Olives for Hope

If the world is ever going to come to peace,
humanity can no longer be recognized 
on a case by case basis.


A Benevolent Occupation?

Posted on December 27, 2011 at 5:05 PM

An insincere and evil friend is more to be feared than a wild beast; a wild beast may wound your body, but an evil friend will wound your mind. ~ Buddha


Anyone that travels in Palestine, who has been here before – even just a year ago – would be struck by the changes. Now I can take a bus to Jerusalem without going through the main checkpoint between Bethlehem and Jerusalem. This past week a friend from Jenin traveled to Bethlehem without having to stop at a single checkpoint. New hotels and restaurants are everywhere. Manger Square is bustling. On the surface it looks like life is getting better here – that it is a benevolent occupation.  The little reporting that makes it into the traditional media highlights this for a receptive audience. Just do not look too closely. It does not take much to scratch off that golden veneer.


On my trip to Jerusalem last week the bus was stopped, and even my passport was checked – which 'never' happens. The funny (SAD) thing is that I showed the soldier the wrong page, with last year’s visa stamp, and she did not notice because she did not actually look. My friend from Jenin was scared the entire trip from Jenin and back because he does not have an ID anymore. Why not? Well he committed the crime of traveling within the West Bank with an Israeli. A soldier stopped them as they were hiking in a “Palestinian controlled” area and took his ID. In order to get it back, he has to go to court, swear that he lost it, pay a large fine and then publish a notice in the newspaper that he lost the ID. He has done none of these things because he feels (and he is right) that he did nothing wrong.


The hotels and restaurants are real, but really meaningless. Israel effectively controls the tourism sector. Bethlehem (a "legitimate" pilgrimage destination) is the only area in the West Bank which tourists can access relatively easily directly from Israel. Of course Palestinians would welcome guests throughout the West Bank. There is even a new hotel in Jenin. It, however, will not see much business because Israel makes it very difficult for Internationals to even consider going there. There is also a real price to pay for any tourist business that wants to be on Israel’s approved list.

The best analogy I have seen is that of prison control. In order for the guards of a prison to control the entire prison population, they only need to control a strategic 5% of the prison. This gives them choke points through which they completely control the movement of the prisoners, who by number could overwhelm the guards. Jeff Halper, founder and Director of the Israeli Committee against home demolitions (ICHAD), has referred to this as Israel’s matrix of control.


The apparent easing of restrictions in movement, only mean that Israel has become very efficient at enforcing this matrix of control. Every Palestinian lives with the fact that at any moment, things can, and do change. It is the predictable unpredictability that keeps everyone on edge.  In the refugee camps incursions by the Israeli military are regularly documented by human rights workers. in these incursions (night raids) children as young as 12 are targeted for 'arrest'. They are then pressured to become informants / collaborators for the military.

Recently UNESCO granted Palestine full membership. Immediately Israel froze all payments of Palestinian taxes collected by Israel. This runs to the tens of millions of dollars and is a large part of the Palestinain Authority's monthly budget. Now, as Hamas and Fatah continue negotiating over a unity government, Israel is threatening to cut off water and electricity to Gaza. Is that what you would call a benevolent occupation? 



The Border Crossing - Part 2

Posted on December 9, 2011 at 6:05 PM

 Faith is a knowledge within the heart, beyond the reach of proof. Gibran

Once I arrived in Amman, after the stress of getting there, it was nice to able to enjoy a couple of relaxing days with my hosts. The nearby grandchildren came over and put up the Christmas tree and the next day I went to a shopping mall. Amman is a very modern city and seemed very spread out; not like in the West Bank were the cities are very compact and congested. Due to the constraints put on the Palestinians by Israel, there is not room to spread out. It was very funny to see Washington apples at the fruit stand. There is so much to see in Jordan, but unfortunately I did not have enough time this trip to do any exploring.  I hope I will be able to visit again.

After a couple of days it was time to head back to the border. With help from my host’s daughter I was able to catch the bus to Nazareth which I had originally planned to take on my journey to Amman. Everything was fairly uneventful to begin. However, that changed as soon as we arrived to the Israeli border. When I walked into the arrivals area I had to give my passport to a young female soldier. She smiled at me, but when she looked through my passport her smile disappeared. She seriously looked like she had seen a ghost. She became very agitated and waved over another security officer who also didn’t seem to like what she saw in the passport (I still don’t know what it was). They whispered excitedly between themselves then the second person identified herself as a supervisor and began asking me questions: where had I been, who did I see, where was I going, why? I was then instructed to take my things to the scanner and walk through the security area. I thought that I had “made it” – silly me.

When I went to retrieve my bags from the scanner I was asked to identify everything and I noticed that one bag (the one from my shopping trip) was set aside. The security officers took all my things to another area and I was escorted to a different place and told to “wait”. After 15 or 20 minutes another officer came over. There were two other guards as well trying to look “casual” but it was pretty obvious they were there to intimidate me. Without thinking about what I was doing I stood up and remained on my feet throughout the “interview”. I was a bit taller than her, so it helped me to feel a little more "in control".

The female officer introduced herself as the security supervisor and began questioning me. She went through all the questions I had just been asked and many more; who did I stay with in Jordan, how did I know them, how long have I known them, how long did I stay, what did I do, why had I been in Israel, where would I stay, how am I funding my travels (“I have a very generous husband” ), why come to Israel (“why not, it is cold where I live” ), but it is cold in Israel now (“have you ever been through a Michigan winter? And I don’t like Florida” ), have you published anything that I can read (“oh no, nothing” ), are you learning Arabic (“yes” – at this point I knew they had searched my bags), why are you learning Arabic (“why not?” ), I don’t know, I live around Arabs and I don’t learn Arabic (“hmm, maybe you should” ), why not Hebrew (“more people speak Arabic than Hebrew” ), did you take anything to Jordan for anyone (“no” ), did they send anything back with you (“just a bag of fruit, you can have some if you are hungry” ), what are the names of the people you know in Israel, do they have children, what about pets, and on and on…… At one point I had to explain the nature of relationships that begin on the internet. Finally she seemed to decide I was not a threat and told me to gather my belongings and proceed to the passport window.

But, they were not done with me yet. The woman behind the window took my passport and then had that same look on her face as the first person I met, she frantically waived over her supervisor, more whispering, and the same questions again. At some point, I pointed over to the person that had interrogated me before and suggested they talk to her. This time they also wanted to know if I had a return flight booked, could they see a ticket, why that date…

Eventually they decided to allow my re-entry, but I was warned it would only be for two months and that I had to go to the Ministry of Interior to extend the visa or I would be denied entry the next time, and it was done – my passport was stamped for entry and handed back to me (later when I looked, it had been stamped for three months and not two). I will need two more months after that. I had been questioned, from beginning to end, for about an hour and a half. “Luckily”, security was still inspecting the bus. At one point I did restrain myself from saying “you know, in the States we like it when people come to spend money there, but I am getting the distinct feeling you don’t want me here.” However, I do have to keep in mind that if I were Palestinian, it would have been much worse. So, in the end, I guess I am glad that it was not an easy experience. Now I am giving myself a couple of weeks over Christmas to not think about visas and then I will have to decide how to proceed next.

Once the bus was released, we were on our way. I arrived in time to catch the bus to Jerusalem without waiting. In Jerusalem it was too late to get the bus back to the West Bank so I called a taxi driver I know to find someone that could drive me to Beit Sahour (You need an Palestinian driver to cross to "the other side"). It is expensive, but cheaper than staying in a hotel. Kamal picked me up and after driving a while and talking about what I had been doing; he invited me to have knafe (my favorite treat) with him in Bethlehem. I guess I can say I had a date with my taxi driver (he did try to hold my hand several times… ). Not a bad way to end a very stressful day!


The Border Crossing - Part 1

Posted on December 2, 2011 at 3:55 PM

Well it's all right; Riding around in the breeze

Well it's all right; If you live the life you please

Well it's all right; Doing the best you can

Well it's all right; As long as you lend a hand ~ The Traveling Wilburys


My Israeli visa is good for only three months. This means I need to leave and then re-enter Israel to get a new visa. So, not knowing what to expect, I headed for the Jordanian border. I chose the northern crossing for a variety of reasons, some no longer valid, but all things considered it seemed to be my best choice.


I headed out in the morning and made it to the central bus station in Jerusalem with no problem. After I purchased my ticket for Nazareth, as I waited on the platform for the bus, I was struck by the fact that a year ago waiting at that same platform for that same bus I felt so much joy and anticipation for a diversion that in the end, turned out badly. I could only hope that this trip which filled me with so much anxiety would turn out so much better.


Everything started out fine and I even managed to get to the bus transfer station in plenty of time to catch my connection to Nazareth. But then I could only watch helplessly as the bus drove past without even slowing down. I asked about the bus at the ticket counter. Although the agent spoke very little English, I was able to understand that the next bus was in two hours. The time came and went, and then after waiting three hours the bus came and went, again without stopping. I ran back to the ticket agent hoping he would call the bus back, knowing it was the last bus. He seemed very perplexed, made a couple of calls and reported “nothing to do”.


Now I was really stuck. I had gone from being on track, to hoping to find a place to stay in Nazareth, to having to sleep at the bus stop. I don’t speak any Hebrew, except “toda” – thank you, and I wasn’t feeling very thankful at all. I knew nothing about the town I was in and was not sure if I would have enough cash to pay a taxi and still pay the border fees. Taxis here are notorious for overcharging if they sense any desperation.

This was so messed up and I had no idea what to do. I have never felt so vulnerable here. Literally, my last hope was to contact someone I had met last year, who did not live too far away. Last year I thought we were friends, but he has refused to communicate with me since I left. His contact information was still on my phone, but I knew the likelihood that he would help was slim to none. It took an hour of arguing with myself to finally decide to contact him. I was able to send a short email with my Kindle (BTW, a great investment), I also sent a text in case he wasn’t home to get the email. I was relying on the Palestinian hospitality gene, but I never heard back from him. I guess he missed the lesson in Sunday school about the “Good Samaritan”.


It was dark and getting cold. I felt pretty deflated and contemplated going back to Jerusalem; but it would have been too late to get back into the West Bank. Just then someone approached me and asked me “Where you want to go?” I looked up and asked the man in front of me “Do you speak English?” Yes, he said, “a little”, and introduced himself – Nir. So I poured out my story. He took me to a private bus that would get me to the town closest to the border, Beit Shee’ann.


After arriving in Beit Shee’ann, again I had no idea what to do or where to go – I was so off the “plan” I had started with that morning. After standing on the corner for a couple of minutes, seeing no sign of the border or how to get there, another man approached me and asked if I needed help. He was from Nepal. He helped me find a taxi (which I paid too much for), and then I was at the border. At the border I was grilled for what was probably less than 15 minutes, but seemed like much longer. The border agent was obviously looking for my name in the computer. Only after I actually crossed the border did I relax. I was able to split the cost of the taxi to Amman with a young man from America who was there to attend a wedding. I finally arrived to my hosts and was glad for their warm welcome.

In two days I get to repeat the adventure for my return trip – part 2, next week.



Posted on November 11, 2011 at 9:30 PM


‎"Speak the clearest truth you know, and let the dis-ease heal."~ Rumi

Last week I was in the northern West Bank and learned about the difficulties in establishing Palestinian commercial products for the world market. We first visited the Taybeh Beer factory near Ramallah. There we met the only woman brew master in the Middle East. She works with her father to produce the only Palestinian beer. It is certified by Germany and has markets in several European countries. However, they cannot export to the U.S. because the bottles say “Made in Palestine”. They proudly refuse to change the label. (*note - Israeli settlement products are often labled "made in Israel", although they are produced in the occupied West Bank.)

Our group then traveled north to meet some of the fair trade association producers that provide olives and other products for Canaan. These are very persistent and creative people that have a relationship with the land that most of us will never experience. One of the farmers has started a plastic bag recycling factory. The plastic shopping bags that litter the landscape here are collected and turned into new bags.

I listened to the frustration of the farmers with prices for their crops and about the challenges that Canaan has in exporting their olive oil and other products. It is not uncommon for Israel to hold up shipments at the Haifa port for “inspections”. When this happens, Canaan has to pay storage fees at the port that runs into the thousands of dollars. This then has to be reflected in the prices that we pay. This is an "occupation premium" that the competitors in the market do not have to pay. 

In the village of Anin I learned about the new challenge the occupation has created for the farmers – wild boars. The Israeli soldiers release wild boars on to the West Bank. The boars destroy the crops (they are very fond of almonds) and tear up the fields. Then, they hide along the wall – not that a Palestinian could shoot it (they don’t have guns). The Palestinian Authority police have guns, but Israel won’t give permits to allow them to shoot the pigs either.

One farmer we spoke with had a grove of 200 ancient Roman (Rumi) trees. He had to watch as the Israeli military uprooted and buried every one of them to clear a path for the segregation barrier. These trees are as children to the farmers. He told us this story with tears in his eyes, then moments later was laughing as he told us about his family. When asked how he could face such tragedy and still find joy, his reply was “You have to have joy – or you will die.” At the end of the week we celebrated the harvest with the farmers at their olive festival. There was much laughter then, as well as wonderful food, dancing and yes, joy.


Pure Palestine

Posted on October 29, 2011 at 2:25 AM

"Well, in our country," said Alice, still panting a little, "you'd generally get to somewhere else -- if you ran very fast for a long time, as we've been doing."

"A slow sort of country!" said the Queen. "Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!" ~ (Through the Looking Glass, Chapter 2)

In Palestine you quickly learn that there is a different sense of time – Palestinian time. According to Western standards Palestinians are notoriously late, but they will always expect foreigners to be on time. If a Palestinian tells you “five minutes”, expect 15; if “15 minutes” expect 30; if “a half hour” expect an hour. If they say “tonight” – well - for more than a week now I have been without water, and every day I am told, “Tonight, Inshallah (God willing)”. This is “Pure Palestine”.

If I understand correctly, someone forgot to fill our tanks (my apartment and one other are the only ones affected). Now they can’t come back until the next regular delivery. However, they don’t want to tell us that, so every day it is “Tonight, Inshallah”. Directness is not a value here. For someone like me, that believes it is important to “say what you mean and mean what you say”, this is very difficult. This is “Pure Palestine”.

Palestinians live in the moment. They have learned that there is no other choice. Even in relatively quiet times, like now, they know it can change in an instant. In the States, in general - at least in the "mid-west", people don’t ‘go out’ during the week; if they do, they don’t stay out’ late – “It’s a school night”. Here people take every opportunity to enjoy life. Any night I can go out on the terrace and hear music and laughter (and yes, fireworks). This is “Pure Palestine”.

The downside to living in the moment though, is that people here tend to not make plans. There is something positive about being spontaneous, but sometimes you just need to make plans. Since I left last year I have wanted to attend the commemoration of the massacre in Eilaboun (my post about Eilaboun is here). But, because I have not been able to make a solid plan to get there and back, it looks like I won’t be going. This is “Pure Palestine”.

But, in the moment, Palestinians are incredibly generous. A visitor quickly learns to be careful in a Palestinian home when admiring something – you just may have no choice but to take it home with you. Once, a friend of mine admired a cane being used by an elderly man that she met on the street. He insisted she follow him home, where he then insisted she take his cane. This is “Pure Palestine”.

The one exception to the reluctance to make plans are weddings. Weddings here are huge affairs full of traditions and expectations. A young man I work with is planning his wedding. I think he referred to it as a modest wedding – with at least 500 invitations. Yes, I said “he is planning”; here the groom pays for everything, even the bride’s dress. And they do not do this once, but twice. The engagement party (which looks a lot like a wedding) can cost more than the wedding itself. This is “Pure Palestine”

If you ask a foreigner who has spent significant time here, what they love about Palestine, they may have a hard time answering you. But when two foreigners meet that have been here, they just understand. And when we are away, we feel the absence of a loving friend – one that infuriates us, and that supports us, and that disappoints us, and that embraces us.

Within three minutes of posting on Facebook that I would be without water at least until Monday (and without clean clothes) I had an invitation to stay with someone until the water is delivered. This is “Pure Palestine” - gotta love it!


Life in the bubble

Posted on October 24, 2011 at 6:20 PM

                                         This place is a dream.; Only a sleeper considers it real.

                                                              Then death comes like dawn,

                           and you wake up laughing at what you thought was your grief ! ~ Rumi

Where I am living, it is possible to pretend the occupation isn’t real, maybe for a moment, if I stay right where I am (and I don’t turn on the faucet - I have been without water for four days). Where I live and work, I can’t see the settlement; and I never see soldiers, if I stay right where I am . What I do see is a strange mix of first and third world development, and people trying to live a “normal” life. Who wouldn’t want that – a normal life - for their children? And it is the children I watch – the young ones don’t know there is something called an occupation. This is just their life. And we can pretend it doesn’t affect them, but only if they stay right where they are - in the bubble.

Last week I stepped out of the bubble. Not far down the road is a refugee camp full of children, more than half the 4700 residents are under age 18. I met a little girl whose first words were not “mommy” or “daddy”, but “Jesh (soldier) – tet, tet, tet (the sound of a gun)”. The occupation is real for her, they killed her uncle.

Last week, I stepped out of the bubble. Farther down the road – all the way to Jerusalem, I go to get the mail; a journey most Palestinians cannot take (I don’t know how they get their mail*) – a short taxi ride and then a bus gets me there. My American passport gets me through the checkpoint, but doesn’t find the post office for me. I will try again this week. It is like living as a scratch-off lottery ticket. A shiny silver veneer-scratch it, what do you find? No jackpot there, just another pretty piece of paper to join all the others (lots of others) littering the ground.

But last week, I stepped out of the bubble. Down another road - I ventured out to pick olives – lots of olives picked, and lots of olives lost, to the creeping settlements and “the wall”. Then I found something else, what one young friend called moments of grace. There are so many of those here. From the taxi driver in Bethlehem that yelled out the window for our entire drive “I love America – I have an American VIP”, to the young man that helped me when I took a nasty tumble on his mountain – guiding each step I took, “hoon - halla hunak” (here - now there). And I shouldn’t forget Abed, my new friend in Jerusalem who rescued me and made me laugh when I was ready to give up on the day and the city.

Tears and laughter, like M&M’s and popcorn, just go together here, under the olive trees – outside the bubble.

**Note regarding mail service - I just found out that most of the bigger organizations have a PO Box in Jerusalem. Other people have friends there or that can travel there. There is a post office somewhere in Beit Sahour that you can get a PO Box at, but there is no street delivery. When the phone or other bills arrive to Paidia's office, an employee of that company brings it to the office. The address is literally  "Beit Sahour, on YMCA street, by the Paradise Supermarket, Abu Ibrahim's building". There are also Palestine stamps (I should get some), but it takes about two months for mail to go anywhere from here.

One Does What One Can Do

Posted on October 14, 2011 at 11:45 AM

 Here on the slopes of hills, facing the dusk and the cannon of time; 

Close to the gardens of broken shadows,

We do what prisoners do, And what the jobless do:

We cultivate hope. ~ Mahmud Darwish

Self-doubt has been my companion this week. I have had the experience of telling my plan of writing an anthology of everyday resistance here in Palestine, the stories of real people to several other 'travelers'. All of them are either also planning to do something similar or knew someone that was. I began to think “who am I to believe that my voice has anything to add?” Then I thought about the focus of the book, Palestinians in Israel (a mostly ignored story) and the person that encouraged me to get serious about a book – he said that what he liked about what I wrote was that I don’t attempt to prescribe answers as so many do, that I let the questions stand.

Well, words mean a lot to me – poetry, music….I think in metaphors (which often seems to get me in trouble when I assume others view things from a shared context that may not exist). So as I pondered his words, I was happy to find, as often happens, just the right words came my way, and I found this in my inbox;

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others. ~ Marianne Williamson (commonly misattributed to Nelson Mandela, who used it in a 1994 inauguration speech)

So, back on track I realize that that the “romantic edge” of being in Palestine during my last trips is not the same this time. I expected that the everyday-ness of actually living here would be like that (and I welcome it), just not so soon. It is very much a different experience than before. If I step outside of myself, I still have that "I am not in Kansas anymore" feeling. But, when I step back into myself, into the moment, it just feels like the most normal thing to be here. 

I do find that the local Palestinians treat me differently than before (more aloof). I was speaking with my new British friend, Luke, about this, and we agreed that we are a little disappointed that they did not seem to engage with us the same. Maybe we are different, having been here before, or maybe they are more cynical about us - I am not sure ..... I met an older American woman yesterday. She is leaving this weekend after a two week stay which she described as profoundly lonely. Then one of the Palestinian staff here explained that he no longer gets close to foreigners because they leave.

I do in a rational sense, understand his sentiment, but we get invested as well (some of us even come back) and I think it is sad to miss any opportunity to connect with someone on a deeper level. When I was here last year I thought I had found an incredible friend in the most unexpected place, only to find that after I left he decided not to continue the friendship – it broke my heart. But I refuse to let that stop me from being open to new people coming into my life - People who will impact me at least as much as I impact them (and probably more) .

God breaks the heart, again and again and again; until it stays; OPEN. ~ Hazrat Inayat Kahn (Sufi)

People like the three women I mentioned last week whom I pass everyday on the way to the office. Two days ago, on my way home two of them, Muna and Lydia, chased me down. After several minutes of trying to understand what they were asking, I figured out it was something to do with glasses and reading. I promised I would return the next evening – not sure if I had promised to come read to them, or let Muna use my glasses to read something herself (or even – uh oh – agreed to give them my glasses). The next day I returned and called a local friend that could translate. He explained that Muna was asking me if I could help her get glasses, because she enjoys reading but can no longer read without them (she is Moslem and reading the Quran is important to her as well). I started thinking “how can I make this happen?”

I know that some would say it is a mistake for me to do so but, I told her I would try.  It is a dilema because there is a sense of learned helplessness here. It is a fact that Palestinians are the most aid dependent population (50-80%, depending on location, rely on foreign aid). That combined with the very real difficulties imposed by the occupation can create a sense of “why should I try?”. This runs counter to the Western idea of individualism and “pulling yourself up”. But, I believe that I am my brother’s (or sister’s) keeper, as they are mine; and we should not pass up the opportunity to make even one life a little better.

A small bird found lying on her back was asked, “Why?” She responded, “I heard the sky is falling.” “And you think that you can hold up the heavens with those spindly legs?” To which she replied, “One does what one can do.” ~ Bulgarian folktale


Exactly Where I Am Supposed To Be

Posted on October 7, 2011 at 8:10 PM

“ What you have to ask yourself is what kind of person are you? Are you the kind that sees signs, that sees miracles? Or do you believe that people just get lucky? Or, look at the question this way: is it possible that there are no coincidences?” ~ Signs

When you meet someone you know you have known before, or find a place you know you have been before, it can’t be explained – it’s a Knowing beyond reason, beyond understanding, beyond questioning, beyond knowing – you are just exactly where you are supposed to be.

I have been in Beit Sahour for a week now. It has been a week of settling in and adjusting. I am still figuring out my new normal, and I will admit that my birthday brought a twinge of loneliness. Every time I come to Palestine, I seem to end up living at the edge of town. Each day I walk a little less than two miles to the office and then I am still at the edge of town. Being without a car is definitely going to be an adjustment. I don’t mind exploring places during the day, but it gets dark very quickly here and wandering in unfamiliar places at night is just not something I am comfortable with, anywhere. Tonight though, on the way home I passed by the apartment of three elderly women – one Moslem and two Christians living together. I have been walking past and saying good morning every day. Tonight, they insisted I come inside. They made me Arabic coffee which I had no choice but to drink (the real stuff, not the Nescafe and milk I have become fond of) so I am wide awake as I write this. They didn’t speak English and I am definitely not conversational with Arabic, but we did OK.  It was a nice way to end the day.

Last week I mentioned how things here are upside down, and it is really true. I go into the grocery store (there is a new one near-ish me) and I have no clear idea what to buy – shopping for one is something I have not done in a very long time. One of the first things you might notice is that while in the US processed foods tend to be cheaper than fresh, here it is the opposite. I bought seven nice size tomatoes and a bag of baby cucumbers (the ones Meijer charges $2.50 /4) for a total of about $2.50; but a can of green beans was approximately $1.75. The other thing that strikes me is the large amount of foods on the shelves that only have Hebrew on them. My experience has been that more people here speak English as a second language, than speak Hebrew (let alone read it). So it seems to speak to me of a certain kind of arrogance – when you have a captive consumer you really don’t have to care about communicating with them in their language.

This week it also seems that there have been a lot of fighter jets flying very low. I asked if something was going on and was told “no, this is nothing, sometimes they rattle the windows to remind us they are there.” In spite of all the talk of a Palestinian State with Abbas going to the UN, it doesn’t change the everyday reality of occupation. But, people continue to live their lives the best way they can - right where they're supposed to be.


What's a little drama?

Posted on October 1, 2011 at 3:15 AM


Drama is to be expected when traveling to Israel / Palestine. You just have to hope that it is only the annoying variety (like a mosquito, rather than a wasp). Besides, a little bit of drama is good to wake us up! Mine started at the airport stateside. I thought I had plenty of time, several hours to get to the gate. I went to the lounge, wrote some email, got a sandwich, and strolled to the gate. I got there as the plane that had just loaded was about to shut the doors - The plane they had bumped me to, without telling me…. Last minute dash to my seat. Then we sat….and sat. There was “weather” near Philadelphia. In the end, we left at the same time my original flight was scheduled. Other than a luggage cart at Ben Gurion that hated me (seriously, I had to steer in concentric circles to move forward – believe me I had to refrain from using the more colorful Arabic I have learned!) the rest of my travel was pretty uneventful.

I think the luggage cart is a pretty good metaphor for the way I experience life, think and (hopefully) learn. I move forward in a broad arc rather than a straight line, then move back through some of the same “stuff”, hopefully picking up some new understanding, then arcing forward again, only to return once more, but hopefully ending up a little further ahead than before. It sure is a slow process, and it can be very frustrating. Just when I think I have “gotten it” about a particular situation, I feel like I am back in the middle of it – again. But I am finding that like when I stopped fighting the cart, if I surrender to that process, it takes me where I need to go, eventually. (And for some reason, I find that comes a lot easier here.)

The raw beauty of this place never ceases to make me pause. My apartment overlooks a valley - there is something very magical about listening to the call to prayer echo through the valley as the sun goes down. I have a lovely garden / patio where I can sit and relax. But, it does need a bit of clean up. So much here is like that - beautiful, but needs a little work.   Nothing can be taken for granted here and everything you thought you knew is upside down. I was speaking with another staff member about how this place affects people. People either love it or hate it – there is no middle ground; but either way, no one leaves unchanged. You just have to let it ‘crack you open’. I hope over the course of the next months, I do not lose that feeling.


Great Expectations

Posted on September 17, 2011 at 2:45 AM

Expectation - A strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future.

We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aid, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn.” Henry David Thoreau

Expectation gets a bad rap – We are told that expectation breeds disappointment and some people rebel at the thought that others might have expectations of them (even though they have their own expectations). There is nothing wrong with having expectations; they are like the skeleton that moves us through life.

I expect the sun to come up tomorrow, I expect cars to stop at red lights, I expect strawberries to taste good and I expect to be treated with kindness and respect. There is nothing wrong with that, but we also have to understand that sometimes it does not happen that way. The sun may come up unseen because the day is filled with storms, cars sometimes run red lights and create accidents, strawberries are sometimes rotten, and sometimes people are cruel. What really matters is what we do next. I can’t give up on the sun, or driving, or strawberries (never strawberries), and I certainly cannot give up on people (even though, once in a while, in those darker moments I think I might).


On September 21 Mamoud Abbas is expected to seek UN recognition for a Palestinian State. What happens after is anyone’s guess, but I don’t think anyone expects the resolution to get past a US veto. However, much like I cannot give up on people, Palestinians cannot give up on Justice (even though, once in a while, in those darker moments, some might). The 21st is also the International Day of Peace and the Global Day of Listening. So when you go to sleep Tuesday night, add a prayer for Palestine, and while you are at it, a prayer for Israel too.


In 10 days I expect to leave for Palestine. I expect to see old friends and meet some new ones. But what else will I find? – I don’t know what to expect….other than the dawn.