Stories

June 27, 2015 § Leave a comment

I am in the land of stories. Every decision, argument, perception depends on which ones you believe.

Israel’s official creation story – “a land without people for a people without land.” The Palestinians’ Nakba – the catastrophe of their displacement from their ancestral homes and their ongoing status as refugees, a stateless people. The narrative of Israel’s newcomers making the land bloom and blossom, turning the desert green. The history – and visible remains – of the 531 Palestinian villages that were bulldozed to piles of rubble and planted over with fast-growing evergreen pines to prevent their inhabitants returning to them after they fled in 1948.  The memory of the Holocaust, and the millions who were murdered or rendered homeless. The thousands of Jewish refugees who arrived in Palestine looking for safety. The initial welcome, that inbuilt Middle Eastern hospitality, that gave way to fear as the numbers of immigrants  swelled. The role of the British government in all of this.

The story of occupation. Israel’s claim to have liberated the Jewish homeland from centuries of foreign occupation. The ongoing, visible repression of the descendants of those they claim were the last occupiers. The irony that those people – the Palestinians of ’48 – were themselves probably descendants of Palestinian Jews. The story of a chosen people and a blessed land.

And today.  The paranoia of a whole country that believes it is surrounded only by enemies, but fails to understand that it’s actions are in any way responsible. The constant drip of restrictions and limitations that leads to the kind of frustration that drives a young person to resist in any way they can. The cry of “security” and “terrorism” that justifies the subjugation of an entire people. The lumping together of “the enemy” so that when one young man stabs an armed soldier, all the residents of his village have their permits to travel the few miles to Jerusalem revoked. Everywhere, the fear, the fear, the fear. The idea of a right of return. For Israel, the birthright of all Jews to “return” to live in Israel – and the political facilitation of this perceived right. For Palestinians, the right to return to the homes that they or their parents or grandparents fled in war. That desire held in the old door keys, probably of no practical use now, passed from parents to children as a symbol of that determination to return home.

The assertion of your identity through the denial of another’s. The renaming of a street, an area, a community. Arabs, not Palestinians. Judea and Samaria, not the West Bank. After Israel declared its independence, displaced Palestinians became infiltrators when they tried to return home, a designation that allowed them to be shot on sight. Today, a teenager becomes a soldier, armed with a gun and intense fear of his perceived enemy. Glasses and a cropped hair cut. Sandals with your army fatigues, if you’re a girl.  On the other side, a teenager becomes a prisoner, indefinitely, on a dubious charge, or no charge at all. Another story – the perception of what freedom means and what you have to do to keep/achieve it.

The narrative of a nation state, a people’s “right” to a homeland, of the necessity of borders and categorising people. The Israeli (and US-European) perception of an ongoing war against a generically hostile enemy, a nameless terrorist whose face is brown, Arab, Muslim. The Arab and Muslim world’s appropriation of the Palestinian story for political gain, while Palestinian refugees languish in camps, 67 years after their expulsion from their homes, trapped in a cycle of political wrangling in which they are merely pawns. The fact that the only Israelis many Palestinians have ever seen are soldiers with guns.

Finally, the story – or, perhaps more accurately, the myth – of the possibility of a solution in two states for two peoples. Two states when there is no contiguous piece of land that can ever become a Palestinian state.  Two peoples whose definition of themselves has come to depend heavily on the existence of the other. Both survivors, both victims.

I am in the land of stories. Yet, like the founding tales of all nations, families, communities, these are so much more than “just” stories. They are narratives imbued with such intensity of meaning that to argue with them is often to deny someone their identity. They are filled with the heaviness  of memory passed down through generations, made fat with myth and religion, turned hard and inflexible with the residue and renewal of fear and anger and that confused sense of both loss and entitlement. There is a desperation there to continue to believe, because if you stop, you have to redefine, completely, who you are.

How can you contend with that power? How, here, can people begin to accept that everyone has the right to their own narrative of identity? What would be  the consequences? What if Palestinians could freely commemorate their memories of dispossession and displacement as publicly as Israel celebrates its independence day? What if Israel acknowledged the crimes committed during its founding? What if a right of return was at least acknowledged for everyone who wished to return? What if Palestinians and Israelis weren’t ghettoised behind walls and checkpoints (regardless of the fact that one ghetto is prettier and better taken care of than the other), if they weren’t prohibited by threats and restrictions on movement from meeting on a day-to-day basis in a normal context?

What might happen then?

hikayaat

Living in Rubble in Jerusalem – Nureddin Amro

April 16, 2015 § Leave a comment

Article 53 of 4th Geneva Convention for the Protection of Civilians:

“Any destruction by the Occupying Power of real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons, or to the State, or to other public authorities, or to social or cooperative organizations, is prohibited, except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations.”

Nureddin Amro is the founder and principal of Siraj al-Quds School for Integrated Education in Jerusalem, promoting inclusive education for young people with visual impairments. Nureddin is himself blind. At the end of March, he and his family were awoken by the Israeli army at 5.30am in the morning as they slept in their home in East Jerusalem. What happened next in his own words:

Living in Rubble in Jerusalem – Nureddin Amro

Steps away from Jerusalem’s Old City, where millions of people from all countries and faiths visit for spiritual and cultural renewal, I am living with my family in rubble.

In the early morning hours of March 31, while we were sleeping, hundreds of Israeli soldiers and police surrounded the house where I live with my wife and three children and the adjacent house where my brother lives with his wife and four children and our 79-year old mother. We had gone to bed looking forward to a picnic in Jaffa that we had planned, but were awoken by the frightening sound of vehicles and yelling. They banged on the doors shouting that we had to get out immediately as they had come to demolish our home.

Israel’s policy of demolishing Palestinian homes is not new. Some demolitions are collective punishment for acts carried out by individual family members, but most are “administrative,” which means that homes were built without permits. Palestinians and human rights organizations argue these administrative demolitions are not legitimate because Israel refuses to issue permits to Palestinians to build on their own land and because the “permit regime” is part and parcel of Israel’s policy of driving Palestinians away from areas the occupying power wants to control.

Unfortunately, I live on strategic land that Israel is trying to confiscate. I live on the access road to a new settlement. Israel supports Jewish settlement in Jerusalem to make sure the percentage of Palestinian residents does not rise and threaten their efforts to Judaize the city.

What is unusual in my case is that there was no demolition order against my house and there was no warning at all that it would be demolished. Perhaps that is why the soldiers committed the act with such brutality. Many of the soldiers were masked. They brought dogs and a helicopter and bulldozers. We begged the soldiers for time to go to court and obtain proof of our rights, but they refused. We tried to email international organizations for help, but the soldiers cut our electricity and phone lines. We tried to film using our cell phones, but they beat us. My brother was injured in the leg and a fence fell on my 12-year-old son.

I was born in Jerusalem. My parents were born in Jerusalem. Their parents were born in Jerusalem. Their parents were born in Jerusalem. It mattered not to the soldiers, many of them only recent arrivals in this land.

Our modest house was approximately 70 years old – older than the State of Israel. I have lived there for more than 40 years. It’s a semi-rural spot nestled between the commercial zone, the major hospitals, and the religious sites. My kids used to play and relax under the shade of the trees, now destroyed, and they enjoyed offering water and snacks to passersby, whether Palestinian or Jewish Israeli or foreign. The house is our only home.

By the time the soldiers left, they had demolished the wall that surrounds the house, the garden that we loved, the kitchen, and several other rooms. My brother, my mother and I are each left with one room. We have restored the electricity, but the sewage system is ruined. In the place where my children used to relax and play under the shade of old trees, there are piles and piles of rubble.

Amro-Wadi-Joz-wmphoto courtesy of ISM 

Many people have offered to help us clear the rubble, but after talking with other families who have experienced demolition, I am confused about what to do. Some were told to remove the rubble after the demolition or face high fines. Others who cleaned the rubble immediately after the demolition, however, realized they had helped the authorities to destroy the evidence enabling them to later deny having demolished the house. I don’t want to take any action that will undermine my legal position, and I don’t want to do anything to “invite” them to demolish the house still more in the near future.

It isn’t easy living in a house surrounded by rubble, especially for my brother and I who are both blind. Still, I find myself unable to throw away the crushed concrete, which is mixed with the fragments of my entire life. Each uprooted plant and broken piece of furniture is a part of our story. While it’s hard to walk over and around the rubble as we try to live, it’s just as hard to imagine tossing it into a dumpster.

Life for Palestinians in Jerusalem is complicated and tiring. Laws favor the authorities and Jewish citizens, especially settlers, and are interpreted unevenly and unpredictably. As the principal of a school for visually-impaired and sighted children, I have supported hundreds of families as they tried to stay on their ancestral land in the face of violence at all levels. Now my own family is among those awakened by nightmares. We live in fear that the soldiers will come back and that nobody will protect us.

Bio:

Nureddin Amro is the founder and principal of Siraj al-Quds School for Integrated Education in Jerusalem. He was chosen as an Arab World Social Innovator by Synergos Institute for his work building an inclusive future for the visually handicapped through integrated education and is an Ashoka Fellow. He was recognized by the British Council in Jerusalem as a social leader working for positive change and social development for people with special needs. A campaign to alleviate the Amro Family’s losses is at:

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/help-a-family-in-wadi-al-joz-rebuild-their-lives–2

 

 

 

Hospitals, homes and places of worship… and bloody politics, obviously

April 3, 2015 § Leave a comment

Apologies for the long absence… it has been a busy 6 weeks! Friends came to visit at the beginning of March and it was interesting to see Palestine through their fresh eyes, so to speak. I love showing people around, even when I have no clue where I’m going! We visited Hebron – my first time in this very complex city – and saw how the Israeli settlements within the city have crushed trade in the Palestinian markets. Hebron used to be a bustling centre of trade It’s famous for it’s pottery, glass objects – and grapes. Everything that’s to be exported is now bought by Israel and sold on as “Israeli” products – after the EU labelling rules, fresh produce from Hebron will probably be labelled as settlement produce. The city is unique in that it’s the only place where there is a settlement right inside a Palestinian city – usually they are built on the outskirts. There are 400 Israeli settlers living in Hebron in settlements built above the old market… and 2000 Israeli soldiers to “protect” them. The market streets, where Palestinian traders work, are covered with sheets of wire netting, put up to protect traders and shoppers from the generic rubbish which is thrown down by those living in the settlement. We saw empty cans, pieces of glass and more organic rubbish balancing precariously on the netting while we walked cautiously through. On Saturdays, the Sabbath, settlers and Orthodox Jews visiting the city often come down into the market and smash things up, presumably for entertainment.

Hebron    Ibrahimi mosque    Market

Why is Hebron special? The Ibrahimi Mosque – also known as the Cave of the Patriarchs – is believed to house the tombs of Abraham and his wives and is therefore a holy place for Judaism and Islam. In Islam, Abraham is known as “Khalilullah” – the friend of God – and Hebron’s Arabic name is “Al-Khalil”. In 1994, Baruch Goldstein, an American immigrant to Israel (and, ironically, a medical doctor, trained to save lives), entered the mosque during the dawn prayer and murdered 29 people while they were praying. When you visit the mosque today, you can see the bullet holes in the walls, plastered over with white and numbered from 1 – 199, according to our guide. Following the massacre, the mosque was shut by Israel. When it was reopened, it was split with bulletproof doors – one side is now for Jews, and the other for Muslims. For 10 days a year, the whole mosque is opened to Muslims, and for another 10 days it is fully opened up for Jews. On both sides, we were asked the same question – “Are you Muslim?”. On the mosque side, it’s to establish whether you’re there to pray or just as a tourist. On the Jewish side – it’s because Muslims are not allowed to enter (but sometimes we do anyway… shh).

I went back to Hebron last week with a group of Britons who had come to Palestine to run in the Right to Movement Marathon, fundraising for the Amos Trust and Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP). We visited the Al-Alia hospital, where MAP are funding a new burns unit, and heard from MAP staff about the issues facing healthcare in the West – Bank and particularly Gaza. To summarise healthcare in Gaza, a quote from one of MAP’s staff – “I didn’t see a single bar of soap in any hospital in Gaza”. Imagine what the situation is with actual drugs and consumables. Gaza at the moment has 4 hours of electricity a day, and generators are not able to cover the shortages. The Gaza power plant has been inactive since the war last summer, so they are dependent on Egypt and Israel to provide electricity. Obviously effective medical care is impossible without electricity – and to get care outside Gaza, citizens need a permit from Israel to leave. People die waiting for permits. We were told that when a child gets a permit for medical care inside Israel, their parents are not allowed to accompany them – they have to be accompanied by a “secondary” relative – an aunt or uncle, for example. This relative, being Gazan, is not allowed to leave the hospital premises for any reason, whether to buy food, get fresh air, whatever. I cannot work out what the security reason for this bizarre rule might be. Anyway, selfish shout-out here – I am still collecting donations for the 10k I ran as part of the Right to Movement Marathon. All money will be divided equally between MAP and the Amos Trust, so if you can spare a fiver, please do – https://www.justgiving.com/boo-bethlehem10k. Massive thanks!

While in Hebron, we also visited the only shop on the famous “Shuhada Street” that is still open (the rest have been forced to close by Israeli forces for “security” purposes), and were fed a fantastic Palestinian meal by the family who owns the store. We also heard how the shop – and it’s owner, Abu Mohammed – were attacked in the run up to the recent Israeli elections by a local settler who was running as an MP and wanted to boost support. While the soldiers manning the nearby checkpoint which you go through to get from the “Muslim” side of the Ibrahimi Mosque were apparently supportive AFTER the attack (they have no jurisdiction to do anything to stop settlers), the police couldn’t care less. Justice here depends very much on two things: the person you’re dealing with and your racial identity… as I and all the other brown/Arab people who have been detained at the airport can attest to!

Staying on the subject of Hebron – there was an incident this week which may have made international news. 2 nights ago, we heard that an Israeli lad, 22, was “missing” after entering a Palestinian village near Hebron, and was presumed kidnapped. His friend call the emergency services, claiming he had gone missing after going to look for help for a flat tyre. The Israeli army launched a massive operation – here in Ramallah, people were tense and afraid of what might happen next. The next day, we discovered that the whole thing was a prank – there was no flat tyre, the friend hadn’t gone missing – apparently he was just trying to impress a girl! The whole of Hebron was closed by the army because of this idiot.

Something else happened this week that probably didn’t make the news, but should have. A 5.30am on Tuesday morning, the Israeli army woke up a Palestinian family asleep in their home in the Wadi El-Joz area of East Jerusalem. 2 blind brothers, their wives and children, and their 79 year old mother. They proceeded to demolish the house while the family were forced to stay in one room. Nureddine Amro, one of the 2 brothers, is the director of Siraj Al Quds, a school for the visually impaired in East Jerusalem and one of our programme partners. He’s an incredible, dedicated man, passionate about improving the situation of young people with visual and other disabilities in Palestine. Full story here. Home demolitions in East Jerusalem and forcible evictions are part of an Israeli policy to change the demographic “facts on the ground” to justify keeping the whole of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. According to international law, however, East Jerusalem is occupied Palestinian territory, and (theoretically) the capital of a future Palestinian state. Whatever Google maps might tell you, the capital of Israel is in fact Tel Aviv, not Jerusalem. While we’re on the subject of evictions, there is an Avaaz petition going around to garner support to stop the eviction of Nora Sub Laban and her family from their home in Jerusalem’s Old City. They have been subject to several eviction orders, despite holding the deeds to their house, and the only reason they are still there is because of the physical international presence of journalists and activists (shout out to EAPPI!) who gather at the house to prevent them being forced out. Please do sign: Help Save My Home.

I didn’t intend this blog to be quite so full-on – or quite so focused on Hebron, but that’s what’s slipped out. I’d like to end on a cheerful note though, because, politics and endless human rights violations aside, there is so much to love here.  One of my best experiences in Palestine so far has been attending a show by the Palestinian dance troupe “El Funoun el sha’biye el falastiniye” – here’s a video from the show, because I can’t explain how incredible they were: https://youtu.be/28qVTrmXtgA. In fact, I was roped into a dabke lesson last week and the only reason I  joined was because I secretly want to be able to dance like El-Funoun… pigs may learn to fly first! I will update on my progress when I get to the end of my 8 weeks of lessons…

From the holy land – a happy Friday, happy Easter and happy Passover to you all, whatever you’re celebrating.

Orientation

February 15, 2015 § 1 Comment

I have a map!

This is a great deal more exciting than it sounds. I don’t know if it’s a Ramallah thing or a Palestine thing, but people here do not do street names. Which consequently means directions are largely incomprehensible to a newbie. “You know where Arab Bank is? Yes? Yes! No, not that Arab Bank, the one near that well-known cafe. Oh you don’t know the one I mean? Near…” and so on.  So the fact that I now own a map means I finally feel (sort of) self-sufficient. At least I can find my way around without asking 12 people en route.

Another thing I am discovering, after 3 weeks of constant last-minute rushing around, is the importance of developing a routine, and sticking to it. From next week it will be Arabic course two nights a week, teaching (!) Arabic one evening, Pilates on Saturday morning and gym whenever I can manage it. And at least one trip. And 35 hours of work in between. No more. Let’s see how it goes.

I have to keep reminding myself that this isn’t a diary and I can’t share every little thing. So I want to write a bit about Khoddori University in Tulkarem. It’s a stunning series of simple buildings – clear lines, wide interiors. Universities in Palestine are worth a visit. Education is everything. I went to Khoddori along with a group of volunteers who were delivering an English language session to students there and, as I wasn’t personally involved in delivering the session, the group coordinator at the university gave me a little tour. A bit of geography to start with. Tulkarem is right on the western border of the occupied West Bank, approximately 15 km from the Mediterranean. Of course there’s a giant wall blocking any access to the sea for those living there. I am genuinely sorry to keep going on about the Wall, but it’s unavoidable. Especially for those of us who are privileged enough to be allowed to travel around. The economy, traditionally, was based on agriculture, and the small amount I saw of the city from the university grounds is lush and green (and surrounded by grey concrete. Sorry. I have wall-related verbal diarrhoea).

Khoddori University, the coordinator told me, was built as an agricultural college in the 1930s, funded by an Iraqi Jewish man. More recently, his grandson also donated money for a new building. It became a university in the 2000s and is now funded through the Palestinian Authority. So far so rosy. If you look West over the wall, you can pretty much see the sea that most Palestinians can’t get to. On the Palestinian side, there’s the Gishuri chemical plant – an Israeli owned plant that used to be in Israel, but was shut down by an Israeli court following legal action by residents against the pollutants it was pumping into the environment. So the owner reopened it on Palestinian land. Apparently (and these are the words of the coordinator) – “when the wind is blowing towards Israel, they shut down the plant. When it’s blowing east, they leave it. We have a lot of problems with cancer.” Apparently the Palestinian residents have also tried to take legal action, but without success. It’s facts like this, facts that have almost become a norm for people living here, that  makes you realise how completely insane the situation is in this tiny, breathtakingly beautiful, strip of land.  It completely confounds belief.

Bil’in, for me, was similar. Everyone who comes to Palestine with some sort of activism in their blood visits Bil’in. I won’t write loads about it – but Wikipedia has a decent entry. Anyway, what struck me, again, was how stunning the place is. We met a family, mum dad and 3 little kids. They waved, and welcomed. I had some basic conversation with the little ones. One of the girls trusted me enough after 60 seconds to hold my hand. There were poppies randomly dotted around everywhere. And empty tear gas canisters, and the toilet-roll-like containers that they’re thrown in, with a couple of words of Hebrew written on them on white labels.  And you see the wall snaking around, and it looks deceptively far away… and then suddenly it’s THERE, literally right in front of you. Barbed wire on both sides of the road running alongside it. A couple of guys and their herd (?) of goats. We join them for delicious, sugary tea, smoky from the fire. “Welcome to Palestine”. Beautiful, crazy, confused country.

Bil'ein 20150214_132536 20150214_132257 

“We’ve got used to living with this suffocation. We just try to poke holes so we can breathe”

February 1, 2015 § Leave a comment

The Middle East is at its most beautiful first thing in the morning, when the roads are almost empty and you can appreciate the natural and man-made beauty of your surroundings without the constant distraction of market stalls and unpredictable traffic. To be fair this is probably true of anywhere in the world, but I’ve never been more than a theoretical morning person – I’m sure I’d love it if I could get out of bed.

Ramallah on a normal day isn’t more crowded than what you’d expect of a capital city (and with East Jerusalem under Israeli authority, Ramallah does function as the de facto capital of Palestine).  Nonetheless, when I went out early on Friday, with good intentions of going to the gym (which, by the way, were thwarted – gym was shut. FRIDAY. I forgot.), it was astonishing to notice the contrast between this early morning silence and the daily bustle. The building I live in is at the top of a hill, and then the road flattens out. Between the houses there’s a clear view across the hills in the north – if I had a better idea of geography I could tell you exactly what’s over there but I’m still not particularly well orientated! Anyway, the point is, it reminded me how lucky I am to be here.

Emotionally, it’s been a confusing week so I’m struggling to write this in a sensible, non-stream-of-consciousness way. In the last 2 weeks I’ve travelled from Ramallah to the office in Jerusalem 4 times. Each time, I’ve crossed Qalandia “checkpoint” which separates the northern West Bank from Jerusalem. Generally, my journey is fairly straightforward. I get on a bus or a servees (shared taxi) from central Ramallah. There are 2 bus routes which take you all the way to Jerusalem, the rest just take you to the checkpoint. However regardless of which bus you’re on, you still have to get off and cross the checkpoint on foot. There are a few exceptions – mostly the elderly and sometimes women with children – and me, on one occasion, because I happened to be on a bus full of mothers and babies and for some reason (British passport maybe?) the soldiers who got on to check our IDs didn’t make me get off.  Coming up to Qalandia on the Palestinian side, there’s the infamous separation wall (8 metres of concrete topped with barbed wire…), covered with graffiti (including a couple of Banksy pieces – the girl with the balloon and the boy with the bucket). The buses drop us off at the entrance to the checkpoint. You enter what I can only describe as a large wire cage and wait with everyone else until the soldiers open the turnstiles to let us in, 3 people at a time. It can take 10 minutes, or 2 hours. It could be much more, if you’re one of the hundreds of Palestinians who cross in the early hours of the morning to get to work. You might not be allowed through, for any number of reasons.

Qalandia

Once through the turnstiles, you put all your belongings apart from your ID documents on a conveyor belt for scanning, while you yourself walk through a body scanner, hold your documents up at a window (If you’re Palestinian you also get your thumbprint scanned), and wait for the soldier on the other side to wave you through. Then you get your stuff, walk through 2 more turnstiles to clear the checkpoint, and get on the next available bus.  Once, there was barely anyone waiting and yet it took ages for the turnstile to open to let the next group through. When it was my turn to show my passport, I realised that this was because the soldier was on the phone, directly in front of the window but refusing to look up until he was ready. I can’t have waited more than 3 minutes with my ID pressed against window, but that was frustrating enough. It just serves to emphasise that the whole system is at least as much about control as security – if not more so.  And yet for me, with my magic British passport, this checkpoint business is barely an inconvenience. I’m waved through without a word.

Birzeit UniversityOn a (slightly) more cheerful note, last week I also visited Birzeit University in Ramallah, headquarters of the Palestinian Right to Education (R2E) campaign and one of our project partners here. Birzeit is a beacon of resistance and it was genuinely a dream come true for me to be able to visit!  Our volunteers are working to help raise the profile of the campaign internationally – but also among Palestinian students, many of whom, having lived their whole lives under occupation, have accepted the violations of their right to education as just one more thing they just have to deal with. Checkpoints, road closures, arbitrary detention of students and staff, refusing visas to international staff and students, denial of permits to students from Gaza to study in Ramallah. All of it has become expected. The situation was aptly summed up by one of the lecturers we met (a Palestinian woman who grew up in the States and came back to Palestine with her parents when she was 15, after Oslo, when they fully expected things to get better) who said, laughing: “We’ve got used to living with this suffocation. We just try to poke some holes so that we can still breathe!”

20150131_143229

Yesterday I had my first full day of being a tourist! We went to Nablus, a city in the north which is built in the valley between two mountains. Mount Gerezim, in the south, is home to a community of Samaritans – it’s the most sacred place in the Samaritan faith.[1] First impression – Nablus is significantly warmer than Ramallah! The Old City feels like a mixture of the Middle East and Europe – partially enclosed markets, wide squares and narrow streets.  The smells range from concentrated poultry droppings to the aroma of freshly ground spices, depending which part of the market you’re in. Nablus is famous for its kunafa, a delicious dessert made of cheese – which, to be honest, was my main reason for wanting to visit. Most exciting discovery of the day – there’s more than one kind! It’s also famous for olive oil soap. We visited the old soap factory and were given a free tour by a man who has worked there for 30 years. It was in Arabic and there are a lot of soap-making words that I don’t know, so I missed a lot of vital soap-making information (sorry, Erin…).

There is a significant Israeli settlement (around 6,000 inhabitants according to Wikipedia) north of Ramallah on the road to Nablus, called Beit El. After returning home last night, local news told me that settlers had been “hurling rocks” at Palestinian vehicles on that road. Everyday there’s news of some act of violence which somehow seems insignificant in the context (and, of course, bigger news, like the incident at the Lebanese border this week) . Palestinians threw stones at settler cars. IDF forces assaulted and arrested a 10 year old boy in a refugee camp in Jerusalem. Palestinian stabbed 10 people on a bus in Tel Aviv. Settlers ran over a 5 year old. I’ve been here for 2 weeks and already I just scan the news for anything that might affect my personal safety or plans, and move on.

[1] Nablus, like Ramallah, is one of the few Palestinian cities in ‘Area A’, so fully under the control of the Palestinian Authority (the Oslo Accord divided the West Bank into 3 non-contiguous areas – Areas A (full PA control), Area B (PA civil authority, Israeli-PA security control), and Area C (full Israeli control). Nonetheless the IDF frequently carries out night raids on houses in Nablus and the surrounding villages.

Week 1 in Ramallah

January 23, 2015 § Leave a comment

Well, I promised to give the blogging thing another try, so here goes…

It’s been one working week since I arrived in Ramallah on Sunday. If I’m honest, it feels like I’ve been here at least twice as long! Work has been extraordinarily busy but I’m grateful for a calmer day today. It’s Friday and most people are off work. Weekends here are quite varied, some people have Friday and Saturday, some Saturday and Sunday, some Friday and Sunday. Anyway today’s been lovely and calm.  I’ve finally managed to unpack after moving into my new flat on Wednesday, and had a very successful trip to the fruit & veg market – highly necessary as I’ve mostly been feasting on bread, labneh (a yoghurty spread… trust me it’s amazing) and za’atar this week!

Friday might become my market day, it’s so much quieter as most people are at home after Friday prayers. I don’t want to make anyone jealous, but it seems to be the perfect time for strawberries here…! It has taken me a bit of time to get used to the exchange rate – and the West Bank isn’t cheap – but think I’ve kind of got the hang of what reasonable prices are now (not before getting a little burnt – 10 shekels for 2 onions and 4 tomatoes is definitely too much!). I’ve made myself a rule that I can’t buy anything if I don’t know what it’s called in Arabic, so I had to walk past avocados and celeriac today. It’s pretty difficult not to get carried away and buy ALL the food!

I absolutely love this city – Ramallah is like a micro version of Cairo, but significantly quieter and with a lot more hills. Our apartment is on the ground floor, but the view from the front balcony/ conservatory (yes, ground floor balcony!) stretches for miles. Oh and there’s a garden! I’m sharing with a lovely Palestinian woman from Nablus, who coincidentally works on IHL education with an organisation in Jerusalem.

I’m contemplating joining the Ramallah Runners (part of the Right to Movement campaign) but literally every street is a hill. I’m definitely nowhere near fit enough! Having said that, I’ve got grand plans to join the gym and have signed up for a 5k in Bethlehem in 2 weeks. The most challenging (non-work related) thing so far is the cold! Even when it’s lovely and sunny outside, it’s absolutely freezing indoors – I miss central heating! I’ve been sleeping in a hoodie with layers of blankets, which does work, but it makes getting up so much harder (I think everyone who knows me know how terrible I am at mornings… some of you more so than others!).

Work… well. It’s been a whirlwind of a week really. I arrived after midnight on Sunday after a 2 hour wait at the airport (nothing compared to the 12 hours of questioning two of our volunteers were subjected to…) and was straight into meetings from 10am on Monday morning. My volunteers arrived a week before I did so I’ve been playing catch-up since I got here. However, we’ve got some incredible project partners here and I’m really looking forward to seeing how things progress! I’ll try and do a post on each partner in the coming weeks. In the meantime, here’s a wee photo of my workspace last Tuesday morning….

IMG_20150120_095813

(I’m posting the odd photo/ video on Instagram as well – shab.ana for those interested)

25.03.2012

March 25, 2012 § Leave a comment

When they fire bombs and mortars on my people, sir
Gathering in our streets and crying to be free
We will join hands, raise our heads, lift our voices, sir
We do not wear our honour on our sleeves

And if I find myself caught and trapped, sir
As spring sunlight glints softly through the trees
I will lift my shoulders high and hold back, sir
I will not wear my honour on my sleeve

If they ask me for names, faces, places, sir
I will hold my head still and I won’t scream
If they put cigarettes out on my face,
Sir, I will not wear my honour on my sleeve

If they march me blindfolded to my cell, sir
I will not struggle or resist or drag my heels
When they shut me up in the darkness I’ll know, sir
I did not wear my honour on my sleeve

I did not scream or shout or beg for mercy, sir
I did not cry have pity or please
When I found myself caught and marched away, sir
I held my honour in my heart
Not on my sleeve

And if they beat him and break his bones, sir
Or parade him on TV for all to see
An example for all rebellious ones, sir

Know

His quiet dignity will carry you and me