Sunday, May 3, 2009

Ramallah: my friends' apartment -- so not what I expected

Friends, so much in Ramallah is so not what I expected. (Read my post of April 29 below.)
One surprise for me was just how gorgeous Fadi and Suha's apartment is. It's in a very lovely new building set among other lovely new buildings. Has plenty of space inside, beautiful new appliances and a wide open balcony patio area where I was treated to a sumptuous breakfast of fresh breads, cheeses, eggs, fruits and sliced veggies even though both Fadi and Suha had to leave for work.
(Fadi works in a peace-building organization in Jerusalem and drives there and back, through the check points, everyday.
Suha does great work of her own in Ramallah-based organizations. Surprising for us who don't live there, Suha is not allowed to cross through the checkpoints and enter Jerusalem at all unless an Israeli organization applies for a permit for her for each and every visit. Even when the Jewish Israeli director of the foundation where Fadi works applied for Suha to be permitted to come to a reception, she was denied.)

Looking off their balcony in the bright morning sun, it surprised me how much their nearly center-city Ramallah neigbourhood closely resembled the nicest residential areas in older west Jerusalem. The white stone-clad buildings and roadways, the terraced earth, the patches of tall wild grass and thistles and occasional olive trees all were so very familiar to me. Take a look at these photos from Fadi and Suha's balcony. If you know Jerusalem, you'll see what I mean. It is a fifteen minute walk to Duar as-Sa'ah, Clock Square in English (even though it is round and has no clock), a small, quietly bustling little commerical area in the center of Ramallah.
It struck me as not only a nice place to visit, but also a nice place to live.
Everyone agrees that Ramallah is a bubble in Palestine. No other place has developed as Ramallah has. Nowhere else in Palestine is like Ramallah. But, I believe Ramallah shows how Palestine could develop when given the chance . . .

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Haifa in Ramallah -- חיפה ברמאללה

Trying to get to the Jamal abd El-Nasr mosque as dusk was settling, day rolling away before the night, I passed a small store with "Handmade in Palestine" on its awning in English.
Intrigued, I peeked inside and found not the tchatchke shop I was expecting but a small, tidy shoe store. Walls lined with shoe boxes.

Two women, a mom and her daughter, both veiled in hijabs, were waiting perhaps for one more customer before closing for the night. They welcomed me stiffly. After some initial hesitation, the daughter spoke very good English and began to tell me with pride about the shoes, all made entirely in Hebron. Her father started the shoe company with designs and processes from right there. All natural leather. The very first soles made in Palestine.

Her name? Haifa.
Why? (Need I ask?) "I am from Haifa, but right now we are refugees."

Could I introduce her to people with my little camera?
No. She did not want to be on camera at all.
Could I record her voice but not show her? I want people to know.
Briefly checking in with her mom, Haifa, 19 like my son Yehuda, said that would be OK.

After I shot this little interview, Haifa invited me to sit down. She wanted to talk with me very seriously about Israel and the Palestinians. She had a lot to say and was very strong and clear in her opinions. She was good at listening too.
Her father, who started the shoe company, has been in prison for three years now with no trial. He's charged with something she is sure he would never do. I didn't ask what. He's imprisoned near Ashkelon -- by the sea far on the other side of Israel, hours by bus and through God-knows-how-many checkpoints.
She's allowed to visit him once every two weeks and always goes.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Ramallah: a chance encounter with Madees Khoury, daughter of the first Palestinian microbrewers

People in Palestine say that Ramallah is not like the rest of their country.
"It's a bubble," said Sam Bahour, the Ohio-born Palestinian entrepreneur who came here after Oslo to help develop the country.

This afternoon in Ramallah, I stepped out of Stones, a hip focaccio place on a side street near the center of town where I had just immersed myself in an enormous baked potato with mushroom and cheese sauce, and nearly literally bumped into this young, energetic woman. Madees Khoury was deliv
ering kegs of her family's Taybeh Beer -- proudly the first Palestinian microbrewery. Here's the briefest of introductions.

Reflecting o
n myself and why I want to share this encounter with you, I realize it is to show the non-scary side of Palestinian life.
From what I see traveling around here, 99.44% of Palestinian life is non-scary.
But, so often the picture in Canada and in the Jewish community of Palestine is both desperate misery and rabid anger. I hardly ever see an image of Palestine and Palestinians which is attractive, interesting, lively or happy.
Walking through the streets of Ramallah, Bethlehem and Dheisheh, sitting in cafes, talking with people, going into the Abd el-Jamal Nasser Mosque at evening prayer time, even in listening to a young woman whose father's prison now for three years with no trial, I have experienced a side of life which is deep, rich and very attractive.

Nine souls sharing עצמאות ונכבה - Independence and Catastrophe - يوم النكبة ويوم الاستقلال

Two hundred souls, Israeli and Palestinian, gathered for two days of the Israeli Yom ha-Zikaron & Yom ha-'Atsmaut (Remembrance Day and, following it, Independence Day) as well as to mark the Palestinian Yom al-Nakba (Day of Catastrophe).
It is, of course, the very same day.

The same day, two very different narratives.

Each narrative is part of the whole -- and only part.

Each has hardened. Each shuts out the other.
Two divergent narratives tear people apart.
Even more true, hardly ever do those people meet with hearts open.
Nearly never do they hear the story of the other, much less enter the heart of the other.

Two hundred of us here in this land chose to come together
to listen, to share memories, to be present and
to make possible visions of a future better than the
ongoing deep traumas of the past and present.

I thank God I was blessed to be among those people. I want to share the experience with you.
Beyond words, h
ow can I share it?
Here are small introductions to nine souls who live in this land . . .

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

رام الله RAMALLAH: so NOT what I expected . . .

Ramallah surprised me.
I went there in the dark of night and was amazed at what I saw in the next day's light.
I'll share a bit with you . . . but, first, why go there?

All my images of Ramallah were
bleak at best . . .
A very crowded, dirty, rundown town that I walked through in 1971. Old rickety
diesel buses belching black fumes in tightly packed streets, people hawking wares in your face, all set in the beautiful softly rolling hills north of Jerusalem.
Exotic, fascinating for 19-year old me, but not at all comfortable.

I would have gone back.
I would have, but outbreaks of fighting, renewed war, tensions and fears got the best of me. I never saw Ramallah again.

Even without ever being there again, images of Ramallah formed in my mind.
Michal and I were living in Jerusalem with our two youngsters, Yehuda and Sophie and baby Miriam in 2000. In October, the intifada took a horribly ominous turn for the worse. Two Israeli reservists made a terrible wrong turn on their way home from the army. They found themselves unexpectedly in Ramallah. An enraged mob attacked and nearly killed them. Palestinian police rescued them and held them in the lock-up in a Ramallah police station for their own protection. I remember that morning. It was breaking news. I watched CNN bulletins with a dozen other men waiting in a greasy, smoky car repair shop Talpiot in Jerusalem, only a few miles from the scene. All of the Jews in the shop were Israeli reservists. The Palestinians in the garage, obviously, were not. Horror gripped us all as the TV showed mobs overwhelming the police. They broke into the lock-up and butchered the two errant Israelis. I remember the scene clearly: in real time on CNN from only a few miles away, a Palestinian man ecstatic with blood on his hands from personally killing the Israelis . . .

. . . and then, as we watched, the Israelis launched helicopter-borne missles at the police station and blew it up, killing God-only-knows how many, introducing a new level of weaponry into this latest escalation of violence, opening the possibility of the surrounding Arab militaries using missiles of their own against us in Jerusalem.
RamAllah. Not a place I'd want to be.

An even more recent image: Yasir Arafat holed up in the Muqtada, his headquarters in RamAllah, fighting breaking out there, the building itself a scorched, burnt out hulk.

And yet, since then, I've known several Jews who have gone to live in RamAllah. One is a Canadian-Israeli activist who married a Palestinian. One is a conscientious, devoted young American Jew who actively brings other Jews to see the realities of the occupation . One is the son of one of my hero-rabbis. I could hardly imagine living in Ramallah and thought of them as making a great sacrifice so that they could fulfill their ideals.

And now, I've known that Ramallah is the seat of the Palestine Authority, the place where Palestinian intellectuals, artists and entrepreneurs find each other. It is the portal to Palestine for the international community. It could not be like my mental images. I wanted to see for myself.

Just before midnight on Sunday, Fadi Rabieh, a young man I have learned to deeply respect, picked me up at Abu Leil's felafel stand just outside Yehuda's dorm on the north side of Jerusalem. Fadi and his wife Suha stayed with us last summer when they co-lead the Palestinian kids in Vancouver's Piece It Together program.
Fadi drove me a couple of miles through the orderly Jewish neighbourhoods of expanded Jerusalem. We then went along the separation Wall which I'd never seen except in pictures. It seals Palestinian areas off from Jewish ones. You can't even see what is on the other side. We crossed checkpoints into the Palestinian area and immediately entered a different world -- one obviously untouched by municipal services despite having been annexed by Israel. Fadi slowed the car as three horses leisurely wandered across the street on their own in the middle of the night. After only a few miles, we were in the centre of Ramallah. Fadi took me to his and Suha's apartment.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Another visionary in Bethlehem . . .

Friends, I've been asked while I'm in Bethlehem to meet Dr. Sami Adwan.
My good friend and one of my world-heroes in Vancouver, Reena Lazar,started our Peace It Together project. She responded to my previous blog post late last night and asked me to meet Dr. Adwan and pick up some papers that she needs. Reena told me:
He is a professor at Bethlehem University and is also one of the two people (along with the late Dan Bar On) who was behind the brilliant dual narrative project.
He is a warm and fascinating guy who I think is the leader of peace education amoung Palestinians.

The person who usual helps Reena with this lives in Ramallah and has not been able to get to Bethlehem. Ramallah is a few miles north of Jerusalem and Bethlehem a few miles south. I really don't know why Dr. Adwan doesn't just mail these things to Reena or to her partner in Ramallah. There must be a reason. Nonetheless, I'm happy for the possibility chance to meet Dr. Adwan -- if he is an and can meet me. I'm also happy to have a reason to visit Bethlehem University, which I have always been interested to see, and to learn about his projects.

While I've been writing -- right now -- Manal has called me twice. She is so eager for us to visit. I am so moved by speaking with her. Every time she talks to me she calls me "buddy", like, "I wait for you, buddy. See you soon, buddy." It is so endearing!
Yehuda, my son, is getting ready to come into the center of Jerusalem to meet me. Right now, I have to check a bus info website to figure out the best way for him and me to meet and then travel the three or so miles to the checkpoint in the Wall.
More later, God willing -- be-ezrat ha-Shem, inshaAllah.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Crossing the Wall: Bethlehem and Dheisheh refugee camp Sunday afternoon

My son Yehuda and I are planning to go to Bethlehem on Sunday afternoon. We also plan to visit the Dheisheh refugee camp.
Our guide will be Manal, an energetic, hope-filled young woman from Bethleh
em who I met on Friday afternoon at a conference for peace educators organized by the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information. Manal, a recent Bethlehem University graduate in education, is a devoted volunteer with Areen, a Palestinian non-profit community organization in Dheisheh that develops skills and knowledge among the youth and women of the camp.
Nowadays, going to Bethlehem is
no easy matter. For Israeli citizens, it's illegal. The "Wall" thoroughly seals it off from Jerusalem. When I first lived here in 1971, it was so easy to go to Bethlehem just down the road from Jerusalem's southern edge. Traffic flowed easily back and forth. The two towns are so close together there is really no undeveloped space between them. But now they are entirely separate realities.
Manal ha
d never been through the Wall to the Jerusalem side since it was built. Friday, when I met her, was the only time she was given a permit -- and even with the permit it took her over two hours of standing line from 7 - 9 a.m. to be allowed through the gate to travel all of about half a mile to the Tantur Ecumenical Institute where the IPCRI conference was held.
If we have time, I'd like to go back to the extraordinary Hope Flowers School for children in El-Khader right next to Bethlehem where I first went with the Compassionate Listening Project in 2001 and to visit the Holy Land Trust in neighbouring Beit Sahour where Michal and I joined a Palestinian-Jewish dialogue group in 1990.