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Sorry for neglecting this blog so long. It’s been a crazy last few weeks in Palestine. I just arrived in New York, where I’m spending a week catching up with friends and sleeping off the jet lag. On December 17th I’m flying back to sweet home Oklahoma for holidays with the family. Due to many distractions in Palestine (friends in prison, travels, soccer, street hockey, yoga, this blog, etc.), I’m a couple of months behind on writing. I hope to have the book finished in February, at which point I’ll most likely move to New York and try to sell it.

In the meantime I’ve been contacting prominent people on the Israel/Palestine circuit, which has borne some fruit, including a very useful and encouraging email from Noam Chomsky. I’ll be following up with the contacts he and others have given me after the holidays.

I’m also working on a big research article about Abbas’s threat to resign, which has so many causes and potential consequences, it’s taking me a while to put everything together in a satisfying way. I’ll post it here as soon as it’s done.

Meanwhile, here’s a photo essay about my last weeks in Palestine. All of these photos, as well as the ones in the Photo section of this blog, are available in high-resolution upon request.

In October or so, I visited a village called Sebastia near Nablus that boasts fantastic Roman and pre-Roman ruins. Here is the mosque built over the prison where John the Baptist was said to have been imprisoned before being beheaded by Herod.

I took dozens of pictures of the stunning landscape around Sebastia, but to save space I’m just including my favorite. The man in the photograph is a friend of mine from Sebastia who works in the human rights department of the Palestinian Authority and was a huge help in securing insurance for Rania. Hopefully he can help her get a job in the spring — she only has enough money to get through April, and her husband won’t be released until the end of July. Her baby girl is due any day now.

Here’s a Roman-style theater in the hills above Sebastia, a venue recently cordoned-off and invaded by Israeli settlers and soldiers and used for some kind of graduation ceremony, of course without permission from the residents of Sebastia. They thankfully left after a few hours without damaging anything, but it’s a mild version of the kind of routine humiliation Palestinians have to put up with on their own land.

Next are some pictures from Bil’in, the plucky village west of Ramallah that’s lost much of its land to a huge settlement called Modiin Illit and had about half of its land isolated by the Wall. Bil’in is one of the most active fronts in the non-violent struggle against the Wall. Every Friday since February 2005, villagers, Israelis, and internationals gather after lunch to protest the illegal route of the Wall.

In 2007, the Israeli High Court handed Bil’in an unusual victory. It ordered the settlement to stop expanding on Bil’in land and ordered the Israeli military to move the route of the Wall and return about half the land isolated by the Wall to the village (which meant only 25% of their land would now be stolen for the settlement).

Even though the victory was only partial, “The villagers danced in the street,” Emily Schaeffer, an Israeli lawyer who worked on the case for the village, recalled in 2009. “Unfortunately, it has been two years since the decision, and the wall has not moved.”

See: Ethan Bronner, “Bil’in Journal: In Village, Palestinians See Model for Their Cause,” New York Times, August 27, 2009.

Here’s the main protest sign for the week.

They built another contraption, a scale with the UN flag on one side and an Israeli flag on the other, with the scale tilted heavily toward the Israeli flag, indicating that Israel was flaunting the entire world’s wishes (with American help, of course). It was carried over a wooden coffin that said, “International Law,” indicating that Israel’s actions were helping destroy the concept of the rule of international law.

Here’s another view of the main protest sign, carried by several French women wearing keffiyas and a Palestinian guy whose smile alone made the day worthwhile, at least for me.

Several protestors have been injured by Israel, including a few who were permanently disabled. Two young men in motorized wheelchairs joined our procession, and this kid took the opportunity to hitch a ride with one.

Here’s the procession to the Wall. You can see the Wall isolates so much land.

And here we are gathered at a gate in the Wall just before the tear gassing started.

Here’s an article I wrote in 2005, when I went to Bil’in for the first time. The part about Bil’in starts about halfway down the page. Non-violent protests in Palestine are covered more extensively in my book, Fast Times in Palestine.

Back in Ramallah, I took some pics around town, including this one of Al Manara, the central traffic circle.

A jewelry story display window.

Some of the opulent bridesmaid’s dresses at the Heliopolis dress shop on Main Street.

No matter how much I write about Palestine, I still get absurd questions from people like, “Can women drive in Palestine?” and “Do they make you wear a veil?” This display window, just a block off Main Street, should dispel at least a few of these questions. Any place that has mannequins in such provocative poses wearing sheer lingerie in broad daylight can’t be all that uptight.

A man selling tormus, a kind of boiled seed, fuul, or fava beans, and corn on the cob on Main Street.

Sunset in my neighborhood of Ramallah, Al Masyoon.

This minaret and church tower are visible from many points in Ramallah, a nice reminder of Christian-Muslim unity in the city.

One Sunday I randomly caught a service taxi to Kobar, a village northwest of Ramallah that looked pretty remote and interesting, and took a hike. I took dozens of pictures of the beautiful landscape, and here are my two favorites.

For the Eid al Adha feast holiday (the one where Muslims slaughter goats and give some of the meat to the poor to commemorate God’s mercy when he ordered Abraham to sacrifice his son and then said, “Just kidding!”), I went to Jayyous to see Rania and her family, the ex-mayor and his family, and many other friends.

Here’s Rania’s son Karim pretending a TV remote is a cell phone. Phones are connected in his mind with his father, who’s in Israeli prison on bogus charges. As long as he can remember, his father is nothing more than a disembodied voice coming from a phone. He often picks up cell-phone-shaped things and says, “Baba?” (Daddy?)

Here are some Jayyous boys with their toy guns. Feast holidays are times to give presents, clothes, and money to kids, and toy guns are almost as popular among children in Palestine as real guns are among children in Oklahoma. I’ve watched this entire pack of kids grow up since they were barely walking.

And here are some sweet little girls.

I went for a hike on Jayyous’s land and got some pics of the land and the Wall. Here are two of the most telling.

The Green Line (the border between the West Bank and Israel) is 4 km west of Jayyous, but you can see how the Wall comes right up next to some of the houses in town.

Here’s a view of the razor wire bales that form a “buffer zone” around the Wall, and on the other side of the Wall, all that is Jayyous land. Greenhouses, wells, reservoirs, olive groves, and all. The blasted earth in the middle is a rock quarry where Israel illegally dynamites Jayyous’ land and takes their stones.

Two of the mayor’s grandkids — so cute! I held the one on the right, Mustafa, when he was just a baby, and I was there for the wedding of the one on the left’s mama and daddy. Other grandkids and friend’s nephews and cousins have also grown up to be so beautiful, handsome, smart, interesting, friendly, etc. It’s been an honor to know them through the years.

The mayor’s mama. She never says anything and moves very slowly, like a silent shadow or ghost. So I was surprised when, just like the kids, she insisted I take a picture of her. She took the camera from me afterwards and squinted at the display of her photo on the back. Then, to my shock, she started dancing a little jig! My main worry was that she was going to drop or throw my camera, but her grip was viselike. I guess not all who appear quiet and slow are demonstrating their full powers…

But what I miss most about Ramallah right now is the Ramallah Football Club, which I founded a few months ago. We play Thursdays at 3:30 next to the church behind Osama’s Pizza.

Toward the end I was the only girl playing most of the time, but back before daylight saving’s time (and before a Ramallah women’s basketball team poached a couple of our best players), we had up to half a dozen girls some days. After daylight saving’s time and shorter days forced us to move our games from 6:00 to 4:00, then 3:30, only the hardcore (or unemployed) players kept coming.

Isabel on the left has regular yoga sessions at her apartment, and Lisa is an Irish friend. Here we are at Pronto’s after a yoga session. I’m pretty sure the pizza and wine cancel out the healthy effects of the yoga, but oh well.

We and some other friends were talking for hours that night, and I started talking about the concept of my book — about how few books are written that paint the Palestinians as human beings first, (pathetic) victims or (fanatical) perpetrators of violence second. Palestinians are never seen in popular culture as just kids and moms and dads and aunts and uncles and cute guys and pretty girls and all the things human beings are. So when terrible things are done to them, most people in the West don’t care, because they don’t see them as folks just like us. That’s why my book is called Fast Times in Palestine rather than the usual dour and depressing titles, and that’s why it “focuses on life in this complex and charming proto-nation (which just happens to be under occupation) rather than on the occupation itself.”

One of my friends said, “I know what you mean. Even though I live here, the statistics don’t have that much of an effect on me. They can’t. You’d go crazy if you thought about everything to much. But every now and then something gets through all those defense mechanisms, and it’s usually something very simple. Like there was a famous French singer at the Ramallah Cultural Palace a few months ago, and I was sitting near the front, and in front of me was this guy who just… This singer, I’m not sure you know her, but she’s very famous here, and you could tell this man was so excited. He was dancing and smiling like it was the best day of his life. And I was thinking, This guy, right here, smiling and dancing to this French singer — this is who the world and the media is demonizing? And I started crying, and I cried pretty much the whole time.”

Another friend said, “The same thing happened to me, only it was some kids I met in the southern Hebron Hills, where the settlers keep poisoning the fields and the Israeli army keeps trying to throw them out of their villages. We were playing with the kids before we talked to the grown-ups, and one of them had fair hair and reminded me so much of my little brother. They were doing things like pretending not to want our attention and then doing everything possible to get it, and by the end they were climbing all over us. You know, just like kids anywhere. So I got to know them as kids first, and only afterwards I heard their story. The one with the fair hair, his dad said to me, ‘You see that scar on his forehead?’ The kid had been shot in the head by a settler. It was a miracle he even survived. When I got home that night, I lost it completely.”

I’ll talk in the book about what finally burst the dam of my defenses. It was the lowest time of my life. I’ve never been the same.

Leaving Ramallah was sad, of course, though the sadness was mitigated by several going-away parties, some of them for me. ’Tis the season for people to leave Palestine for the holidays, and sometimes permanently, so mine wasn’t the only good-bye. It’s been an honor and a pleasure. ’Til next time.

Of course, at the end of it all, I had to cart my luggage past the Qalandia checkpoint, which decided to be extra-awful on the day I could barely fit my stuff through the metal turnstile gates. I picked the wrong of two lines, the one that stopped moving for twenty minutes even though we could see female soldiers inside chatting with each other. The one where just in front of me was a tall, pretty woman in a hijab, jilbab, and knee-high black high-heeled boots that kept setting off the metal detector. She couldn’t understand the irate Israeli teenager’s rude and heavily-accented English yet managed to keep her dignity intact while being treated in an abhorrent way. I don’t really feel like talking about it anymore.

As my bus was pulling away from the checkpoint, I happened to look out my window and see a young Palestinian man with a keffiya wrapped around his head against the cold. Then my window framed an Israeli soldier who casually raised his gun until it was pointing at the Palestinian’s head. He pantomimed pulling the trigger and feeling the kick as he shot the young man in the head. The Palestinian guy was walking away and didn’t see the soldier pretend to kill him, but another soldier did and chuckled. Nice last view of the occupation.

I went to Haifa to visit my Russian-Israeli friend Dan for a couple of days before taking off. Here’s a map of Israel he bought in 2000, when he moved to Israel. You can see the West Bank isn’t marked at all. It’s shown as if it’s part of Israel. Only a few grey patches, the 17% of the Palestinian territories designated Area A under the Oslo Accords (see this post to learn more about the geography of occupation), is demarcated as vaguely ‘not-Israel,’ since it’s illegal for Israeli citizens to travel there under Israeli law. All the settlements are treated as simply part of Israel.

Feel free to link to this next time you hear someone complain about Palestinians not having Israel on their maps or not recognizing Israel.

I made it through Ben Gurion with minimal problems (and truth-telling) but then got randomly pulled aside and felt up by the Swiss in Zurich. Oh well. After two days of bleary traveling, I’m in New York and happy to be here. I lost my warm hat in Ramallah a while ago and went shopping for another one, and the warmest, cheapest one I could find is dark blue and has a little embroidered picture of Bob the Builder on it. I’ve been wearing it around SoHo and the Village, and I expect it to be a hipster trend by the time I come back in February.

That’s it for now. Happy Holidays to everyone!

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Books I Love

A Doctor in Galilee,
by Dr. Hatim Kanaaneh

The Hour of Sunlight, by Sami al Jundi and Jen Marlowe

The Goldstone Report, edited by Adam Horowitz, Lizzy Ratner, and Philip Weiss

Mornings in Jenin, by Susan Abulhawa

The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, by Ilan Pappe

Zabelle, by Nancy Kricorian

Cosmos, by Carl Sagan

Impro, by Keith Johnstone

Improv Wisdom,
by Patricia Ryan Madson

Walden and Civil Disobedience, by Henry David Thoreau

To Kill a Mockingbird,
50th Anniversary Edition,
by Harper Lee