Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Village Excitement

Today I had a surprisingly productive day – meaning I learned a lot about Critical Language Discourse, and I even did my Arabic homework the day before it was due. In celebration of my productivity, M and I went to the local bar for a pint. We sat at a table with the owner and his cousin and conversed in a bizarre weaving of Modern Standard Arabic, colloquial Arabic and English (this has become my specialization, btw). The bar was surprising full considering that it is Ramadan, but there is a large Christian presence in the village, and not all Muslims are observant anyway. We were just sitting there chatting when I noticed that about half the men in the bar (okay, maybe M and I were the only women in the place) were standing and looking out the window behind me. I like to think of myself as a moderately observant person, but Palestinians are very honed into their environment and particularly activity on the streets – it is a necessity for survival here.

So, like a good little foreigner I turned around about 3 minutes late and watched a rapidly growing group of young men walk up the street and around the corner. As the flow of men (most of whom were university students) increased, some of them started running. After about 30 minutes, the flow of men reversed and came back down the street – but now they looked like they were marching with a purpose.

Meanwhile I’m sitting having a conversation with J about the refugee situation in Palestine, and about his feelings regarding raising a son in Occupied Palestine. He is a born and raised Birzeiter, and his family has been here for hundreds of years. J said he didn’t think that the refugees would ever get their land back, and that the PA was just using the camps to soak the UN and the international community for money. He also said that he applies for a visa every year to the US or Europe in the hopes of getting his son out of Palestine before he becomes a teenager, and a target. He really dotes on his son, George, who just turned 4. Every time I see him he tells me about George’s latest adventure, whether it is requesting a disco cd or singing karyoke at the restaurant/ bar.

While we are having this conversation, I hear 5 or 6 gunshots, all coming from the direction that the mob of young men had marched toward. Apparently, one student stabbed another student. The stabbed student is from the north (Qalquilia). Within minutes, thanks to cell phones, the better part of the male student population from the northern parts of Palestine were in the streets, trying to find out what happened and looking for a fight. The student who did the stabbing is apparently from a Birzeit family with connections in the PA, so the mob of students marched to the police station to demand that he be moved from Birzeit to Ramallah, where his family connections are less influential.

Of course, this is all hearsay, but it highlights some pretty serious issues. First, successful Palestinians are leaving to raise their kids in safer places (not a shocker). Second, the refugee situation is viewed as hopeless by at least some Palestinians, and I would guess that most Palestinians who aren’t refugees don’t really think the refugees will ever get their right to return. Thirdly, there is a high degree of corruption in the PA and lawlessness in the streets. Fourth, violence is normal here. Gun shots don’t phase people – once the people in bar established that the excitement on the street wasn’t from the IDF, they settled back into their beers and conversations immediately. Even I wasn’t really fazed by the gunshots, aside from hoping that none of the students had been hurt. The normalization of violence here is amazing. I realize that I come from a privileged and sheltered background – but I can’t image trying to raise a family in this kind of environment. It makes me wonder what 4 year-old George who likes to sing karyoke will be like when he’s19 if he grows up here.

On a different note, I will probably be traveling for the next 5 or 6 days, so my blog and email will be quiet. I’m excited about my upcoming trip, and if it pans out I’m sure I’ll have some interesting stories to tell when I get back.


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