Thursday, March 30, 2006

Dear all,

I am posting something my dearest Peter wrote about Jeff's question: "How safe is it for foreigners to visit Palestine?"

Peter is from the US. He worked at the same Agency I'm working at in Bethlehem, Ma'an.
I assumed it would be good for Jeff and other wonderers to get an answer also from a foreigner like them, so the impression created wouldn't be "oh, she's Palestinian. of course she'd say it ain't dangerous"

Pete wrote:

I'd be lying if I claimed that my nerves were at ease when I first entered the West Bank. I paced nervously on the Jordanian side of the Allenby Bridge imagining myself dodging mortar rounds as I surveyed taxi prices to Ramallah, where I assumed things would be even worse. "Will I make it out of here alive?" I wondered. I thought about the levels of injury I could sustain and wondered if visiting Palestine was worth spending the rest of my life drinking meals through a straw. Sitting here, one year later, I am amused by those imaginative concerns.

I feel no shame in admitting my fears about spending time on either side of the Palestine-Israel Green Line. As an American, I grew up on media that insisted that life in the Near East was nothing more than timing the short intervals between car bombs. Upon arrival, I feared the heavily fortified checkpoints in the West Bank and thought twice before stepping onto crowded buses in Jerusalem's center. The exclusive media emphasis on the region's conflict limited my ability to understand that the war is but one aspect of Palestinian-Israeli life. Believe it or not, the majority of people on both sides of the divide are thinking about other, more mundane things.

This is not to suggest that danger does not exist. Terrible things do occur and with far more regularity than those of us who live in peaceful societies are accustomed. These incidents, however, typically occur in areas of the West Bank and Gaza Strip that are known for such things. These days, one is more likely to encounter heavy clashes and/or Israeli operations in Jenin or Nablus than Ramallah or Bethlehem. While heavy street fighting between armed Palestinians and Israeli forces is relatively common in the former, it is, at present, a rarity in the latter. Travel through areas where Palestinian armed brigades are more active means that the likelihood of a violent Israeli operation is significantly higher.

Even the most dangerous areas of the West Bank and Gaza Strip are relatively accessible to foreigners. The biggest challenge is passing the myriad Israeli checkpoints that rigidly encircle areas in which armed brigades are exceedingly active. While foreigners have at times been abducted by Palestinian brigades in the Gaza Strip, these incidents never result in injury or death and are often shortlived. The longest recent detention of a foreign national in Palestine took place last August when a French-Algerian soundman was held captive for eight days. Such a long detention was and remains highly unusual. Most abductees are released, unharmed, within hours of their disappearances. Furthermore, foreign abductees often report exceedingly humane treatment by their captors.

A far more likely scenario is what regional expats call being "kidnapped by Palestinian hospitality." This entails being approached by one or many Palestinians in a city or camp area, given the full tour, replete with personal stories, and then invited home for tea and food. Expats refer to this as "kidnapping" because once engaged, it becomes exceedingly difficult to refuse the onslaught of generosity. There is always one more friend or family member to visit, one more cigarette to smoke and several more cups of coffee to share before parting ways. Last October, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, some friends of mine and I were "kidnapped" in the Qalandia refugee camp near Ramallah for more than seven hours. We waddled out of the camp after being stuffed with more dates, mansaf and sweets than any of us could handle. It was a terrific day.

Apprehension prior to traveling in Palestine is completely normal. The West Bank and Gaza can at times be hot war zones in which F-16 fighter jets drop munitions on civilian areas and tanks patrol the streets. At the moment, however, this is not the situation. A trip to the region at this time will expose a foreigner to a beleaguered Palestinian populous living under complete and total Israeli control. One will get a clear sense of the power disparity and blatant racism that characterize Israeli rule over the Palestinians. One will discover the unparalleled kindness and generosity imbedded in Palestinian culture and realize how ridiculous Israeli claims of barbarism truly are. One will uncover the difficulty of progress and reconciliation while gaining simultaneous exposure to the hopefulness of common people on both sides of the divide. One will feel things strongly as certain situations are perfect illustrations of human suffering and humiliation.

The rewards of travel and interaction in Palestine far outweigh the risks necessary to attain them.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Salamat,

It's a beautiful day in Bethlehem; sunny and pretty warm. though its beginning wasn't that lucky for me. I arrived to the DCO (District Coordination Office Checkpoint) in Beit Jala and found out it was closed 2mins before my arrival. No cars or pedestrians were allowed in or out of Beit Jala.

Anyway, i promised a story about the elections:

I was sitting with my friends, Khaled, Alaa and Ahmad (all Palestinian Israelis) in Jerusalem, and we started discussing news about the elections and the results of recent polls. The conversation developed to become a debate around "whether it is essential to have Palestinian-Israeli (PI) Members in the Israeli Parliament - The Knesset.

Khaled, who is a very smart practical law-student, asked Alaa and Ahmad to mention one law that was suggested by any PI Member of the Knesset (MK) and confirmed by the Knesset without the power of the High Court for Justice (the supreme court in Israel).

Alaa and Ahmad, not less smart or impressive, i promise you, mentioned many changes in Israeli laws, that were conducted by PI MK's. Khaled wouldn't accept this answer.

Alaa and Ahmad's claimed was that if it wasn't for PI MK's, the Palestinian identity inside Israel would have been lost and that's because of their field work and continuous struggle to keep the people aware of the Zionist plan to "kick them out" in 56' and 67'. (many issues i'm mentioning in general coz i can't explain them all at once, but i'm ready for answering inquiries).

They said that there's a huge importance for PI presence in the Knesset, and it proved its value when the PI MK's constructed the "Blocking Bloc" (i don't know the expression in Eng so i translated that literally, it's the group that would prevent a decision from being passed in the parliment) in the vote on the Oslo Agreement in 93'.

Khaled also said that ubfortunately, MK's like Tamar Gujansky or Dov Hanin (Israeli's in the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality) represent him as a Palestinian Israeli more EFFECTIVELY than Palestinian Israeli MK's like Barakeh or Bisharah who haven't achieved any results in Legislation.

Now, i can understand what Khaled is saying. He's a practical person, who believes the goal is what matters. He suggested that Palestinian Israelis have to choose Israeli (Jewish) members to represent them, coz it is the only way to assure accomplishing anything.

I said that this way Palestinians inside Israel may adopt the view saying they could never achieve anything by themselves, and this means low self-esteem. Moreover, it supports the goals of those who claim we don't deserve to be part of the parliament or the state.

I do believe PI MK's can make a difference. Their effect might be minor, unfortunaely, but not having them at all would achieve more negative results than positive. I think it is much harder to be a Palestinian Israeli MK than a Jewish MK, but it's just a part of the difficulties facing us as a whole minority in this country...

We deserve to be heard, and issues on our schedule should not arise any complaints or sighs. The Israeli Knesset, like the state itself, marginalizes the issues that are critical to us as citizens in Israel. We have to fight this in a smart way.

Hopefully, i'm gonna relate to the worrying figures i saw in a poll conducted by the Center for Fighting Racism in Israel (Manager: Baker Awawdeh) which showed racism is not a bad word in Israel..

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Dear all,

Thank you all for the comments and e-mails. this is really exciting.
I'm working much lately and having almost no time to breathe. And having no pc :( , I can use the computer only at work. that's why my posting process is yet too slow. that will change soon, inshallah. as I'm planning to get me a bloody laptop!

Eitherway, i had a much interesting conversation with my friends about the elections in Israel last night, and I'm gonna write about it tonight or tomorrow.

I think it would be interesting to write about it here, for the argument was about whether it is needed for Palestinian-Israelis to have representatives in the Knesset (Israeli Parliment) or not.

So keep your faith and check the blog again soon. please..

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Dear all,
i'm experiencing some kinda "stage fear" now that i know that so many people are expecting what i have to say. so i decided the easy thing would be to tell you two stories.

the first story took place last Saturday while i was making my way back from work in Bethlehem home to Jerusalem. i got to the crossing and walked through the (door in the) wall, showed my ID to the soldier at the entrance and went inside the crossing's building. i arrived to the scanners (where everyone passes through a metal detector and passes their bags through the X-ray machine. i was wearing the clothes i'm wearing in my profile picture (Italy sweatshirt and my kaffiyyah)
suddenly i heard the soldier inside asking me -in Italian- whether i spoke Italian. i said no, and he was very nice, asking where i was from and if i liked Italy. i said yes and wished Italy good luck in the coming Mondial (Forza Italia!).

the second story took place a bit longer than three months ago in the same crossing. i arrived to the metal detector, passed my bag and all my stuff through the machine and was about to continue towards the exit when the soldier called me: "hey you! you understand Hebrew?"
-yes, i understand Hebrew.
-take the baskets (the ones people put their little metal things in, such as watches and coins) from the end of the belt and put them in the beginning.
..(and trust me, i know when someone's not being nice!)
-no. you come put them there.
-so you don't wanna do a favor?
-not when you're ordering me to do a favor and not asking me to. No.

so she sends me to another small room where two other soldiers start checking my stuff (wallet, cell-phones, keys). this process was done twice while i was waiting for almost 20mins, asking why i'm being checked and receiving annoying silent as an answer.

after that i was told to go into another room, tiny with a little window open to another one next to it. fealthy floor and big-thick-sealed-doors. there i was told to strip!

next i was taken to the offices block, where i was -again- told to wait. after waiting around an hour and a half and hearing from soldiers whispering around me (for no one would give me an answer for my questions) that they were waiting for the Shin Bet's (intellegence services) answer, i was taken to the commander's office. he asked me to sign a paper saying i wasn't physically harmed while being detained in the crossing. (of course the Shin Bet's answer was to let me go) then i was given my ID back and allowed to leave.

i found it worthwhile to mention the first story because i rarely meet nice soldiers. ones who despite all factors, find it possible to still be human.

as for the second story, i told it in order to point at a serious problem i see beside it all here, and that's systematically and repeatedly using power in order to make it clear who the boss is.
and if you ask me what i would do next time i'm being ordered to bring the baskets back to the beginning, you should know i would still act the same..

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Hey,

i know the smart thing is to keep the chain running and post something more today as well.
but i'm exhausted. just finished working and i had no time to breathe.
i promise i'll have something interesting posted tomorrow.

thanks again for all the wellcomers :)

Friday, March 10, 2006

Hi all..

it was so exciting to find all these comment! thank you!
it looks like a whole community out here, and i'm looking forward to check your blogs (those who have ones).

well, time to introduce myself:
I work as an editor at Ma'an Independent News Agency in Bethlehem/West Bank.the agency's main outlet is on the internet (www.maannews.net), and it's available in 3 languages: Arb, Heb and Eng. i translate news from Arabic to Hebrew and edit the Hebrew page.

i was born in Musmus, a small village of 3000 next to Umm El Fahem in the Triangle area. (northern center, between Hadera and Nazeteth).
i moved to Jerusalem in 2000, and got to the Hebrew University there. I studied Journalism and English Linguistics, after dropping Law School coz it was boring!

in the meantime i also teach English for Bagrut (final high school exams in Israel) in East Jerusalem.

i'm at work right now, so i'll stop here.

till the next post..

Peace yo

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Hello everyone!

My blog is still being born. I'm gonna share thoughts and stories from Palestine with whoever of you is interested.
My new friend -Lisa Goldman, who has her own blog too- put this idea in my mind, and i appreciate it.
I suppose the situation in Palestine and Israel a real mystery for many people, and those who know something fail to hear all voices from this spot.
Hoping i'd be able to add to your knowledge, and awaiting your comments.