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.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

A quick trip to meet the neighbours . . . 24 hours in Jordan

Traveling alone is a good idea when you want to meet people along the way.

Kind, warm, friendly people opened
themselves to me all day in Amman and then in Irbid, Jordan's second largest city, home to some 650,000 souls including my friends in Vancouver Najib, Amal, Adri and Khaled.

I met and talked with so many . . . most were displaced Palestinians living in Jordan. Everyone received me beautifully -- and I never hid who I am. I spoke with some for hours . . . about exactly what is important to us.

A pita baker takes his fresh loaves off a cooling rack and stacks them in wooden trays to take to nearby restaurants and bread shops.

Late at night, in one of hundreds of little coffee shops in old Amman full of men young and old playing cards or chess, sipping thick sweet coffee, a young man uses his hands to mix the narghileh tobacco with pungent apple flavouring while an older fellow tries it out.

Right across from the Husseini Mosque in Wust al-Balled, old Amman, a young guy with a sweet smile sells very tempting almond and farina pastery. I didn't find anyone to be pushy or in my face there.

Just outside the mosque, a kind man prepares a miswak for me -- a special stick from Pakistan used for cleaning the teeth, just like a toothbrush, complete with specific instructions on how to do it just like the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) did in his lifetime. They come in plain, mint, lemon and sandalwood. First, he peeled off a finger's width of bark from one end and then lightly tap-tap-tapped it with a little hammer to break up the fibers for me.

Two lifelong neighbours who might have made such
a different life for everyone if only . . . if only . . .

This photo is on the wall inside the border station on the Israeli side between Israel and Jordan at the Sheikh Hussein Bridge between Beit Shaan (Beisan) in the west and Irbid in the east.

I'll write more when I can, im yirtseh ha-Shem.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Amsterdam opens possibilities of what a city can be

Amsterdam opened possibilities for me of what a city can be.
Light on the land.
Clean, green and open, des
pite the dense population.
Gorgeously cosmopolitan diversity of people.
Easy, comfortable, cheap public
transport everywhere.
Rich history and
culture alongside dynamic creativity and newness.

I stayed with Jenn and Rob, newly-met friends of friends, in Olympiade, a vast and tidy neighbourhood of closely packed four- and five-storey brick apartment houses built up around large green open courtyards in the 1920's in the Oud Zuid quarter of Amsterdam all laced with park-like canals populated by a dazzling variety of ducks, geese and other waterbirds. Jenn and Rob are connected to the Jewish Spiritual Renewal movement in Amsterdam and Rabbi Goldie Milgram connected me to someone who connected to them. Jenn is from New York, Rob from Cape Town. Jenn is a playwrite and dramatist and both are very involved with the arts and a studio. They've been in Amsterdam for years and years and raised both their now-adult sons there. Many of Jenn's plays are about the Dutch Jewish community and how they are still slowly, slowly dealing with the massive trauma of betrayal during the Holocaust.

Jenn and Rob's apartment is small -- tiny, in fact, by our Canadian and American standards. They have no car, only a little Vespa. They graciously fit their lives into a modest space, a few hundred square feet with perhaps four other households all above them in the same footprint. Right out their groundfloor front window is a quiet sidewalk, a lovely bricked road and stretch of green green grass and then a beautifully calming canal with small row boats, punts and motorized dinghies tied up along its edge. There are more boats than cars -- and hundreds and hundreds of bicycles. And out the back is a lovely garden space with a table and chairs. It was there that we had dinner before Jenn took me on a lovely evening tour of some of her favourite places in old Amsterdam.

We took one of the quiet little trams that run through the streets and then walked through narrow brick lanes lined with old shops and apartments to the wide-open Museumplein, a grassy plaza where people were wrapping up their lingering picnic dinners to head home for the evening. Three museums are on the plaza, one being the Rijksmuseum, a very ornate old building where young people were hanging our and climbing all over a very new sculpture of the letters spelling out "I AMSTERDAM". We walked on past the Royal Palace, a rather modest affair that looks more like an old hotel, where a big traveling carnival was in full swing right across the street. I loved seeing the ferris wheel and flashing lights right in the plaza of the queen's front yard -- that's the kind of queen I'd like, one who invites everyone to come over and play at her house.

Jenn took me also to the old Jewish section of town, where tens of thousands of Jews lived for centuries from the time of Spinoza and even before, having come in great numbers in the late 1400's after fleeing the Spanish Inquisition. The Jewish Quarter now is empty of Jews. The old synagogues remain and are magnificent. One is still in use but most have been turned into museums. Amsterdam and Holland as a whole turned in their Jewish neighbours to the Nazis with great orderliness and cooperation. The Netherlands had one of the highest rates of annihilation of Jews of any country occupied by the Nazis and the community still has not recovered either numerically or emotionally. Jenn says that the old Jewish quarter was not re-occupied by Jewish people because it is so horribly haunted by the deep unhealed trauma of being murderously betrayed by once-friends and neighbours.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Istanbul -- a gorgeous flow of image and sound

Soak in this sensual invitation to Istanbul. I am thoroughly intrigued with this city and can't wait to be there.
This gorgeous flow of images and sounds was made by Veysel Gencten in Istanbul. This was given to me by Musa Kalaora of our Ahavat Olam Synagogue who was born and raised in Istanbul until his family moved to Canada.

Inside the hammam in Bab az-Zawiyyah, Hebron, May 2001

When I was last in Israel-Palestine, Aug 2000 - June 2001, one day I went to Hebron to see the realities there with my own eyes.
I went to visit the
Christian Peacemaker Team who had been living in Hebron for several years at the invitation of the mayor so that they could serve as witnesses and reduce the level of violence against Palestinians by Israeli settlers and authorities.
I took a Palestinian bus from the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem and traveled with Palestinians on the back roads through fields and orchards because they are prohibited from the main roads.
What I saw in Hebron eight years ago shocked me despite all the reports I had heard. Well over 100,000 Palestinians locked down in their own city to provide "security" for a tiny handful of several hundred fanatic Jews. Signs of brutal violent repression were everywhere. Homes and stores everywhere were pock-marked from being raked with large-caliber machine gun fire. Horrible anti-Arab graffiti, "Death to the Arabs" in Hebrew, was spray painted on shops and homes. Many shops were burnt out. Israeli military patrolled everywhere and had set up outlooks and gun posts on rooftops all over the city. It had been this way for decades.
One very beautiful place was this, the inside of the hammam or bath house in the neighbourhood called Bab az-Zawiyyah. Even after decades of occupation and repression, it was an oasis of calm and comfort. I learned later that a zawiyyah is a Sufi prayerhouse and I remembered my rebbe, Reb Zalman's experience with the Sufi sheikh in Hebron years ago. Was this the place?
I have no idea if hammam is still opan and functioning. There's been so much further destruction of Palestinian life in Hebron since I was there eight years ago. I'd like to go there again on this trip and see.
The Christian Peacemaker Team is no longer there. I don't know if they were expelled by the Israelis or if they left on their own. They have moved to
At-Tuwani in the south Hebron hills, between Hebron and Beersheva, a place where Palestinian farmers and villages have been under intense assault from fanatic Israeli settlers in recent years. I hope to visit there on this trip and will let you know if I do.