Friday, October 21, 2005

Freedom of Movement

It is cold here. Not Syracuse in the middle of January cold, but cold enough to make me wish that I had brought more long sleeved shirts with me. Heat is luxury here, so we’ve just been adding extra blankets to the beds and wearing our jackets indoors for now. Eventually our landlord will supply us with little electric heaters, but in the meantime, it is chilly. I can deal with the cold, but I didn’t shower for two days because there wasn’t any hot water, or lukewarm water for that matter. Our water heaters are solar, so if there isn’t any sunshine, then there aren’t any showers either. On the third day our landlord stopped by and showed us how to switch the water supply from the solar water tank to the electric water tank, but he also warned us that it is extremely expensive to use the electric tank. By day three I was so happy to shower that I didn’t care how much it would cost. M and I were joking about checking into hotels bi-weekly during the winter just to take long, hot showers.

Otherwise, the week was pretty uneventful until Friday when I went to Bethlehem to meet with Holy Land Trust (an NGO) and see how I could help them prepare for their Nonviolence Conference in December. Turns out they need lots of help, so I should be very busy over the next two months. They actually asked me if I would consider moving to Bethlehem and volunteer full time. Although I would love to, I am already committed to my program at Birzeit, not to mention my thesis, so I had to turn them down.

As always, the most interesting part of my trip was traveling to Bethlehem. I crossed three checkpoints and had to show my passport 5 times between Ramallah and Bethlehem. I was on a bus at the second checkpoint (between Kalandia and Jerusalem), and the soldiers actually pulled a Palestinian woman and myself off the bus to question us. They let me back on after a couple minutes, but they kept the other woman and the bus left without her. I had to switch buses in East Jerusalem to head to Bethlehem, and I literally walk right past the Damascus Gate to old city on the way to the second bus stop. It was Friday morning, and droves of people we heading into the old city to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque. In order to get to the gate you have to walk down steps arrayed in a half-crescent shape. Israeli soldiers were fanned out along the half-crescent so that you had to walk between them to head down to the gate. I had a little extra time, so I decided to go down to the gate and watch the flow of people. One of the soldiers stopped me as I was passing him and asked to see my passport (I must have FOREIGNER stamped on my forehead). I handed him the passport and he read my name out loud, then he asked me if I wanted to go inside. I looked at him for a minute then I said, “Well, I was headed in that direction until you stopped me – What do you think?” I was kind of surprised to hear the words come out of my mouth . . . he just handed me back my passport and waved me on.

After I poked around the old city for a couple of minutes I headed over to the Bethlehem buses and caught a bus. This bus was pulled over by Israeli police, who again demanded to see everyone’s passports. When I finally got to Bethlehem I walked through the checkpoint without any trouble, which is good because I was running a little late. As I walked past the checkpoint and towards the Wall, I could see about 60 people waiting in line to cross the checkpoint in the other direction heading towards Jerusalem, presumably to pray at Al-Aqsa. That line wasn’t moving at all.
After entering Bethlehem I caught a ride to HLT and ended up spending the entire day there working with the staff. In fact, I lost track of time and had to hurry to make it back to Jerusalem before Iftar (breaking of the fast). I was also fasting (albeit by default) and it was pretty cool to be in Jerusalem right before Iftar. Everyone was running around like crazy, so I popped back into the old city, thinking I’d find a seat and watch the show. I ended up wandering around and found myself at one of the entrances to the Haram Al-Sharif. It is the first time that I’ve been that close to it, and I could actually see the golden dome through the archway at the end of the passageway. I was just moving with the flow of traffic towards it, excited, and I didn’t see the soldier to my left. He grabbed my arm and told me that I wasn’t allowed to enter. I was so angry. I tried to argue with him, but he wasn’t hearing it, so I headed back towards the Damascus Gate and grabbed a seat on the steps (where the soldiers had been that morning) and watched the sun set. It was a really beautiful moment . . . the entire city was quiet while people were breaking their fasts and the Ramadan lights were lit around the gate. I was really enjoying myself until two teenage Palestinian boys sat on the steps directly behind me and started hitting on me by singing bits of songs in Arabic and using the word habibty (my sweetheart) over and over.

After that I stopped at the Jerusalem Hotel and broke my involuntary fast. While I was there I met a British activist named Glen and hung out with him for a while before heading back to Ramallah.

In unrelated news, I heard an unconfirmed rumor that the Israelis are planning to raid Bethlehem soon in retaliation for the three settlers that we killed this week. There were certainly more soldiers there than usual, and they’ve added two checkpoints at different entrances to the city . . . I guess we’ll have to wait and see what happens.


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