Monday, 31 January 2011

Outtake - sometimes you have to make a choice

Momentous things are happening.

Regardless of what the outcome is, this wave of emotion, this collective empowerment we've been seeing in the region will not be soon forgotten.

I hope it will continue to inspire.

The response in the West Bank to the events in Tunis, Egypt & Jordan has been very quiet. Al Jazeera is on in every shop but people are still cautious of forming an opinion.

They are waiting. Waiting to see what the outcome is. Palestine's experience with collective stands has historically been harsh - punishable by more walls, restrictions and sanctions.

Even the release of the Palestine Papers didn't spark anywhere close to the outrage that seemed to be felt abroad.

The answers to my questions are all the same:

"What's new?"

"We know all this already. You think these people are working for us?"

"The negotiations are a joke, always have been."

"You think any of this will make a difference? This is our situation, it will not change."

From what I can tell from blogs like Gaza Mom, there's more of an outwardly reaction to the events in Gaza.

Gaza's border with Egypt puts it in an entirely different situation from the West Bank and it's opposition government also means there was a different slant of opinion on the Palestine Papers.

The next week or so will make things clearer I hope. In the meantime, I wish the Egyptian people the best and salute their decision to stick together on this.

A man being interviewed by Al Jazeera said the following (roughly) and the sentiment stuck with me.

"Every person out here today has made a choice. My nation before my life. It's what you have to do."

Photo taken from Twitpic: @ShawkattRaghib (thank you from a stranger)

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Chapter 32 The Freedom Theatre

‘Off with their heads!’ screeched the Red Queen as Alice hung suspended from the ceiling.

‘Nooo!!!’ wailed Tweedle Dum as the rabbit scrambled around in a panic, his ears catching the electric blue light.

The caterpillar laughed maniacally as the Mad Hatter and the Cheshire Cat battled across the revolving stage and, as Tweedle Dum was being forced towards the incinerator, the Queen picked up a microphone and began strutting her stuff in a hip swinging rendition of ‘One Way or Another'.

I look at my colleague in the darkened theatre and heard the words ‘I wasn’t expecting this’ at the very moment I was thinking it.

We had not been expecting it. Not from a nonprofit theatre company in Jenin Refugee Camp. Not from the actors, who’d seen with childhood eyes some of the worst days of both the first and second intifadas, and not even from Palestine itself.

There was pumping music, extravagant costumes and colorful character interpretation. Not least from the very camp Mad Hatter and the darkly sensual Cheshire Chat.

Alice was running away from an arranged marriage and the inhabitants of wonderland lived under the oppressive tyranny of the Red Queen and saw Alice as the key to their freedom.

Staging fabulous productions is not all The Freedom Theatre in Jenin Refugee Camp does. Multiple articles could be written about all that The Freedom Theatre does.

It began as a small, unlikely project; the combined efforts of an Israeli lady and the women of the camp. First a community centre for children slowly expanding into a theatre that including actor training and drama therapy.

The Freedom Theatre is seen by its members as a life saving endeavor; the thing that keeps them from venting their frustration in more violent ways.

Check it out…

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Chapter 31 Dogs & weddings

It was on our way out from Nablus that I realized I was seeing more and more dogs at checkpoints. Sleek German Shepherds kept on tight leashes sniffing around cars, being led to and fro by young IDF soldiers.

As we passed through the check point I commented on this to our taxi driver.

‘Lots of dogs around these days.’ An obvious statement is generally enough to start a conversation. It also saves me from asking questions that make me seem foolish and/or inadvertently offensive.

He flicked his cigarette out the car window and shrugged. His tanned face impassive.

‘So…….. What are they for exactly?’

‘What do you mean what are they for exactly?’

I shift uncomfortably in my seat.

'Well… I always see dogs looking for drugs but that’s not what they’re looking for here is it?’

‘Aah… I see. Weapons.’

‘But... what are they smelling for exactly?’

He regards me through his dark shades.

‘What’s your name?’


‘Ah, my youngest daughter is called Sara. Well Sara, I’ll give you an example. I was invited to a wedding once. We picked up the groom and were taking him to the ceremony and one of the guys shot a gun out the car window in celebration.’

‘Out of this car?’

‘Out of this car. So a few days later I’m taking a trip out and I get stopped at a checkpoint. They bring the dog over and it starts to bark immediately.

“Step out of the car” they tell me. So I do and they search it. Under the seats, glove compartment everything. Nothing. They bring the dog back – again it barks.

“Take a seat” they tell me.

They took the car apart. The upholstery, the side doors, the trunk, the engine. The car was in pieces on the floor. They bring the dog back and still the damn thing barks!

“Khalas guys, there’s nothing there” I tell them.

They call in the special weapons team who scans the car and tests it for explosives and weapons. Still nothing and still the damn dog barks.

6 hours they kept me there until they gave up and sent me and the remaining pieces of my car home. Imagine how much it cost to fix it.’

‘6 hours??? Wow… and you didn’t get reimbursed for the car?’

He laughed and gave me ‘a look’.

‘Wait, do you mean the smell…?’

‘Exactly, the dogs could still smell the gunpowder from when my friend shot his gun out of the car. Now, when I get invited to weddings, I tell them what they can go do with themselves!Here, take a look at this picture of my daughter - isn't she beautiful?’

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Chapter 30 Jericho

School's off for a couple weeks and, intrepid explorers that we are, we've planned a couple of interesting outings.

Our first - a hike into Jericho from the nearby St George's (St George the Dragon Slayer) Monastery through Wadi(Valley) Kelt.

Jericho is about an hour away but our journey took twice that due to a half hour wait at the check point while our passports were checked and us not really knowing how to explain to the taxi driver where we were going.

Hanging about at the checkpoint. Waiting.

It was worth it.

The landscape on the way to Jericho is made up of endlessly rolling low hills. Much like massive desert sand dunes. It is a good 10 degree warmer there than Nablus and we had shed our sweaters in no time.

We arrive at the monastery and are met by a barrage of men on donkeys offering us rides into the monastery and mostly religious tourists.

The monastery is tucked away in the mountains.

Tourists riding donkeys down the winding path to the monastery.

A mummy inside the monastery.

We take a wander around the 6th century church before setting off on the 11km hike into Jericho.

The river goes to Jericho eventually feeding into the River Jordan.

In the distance - Jericho and then... Jordan.

The beginnings of Jericho.

Jericho city centre - the end of our journey

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Chapter 29 The case of the Palestinian plug

A source of constant confusion for me is why the plug on my Palestinian-bought laptop fits into less than half of Palestinian sockets.

Also, does it still make sense to call them 'universal adapters' when they CLEARLY AREN'T as evidenced by their lack of utility when faced with the myriad plug/socket combinations available here in the West Bank:

The most common of the plug holes - three round pins.

While it may look like a once normal socket, there is little in the wiring inside to support this.

Three tiny pins that no plug comes close to fitting in to. We have speculated on what this could be for with no useful result.

Two round pins and a rectangular one.

The plug for the hair dryer - three round pins.

Laptop - two large round pins.

Lamp - two much smaller round pins.

The heater - three round pins.

The other heater. Also purchased in Palestine. Two round pins but doesn't fit in any of our outlets and requires an adapter purchased in the UK.

The refrigerator - three round (smaller) pins.

Washing machine - three weirdly angular pins.

Oven - no pins

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Chapter 28 Culture shock

She: I don’t understand, you spend all your time working. When are you going to find time to meet someone?

Me: Ermm, I dunno. On the weekend I guess.

She: But what have you done in this life if you don’t have a family? You're telling me this whole time you couldn’t find anyone to marry? Nobody to fall in love with? It is such a beautiful thing.

Me: Yes, it is... How did you meet your husband?

She: He was my brother's friend, I didn't really meet him til after we were married.

Me: What was that like?

She: Well, I struggled with it a lot. Suddenly you have to answer to a stranger; tell him where you're going and what you're doing.

Me: Wow, yeah must've been a huge change. I imagine it must have taken a while to get used to it.

She: Yes, that first week was very difficult.


Me: Well when did you start to fall in love with him? You're clearly very happy together.

She (blushes): Well you know... Once you do that thing - something just happens.

(Awkward silence)

She: So… if your mother and father live in different countries… who cooks for him?

Me: Ummm, I guess he cooks for himself.

She (guffaws): WHAT?? How can this be?

Me: Well…


She: Ummm, so have you thought of veiling?

Me: No, not really.

She: Is your mother veiled? Your grandmother? Aunts?

Me: No, nobody.


She: Do they pray at least?

Me (hesitantly): Some of them… I think.

She (joyously throwing her hands up while dishing me another plate of delicious rice in a remarkable feat of dexterity): Well thank God for that!

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Chapter 27 What it is

It’s a bus ride into Jerusalem where everyone under the age of 55 disembarks to walk through the pedestrian check point. It’s having Israeli ID cards but still being made to go through the indignity of it all.

It’s a massive menorah erected right outside Nablus. It is a yearlong visa that has to be approved by the Israeli Ministry of Interior yet doesn’t guarantee passage back into Palestine. It is not being able to leave for fear of not getting back in.

It is Hebron and knowing that Israeli soldiers enter Nablus in the early hours of the morning to take people away. It is news of air strikes into Gaza and needless deaths at check points and protests.

It is creeping settlements on top of hills. It is stories told in simple factuality about siblings with deformities because their mothers had been gassed while pregnant.

It is children who do not know the difference between ‘Israeli’ and ‘Jew’.

It’s the sheer, desolate, heartbreaking helplessness of it all. It’s the feeling that nothing can or will change. It’s the fear that it can only get worse.

It’s approaching a check point with a knot in your stomach. It’s passing through one and looking back at those waiting on the side to be interrogated.

It is many things.

It’s getting into a taxi and having the driver turn around and exclaim:

‘Sara! How are you? Home or work?’

It’s leaving a neighbor’s house with a full stomach because they happened to intercept you on the stairs and invited you in to eat ma’loubeh with their family.

It’s the early morning call from a near stranger who’s downstairs with a plate full of manakeesh for you because he thinks you don’t eat enough.

It’s the quick laugh of a child whose optimism has yet to be eaten away. It’s the beautiful landscape and the taste of a sweet, juicy orange.

It’s an initiative like Bazinga! and the people setting up Tedx Ramallah.

It’s the Freedom Theatre and the Circus School.

It’s Women's Corner and a conference in Ramallah to address domestic violence.

It’s the things that happen here every day that are pushing for progress. Forcing things through the bureaucracy and the hardships. Carving out spaces and creating opportunities that will make Palestine sustainable.

It is many things.

Let’s make a pact for 2011. Let’s do all we can to move these efforts forwards and support them.

I’ll keep trying if you do.

Happy New Year.