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 


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