On the last day of 2010, I created a list of my Top Ten Blog Posts up until that time. Three years later, I think it’s time to do it again. So, here are my favorite blog posts of the past three years.

(Note: this list doesn’t include the excerpts from my book that I’ve posted. For those, go to the book’s Table of Contents. It also doesn’t include the Chapter Companions for my book, which have photos and extra stories to go with each chapter.)

TOP TEN POSTS

    1. Wedding Bells (June 2013)
      Pretty much the most exciting thing to happen to me in the past three years was getting married. Here are some of my favorite pics from the celebration. Minus the tornado sirens going off the night before…

    2. Book Tour Report (May 2013)
      The other most exciting thing was touring with my book — I did nearly 100 events in about 20 states and 3 Canadian provinces. Here’s the report back from the first leg of the tour. Good winds are blowing…

    3. Olives in Salem (Written Fall 2007, posted March 2011)
      Harvesting olives in a village near Nablus.

    4. Olives and Movie Stars (Written Fall 2007, posted December 2013)
      More olive harvesting (in Battir), a hilarious film shoot at Snobar, and other good times in Palestine.

    5. Statehood bid? What statehood bid? (September 2011)
      I visited Palestine in the fall of 2011 to visit friends, do a book tour, and see what the atmosphere was like as Palestinian representatives asked the United Nations to accept them as a member state. Here is what I found.

    6. Grampa Red (February 2012)
      My grandfather passed away in January 2012. This is my tribute to the great man — a world-class wood-carver (self-taught in his 60s), amateur fiddler (self-taught in his 80s), cattle rancher, electrician, plumber, carpenter, post hole digger, fence mender, serial cow dog owner, hay baler, tractor cusser, coffee drinker, biscuits-and-gravy eater, and many other things to many people in his long life.

    7. Turks & Caicos & Irene (September 2011)
      What do you get when you cross a weekend vacation with a hurricane — twice? Not to mention the little adventure with the kayak…

    8. Galapagos Part 1 (October 2010)
      Someone showed me a deal for a $500 ticket to the Enchanted Islands. How could I resist?

    9. Galapagos Part 2 (November 2010)
      Islands and boobies, iguanas and volcanoes, beaches and sharks…

    10. Jon Stewart’s Triple Threat (March 2012)
      Some daring brilliance by the team at the Daily Show about the Israel/Palestine situation

.
PREVIOUS TOP TEN

.
OTHER RECENT FAVORITES

    1. Rawan Yaghi — Gaza’s Searing Voice (March 2012)
      A young woman with incredible writing skills and passion. One to watch.

    2. Sinai to Canaan (September 2011)
      More about my 2011 trip to Palestine.

    3. Life on the Road (November 2011)
      Another short piece about my 2011 trip to Palestine.

    4. Poetry (January 2012)
      Just sharing a couple of poems I wrote to kick off the new year in 2012.

    5. Turkish Exile (September 2012)
      Due to a visa snafu (thanks, US Consulate in Istanbul), my boyfriend at the time (soon to be fiance/husband) got stuck in Turkey for several months. So I joined him there. A few days after I arrived, he proposed!

    6. On (Not) Bending the Arc of History (August 2011)
      An article by Drew Westen in the New York Times that eloquently explains why Obama’s presidency has been such a bitter disappointment to people like me who actually (perhaps foolishly) believed he would try to change things for the better in our nation.

    7. Letter to President Obama (August 2011)
      I sent this letter and a copy of my book to President Obama, for what it’s worth…

    8. Occupation as a Dead Mammoth (July 2011)
      An aptly vile metaphor.

    9. “A Gaza Diary” by Chris Hedges (October 2001)
      An almost unbelievable article by a former Middle East bureau chief for the New York Times about the Gaza Strip during the early part of the second Intifada.

    10. On ‘Cycles of Violence’ (March 2011)
      Why these cycles are easy to start and a research paper that examines who usually breaks periods of calm between Israelis and Palestinians (hint: it’s not the Palestinians)

      ftc2

      Advertisements

Here’s something I wrote when I was in Palestine in 2007. Just hadn’t posted it yet. Some snapshots of life in beautiful Palestine. Good times.

Olives in Battir

On Friday, October 26, I accompanied a friend to Battir village, which is one of the most picturesque villages in Palestine (and that’s really saying something). It’s built on a hillside not far from Bethlehem, and some of its buildings are carved in part from the living rock of the mountain.

Here are a few pictures that can’t really capture the beauty of the village but at least they give some indication. (More pics here.)

The village is surrounded by national park land — the hilly land of four nearby Palestinian villages that Israel destroyed in 1948 and then forested with conifers in order to hide the evidence. You can still find the ruins of these villages if you know where to look. The residents of the villages are mostly living in Dheisheh and Aida refugee camps near Bethlehem now, and they still maintain their identities and their ties with Battir.

A spring runs down from the center of town into the narrow valley below, where it’s caught in a reservoir at night and apportioned to farmers during the day according to ancient custom.

Battir has a unique relationship with Israel because the village is right on the Green Line, and much of Battir’s land is on the Israeli side of the Green Line. Israel wanted control of a Jerusalem-to-Tel Aviv railroad line that follows the Green Line as it passes through the middle of Battir’s land.

The deal they worked out seems almost inconceivable today: Israel agreed to allow Battiris to access their land on both sides of the Green Line if the village would allow Israel to control the track through it. (Later the Israeli government tried to build the Wall through Battir’s land, which would destroy much of it and most likely cause the collapse of their ancient farming techniques. here’s a recent article in Haaretz about how its unique and historic ecology is threatened by the Wall.)

We caravanned out to some land on the other side of a hill to harvest with two older Battiris and their two grown daughters, both of whom live and work in Ramallah. Another American girl with us, who works with a Palestinian Ministry, and we chatted about fascinating issues in international law, development, Ministry planning, and scholarships for various international graduate schools while we climbed around the dusty trees. They also mentioned they have a neighbor in town who looks exactly like George Clooney.

The daughters told us Battir was known in the area as a relatively progressive village, and Battiris sort of looked down their noses at the other villages for being less educated and more closed-minded.

Of course, I said, the surrounding villages probably looked down on Battiris for being more likely to go to hell. Just like Methodists and Baptists in my home town of Stigler. Everybody’s gotta have some reason to feel better than other people.

Battir’s call to prayer was prettier than the one from the nearest village, though. Battir definitely gets a point for that.

A carload of Swedes joined us eventually (they were in Palestine working on some sort of student radio journalism project), just in time to sit down to a massive picnic lunch of home-made maqloubeh and farmer’s salad.

After another half an hour of work the olives were done, and we headed back into town to wash our hands in the spring and munch on grapes, home-made fruit-roll-up-like things made with grapes and sesame seeds, and coffee on yet another porch looking out on yet another breathtaking panorama.

Porches with great views seem to be one of Palestine’s most abundant natural resources. If one could put a price on and export such things, I have no doubt Palestine would be rich as the Emirates.

Film Shoot in the Pines

Back in Ramallah the next day, there was a film shoot at Snobar (an outdoor cafe and public pool nestled in pine trees on a hillside, hence the name, which means “pine”). The film is being made jointly by various Europeans, Palestinians from Israel, and Palestinians from the West Bank, and mostly with Palestinian money, which I was told was a first.

I arrived on time (which translates into Arab time as “two hours early”) in order to play an extra during a wedding scene. I chatted with the Palestinian boom operator from Nazareth and the German sound man while I waited for the shoot to begin.

Snobar was done up beautifully with lights in the overhanging vines and trees and on the bushes, little bowls with flames scattered around, centerpieces of local green grapes, pomegranates, and fuchshia flowers on white tablecloths, stone steps for the wedding procession, and tall lighted delicate silver wire cylinders.

My friend Muzna showed up with her French boyfriend, and we were joined at our table by the wife of the “actor” who was playing the Best Man — actually the owner of the Zeit ou Zaatar restaurant on Main Street in Ramallah (which was also doing the catering for the shoot), who walked around in his tux and red bowtie and slick hair and make-up like he’d been doing it all his life. He jokingly offered us autographs for five shekels each.

Three other men joined our table and we talked and joked in a mix of Arabic and English and French. We were having so much fun we didn’t mind too much when there was another delay that left us sitting there for an extra half hour. I suggested we merely pretend we were hanging out at Snobar, and a couple of us even managed to finagle a beer out of the owner, even though you’re not really supposed to have alcohol on a film set. (Any time you say “supposed to” in Palestine, it’s generally taken as a challenge.)

The technicians worked around us setting up the camera track and the lighting as the sun set and the moon rose. The lighting made it seem like broad daylight on set all night.

Finally the actors playing the bride and groom showed up. The bride was a slim, radiant, curly-haired half-Egyptian half-Palestinian who grew up in Lebanon, and the groom was an impossibly handsome Palestinian who looked like Cary Grant dressed up as James Bond.

The wife of the “Best Man” at our table, eyebrows raised, said what we were all thinking:

Al Arees ktir zaki, ah?”

It’s difficult to translate this well. Al arees means the groom. Ktir means very. Zaki means delicious or tasty or savory, but in kind of a delightfully unctuous way. And Ah is slang for yes. So you can say, “The groom is quite tasty, yes?” But it sounds infinitely better in patrician, matter-of-fact Arabic.

Zaki groom (center) and Best Man (right) with a musician from Nazareth

Zaki groom (center) and Best Man (right) with a musician from Nazareth

The bride was a delight, too. Even between takes she would dance around and flirt with everyone. Half a dozen men from Nazareth came dressed up in baggy pants, black shoes, gold cummerbunds, maroon shirts and gold vests to provide the drumming and singing for the wedding party.

The trouble was, once they got started drumming and singing, it was hard to get them to stop. They’d get into the music like it was the real thing and not even hear the director when he yelled, “Cut!”

At the end of the wedding scene, when all the guests were supposed to go out onto the floor and dance to a Nancy Ajram song along with the bride and groom, the DJ would let everyone dance and clap long after the director yelled “Cut!” He almost seemed to forget it wasn’t a wedding; as if it would be rude to cut the music off while everyone was having such a good time.

Then they’d have a scene of guests at the wedding talking, and some of the guests would wander off while the cameras were rolling in order to talk to a (real, not pretend) friend at the next table. When the sound guy would ask a table to just give him twenty seconds of straight clapping, it was utterly beyond them. Within five seconds of starting to clap, they’d be adding counter-rhytms, singing, and shouts. Sometimes the drummer would start up, too, unbidden. It was like herding ducks.

But it was genuine. If they were going for verisimilitude, they had it.

I wondered if people on most film shoots had this much fun.

The Best Man threatened to steal the show, though, because his personality was so singular and unabashed. He was a terrific actor, playing his part with effortless commitment. He seemed so generally ebullient and talented that he would probably excel at just about anything he tried. Indeed, he owns one of the zakiest restaurants in town. His wife told us he gets up sometimes late at night and cooks feasts for her. She said he loves doing it.

He came by our table after the shoot was finished, when we were finally served our free dinner from Zeit ou Zaatar, which was our only pay. He had a single large clove of roasted garlic in his hand, which he squeezed out onto his wife’s plate, scooped up with some of his restaurant’s bread, and fed to her. Then he skipped away singing cheerfully in Arabic, “No kissing tonight!”

Lucky woman.

It was all good fun. I can’t wait to see how it comes out on film.

Afterwards I was all dressed up with no place to go, so I headed to Zan bar in my formal make-up and black dress to see who I might run into. Sure enough I ran into six people I knew (and this was on a slow night), one of them a Palestinian from Qalandia who speaks almost accentless English and looks European. He welcomed me back to town (this was the first he’d seen me since I came back to Ramallah) and asked what I was up to and why I had come back. I said, “I don’t know, it just feels home-like somehow. I couldn’t stay away.”

He asked me why I thought that was.

I answer this question in a different way each time, and this time the answer I came up with was, “Because the place has a nice culture, a very welcoming culture, that I’m not really a part of, but that I’m always welcome in. So it doesn’t impose on me in any way. I can go off and be whatever I want to be and do whatever I want, and nobody bothers me. But it’s always there waiting if I need it.”

He nodded, lost in thought for a moment. Then he half-smiled and said, “You know, you’re making me fall in love with Palestine even more.”

Bach in Ramallah

Tuesday night, October 30, there was a concert by musicians from the Kamandjati music school here in Ramallah, three Italians and two Palestinians playing concertos and string quartets by Bach, Brahms, and Ravel in memory of Edward Said.

Bach is a favorite of mine, and they played him soaringly. At one point the next song on the program was supposed to be another Bach, but within three notes I could tell it definitely wasn’t Bach. (Which is strange if you think about it. How can a person’s entire style be differentiated based on three notes? Sounds vaguely holographic.) Then I remembered they’d been talking about Ravel, and I figured there must have been a change.

So I was listening to this Ravel piece, and it sounded sad, like a requiem. For some reason I imagined the earth being destroyed and this page of music by Ravel being the only thing left, floating in space.

I wondered if any alien species who found it would be able to (1) figure out that it was a kind of meaningful language, (2) discern that it was a map of frequencies for periods of time, (3) imagine which frequencies to choose, which scale, and which medium — vibrations in gaseous air with a certain density and composition — to bring the original meaning back out, (4) imagine a wooden instrument with metal strings and a rosined horsehair bow that would produce the correct frequencies and sounds, and then (5) extract the complex wealth of emotions and meaning humans feel when they hear the song played.

It seemed hopelessly unlikely.

So I thought of it as a “Requiem for Itself.” And it made me feel deeply sad. But in a satisfying kind of way. Because the earth is still here, after all, in its own devastatingly singular way.

Another Voice

The next night there was another concert at the Orthodox Club featuring several Palestinian artists. It was a counter-concert to the recently-cancelled One Voice concert, which had had a platform for “peace” that participants were supposed to sign on to, but that was discovered to be deeply problematic by discerning Palestinians. Younger students from Kamandjati played first, followed by lute players and singers and Dabka dancers, and finally DAM, a kick-ass Palestinian-Israeli hip hop group.

But before the music started, as is unfortunately customary around here, several dignitaries had to get up and speak and remind everyone that people are in prison and houses are being destroyed and land is being stolen and Palestine isn’t free and we have to be steadfast, etc. Which is fine. But they really do tend to go on and on about it, and it was chilly out. And there was not a single person in the audience who didn’t already know quite well that people were in prison and land was being stolen. There’s a time and a place to be reminded of these things, but I wish they would just let folks enjoy a concert once in a while.

One of the speakers actually was quite enjoyable. He came on stage, an imposing figure with a long white beard, flowing black robes, a cylindrical black hat with a train of black cloth flowing from the back and sides, an enormous golden amulet necklace, and a long black staff with a silver orb on top.

I heard a Belgian guy ask an American girl next to me, “What is he, a priest?”

The American girl whispered, “I don’t know, maybe he’s Greek Orthodox?”

I leaned over and whispered, “Actually, I think he’s a wizard.”

He was a Greek Orthodox priest, and he spoke in ringing formal Arabic to the audience of mostly Muslim Palestinians about steadfastness and human dignity and freedom for this little nation, and the crowd loved him.

He really did look like he should be teaching Dark Arts at Hogwarts, though. Talk about pageantry. The Holy Land is kind of adorable that way. All the real power has moved to Rome and Riyadh and New York. But this dusty little strip of land still has style.

Combatants for Partying

The night after that there was a party on my Dutch friend’s roof with several of her friends from Combatants for Peace, “a group of Israeli and Palestinian individuals who were actively involved in the cycle of violence in our area. The Israelis served as combat soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces and the Palestinians were involved in acts of violence in the name of Palestinian liberation. We all used weapons against one another, and looked at each other only through weapon sights; however today we cooperate and commit ourselves to” a non-violent resolution to the conflict.

Three Israelis braved the checkpoints to come to the party (and three others would have come if their car hadn’t broken down in Tel Aviv) along with a handful of Palestinian ex-militants/freedom fighters, other Palestinians, and some internationals, including a Jewish guy from Canada who’s working as a journalist for the Palestine Monitor. One of the Palestinians brought an enormous fruit salad, and another cooked kofta bandoora (spiced minced lamb baked with succulently tender, delicately-spiced potatoes and tomatoes), and we feasted on that and wine and beer in the cool night air.

It was humbling to speak with Israelis who had previously been in the very same role as the people who currently make life so pointlessly difficult for so many good people here. People who in reality are caught up in the terrible game almost as helplessly as the rest of us.

These Israelis had been big enough to look past their brainwashing and humbly change their lifestyles and accept the consequences of realizing and accepting their own truths. Even enough to come to scary scary Ramallah after dark for a kofta party on a rooftop without a trace of fear. (No one who’s ever been a guest in Palestine will be surprised that the Palestinian ex-militants stressed to them over and over that “You are most welcome here any time.”)

One of the young Israeli women, now a photographer, said that the first thing that caused her to reexamine her belief that Arabs were nothing but crazed enemies was when she was manning a checkpoint in the West Bank and a random Palestinian woman about the same age as her mother brought her a gift of home-baked bread.

The story reminded me of the practice of ‘impressment,’ which allowed occupying Roman soldiers to conscript any Jewish person in the Judean provinces to carry his equipment for one Roman mile. Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “If a soldier forces you to carry his pack one mile, carry it two miles” (Matthew 5:41). This is an (admittedly back-breaking) way of turning a situation of slavery into a situation of free will and service to a higher law.

And there’s an undeniable power in this. Christianity didn’t spread to 1/3 of the world’s population by the sword (and the whole burning-alleged-heretics-alive thing) alone.

One of the Palestinian ex-militants, who was one of the founders of Combatants for Peace, said his epiphany came when he was hiking in Wadi Qelt, a valley located between Jericho and Jerusalem, with some Palestinian friends when the weather suddenly turned bad. As they were trying to figure out what to do, they came across some Israeli settlers who were also hiking the valley, and they all worked together to get safely back to civilization.

“Now I could see,” he said, “they aren’t just crazy people trying to take my land. They are also human beings.”

(Dire Straits just came on the RamFM radio station here at Pronto. Life is good. I just wish I could afford more wine.)

After that there was another party at the Grand Park Hotel, which I normally avoid because it’s generally full of people who are too stylish and self-conscious for my taste. But “everybody” was supposed to be there, including a couple of Palestinian hip hop artists, and someone offered me a ride to it, and I was already dressed up, so I went.

The music choice was unfortunate (mostly loud and monotonous Israeli-style techno) until about 3am, when the hip hop guys did some songs, then the DJs switched to infectiously danceable Arabic pop music. And it was nice to see “everybody.”

At one point, though, I was talking to someone and suddenly felt a sharp pain in my throat, as if I’d inhaled a bit of burning cigarette ash. Soon the pain spread and I realized what it was — tear gas.

The guests retreated to the fresh air outside, and the security guys worked on sealing the exits, airing out the dance floor and bar, and seeing if they could find any clues as to who the culprit had been. (Probably just some idiot who couldn’t score with some girl he liked.)

In any case, after half an hour the party was back on. Almost everyone had inhaled tear gas before, so nobody panicked too bad. People were kinda pissed, but on the scale of things, this was a non-event.

Just as I was sitting here writing this in Pronto, two Palestinian friends showed up, and one of them was talking about how it was always the public that initiated change and the leadership that co-opted and capitalized on it, and in the process often perverted it toward their own personal ends. Like how Arafat had nothing to do with the First Intifada, but he ended it by signing the Oslo Accords and then allowed Israel to double the settlements in the West Bank between 1993 and 2000.

He spoke of one particular Palestinian politician who had signed on to a peace deal with Israel that was not a good deal and did not pave the way for a just peace. But he did go quickly from being nearly penniless to driving a late-model BMW. And of course there’s the infamous case of a certain high-level Palestinian politician making money by investing in a company that had secured a contract to build the Wall.

My friend said, “It’s always the same here. The people make history; The leaders make investments.”

Yesterday I and a friend enjoyed a bacon-and-eggs brunch with stone-baked rosemary Italian bread and a fresh apple-orange-carrot juice cocktail, then we visited a Swedish girl whose cat had just had kittens. I rounded out the day with a three-hour Turkish bath — steam sauna, small cold bathing pool, hot stone platform to lay out on, full-body exfoliation, stone basins of warm water and olive oil soap to wash with, and top-notch massage. A perfect Sunday.

.

Deleted passages follow the underlined portions on the pages indicated.

CHAPTER 6: BOMBINGS, WEDDINGS, AND A KIDNAPPING

Disappeared

(p. 129) Shadi is silent for a moment. “Please call me if you hear anything.”

“I will. Same to you, OK?”

“Of course.” I hang up and think, Qais must have told Shadi he was coming to visit me, even though it was supposed to be a secret. I feel a slight pang of betrayal, but it’s quickly replaced by the realization that it was a very sensible thing to do in a time and place where he knows he can disappear at any moment without warning.

(p. 131) If you want to live in Palestine and not be a complete greenhorn ajnabiya, you’ve got to put a little starch in your spine.

On the one hand, I dread and fight against losing this sensitivity. If I begin to accept things no one should ever accept, I’ll have lost a part of my humanity. But if I weep for every kid killed in Gaza, if I waste a day with my gut aching hollow and my back bent in dread and fatigue every time a friend disappears, I’ll never stand up.

But if we don’t put ourselves in others’ shoes now and then, we risk losing sight of the silent helpless horror that lies just below the surface of what we think we know. We can’t ignore it just because it is silent, snuffed out and shut up. It is there, manifestly, and it will come for all of us if we don’t put out the fires somehow.

Shoot ’em Up

(p. 139) At the end of the week, feeling exhausted, I went with Yasmine to
a place called Almonds, a cozy dance club near Sangria’s. It felt amazing
to forget everything for a while and just dance. I’d never heard
anything as infectiously, shoulder-shakingly danceable as Arabic pop
music. People kept buying my drinks (including an ex of Yasmine’s,
though I wasn’t sober enough at the time to notice her ire), and I chatted
with cute Palestinians and fascinating foreigners on the balcony
outside with its little potted palm trees.

Two days later a Belgian girl got married to a Palestinian man in Ramallah, and Osama invited me to their wedding. I borrowed a slinky amethyst evening gown and white satin shoes from Muzna and got my hair cut and styled. The wedding was in a swanky banquet hall at the Casablanca Hotel near the Clock Circle. The crowd was young and sleek, drinking beer and Johnny Walker at their tables and dancing to Arabic and Western pop music at an ear-splitting volume. Afterwards Osama and I had sangria at Sangria’s with some of his Communist friends, and we talked and joked and laughed. It was the perfect cap to a gorgeous weekend.

A few days later the Israeli army invaded Jenin with thirty tanks backed up by aircraft. With my heart in my throat I called Qais to make sure he was OK.

“I’m fine,” he said in a soothing tone. “Don’t worry. It’s normal.”

I rested my forehead wearily on my arm. Sweetie, it’s not normal.

Zeitoun

(p. 144) Every few minutes Thaher would yell from whatever tree he was in, “Heyyyy, ya ammmmmmi!” He was greeting a favorite uncle, Abu Dia, and when breakfast was called I met the great man. He told story after story with a stone-straight face and a subtle, sincere voice that had everybody in tears from laughter, including myself even though I could barely understand a word. Nael turned to me, his eyes moist with mirth, and asked, “Did you ever watch the Cosby Show?”

“Sure.”

“I think Abu Dia would be bigger than Cosby. He says all of that with no preparation.”

(p. 147) The kids were adorable and funny and full of energy, and they played any game they could think of while we picked olives. Armored vehicles patrolled the access roads that ran along the Fence, and each time they came into view the kids would excitedly yell, “Hummar! Hummar!”

When things became too quiet we’d call out each other’s names: “Ya Shadi!” and wait for acknowledgment: “Na’am?” and ask, “Keef al saha?” (How’s the health?), “Shu akhbarak?” (What’s new?), or “Keef halak?” (How are you?) Qais told me to answer, “Ahsan minak.” (Better than you.)

When that got old, I started listing in Arabic all the things I was better than, including carrots, Yasser Arafat, and the King Hussein Bridge. When I said I was better than khara (excrement), Qais laughed and asked, “W’Allah?”

Taqriban,” I answered cheerfully (almost), and everyone laughed.

View of a hill next to Jayyous that's been blasted almost totally bare for the Wall.

View of a hill next to Jayyous that’s been blasted almost totally bare for the Wall.

This used to be an olive grove.

This used to be an olive grove.

A piece of Qais's family land where they now have only seven trees. They used to have twenty here, before the Wall.

A piece of Qais’s family land where they now have only seven trees. They used to have twenty here, before the Wall.

You can see how close the Wall comes to the village, even though the Green Line is four kilometers away

You can see how close the Wall comes to the village, even though the Green Line is four kilometers away

Days of Penitence

Iman al Hams, the little girl killed by the Israeli army sniper on her way to school on October 13, 2004

Iman al Hams, the little girl killed by the Israeli army sniper on her way to school on October 13, 2004

A t-shirt made by an Israeli army brigade mocking the deadly violence that killed hundreds of civilians in Gaza in 2008-2009.

A t-shirt made by an Israeli army brigade mocking the deadly violence that killed hundreds of civilians in Gaza in 2008-2009.

(p. 155) “No. These may be my last days. In a way, I hope so.” I couldn’t tell if he was joking or not. He sighed exhaustedly. “Ya skuchaiu po-Allah.” (I miss God.)

Suddenly I was overwhelmed by a flash of anger. I wanted to shout, “Fine, just give up and sleep in for all of eternity! How can you even say that to me?”

But who could watch so many proud young women and dignified old men humiliated at checkpoints? Who could watch the obscenity of helpless, impoverished, dispossessed people being bombed in Gaza like fish in a barrel? How long could and should someone stand it? A diminished life was better than no life. There was always a secret space no oppression could ever touch. But how could a valiant, or a sensitive soul bear it?

CHAPTER 7: ARAFAT’S FUNERAL

The beginning of this chapter should have been a section called “Grapes of Aboud” that ended up getting cut. Read it here.

Ramallah Ramadan

(p. 158) But I loved the star- and crescent-shaped lights glowing in windows and public squares and the special greetings of the season.

One evening two friends from Jayyous named Ali and Fadi were visiting Ramallah, and they invited me to join them for Iftar at a restaurant called Tel al Qamar (Moon Hill) on the top floor of a building on Main Street. Ali was a dapper high school counselor with a mellow baritone voice and an impeccably-groomed goatee. Fadi was a skinny young man with big brown eyes who liked to make puns in English. He had just come back from the Muqataa, where he’d delivered homemade food to his brother who worked as a guard there.

I asked Fadi, “How’s old Arafat doing anyway?”

“He is fine,” Fadi said. “You know any good Arafat jokes?”

I told him I didn’t know any Arafat jokes, and his eyes lit up at the prospect of a new audience. He told me a few that made fun of how Arafat’s lips trembled involuntarily:

There was an earthquake in Palestine. Why? Arafat decided to kiss the ground.

A man asked Arafat, ‘Why do your lips always move like that?’ Arafat answered indignantly, ‘I’m talking on the telephone!’ An aide beside him started moving his lips, too. The man asked, ‘What are you doing?’ The aide answered, ‘I’m receiving a fax.’

Someone asked Arafat, ‘Why do your lips move like that?’ Arafat said, ‘Sorry, my mouth is in Area C.’

Others made fun of Arafat’s powerlessness:

At a press conference after Israel bombed the Muqataa, Arafat held up two fingers. A reporter said, ‘Are you crazy? Why are you making a V for Victory sign?!’ Arafat said, ‘No, no, I’m saying stop bombing, I only have two rooms left!’

Fadi was interrupted mid-joke by the call to prayer. We got in line for appetizers: dates, almond juice, and vegetable soup infused with cardamom. Several men lit cigarettes immediately, but neither Ali nor Fadi did. I remarked on this to Ali.

He said almost cheerfully, “Sometimes in prison, the Israelis will take away a man’s cigarettes to pressure him. I don’t want anyone to have this kind of power over me.”

I looked at him in amazement. “How do you say this kind of thing with a smile on your face?”

He shrugged. “Yes, we smile. But you have to understand. Sometimes we are smiling with our mouths only.”

A musician played the lute and sang beautifully, and a view of the waxing crescent moon was framed perfectly in a window. Eating good food felt marvelous after the long hungry day. I could practically feel the nutrients percolating giddily into every cell.

On the first of November, I was finally able to move into the apartment provided by my employer. It had a huge living room with comfy blue couches, satellite TV, a sunroom, a bright, clean kitchen, and three bedrooms. The windows overlooked the Plaza Mall shopping center, which has a Western-style supermarket, hair salon, Italian restaurant, and dry cleaners on the lower level. Upstairs is a coffee house popular with teenagers, a fast-food joint called McChain Burger, a toy store, and an astronomically expensive United Colors of Benetton.

Palm trees lined the front of the mall, and a mosque with a tall white minaret blasted the call to prayer five times a day from behind it. Empty villas sat in the hills above, the abodes of diaspora Palestinians who had left due to the violence or been denied IDs or visas and thus had been bureaucratically expelled. I frequently heard gunfire from the settlements nearby, but it was usually far away and soon became part of the normal background noise.

On the day I moved in, three Israelis were killed and more than thirty wounded in a suicide bombing at the Carmel Market in Tel Aviv. The Nablus branch of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) claimed responsibility. The bomber was only sixteen years old. The PA condemned the bombing, and a Nablus spokesman for the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades said the bombing was an “embarrassment to the Palestinians seeking to reorganize their own internal affairs” (even though the Al Aqsa Brigades had committed the previous bombing).

The news didn’t make much of an impact in Ramallah. Three more people killed far away by a group none of us belonged to barely registered. It was just more of the same—carnage on top of carnage, crimes on top of crimes, and no end in sight.

Osama called a few nights later and invited me to a restaurant called Ziryab (‘blackbird’). It was the nickname of a famed Iraqi poet, musician, fashion designer, geographer, botanist, and astronomer in the 9th century Umayyad court of Córdoba in Islamic Spain. He was reportedly a former African slave, and his nickname was due to his dark complexion, eloquence, and melodious voice.

My new living room

My new living room

The view from my apartment. I can almost hear the call to prayer now!

The view from my apartment. I can almost hear the call to prayer now!

The Plaza Mall, right next to my apartment

The Plaza Mall, right next to my apartment

The entrance to the Bravo Supermarket on the first floor of the mall.

The entrance to the Bravo Supermarket on the first floor of the mall.

Shop-shop-shopping along.

Shop-shop-shopping along.

Thin-sliced turkey and cheese, anyone?

Thin-sliced turkey and cheese, anyone?

10 items or less

10 items or less

(p. 159) It seemed a strangely irreverent thing to do given that only a few days earlier, Arafat had been flown to a hospital in Paris suffering from a mysterious illness.

I mentioned this to Osama as we were walking home. He said worriedly, “Yes. If Arafat dies, there’s a chance Israel will invade Ramallah with tanks and helicopters again.”

A thrill of excitement passed through me, followed closely by dread. A full-scale invasion in Ramallah… Tanks! In the streets! Jets and helicopters circling overhead. Blood, bodies, and broken glass. It seemed impossible that it could happen here. But it had already happened here, in 2002.

Rest in Peace, Abu Ammar

(p. 162) A brief controversy arose over Arafat’s final resting place. He wanted to be buried in East Jerusalem near the Al Aqsa Mosque, which everyone knew the Israeli government would never allow. In order to avoid an awkward confrontation, Palestinian leaders suggested he be buried in a stone tomb in the Muqataa in Ramallah, which could be disinterred and reburied if and when East Jerusalem came under Palestinian sovereignty.

Omar’s Story

(p. 170) Soon it was time for me to go. Dan had agreed to pick me up and take me back to Jayyous in a borrowed van. I shook Omar’s hand and held it for a while as I met his pale blue eyes with mine. There was nothing to say. We were fundamentally no different from each other. Yet he knew as well as I did that I would never have to come to terms with a misfortune anywhere near as incomprehensible as his. Something horrific might happen to me, but I probably wouldn’t be shot for no reason, and I certainly wouldn’t be transferred to a foreign country and held captive by people whose indifference was somehow worse, more degrading, than cruelty.

I left the hospital in a daze. After walking a few steps in the fresh air, I ducked behind a column and sank to the ground and wept. On the weight of my tears was not just Omar but all the people like him whose stories would never be told and for whom help would never come.

Qalqilia, the Palestinian city with 40,000 people totally surrounded by the Wall.

Qalqilia, the Palestinian city with 40,000 people totally surrounded by the Wall.

The agricultural outskirts (what's left of them)

The agricultural outskirts (what’s left of them)

The world quickly ends at the Wall (embedded with sniper towers)

The world quickly ends at the Wall (embedded with sniper towers)

Aerial view of the surrounded city

Aerial view of the surrounded city

Map of the Wall in this area. Lots of people are cut off from hospitals and schools.

Map of the Wall in this area. Lots of people are cut off from hospitals and schools.

On the other side of the Wall is an Israeli highway, where most motorists travel oblivious to the ghettoization of the people nearby

On the other side of the Wall is an Israeli highway, where most motorists travel oblivious to the ghettoization of the people nearby

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.

.

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.

.

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

04h 07510009

04i 07510007

04f 53730016

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!

.

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.

.

My fall book tour took me through Upstate NY, Canada (Halifax, Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal), and the Midwest (Chicago, Michigan, Minnesota, Wichita, and Texas).

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to be in touch: pamolson (a) gmail. You can learn more about the book here.

ftc2

ROCHESTER

Sunday, Sept 8
Witness Palestine Film Festival
Screening of 5 Broken Cameras followed by Discussion with Emad Burnat (via Skype) and Pamela Olson
The Little Theater, 240 East Avenue
2pm

Tuesday, Sept 10
Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School
11:20am

Tuesday, Sept 10
Wasey Lounge
Scandling Center
Hobart and William Smith Colleges
5pm

HALIFAX

Wednesday, Sept 25
St. Andrew’s United Church
Israel and Palestine: What Results Will the ‘Peace Talks’ Yield?
Co-sponsored by Canadians, Arabs and Jews for a Just Peace & Independent Jewish Voices
Halifax, NS
7pm

Thursday, Sept 26
School of Journalism
University of King’s College
Dalhousie University
2:30pm

Book club reading
Private residence
7pm

Friday, Sept 27
Dalhousie Political Science Society
10am-noon

Chapters Bookstore
41 Mic Mac Boulevard
Dartmouth, NS
1-3pm

TORONTO

Sunday, Sept 29
Beit Zatoun
7pm

Monday, Sept 30
Guest lecturer
University of Toronto
1:10pm

OTTAWA

Wednesday, Oct 2
Talk sponsored by the Palestinian General Delegation
University of Ottawa
147B Fauteux Hall
57 Louis Pasteur
6pm

MONTREAL

Thursday, Oct 3
The Canadian Palestinian Foundation of Quebec
Co-sponsored by the Montreal Dialogue Group
845 Décarie Boulevard
Suite 201
Saint Laurent, Quebec
7pm

CHICAGO

Sunday, Oct 13
Revolution Books
1103 N. Ashland Ave
3pm

ANN ARBOR

Thursday, Oct 17
Literati Bookstore
124 E Washington St
Ann Arbor, MI
7pm

MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL

Saturday, Oct 26
Middle East Peace Now monthly forum
Southdale Library
7001 York Avenue S.
Edina, MN 55435
10am

J. Arthur’s Coffee
Roseville, MN
4pm

Sunday, Oct 27
First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis
Sunday Forum
9:30-10:30am

Pilgrim Lutheran Church
1935 St. Clair Avenue
St. Paul, MN
Sponsored by: Women Against Military Madness / Pilgrims for Just Peace
5pm

Monday, Oct 28
Luncheon event
American Association of University Women
Minneapolis Branch

Tuesday, Oct 29
Lourdes High School
2699 19th St. NW
Rochester, MN 55901
1:40 – 2:40pm

Zumbro Lutheran Church
624 Third Ave SW
Fireside Room
Rochester, MN
7pm

Wednesday, Oct 30
Reflective Women
St. Catherine University
St. Paul, MN
7pm

WICHITA

Friday, Nov 1
Wichita State University
Co-sponsored by the WSU Center for Women’s Studies Women’s Writing Series and the English Department
7pm

Saturday, Nov 2
Watermark Books
Douglas & Oliver
11am

Potluck at the Peace Center
1407 N. Topeka
5:30pm

Sunday, Nov 3
Discussion, Q&A, and film screening of Roadmap to Apartheid
Lorraine Avenue Mennonite Church
11am

TEXAS

Monday, Nov 4
Barnes & Noble – Preston Royal
5959 Royal Lane, Suite 616
Dallas, TX
6pm

Tuesday, Nov 5
University of Texas at Arlington
Sponsored by the Honors College
Planetarium Conference Room
3rd floor of Chemistry & Physics Building (CPB)
700 Planetarium Place
Arlington, TX
6:30pm

Wednesday, Nov 6
University of North Texas
Sponsored by the Contemporary Arab & Muslim Studies Institute
Willis Library 443
Denton, TX
2pm

Thursday, Nov 7
University of Texas at Austin
Sponsored by the Arab Student Association
Burdine Hall (BUR) 134
110 Inner Campus Drive
Austin, TX
7pm

I’ve finally had time to catch my breath and begin posting the Chapter Companions promised at the end of my book, Fast Times in Palestine. They’ll contain most of the text left out of the newer version (most of which can also be read here) plus links to other relevant stories, articles, and photos.

Visit my Footnotes page to find links to all articles cited in the book. I’ve saved a copy of each article, so if a link is ever broken, please let me know (pamolson @ gmail) and I’ll post it online and link to it there.

.

    COMPANION TO CHAPTER ONE

Chapter One’s text isn’t much different in the final version that it was in the original, and you can read it here, with the following pictures to illustrate it:

The Sinai

Dahab

Dahab

From a trip I took to Dahab in 2005. I'm the one in the wetsuit, getting ready for a dive north of Dahab.

Mars-like Saudi mountains across the Gulf

Mars-like Saudi mountains across the Gulf

IMG_0673

The Citadel at sunset

The Citadel at sunset

A sliver of an expansive sunset view of Amman from the Citadel

The same view with a bit more light

A small part of the expansive view from the Citadel

Wheeling pigeons (under the flag)

Wheeling pigeons (under the flag)

Night draws near

Night draws near

The Treasury at Petra

(For maps of the region, see my Maps page.)

But two (out of four) epigraphs (quotes at the beginnings of books) were left out of the new version. The first was:

    “There are people who prefer to say ‘Yes,’ and there are people who prefer to say ‘No.’ Those who say ‘Yes’ are rewarded by the adventures they have, and those who say ‘No’ are rewarded by the safety they attain.”

The most impactful class I took at Stanford was called Improvisation for Theater, taught by a visionary professor named Patricia Ryan Madson, author of Improv Wisdom: Don’t Prepare, Just Show Up. Through her and Johnstone’s wonderful book, I came to see that the tenets of Improv could be applied not just on stage but to life itself — because after all, what is life but one big improvisation?

This quotation in particular inspired me to say ‘Yes’ to a lot of strange offers after college — including the one to travel to Egypt instead of Greece or Italy as I had originally planned.

    “I am a man; nothing human is alien to me.”

      ~ Terence, Berber playwright of the Roman Republic

This one spoke deeply to me. If I had any pre-conceived ideas before landing in the Middle East, this was it (though at times it was sorely tested). In the end, the more I learn about the world and other cultures, the more truth I see in it. We are all one human race, with far more similarities than differences. And we truly have no idea what we might be capable of if were found ourselves thrust into certain situations.

This Orwell quotation was included in the new version, but it was cut down a bit. Here it is in full:

    “So much political capital has been made out of the Barcelona fighting that it is important to try and get a balanced view of it… Nearly all the newspaper accounts published at the time were manufactured by journalists at a distance, and were not only inaccurate in the facts but intentionally misleading. As usual, only one side of the question has been allowed to get to the wider public. Like everyone who was in Barcelona at the time, I saw only what was happening in my immediate neighborhood, but I saw and heard quite enough to be able to contradict many of the lies that have been circulated… It is… necessary to try and establish the truth, so far as it is possible. This squalid brawl in a distant city is more important than might appear at first.”

Chapter One was tricky to write because it required squeezing a very dramatic and life-changing year and a half into 13 short pages (so that we could get to the good stuff in the Middle East).

I had to leave out a lot of freshman-in-the-world philosophical musings, tortured self-reflection, a summer backpacking trip through Europe that I had no business taking (a rational person would have paid off her student loans instead), an affair with an Irish sailor that went horribly wrong, my summer at a crazy Russian summer camp, and nearly everything I experienced in the Middle East other than the times I had in Palestine.

It’s a brutal reality of writing a memoir. In the process of taking many wild events and finding the thread of meaning within them, a tremendous amount has to be left out. Otherwise you’ll end up with a two-thousand-page monster that no one will ever read.

I’ve compiled some of these “outtakes” into inexpensive eBooks, which you can browze on my Amazon Author Page (or check out below). But most of the stories can be read for free at the links above.

capppp

Siberian Travels:
My journey from Moscow to the Sea of Japan in December 2000

Camp Golden Shaft: Adventures in southern Russia and the Middle East in 2003

Camp Golden Shaft: Adventures in southern Russia and the Middle East in summer and fall 2003

Tribute for Ronan: A true story of love, death, and betrayal that landed me on the cover of an Irish tabloid

Tribute for Ronan: A true story of love, death, and betrayal that landed me on the cover of an Irish tabloid


The Fable of Megastan: If America had been Iraq for the past 30 years

The Fable of Megastan: If America had been Iraq for the past 30 years

The Brimming Void: Poetry (mostly inspired by California and the Middle East)

The Brimming Void: Poetry (mostly inspired by California and the Middle East)

capppp

Simple eBook Formatting for the Technophobic Author in case you’d like to format and publish your own eBook — with a little patience, anyone can do it

almond_tree_coverI’ll admit, I started reading this novel with a bit of trepidation. A Jewish-American woman writing a historical novel from the perspective of a young Palestinian man requires serious chutzpah, and the fact that she named the main character Ichmad (a Hebrew-sounding transliteration of Ahmed) made me wary.

But thankfully, what I found was an engaging novel with an impressive degree of empathy and authenticity. It reads like a combination of Mornings in Jenin and The Kite Runner. As such, it has the potential to reach broad audiences with a powerful message of Palestinian humanity that’s sadly missing from the popular consciousness.

(And the choice to use ‘Ichmad’ actually comes from the author’s interpretation of a rural Palestinian accent, which later serves to distinguish him from a city-boy roommate.)

The story begins with an idyllic/tragic scene that sets the tone for the rest of the novel: a young girl, Ichmad’s sister, goes out chasing butterflies, not understanding that the field nearby is studded with Israeli landmines. Her family rushes out to try to save her, but they are too late. They watch her mischievous smile evaporate before their eyes.

In an earlier version, the book began with a scene of Ichmad helping another man hide weapons for the Palestinian resistance. But the author realized this would make no sense without explaining what had come before. By opening the book with Ichmad’s loss of innocence, the events that follow become more understandable.

According to interviews with the author (who spent seven years in Israel and was horrified as she began learning the truth about the Palestinian situation), the seed for the idea of the book began with a friend she met at Harvard, a Palestinian with an Israeli PhD advisor whose father spent many years in prison. Despite the harshness of his childhood (he was forced early into being the breadwinner because of his father’s imprisonment), he showed an aptitude for math and science that allowed him to attend Israeli and later American universities. Ichmad’s life follows this basic narrative, though it’s set a couple of decades earlier.

She acknowledges this is a rare occurrence, and the question of how Ichmad’s success causes him to become out of touch with his fellow Palestinians is sensitively addressed. The book does not take a fantasist approach that the conflict will be easy to solve if we can just hold hands and sing kumbaya. Still, it shows what’s possible when love of science (or humanity, music, or anything else) transcends love of your own particular ethnically-based privilege. Minds can open, and old wounds can begin to heal. (One is invited to imagine how much more so once some measure of justice is finally done.)

Israelis are not demonized in the book, and this is critical both because it rings authentic (Israelis, after all, are not demons but human beings in a particular human context) and because it allows the possibility of reaching genuinely broad audiences, including Jewish Israelis and Jewish and Christian Zionists.

It may be sad and unfortunate, but it’s true: Often it takes a white/Christian/Jewish or otherwise privileged writer to reach a privileged audience that is otherwise quite fine with the status quo. Palestinian voices tell beautiful and evocative stories. But they often allude to historical events, cultural touchstones, and political realities that are meaningless to the average American.

Like Uncle Tom’s Cabin or Cry, the Beloved Country, The Almond Tree is a kind of “hybrid” or “gateway” book that tells a Palestinian story but with Western sensibilities in mind. None of these books is perfect, nor can they ever be perfectly authentic. But they can hopefully do their job—both to educate ignorant societies about otherwise very foreign subjects, and to inspire them to read and understand accounts by the victims of oppression themselves.

The human mind is, after all, wired to respond more to narratives than to facts, and there must be something in a narrative that we can grasp onto in order to be able to integrate it into our own view of the world.

Nearly all the facts have been on “our” side (the side of justice and peace for all) for decades. It’s about time the narrative became so as well—that the Palestinians had for themselves something akin to the novel Exodus (though not as mendacious) that could capture the imagination of middle Americans.

The book is epic in scope, beginning shortly after 1948 when Ichmad’s Palestinian family finds themselves becoming “Arab-Israelis” with no rights to their own land, and continuing almost to the present day.

I do wish it included a map that showed where the family’s village, its confiscated land, and the nearby Israeli towns and moshavs were located, and maybe a small author’s note explaining what it meant to become an “Arab-Israeli” under strict military rule up until 1966. I feel it would situate the reader in space and political context better. But the basic human realities shine through.

There is no shortage of tragedies along the way, and readers with weak stomachs may have to put the book down occasionally before continuing on. But there are also moments of pure joy and humor and beauty, of taking stock and realizing that despite what has been lost, so much does still exist, with so much potential.

As the book says: “You cannot go back and make a new start, but you can start now and make a new ending.”

You can learn more about the book on its website and Amazon page.

Note: There are several spoilers below; read at your own risk.

Yes, another movie about Palestinians that focuses on terrorism. The concept of suicide bombing is cinematically compelling for many reasons. But given how few feature films are made about Palestine, it is painful to see this fringe theme—isolated in time, within a certain context, and since abandoned—recycled over and over again, as if it somehow defines the Palestinian experience.

Leaving that aside, an individual film can potentially handle this subject with sensitivity and balance, using it as a vehicle for understanding the Palestinian context, when and how certain things go off the rails of civilized behavior (hint: it’s not a one-way street), how and why Israeli society reacts, and what can be done to ease tensions sustainably.

I hoped the new movie The Attack, made by Lebanese filmmaker Ziad Doueiri, based on a novel by an Algerian living in France, would be such a film. It’s in the news now mainly because the Arab world has boycotted it, supposedly because it violates the economic boycott of Israel and portrays Israelis as human beings. I wanted to see if that was really the case, or if there were deeper reasons for rejecting the film.

What I found was that, frustratingly, it was almost a good and potentially powerful film. The set-up is promising. A prominent Palestinian-Israeli surgeon, Dr. Amin, is receiving a prestigious award from his peers in Tel Aviv, speaking graciously in front of a room full of Jewish Israelis, apparently oblivious to the fact that he’s been tokenized.

Being jarred out of his complacency when the unthinkable happens could lead to all kinds of fascinating revelations. It’s even hinted at some point that he’s been used to bolster Israel’s image of multiculturalism and tolerance. But it’s never explained what that fig leaf is trying to cover up.

And therein lies the problem. Virtually no context is given for anything Palestinians do. So a casual viewer will leave the theater no more educated than when he walked in, except perhaps with a slightly more sympathetic view of Israelis.

This might be fine if the film were made primarily for entertainment about a conflict long-since resolved. But one can only imagine how distasteful and destructive it would have been to make a movie during the days of Jim Crow or Apartheid, supposedly about black characters, in which the lives and motivations of black people and their political context are glossed over, caricatured, or left inscrutable, while most white characters are portrayed as reasonable, compelling, sympathetic, and relatable.

Several details also ring false, not least of which is the main premise—that a happily married upper middle class Christian woman living in Israel inexplicably commits a suicide bombing. (I’ll leave aside the fact that she’s apparently from Nablus, and it isn’t explained how she acquired Israeli citizenship in the first place. In reality, “family reunification” is nearly impossible when it comes to Palestinian-Israelis marrying Palestinians from the West Bank or Gaza.) To my knowledge, no Christians or middle-aged married women have committed suicide bombings in Israel, and only two Palestinian-Israelis early on in the second Intifada.

Furthermore, a Palestinian man from the West Bank is shown driving freely from Nablus to Tel Aviv, as if this is a normal and easy thing. It’s later revealed that he switches his license plates each time, but a person new to the conflict would likely miss the explanation and assume all Palestinians are allowed to travel freely to any Israeli city.

It’s also not clear which year the narrative takes place. Which is important. These things don’t happen in a vacuum. If it took place in the 90s, it would be one thing. In 2002, quite another. In 2005, a totally different situation. And in 2012, it would be preposterous. As far as I’d know from watching this film, Palestinians just do suicide bombings whenever (even up to the present day), most Palestinians (Christian or Muslim) always support them, and nothing ever changes.

It’s also strange that Israeli commentators in the film claim suicide bombings are for publicity for various militant groups, yet no group ever takes responsibility for this bombing. An obvious contradiction that is never resolved.

Also puzzlingly, when the identity of the bomber becomes known, and Dr. Amin, suspected of being a co-conspirator, is taken in for interrogation, the questioning is not nearly as tough or prolonged as one would expect in reality—and then he is simply let go to wander freely around both Israel and the West Bank.

When Dr. Amin finally becomes convinced that his wife did the bombing, he travels to Nablus searching for clues about who sent her on her mission and why. He doesn’t learn much, other than that her family is proud of her for doing what she did, and a fiery sheikh named Marwan is a cartoonish dolt and a thug. When he finally figures out who put her up to it (another cartoonishly creepy character), it’s not believable to anyone who knows the region well. And even if you intimately understand the Palestinian situation, his sloganistic justification sounds hollow. If you don’t, it sounds absurd.

While the Palestinian context is hinted and talked about occasionally, it’s done in a shallow way. At one supposedly climactic moment, Dr. Amin walks by a bunch of destroyed buildings, and we’re supposed to feel some kind of stirring emotion. But while the crumbled masonry is disturbing, it’s nearly meaningless without any context, and it packs very little emotional punch. (Nothing at all like the scene and aftermath of the suicide bombing, for example.)

But the worst part comes at the end, when Dr. Amin decides not to turn anyone in for this crime (which doesn’t seem in line with his character and won’t make sense to the average viewer), and an Israeli woman chides him, essentially saying with a genuinely hurt expression on her face, “And after all we did for you!”

One could easily walk away thinking of Israelis as benevolent and Palestinians as ungrateful, fanatic screw-ups who support terrorism by default, at all times.

There are good things to say about the film. The cinematography is lovely, and parts of it were shot in Nablus, which is beautiful as always. The filmmaker creates some memorable characters (mostly Israelis but also a Palestinian niece who’s fun to watch). A lot of the acting is phenomenal, including that by Ali Suliman. He does as much as he can with the source material.

If this film had been sensitive enough to the perspective of the oppressed, and had all these great Israeli characters, it might have been moving for many in the Arab world and a balm for the region. Simply seeing a relatable Israeli character in a film that didn’t insult Arabs could have been revelatory for people who’d never encountered such a thing.

Sadly, the opportunity was lost.

One might wonder why a Lebanese filmmaker would create a film like this, especially the man who made the wonderful movie West Beirut. You can hear him speak in his own words here (interview with Al-Arabiya, translated by the Israel lobby group MEMRI), here (interview with Anthem), and here (article in The Jewish Week).

Incidentally, a sneak preview of the film took place in the Jewish Community Center on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. A Jewish friend who attended said it was well-received, though he was angered by it for similar reasons to the ones outlined above.

P.S. I’ve heard from a reliable source that the book on which the movie is based is much more thoughtful and realistic than the film. She advises people who read this review not to “throw the baby out with the bathwater.” I haven’t read the book, but I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt, and I hope I’ll have time to read it soon.

The Short Version of the Story

My dear friend Rania, a major character in my book (Fast Times in Palestine), needs help. Her husband was arrested a few years ago by the Israeli army on bogus charges, putting all their hopes and plans in jeopardy. He’s out of jail now, but they’re still struggling to pay off debts and find a way to make a living in the devastated West Bank economy.

LuluKRania, a college graduate, took the initiative to find meaningful work as a psychological counselor for the people who need it most in her community. Unfortunately, there’s no funding for it yet. She does it on a voluntary basis, hoping that when funding comes through, she’ll be first in line for her dream job.

Simply put, without outside help, she can’t continue her work and continue to feed, clothe, and educate her two beautiful children (older brother Karim and little sister Lusan).

I raise money every year to send the family $300 per month, which helps not only the family but also the community at large because of Rania’s incredible work. I just used the last of the money I raised from my last appeal, and a donation to help replenish the stocks would make a terrific wedding gift. 🙂

The kids are growing up fast, asking many difficult questions about their situation and learning songs and English words and all the other things kids learn as they color in this big world and start to figure out their place in it. They’re so smart and cute and funny, and it’s exciting to watch them grow, and sobering to think what might have happened to them if their family had fallen into true poverty with no help.

As always, all money goes directly to the family, and I pay the Western Union fees each month.

I set up an IndieGogo campaign, but I only asked for one-third of what I need (I’ll need $3,600 for the year) because I’m hoping to raise most of the money directly from donors so IndieGogo doesn’t get a 4% cut of all of it. But even if you don’t go through IndieGogo, I’ll be happy to send you any perks you qualify for.

Here are the various ways to donate:

  • My Paypal email is pamolson02@yahoo.com
  • Email me for details about how to send a check (pamolson at gmail)
  • I can send you an invoice via Paypal, which you can pay with any major credit card
  • If you’d prefer to send the money directly to her via Western Union, I can send instructions how to do it — it’s very easy
  • Here’s the link to the IndieGogo campaign if you’d rather donate that way

Even $5 helps and adds up quickly.

Thank you for reading, and for any help you can give. I can’t do it alone, but together we can do something amazing for two sweet kids and all the people helped by one extraordinary Palestinian woman.

Fundraising and donating aren’t nearly as hard as raising two kids while trying to be a rock for a society under brutal, strangling occupation. But the one makes the other possible, and it’s an honor to be a small part of it.

Sweet Lusan

Sweet Lusan

The Longer Version

Shortly before graduating from college, Rania married a man named Sharif, a poor but kind man who lost his parents when he was young and never finished high school. He was incredibly supportive of Rania’s education, and they had a beautiful baby boy named Karim in 2007.

Two years later she was pregnant with a little girl, and Sharif secured a permit to work in Israel so he could finish building their house and support his growing family.

Then… disaster struck. Before her husband had a chance to use his permit, he was brutally arrested in the middle of the night by armed Israeli soldiers who beat him in front of his pregnant wife and child and took him away without explanation. (The harrowing story is told here.)

He was held without charge, trial, or telephone call, and it was days before she learned the reason he had been arrested: He was accused of stealing cars in Israel. Rania could only laugh when she found out. He had never even been to Israel. But she wasn’t laughing when they handed down his sentence: one year behind bars.

A full year without his wife, without his son, without being there for the birth of his daughter. Even worse, a year without being able to provide for his family.

I visited Rania a few months after her husband was taken. She said her savings were almost finished, and she had no idea what she would do when they ran out. Every social safety net had failed her one way or another.

When her husband was finally released, he was a changed man. In bad health, in bad spirits, angry and unstable. The only job he could get was tough physical labor. Prices is Palestine are inflated due to the occupation and being tied to Israel’s currency and economy, and his small and unstable wages aren’t nearly enough for a family of four in debt from a year of no income, legal fees, etc.

Meanwhile, in 2010, Rania took the initiative and found meaningful work with the Syndicate of Psychological Social Workers, an organization that sponsors activities, classes, and counseling sessions to improve the psychological health of the community. It’s a desperately needed service in a town suffering so badly from the occupation (violence, vicious arrests, land expropriation and unemployment) and other stresses (the usual societal problems like spousal abuse and mental illness).

Unfortunately, it’s not a paid position. The Syndicate has been trying to get funding for years, but for various reasons — the latest of which is Israel’s withholding of Palestinian tax funds to try to prevent the formation of a Palestinian unity government — it has never materialized. The office doesn’t even have working phones.

So, for the past couple of years, I’ve been sending Rania $300 per month to live on while her husband’s wages pay down their debts and she continues working (and paying for child care), in the hope that if and when funding for the Syndicate finally comes through, she’ll be first in line for her dream job.

When I visited Palestine in September 2011, Rania invited me to visit her in Tulkarem and see the work she did on a daily basis. It was a whirlwind tour. We met several women who came to the Syndicate a few times per week as part of their university training, and another volunteer was taking them through the day’s lesson. One of the male volunteers was a music teacher. Another was a policeman, most of whose family is in Israeli prison. One of his sons was unable to finish high school because the Israelis took him when he was 16.

They all had the disarming, earnest friendliness I’m used to in Palestine, the same direct and matter-of-fact way of talking about their hardships, the same undying hope that telling their story just one more time will somehow make a difference. And they all spoke of Rania as if she’s indispensable.

Next we visited a home for the mentally handicapped. Most of the patients had Down syndrome. Many of them recognized Rania, and their faces lit up when they saw her. A teacher showed us the different classrooms, from the one for people who could barely function at all, who basically just played or danced all day, to a class for more advanced students who could learn to read and write and perform other basic skills.

Finally we went to a UN school for refugee children, where Rania and several other women organized an after school program for girls through the local YMCA. About a hundred high-spirited first-graders showed up, all of them girls, and we set up games of tug-of-war, sack races, hop-scotch, hula hoops, and best of all, the game where everyone grabs the edge of a parachute cloth and jumbles it around with balls on top so that the balls jump around everywhere. Everyone was laughing the whole time we did it.

Rania whispered to me, “When the girls are doing this, they forget all their stress!”

Afterwards we handed out juice boxes and cakes and did face-painting and drawing on a giant piece of butcher paper. The girls were engaged the whole time, their eyes shining, supporting each other through every challenge. Without these women, and the smattering of funding from the YMCA for the supplies, these girls would simply be trudging home to crowded cinderblock alleys and small rooms that may or may not have electricity.

It was incredibly humbling to see so many volunteers, who had hard and busy lives of their own, and barely enough money to survive, spending their time helping others instead of throwing up their hands or ignoring their even-less-fortunate neighbors.

On the way back to the office, Rania said to me, “You see how I am known in Tulkarem? Before I did this volunteering, no one asked about me. No one knew who I was. The important thing is not to stay in the house all day. If you stay in the house, the people will forget you. But if you know the people and society, in the end you will succeed.”

I have no doubt she’s right. I don’t know when that time will come, but I do know that I’m proud to support the work she does in her community, and I hope I will be able to continue (with your help) until better fortune comes to the occupied city of Tulkarem.

A gift of support is not just helping Rania. It’s also helping her beautiful children and the dozens — probably hundreds by now — of people Rania helps with her work. It’s an investment that is guaranteed to grow many times over. You can’t say that about many investments these days.

All money goes to the family, and I pay the Western Union fees every month. If you’d rather send money directly to the family, please be in touch and I’ll let you know the details: pamolson at gmail.

Thank you so much.

Well, not so much bells as tornado sirens… But still it was a lovely wedding!

We were worried all week it would rain out our vineyard venue (it did, with torrential rains the night before the wedding), and our out-of-town guests learned what it was like to get up in the middle of the night and put on shoes and socks and gather in the middle of the house as tornado sirens blared.

But no tornadoes touched down, and the weather cleared up by morning and left us with a gorgeous day to get married in. The vineyard was too soggy, so we did the ceremony and reception in our backyard. It was quite a party. Here are a few of the pictures people have posted so far…

Sign boy (the sign says "Here comes the bride!") and ring bearers

My nephew Mason with a sign that says “Here comes the bride!”

Ring bearers, my nephews Jack and Jake

Ring bearers, my nephews Jack and Jake

Sweet flower girl Iphy (my Matron of Honor Holly's little girl)

Sweet flower girl Iphy (my Matron of Honor Holly’s little girl)

Down the aisle

Down the aisle

Our lovely officiant Emily

Our lovely officiant Emily

The vows

The vows

"Yeah, yeah, marriage, whatever, where's the cake?"

“Yeah, yeah, marriage, whatever, where’s the cake?”

Bridesmaids and blue skies

Bridesmaids and blue skies

I now pronounce you husband and wife...

I now pronounce you husband and wife…

Carried away

Carried away

Wed04

Wed05

Waving to the assembled crowds, who were kind enough to witness and bless our union :)

Waving to the assembled crowds

"That's all, folks. Time to drink!"

“That’s all, folks. Time to drink!”

My husband horsing around with my nephew :)

My husband horsing around with my nephew 🙂

The cake

The cake

A few of the 150 or so guests

A few of the 150 or so guests

Wed49

The live entertainment (before a carefully-selected iTunes playlist took over!)

The live entertainment (before a carefully-selected iTunes playlist took over!)

Vanquishing the cake... with a sword. My nephew Jake is obviously impressed!

Vanquishing the cake… with a sword. My nephew Jake is obviously impressed!

Wiping away the blood of my enemy... I mean the frosting of my wedding cake

Wiping away the blood of my enemy… I mean the frosting of my wedding cake

The rings

The rings

Husband and mother of the bride

Husband and mother of the bride

With my grandmother

With my grandmother

Wed12

Into the sunset

Into the sunset

Back in civilian clothes, whew!

Back in civilian clothes, whew!

My book

Fast Times in Palestine is in bookstores worldwide! Order on Amazon, or check out the book's website.

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 212 other followers

Donate

Maintaining this blog and my website is an unpaid labor of love. If you'd like to help me keep it up, my Paypal email is pamolson02@yahoo.com

Many thanks.

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
Advertisements