Thursday, January 28, 2010

The day-by-day

I realize that the last two blog updates have been more political rants rather than life updates. I’m sorry for this and thank you to those who stuck it out and read them anyway. The first two weeks here were total shock and a head first, hands dirty and deep in the I/P conflict. I have been thinking of a proper way to share my daily experiences and observations and have yet to come up with something that resembles a coherent chronicle of events; so I think I will just share and not worry about the calendar.
My week usually looks like this: most days at Sheikh Jarrah, a night of uninterrupted sleep at the ISM apartment in Ramallah and Friday a demonstration in a West Bank village. Shekih Jarrah is good, but I don’t sleep well here. At most, you get five hours rest because there is night watch to be done. Recently, the sleeping part of the evening has become more stressful because the settlers have taken to stealing things from the tent where we sleep-sometimes while we sleep. It is small things-shoes, chairs, shelves and the families don’t really complain. They sigh and put it into perspective for us, “they stole our house, why should we care about a shelf?” I can’t argue with them. Fucking sticky fingered settlers…stealing shoes, furniture and houses. It is such a messed up situation. The Al-Kurd front home was built by the Al-Kurds without a permit (building permits for Palestinians are extremely difficult to obtain) nine years ago. When the home was completed, the Israeli government slapped them with a 90,000 Shekel fine. Upon full repayment, the government then took them to court saying that the house did not belong to them and gave it to the settlers. There is so much racism here. I can’t stand it. So at night I think we all sleep a bit lighter, in case they try and bother us more. Winter has also arrived and with it comes the rain and wind. There are downpours at night and gusts of wind against the tarps. We must be very vigilant about keeping things dry. We have made some sketchy repairs to the tents. Right now, the Al-Kurd tent is held up mostly by string-bound boards.
There are positives to being here, heaps of them. I made two hula hoops for the kids in the neighborhood and it is a huge success. There seems to be only one girl in the neighborhood, Mona, 12 years old. She picked up hooping really quickly and I’ve been teaching her tricks. She then turns around and teaches the boys in the neighborhood (a big role change, I think). When Mona sees me, she goes to get the hoops (which she thankfully stores in her house or else the neighborhood kids would destroy them) and we hoop in her front walkway, which is the same shared path that the settlers use to get to their stolen home. It makes for a nice obstacle for them. Mona is the youngest in the Al-Kurd family and we sleep in her family’s tent at night. She and I have a good friendship and I accompany her on firewood-finding missions. Her mom feeds me tasty Palestinian food too. The other day she gave me spinach, phylo dough pastry right out of the oven. When I finished it, she gave me another, and when I finished that, another! It was a very happy panda.
We have also started doing weekly dinners at the Gawi tent. I teamed up with another girl my age from the neighborhood and together we made maklube. Maklube is Arabic for “upsidedown,” and that is pretty much what it is. A base of veggies (usually chicken too) and then rice, all cooked together with tasty spices. Then you place a huge platter on top, flip them both over and pull off the pot! Viola! The dinner was a success, with 10 internationals and Israelis joining us but there still are some challenges. We want to outreach to the neighborhood residents who don’t normally come by the tent, and the wives of the men who do. There are some social norms that I’m learning (mostly about how men and woman interact here) and trying to incorporate into the weekly meals. I’ll keep you posted.
I don’t mind being at Sheikh Jarrah so much. I feel like we are actually helping here. We offer the international presence the neighborhood wants while also allowing them time to rest while we take watch. Trip and I were just talking about how our skill sets really are designed to be outdoors, not in offices, so for us, this is good.
In Ramallah, ISM has an apartment that keeps out the rain, has hot water (but no household heating system) and a kitchen. After a few days “on” in Sheikh Jarrah, an evening in Ramallah is very nice. It is a fun place to be because at any given time there are between 5-15 activists staying in the two bedroom place. ISM activists are super cool-I mean, they’ve traveled around the world and are working for free. If that doesn’t weed out the unmotivated slack-tactivist, I’m not sure what does. So everyone is cool and works super diligently until about midnight or 1am every night. Mornings begin early too, around 8am with everyone back in the living room converted office space sharing a pot of tea or coffee.
It is great to have a kitchen and I’ve been trying to experiment with Palestinian food. This is a bit difficult because going to the market is stressful. It is loud, crowded and chaotic. Those things actually don’t worry me at all but what does get stressful is the purchasing part. Apparently, Palestinians buy in bulk and anything not in bulk is considered worthless. So for someone like me who only wants 5 carrots or two tomatoes, it is hard to pay for anything. They just give it to me for free. At first this was a nice surprise, but now I feel like it is an abuse of privilege. The other challenge is the Battle of the Plastic Bag. Trip and I go to such great lengths to bring our own bags or not accept bags for three bananas or two apples. Vendors really do not understand this. They insist on giving you a bag and as I’ve experienced can get pretty heated and offended if you refuse or offer your own. I do not understand this. The other day, we had successfully escaped without a plastic bag for our bananas only to have the baker where we were buying our fresh-from-the-wood-fire-oven, bag our bananas! Gggrrrrr!!!
Buying spices has also been interesting since I am mostly unfamiliar with the spices here. This means I sniff out each spice and on more than one occasion, inhale something well…spicy! This makes the shopkeepers laugh and I usually end up buying that spice just to get the whole thing over with.
The main challenge with the apartment is that it makes me miss living with environmentalists. Social activists are always plugged in, electronically-minded and on the go. I miss the forest part of activism and going places without cell reception. Keeping lights on, or forgetting about the water heater being on are foreign and difficult for me. Also, everyone but Trip and I smokes….inside! This is commonplace in Palestine (and probably the rest of the world, but very different for us west-coast’ers).
Fridays are special days in activist world here in Palestine. FYI: the weekend here is Friday/Saturday. Friday after noon prayer, many villages across the West Bank hold weekly demonstrations. The topics vary slightly but always center on some aspect of the occupation. There are some against the Apartheid Wal,lwhich in the village of Bil’in, takes over 60% of their land, denying access to fields, orchards, homes and other employment. Lots of other demonstrations focus on settlements-settlements taking over villagers fields for their own propagation, settlers uprooting 500 year old olive trees, settler violence against nearby Palestinian villagers, etc. For the past two weeks, Trip and I have been attending the demonstration in a small village called An Nabi Saliah. If you read my last blog post, it began with my report for the ISM website about the demo. The Popular Committee has decided to make the demos weekly until the land that the settlers have illegally taken and are illegally propagating plants for an Israeli nursery is returned to the villagers. This week, like last week, we were turned away from the village on Friday morning at an Isreali checkpoint. This time, the checkpoint was only 30 meters from the village! The soldier stuck his head in the car, looked at us and said “if I see you with the Palestinians, I will make trouble for you,” and he motioned up to the village center were we were all to meet. Slightly unnerved by this interaction, we asked the taxi driver to drive us the back way to the village which involved a one hour detour.
We arrived in the village and Trip showed me to the house of a woman he had interviewed earlier in the week for a short film he wants to make about the stolen land and the village. He told them I was his wife (I bought him a 33 cent ring to make it official) and he would bring me to meet them before the demo on Friday. We knocked and entered into the house, which had a perfectly disgusting view of the cookie cutter condo settlement on the opposing hillside. I was greeted as “Trip’s wife” and they told me how much they looked forward to meeting “Trip’s wife.” Hahahah. Oh well. They were all really cool women who are involved in the demonstration (pretty unusual for Palestine). We drank coffee and stashed our stuff at their place and met up with the march of hundreds of demonstrators as they walked by the house. We didn’t get more than 50 meters before military came at us from both directions shooting tear gas and rubber coated steel bullets. For the next few hours, full on warfare ensued in the village. The main street turned into a battleground, shabab (young boys, literally translated as “spirited ones”) slung rocks from behind gates, houses, fences, walls, and military reacted with more tear gas, more sound bombs, and more bullets. This demo was supposed to be a march to the fields, but it never left the town.
I was really unsure about my role in the demo. I don’t have a nice camera to capture the action, nor am I going to throw stones. At first, I went up to the rooftop to watch and take photos from above with the woman from the village. This turned out to be a good idea because Trip was down below shooting video and a slew of soldiers came running up behind him and I was able to shout a warning to him to get out of the way, this came just in time for him jump down into a yard to avoid tear gas canisters flying in his direction. I returned to this house towards the end of the demo, a few hours later. This time, I was brought inside by a girl who wanted to show me a sound bomb that broke thorough the fourth story window of the house. While I was up there, a tear gas can flew through the living room window and we had to evacuate the 7 toddlers who were supposed to have found refuge in this home. I carried a boy, no older than 3, down the four flights of gassed stairs as he cried, his nose ran and mouth drooled due to gas inhalation. The mothers of the children, irate with the soldiers, went up to them and began yelling at them for nearly suffocating their kids. They were all arrested. Three days later, I have yet to hear of their release. So… that was a pretty intense day.
Other things I’ve been up to here are:
Taking a 14 hour field trip to Tel Aviv and Israel’s finest immigration detention center to bail out an ISM’er who had been in for one month.
Wishing I had cleaner socks as I sit down to a delicious dinner on traditional floor cushions in Palestinian homes.
Learning to speak a few words of Arabic.
Spending at least two hours at the checkpoint into Jerusalem crammed together like cows, at the pure will of the 19 year old Israeli military guards EVERY time I enter (usually once ever two days).
Eating at least one falafel. Everyday.

Love to you from my falafel-filled heart.

Monday, January 18, 2010


First, I will paste the report I wrote from the demonstration at An Nabi Salih. Below that will be my blog entry!

An Nabi Salih: Resistance to Settlement Expansion Met With Military Violence

Israeli forces must have anticipated the large response to the An Nabi Salih Popular Struggle’s callout for international solidarity in their 4th consecutive Friday demonstration on January 15th. Three International Solidarity Movement (ISM) activists were turned away from the seldom-staffed partial checkpoint of ‘Atara, between Ramallah and An Nabi Salih. Fortunately, a back route was established and the group made it to the village, joining 10 other internationals, a dozen journalists and over 300 Palestinians.
The hilltop village of An Nabi Salih has a population of approximately 500 residents and is located 30 kilometers northeast of Ramallah along highway 465. The demonstration protested the illegal seizure of valuable agricultural land and the January 9th 2010 uprooting of hundreds of the village resident’s olive trees by the Hallamish (Neve Zuf) settlement located on highway 465, opposite An Nabi Salih. Conflict between the settlement and villagers reawakened in the past month due to the settler’s attempt to re-annex An Nabi Salih land despite the December 2009 Israeli court case that ruled the property rights of the land to the An Nabi Salih residents. The confiscated land of An Nabi Salih is located on the Hallamish side of highway 465 and is just unfortunately one of many expansions of the settlement since it’s establishment in 1977.
The plan for the demonstration was to march from the hilltop village and down to the seized fields in an attempt to reach the land. Less than one kilometer into the march, demonstrators met military jeeps, Israeli soldiers and unsparing amounts of tear gas blocking the road. Occupation resisters successfully forced the military to retreat a few hundred meters and an avenue to continue the march towards the fields through a valley between the road an the An Nabi Salih village was created. Military forces defended the settler-confiscated lands from multiple points including the road leading up to the village, highway 465 and a hilltop in An Nabi Salih using tear gas, sound bombs, rubber coated bullets and live ammunition.
Major struggles to reach the land occurred in the valley and on the lower portion of the access road to An Nabi Salih with sporadic outbreaks of force throughout the area. By 4pm, soldiers were forced into retreat to the base of the road (tear gas canisters rained intermittently until dusk) and a deal was made between the Popular Committee and the military for the release of the seven Palestinians arrested during the demonstration, three of which were woman arrested at the demonstration’s inception. Accounts of military violence during their detention at the Hallamish settlement were reported by multiple arrestees. One Palestinian resister was severely wounded by a tear gas canister resulting in a large gash in his head requiring emergency evacuation and medical attention by the Palestinian Red Crescent Society.
Seven International Solidarity Movement volunteers participated in the demonstration by shooting video, taking photos, offering medical aid and witnessing frontline violence and arrests.


Alright….and now time for MY update:
Trip and I have spent pretty much every night at the sidewalk camp across from their occupied house in the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah located in Palestinian East Jerusalem. We take shifts with other volunteers to ensure that the tent is staffed with internationals 24 hours a day. The days are chaotic and stressful for the Gawi family of 6 (3 kids under the age of 10 and one who is my age). The family does their best to maintain a consistent level of normalcy. Obviously, this is very difficult when your living space has been reduced to one pop up tent, a couch, table, plastic lawn chairs and a fire pit.
As the Gawi family shares a delicious Palestinian breakfast of fuul (fava beans), cheese, eggs, avocado and bread, the settlers occupying their home also start their morning routines. The house is a 7 unit apartment that housed nearly 50 members of the Gawi family. To me, it appears that there are probably two settler children for every adult and it looks like almost every women in the house is pregnant.
There is a campaign amongst Zionist Jews to “win the population war” against the Palestinians who tend to have large families (this has only increased with advancement of the occupation leading to the high unemployment rates in the West Bank and Gaza). While reading an article on Haaretz, I saw an advertisement that simply read “HAVE MORE JEWISH BABIES” in neon block letters. Ok, this is a tangent. If you’d like to continue along this path read this Now back to the daily life of the Gawi family…
After breakfast the three youngest children are taken to school and the eldest goes to work for the Palestinian Red Crescent Society (ie Red Cross). Almost immediately after, a never-ending stream of journalists, local sympathizers, alternative tour groups and solidarity organizers show up and join Nasser Gawi, asking him questions about the expulsion, court cases and history of the land. Nasser speaks Arabic, Hebrew and English fluently and is always so polite to the guests, even when they try and challenge his take on the situation. For the most part, the visitors ignore me and the other internationals stationed at the tent. I always try and ask what they are going to do with their Sheikh Jarrah info and put in a plug for volunteers. So far, I have not yet found a person who is interested in putting down their camera/pen and staying a night with us. I know that movements take all kinds, and I do not have any idea what these people’s histories are, but I strongly believe that personal experience and the I/P conflict speak volumes.
As the strong Middle Eastern sun heats up the pavement and the tent offers no respite, the three Gawi children return from school with the accompaniment of their mother. They are usually tired and the youngest two get are brought to tears easily. On one occasion, a bulldozer passed by the tent and paused for a cruel amount of time (the Gawi tent has been demolished five times since their most recent eviction began August 2nd). This presence of the bulldozer terrified the children; even at their young age, they have learned quite well what bulldozers mean.
This moment, above all others, has been the most saddening in my time in Palestine. It seemed like nothing could consul the terrified children, even after the bulldozer continued on. The family did acknowledge that the children were upset by the presence of the bulldozer but I got the impression that things like this happen so frequently in Palestinian life that the parents and neighbors thought it best to “toughen up” the children, rather than comfort them. This probably sounds like a critique of Palestinian parenting however it most certainly is not. First, this was only my interpretation of the situation. Second, this is daily life in Palestine. “That’s life in occupation,” Palestinians say with a frustrated sigh as we discuss the conflict around the Gawi fire pit every evening.
The Gawi children make futile attempts at napping in the tent in spite of the visitors. They play with their neighborhood friends and have informal English lessons until dark. Sometimes the family eats dinner at the tent while other times they go to the hotel where the rest of the family has moved to. The mother and youngest 3 children usually do not stay a the tent must past 7pm however the eldest son hangs out until midnight and Nasser stays the entire night.
I enjoy the evenings in Sheikh Jarrah very much. Neighborhood boys around my age come every night to be at the Gawi tent. Trip and I have made friends with these guys. I brought my hacky sack and hula hoop, both of which are very popular. They help us with our Arabic lessons and keep us company until around midnight. On nights where there is anticipated tensions, the guys take shifts, like we do, to protect the Gawi and Al Kurd tents. I have to admit though, it is quite a brofest. Haha. Well, it’s true! There is very little “purpling” in Arab culture; even in harmless social settings things are pretty much segregated. As an “international,” I am of course, exempt to this and take every opportunity I can to unload firewood, stoke the fire, sit on the concrete instead of taking a guy’s seat and other acts of Arab gender bending.
Generally there are between three and five internationals that are stationed at Sheikh Jarrah during the night shift. We split the night into shifts of 2-3 hours, usually beginning at 11pm and ending around 7am. The sleeping tent is the Al Kurd tent which is set up to block the walkway between the settler-occupied Al Kurd front apartment and the rear house that the family was able to defend. Couch cushions are lined up and a mattress is brought out for one lucky night-watcher. My favorite shift is the 4-7am shift. I have probably seen more Sheikh Jarrah sunrises than any other place in the world. I also like being around people when they just wake up. Everything is slower, quieter and more thoughtful.
Life is a hectic blurr most of the time here. It is really wonderful to be surrounded by smart, motivated and dedicated activists. But the truth is that there is so much to do in Palestine. Every day there are military raids, settler attacks, demonstrations, court cases, and anything else that occupation life can throw at you (including waiting 2 hours at a checkpoint, daily!!!). Trip and I are trying to take a rest one day each week. Last week we went to Bethlehem and saw the EXACT place that lil baby Jesus was born. Sure, we took pictures but Trip was more excited about the Holy Shit(er)! Hahaha.
If anyone wants to know more about the Israel Boycott Divestment Sanctions campaign, I just learned this interesting fact: any product with a barcode that begins with 729 is from Israel! Focal points of the boycott include: Ahava beauty products, pretty much all Dead Sea beauty products, and Motorola.
Here is a brief overview of the other things I’ve done: Demonstrated against the Apartheid Wall is Bil’in, Demonstrated at An Nabi Salih (see above), stayed the night at with a Palestinian family were the Wall was built, putting them on the settler side and caging them in on all four sides, where they are frequent recipients of settler harassment and violence, and said my first two intelligible sentences in Arabic!
Tonight I am back in Ramllah. I made a tasty Palestinian-esq dinner and caramel corn for dessert!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Let's talk about Sex ba-be, lets talk about you and me...jk...Let's talk about something more controversial

Back home, I live in a bubble. Not just one, but multiple bubbles that insulate me and my fellow bubble-dwellers from much of the critique and happenings of the outside world. The coops are a bubble, the University of Oregon is a bubble, the activist scene is a bubble. I like bubble life.
In BubbleTopia, I have a community that not only approves of a radical/alternative lifestyle, but actually lives it. BubbleWorld residents suspend close friends from a single rope that is connected to a gate which provides access to logging roads, endangering their dear friends life, but protecting the forest. Residents actively eat from the garbage, cheat the government for food stamps and enjoy riverside meals of liberated expensive cheeses from green washed stores. If it’s yellow, we let it mellow.
The topics of conversation in BubbleWorld is vast but very left leaning. You are welcome to join these conversations if your views are also counterculture (if they weren’t, how would you even get into BubbleTopia???!) Sure! Let’s talk about gender, swap riot stories, break down hierarchies, and laugh at the ladder climbers outside the bubble and oh-how- they- will- fall in The Fall. Let’s discuss direct action tactics ranging from protests to sabotage and property damage. Above all, let’s stay up all night, sitting close together, drinking PBR, eating homemade vegan food and talk about creating the world we want to live in.
BubbleTopia sure sounds great, right? I miss it. I miss it a lot. Yet, something that is not right. There is one topic that stands out as still too taboo to discuss in an open, rational, healthy, and fact based manner: the Israel/Palestine conflict. But if we can’t even talk about Israel Palestine issues in the most radical, liberated house I’ve ever been in, where can we? Or must we wait until Israel is pushed into the sea or the Palestinians are all in jail or dead?
For this reason, I came to Israel/Palestine. I needed to see this conflict firsthand, talk to people who live it everyday, see the resistance happening on both sides. I want to know why a love-thy-neighbor person can still live in settlements. I want to understand the emotion that causes young boys to throw stones. I want to articulate my opinion on the conflict not just because of the books I’ve read, research I’ve done, or news I’ve followed. I want to include the world I have witnessed. Actually, I believe that I need to include the my own personal experiences because this issue is such an emotional trigger, that it is very difficult to find the truth (especially if you are looking through religious (Islamic, Jewish or Christian) goggles).
Here is what I see:
Trip and I are working with a group called International Solidarity Movement (ISM). ISM has three guiding principles:
ISM is a Palestinian led organization comprised of well respected, nonviolent activists from both urban and rural areas of the West Bank and East Jerusalem
ISM is a nonviolent organization and supports the nonviolent resistance to the occupation (yes, even the UN Gaza and the West Bank an occupation) of Palestine.
ISM operates with consensus.
We have found that many Israelis and Israel supporters feel that ISM is “too radical.” I have thought a lot about why ISM is labeled as such. The first thing that comes to mind is that it is one of the only grassroots, Palestinian led organizations that effectively involves internationals. There are lots of groups working in the West Bank for Palestinian human rights, however, I have not yet encountered another group with the capacity that ISM has. In a world of international bureaucratic NGOs, a grassroots Palestinian led organization can be dangerously effective.
So what does ISM do? Trip and I have been working with them for the past two weeks and we plan on staying with the group for the remainder of our three months here. It is an activists dream, actually. Intelligent people from all over the world come to the West Bank all with a common goal. People are first fueled by passion and then refueled daily with the experience of unjust Occupation in Palestine.
ISM maintains a 27/7 presence in the neighborhood of Sheikh Jerrah in Arabic East Jerusalem. In August, Jewish settlers with the aid of military police, forced two Palestinian extended family households out of their homes leaving over 20 people houseless. It is a well known fact that Israel wants all of Jerusalem for the Jews and the main thing stopping are the Arabs legally residing in East Jerusalem. Both the Al-Gawi and Al-Kurd families have erected tents outside of their former homes. The Al-Gawi tent sits across the street from their home which is now decorated with Israeli flags and protected by multiple locks and gates. Throughout the day, the Al-Gawi family of 6 tries to go about their normal life, eating meals together, playing with neighborhood kids, completing their schoolwork under the streetlights. All the while across the street, Jewish Zionists come and go as they please in the comfort of the Al-Gawi’s home and with the protection of the military police which park outside of the home at night to protect it’s new residents. For the Al-Gawi family, we help by doing night watch so the family can get some much needed rest.
The Al-Kurd family also has a tent but their situation is a bit more bizzare. Settlers were only successful in taking the front portion of the house. The Al-Kurd family now shares their home with the Jewish settlers. The only thing blocking the settlers from accessing the rear portion of the house is a tent that ISM’ers occupy 24/7 to prevent them from entering.
Frequently, there are clashed between settlers, armed and backed by police and the Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah. International presence helps document these attacks and ISM volunteers have successfully “unarrested” Palestinian residents. There is a price however, a handful of ISM’ers have been arrested at Sheikh Jarrah, including Ryan Olander (who has been in jail for almost three weeks while $5,000 bail is collected). ISM is providing organizing both his legal team and doing jail support for Ryan.
There are also ISM volunteers in the town of Nabulus and surrounding villages. The Palestinians in this region are frequently targeted during night raids because of their successful non violent resistance to the occupation and the Wall. ISM’ers will stay in the towns under siege, often in the homes of nonviolent organizers, in hopes that an international presence will persuade Israeli military to comply by international laws which classify their raids illegal. Currently, we are seeing an increase in the arrest of nonviolent occupation resisters (remember, the UN calls it an occupation too!). Each night more organizers are taken including the ISM media coordinator who had her apartment surrounded by Israeli military. Eva lived in a town that is out of Israeli jurisdiction so this makes her arrest illegal. Now she has been deported. She is just one example of the repression of Palestinians and their supporters.
So there it is. A small group of Palestinians and international volunteers. That is ISM. Now that you know what we do, I challenge you to ask yourself and others why it is such a “radical” organization. Why is night watch, documentation, nonviolent resistance to illegal occupation too radical to talk about in our own radical community?
I strongly encourage everyone to check out the ISM website, The international media picks up stories on Gaza and peace “negotiations” but rarely is the West Bank mentioned. We update the site multiple times a day with interesting news from the West Bank. You should check out their side too and make the comparison.
If anyone wants to talk about Israel, Palestine or their feelings about the SCA benefit party proposal, please contact me. I’d love to hear your opinions and perhaps start removing the taboo of this topic.
From my pumalo sized heart to yours.

Ps, they have pumalo trees here. Have you ever seen an edible something the size of a soccer ball hanging from a tree?? oh! and photos take a really long time to load here so I'll put them up on the rot-yer-face-book. xo

Thursday, January 7, 2010

We arrived in Ramallah on Tuesday, January 5th, the eve of the two day intensive International Solidarity Movement (ISM) training. The distance between Jerusalem to Ramallah is short, about 20 kilometers, but it took far longer. The first delay was the sudden break down of the bus on highway. The bus came to a screeching halt and the smell of burned rubber filled the air. Shortly after, the situation was made worse by another bus not seeing our broken bus in time to come to a complete stop and rear ending the already sad-panda number 18 Ramallah bus causing lights to smash but not much damage.
We piled onto another number 18 and encountered the next delay: checkpoints. The Palestine and Israeli boarders are rapidly solidifying as much of the Apartheid has already gone up. There is a major checkpoint between Jerusalem and Palestine which caused a traffic bottleneck but luckily for us, not much of a problem. I think most of the problems occur when going in the opposite direction.
The ISM Ramallah apartment is a bright, spacious place that is furnished by lawn chairs and computers. There is a modest kitchen, clean bathroom, and two bedrooms; one for boys and the other for girls. There is no “purpling” allowed at ISM. Purpling is when blue (boy) and girl (pink) mix. It us usually a negative camp term. Boy/girl interactions are highly frowned upon (not permitted is more like it) in Palestinian culture. Because ISM is a Palestinian-led organization, it works hard to ensure that its volunteers are informed and courteous regarding societal norms and cultural expectations.
This kinda sucks.
As I’m sure ya’ll have noticed, Trip and I are all about the PDA. And now, after only a few weeks being back together in the same place, we cannot hold hands, put an arm around the other’s shoulder, or even sit too close. Even if we play the marriage card, we are not exempt from these rules. It is especially unfortunate because we have not been together since September and there is lots of making up (and out: ) to do.
The ISM training was intensive and informative. Throughout the two days, topics covered were: a history of the land dating back from the Ottoman empire, Palestinian culture and social cues, media, principles of ISM and what it means to be an ISM volunteer, legal rights training, sexual harassment and a power and privilege discussion.
At break times, Trip and I scoured the construction site next door to find spare pieces of PVC piping and connecter pieces for my new hula hoop! The one I have been carrying with me has seen better days. It isn’t even a circle anymore. I was so pleased to have a new hoop! Especially because it is made out of garbage! We made the hoop on day one and day two we returned to the hotel where the training was held and to my sad dismay, the hoop was missing! I stashed it on the side of the hotel but it was no longer there. I couldn’t really imagine how a hula hoop would just disappear. So, I decided to do what you always do at hotels when you need something: I asked the front desk.
Me: “Do you have a hula hoop? I left one outside yesterday.”
Them: “What color is it?”
Me: “Black”
Then: “Ah, yes.”
Then he goes into the backroom and produces for me my hula hoop! From our conversation, I was sorta getting the idea that perhaps he had more than one hoop back there! Not only was my hoop safely returned to me, it was better than ever! Someone had secured the connecter piece with packing tape! How cute! I was really touched my their thoughtfulness. I happily took the hoop back to the ISM office in the taxi and immediately after the training decorated it with Palestinian colors: red and green (must find white tape to complete it!).
After the training, Trip and I went to the market to buy produce and red lentils for a group dinner with the other volunteers. The spice guy laughed at us for buying only a tablespoon of cumin and the veggie vendor didn’t even try and charge us for the five carrots. This has been a trend here; if we don’t buy too much of what they are selling, it is given for free. They are very nice. Another example of the kindness of the people on Palestine is when we bought our cell phone earlier tonight. When we told the guy that we were volunteering with ISM, he gave us extra minutes on our phone for free.
Tomorrow, I am either doing one of two things: going to the weekly protests in Bilin against the Apartheid wall which has taken over 50% of their village or going to Tel Aviv to deliver 10,000 shekels to the jail to bail someone out. Yipppeeeee! If we go to Tel Aviv, we will hopefully get a chance to visit Tristian Andersen ( in the hospital where he is still recovering, almost one year later from being hit in the head with a non lethal tear gas canister.
On a site note! The Yes Men, famous for their political hijinks. They just released a new film, Yes Men Fix the World. I emailed them, out of the blue, and asked for a copy of their film. They immediately got back to me and told me that if I find a venue to do a showing then they will send us a copy! As it turns out, they joined the Boycott Divestment Strategy and did not submit their film to the Jewish film fest in Toronto. They seemed really interested in showing it for a pro Palestinian audience. Perhaps this can be an ISM fundraiser.
The coops (I hope!) are going to do a fundraiser for ISM too. It is really cool to have such a wonderful base back home. I got a little too coop-y a few minutes ago in the office and tried to get everyone to cinnamon roll hug but they all wretched back and call me “very American.” Pppffftt. Whatever.
Virtual Cinnamon Roll hugs to you all.

Friday, January 1, 2010

out of europe

Happy New Year!
The overnighter I had to spend in the airport as part of my 27 hour airport/airline adventure out of Europe was made a bit easier by the extra food vouchers that the airline woman gave me for “being so cute!,” the return of my luggage (so I had a hula hoop to pass the time) and my introduction to a Polish computer whiz at the airport cafeteria who gave my trusty little computer a tune up!
We landed in Cairo and I excitedly rushed through customs but was turned back at the counter and told to stand in the other line to purchase a visa. The visa place was also the bank and money exchange. How was I supposed to know that? I think these are problems that I have in most beurocratic locations, don’t you? I was unsure if Trip would be waiting for me at the other side and was trying really hard not to get my hopes up. In my last email to him I misinterpreted the arrival of my flight (military time still gets the best of me, especially when I am tired), but luckily he checked my flight online and caught my mistake.
As I walked out of baggage I saw him stand up and we met eyes. I rushed under the security barracide, dropped my bags and we had a classic, lovers embrace lasting well over five minutes. Smiling from our mouths and in our eyes we walked to the taxi to take us to the hostel in downtown Cairo.
The drive was terrifying. There were only three lanes, divided by two lines, but this didn’t seem to phase any of the drivers who all lurched ahead at very-stop and very-very-go speeds four or five cars abreast. Headlights are something to be conserved in Egypt (even at night) while horns are used with such liberalness that our driver actually began honking along to the song on the radio. Crossing the streets in this mess of a thing called traffic seems impossible. In fact, the first time Trip and I attempted it we failed numerous times; dashing out a bit then back quickly as cars barreled towards us without signs of letting up. Finally we took some advice from the 1986 Bangles hit song “Walk Like an Egyptian” and crossed when some locals did, using them for a buffer, of course.
In Cairo, we saw the pyramids of Giza and a belly dancing show. Both were impressive/strange/overwhelming in their own, very separate ways. Truthfully, most of our time in Cairo was spent at the hostel where after three months of being apart and living very different lives, we shared stories, ideas, hopes, and lots of cuddle time together.
Cairo was loud, smelly and smoggy. After five days we were ready to leave the city for the beauty and tranquility of the Red Sea. The Lonely Planet did not recommend the town of Newieba on the Sinai Peninsula and for that reason, we chose it. As we walked through the streets of Neweiba looking for a beach hut or camping spot we must have developed a huge flag and siren that says “WE ARE TOURISTS!!!” because every car was now a taxi and every home was now a “resort” that we could stay at for varying prices. We took one car up on their offer of a place to pitch our tent for 20 pounds ($4) a night at Camp Flamingo. Slightly hesitate but up for adventure we agreed. As we climbed into the back of the dusty old Jeep and found seats among gas tanks and other gear our fears melted and with big grins we both said in unison, “this is more like it.”
Camp Flamingo consists of 6 small huts about 15 feet from the ocean, a “café” and fire pit, a bathroom and sun-“warmed” showers, and the two small houses that the Bedouin camp owners and extended family live. The wife of the family is actually from Switzerland and the family speaks fluent Arabic and Swiss-German as well as very good English. Even though we stayed at this place for a week, we were never quite able to understand the family dynamics such as who’s children were who and how long people had lived together.
Our time on the Sinai was a much needed romantic getaway for Trip and I. We made no plans, kept no expectations and slept a lot. There was an amazing reef right in front of our tent and we spent lots of time in the water. We saw colorful fish of all sizes, crazy fish with wings, anemones with 18” spikes, water snakes, electric eels, and a myriad of other water creatures that I can’t really describe.
A windstorm came and we decided that it was time to go north, to our real destination: Palestine. We crossed the boarder at Eilat, Israel on the evening on December 30th with relatively little hassle. I was very worried about this crossing. There are many instances where activists have been heavily questioned, detained or even turned away when trying to enter into Israel. But we had no problems because Trip and I had good, matching stories about being average Lonely Planet touting tourists.
I have to note that this was a change in plans from a few months earlier. Originally, Trip and I agreed to join the Gaza Freedom March organized by CodePink ( However, the organization closed registration to the event earlier than we expected and with over 1,400 international participants, could not make any exceptions. Initially, we were both devastated about this information but accepted that it was out of our hands and probably for the best that we did not participate. Getting back into Isreal after having a Rafah crossing stamp (the Egypt/Gaza checkpoint) would have been very suspicious and would have probably removed all chances of entering again as “tourists.” Also, now that that time for the march has arrived, the Egyptian government is refusing entry to participants (and everyone actually, the crossing has not been open for years due to “security concerns” for Egypt). Not only that, march participants have been detained in their hotels, arrested on the streets and heavily censured by the Egyptian government. As of my latest update, 100 march participants were granted access to Gaza, two being from Oregon! They were chosen out of the 1400 because of their Palestinian heritage.
So Trip and I crossed into Israel, hitched to Jerusalem (hitching is surprisingly easy and common in Israel) and went to the house of a friend of a friend named Melanie.
Melanie is from the States and moved to Israel two months ago in what seems to be a long term relocation. She is very nice, and welcomed us into her home without hesitation and great hospitality. There is a warm shower, washing machine, and a twin bed for Trip and I to share. With sand stuck in my hair and between my toes I found her apartment to be very wonderful.
There is a catch. Melanie has three roommates, two guys and one girl (we have not yet met the girl). Having roommates is not the problem, I support communal living fully. The catch is that one of her roommates comes from an American family that moved to Israel as part of the Zionist movement and he was raised in a settlement and now works as a security guard for Jewish families that live in the Muslim quarter of the old city. Her other roommate is an aspiring Israeli politician and he tried to “one-up” Trip with his own stories of mainstream eco-tourism travel that became so obvious and annoying that I ducked out to “use the restroom” and spent the hour chatting online with my dad and Teresa. Melanie, while very fun to chat with, also has some interesting ideas. She calls International Solidarity Movement “really really radically left.” One thing ISM does is connect international volunteers to local Palestinians as escorts to school, olive fields, and across checkpoints because these are often scenarios where they are targeted for racist violence by the Israeli Defense Force or armed settelers. If this is what is considered “really really radical left,” why isn’t she questioning her roommates job of escorting Jewish residents of Palestinian territories?
Just being at this house one night has made Trip and I both very uncomfortable. It is hard not to be honest about one’s viewpoints (even when they are backed up by the United Nations or straight up facts). At first, Trip really wanted to leave the house and stay at an activist hostel. I understand his feelings but at the same time, see the value in staying another night.
We made the decision to come to Palestine/Israel for many reasons. The most PC of them is that the viewpoints we will meet here will be unlike any we can encounter in the United States, a book or news report and that these experiences, shocking and abrasive as they may be, are valuable in the greater context of understanding this crazy crazy place. So we stay.
At this moment, we are sitting in a café bookstore in East Jerusalem. The bookstore sells only political books about the middle east, in particular the conflict of Israel/Palestine. We are thrilled to find this place and purchased a new book called The Question of Palestine by the famous Palestinian author Edward Said. If anyone is looking for a book to read about the conflict, he is a great place start, I also recommend the book The Lemon Tree for a more autobiographical approach. In a few minutes we will finish our tea, put away our computers and walk back through the walls of the Old City, past the multitude of outdoor markets, falafel vendors, hookah and tea bars, shops selling the most beautiful scarves and shawls that I have ever seen, and the entrance to the Dome of Rock mosque and the Jewish Wailing Wall (where the prophet Muhammad ascended into heaven to join Allah and where Abraham nearly slain his son in sacrifice for God ,in the Muslim and Jewish faith, respectively)…these two places happen to be the same, or right next to each other at the moment, lending some insight into the religious battle of the conflict and back to Melanie’s apartment in the trendy garden district near the Presidential Palace for Shabbat dinner. Tomorrow we rise early for the International Solidarity Movement two day Palestinian solidarity training.
I am hoping that in this New Year we will all be inspired to question current authorities, find the roots of unhappiness and hate, and create surroundings which foster trust, understanding and energetic idealism. Lots of love from the Holy Lands.