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.


Dear Mr. President

Posted on March 23, 2013 at 9:35 AM

Dear Mr. President,

So I hear you were in my neighborhood. I want to ask the question I am asked here all the time, “How do you find Palestine?” But, you were not here long enough to find much at all. What did you see traveling to Bethlehem in your limo, “The Beast”? ; Perhaps more than if you had gone as planned by helicopter. Did those tinted windows let you see the wall as you passed through the checkpoint? I know you didn’t see the refugee camps with the narrow streets and garbage spilling over. Did you see the signs in support of the prisoners on hunger strike? Do you know about Samer Issawi,who is now close to death after more than 200 days on hunger strike? Did you see the boys selling packages of Kleenex on the street just to make a few shekels?, Of course not.  Did you know why you didn’t see them is because Bethlehem was pretty much cleared of its people, so wouldn’t have to see real life here?

Do you realize just how much you have lost here? Just over four years ago I was here when you were elected the first time. I know how excited people were to see you become President. There was only good will for you then. But I knew how you would soon enough disappoint them…it was inevitable as you are a politician before anything else. Anyone with any doubt would be cured of that after seeing how you handled the young man who interrupted your speech in Jerusalem.

But,you are a human being. Does the sheer weight of this place pull you down just like it does me? In those quiet moments when you retreat into your own thoughts, do you ponder the hypocrisy of it all? A man who has benefited from the life (and death) of others who struggled for equal rights, human rights, arrives to Bethlehem by motorcade the day before Palm Sunday, to honor the baby who became a revolutionary. But, you couldn’t be more different from the one who arrived to Jerusalem by donkey. That man identified with the poor, slept with the outcasts, the lepers. He risked everything, to do the right thing. Something you just cannot do. Do you understand, like Pontius Pilate, that your hands are dirty?

You could have resurrected the dream. Instead you chose to crucify it once again.


Gaza - Winners and Losers: A completely non-expert analysis

Posted on November 27, 2012 at 4:15 AM

Don't just cease your fire and return to the old patterns that will create in you the conditions for the next round of violence, pain, and death; begin to cease in your hearts all what prevents you from seeing the human and equal right of the other to live in peace, justice, dignity, respect, and honor. – Sami Awad, Palestinian Non-violence Activist

First I should say I am not a conspiracy buff by nature and, I think, more than direct manipulation of events, savvy politicians take full advantage of situations in which they find themselves. Bibi Netenyahu wants to consolidate and maintain power..so does Hamas…as do Obama in the US and Morsi in Egypt. Their ultimate goals may differ – even significantly – but there can be much synergy in their strategies.

When I talk of winners and losers in the truce agreement, I am not speaking to the details of the agreement, which I have not read. I am speaking to the psychological aspect of the creation of the agreement in of itself. From this point of view it is easiest to say who the biggest losers are; Abbas / Fatah and the US taxpayer – and in the end, because nothing is really solved, the Palestinian and Israeli people. Don’t get me wrong, I am glad there is a ceasefire. I am just very unhappy with how it came to be.

And the rockets? – popular oppinion aside, those had very little to do with what ultimately was accomplished. There may be a relative calm right now, but I would not count on that lasting for long. Palestinians who I know, who have never spoken a violent wish toward Israel, now say things that startle me, even blessing the supplier of the rockets (Iran) which they see as making Israel “give in”. I can say the same for Israeli friends that never spoke of “transfer” before, but now think maybe it is the only way. The rockets are the tinder, and ultimately are the key Netenyahu can use to do as he pleases with Gaza in the next round.

What happened and who ‘won’? Think about it….Netnyahu wants to secure his power and re-election and he wants to further cripple Abbas – done; Morsi wants the US blessing as he consolidates his power in Egypt and he wants to be recognized as the only Arab leader standing with the Palestinians – done; Hamas wants to regain credibility (which had been quickly eroding) before restarting unity talks with Fatah – done.

Israel and Hamas were on the brink of a long-term ceasefire agreement before the assault on Gaza began November 14th. That is when Bibi chooses to assassinate the broker of that agreement Ahmed al-Jabari, starting an eight day assault that left 162 dead (of 130 civilian casualties, more than half are children). I do think Bibi misjudged Hamas ability and was taken by surprise when the rockets began to reach Jerusalem. But rather than making him back down, this only hardened his resolve – there was no way for him to justify ending this campaign at that point.

Then, there was the bus bombing in Tel Aviv. When we heard the news, a colleague said “This shit just got real”. Popular wisdom was that the hopes of a ceasefire were gone and that Israel would mow down Gaza. And why not? Israeli troops were massed around Gaza. Cast Lead was just a rehearsal, Bibi knew with the threat of a return to bus bombings inside Israel, the international community would not get in the way.

However, this was not a suicide attack and there were no deaths. That is not the MO of the extremist factions. Either it was a renegade individual making a point, or…(conspiracy alert) a Mossad operation. With this attack, the sympathies of the international community (I am speaking of the power brokers) was solidified behind Israel, the US Secretary of State shows up, and with Morsi (who previously was saying he is breaking ties with Israel) constructs an agreement with Hamas and Israel. Maybe I am becoming a cynic, but it seems way too convenient and I have to wonder what promises Hilary brought in her suitcase. Whatever they were, be sure the American taxpayer is again footing the bill.

Just Sayin…..


What we can do? - I hope you dance!

Posted on October 23, 2012 at 7:10 AM

Promise me that you'll give faith a fighting chance; And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance - I hope you Dance

Last time I wrote of the frustration I was feeling with the phenomenon I have witnessed of Palestinians internalizing the occupation. Sure Israel is no longer "enforcing" many checkpoints; they are not “needed”, because the checkpoints remain in the mind. Learned helplessness occurs when a person is repeatedly subjected to negative events that cannot be escaped. Eventually, the person will stop trying to avoid the event and behave as if they are helpless to change the situation. Even when opportunities are presented, this learned helplessness will prevent any action. This inaction can lead people to overlook further opportunities for relief or change.


I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance; Never settle for the path of least resistance. Living might mean taking chances but they're worth taking. Lovin' might be a mistake but it's worth making.

Almost daily I hear the refrain “What we can do?” Sure life, especially life here, is not a country song, but for every person that has lost hope, there is another that fights for their life here, this goes beyond steadfastness – it is a refusal to bow to unrelenting circumstances that seek to change who they are - Palestinian. In the last week I have been talking with several of these people and asking why are they different. Several common traits became apparent. The first of these is a sense of faith…not religiosity, but a real sense that God is directly involved in their lives. The second is a sense of creativity. Perhaps creative people are just crazy enough to believe anything is possible. In the last week I met photographers, writers, film makers and dancers; all pursuing their dreams in the least likely place for dreams to take root.

Don't let some hell-bent heart leave you bitter. When you come close to selling out reconsider. Give the heavens above more than just a passing glance. And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance - I hope you dance.

One of these new friends is Maher Shawamreh, a dancer and choreographer. He founded the Orient & Dance Theatre for contemporary dance in Palestine. He funds this project mostly with his own money, because his dream is to dance for Palestine. Any “reasonable” person would say he shouldn’t be here, living this life. First as a 14 year old he spent three and a half years in an Israeli jail, mostly in solitary confinement. His only time out of the cell was when he was taken out for interrogation and beatings. But in that cell his mind could take him away into the world of his dreams. As a dancer now he has the ability to leave this place for real, but instead he is choosing to help others find their own dreams.

“I dance to leave something behind. I dance here because I was born here. I am Palestinian. Everything here gives me the power to dance; the trees, the mountains, the people, even the occupation. My dream is to show the world that there is a people here that dance.”

*Lyrics adapted from "I hope you dance" by Leeanne Womack

Why I Hate Palestine (Not what you think)

Posted on September 17, 2012 at 11:20 AM

Or, Why I Do What I Do

Of all of the forces that make for a better world, none is so indispensable,                                            none so powerful as hope. ~Charles Sawy

 I can't know the hell you love ~ But I know you've had enough*

Do I have your attention? Yes, I hate Palestine. Or, more accurately I hate the other Palestine. Like the bad twin in a bad sci-fi thriller. The real Palestine still exists, but slowly the black plague of the occupation is swallowing everything good and true. There is a tendency among internationals to gloss over this fact and say things about the lovely and warm people persevering through enormous hardship (which is all true). However, this is a one-dimensional portrait and certainly not fair to the Palestinians and the multidimensional complexity that is Palestine today. But we want to only see those things that seem to make the struggle legitimate. But the truth is if our struggle is legitimate, then it doesn’t matter how good and pure the Palestinian heart is…if they were the worst people on earth (which of course is not true, they most defiantly are not bad people - just people like me and you, dealing with life) they still would not deserve this occupation.

 Look into my eyes with all your hate and scorn ~ But don't you give me a reason to mourn

I admit I was one of those internationals. We come for a short time, leave, tell our stories and hope we have done some good. These are important things, I do not discount the necessity of those experiences in telling the world what is happening there. And I know the work is appreciated. But the undercurrent is there – it cannot be denied. We are only visitors, and there is a certain kind of resentment for the “drive by” nature of what we do, which comes from the belief that we can never truly understand and then we leave.

What has life done to you? ~ There's more to life then what makes you cry

Sure the passport gives some sort of Teflon coating to our time there and protects us some. But not as much as many think. Plus, it is a special torment to care so much and knowing at the same time I am somehow separate from their experience, like I cannot make a difference, like seeing a crying child you cannot reach...but I have to try every day. So many Palestinians are giving up and the only reason I can give to defy that urge is that it is the right thing to do. But then again, who am I to say?

Sometimes I have to admit to a deafening frustration, like howling at the wind. If they are not willing to stay and fight…why should I? Recently a Palestinian friend asked me “Why do you do what you do for the Palestinians, when my people, we eat each other?” I could only answer “because I have to”.

Living in Palestine for nine months last year (and preparing to return in a few days) showed me a Palestine I didn’t know before. Like at the end of my trip when I was "stolen" by two young men who only saw an easy way to make a buck, rather than a human being there to help. This place became my life. And the lives of the people I came to care about on a much deeper level became connected to mine. The man that was besieged by so many troubles I could not help but think of the story of Job in the Bible. I know if I cannot figure out an answer to his question “why is this happening to me”, the level of his despair is unfathomable. Can he be blamed for making poor choices and giving in to an easy answer handed to him by those that that think extremism is the only way out? No. Or the young man that chose to trust his life to someone he had known mere weeks for an easy way out of Palestine - A way that required him to lie, and cheat. Certainly understandable, but like all dark things do, it makes him see those things in others, and now he says he doesn’t trust anyone.  I love these people and their pain weighs heavy on me. It is no longer a philosophical argument – it is real life and it breaks my heart.

I'll remove the crown of sorrow with which you have been adorned ~                                                         But don't you give me a reason to mourn

But being understood does not make a thing less wrong. There are no easy answers, no shortcuts in this life. You have to do the work - there is no other way. As soon as you say yes to that shiny apple (the promise of an easy solution) that the occupation makes look so delicious, you lose a little of your soul; and the darkness that comes from that is like cancer...it creeps and creeps until it is all you are. How do you know it is the wrong way? Easy - if you have to sacrifice any of those values you know are right and true; if you have to lie, cheat, or hurt someone, it is time to STOP, rethink, regroup there is most definitely a better way. Maybe not as quick, but certainly better and more rewarding because you did it the right way. But in the Palestine that the occupation has wrought, reality is a fun house mirror…distorted and insane. 

The good news - every moment is another chance to defy the cancer, to stand up, step back,, throw that apple away, do it over.

And by the way...I do still love Palestine.

All you ever wanted was someone to run to                                                                                                                                 ~ I won’t say goodbye ~                                                                                                                                    But don't you give me a reason to mourn

* Lyrics adapted from "Reason to Mourn" by Ben Harper

**Editorial note: When I wrote this post i knew it I was writing something that could be controversial. I knew that some would not read it with the correct eye for understanding. I did not, however, anticipate how someone might use it. Perhaps I should have, but I tend to not see these things. Because of this, I will add some addtional commentary to what was always intended to be a two part series, rather than writng a separate post. I will also say that before posting this entry I did ask several Palestinian friends to review the post. They made a couple of suggestions, but did not find it objectionable (some even commented "I hate Palestione too!). Once I am settled back into life in Palestine, I will highlight the stories of some of the amazing people I know that do continue to challenge the occupation,  inspite of incredible hardship - refusing to yield to the forces that would cleanse Palestine of it's soul, it's people. 

 So in the interest of clarity, I want to say that this post is not intended to cast Palestinians as inherently bad. Nor are they inherently good. They are human...just like the rest of the world, there is good and bad . To caste them as either saint or villian, is way too simplistic. My observations and experiences that inspired this post are that the occupation has created a false reality - a parrellel universe where people make choices, understandable choices, for immediate needs. In the process they lose sight of the long-term goal - a free Palestine. Again, understandable. They have been betrayed by Palestine - as represented by the Palestinian Authority, over and over again.

Of course many lose hope, but many do not. I do not begin to know what makes one go this direction and the other go that direction; why one simply wants to leave no matter the price (and that is the issue, not leaving in of itself), when another will stay in the face of equally high stakes,

"No freedom ,Checkpoints,Walls ,Settlements ,Occupation everywhere ,No water ,No work ,But i still love Palestine and you the most beautiful place i have seen ever, my life for you ." ~ A.H. [a young Palestinian who makes his life's work documenting through photos, the occupation and his village's resistance to it.]

Last year, many times, I was told by Palestinians "do not trust my people". Some went even farther. So when a Palestinan man is struggling to make sense of the misery he sees as his life, and he sees the people that are suposed to be his champions, betraying his ideals for personal gain, it is understandable that he would say, why not me? And if the opportunity comes along to change that lot, why not?  But, I grew up to believe that you can never triumph over the evil in this world, by surrendering to it's power. And that is why I go. That is why I stay. That is why I do what I do. 


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? 



Precious Pain

Posted on December 18, 2011 at 9:00 PM

I was reminded again tonight why the situation here is so complicated. I know, and I really believe this, that humanity has a soul, that love does win. But how do you convince someone that has been so hurt by that same humanity? We are all victims to one degree or another, but I can’t compare my pain to another’s. We all have different stories. Some are very raw, some are silly but all are real. And here it goes beyond any one individual’s pain – it is collective pain, collective grief.

Everybody's got a hunger * No matter where they are

Everybody clings to their own fear * Everybody hides some scar


Until we figure out how to help both peoples living in the land of Canaan to heal their pain. I fear the picture will only get uglier. We need to forget about “teaching” democracy or even economic development. The first step has to be to stop comparing pain and suffering. Does it really help to continue revisiting old wounds? But everyone here is always going backwards. How can you ever create a new future when the ugly past has so much power? Remembering has its place, but only as a means to assure “never again” for all humanity.

Everybody's got a reason * To abandon their plan

How can I think of tomorrow * With my sorrow in hand

However, letting go will not ever happen as long as there seems to be value in holding on to the pain. What value is there in holding on to pain? First, it connects us to others that have that shared memory as well. It creates a community of mourners and there is power in that. If I am otherwise powerless, my righteous pain is a shield. As long as I can use it to say “look how bad they are – look what they did to us!”, I can hold myself above them. Second, that pain informs me of who I am. It creates identity and I can feel safe in knowing I am not like them. But we are more than our pain – we have to be.

Precious pain * Empty and cold but it keeps me alive

I gave it my soul so that I could survive * Keeping me safe in these chains * Precious pain

I was speaking with a friend here in Palestine. He told me a little of what his people had suffered, and what he had personally suffered (torture in an Israeli prison). I know there is much more he did not say. I can’t tell him to let go of that pain. He said “You can’t ask me to forgive” and he is right. I can only hope that one day he will understand the letting go is for him and not for them. I honestly hurt for him, and for everyone here that has suffered and continues to suffer. But I also hurt for the lost possible future as people choose to stay in the past. The struggle to be free is meaningless unless it begins with freeing oneself of the chains of pain. Otherwise, regardless of what happens in the physical world, without letting go, you remain a captive. I can’t tell a starving man not to hunger. But maybe, just maybe, I can help him find the fruit waiting to be picked.

Precious Pain ~ M.Etheridge


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!


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.