Saturday, October 25, 2014

Hanna and Her Non-Existant Daughter

I am jumping ahead in my somewhat chronological journaling to tell you what I experienced today, a story of one family's encounter with Israel's attempts to drive Palestinians away or to make them literally invisible.

When I called Hanna, she was happy to hear from me after my year's absence from Palestine. She invited me to visit her, but said she would have to come pick me up because she no longer lived in Beit Sahour on account of her daughter's identity papers. I wanted to ask why this move from her family home where I had stayed last year, but there was only time to make our arrangements to get together the next day.

When she came to get me, she wanted first to show me her workplace, where she is director of a facility that serves severely retarded adults. I was impressed with the quality and number of services for their 16 clients, but more about that later. As soon as we got back in Hanna's car, I started to try to make sense of the family's problem. But in fact it makes so little sense that Hanna herself had difficulty explaining it. Her 18 year old daughter, Yara, who has just begun her first year of law school at An Najah University in the North, has no identity papers, which means she doesn't exist.  The family has had to move to the Israeli side of the Green Line in order to start the process of establishing Yara's existence by getting her an ID.

The move happened just 20 days ago, and Hanna is exhausted and angry. Listening and to her and asking many clarifying questions, I learned that Yara has no birth certificate, apparently because she was born in the West Bank to a father who has a Jerusalem ID. Without papers, Yara cannot get a passport nor any other document, including a college diploma. In exasperation Hanna said, "Last night I was crying. You can't make plans for the future. There is no hope. Why do we have to move out of our home, away from our friends and neighbors, far from my son's school and my work. and pay rent and taxes that are far higher than even Israelis pay?" Hanna is angry, but she has made the move for her daughter's sake

While the neighborhood they moved to is inside Israel, it is inhabited by Palestinians, who are second class citizens of Israel and cannot get building permits. Hence, the very building Hanna and family have moved into, could receive a demolition order any day. BUT, they must reside in it for two years before they will hear from Israel as to whether their application for an ID is successful or not. Hanna herself will also apply because otherwise the family will not be able legally to live together in the same place. Meanwhile, Hanna lives illegally in her new apartment!

Friday, October 24, 2014

More Restrictions & Less Privacy

Ibrahim, age 13, needed to go to a hospital in Jerusalem for a badly broken leg. He lives in the West Bank, so his parents had to apply to the Israeli authorities for a permit to get into Jerusalem, using the doctor's order as proof of their need. But such permits are granted for only one day. Ibrahim needed 3 days of hospital treatment. His parents could not legally stay with him, nor legally come back to pick him up upon discharge.

My friend Iyad Bournat, an activist in the village of Bil'in (bilah-een), was denied such a medical permit for his 16 year old son, who had suffered nerve damage in his thigh from an Israeli bullet wound, received during a non-violent demonstration against the Wall. But the necessary treatment was not available in West Bank hospitals, so Iyad smuggled his son into an East Jerusalem hospital that was willing to accept the risks involved. However, as I have explained, Iyad could not stay with his son, but had to leave him to face the surgery alone.

# # #

Israel is trying to ethnically cleanse the city of Jerusalem of all its Palestinian inhabitants, bit by bit (so as not to be so noticable by the international community) either through new laws and regulations, or by injecting Jewish settlers into Palestinian neighborhoods, or by evicting Palestinian families and demolishing their homes. One of the laws controls who can carry a Jerusalem ID, which makes a Palestinian a legal "resident" (not a citizen) of the city. The Jerusalem ID gives a Palestinian the right to travel into the West Bank and to anywhere inside Israel, so no one wants to give it up. This ID can be revoked if the Palestinian is absent from the city for more than 3 years, or has a residence somewhere outside of the city and can't prove that his main home is in Jerusalem, or if he gets a foreign passport. If one owner-member of an extended family lives abroad, he loses ownership of his share of the Jerusalem home, which then gives settler organizations a foothold to take over that share of the home.

# # #

The ciricculum in public schools in the West Bank and E. Jerusalem has been occupied as well. Israel just imposed a cirriculum change on Palestinian schools to eliminate any reference to the "Nakba", Palestine's holocaust. What for Israel was the "War of Independence", for Palestine was the " Disaster." Not to mention it is to deny an essential part of history that has shaped the life of a whole people. If a school principle refuses to comply with the change, his or her school is made into a private Israeli school employing Palestinian teachers. Thereafter, the school cannot use any textbooks published by the Palestinian Ministry of Education, nor any book carrying the Palestinian flag in its logo.

# # #

During our tour of the Old City, we could see Israeli flags flying from rooftops. One of those rooves also had a surveilance camera. Our guide, Daoud, told us that the camera includes a microphone of such high sensitivity that it can hear private conversations in surrounding homes. How do they know this? Because men have reported that they were arrested and charged with something they had told only to a friend or relative in the privacy of their home. The offense might be the violation of one of the many regulations I have been telling you about, such as traveling without a permit. The purpose of such surveilance is not to break a crime ring, but to find pretext for expelling another Palestinian from East Jerusalem.

Daoud took us into a cramped apartment building which had twelve tiny apartments consisting of one room and one window each, facing onto a narrow passage or central staircase. Settlers had occupied 6 of these apartments, placing young males in each one, and rotating them out every three months - revealing that their purpose was to establish a Jewish presence, not to live peacefully with their Muslim neighbors. The young males behave in ways that purposely disrespect and disrupt the customs and routines of the Palestinians.. We came upon a charred area, where the Palestinian residents had set fire to one of the apartments. An old woman had died without anyone to inherit her apartment. This was the only way they had of keeping it out of the hands of the settlers. I could understand why a Palestinian family might accept selling their apartment to Israeli Jewish settlers in order to escape the severe overcrowding and extremely unpleasant environment. Yet many people resist this seduction in order to protect their neighborhood and city from the settlers.

Next Daoud took us to see something no tourist will even learn about. It was a section of the Muslim Quarter where the building foundations were so badly cracked that the residents of 27 apartments had to be evacuated. The cause of the damage is the on-going digging Israel is doing underneath the Old City without warning nor telling anyone why they are doing it. However, well-informed people like Daoud think it is in part for archeological exploration and in part to build tunnels "for security", i.e. to control the population. I don't know what happened to the 27 displaced families.

Putting settler activity in perspective, Daoud explained that before '48 only 30 out of 3000 properties in the Old City belonged to Jews - Jews who spoke Arabic and were integrated into the society.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Stories of Oppression and Resistance

On the first day of the Olive Picking Program, we went to the village of Al-Walaja. I have written about this village before, as they have a dramatic story of displacement due to Israel annexing their lands after the war of 1967. But today we stopped on the outskirts of the village at the home of Omar, his wife and three children. As Omar has legal title to his land since before '67, Israel cannot just remove him, though he is a big thorn in their side. His house and small plot planted with olives sits on the proposed path of the Wall. He refuses to accept the blank check Israel has offered him to buy him out. So, Israel has built a little paved road and tunnel that will go under the wall and up to Omar's entrance, so that the family will be able to dive under the wall when they want to go anywhere. Of course there is a gate at the entrance to the little tunnel in case Israel wants to keep Omar at home, or from reaching his home, for any reason.

After a while of picking olives with my group of 30 internationals and Omar's relatives , I sought out Omar to ask him some questions. How did Israel's war on Gaza affect the West Bank? Omar thinks that the war got the disillusioned youth engaged in a good way as they turned out for demonstrations and started to boycott Israeli goods. Everyone collected blankets and other items to send to Gaza. The demand from the street was not only against Israel's aggression, but also that the Palestinian Authority unify Palestine and end the separation between the West Bank and Gaza caused by the divide between the two major parties, Fateh and Hamas. They also voiced impatience with the Palestinian Authority for its delay in going to the U.N. and International Court of Justice to end the occupation of the West Bank and seige of Gaza.

# # #

In the afternoon our program included a tour of Bethlehem. Our guide Iyad talked about how the Wall was not built for security, but to take land. The Wall, which Palestinians call the Apartheid Wall and Israelis call the Separation Barrier, is onlly 60% finished, so how does that protect Israel? Further, it is not on the 1967 Green Line border with Israel, which is 472 km long. The unfinished Wall is already 770 km long, because it reaches its greedy fingers way into the West Bank, separating Palestinians from Palestinians, and separating Palestinians from their own agricultural fields. In the process, it swallows a large swath of land, uprootiing trees on the way. Just outside Bethlehem city limits, a new segment of the Wall is going to take the beautifully terraced grape vineyards and olive orchards of the Cremisan Monastery and Winery, plus the property of 55 Palestinian families, and put them on the Israeli side of the Wall. Because of the Wall and the Israeli settlements, Bethlehem City is surrounded, cut off from 87% of its territory. What this means in human terms -for the residents of Bethlehem and its adjacent suburbs of Beit Jala and Beit Sahour -- is harder to describe.

You can't leave Bethlehem without going through a checkpoint, and you can't return without passing a huge red and white roadsign that says to Israelis that they are in mortal danger if they cross into your city. If you are a worker with a permit to work in Jerusalem, your sister city just a few miles North of here, it means arriving at the largest, most fortified checkpoint at 3 or 4 a.m. in order to get through in time to reach your workplace by 7 or 8 a.m.. All checkpoints are a humiliating experience. If you want to go to a wedding, a doctors appointment, your university or a cultural event outside of Bethlehem limits, you cannot be sure how long it will take to get there in terms of hours, or whether you will get there at all. If one of the checkpoints is closed, no reason is provided; you must turn back. The same applies for the return home. And since you are not allowed to go to Jerusalem without a permit, you must drive around it if you want to go anywhere to the North. This is an extra 20 miles on a dangerous road. And, and, and. Everyone can tell you a similar story of how their life is made miserable, frightening or expensive by the presence of barriers and soldiers.

# # #

On Monday, we got a tour of the Old City with a young Palestinian tour guide, whose knowlege spoke well of the two years of training he had received. Daoud gave us a lot of geo-political history, including how the city got divided along religious or ethnic lines during British rule, as part of the process of colonization. I learned that some of the places that are flying the Israeli flag inside the ancient Muslim Quarter are "security settlements" -- not residences, but army guardposts used to spy on the city's inhabitants, and to encourage more Jews to move in and eventually take over.

I was startled to learn that for the last 4 months the threat of a Jewish assault on the Al Aqsa Mosque has taken a stride forward. The settler movement, backed by the Israeli government, intends to occupy the entire acre where the mosque and its lovely gardens are, destroy the mosque and the guilded Dome of the Rock building (from whence Mohammed ascended to heaven), and "rebuild" the Jewish temple there. New regulations, enforced by Israeli soldiers, prohibit Muslims from entering Al Aqsa until after 11:00 A.M. Before 11:00 only Jews and foreigners are allowed entry . In other words Muslims are forbidden to visit the second most holy place in their religion, even Muslims who live right next door to it, while tourists and Jews are ushered in by Israeli soldiers who are posted at all six of the entrances to the compound. The icing on this poisonous cake is that there is a campaign in the United States to raise money to build the new Jewish temple.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Profile of a Palestinian Woman

In order to protect my new friend, I will not use her real name. I will call her Noura. I asked her to start her story with her grandparents and parents, but she started with her birthdate of February, 1948. She is the 6th of 7 children. The five older ones were born in Haifa where her parents lived in an apartment provided by the private school where her father worked as the watchman. Her mother was married at age 13, and had a total of 9 children, two of whom died. Sometime in January, 1948 the British military came to their door and told her father to take a week's vacation. They packed a bag and went to Zebabdeh, on the other side of Palestine, where they had relatives. A week later, her father started the trip home but was stopped in the city of Nazareth. He was told to sign a paper, which he did, and in return was handed a card which said he was now a refugee and couldn't go home - ever. His brother refused to sign the paper, and as a result had no status and was forced to leave to Lebanon.

Shortly after, Noura was born in Zebabdeh while her parents became farmers. Noura went to the village school which went up through grade 6. To continue her education, she was sent to a charity boarding school 3 hours away because the family could not afford a daily commute to the nearest public school in Nablus, which was only an hour away. For three months Noura endured a feeling of total abandonment. The other children received visits from their parents, who brought them gifts or treats, but Noura's parents did not visit. Finally Noura broke the rules and secretly scaled the surrounding wall and asked a passing stranger to mail the letter she had written to her father saying, "I am dying." Her father was alarmed when he received the letter and came immediately. Though this clever and suffering child was scolded for sending the letter, her father visited regularly after that. In three years, when Noura completed 9th grade, she returned to Zababdeh. A year later, her older brothers were able to pay for her to attend 11th grade in Nablus and 12th in Jenin, where it was a little cheaper. Perhaps her parents and brothers realized that Noura was a gifted child, because her eldest sister never went to school and married at age 13, and the second daughter married at 15 or 16.

After high school, Noura had to find work. She moved in with a sister in Beit Jala near Bethlehem and got a job taking care of children in an orphanage, but didn't like it. She became a receptionist at a nearby large guesthouse/conference center. Soon she was able to rent a room in order to be independent of her sister. At about this time, when she was 23, a local man noticed her and proposed to marry her. She met him under supervision of her sister, and agreed to his proposal. So she called her father, who came to give his approval and make wedding arrangements. However, Noura's brothers said that their cousin Saeed, then teaching in Hebron in the South, was also available to marry, and would be preferable to a stranger. When Noura heard this, she felt the same way as her brothers. She would rather marry her cousin, whom she had known since birth, as they were born in the same town on the same day, just two hours apart!

Noura and Saeed got married the next year, 1973. They lived in Bethlehem, each continuing in their work places while having their first two daughters. Then Noura was able to get a job at a church in Jerusalem, where her brother was working. Again she was a receptionist, at the church's guesthouse, in addition to cooking, cleaning and serving as a guide to the guests. During this time she had two sons. She worked there for 30 years, achieving through the church, permanent Israeli-issued permits for her and her husband to travel between the West Bank, where they live, and Jerusalem, even though Noura no longer works in Jerusalem. Most West Bank residents cannot get into Jerusalem because Israel wants to reduce the Palestinian population of occupied Jerusalem. Until today they have this rare flexibility, which also facilitates Noura's latest line of work.

Noura now works with fair trade women's craft cooperatives. The women do the beautiful Palestinian emboidery, and Noura does the finishing work, fashioning purses, wall hangings, place mats, pillow cases and so on, using the emboidered pieces. She receives some of the handiwork by mail from women in Gaza, and she exports special orders to Europe. Being able to get back and forth to Jerusalem makes this work possible. After all, to do "fair" trade, one must be able to "trade," something that is harder and harder to do under the restrictions of the occupation.

In 1967 Noura was still in Zebabdeh but not going to school. She was harvesting wheat with her parents when someone came running and crying out, "The war has started!" The village government issued guns to her brothers, without any training. On the third day of the Six Day War, they saw warplanes overhead and suddenly a massive wave of people came running over the hill, fleeing the bombing. Noura's father told his sons to take the girls and go to Jordan, just a short distance away. But the son's refused, saying that if they were to die, they would all die together, not like in '48.

Soon a tank drove up. Noura thought it was Arab military who had come to save them, but it turned out to be Israeli soldiers, who ordered them to put up a white flag. Her brothers threw their guns into a well in order not to be caught with weapons. Nevertheless, two of her brothers were taken away by the soldiers. Shots were heard, and then no news for 21 days as to the fate of the two brothers. Noura feared they were killed, but finally one and then the other returned home.F

During the First Intifada in 1987, Noura kept her children in the house and did not allow them to go out and throw stones at the soldiers. She did not believe in such violence. But at one point soldiers came and searched the house, believing stones had been thrown from there. Noura met them with calm disdain and invited them to search the house. Finding no evidence, they left without further incident. At another moment, during the 45 days of curfew that Israel imposed to crush the Intifada, there was no bread in the house. Noura sent her 10 year old son to the store around the corner, hoping he could make it out and back without being seen. But the soldiers did see him, stopped him and came to the house with him. Noura was terribly frightened, but refused to show it, and argued with the soldiers until they backed off. "I didn't break the curfew, just we didn't have any bread, and the children are hungry. I sent a boy, and all he has with him is bread. But go ahead and do whatever you have to do." Actually, she was ready to die to protect her son.

One final example of the fortitude of this Palestinian woman: Even with a permit to go to Jerusalem, she has to go through the crowded checkpoint along with hundreds of men trying to get to their jobs. One day the mash of men pushing and screaming and fighting for their place in line was more than she could bear, and she started to cry. When she finally got to the soldiers who checked permits, she asked to speak to the checkpoint officer in charge. They told her to come back at 4:00 p.m. and the officer would be there. Of course, when she returned, they pretended that the officer was not there. She insisted they give him the message that there must be a separate entrance for women. Evidently he did get the message, and a separate passage for women was created; but it functions according to the whim of the soldiers on duty that day.

I think Noura has another 100 stories, but with these we know that this Palestinian woman will continue to defy the odds, speak up for her rights and not give up easily - or ever.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Days 2-5: Homecomings

Days 2 - 4,  October 8 -11
Having successfully written and posted my first blog from here, I am up to day 2. (Today it is day 9).  As I don't have to head to Nablus until noon, I am able to take my traveling buddy Doris to see the YABOUS CULTURAL CENTER in East Jerusalem, but outside of the Old City. It is open, but there are no funtions or exhibits going on so we look for signs of life in the basement offices.  Mona, the office manager, welcomes us and offers to show us around.  While we see the conference room (under rennovation) the movie theater that seats 80 in comfortable chairs complete with cup-holders, the exhibition hall where local artists can hang their work,  and the lecture hall, I ask Mona some questions. Their many cultural projects receive funding from abroad, but salaries have not been paid since last June. Norway had been covering that cost but had to shift its priorities from this center to the urgent needs in  Syria.  So the 11 staff members are living without any income, which is hard to imagine.  In spite of this hardship, they refuse to solicite money from any U.S. organization because they boycott the U.S. - an interesting twist on the BDS movement. (BDS is Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, a campaign launched from Palestine in 2005 and picking up steam in the U.S. in the last couple of years. It is based on the South African anti-apartheid model of the 1980's and 90's.)
Next on my agenda was to get to Nablus to see Mohammed and his family, take care of PHF business, and be with "my family". Mohammed picked us up at the bus station and we went directly to the offices of the PALESTINIAN HOUSE OF FRIENDSHIP (PHF) to sort out how to spend our two days together.  Since I am a member of American Friends of PHF, I came with a list of tasks to accomplish with Mohammed. But first I asked about his now adult children. Raya was home from Turkey with her twin baby boys and 3 year old daughter last summer for one month. Now she is back in Turkey and has started her coursework for her PhD in public health administration. Her husband has not yet found work there, but provides essential child care while Raya studies.  Yazan, now 27, graduated from An-Najah University on September 18, with a major in business administration.  His graduation was a significant victory for him, since his studies were interrupted twice by arrests and jail time for the crime of being a young adult male in a country under military occupation.  Prison and torture took a toll on Yazan's outgoing personality, but I am happy to report that he has recovered his ability to smile, and that he has confidence in his ability to persue a career in business.
Majed, almost 20 and a junior at the university, was not home because he was in Germany for a 10 day student exchange program. He was one of only four students selected to represent An-Najah University in this program. I talked to him on the phone and could hear that he is loving this opportunity to be with his German peers, be interviewed by local newspapers and meet members of Parliament.  Twice before this he traveled alone to Turkey to visit Raya. He is coming into his own as a mature, cosmopolitan adult as well as having achieved popularity among rap musicians in the West Bank.  He and 3 friends have a  band called Behind Bars Band which has performed in Ramallah and Nablus. Majed is very serious about his music, which he sees as an essential avenue for expression of thoughts and feelings of youth under occupation.
After completing our PHF work together, Mohammed drove me to my Palestinian sister's home on the other side of the city. She is Ensaf, but prefers to be called Im Wafa, or Mother of Wafa, her oldest son.  Her husband, Yaser, is Abu Wafa, father of Wafa. Abu Wafa speaks a litte English and I struggle to communicate with the whole family with my few words of Arabic.  But love conquers all, and we have a great reunion.  Abu Wafa once told me that he would never have met Mohammed if it weren't for me, because they are from different class  backgrounds. He was deeply moved that "Doctor Mohammed" would honor his family with a visit to each other's homes.  Now they routinely speak on hoidays and inform each other of major family events, like Yazan's graduation and the injury just sustained by Abu Wafa's yougest son, 18 year old Mohammed.  He broke his foot at the construction site where he was working, and had to wait almost a week for a surgeon to come to Nablus from Ramallah to operate.  Luckily, the operation went well in spite of the delay.  Because I am part of this family, Im Wafa allowed herself to break down and cry when only I was present- a brief release of tension over her son's accident - a brief demonstration of the emotion that lurks under the surface, hidden from self and others as they endure the pressures of their daily life.
News in this family, whom I have known for 12 years, is that the eldest daughter is pregnant with her 4th child; Deena, 24, the next oldest daughter and my favorite, finished her teaching degree last Winter , another great achievement for this working class, refugee family, can't find work as a teacher, so is thinking of going to beauty school to learn hair dressing and make-up, where there is always a demand. She is married, but has no children and is bored at home alone.  Her younger sister, Diana, is pregnant with her second child. Dareen, age 9, at the top of her class in 4th grade, is very smart, so I hope she will learn English easily and can then translate for us!
Abu Wafa was working 5-6 days a week last year in his trade as a clothes presser,  but this year has little work due to a decline in the economy from the war on Gaza and the flood of Chinese products in the markets. Im Wafa continues to work full time as a Religious Studies teacher in a public school.  I didn't see Wafa, 32, this year, but assume he continues to work in construction to support his wife and 3 children.
Abu Wafa on the current situation in the West Bank:  He is not afraid, but is fed up with Israel. Checkpoints and travel restrictions have been reinstated since Gaza.  Meanwhile, there have been many demonstrations in Nablus against Israel's attack on Gaza, and people have collected blankets, food and money to send there. When injured Gazans have come to Nablus hospitals, people here visited them, since their Gazan relatives were forbidden to come.
When it was time to leave Im Wafa and the family, Mohammed came to drive us to the bus station to depart from Nablus.  We were assisted to get a seat in the crowded public transport van by a tall thin man who happened to be going, as we were, to Ramallah and then on to Bethlehem.  We eventually started talking to him and learned that he is a tour guide who had just dropped a group in Nablus and was returning to his home. Doris asked him if he knew Johnny A., a tour guide from Beit Sahour, and, sure enough, they are best friends!  Part of his story is that he had been a student at the American University in Jenin ( in northern West Bank), but did not continue there  because the checkpoints between there and his home city of Bethlehem (southern West Bank), made the travel time of 8 or 9 hours each way unbearable.  So he enroled in the Lutheran College Tour Guide program in Bethlehem and received his certification after two and a half years. It is a rigorous course to prepare to tell tourists accurate details about all they are seeing - whether historical, religious or political. Ramsi also told us that one of his two brothers just completed undergraduate studies in Cyprus and now must decide whether to come back to Palestine, where there are no jobs, or stay in exile in order to make a living somehow.   These are some of the difficult decisions that face young Palestinians today, and one always wonders how it would be if there were no military occupation placing limits on opportunity.

First Day in Palestine: Old City of Jerusalem

It is impossible to know where to start.  Whether to go over my notes from the last 10 days or tell the stories from my host family or write a blog about changes here since last year, etc.
It is a sunny, warm Fall day in Beit Sahour, and I took the day off by not joining the group's tour of Hebron where I have been many times.  I needed to write, and for that I need to concentrate. I will go  back to day one.
October 7 - My first morning at the Austrian Hospice in the Old City of East Jerusalem I sat at the breakfast table with a young blond woman from Ireland who is teaching piano at the Edward Said  National Conservatory of Music's Nablus campus.  So I started to think about connecting her with Mohammed and PHF.  She lives in Ramallah, and commutes 5 days a week to Nabus.  I told her about PHF and she said she would welcome the possibility of volunteering her skills. Later, I gave her info to Mohammed, who was also pleased with the prospect of bringing another resource to PHF.
After breakfast I started my chores of renewing my 2 cell phones (one for Israeli-controlled E. Jerusalem and one for the West Bank telecommunications system) and changing money. My usual money changer was no longer there, so I had to accept whatever rate I was offered at another place. Oh well. My Palestinian newspaper man was not in his stall due to the Jewish holiday of Shucrot (sp?)which interrupted publication of the English language Ha'aretz and International Herald Tribune.
When finally free to enjoy the rest of the day, I wandered around the Old City. First I stopped to greet the man who runs a small shop selling lose cookies and candies. He surely makes a meager income from this place, but is always pleased to see me and chat a little about the occupation and U.S. politics, and I am always pleased to pick out about 10 of the most interesting or yummy cookies which serve as my snack food for a few days.  From there I strolled along the bustling market street, trying not to bump into too many people or carts using the same narrow space.  This took me through the Muslim Quarter and on into the Christian Quarter. I ignore the souvenir shops as they change from Palestinian Muslim to more Christian trinkets, and anyway I am not wanting to buy anything, now that I have already found a bracelet that identifies me as favoring Palestine.  I walked slowly, taking in the products of ordinary life, from kitchen utensils to meat to vegetables to clothes.
At a crossroads I take a right turn and decide to seek a small museum I have visited  before. It is harder than ever to locate it, as its single door to an old residence is almost hidden by the shops on either side. I ask a shopkeeper for help, find the place and ring the bell. Luckily, someone is there and  buzzes me in, even though they usually only open by appointment.  This is Mujoud Cultural Center & Museum under the auspices of the Arab Orthodox Society, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem and the Waqf of Jerusalem, and it preserves many artifacts and photos from Palestinian life before 1948. The director, Noura Kort, knows the history of each object and the value of protecting her heritage in this way. I ask about the space behind the museum, and she shows me that it is still there - about an acre of open land (!) that at one time was a water reservoir serving the whole community including the Patriarch's private  bath which was adjacent to the pool.  The water was piped in from the beautiful Suliman Pools, a few kilometers away, now an archeological treasure that is in ruins.
In 1967, when Israel occupied and illegally annexed East Jerusalem, it drained this pool and left it empty, to fill up with garbage until last year.  Finally, the museum's supporters prevailed upon the Jerusalem Municipality to clean up the lot, and it now appears as bare land surrounded   by apartment buildings on all sides. If my technological skills and time allowed I would insert a photo here for you to better appreciate the victory it is that this tiny enterprise has managed to keep this space out of settlers' hands.  Noura comments that Obama has not deserved the Nobel Peace Prize and it should be revoked. She tells me, by way of criticizing U.S. policies, that yesterday a U.S.  bomb killed a leader of the Kurds whom we are supposedly supporting against ISIS.  In contrast to this behavior she tells me the story of the first Muslim conqueror of Jerusalem, Omar, who had the option of enslaving and/or killing the captured Christian population or taking a nonviolent approach. He chose the latter, and signed an agreement which is still visible on a stone monument, that Christians could continue to live and practice their religion under his rule if they would pay a tax or tithe. In his wisdom, he refused the invitation to enter the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to pray, as he knew this would set a dangerous precident. Instead, he picked up a stone, threw it some meters away from the Church, and built a mosque on that spot.
As I walked back towards the Austrian Hospice, a shopkeeper stopped me, saw my bracelet, and wanted to talk. Usually this is a trap to get you to buy something, but somehow he communicated an honest desire to chat, so I accepted his invitation to enter his store and sit down. After about 10 minutes of reviewing the politics of the occupation, he said was impressed and surprised by how well informed I am.  He hoped I would stop by again, and maybe I will.
At this rate, I will never get though my jounal, but I love to tell you these stories, and I hope they make Palestine and Palestinians  become real to you. To be continued.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Jesus and I were in Taybeh

Three weeks ago I was in Taybeh, a tiny Christian village famous for its beer brewery, the only one in Palestine. But I didn't see the brewery. Instead I saw a place where Jesus is known to have been. I cannot say I have had a personal relationship with Jesus, nor even certainty of his divinity. But I do believe he existed and that he was a Palestinian Jew. And now that I have been in Taybeh, I feel closer to him.

Only 1100 people still live in Taybeh, while 10,000 former residents have left the village in search of employment. As usual in the West Bank, there are Jewish settlements and military bases stealing land that belongs to Taybeh and in general undermining the economy so as to prevent development. Traveling with my friend, Gay Harter, we were invited to spend a night in Taybeh with the family of Jerias (ponounced JERias), a medical school graduate who had stayed two months last summer at Gay's house while he did a residency in Boston. Luckily for Palestine, Jerias is determined to finish his medical training here and not to leave his homeland in search of a better salary. Jerias showed us around his village, and I could see why it would be a good place for Jesus to rest. It is on top of a hill with great views of farmland in all directions. At the highest point, 900 feet above sea level, Jerias showed us the ruin of a Crusader church, which was built over a Byzantine church. (Archeologically verified). He said this is not a ruin, but still a church, and all 3 of the local catholic sects come here to pray together whenever there is a festival or a protest against the occupation. From this spot we watched the sun set and evening star appear, lending an air of mystery to the crumbled foundation and facade.

So, as Jesus stayed here, and I stayed here, I felt a kind of closeness to the person who brought a revolutionary message of love and resistance to a troubled world. I am bringing home a symbol of this felt connection -- a ceramic dove, made in Taybeh as an income-producing craft. The back of the dove holds a glass dish in which one puts olive oil and floats a wick - both supplied with the dove. I hope it ends up on the alter of my UCC church in Ashfield, Mass to replace the little votive candle we light for peace every Sunday. Jerias and his family gave us each a dove - so typical of the generosity and welcome that infuses the culture of Palestine. I suppose Jesus received the same welcome in Taybeh.