Friday, November 25, 2005

Signs of Occupation

Today I went to Jerusalem to check out a potential apartment for a friend of mine who will be working in Beit Hanina for the first three months of the new year. The trip was uneventful until we got onto the bus heading from the Kalandia checkpoint to Jerusalem (third transportation vehicle necessary on this trip). There is a checkpoint that the buses have to go through on their way to the city, and the length of time it takes to clear the checkpoint depends on the soldiers’ moods. There have been times when the soldiers just wave buses through. Other times, the get onto the bus, collect everyone’s passports and we sit for 20-40 minutes while they verify the paperwork.

I knew we were going to be waiting a while when the soldier climbed onto the bus wearing his mirror sunglasses with his regulation crew cut. He took his time collecting the passports, and then disappeared with them. One man got off the bus voluntarily – I don’t think that he had permission to enter Jerusalem (most Palestinians don’t) but he had some kind of special paperwork with him. I assume he got off the bus to try and protect that special piece of paper – it takes most Palestinians months to get special permission to enter Jerusalem – and he never did get back on.

While we were waiting I noticed a roadsign in front of the bus. It said something in Hebrew, then in Arabic lettering it had the Israeli name for Jerusalem (Yerushalom), then in small Arabic lettering in parenthesis it had the Arabic name for Jerusalem, (Al-Quds) and finally it had Jerusalem in English. Sometimes the systemization of the occupation here floors me. They won’t even let the Palestinians call Jerusalem (a disputed city) by their name for it – even in Arabic script.

Eventually our Tom Cruise wannabe soldier (think Top Gun) came back onto the bus and started to read off the names of the passports as he returned them. Mind you, he was mispronouncing the names so badly that the Palestinians were having a hard time figuring out who’s name he was calling . . . At this point the driver reached forward to volunteer to take the passports from the soldier and distribute them himself (and quicker). The soldier responded by clenching his hand into a fist and drawing back his arm as if he was going to backhand the bus driver. Then he continued to mispronounce names. As this painful process continued, the driver’s foot must have slipped on the break a little. Not much, but just enough that the bus rocked. Our friendly representative from the IDF turned towards him, clenched his hand again, drew back to backhand the driver and halted his movement before hitting the driver. Then he started yelling at him in Hebrew . . .

After that uplifting experience, M and I went to check out this apartment in the Old City, just inside the Damascus Gate. I’ve never seen anything like it. It is off one of the narrow alleyways that permeate the Old City; terribly romantic but a pain in the ass to move big things in and out of. Anyway, the entryway of the apartment is kind of low ceiling-ed and dingy, but after taking a couple of steps you walk into an open courtyard. There are a serious of doors surrounding the courtyard – a master bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, living room and living room. It must be absolutely fabulous in the summertime. The living room area is very large, and has a little shower and small bedroom connected to it, so in the winter that part can be a cozy den, with fresh air just a step away. My new life’s mission is to live in this apartment and write a bestselling novel. Screw world peace. . .

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Thanksgiving in the West Bank

My American friends and I discussed how to celebrate Thanksgiving in Palestine for several weeks before the event, which is Eid al-Shukir (festival of thanks) in Arabic. At first we considered going to the swank American Colony Hotel in Jerusalem and shelling out serious money for a fancy meal, but in the end we decided it would be more fun to have a potluck Thanksgiving dinner at R and D’s apartment in Ramallah. We had a few discussions about how to work around the limitations of Palestinian supermarkets (from a Thanksgiving perspective) then we got to work. Wednesday I went to a fancy supermarket out of town and scored Betty Crocker pie crusts, brownie mix, and butter in stick form. Then I met R downtown and we went to collect the turkeys from the butcher. R had ordered the turkey’s previously, and they slaughtered fresh just for our consumption. When we picked them up they were hanging on hooks, de-feathered thankfully, but with their heads still attached. . . We transported the birds back to R’s apartment, then I went back to the fruit market and picked up two kilos of apples. I met MR at the center of town at 5pm, and then we went back to his place to make apple pie (‘cause I don’t have an oven). Turns out neither did he, but his landlady was kind enough to let us use her oven upstairs.

It is a bit challenging to make apple pie without any measuring utensils or pie pans. With a lot of guesswork and the help of a half full water bottle (needed a rolling pin) we created two rectangular apple pie type desserts. We did, however, burn the brownies a bit . . .

R and D had located a local bakery that agreed to cook our turkeys for us (they have big ovens) so that part of the dinner was out of our hands. Luckily, everything came out really well. We had stuffing (okay, it was rice stuffing but it was still good), green beans, sweet potatoes, couscous salad, mushroom salad, garlic mashed potatoes, pie, brownies, baklava, kanafa, and chocolaty marshmallow things. And a lot of beer, wine and arak. We invited most of our friends, so I think there were more people celebrating their first Thanksgiving than there were Americans, but it was a lot of fun. After some clean-up, we went to the only dance club in Ramallah for a little while, then called it a night.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Shabbat in West Jerusalem

On Friday I had to choose between two itineraries: 1. Go to the Bil’in protest against the wall (a nonviolent resistance movement that has been taking place every Friday since this summer). 2. Go to my first ever Shabbat dinner. I decided to spend the morning working at HLT preparing for the nonviolence conference and then go to the Shabbat dinner in Jerusalem. I think that it is important for me to learn more about Jewish culture while I am in Israel, and I’m afraid I don’t get much of an opportunity to do that in the West Bank.

After working in Bethlehem I met G and A near the Damascus gate at 3pm. We walked around the old city for a while, then caught a taxi to take us to Meier’s apartment in West Jerusalem. Meier is a guy who I studied Arabic with this summer and who is currently taking classes at Hebrew University. I was a little nervous about going since I was pretty sure I would be the only Arab present and to be honest I have avoided West Jerusalem since I’ve been in Israel. Unfortunately, the cab ride into West Jerusalem did very little to alleviate my fears. Our taxi driver spent most of the ride telling us how all Muslims are bad and that Arab Muslims are trying to take over the world . . . We all pretty much ignored him until he started going on about how the Arabs/Muslims rioting in France are just ungrateful sods considering how the French were kind enough to let them immigrate. . . I couldn’t resist pointing out that the French colonized Algeria, killed thousands and thousands of people, destroyed the economy and were only driven out about 50 years ago. Of course, he didn’t want to hear any of that . . .

Needless to say I was very nervous by the time we got to the apartment. When we arrived Meier and his friend were running around doing last minute preparations before the sun went down. I didn’t get a full explanation of the Sabbath, but my understanding is that from sunset on Friday until sunset on Saturday observant Jews do not work . . . I think that this time is devoted for prayer, but I really need to read some more about this. The room slowly filled up with people, and I think there were 11 people in the end (I was, in fact, the only Arab). Most of the people at the dinner were American Jews studying at Hebrew University. Everyone was very curious about why on earth G, A, and I would want to study in the West Bank. The most common question was, “Aren’t you afraid for you safety living out there?” I said no, that I actually feel safer in the West Bank than in West Jerusalem, and then I bit my tongue before saying that there aren’t any suicide bombings in the West Bank . . .

All in all it was a little awkward, but the people were very friendly. We got some questions about life in the West Bank, but didn’t really talk politics until later in the evening after most of the people had left. Even then we all skirted around bigger issues . . . The Jewish prayers were beautiful to listen to and Meier was kind enough to explain the meanings of each one before they started. We drank a lot of Arak and wine and ate too much food and I generally had a nice time. Unfortunately, I never quite lost the feeling of being on guard, and watching what I said very carefully . . .

Below I have cut and paste a letter written by a guy I study with who went to the Bil’in protest. I thought it might be of interest . . .

To my fellow Birthrighters on Kesher 4,I hope that you are all doing well. I’m writing to you from the West Bank town of Birzeit, north of Ramallah. I’ve been living in the West Bank for the past two and a half months, taking Arabic courses at Birzeit University and learning about the situation from the other side. I’m writing to you to describe an experience that I had yesterday in the>Palestinian town of Bil’in, which is northwest of Jerusalem in the West Bank. It was an experience that opened my eyes, and, to be honest, upset me and angered me. I think that it speaks directly to all of the things that we learned and discussed on our Birthright trip, which is why I’m sending this message to all of you.

For the last seven months, Bil’in has been the sight of weekly protests against the building of the separation wall, which, on its current route, will confiscate more than 50% of the villages land in order to allow for the expansion of a neighboring Israeli settlement. Many of you know that the International Court of Justice deemed the separation wall illegal in the summer of 2004, and ordered Israel to take it down (see, see also, where you can find dozens of reports from Amnesty International. I worked in their Israel/Palestine office for two summers and can confirm the legitimacy of their research). The ruling was made precisely because the wall does not follow the border between the West Bank and Israeli, but travels deep within Palestinian territory. It cuts Palestinians off from vital resources such as water and, as in the case of Bil’in and dozens of other villages, takes their lands, and thus their livelihoods, from them. It also wraps itself around several settlements deep within the West Bank (putting them on the Israeli side of the wall), and completely surrounds several Palestinian towns and cities, cutting them off from rest of the West Bank.

Despite all of this, Israel’s high court rejected International Court’s ruling. I include this brief historical note so that, even if you support the building of the wall, you might understand why the people of Bil’in oppose it, and why they feel that they are in the right. Try to put yourself in their shoes for a moment. But back to yesterday in Bil’in. I attended the protest yesterday as a Jew who believes that continued violations of Palestinian human rights are not only despicable in and of themselves (and contrary to any non-fanatical interpretation of the Jewish religion), but are also contrary to the interests of the State of Israel and its people. The protest began with a march from the center of town to the site of the wall (which is not complete yet), about a ten-minute walk. Israelis and Jews from around the world made up one of the largest groups in attendance. Uri Avnery, a leader of the Gush Shalom (Israeli Bloc for Peace) was also in attendance. We marched down the road and then turned into a site where construction machines were working on the wall. The military was waiting for us. We chanted and cheered in Hebrew, Arabic, and English. Several of the Israeli and international activists sat down in front of one of the construction vehicles to temporarily stop its work as sign of protest. That's when the violence began.

The military threw stun grenades and began to severely beat the unarmed Israelis and internationals sitting on the ground in front them. I ran to try to help out, yelling at the soldiers that these people were unarmed, that they were participating in a peaceful and legal protest. I was met with batons, fists, and screams: “Fuck off!” I was hit in the face, I was grabbed and thrown and shoved and smacked. Those who were in front of the construction vehicle had their hair pulled, their faces scratched so badly that they bled, and their bodies kicked and beaten violently while they were lying helpless and terrified on the ground. They included many women and several elderly people. One young Israeli woman was hit with a baton in the throat and above the eye. She was in severe pain and almost in tears. The rest were dragged across ground (which in this particular place is covered in large, sharp stones) and thrown down towards the road, where the army had apparently decided they wanted us.

Once they got us there, calm was restored, though many of us were still in a state of shock. I can tell you without a doubt that not a stone had been cast, not a soldier or civilian threatened in any way, before we were attacked. However, we were not going to let the army scare us away, so we regrouped and started singing and chanting again, right at the soldiers line. The singing and chanting went on for 45 minutes, and once again, not a stone was cast, not a soldier threatened in any way. There is no way that our demonstration could have been called anything but completely peaceful. I was right there, a foot from the soldiers. Many of us were talking to them, having constructive political discussions as well as demanding to know why they had attacked a completely peaceful group. Many of them responded that they did not want to be there but were “just following orders.” I was absolutely dumbfounded. To say it was both to admit their fault, to admit that they opposed what was going on, and yet, at the same ntime, to admit that they didn’t have the courage to take a stand against it. But most shocking was that this “excuse” is, of course, the mantra that was used by those who oppressed and murdered Jews throughout the 20th century. I could hardly believe that these Jews had could bring themselves to say it to us. And yet, there it was, happening right in front of me.

As we chanted and sang, it became clear that the military was preparing something new for us. We saw the teargas canisters being loaded and the sound bombs being prepared. We saw attachments for rubber-coated bullets being clipped onto the end of M16s. And then, once again without any warning, not to mention provocation, they went mad. This time it was far worse. People were again thrown on the ground and beaten. Several people were hit with teargas canisters and were so consumed by the gas that they began to vomit and scream, and even collapase. This included the Mayor of Bil’in, who actually lost consciousness due to the gas. Those who were suffocating in the gas were actually beaten more and dragged along the ground. As we scattered, the soldiers began to cock their rifles and fire on us with rubber-coated bullets AS WE MOVED AWAY. Rubber coated bullets can be deadly at short range, and can severely injure people even at long range.

Then (and only then) the Palestinians began throwing rocks, an almost pathetic response in the face of the soldiers’ weapons. Scattering all throughout the olive grove, we ran for cover. The soldiers continued to fire. I watched as one of them cocked his rifle and fired live ammunition towards a group of Palestinian youth, though apparently he either missed or was firing over them. (We later found an empty shell casing where he had been standing, and I saw soldiers not more than a foot from me reloading their M16s with live ammunition about half an hour later). One Palestinian man was attacked by the soldiers, beaten and then carried away, while his wife sobbed and screamed at the soldiers to let him go. (Coincidently, he was released an hour later, which makes one wonder why he was arrested (not to mention beaten) in the first place.)

Before long, some of the soldiers had set up a sniping position on a huge mound of earth on the construction site. They fired on Palestinians who were so far away they could not possibly have posed any danger to them, and who, like all of us, were unarmed. Regardless, they had soon shot a 14-year-old boy in the head with a rubber-coated bullet. He was bleeding heavily from his head and was rushed in an ambulance to the hospital. (As far as I have heard, he has sustained no permanent injuries, though, had the bullet been an inch lower, he likely would have been blinded.)

Enraged and disgusted that anybody, but especially Jews, could act in such a disgusting way, I approached the hill where the snipers were and began to scream for them to stop. Every time one of them cocked his rifle, I yelled for him to stop. I was soon joined by a small group of other Israelis and internationals. And then something very strange happened. The soldiers not only un-cocked their rifles whenever I yelled, but they actually began trying to justify their actions to us. They were obviously embarrassed that what they were doing was being witnessed. They pointed down towards the group of Palestinian youth, whose stones (they had started throwing them at that point) never came within 50 meters of the soldiers. It was amazing that these soldiers, who despite the fact that they were firing on people with potentially deadly ammunition, were still so unsure of what they were doing that they felt that they needed to justify their actions to a bunch of protestors they had been beating and gassing only a few minutes before.

With all due respect to Joe (our tour guide), this was his “righteous” and “moral” army at work. This was the Israel “Defense” Force protecting the people of Israel. Of course, I have been reading and researching the abysmal human rights record of this so-called defense force for quite sometime, at Amnesty International, in the offices of the Palestinian human rights group Al-Haq, at school, and on my own. By comparison to their past (and on-going) crimes against the Palestinian civilian population (many of which I also witnessed in Ramallah in 2002, while the city was under siege), what I saw this week was minor.

However, it was the first time I had ever seen a Jew beat another Jew, helpless and unarmed, with batons and boots and rifle butts for sitting on the ground in front of a truck or chanting and singing on a public road. It was the first time that I ever saw a Jew gas another Jew, throw him onto the ground, beat him more, throw a stun grenade at his feet, and then fire on him as he tried to get away. And as for the internationals and Palestinians who were similarly treated, I think what I have recounted speaks for itself.

I am writing all of you, as a Jew and as a friend, to think twice about what we were taught on our Birthright trip. As a student of Israeli history, I can tell you that the history we were taught was extremely misleading, and contrary to the research of even the leading Jewish and Israeli historians. For any of you who are interested, I have attached a copy of my thesis, much of which was inspired by our Birthright trip, to this message. I recommend that you take a look at the books and articles in the bibliography. I also encourage you all to come to the West Bank and see for your own eyes what is going on here. I know many people who would be delighted to host you and talk to you, and I would be more than willing to put you in contact with them. You will be welcomed by the Palestinians as internationals and as Jews with the courage to really explore what is going on here. My best to all of you, and many thanks for reading all of this.


Monday, November 14, 2005

Bridging the Gap, Part II

My trip to Kuwait was uneventful (thankfully). I spent my last night in Beirut drinking at a bar until about 3:30 am. My flight to Kuwait was at 8 am, which meant I had to be at the airport by 6 am – translation: I got about an hour of sleep and showed up in Kuwait reeking of cigarettes and probably alcohol just in time for the first day of Eid. There is nothing quite as awkward as showing up a family gathering when everyone else in the room is wearing brand new designer clothes and you come rolling in, unshowered, wearing the same clothes you’ve been wearing for the last two days.

To be honest I had several motives for going to Kuwait. First, I was hopeful that if I showed up in Kuwait my father would take pity on me and loan me a laptop. Secondly, I knew that another visit to the family in Kuwait was mandatory before I head back to the US, so I figured it would be easier if I could get it out of the way now, rather than later (meaning I would rather spend New Years in Bethlehem than in Kuwait, where alcohol is illegal), and I wanted to spend some time in a place where I didn’t have to hand wash my clothes (Birzeit) and there weren’t any cockroaches running my room (Beirut).

So, I had a nice couple days in Kuwait and then began the trek back to Palestine, via Amman. MA met me at the airport Monday morning and took me out for breakfast in the city before dropping me off at the place where the services leave for the Allenby Bridge. Now the bridge apparently closes at 2 pm on Mondays, so I grabbed a seat in what was probably the last service headed to the bridge that day. Myself and two Palestinian boys are sitting in service waiting for a fourth rider when the driver hops in and asks the boys if they speak English (he asks in Arabic, of course). When the boys say yes, he tells them to tell me – his actual words were “the foreigner” -- that the price to the bridge is double the regular price, and then we can all leave now instead of waiting for a fourth rider. You can imagine his expression when I asked him in Arabic why he expected me to pay a higher price for the same service . . . both boys started laughing at the driver who looked as if he had the shock of his life. I guess my Arabic has improved . . .

The bridge was a nightmare, as usual. I sat there for 4 hours and was the very last person to get permission to enter Israel. Even the cleaning people had come and gone while I was waiting. The soldiers weren’t particularly rude except for the guy who, when they finally decided to give me a two month visa, started yelling at the girl stamping my passport to only give me a week’s visa. Bastard. I arrived at the bridge before 2 pm and didn’t make it back to Ramallah until 7 pm. Ironically, even all the Palestinians got into the country before I did . . . I guess I shouldn’t complain too much since they didn’t dump my backpack or strip search me this time.

When I arrived at my apartment in Birzeit I was happy to see that my landlord had put bars up on all of our windows. Hopefully this will dissuade any future thieves. Insha’allah.

A Bombshell of a City

Beirut is more a nighttime city, so when I arrived at 7 am on a Sunday morning, not much was open. John took Mic and I to a little restaurant near the American University of Beirut where we had pizza-like thingees for breakfast, and then we caught a service back to his apartment. Tourists can visit Beirut and never find the little neighborhoods that tucked away, like the one that John lives in in Ashrafeet. The damage from the civil war is still very much in evidence – bullet riddled and bombed out buildings are common. I can only imagine what the city must have looked like 15 years ago.

After arriving at his apartment John plied me with coffee and gave a brief rundown on Lebanese politics, of which I am woefully ignorant. Most of what I know about Lebanon is related to the Palestinian Refugees, and the Sabra and Shatilla massacre in particular. After his explanation I understood that I will never really comprehend the complexity of the civil war. It seems that most of the fighters switched sides, or at least switched targets in the course of the war, and I was surprised to learn what I thought was a war of Muslims against Christians ended up being Christians against Christians in the end.

The situation in Beirut is tense right now. I was there just after the Hariri Report had been released and most of the people that I spoke with said they were waiting to see what would happen. There is a lot of speculation about who killed Hariri with some people blaming the Syrians, some the Palestinians, and some international forces, and of course a variety of potential coalitions.

In spite of all of this, Beirut is very much a party city and the locals were out enjoying life every night that I was there. It was strange to be in Beirut during the last days of Ramadan because no one in the city seemed to be fasting. In Ramallah if you walk down the street during Ramadan eating or drinking you will be told (maybe politely, maybe not) to go inside if you want to eat/ drink/ smoke while the sun is up. Hell, one of the international students got yelled at for chewing gum, but in Beirut anything seemed to go.

I also have to report that what people say about the Lebanese country and her people is true – they are drop dead gorgeous. Admittedly, both seem to going through some expensive facelifts judging by the number of construction projects going on downtown and the number of bandaged noses (nose jobs) I saw at AUB. The people dress to kill and I gorged myself on some of the best mezza I’ve ever had.

Beirut feels more European than Middle Eastern but you don’t have to go very far out of the city to be reminded that you are not in Europe. The mountains and sea are stunning, however traveling between the two is extremely dangerous. I thought Palestinian and Egyptian drivers were crazy, but the Lebanese take the cake for their insane passing maneuvers: three lanes wide down a mountain road (that is supposed to be two lane, two way) that is so foggy you can’t see 10 feet in front of you, much less who is flying up the mountain at the same breakneck speed. Good thing I have death and dismemberment insurance . . .

I didn’t get to see half the things I wanted to while I was in Lebanon, mainly because my trip was plagued by the same bad luck I had at the border crossing. There were several instances of miscommunication, our rental car got towed for being parked in an inappropriate location (a promising sign of Lebanese civil infrastructure, even if there weren’t any signs labeling it as forbidden in English or Arabic), and I did not have nice enough clothes to make it into one of the famous Beirut dance clubs.

After the string of bad luck I had between having the apartment broken into, the difficulties at the border, and the frustrations of the Beirut trip I decided to skip Syria and head to Kuwait for Eid. It seemed like a good idea to chill out with my family for a couple of days. Besides, Syria isn’t really the place to be (particularly right now) if you’re running on a streak of bad luck . . .

Bridging the Gap

I think that I’ve mentioned once or twice before that traveling in Palestine-Israel is always a bit of an adventure, but entering and leaving this place is even more of a hassle. Myself and a couple of other students decided to go to Lebanon and Syria over the Eid al-Fitr break and we had numerous discussions and debates regarding the best ways to handle issues like visa problems, which of the three bridges between Israel and Jordan to use, etc . . . Part of the problem is that it is very difficult to get reliable information about bridge closing times, visa requirements and other important details because these things change constantly.

We decided to leave Israel via the Allenby / King Hussein Bridge (the closest bridge to Amman). This is the obvious choice except for two small details: 1. We had been told that the bridge closed on Saturday at noon AND at 3pm, so we weren’t sure which was correct; 2. We didn’t have entry visas for Jordan. It is possible to get Jordanian visas at the Sheik Hussein bridge, which is more than an hour north of the Allenby Bridge (which means traveling an hour north in Israel to cross the bridge, to turn around and travel an hour and half south to get to Amman), but it is not possible to get entry visas to Jordan at the Allenby Bridge. However, one of the guys who was traveling with us swore that he had entered Jordan at the Allenby Bridge and had been able to purchase a visa there in the past (turns out he had Allenby and Sheik Hussein confused, but I’m getting ahead of myself). After much discussion and debate we decided to take our chances at the Allenby Bridge, but to leave very early in the morning, so that if we ran into trouble we would have time to travel north. This was very important because we had a 6 am flight to catch from Amman to Beirut Sunday morning.

Friday night, one of the guys who was traveling with us called and asked us to postpone leaving until mid-morning because he was still waiting for his second passport to arrive in the mail. You see, you can’t enter Lebanon or Syria if you have an Israeli stamp in your passport. This means you have to have two passports so that you can travel between the neighboring countries. Of course, if you travel overland from Jordan to Syria and you switch passports at the border, they will demand to know how you were traveling in Jordan without a Jordanian visa (which will of course be in the other passport). Thinking about this is like contemplating the paradoxes of time travel, if you dwell on it too long you end up with more questions than answers and a headache to boot. But I digress.

We decided to delay our departure in hopes that A’s second passport (without an Israeli stamp) would arrive. He called us around 10:30 to say that it had not arrived with the mail and that he had rescheduled his flight from Amman to Beirut so that he could wait for the passport. At this point the three of us who are still traveling are scrambling around looking for a taxi because we’ve realized that the bridge actually does close at noon and we might not have enough time to make it . . .

After an incredibly speedy taxi ride we arrived at the bridge at 10 minutes to noon. Surprisingly we cleared the Israeli side with very little difficulty. Unfortunately, the Jordanians turned us away because the other two people I was traveling with did not have the appropriate visa documentation. Apparently, because I had entered Israel through Jordan (and not the airport in Tel Aviv) when I arrived in September, I could have continued on to Jordan. Instead, like an idiot, I decided to stay with my friends.

Foolishly, I thought we would just reenter Israel, then catch a taxi to the northern bridge. I was not expecting to have to go through the entire border crossing process again. We had to reapply for visas, go through the interrogation process etc . . . It also didn’t help that when the soldier processing our information asked me what I had been doing in Israel for the previous two months, one of the guys I was traveling with chimed in and said that I was studying at Birzeit University. Mind you, this is the same guy who swore that we could get visas to Jordan at the Allenby Bridge . . .

We were the only people at the bridge at this point (because it supposedly closed at noon), and I guess the employees were pissed off that they had to stay because we got very thorough treatment. When the female soldier told me to follow her and entered a little curtained booth while pulling on plastic gloves I got a little nervous. Thankfully, it wasn’t a full strip search, just my shoes, jacket and shirt. This is especially lucky since I had my Kuwaiti passport in my money pouch beneath my jeans – I’m not sure what would have happened if I’d been caught with that . . .they probably would have decided that I was a spy and sent me away to molder in an Israeli prison. Next, they brought us to a big room where our bags were waiting for us and they proceeded to dump out everything in our backpacks and take it all into a separate room to be examined. Not only did they examine every article of clothing (my underwear got a lot of attention that week – first from the Birzeit police and then from the Israeli soldiers) in my bag, they also took swabs of all of my toiletries. I guess they were looking for chemical weapons?

All in all, we spent 2.5 hours trying to reenter Israel, just so that we could travel north and exit the country again. The best part is that we had never really left Israel since the Jordanians turned us away . . .

At this point we are all tired and hungry and it is probably around 3:30 in the afternoon. We grabbed the last taxi in the parking lot on the Israeli side of the bridge and headed to the Sheik Hussein Bridge (for $100). Once we arrived there, we had to go through the same process all over again. We sat at that bridge waiting for permission to leave for about 1.5 hours. We didn’t actually make it into Jordan until 7pm and didn’t get to Amman until 8:30. I would like to take this opportunity to point out that the trip that took me 10 hours would only take between two and three hours driving straight from Ramallah to Amman.

Thankfully, when I got to Amman MA met us at a restaurant and put us up for the night. After a shower and about 4 hours of sleep I was heading to the Queen Alia airport for my 6 am flight to Beirut (we decided to fly so that we could switch passports more subtly). I tottered off the plan at 7am and was greeted by my good friend John who was kind enough to drag himself out of bed to meet me at that ungodly hour.

Stay tuned for stories from Beirut . . .

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Sahar and the 1(or 2) Thieves

It is difficult to know where to start when this blog has been quiet for a couple weeks – It seems like so much happens in such a short period of time here . . . I guess that I will start with the story about why I’ve been so quiet for the last couple weeks. You see, I normally write my blog entries on my laptop, then upload them at an internet café . . .

On one of the last nights of Ramadan M and I decided to go down to Ramallah to meet up with some friends for post-Iftar tea. Ironically, I had not been feeling well earlier in the day and had almost decided not go, but since everyone was heading in different directions for the Eid, I decided to go anyway. Just after climbing out of our service in Ramallah, feeling slightly seasick fom the careening ride down the mountain, I looked at M and said, “I forgot my passport,” to which she replied, “Me too”. Now, I never, ever leave home without my passport, but we were already in Ramallah and late to boot, so we dwell on it.

After from tea with na’na (mint) we returned to our little apartment in Birzeit. As we were walking down the stairs to our apartment I commented that I had forgotten to bring my laundry in from the line. M said, “Well, at least you know that it is safe in Birzeit to leave it out all night,” HAA.

We walked into the apartment and I noticed one of the windows in our living room was open. Then I noticed that the screen on the window was ripped. The look of horror on M’s face was almost comical as we realized that our apartment had been broken into. The harami (thief – my new word for the week BTW) must have hit M’s room first because everything of value was gone – her birdwatching binoculars, her backpack with her passport, money, plane tickets home, credit cards, address book with all the important information that she needed, etc . . . They even took her cell phone charger. I assume they hit my room second, saw the laptop on the table and figured they hit the jackpot. They got my laptop and *sob* my iPod.

Luckily, they didn’t go through my room they way they did M’s or they would have gotten both of my passports, some cash, and my laptop case (which is where copies of most of word files, my USB memory, and my digital camera were). So, is when the fiasco began . . .

First, we tried to wake up our landlord, a very kind, very deaf man and his wife who live directly above us. After repeated banging and doorbell ringing, we abandoned that idea. Next we decided to call the police. Of course we didn’t know how to contact the police, or what our address was . . . so I called a Palestinian – Canadian friend whose family is here and asked him to help me figure out the phone number etc . . . Then I called a male friend who lived nearby because I knew that I did not want to deal with the local police at midnight without having a male figure with me.

Within 15 minutes our apartment was swarming with local police. We had about 5 officers, and then some random people who I think might have just been friends of the cops who decided to come and stare at the stupid foreign girls who had been robbed. We were asked questions like: What were we doing out so late? Who were we with? Why hadn’t we locked all of the interior doors in the apartment? (because we didn’t have a key). The police officers who came to help spent more time examining my underwear on the laundry line than they did the window that the thief had broken in through.

After a great deal of discussion, they decided we should all head back to the police station to give a report. They had 7 people pile into a little four door car and drive the three blocks to the police station. They sat us down, gave us tea, and proceeded to ask us the same questions they had asked us in our apartment about 4 more times. Admittedly the language barrier was a bit of a problem, but I did okay and Mat’s Arabic is as good as mine, so we were managing. While we sat there, the policeman who hadn’t already been to our apartment took turn standing in the doorway of the office we were sitting in, staring at M and I. After about 2 hours, they let us go. M and I spent the next hour and half canceling her credit cards etc . . . Luckily the thieves didn’t find the place where she had hidden her cc cancel info or her photocopy of her passport . . .

As far as my losses go, I lost all the research that I had done for my thesis to date, and the 300 some pictures that I had taken during my time here. And, of course, the iPod.

The second day of ISM training was scheduled for the following morning. Unforunately after dealing with the Birzeit Police (which may have been more traumatic than being robbed) and canceling all of M’s info I wasn’t feeling up to another 11 hour day of training on about 2.5 hours of sleep. Never mind that I was leaving for Beirut within 24 hours . . .