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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