Monday, September 19, 2005

English Lessons and Socialist Movements

I don’t have class on Mondays, so I slept in and then puttered around the house hand washing clothes, etc . . . We do have a washing machine in our flat, but it is pretty crappy, so the best thing to do is wash smaller things by hand – it actually saves time, believe it or not. I had planned an afternoon of working on my Arabic and my thesis, ended up with a day of serving tea and protecting socialist radicals from the police . . . funny how things don’t go as planned around here.

When my roommate came home from class, early, she brought two of our classmates over for tea/ coffee. So we had tea and discussed the current political situation in Germany with MT, who, being German, gave me some new insights to the political system. After they left, I settled down to work on my thesis when Hung Soon knocked on the door. She is one of three S. Korean students in the program, and although she came to see M, I became involved because her English isn’t very good and M’s Manchester accent makes it even more difficult for the two of them to carry a conversation. She had stopped by to tell M that one of the Palestinian students in her building who is studying English literature wanted to meet M and practice her English with her. At the end of the conversation, we decided that M would meet this student the following morning on the walk to school (or so we thought). About an hour later, Hung Soon reappeared at our door, with the Palestinian student in tow. Meanwhile, mind you, I had been trying to studiously work on my thesis, but was failing miserably.

Once Hung Soon and Miriam were installed in our sitting room, I put on the water for tea, leaving M to negotiate carrying out a conversation with a S. Korean who barely speaks English and a Palestinian student who speaks English but doesn’t really understand it all that well. Turns out Miriam, whose father is a religious leader in her village, is in her final year of study and needs to prepare for her final presentations in English. She was wearing the hijab and the full Islamic dress, including gloves. Her English was decent, but I could see why she wanted to practice. Anyway, M was a little put off by her pushiness regarding the English lessons, so after about 40 minutes I steered the two of them towards the door. Apparently Miriam has three native English speakers in her class, but she said they have different “lifestyles” so she doesn’t study with them. Made me wonder what she was thinking coming to our den of sin for lessons . . . So, once we got rid of them we made dinner, then decided to head to a local restaurant for a pint. This is when things got interesting.

The owner of the restaurant joined us shortly after we sat down and asked us if we had heard about what happened at the university that day. I hadn’t been to campus, and M is beginner with Arabic, so of course we had no idea what had happened. Apparently, the prime minister had come to the campus to speak about the importance of students protesting against the wall. The student organizations of PFLP (socialist) and Hamas (Islamic), however, were busy protesting against his visit because he owns stock in the company that is helping to build the wall . . . which is pretty revolting in my opinion.

Of course, the owner of the restaurant couldn’t just tell us this story – first we had to move our seats because we were sitting too close to people who work for the security forces at the university. It was all very cloak and dagger. Turns out, one of the students who led the protest works at the restaurant, and was hanging out in back waiting for the Palestinian Authority forces from Ramallah to come and arrest him for his activities. He had been tipped off by a source that they would probably be coming for him that night. M and I, along with 3 other international students, decided to sit with him and wait. We figured we couldn’t do much to protect him, but having internationals present might help keep the situation from getting out of control.

While we were sitting with the guys out back, I learned a lot about the corruption in the PA, and how unhappy a lot of Palestinians are with the situation. I was talking to a kid named Omar, who is about 20, about political situation within Palestine. He was describing the fights that go on between the residents of my village and the people who live in the adjacent refugee camp – but he was doing it in a disgustingly gleeful manner. He actually offered to bring us along the next time a good fight breaks out.

After a little while of listening to this, I stopped him and asked him in Arabic why he loved violence so much. He replied that the only law in Palestine today is the law of the jungle, and that people have a right to protect themselves. I argued that it didn’t make sense for Palestinians to fight amongst themselves – the occupation has had a bad enough effect on the Palestinians, and the violence, both structural and physical since the second Intifada is inundating the entire society.

He replied, and I quote, “Every Palestinian life is worth about 3 shekels, which is the price of a bullet. Your life is worth a little more because you have a different passport, but you’re still in the West Bank.”

I really wanted to push him on this topic more, but I felt like I didn’t have a right to sound like I was judging him, so I dropped it. I wanted to say something about the number of Palestinians who are fighting the occupation nonviolently, about the different groups and organizations who working to help fix this mess, or at least ease some of the burden. It seems like this generation of Palestinians is growing up without hope and without dreams . . . it is heartbreaking and terrifying at the same time. This conflict is robbing both sides of their children and creating a generation of angry, violent, racist people . . . obviously I am exaggerating based on one conversation, but it was really demoralizing to hear this kid talk about life so hopelessly.

We got a phone call around 1 am saying that the PA was not going to come after all, so M and I headed home. The next day classes were cancelled at the university between 12 and 3 pm because of a clash between the Fatah students (support the PA) and the PFLP and Hamas.

Naively, I thought that I would spend most of my time here learning about the occupation and its effects on the Palestinians. Of course I had heard about corruption in the PA, but I didn’t really think that they would arrest a student for speaking out against a government official. I have a lot to learn.


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