BNpicMy tour with Fast Times in Palestine took me all over the US, from California to Washington, Colorado to Oklahoma, and most major cities on the east coast.

I resolved at the beginning not to sugarcoat anything or promote false equivalencies. In presentations and interviews, I was clear about the Wall stealing land, the horrors of “administrative detention,” and many other injustices. If people asked tough questions that required speaking about racism, oppression, and American support of a de facto apartheid situation, I answered forthrightly. (For an example, you can view my talk at the Palestine Center in DC here.)

I braced myself every time, waiting for the backlash.

To my shock, it never came.

People were receptive, interested, thoughtful, and sometimes skeptical, but almost never hostile or disbelieving. Some crowds were self-selected, but others were more mainstream, including a banquet in eastern Washington attended mostly by retirement-age pillars of the community.

At the banquet, one man asked a leading question that blamed the Palestinians for their plight, and another asked about Hamas’ charter. I answered calmly, offering historical and political context and analogies about Sinn Fein and Apartheid. The audience seemed to be nodding along with me, as if my answers made sense to them.

At the Upper West Side Barnes & Noble, a woman angrily accused me of not saying the Wall was built solely for security reasons. I thanked her for bringing it up and read the part of my book that talks about the Israeli army admitting parts of the Wall were routed based on settlement expansion plans, and the Shin Bet admitting the Wall wasn’t a very good security system anyway. Hundreds of Palestinians cross every day to work in Israel without a permit. According to the Shin Bet, the reason suicide bombings stopped in 2005 was because Hamas decided to end them and pursue a democratic political course.

And that was it. Those were the two most hostile encounters in nearly 50 venues in a dozen states and two dozen cities. I didn’t encounter anything like the anger, heckling, and censorship I would have expected had I done this ten or even five years ago.

It’s hard to over-state how much the climate has changed in the past decade. A filmmaker friend summed it up: You used to need extra security to bring a pro-Palestine speaker to campus. Now you need extra security to bring a pro-Israel speaker.

At Oklahoma University, when I spoke to students in the flagship Middle East studies program, I felt utterly redundant. They already knew everything I was saying. The argument in class wasn’t whether Israelis or Palestinians were to blame, but whether Israel had totally destroyed the two-state solution. (Some of the students thanked me for being straightforward and not dancing around the issues like most “experts” did. I told them that was one benefit of not having a mainstream career to lose.)

In the most remote place I spoke — Seminole State College in a small town in Oklahoma — the faculty were fascinated and expressed gratitude that I was bringing them “the other side of the story.” The students asked not whether my stories were true but how it felt to be in the middle of them. That was as big a surprise to me as any.

That’s not to say everything is perfect. Some journalists and professors thanked me for saying things they were still too afraid to say. I can’t say who or why because I don’t want to betray any confidences. But let’s just say people with buildings named after them tend to have more sway than people who don’t.

But those in power seem to be falling behind the grassroots surge in interest and knowledge about this conflict. People seem genuinely hungry for this information, told in a way they can digest and relate to, from a non-intimidating source.

Speaking as someone who used to be intimidated by anything having to do with the Middle East (because I was terrified of stepping on sensitivities and otherwise showing myself to be an ignorant jackass, or alternatively being duped by flowery language), I have a lot of empathy for these Americans. And I believe they can be reached.

Several people asked, “Are you giving these talks in right-wing pro-Israel venues as well?” I told them I doubt I would be invited, and in any case I tend not to put my energy there. I mentioned the polls that say 70% of Americans (or whatever) support Israel while 15% (or whatever) support Palestinians, and the rest don’t know. These look like hopelessly skewed statistics.

But in fact, probably less than 20% of Americans strongly support Israel. The rest just kind of blow in the prevailing winds. My theory is that if they can be told a fuller story in a way that respects their intelligence and speaks to their sensibilities, roughly half of Americans can likely be convinced to switch sides — not against Israel, but for peace and justice based on international law and respect for human rights for all. That’s where I’m putting my efforts.

And I’m finding, based on limited anecdotal evidence, that folks are more ripe for it than I dared hope.

One last incredibly encouraging sign of changing times: Most of you probably remember Bob Simon’s ground-breaking piece on 60 Minutes last year about Palestinian Christians (and Michael Oren’s hilarious “rebuttal”).

Someone who works at CBS told me they’re still dealing with the fallout. After the Israel lobby failed to kill the piece, the station received 32,000 angry emails (mostly form letters mobilized by various lobby organizations such as CAMERA). And that was just the beginning. One of the worst attacks was a slanderous ad in the Wall Street Journal that potentially endangered Bob Simon’s safety. My contact said it was the biggest “sh**storm” of his long career.

The chairman of CBS was brave enough to stand behind the piece, but he did request that they stay away from the topic for a while. Busy people get sick of dealing with this kind of nonsense, and there’s still a real fear among powerful folks of the taint of being accused of anti-Semitism. It’s like being accused of spousal abuse. Even if it’s not remotely true, it can stick to you like a bad rash.

But here’s the good news: The station also received 35,000 emails thanking them for showing what life is like for Palestinian Christians. And most of the appreciative emails were from individuals, not partisan listservs.

It made me feel more hope than I had in a long time.

More and more I believe the Israel lobby is a cardboard tiger. If enough people stand up to them or ignore them, they lose a lot of their power. They can still cause damage, but less and less as time goes on and more people shine light on their tactics, or just let them yell into the ether, instead of deferring to them.

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IndieGTo those who were kind enough to contribute to the IndieGogo campaign (now completed) to help fund my recent book tour, I want to extend my sincere gratitude.

I’m working on a more comprehensive report from the tour, and I’ll post it as soon as I can. In short, it went better than I could have hoped, and it left me with more optimism than I had before. I truly believe the US public is ripe for learning about the realities in Palestine, told in a language they can relate to.

You all (and many others) helped make it possible. Thank you to:

Imad Hanna
Linus Hart
Ahmed Rifai
Veronica Riera-Gilley
Lama Najjar
Rachel Goldstein
Bea Dewing
Leah Bry
Ian Monroe
Dana Hantash
Nancy Shapiro
Kristine Knutter
Rebecca Hsu
John Lappart
Nur Fadhilah Wahid
Robbie Roy
Noor Elashi
Donde Anderson
Saundra Hoover
Tomas Gimenez
David Hall
Rob Philip
Dan Sandberg
Sarah Roggero
Andy Perdue
Bill Nilli
Anonymous x 7

Another round of thanks is due to all the fine people who kindly provided couches, spare rooms, rides, meals, and excellent company along the way. It’s been an honor and a pleasure.

And now, on to wedding planning! 🙂

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The largest chunk edited from my book was this story about tour-guiding a hawkish Jewish American friend around some very delicate areas of the West Bank. It was originally the first section of Chapter 10, right before my parents’ visit.

The story was cut only for reasons of length, and I was sad to see it go. It includes some interesting times, great characters, telling details, and chilling stories.

So, here it is — enjoy!

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Deep in Enemy Territory
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A friend from college named Cameron was in Israel visiting family for Passover. He was an adventurous soul, a world traveler and entrepreneur with curly brown hair, blue eyes, and a slim athletic build. When his family learned I was in the Holy Land, they invited me to their Passover seder — until they realized I lived in Ramallah, at which point they promptly rescinded the invitation.

Cameron was a strong supporter of Israel and hawkish on security issues, but he was embarrassed by his family’s behavior. I told him he could make it up to me by visiting the West Bank for a week and seeing the occupation for himself. To my pleasant surprise he agreed. In order not to upset his family, he told them he was heading to the Sinai for a week.

He arrived in Ramallah just as the Dancing Traffic Cop was beginning his shift in Al Manara. Tall, lanky, and graceful, wearing reflective silver aviator sunglasses, the man didn’t just direct traffic. He made a show of it. Cameron and I watched in amazement as his long arms moved in quick, precise, exaggerated arcs and twirls to match his intricate, impeccable footwork. [See a YouTube video here.]

Even when he took a break and headed to the coffee stand under the palm trees, he didn’t just walk. He strutted, smiling with his razor-sharp Robocop jaw line, tipping his hat to passers-by as if he were the uncontested king of Al Manara.

Cameron looked at me, demanding an explanation. I could only shrug. I used to wonder, did somebody tell him to direct traffic like that, or was it his own initiative? Had he been a kid like Billy Elliot who wanted to be a dancer but couldn’t because it wasn’t culturally acceptable? If so, why on earth was he dancing in full view of the public, waving and flashing his movie star smile to all who passed by, with apparent unanimous approval?

I didn’t question it anymore. I just enjoyed it.

DanceCop

We walked to Pronto to meet John from Kentucky and a handful of other Palestinians and foreigners and chat with them over pizza and beers. I made it a point to take Cameron there so he could see I wasn’t the only crazy person who thought the West Bank could be a lovely place to live.

But the next day he would find out just how hellish it could be.

* * *

Hebron (known as Al Khalil in Arabic) [1], a Palestinian city twenty-five miles south of Jerusalem, is home to the Ibrahimi Mosque, a citadel-like stone structure with two imposing square minarets built over the Cave of the Patriarchs. The Biblical couples Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, and Jacob and Leah are believed to be buried there. Muslims have maintained it for centuries as an important mosque, and for Jews it is the second holiest site in the world after the Western Wall of the Temple Mount.

Before the advent of Zionism, Jews lived in relative peace in Hebron. [2] Muslim neighbors lit candles and performed other small labors for Jews during Shabbat. But tensions rose after the Balfour Declaration of 1917, when the British government promised a state in Palestine to Jews who mostly weren’t there yet.

The worst attack took place in 1929 when Palestinian mobs descended on Hebron and killed 67 Jews, most of them recent European immigrants. [3] Hundreds of native Jews, most of them Arabic-speaking, were sheltered and saved by their Muslim neighbors. But British officials compounded the assault by ordering Jewish survivors to evacuate the city for their own safety.

Hebron was largely devoid of Jews until the spring of 1968, when a rabbi named Moshe Levinger requested the Israeli army’s permission to host a Passover seder in a hotel in Hebron. After the seder he refused to leave. Little by little, with the army’s tacit approval, he and his followers built a settlement called Kiryat Arba near the Ibrahimi Mosque. Kiryat Arba now has a population of over 7,000 and is known as one of the most fanatical settlements in the West Bank.

It houses a Memorial Park for Rabbi Meir Kahane, the founder of Kach, a militant Jewish organization designated as a terrorist group by the US and Israel. The grave of Baruch Goldstein, the settler who massacred 29 Muslim worshipers in 1994, is across the street from the park. According to the BBC, “His grave became a pilgrimage site complete with streetlights, a sidewalk and paved area for people to gather, and a cupboard with prayer books and candles. The marble plaque on his grave reads, ‘To the holy Baruch Goldstein, who gave his life for the Jewish people, the Torah, and the nation of Israel.’” [4]

In 1997, as part of the Oslo Accords, the Israeli government divided Hebron into two parts, H1 and H2. It was touted as a compromise since Palestinians were granted nominal control over H1, which comprises 80% of the city and 120,000 of its residents. But the rest, including the Ibrahimi Mosque, the Old City, Shuhada Street, all the settlements, and 30,000 Palestinian residents, remain under full Israeli control. Shuhada Street has since been declared off-limits to Palestinians, and its hundreds of shops and markets have been shut down.

Heb2

In 1979, Rabbi Levinger’s wife led a movement of settlers into a handful of sites in and around the Old City, some of which were previously inhabited by Jews (though the settlers themselves have no legal claim to the sites). Five hundred Israeli settlers now live in H2, with 2,000 Israeli soldiers on duty to guard them.

The Palestinian population in H2 has been steadily shrinking due to the closures of roads to Palestinians, a ban on Palestinian commercial activities near settlement areas, and settler harassment and violence, which the Israeli army does little to curb. [5]

When our service taxi arrived in Hebron, we asked a young woman in a hijab how to get to the Old City. She smirked. “Just walk that way until you see Israeli soldiers.”

We made our way past the soldiers and into Hebron’s Old City, which was nearly as well-preserved as the Old City of Nablus. But it was eerily empty and quiet. In all of H2, about 40% of Palestinian homes had been abandoned. In the Old City the figure rose to 80%. A few brave souls sat by open shops or carts full of small piles of goods for sale looking like sages or martyrs from another time. They welcomed us warmly, but I had never seen people who looked so worn down by life.

Suddenly a stream of filthy water rained down in front of us and narrowly missed Cameron. We looked up and saw a roof of chicken wire over our heads weighed down with garbage. Beyond it was a recently-built structure of smooth sandstone with an Israeli flag fluttering in the breeze.

“That’s the settlers,” one old shopkeeper informed us.

“The settlers throw garbage at you?” I asked, appalled.

He chuckled at my naïveté. “Garbage, eggs, rocks, sewage. This is our life.”

An Israeli settlement built on top of the Hebron Old City

An Israeli settlement built on top of the Hebron Old City

The wire mesh Palestinians must live under to try to keep out some of the things settlers throw down at them

The wire mesh Palestinians must live under to try to keep out some of the things settlers throw at them

We asked him for directions to the Ibrahimi Mosque. He pointed the way, and we resumed our eerie walk through the sepulchral Old City with its razor wire, metal barriers, and patrolling soldiers. We exited through another checkpoint and emerged into a strange realm. Groups of armed settlers wearing white dress shirts, knitted kippot (skullcaps), and fringes hanging from their hips (a symbol of piety) strutted down a wide avenue.

The shops that had lined the street — everything from tourist stores to Turkish baths — had been closed and abandoned, their rusting doors welded shut, their turquoise paint peeling. Strings of plastic Israeli flags fluttered across the empty streets like perverse party favors. Army Jeeps slid by like patrolling sharks. Graffiti was scrawled on the walls in English, Hebrew, and occasionally Russian with messages like “Death to the Arabs,” “Arabs are Sand Niggers,” “Arabs to the Gas Chambers,” and “Sasha Nov 02.”

H2

H2

H2

H2

Heb10

The hairs on the back of my neck stood up. The ethnic cleansing was so brazen, so unapologetic, so recent. Not just recent — it was ongoing. The Palestinians who dared remain in this area had metal grilles on their windows and doors to fend off the rocks and other projectiles hurled at them by settlers. They hurried past checkpoints, their heads bowed, trying as hard as possible to be invisible. Even children on their way to school were sometimes beaten and stoned by settlers.

A recent Haaretz article called “Hebron Diaries” had told the story of an Orthodox Jewish soldier named Yehuda Shaul who said he “could not bear the moral erosion he noticed in himself and his comrades” during his year of service in Hebron. “It starts with little things,” he said. “At first, you only blindfold real suspects, and in the end you have some teenager who left his house during the curfew sitting next to you blindfolded for 10 hours, and it seems normal to you. A lot of things are done just to demonstrate a presence, to show that the IDF is everywhere at all times. On each patrol, they enter a few houses, put the women and children in one room and the men in another, check documents, turn the house upside down and then leave. There are no terrorists there, no special alerts. It’s just done. And then there’s the shooting, of course. Hours upon hours of shooting from a heavy machine gun or a grenade launcher… Do you know what it means to fire grenades into a crowded neighborhood where people live? And for four hours in a row? It’s a situation that brings out the insanity in people.” [6]

Settlers and soldiers make life extremely difficult for Palestinians in Hebron. At least one school has been forced to close because students were harassed so badly by Israeli settlers

Settlers and soldiers make life extremely difficult for Palestinians in Hebron. At least one school has been forced to close because students were harassed so badly by Israeli settlers

Settlers attacking a Palestinian woman while soldiers do nothing

Settlers attacking a Palestinian woman while soldiers do nothing

We made our way down the street to the fortress-like mosque. Three Palestinian men were sitting on broad stone stairs leading to the Muslim entrance. They directed us to a checkpoint where an Israeli soldier searched and questioned us and allowed us to pass. The interior was impressive, with vaulted ceilings and massive tomb-like shrines with ornate silk shrouds. As lovely as it was, the thick tension of tragedy and hostility made the place feel dreary.

Back in the light of day we headed to H1 to see what H2 must have looked like before the settlers came. I called a man named Hisham who had applied to work at the Palestine Monitor and asked if we could meet him for coffee. He agreed and then showed us all around the streets of H1, which were colorful and bustling, in shocking contrast to the post-Apocalyptic vibe in H2.

A typical bustling Palestinian street in H1

A typical bustling Palestinian street in H1

He directed us to his friend’s appliance store, which had a secret lounge upstairs plastered with images of Che Guevara. He poured us each a glass of wine (which we had to drink behind closed doors in this conservative city), and his friend prepared a huge dinner of kofta bandoora (spicy minced lamb baked with potatoes and tomatoes) with bread and yogurt.

They told us over dinner that Hebron was known in the Arab world for its poetry and artistic glasswork and for being the butt of Palestinian jokes. Hebronites (Khalilis in Arabic) are known as the hillbillies of Palestine in part because of their accent, which has a sing-song quality. I explained what an ‘Okie’ was and told him we apparently had something in common. We spent the rest of the evening drinking wine, smoking nargila, and telling Khalili jokes.

* * *

The next day Cameron and I took a service taxi to the Dheisha Refugee Camp near Bethlehem. We entered the camp and I found a receptionist at the Ibdaa Cultural Center and asked if there was anyone who could show us around the camp.

“Probably you should talk to Jihad,” she said.

Cameron tensed beside me, unable to parse the strange sentence. He didn’t know ‘Jihad’ was a common name in the Arab world.

Jihad arrived a few minutes later. He had a medium build, a light beard, and the sporty wardrobe and tightly-coiled defensiveness of a ghetto youth. He greeted us politely without meeting our eyes and took us on a quick walking tour. It was standard fare for a Palestinian refugee camp — narrow streets, concrete buildings, cramped alleys, and occasional touches of bougainvillea or decorative tiles to lend a whiff of dignity. The residents were mostly from villages west of Bethlehem that had been depopulated and destroyed in 1948. The ruins of their villages were just a few miles away. Their hilly lands had been forested with conifers and turned into an Israeli national park.

Jihad took us back to the Ibdaa Center and showed us a game room where two middle-aged men in tank tops were playing a fierce game of ping pong. When one missed a tough shot he muttered under his breath, “Allahu akbar!”

Cameron looked at me, alarmed. This was another word like jihad that only meant political hate speech in Cameron’s mind. I whispered, “They say Allahu akbar in a lot of different ways. Sometimes ironically. Right now he’s saying it like, ‘Good Lord!’ or ‘God Almighty!’”

“Ah.” Cameron relaxed. He even seemed to smile a little, as if the world had suddenly become slightly less dark.

As Jihad got to know us better, his bored affect began to melt away. He told us a performance would take place that night in the center’s small theater and invited us to attend.

The performers were a group of disarmingly self-possessed children from the camp who sang and danced with the names of their destroyed villages hanging around their necks. They all held keys in their hands, symbols of the homes their parents and grandparents had left behind.

The implication was unmistakable: Sooner or later, one way or another, they would reclaim their birthright and return home. Cameron looked deeply shaken.

* * *

The second round of local elections was scheduled to take place the next day, May 5. When Cameron and I arrived in Jayyous we could feel the excitement in the air, a sense of joy and disbelief that people had some agency in their lives for once. I didn’t ask about people’s political affiliations, but they began falling into slots in my mind. Two of Rania’s brothers were Fatah policemen, and I could only assume they’d be voting for their own paychecks. Qais’s family was harder to place. They seemed apolitical, just trying to study and work and live. Amjad’s TV was usually playing Al Manar, Hezbollah’s satellite channel. This, along with his obvious hatred for Fatah, meant he probably supported Hamas.

Hamas had an armed wing called the Izzedine al Qassam Brigades, but “Approximately 90 percent of its work is in social, welfare, cultural, and educational activities,” according to Israeli scholar Reuven Paz. [7] Such works include schools, orphanages, healthcare clinics, soup kitchens, and sports leagues. I was beginning to realize by now that it was possible to support Hamas without supporting attacks on Israelis the same way it was possible to vote Republican without supporting the Iraq War. Like Americans, Palestinians put a high priority on domestic considerations. For many Palestinians, a vote for Hamas meant voting for the less corrupt party, the ‘values’ party, the party that provided certain public services, or simply the only viable alternative to Fatah.

All day we saw kids in green headbands running down the streets shouting, “Intikhabat! Intikhabat!” (Elections! Elections!) or “Hamas! Hamas!”

Cameron laughed. “If I’d seen these kids wearing green headbands and yelling for Hamas on the news, I would have been horrified, like they were all little terrorists-in-training.”

“And now?”

He shrugged. They were obviously just kids, excited by the hope in the air that things might actually change, even just a little bit. We both wished we’d ever seen anyone, young or old, look this excited about elections in America.

Voter turnout was high in Jayyous, and Hamas won in a landslide.

* * *

Nablus was our final stop. We made it through the Huwara checkpoint without problems, and Nick met us in Nablus’s main traffic circle. He looked restless and excited as he led us to the Balata Refugee Camp, where he said a militant rally was taking place. Cameron looked anxious but gamely followed.

The crowd thickened as we neared a small stadium packed with onlookers. Nick muttered, “The rally’s being put on by the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. The PA is just starting to assert control over ‘lawless’ areas. Balata Camp is one of them, and it’s an Al Aqsa stronghold.”

“Aren’t the Al Aqsa Brigades part of Fatah?” I asked.

“Yeah, they’re an armed offshoot of Fatah. But they have cells all over the West Bank, and the cells usually have some level of autonomy. Right now Palestinian police can’t even go into the Old City. They don’t dare. It’s the militants’ stomping grounds.”

His eyes widened and his voice dropped further. “The police are coming in now. You see them?”

“Yeah,” I whispered back. “What are they doing?”

“I think they’re just here to assert their presence.” We could see them and the militants eyeing each other with the tension of estranged brothers in the same room. I began to feel nervous. The first big clash between the Al Aqsa Brigades and the PA police might be brewing right here.

A militant started giving a speech. At one point he stopped, stared at the policemen, and fired a single shot in the air. The policemen didn’t react other than clutching their guns more tightly.

We quietly slipped out, and the rally ended later without incident. But it was another harbinger of changing times. Over the next few years, nearly all the militants in Nablus would be finished off, bought off, disbanded, or absorbed into the police.

They still ruled the city now, though, and as we walked through the Old City, a group of young militants surrounded us and started chatting with us. They didn’t seem threatening, just bored. One of them, a goofy, awkward youth, had a baby face and was missing an arm. His gun was slung over his stump, and he was constantly adjusting it as he shuffled down the alley. Cameron ducked and shifted every time the gun momentarily came to rest pointing at him.

It was like looking at ghosts in a way. They had essentially called a death sentence upon themselves by picking up guns in this environment. This young man would be killed by Israeli soldiers in the next few months. Nick would see his face on a poster.

We walked to the Yasmina Hotel. An Egyptian film from the sixties was playing in the lobby. Cameron did a double-take when he saw it. The women wore skimpy clothes and the main character, played by Egyptian actor Adel Imam, looked and acted like Cheech Marin.

“Things were a lot more liberal and laid-back in the sixties and seventies,” I explained. “The religious revival didn’t really start until after Israel defeated the secular Arab nationalists in 1967.”

When we got to our room, Nick asked Cameron what had struck him most during his stay in the West Bank.

“Those kids with the names of their villages around their necks in the Dheisha Refugee Camp,” he said. “Israel will never let the refugees return. It would mean the end of Israel as a Jewish-majority democracy. But the way those kids are being brought up, I don’t see how they can be happy without it. With that kind of thinking, I don’t see how there can ever be peace.” He shook his head bleakly. “It’s a lot more hopeless than I thought.”

In later years I would reflect on the irony of the fact that he was criticizing the refugees for their inflexibility in demanding their rights when he was just as rigid in his unquestioned belief that their rights must necessarily be denied.

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To learn more about Fast Times in Palestine, visit the book’s website or Amazon page.

      . . .

NOTES

1. The Arabic name for Hebron, Al Khalil, derives from Ibrahim al Khalil al Rahman, or ‘Abraham the Friend of God.’ Al Khalil means ‘the friend’ while Al Rahman means ‘the merciful,’ one of the many Muslim names for God. Here it refers to God’s mercy in staying Abraham’s hand and not forcing him to sacrifice his son.

2. Lital Levy, “A descendant of the city’s 500-year-old Jewish community starts a movement to restore a tradition of coexistence between Muslims and Jews,” Christian Science Monitor, May 20, 1997.

3. According to Noam Chomsky’s book Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel, and the Palestinians (South End Press, 1999), “The massacre followed a demonstration organized at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem to counter ‘Arab arrogance’ — ‘a major provocation even in the eyes of Jewish public opinion’ (Flapan, Zionism and the Palestinians, p. 96). See Sheean, in Khalidi, From Haven to Conquest, for a detailed eyewitness account. This provocation was organized by Betar, the youth movement of Vladimir Jabotinsky’s Revisionist organization, which is the precursor of Begin’s Herut, the central element in the Likud coalition.”

4. “Graveside party celebrates Hebron massacre,” BBC, March 21, 2000.

5. “Police, soldiers and military officers prefer to ‘turn a blind eye’ instead of handling incidents in which settlers attack Palestinians in the West Bank.” See: Uri Blau, “Behind closed doors, police admit ‘turning a blind eye’ to settler violence,” Haaretz, August 15, 2008.

6. Aviv Lavie, “Hebron diaries,” Haaretz, June 18, 2004.

7. “Backgrounder: Hamas,” Council on Foreign Relations, August 27, 2009.

. . .

Note: My book tour began on March 14,
and the schedule can be found at this link.

Dear friends,

The past few months have been hectic, with the hassle of apartment hunting on top of the mad rush of organizing for the book launch and the tour that will begin next week… And did I mention wedding planning?

In any case, the book has been released! March 12 is the official pub date, but these days books are usually rolled out several days ahead of time (except for eBooks — go figure). A friend spotted my book at the Tribeca Barnes & Noble last weekend, and Ahmed and I rushed down to have a look for ourselves. Sure enough. It was kind of surreal, but pretty dang cool. You can see a pic of it here (lower left).

The new Amazon page is here. And I just found out my book will be sold at Target! I figured that was E.L. James territory…

Sales have been fairly steady and we haven’t even really started rolling out the publicity yet. A good sign. And the reviews so far have been very kind. A sampling:

“Harrowing, funny, vivid, entertaining and deeply humane, Fast Times in Palestine opens a rare window onto Palestinian life. It’s impossible not to be moved on nearly every page.”

    Sandy Tolan, author of The Lemon Tree

“I realize that without knowing it, I have long waited for this book, although I could not have imagined its lyric magic in advance of reading.”

    Richard Falk, professor emeritus of international law at Princeton and UN special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories

“What makes her story so compelling is that she tells it in an honest and straightforward way, not by relying on hot rhetoric. For anyone who wants to learn the truth about life under Israeli occupation, this book is a superb starting point.”

    Prof. John J. Mearsheimer, co-author of The Israel Lobby

“More than a travelogue or a polemic, the book is a coming-of-age story, as Olson discovers her voice by directly confronting the challenges of living in a state of institutionalized paradox… Engaging and easy to read, this is a fascinating memoir.”

    Publishers Weekly, which named the book a Top Ten Travel Book of 2013

“The strength of the narrative lies in Olson’s investigation of the personal and mental effects of oppression and war on herself and her newfound friends, ‘the atmosphere of mute shock expressed only in sidelong glances… of knowing something few people knew, and of genuine connection and collective struggle…’ An empathetic, intriguing memoir.”

    Kirkus Reviews

We’ve got some great press lined up as well, including an interview on Rick Steves Travel that will air in April and an interview with National Geographic Weekend.

Here’s the book tour schedule. Be in touch if you’ll be in any of these cities when I pass through (mostly on the west coast, Colorado, Oklahoma, and the east coast) — and feel free to share the events in your area with people you know who may be interested! Hope to see you along the way.

Finally, as you may or may not know, authors these days are responsible for the vast majority of organizing and funding their own book tours. I’ll be putting on at least 40 events in twelve states, which is more than even the most ambitious authors usually take on. It requires enormous time and resources to organize and carry it all out, and honoraria do not begin to cover the true costs.

Which leaves me needing a little help so I can finish this tour and continue touring in Canada in late summer, in the central and southern US in the fall, and possibly in Europe and the Middle East next year.

All the details are on my IndieGogo campaign page, along with a short video (which includes a Hollywood-style book trailer) and a list of great prizes for various levels of contributions — everything from poetry, music, and recipes to art, olive oil, and even an invitation to my wedding (accommodation included). Please check it out, and share if you like. At the end is a list of ways you can help even if you choose not to contribute.

I couldn’t have done any of this without the support of so many people like you. Thank you so much.

Happy spring!

Pamela

ftc2My book tour begins next week, and I couldn’t be more excited!

But I will need a little help to allow me to pull it together financially and continue touring in Canada in late summer and the central United States in the fall.

Click to visit my IndieGogo campaign site, which explains everything in detail. It includes a short video and a list of all the great prizes for various levels of donation. Everything from poetry and music to art, olive oil, and even an invitation to my wedding!

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If you can’t contribute at this time, you can still help by:

Thank you so much, and see you on the road!

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Note: This book tour has already been completed. Please be in touch if you’re interested in inviting me to speak this fall (2013). My email address is pamolson (@) gmail.com, and I’m based in New York City.

You’re welcome to subscribe to this blog if you’d like timely updates about future events. Just click the “Yes, please!” button to the left.

ftc2 This is the official schedule for my spring 2013 book tour. You can learn more about the book here and view ways to purchase it here.

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BAY AREA

Thursday, March 14
Stanford University
Synergy House
6pm (NOP = Not Open to the Public)

Saturday, March 16
Book Passage – Marin
51 Tamal Vista Blvd
Corte Madera, CA
1pm (Join the Facebook event!)

Monday, March 18
Magic, Inc
381 Oxford Avenue
Palo Alto, CA
Dinner at 7:30pm
Event begins at 8pm

Tuesday, March 19
UC Berkeley
Boalt Hall School of Law, Room 295
2745 Bancroft Way
Berkeley, CA
(enter through the courtyard entrance near the entrance to Simon Hall)
8pm

Wednesday, March 20
Dove & Olive Works
178 South Blvd
San Mateo
Noon

Wednesday, March 20
Books Inc.
301 Castro St
Mountain View, CA
7pm (Join the Facebook event!)

Thursday, March 21
OFFICIAL LAUNCH PARTY
Books Inc.
601 Van Ness
San Francisco
7pm (Join the Facebook event!)

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PORTLAND

Monday, March 25
Guest Lecture
World Politics class
St. Mary’s Lounge
University of Portland
6pm

Tuesday, March 26
Guest Lecture
Biography and Memoir class
Reed College (NOP)

Wednesday, March 27
Broadway Books
1714 NE Broadway
Portland, OR
7pm (Join the Facebook event!)

Thursday, March 28
Powell’s Books
3723 SE Hawthorne Blvd.
Portland, OR
7:30pm (Join the Facebook event!)

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RICHLAND, WA

Friday, March 29
Columbia Basin Badger Club
A community forum for civic discourse
Richland, WA
6pm

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SEATTLE AREA

Monday, April 1
Orca Books
509 4th Ave E
Olympia, WA
7pm

Tuesday, April 2
University Bookstore
4326 University Way NE
Seattle, WA
7pm

Wednesday, April 3
Village Books
1200 11th Street
Bellingham, WA
7pm

Thursday, April 4
University of Washington
Seattle, WA
Smith Hall (SMI), Room 205
6pm (Join the Facebook event!)

Friday, April 5
Elliott Bay Books
1521 Tenth Avenue
Seattle, WA
6pm

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COLORADO

Tuesday, April 9
Tattered Cover Bookstore
2526 East Colfax Avenue
Denver, CO
7:30pm

( Join the Facebook event! )

Wednesday, April 10
Iliff School of Theology
Fish Bowl
11am

( Join the Facebook event! )

Thursday, April 11
Boulder Bookstore
1107 Pearl St
Boulder, CO
7:30pm

( Join the Facebook event! )

Friday, April 12
UC Boulder
UMC room 353
Boulder, CO
5pm

( Join the Facebook event! )

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OKLAHOMA

Monday, April 15
Full Circle Books
50 Penn Place
Oklahoma City, OK
6:30pm

Tuesday, April 16
University of Oklahoma
Book reading and signing event
Hosted by Women’s and Gender Studies and Sooners for Peace in Palestine
OU Old Union
Norman, OK
7:30pm

Wednesday, April 17
Oklahoma School of Science and Math
Guest lecture and reading (NOP)
Oklahoma City, OK

Thursday, April 18
Seminole State College
Guest lecture and reading (NOP)
Seminole, OK

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EAST COAST

Monday, April 22
Rutgers University (Newark)
Hill Hall 102 (first floor)
11:30am (free period; lunch provided)

Join the Facebook event!

Tuesday, April 23
Writing Palestine — Workshop with Pamela Olson
Princeton University
Mathey Private Dining Room, Rockefeller Residential College/Madison Hall (map)
5pm

Wednesday, April 24
Barnes & Noble
Upper West Side
2289 Broadway
New York, NY
7pm

Thursday, April 25
Temple University
Philadelphia, PA
Weigley Room on the 9th floor of Gladfelter Hall
2-4pm — Join the Facebook event!

Sunday, April 28
Revolution Books
146 W 26th St
(between 6 & 7 Ave)
New York, NY
4pm

Monday, April 29
New School
Room D-1009
6 E 16th St
New York, NY
6:30pm — Join the Facebook event!

Wednesday, May 1
Brown University Bookstore
244 Thayer Street
Providence, RI
3:30pm

Thursday, May 2
Fitchburg State University
Ellis White Lecture Hall, Hammond Student Center
Fitchburg, MA
3:30pm

Friday, May 3
Center for Arabic Culture
191 Highland Ave
Somerville, MA
7pm

Sunday, May 5
Peace Cafe
Busboys & Poets, 5th & K
Cullen Room
1025 5th St NW
Washington, DC
5pm

Monday, May 6
Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies
Rome 200
1619 Mass Ave
Washington, DC
Noon-2pm (Join the Facebook event!)

Tuesday, May 7
Palestine Center
2425 Virginia Ave NW
Washington, DC
12:30pm

Tuesday, May 7
Barnes & Noble
555 12th St NW
Washington, DC
6:30pm

Here, re-posted by permission, is Prof. Richard Falk’s incredibly kind review of Fast Times in Palestine — the first review of Fast Times in its new incarnation as a published book. It was originally posted on Prof. Falk’s delightful, humane, and intelligent blog, Citizen Pilgrimage.

Prof. Falk is the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories and professor emeritus of international law at Princeton, among other august positions and accomplishments, and he started his blog in part as a celebration of his 80th birthday.

Here is his review:

An Indispensable Book on Palestine/Israel

richardFalk I realize that without knowing it, I have long waited for this book, although I could not have imagined its lyric magic in advance of reading. It is a triumph of what I would call ‘intelligent innocence,’ the great benefits of a clear mind, an open and warm heart, and a trustworthy moral compass that draws sharp lines between good and evil while remaining ever sensitive to the contradictory vagaries of lives and geographic destinies. Pamela Olson exhibits an endearing combination of humility and overall emotional composure that makes her engaged witnessing of the Palestinian ordeal so valuable for me as I believe and hope it will be for others.

Early on, she acknowledges her lack of background with refreshing honesty: “Green and wide-eyed, I wandered into the Holy Land, an empty vessel.” But don’t be fooled. Olson, who had recently graduated from Stanford, almost immediately dives deeply into the daily experience of Palestine and Palestinians, with luminous insight and a sensibility honed on an anvil of tenderness, truthfulness, and a readiness for adventure and romance.

Upon crossing the border that separates Israel from the West Bank, enduring routine yet frightening difficulties at the checkpoint, she find herself in the Palestinian village of Jayyous, not far from the Palestinian city of Jenin. Her first surprise is the welcoming warmth of the villagers whose hospitality makes her feel almost as if she is on a homecoming visit to Stigler, the small town in eastern Oklahoma where she grew up. Almost at once Olson finds herself in the midst of a social circle in Jayyous that harvests olives during the day and sits together on porches in the evening puffing on a nargila (water pipe) and conversing about the world.

Olson’s authenticity pervades the book, whether it is a matter of adoring the cuisine or acknowledging her infatuation with a Palestinian young man who crosses her path. She learns to speak a bit of Arabic, reads up on the struggle, and stays alert. The style of the book is an enchanting mixture of personal journal, travelogue, political primer on the conflict, and coming of age memoir. She writes with clarity, humor, and self-scrutiny (in a tone of almost asking herself, ‘Who is this girl from rural Oklahoma who is experiencing this extraordinary encounter with people and the sad conditions of their lives?’).

ftc2 As the title implies, it is primarily a book about Palestine and what occupation means for Palestinians trapped under Israeli military rule for more than 45 years, and how their extraordinary qualities of humane coping make Jayyous and Ramallah so inspirational for her. It instills an intense longing to return and share the dangers and deprivations, which are more powerfully satisfying than the pleasures of ‘freedom.’ (I am reminded of a friend from Gaza, a leading human rights activist, whose family has been living in Cairo in recent years. He tells me that when he plans a vacation, his university age children who are studying abroad insist on going to Gaza rather than Paris or London.)

Yet the book is sensitive to the tragic experiences of both peoples. Through the whole of her experience, Olson remains open to her Israeli friend, Dan, as well as to a Christian appreciation of the Holy Land, not as a believer but as someone whose identity was formed in a religiously Christian community. Early on in the book, when she tells Dan how disturbed she is by the occupation, he reminds her of Israeli grief and distress.

Dan’s words: “Last year there was a suicide bombing practically every week, it was… unbelievable. The mall we went to yesterday was bombed last year. Three weeks ago a suicide bomber killed twenty people in a restaurant in Haifa. Just innocent people having a meal.” Olson’s response is characteristically empathetic: “I sighed and looked out over the water. What I had seen in the West Bank was terrible, but there was another side to the story, after all. I tried to imagine the horror of people sitting around having a meal, and then all of a sudden—” But in the end it becomes clear that Israel’s human rights violations have, if anything, a negative impact on Israeli security.

One of the most moving chapters is a description of a visit by Olson’s mother and stepfather. She pressured them to come so that “they would never have to wonder whether I had exaggerated either the beauty or the horror.” Because this was her mother’s first trip outside of America, she saw what was to be seen with fresh eyes. This experience produced joy and wonder along with tearful reactions at checkpoints, such as: “Good Lord… How can this be happening over here and no one in America even knows or cares?” Is this not the question we should all have been asking for decades? During the visit, they also spend time touring the Christian sites in and around Jerusalem and the Galilee that are particularly meaningful to her religious mother.

The timeline of the book covers 2003-2005. But the essentials of the occupation emerge, especially the encroachment of the separation wall, the settlements, and checkpoints, and what it means for a Palestinian to live day by day under systematic violations of human rights that show no sign of ending in the foreseeable future. When Olson inserts information about history, Israeli and Palestinian politics, international law and elementary morality, she is accurate, concise, and perceptive. She also is honest enough not to suppress her emotional responses to some extreme situations.

In the end what gives the book its special value is the compelling credibility of her “love affair with a homeless homeland,” a sub-title that says it all! It is one thing to lament the suffering and humiliation of the Palestinians or to condemn the cruelty and harshness of the Israeli occupation. It is quite another to be able to observe these defining realities and yet see beyond to a proud and gracious people with a generous sense of humor who manage to live as vibrantly as possible even under almost unimaginable circumstances of oppression. It is this combination of feeling the Palestinian hurt while celebrating the warmth and genuineness of the Palestinian embrace that allows a reader to achieve what I had previously thought impossible without an immersion in the place itself.

Olson is a twenty-first century example of how a reassuringly normal American woman might best visit the Arab world. She is intensely curious, with a gift for observation and dialogue and a sensibility that is not afraid of danger or to acknowledge shades of gray or to register her disappointments with others, and above all with herself. Her own evolution is also relevant, from a ‘Bible-centric’ youth in Oklahoma to a scientifically oriented skepticism to a wonderfully caring person who managed to have this incredible ‘love affair’ with occupied Palestine, amid the ruins. In her words, “I couldn’t imagine a better university of human nature.”

Obviously Pamela Olson is blessed with talent. A girl from rural Oklahoma who had to struggle to find the funds to attend college does not make it to the likes of Stanford very often, where she majors in physics and political science, nor does the typical graduate defer entering the job market and go about exploring the world to find out what it is like, and how best to live her life. It is thus not entirely surprising that after her experiences in Palestine, Olson returned to work for a ‘Defense Department think tank’ to try to understand why American foreign policy was so dysfunctional, and found it ‘educational but disillusioning.’ She lasted less than two years before deciding to write Fast Times in Palestine, her attempt to bring what she learned in Palestine directly to the American people.

I have the following daydream: If everyone in America could just sit down quietly and read this book, there would be such an upsurge of outrage and empathy that the climate of opinion on the Israel/Palestine conflict would finally change for the better—even in the polluted air that now prevails within the Beltway. At the very least, as many people as possible should read the book, and if your reaction is similar to mine, give a copy to friends and encourage them to spread the word. We in America should stop subsidizing and facilitating the systematic creation of ‘a homeless homeland.’ As a close friend in Jayyous named Rania tells Pamela, “Imagine if there was no occupation! Palestine would be like paradise.”

The book can be pre-ordered from Amazon. It will be available in mid-March. 


I urge you to do so!

I was lucky enough to see the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra in Ramallah in 2005 when they played Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. I wrote about it in my book, but it was one of the sections that got cut.

I’m publishing it now because the Orchestra will be in New York, at Carnegie Hall no less, next week. I snapped up balcony seats for Wednesday (when they’ll play the 1st, 8th, and 5th) and Sunday (when they’ll play the 2nd and 9th).

Either way, I always assumed seeing them play Beethoven’s Fifth would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Getting to see them again — playing both the Fifth AND the Ninth — is like a dream.

Here’s the excised section from my book about the thrill of seeing them for the first time in Ramallah.

The Great Daniel Barenboim

The Great Daniel Barenboim


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Israeli Musicians Discover Ramallah

An Israeli convoy of armored vehicles with a police escort made its way past the Qalandia checkpoint toward Ramallah. It stopped on a hill that commanded a strategic view of the city. The hilltop was the home of the Ramallah Cultural Palace, and the Israeli musicians being transported by the convoy were on a world tour with the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra.

The orchestra was founded by late Palestinian intellectual Edward Said and superstar Argentinian-Israeli conductor Daniel Barenboim and featured musicians from Israel, Palestine, and the greater Middle East. Their concert was played that evening under the banner of “Freedom for Palestine” and broadcast live on the Arte channel, which enjoyed its highest-ever ratings. Journalists from all over the world prowled the grounds, and the venue was overwhelmed by the crowd.

This Week in Palestine reported, “There were at least four ministers from the Palestinian National Authority, security offices in uniform, men and women casually dressed, others in proper attire, ladies with jewelry and gowns ready for a soiree dansante and others with the traditional headdress. There were children, foreigners, disabled persons, nuns—you name it! Palestine was there that night.”[1]

The evening began with Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante for oboe, horn, clarinet and bassoon. But I was impatient for the main event: Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.

From the opening notes of the symphony, musicians and audience members alike entered a kind of trance. Something about it—the music, the venue, the fact that minds were opening and changing due to something as simple and natural as human interaction—pulled us along and refused to let go. We listened in awe to the powerful first and sumptuous second movements, then the third with its pompous processional quality, which faded to a pianissimo pizzicato—a recapitulation of the processional theme so achingly soft, the audience hardly dared breathe. Soon the pizzicato faded, too, leaving a single violin playing softly, plaintively in this sudden space. Then off they went, sound and fury, speed and strength, to a breathtaking finish.

The crowd was almost too stunned to react. When we did, the ovation went on and on as the young musicians took their bows with shining eyes.

“We couldn’t understand where that speed came from,” Israeli violinist Doron Alperin said. “He had never conducted Beethoven that way before. There was electricity in the orchestra and emotion pulled at the throat. What an ending to our trip!”

Doron had been terrified to come to Ramallah. In fact, his parents had forbidden him from making the trip. But he had come anyway, because he was even more afraid of disappointing the maestro than of visiting the West Bank.

When asked if his fears were unfounded, he said, “Yes, and I wouldn’t have forgiven myself if I hadn’t gone. During the intermission, I spoke with one of the Palestinian guards and asked him if he was happy we came. ‘You can’t imagine how happy I am,’ he replied, and it simply gave me goosebumps. ‘And you?’ he asked. I told him I was in a state of ecstasy… Now I am only resentful that not everyone can see the situation through my eyes.”

My favorite statement was made by Israeli violinist Yishai Lantner who said, “This is the realization of a dream. I feel as if I am becoming more and more leftist because now I understand that there is life here. They never show that on television.”[2]

It was a source of frustration for everyone who lived in the West Bank. There was so much life in Palestine, so much beauty. But it was never reported on the news or shown in movies, so no one ever saw it unless they were lucky enough to come for a visit themselves.

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Notes

1. Sani Meo, “The last word: A Jew in Ramallah,” This Week in Palestine, August 2005.

2. Noam Ben Zeev, “Next year in Damascus,” Haaretz, August 24, 2005.

As mentioned in an earlier post, I joined Ahmed in his mini-exile in Turkey as soon as I could (in October), and the day after I arrived he proposed by the Bosphorus Strait near the Topkapi Palace!

The next few weekends were packed with travels to meet his brother’s family, sister’s family, and extended family, who were all welcoming and lovely. I love big holiday gatherings of cousins and nieces and nephews. Then we traveled to the famed ruins of Ephesus and a cold and rainy yet enchanting Cappadocia.

Ahmed got his visa renewed just before I left, so he’s back in New York, and I’ll follow soon. I’m in Oklahoma doing some advance planning for the wedding. We’ll have the ceremony at my uncle’s small back country vineyard and the reception in my parents’ backyard, with a dance floor under the carport and our most graceful tree hung with twinkle lights and homemade glass candle lanterns. We’ll make Ahmojitos and Pam-a-coladas and invite the whole family and lots of friends. Should be a heck of a party.

AhmedPam

The book is also humming right along. The cover is (finally) finalized, and you can see it on my website: www.pamolson.org

The book will be out mid-March, and my website has a link to the book’s Amazon page, where you can pre-order. If you wouldn’t mind passing the link on to your social networks, it would be hugely appreciated!

My publicist has been helping me set up the book tour, with several great bookstores lined up including Book Passage in Marin, Powell’s in Portland, Elliott Bay in Seattle, and the Tattered Cover in Denver. Here’s what the schedule looks like:

Bay Area — March 13-23
Portland — March 24-28
Richland, WA — March 29
Seattle — March 30 – April 6
Denver, Boulder — April 7-13
Oklahoma City — April 14-19
New York, Boston, DC — April 22 – May 10

I have a few dates available in some cities, so if you have ideas for venues or contacts, please send them my way. Hope to see you somewhere along the road!

Meanwhile there’s exciting news on the Palestine pop culture front: Travel guru Rick Steves plans on doing shows in Israel and the West Bank this spring (not Gaza, unfortunately . . . baby steps). Plenty of people go to Israel, but it’s ground-breaking to do a travel show on the West Bank. He did a terrific show in Iran a few years ago, which was very well received. Things like that make a mindless march to war just a tiny bit harder.

His publisher and mine are both members of the Perseus Books Group, and my editor contacted his people and suggested my book as a source of information for his trip. He’ll get a copy as soon as it’s published, and he might interview me on his travel show while I’m in Seattle. The timing couldn’t be better.

I’m also glad my book is coming out just as Obama begins his second term, with Hagel up for Secretary of Defense and the Israel lobby on the defensive. They’re still very powerful, but that power is ebbing, slowly but surely. I hope my book can knock a bit more wind out of their sails in the realm of public opinion.

On that note, I just got word that Publishers Weekly has designated my book one of the top ten travel books of the year! Not sure how they can do that since the year’s barely started, but hey, I don’t plan on complaining . . .

All my best for an exciting 2013,

Pamela

P.S. Here’s a previous post with a little more about the proposal story, wedding plans, and a picture of the ring. You can see more photos from our trips on Facebook albums here (Ephesus) and here (Cappadocia).

P.P.S. This is a copy of an email I just sent to my list. I don’t always post them here. If you’d like to be on my email list (and receive about six emails per year from me), kindly send a note to pamolson (a) gmail.

Turk1

ftc2 I’m currently organizing my spring book tour. Here’s approximately what it’s going to look like, starting with the launch in San Francisco:

BAY AREA — March 13-23

PORTLAND — March 24-28

SEATTLE — March 30 – April 6

DENVER — April 7 – 13

OKLAHOMA CITY — April 14-19

EAST COAST — April 20 – May 10

Please be in touch if you have contacts in any of these regions who may be interested in hosting me for a talk, reading, or panel that features my work. That includes NY, DC, Baltimore, Philly, Providence, and Boston.

pamolson(a)gmail.

Thanks!

Hopefully I’ll get to Canada in late summer (Vancouver, Regina, Edmonton, Toronto, Montreal, Halifax), and the parts of the central US in the Fall (Texas, Kansas City, St. Louis, Chicago, Minnesota, Michigan, New Mexico, Arizona, Alabama, etc.)

Let me know if I’ve missed any place, and see you on the road!

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I don’t have time to blog properly about the recent escalation in Gaza, but I’ve been posting extensively about it on my Facebook page. My feed is public. Please feel free to follow along for the best news and analysis I can find, and “friend” me if you like.

And then scroll down, if you want, to see pictures from my recent travels in Turkey with my new fiance.

Peace.

Omar Mishawari, one of the first deaths in this latest round of escalation

Omar’s father, a BBC journalist, grieving his son

The Washington Post article that goes along with these pictures
can be read here
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Well, it’s been an exciting week in Turkey so far…

On my second day in Istanbul, Ahmed asked me to marry him, and I said yes!

He asked by the Sea of Marmara where it meets the Bosphorus Strait and the Golden Horn.

I met Ahmed in the fall of 2010 playing soccer in the Bronx with a pick-up league called Manhattan International Co-ed Soccer. I loved his smile and the fact that even though he was one of the most skilled players, he liked to pass and let everyone touch the ball more than he liked to showboat and score. We went out that night, and we’ve been inseparable ever since.

We picked out the ring together after he proposed, and I was entranced by how “alive” the blue stone looked, and how it changes color depending on the lighting. And I know exactly where it came from because it’s tanzanite, a gem more rare than diamonds, found only in the foothills of Mt. Kilimanjaro. A good excuse to visit said mountain one day and see the “birthplace” of my engagement ring. 🙂

Then we had dinner overlooking the Blue Mosque at sunset. So beautiful.

We plan on getting married in June in Oklahoma. My Uncle Terry planted a small vineyard a few years ago in the countryside near my home town (the whole family helped), and it’ll make a gorgeous backdrop for the ceremony.

The reception will take place in my parents’ large and unfenced backyard, with a dance floor under the carport (dolled up with lights and draped with fabric) and our most graceful tree hung with twinkle lights and homemade glass candle lanterns. We’ll make Ahmojitos and Pam-a-coladas and invite everyone. (Free venues = more booze.) Should be a heck of a party. Can’t wait.

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My book

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

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Books I Love


A Doctor in Galilee,
by Dr. Hatim Kanaaneh

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

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

Mornings in Jenin, by Susan Abulhawa

The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, by Ilan Pappe

Zabelle, by Nancy Kricorian

Cosmos, by Carl Sagan

Impro, by Keith Johnstone

Improv Wisdom,
by Patricia Ryan Madson

Walden and Civil Disobedience, by Henry David Thoreau

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