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Chapter 5: Suddenly a Journalist

Grapevines and Sea Breezes

Passing Bir Zeit University on my way to Jayyous.

Passing Bir Zeit University on my way to Jayyous.

Outtake from this section (after the underlined part), p. 94:

I spent the next few days [in Jayyous] meeting and catching up with old and new friends, helping Mohammad the Charmer and his equally charming fiancée pick out fixtures for their new house, and visiting one of their cousins who had just finished medical school in Tunisia. He was clearly the star of the day, sitting in his mother’s parlor wearing a white Polo shirt and wire-rimmed glasses, surrounded by relatives and exuding an air of benevolent wisdom and almost boyish pride. I tried to speak Arabic with him, and he answered in a mixture of English and French.

Amman Again

After the first paragraph on p. 101 (all except the underlined part, which was left in):

When I got back to the Al Sarayya Hotel, Fayez invited me to dinner. We walked to a restaurant called Anwar Makka (Lights of Mecca). One of its walls was covered with a stunning mural of Mecca and its mosque lit up against the desert night. We ordered kofta tahina—spiced minced lamb baked with potatoes, tahini, garlic, and lemon. He asked about my week, and I filled him in as we enjoyed the food and ambience. I offered to split the bill at the end, but Fayez responded with a look of such withering indignation, I never dared offer again.

I sighed. “It was the same with Laila. Every time I tried to pick up a bill—even if I tried to do it before the food even arrived—I always found that she’d already paid. She’s like some kind of bill-paying ninja. And this morning her relatives fed me an enormous breakfast, then another friend bought me an amazing lunch, and now you’re buying me dinner. This is getting out of hand. I’m starting to feel bad.”

Fayez laughed. “Don’t feel bad. Maybe you feel bad because it is not your way. But it is our way.” He shrugged. “We like people.”

I made my way to the Pasha Palace Hammam (Turkish bath) the next day, where I enjoyed a sauna, pool, exfoliation, scrubbing, and divinely inspired massage in an old Arabian palace for less than $20. The main steam room had the customary tiny, round stained-glass windows in the central dome that broke the sun into colorful beams as it cut through the steam. I left as soft and relaxed as a baby in a blanket.

I’d been sleeping better in Jordan and feeling more carefree than I had in ages. I ate like a happy camel while I was the perpetual guest and gained back all the weight I’d lost in Ramallah. (I never told Qais the real reason I’d been losing weight. Sometimes when I was reading Catch-22 and hearing about the senseless death and destruction all around me, the world seemed so bleak and crazy and mean I wanted to go hungry and not sleep just to take my mind off it.)

Home Sweet Ramallah

The Al Masyoun neighborhood of Ramallah

The Al Masyoun neighborhood of Ramallah

A view of Ramallah at dusk through the trees of the Friends School

A view of Ramallah at dusk through the trees of the Friends School

A part of town being newly developed (for better or worse)

A part of town being newly developed (for better or worse)

A minaret and church tower side by side in the Ramallah cityscape.

A minaret and church tower side by side in the Ramallah cityscape.

One of the striped hills surrounding Ramallah during the day

One of the striped hills surrounding Ramallah during the day

A valley road

A valley road

A qasr, or hand-wrought stone dwelling. Farmers used to use these while tending to fields far from home. They can be found dotting the hills around Ramallah (and I assume throughout the West Bank).

A qasr, or hand-wrought stone dwelling. Farmers used to use these while tending to fields far from home. They can be found dotting the hills around Ramallah (and I assume throughout the West Bank).

Another qasr

Another qasr

Still another

Still another

Well camouflaged

Well camouflaged

Bethlehem’s Walls

A friend of mine standing next to the Wall in the Jerusalem/Bethlehem area

A friend of mine standing next to the Wall in the Jerusalem/Bethlehem area

A map of the Wall in the Jerusalem / Ramallah / Bethlehem area. So much heartache, division, entrapment, and theft in one picture.

A map of the Wall in the Jerusalem / Ramallah / Bethlehem area. So much heartache, division, entrapment, and theft in one picture.

An artist's conception of what things would have been like 2000 years ago if the Wall regime had been in place then.

An artist’s conception of what things would have been like 2000 years ago if the Wall regime had been in place then.

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Ramallah

What it used to look like walking through the Qalandia checkpoint, around 2004. This checkpoint is several kilometers north of East Jerusalem and serves to sever occupied East Jerusalem and the land around it from the rest of the West Bank. The international community -- including the US -- does not recognize Israel's annexation of East Jerusalem as legitimate.

What it used to look like walking through the Qalandia checkpoint, around 2004. This checkpoint is several kilometers north of East Jerusalem and serves to sever occupied East Jerusalem and the land around it from the rest of the West Bank. The international community — including the US — does not recognize Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem as legitimate.

A car stopped at a checkpoint -- one of around 500 checkpoints, roadblocks, gates, and other barriers that hinder movement within the West Bank.

A car stopped at a checkpoint — one of around 500 checkpoints, roadblocks, gates, and other barriers that hinder movement within the West Bank.

A sniper tower (and mural) near the Qalandia checkpoint. The tower is blackened with soot from molotov cocktails. Clashes are common here.

A sniper tower (and mural) near the Qalandia checkpoint. The tower is blackened with soot from molotov cocktails. Clashes are common here.

A picture from inside the new checkpoint terminal, from my visit in 2011. You feel like a head of human cattle in these cages and with the humiliating way people are treated.

A picture from inside the new checkpoint terminal, from my visit in 2011. You feel like a head of human cattle in these cages and with the humiliating way people are treated.

The sign that greets civilians entering "Area A," the 17% of the West Bank with nominal Palestinian civil and military control. The Israeli military can, of course, enter at will.

The sign that greets civilians entering “Area A,” the 17% of the West Bank with nominal Palestinian civil and military control. The Israeli military can, of course, enter at will.

A picture of Al Manara, the central traffic circle in Ramallah, from 2009

A picture of Al Manara, the central traffic circle in Ramallah, from 2009

Al Manara decorated for the winter holidays

Al Manara decorated for the winter holidays

A close-up of one of the four lion carvings that surround Al Manara, representing the founding families of the city. I believe three represent Christian families and one represents a Muslim family.

A close-up of one of the four lion carvings that surround Al Manara, representing the founding families of the city. I believe three represent Christian families and one represents a Muslim family.

The Heliopolis Dress Shop in central Ramallah (with a young Arafat stealing a glance at the ladies)

The Heliopolis Dress Shop in central Ramallah (with a young Arafat stealing a glance at the ladies)

A man selling turmus (an edible seed) and other goodies on Ramallah's Main Street. In the upper left corner, you can see the sign for the famous Rukab's Ice Cream Shop.

A man selling turmus (an edible seed) and other goodies on Ramallah’s Main Street. In the upper left corner, you can see the sign for the famous Rukab’s Ice Cream Shop.

A shop selling gold, mostly for wedding gifts. It's a traditional back-up savings system in the Arab world. You know times are tough when you hear about women being forced to sell off their wedding gold.

A shop selling gold, mostly for wedding gifts. It’s a traditional back-up savings system in the Arab world. You know times are tough when you hear about women being forced to sell off their wedding gold.

Something I saw in a Ramallah shop window in 2009.

Something I saw in a Ramallah shop window in 2009.

Office Life

My little work space (picture taken after I became a journalist)

My little work space (picture taken after I became a journalist)

Motivational posters at work.

Motivational posters at work.

A map of the West Bank with settlements as dark blue dots and Area C (where Israel has full civil and military control) shaded in light blue. There are so many more settlements now... :(

A map of the West Bank with settlements as dark blue dots and Area C (where Israel has full civil and military control) shaded in light blue. There are so many more settlements now… 😦

OK, now for a couple of outtakes from this section:

Like in any office, we emailed jokes and videos back and forth. This one in particular made me smile:

An old Arab man lived near New York City for more than forty years. One day he decided to plant potatoes and herbs in his garden, but he knew he was too old and weak. His son was in college in Paris, so the old man sent him an e-mail explaining the problem:

“Beloved son, I am very sad, because I can’t plant potatoes in my garden. I am sure, if only you were here, that you would help me dig up the garden. I love you, your father.”

The following day, the old man received a response from his son:

“Beloved father, please don’t touch the garden. That is where I have hidden ‘the THING.’ I love you, too, Ahmed.”

Within hours the US Army, the Marines, the FBI, the CIA, the NSA, and the Office of Homeland Security came to the house of the old man and took the garden apart, searching every cubic inch. They didn’t find anything. Disappointed, they mumbled an apology and left.

The next day, the old man received another e-mail from his son:

“Beloved father, I hope the garden is dug up by now and you can plant your potatoes. That is all I could do for you from here. Your loving son, Ahmed.”

This outtake came at the end of this section:

For lunch we usually went to Osama’s Pizza for Italian food, Zeit ou Zaatar (Olive Oil and Thyme) for traditional Palestinian fare, or the Nazareth Restaurant, which had cheap and tasty falafel sandwiches. One day I accidentally walked out of the Nazareth Restaurant without paying and didn’t realize until I was back at my desk. Embarrassed, I walked back to the restaurant and said, “I’m so sorry, I forgot to pay.”

The man behind the counter was thin and distinguished-looking and wore silver wire-rim glasses. He put his hand over his heart and said, “That is OK, you are our customer. Next time.”

“No, really…”

“No, no, please, it is OK. Maybe next time it will be a very big order.” He smiled mock-suggestively, and I laughed.

Yum...

Yum…

This picture of my grandparents (sporting their gifts from my previous trip to the Middle East) was taped on my office wall, prompting at least one coworker to ask, "Oh, are your grandparents Jordanian?" :D

This picture of my grandparents (sporting their gifts from my previous trip to the Middle East) was taped on my office wall, prompting at least one coworker to ask, “Oh, are your grandparents Jordanian?” 😀

The lovely church next to my office. I loved hearing the bells on Sunday.

The lovely church next to my office. I loved hearing the bells on Sunday.

Palestinians think of Jesus as a... Palestinian. Makes sense, right? :)

Palestinians think of Jesus as a… Palestinian. Makes sense, right? 🙂

A church door in Paletine. The Arabic script says "Beit Allah" or "House of God." (Christian Arabs use the term "Allah" for "God," the same God worshiped in different ways by Muslims, Christians, and Jews)

A church door in Paletine. The Arabic script says “Beit Allah” or “House of God.” (Christian Arabs use the term “Allah” for “God,” the same God worshiped in different ways by Muslims, Christians, and Jews)

Sangria’s

Sangria's beer garden

Sangria’s beer garden

A beautiful spot for a beer and hookah.

A beautiful spot for a beer and hookah.

This is where I learned to say "Ala qalbek" after someone says, "Sahtein!"

This is where I learned to say “Ala qalbek” after someone says, “Sahtein!”

The wonderful beer itself -- Taybeh!

The wonderful beer itself — Taybeh!

Ramallah International Film Festival

A woman in a business suit announced the winners, mostly female, of a scriptwriting contest among Palestinian high school students, then we were shown a videotaped message from Omar Sharif, the Egyptian actor who starred in Funny Girl and Lawrence of Arabia.

Cold War and Peace

This passage, the last in the chapter, was shortened to just the underlined sentences in the new version (plus an edited bit about slavery, Jim Crow, and Apartheid):

She was right, of course. This conflict was a symptom of a much more fundamental disorder. Was it a problem with human nature itself, I wondered, or just a massive failure of imagination? It was easy to talk about ‘cycles of violence,’ but what did that really mean? The basic units of any conflict were human beings, and human beings supposedly had some degree of rationality and free will. How was that will so utterly subsumed into roles that seemingly benefited no one? What kept them in motion, and how could they be stopped? Could it be transcended one day like slavery, Jim Crow, and Apartheid? It seemed tantalizingly plausible. Who could have guessed, when a fractured Europe was massacring itself in the depths of World War II, that two generations later there’d be a European Union? Why shouldn’t something similar be possible in the Middle East?

There were difficult legal disputes that needed to be settled in the Holy Land, but the amount of stonewalling and violence was out of all proportion to the amount of land that was truly under discussion at this point. If we could figure out why—find the bottleneck—in one of the most bitter, deadlocked conflicts on earth, perhaps a way could be found to generalize it and extract ourselves from other irrational patterns of human behavior. It was thrilling to think about. That spark I’d had as a kid, the passion for learning about the world through my own senses, was reigniting.

I smiled at the ridiculousness of a physics major from Oklahoma taking on a quest that had eluded Presidents and generals, scholars and religious leaders. The near-certainty of my failure didn’t bother me too much, though. The path itself was irresistibly rich and interesting. Power and violence, fear and intrigue, inspiration and beauty, real and right in front of me, all around and undeniable. There was no way to know where it might lead—whether to utter cynicism and despair, renewed faith and hope, or something else, something totally unexpected—except to follow it and find out.

My ‘quest’ didn’t look like much now: editing documents for no pay, living with a loud-mouthed Gaza Communist, and already getting tired of falafel. Even if it came to nothing, though, the consolation prizes were traveling, learning Arabic, harvesting olives, drinking Taybeh beer, and rounding it out with a nargila on the porch.

I supposed one could do worse in her twenty-fourth year.

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Here are several photos that go with these chapters. Pictures can’t really capture the beauty or the atmosphere of the places or the people. But it’s a start.

Jayyous on its hilltop

Jayyous on its hilltop

Jayyous, surrounded by olive groves

Jayyous, surrounded by olive groves

The view at sunset, all the way to Tel Aviv and the Mediterranean

The view at sunset, all the way to Tel Aviv and the Mediterranean

The Fence / Wall, just outside Jayyous, that isolates 75% of the village's land from its owners

The Fence / Wall, just outside Jayyous, that isolates 75% of the village’s land from its owners

The Fence / Wall

The Fence / Wall — note the trenches and piles of razor wire that border the army access roads on either side of the Wall

MORTAL DANGER (sign posted on the razor wire piles surrounding the Fence / Wall)

MORTAL DANGER (sign posted on the razor wire piles surrounding the Fence / Wall)

An "agricultural gate" with opening hours posted: 7:40 - 8am, 2 - 2:15pm, and 6:45 - 7pm. And that's only if the soldiers actually show up on time, if they are in a good mood and remembered the keys, and if the owners / farmers / workers / guests / equipment in question have a permit to cross the gate.

An “agricultural gate” with opening hours posted: 7:40 – 8am, 2 – 2:15pm, and 6:45 – 7pm. And that’s only if the soldiers actually show up on time, if they are in a good mood and remembered the keys, and if the owners / farmers / workers / guests / equipment in question have a permit to cross the gate.

Waiting around to be checked and (hopefully) let through

Waiting around to be checked and (hopefully) let through

The massive scar of the Fence

The massive scar of the Fence

The village in the valley (to the left) is Falamya, a neighbor of Jayyous. On the hilltop above Falamya is an illegal Israeli settlement -- one of many in the area.

The village in the valley (to the left) is Falamya, a neighbor of Jayyous. On the hilltop above Falamya is an illegal Israeli settlement — one of many in the area.

Everything to the left (west) of the Fence is Jayyous land isolated from its owners. It includes citrus and olive groves, greenhouses, and all of Jayyous's water resources (wells, cisterns, and reservoirs).

Everything to the left (west) of the Fence is Jayyous land isolated from its owners. It includes citrus and olive groves, greenhouses, and all of Jayyous’s water resources (wells, cisterns, and reservoirs).

All of this land, owned by Palestinians, can be bulldozed and/or developed at any time by the Israeli authorities, settlement construction companies, or settlers themselves. There is very little recourse for Palestinian farmers who lose land and property in this way.

All of this land, owned by Palestinians, can be bulldozed and/or developed at any time by the Israeli authorities, settlement construction companies, or settlers themselves. There is very little recourse for Palestinian farmers who lose land and property in this way.

A map that shows the route of the Wall in this area. Jayyous and Falamya are in the upper right. The dark blue blob on Jayyous's land is an illegal Israeli settlement called Zufin that's already been built. The area with a blue mark around it is where 650 olive trees belonging to one Jayyous farmer were destroyed by the Israeli authorities in December 2004, ostensibly to build a new settlement called Nofei Zufin. The city of Qalqilia, home to 40,000 people, is completely surrounded by a concrete Wall, with only one entrance/exit that can be closed at will by the Israeli army.

A map that shows the route of the Wall in this area. Jayyous and Falamya are in the upper right. The dark blue blob on Jayyous’s land is an illegal Israeli settlement called Zufin that’s already been built. The area with a blue mark around it is where 650 olive trees belonging to one Jayyous farmer were destroyed by the Israeli authorities in December 2004, ostensibly to build a new settlement called Nofei Zufin. The city of Qalqilia, home to 40,000 people, is completely surrounded by a concrete Wall, with only one entrance/exit that can be closed at will by the Israeli army.

In Chapters 2 and 3, I got through the Wall most of the time and had an amazing time harvesting olives in this beautiful land.

In Chapters 2 and 3, I got through the Wall most of the time and had an amazing time harvesting olives in this beautiful land.

Stunning

Stunning

Combing the branches of graceful and generous olive trees

Combing the branches of graceful and generous olive trees

Lots of kids running around playing while we harvest.

Lots of kids running around playing while we harvest.

Gorgeous glimpses of Jayyous through the treetops

Gorgeous glimpses of Jayyous through the treetops

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The flowering bush that marks the turn to get to the mayor's house.

The flowering bush that marks the turn to get to the mayor’s house.

Jayyous's little mosque

Jayyous’s little mosque

Apparent charity flour. Palestinians don't want charity -- they want freedom.

Apparent charity flour. Palestinians don’t want charity — they want freedom.

Sniper towers and checkpoints are littered throughout the West Bank, many put in place to protect illegal Israeli settlements built on expropriated Palestinian land.

Sniper towers and checkpoints are littered throughout the West Bank, many put in place to protect illegal Israeli settlements built on expropriated Palestinian land.

Sniper tower. You never know if they're manned or not, if you have a gun trained on you or not.

Sniper tower. You never know if they’re manned or not, if you have a gun trained on you or not.

Traffic snarls are common in the West Bank due to both established and "flying" checkpoints. Notice that although this picture was taken in the West Bank, the sign is in Hebrew first, and it points to an Israeli town called Beit Shemesh and a settlement called Alon Shvut. Nearby Palestinian cities and towns aren't mentioned. This is common on West Bank roads.

Traffic snarls are common in the West Bank due to both established and “flying” checkpoints. Notice that although this picture was taken in the West Bank, the sign is in Hebrew first, and it points to an Israeli town called Beit Shemesh and a settlement called Alon Shvut. Nearby Palestinian cities and towns aren’t mentioned. This is common on West Bank roads.

Sometimes the traffic jams go on for a long time

Sometimes the traffic jams go on for a long time

A looooong time. Sometimes hours. Sometimes you just have to turn around and go back.

A looooong time. Sometimes hours. Sometimes you just have to turn around and go back.

The Euphrates River in Deir al Zour, Syria. I always dreamed as a kid of seeing the mighty rivers of the Fertile Crescent. This is one of only two photos from my Syria / Lebanon / Turkey trip after I left Palestine. Both were of the Euphrates River. I wish I had taken more.

The Euphrates River in Deir al Zour, Syria. I always dreamed as a kid of seeing the mighty rivers of the Fertile Crescent. This is one of only two photos from my Syria / Lebanon / Turkey trip after I left Palestine. Both were of the Euphrates River. I wish I had taken more.

The text of Chapters 2 and 3 didn’t change much since they were first written in 2008. Just a few tiny passages were left out:

On p. 15, after “Into the West Bank”:

“You know what my last girlfriend said she liked about me?” asked Rami.

“Your nose?” said Yusif.

“No.”

“Girls like my nose. They say it turns them on.”

“No, not my nose.”

“What, your eyes?”

“No, it’s not what you’d expect.”

“Your hair?” I offered. He had nice hair.

“Nope. Give up? My neck.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, isn’t that strange? My neck. Of all things. She said my neck was sexy.” He shook his head atop that irresistible neck.

It was the next morning, and Rami was treating us to breakfast at a hilltop restaurant owned by a friend of his…

On p. 46:

Baarafish means ‘I don’t know’ and Maa al salaama means ‘Good-bye.’ Al yom means ‘today,’ bukra means ‘tomorrow.’ Tisbah ala khair means ‘Good night’ and Sabah al khair is ‘Good morning.’ If someone bids you good morning, the proper response is Sabah al noor, or ‘Morning of light.’

On p. 47:

Amjad went in and grabbed one of his engineering textbooks, which was in English. Dan seemed surprised. Amjad explained, “Yes, we have to study many things in English because we don’t always have textbooks in Arabic for them.”

On p. 48:

As we were driving out of the West Bank, I said, “So, what did you think?”
Dan just looked at me, eyebrows raised.

“Come on, what did you expect?” I asked teasingly. “A bunch of bearded masked maniacs with a Kalashnikov in each hand just waiting for you to cross the Green Line so they could shoot you?”

He laughed. “Yeah, pretty much.” I laughed, too, because I’d halfway suspected the same thing not long before. We felt almost giddy. How little we knew!

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P.S. For more olive harvest stories (and pictures), see the post called “Olives and Rabbis” from my visit to Palestine in 2009.

You can click here to read a Brief History of the Conflict (from the first Zionist congress to the second Intifada), written by me but left out of the book to save space.

To learn more about the book (Fast Times in Palestine), click here.

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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