; here, the professors at Evergreen State College in Olympia Oregon where Rachel was studying; here, a video-clip of Rachel dancing with kids in Rafah, waving a scarf in the air to their music, their rhythms; here is the doctor whose home Rachel was defending…..

There is silence after the film before the audience breaks into applause. As Cindy and Craig Corrie come to the podium, there is a standing ovation for them. Rachel's parents are here in the country at a court proceedings in Haifa against the Israeli government. They have brought their civil action to challenge the military's account of their daughter's death. "We are here to speak for the lives of all young people—all of them—not matter who they are."


Friday, March 12, 2010

Thursday, March 11, Jerusalem

Thursday, March 11,  Jerusalem.

"Fuckin' Bitch! Fuckin' Cunt!" I cross the street and greet the man who is swearing at us.

"Shalom.  Isn't it great that Israel offers freedom of speech!" I say to him.  The man retorts: "Go back to East Jerusalem with your friends.  Fuckin' Assholes!"  Marcey and I have come to Jerusalem today to join people supporting the court case of Rifka Al Kurd, one of 28 Palestinian families in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of occupied East Jerusalem whose homes are being threatened  by settler organization take-over.

In front of the Magistrate's Court, a small group of "Anarchists Against the Wall" display signs "Sheikh Jarrah in Danger.  Stop Apartheid."   Only about 20 people can fit into the Courtroom so others gather outside.  A man from Norway tells me about his work with the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program of the World Council of Churches, initiated in 2002 to end the occupation.  He's one of four people based in East Jerusalem who monitor checkpoints and support Palestinians suffering from home dispossession and demolitions.  He tells me he works with all the Israeli peace groups.

I'm diverted from our conversation as I notice the Palestinian women leaving the courtroom, accompanied by their lawyer Hosmi Abu Hussein (also, by the way, lawyer for Cindy and Craig Corrie), British and French diplomats and Rabbi Arik Asherman, founder and head of Rabbis for Human Rights. Marcey walks over to Rifka, who is leaning on her daughter's arm, and asks if we can interview her.  Her daughter lets us know that her mother is tired now and to please come in an hour to their home in Sheikh Jarrah. 

The road to Sheikh Jarrah is dusty.  As we approach the neighborhood, we see the men of the families sitting on plastic chairs by the rock wall below their homes that have been dispossessed. Israeli flags are floating above one of the houses with a Menorah-like rooftop.  The women are sitting further along the wall.  Two chairs are brought over for us and we are offered coffee.  I ask Rifka to tell us her story and her daughter translates the Arabic to Hebrew, and Marcey translates the Hebrew to English for me.  For the next hour, in the intense heat of the afternoon sun, this self-possessed, distinguished 87 year-old woman, in her black "hadil" relates her history and the history of her family..

Rifka Al Kurd's history is one of continual dispossession since 1948, when the three large restaurants she and her husband owned in Haifa were taken from them; her husband and brothers thrown into jail, and Rifka began her long history of seeking a secure home for her family.  Her story takes her from Haifa to Jordan to the old city of Jerusalem, to the community of 28 families with a house offered to her and her husband by the Jordanian government and UNRWA.  Her story grows in complexity as she petitions to enlarge her house to make more room for her son and his family; the extension is ordered demolished; she fights the litigation and is ordered to pay 100,000 shekels fine; no one is allowed to inhabit the extension; the key is in the possession of the court; enter the settlers and Rifka's family belongings are thrown out into the dusty yard and broken; the latest news is that the Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem intends to turn this part of the house into a municipal office.

I look across the street from where we are sitting, and discern an l-shaped house that lies behind a low wall. I see Israeli flags flying over the l-shaped extension. Rifka, her son, her daughters and their families remain in the other part of the L.

Today's trial was postponed.  It was to be about the part of the house not yet lost to her.

As Rifka tells me her history, a settler comes down the stone steps at the end of the rock wall, below the home of the Al Ghawi family which is now in the possession of the settler organization.  Women wearing pastel headscarves and carrying babies walk up and down the steps.  The man watches us and Rifka tells me not to be afraid.

I want to refer you to Marcey Gayer's two articles, published on the Electronic Intifada, one in July 2009 alerting the public to the take-over of the Hanoun and Al Ghawi families' homes; the other in August 2009 following their forcible eviction.  With no alternative residences, the families camped out on the street in front of their homes.  Marcey shows me the dusty ground that was their campsight.  The tents were finally removed by the authorities.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Tuesday, March 9. Tel Aviv.

Tuesday, March 9, Tel Aviv. Dusk

Walked with Marcey along the beach by the sea. The beach is filled with young people strolling, couples playing "matkot" -- batting a hard ball back and forth with a wooden paddle—"matkot.. "Matkot." You can almost hear the sound. Groups of kids are hanging out together. Hugging each other. Laughing. Joviality takes over the beach in this early heat wave. Three guys under a bright orange umbrella ask us to pose with them for a photo. They tell us they're from Elat. They throw in a little English with their Hebrew. The landscape abounds in color. Yemenite Jews, Moroccan Jews, Ethiopians, Argentinians; Europeans, Americans, Canadians. Everyone sports light summer clothing. Girls in midriffs, boys in cut-offs. Some kids plunge into the cold water, climb onto a sea wall of rocks, walk out onto the wall as if walking out to the horizon. "Let's rest here awhile," Marcey suggests, so we sit on the sand and feel the warm breeze sweep over us, watch the beach lights flicker across the sand, the lights of the high-rises by the side of the beach. Only a few years earlier wood shacks stood along these Mediterranean sands that stretch from Jaffa and Tel Aviv to Haifa. If we walked north along the beach, we'd reach Haifa and south, Jaffa. We watch the sun set in a sky that seems to go on forever, a limitless horizon.


Tuesday evening. On returning to Marcey's apartment, I read a note from Claire in Bethlehem.

To come to my place it's easy I will show you how. .When you will enter Bethlehem from the check point 300 it's from the main entrance you need to walk straight follow the wall it needs just 4 or 5 minutes to walk. Then if you walk and see the wall continue to find the house who's surrounded with from three sides with walls. You can call me by any one they will help you.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

from Tel Aviv

Monday night, March 8, evening. Tel Aviv:

I sit with my friend Marcey in Cafe Hakovshim near the sea and listen to the Hebrew, and see the enjoyment of the young people, their laughter, their hugs, their ease. And the skyscrapers of Tel Aviv rise lit up in the background, against this older part of town. This used to be within the city limits of Jaffa, the heart of urban Palestinian civilization -- destroyed in 1948 --the major center of urban Palestinian life. My friend Marcey points out the green-lit minaret of a mosque, now unused. We dip our bread into humus and "ful" in a cafe in the center of Tel Aviv and Jaffa is a pimple on its surface. The large Shuk HaCarmel open-air vegetable and fruit market, vibrant in the daytime, lies across from here. The beach cross the street from Marcey's place is dotted with umbrellas and people. Marcey says there will be a break in the heat tomorrow.

4:30 a.m. I wake up in the early morning and hear roosters in the near distance. Chanting: the call to prayer broadcast electronically to a people no longer there to worship. Otherwise, I hear traffic, cars speeding by on the main drag. Speeding by. The sound of roosters underneath. The old world buried under the new—an old world -- seething. The rush of jets overhead. The cars. The young people. Underneath from some echo of the past—something -- a life -- buried here.