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.