Category Archives: Uncategorized

Khan al-Alhmar

Bedouin School in Khan al Ahmar

Khan al-Ahmar: Visiting a Bedouin
Village & School

September 4th, 2013 // 2:00 PM

Today I woke up at 6:30 to leave from Bethlehem and get to the UNRWA West Bank central office in Jerusalem by 9:00. After that we would make a visit to the Bedouin village in Khan al Ahmar, and a special school that has been established there for the Bedouin community in the Jerusalem district.

Is Jerusalem really only a few kilometers from Bethlehem? My cousin and niece, in her new school uniform ready for her second day in the first grade, dropped me off at the bus stop at Bab z-Zqaq to take bus 21 through the check point to its last stop in front of Bab al ‘Amud (Damascus Gate) in front of the old city. I’m ashamed to say this is only the third time I have gone into Jerusalem since I arrived here and my first time taking this route through the checkpoint on the bus. I feel guilty and frustrated knowing that most of my Palestinian family and friends living in the West Bank are systematically denied their right to this passage, which I make with relative effortlessness due the blue American passport in my bag. Only the blue Israeli Jerusalem hawiyye (identification card) or a special permission permit, provide West Bank Palestinians access to this city. The green colored huwiyye restricts Palestinian movement to the West Bank territory, and even within it there are countless limits due to private Israeli roads and the illegally annexed settlement territories, surrounded by electric, barbed fencing and walls. I’m used to preparing myself to have my passport checked due to the various checkpoints within the West Bank; however, seeing the soldiers step mechanically onto the bus to control the passenger identity cards for the appropriate permission still feels like an grave invasion of personal space and reeks of apartheid. Even so, this is only a minor procedure from the Israeli government’s numerous practices of humiliation and oppression techniques characteristic of the mental, physical and economic occupation of Palestine.

As we drive through Jerusalem I notice at the bus stops along the way that, although several bus lines are indicated at each stop, line 21 is absent. This is because line 21 is a Palestinian bus – ostensibly Palestinian only – reinforcing segregation and the desired invisibility of an indigenous Palestinian population. Here in Jerusalem I feel that I see this segregation everywhere. I am told on the bus that today marks the beginning of the Jewish new year, and that as a result the old city is packed with the orthodox population who are barring Palestinian access or entrance. It will be a tense day, I am told.

After my arrival at the UNRWA, we headed to the Ministry of Education Office in Al-Ram, a large Palestinian town in the Jerusalem district, where we met with the director, who introduced us to the issues being faced by the Bedouin community and school of Khan al Ahmar. This community, like so many Bedouin communities, faces the continual threat of demolition and expulsion. Some years back a portion of the school was demolished by Israel for the construction of a new highway. When we arrived at the new school we sat down with the principal who told us the history of her institution. The new school was constructed in 2009 through an Italian initiative of engineers, and a Belgium group which funded the solar energy system that keeps the school running together with a back up generator. Because the the Israeli authorities destroyed the main entrance to the school, the only access to the Bedouin village (apart from a rough and often impassible dirt road), is to pull over to the side of the Israeli freeway and step over the divider ramp into the encampment.

The conditions that the Bedouin villagers live in is strict and severe. With no running water or electricity, both must be provided externally through shipments of water and alternative energy sources. Even so, as we step onto the school premises we are greeted by the children’s smiling faces, waving and welcoming the unexpected visitors into their classrooms.

Initially, when the school opened it hosted grades one through four with a total of about 45 students, and has expanded rapidly over the past few years with a current population of 122 students ranging from grades one through eight. To help facilitate ease of access, the Ministry of Education has established special busses to provide transport for children from Bedouin communities to these schools, currently with 2 buses in the Jerusalem district, and 20 buses in the whole of the West Bank. The principal tells us that the next school is about 35 kilometers away, near Jericho.

The primary purpose of my trip here was the opportunity to visit both the school and the library – a project with which Sacramento Bethlehem Sister City collaborated so these students may have a the appropriate learning resources. When we asked the head mistress of the school what she would ask for to further improve the learning conditions for her students, she was at first hesitant, but given that the needs of students are many, her suggestions provided me with numerous ideas for possible other projects we may initiate in Sacramento to further assist in the continued development of this school and its student body. For the library, they are still in need of informative texts such as encyclopedias and texts covering various areas of general knowledge appropriate for students from the first to eighth grade. They are also lacking the appropriate space to hold these texts, and are in need of bookshelves.

The most important aspect of this trip for me was seeing the enthusiasm of these students in the face of the daily hardships they face, not only from challenging living conditions, but the threat of displacement. With the recent Prawer Plan, it is increasingly evident that the Bedouin community is the most easily displaced and at risk community when it comes to the ever expanding settlements and land confiscations of the Israeli government. It is little secret in this area that the settlers living next to the Bedouin villages in Khan al Ahmar commonly harassed children walking from their homes up to three kilometers past the settlements to the school. Nonetheless, it is clear when talking to the principal and her staff that their energy must be placed first and foremost in their pupils, and not the possible displacement. “We are preparing them for university,” she says. In other words, the Palestinians must continue to prepare for their future (and prepare their children for their future), even while this future is at risk, for this is perhaps the most potent form of resistance there is.

The only entrace into Khan al Ahmar, besides a very rough dirt road, is to stop on the side of the free way, as the original entrance was destroyed with the construction of the Israeli freeway.



Khan al Ahmar school library



Wadi Foquin


Wadi Foquin: “On this earth ~ Ala hadhihi al-Ard”

August 17th, 2013 // 1:00 PM

Wadi Foquin village is located about eight kilometers to the west of Bethlehem and less that one kilometer from the Green Line (the internationally recognized border between Palestine and Israel). The village has approximately 1200 residents, and is famous for its grapes, almonds and olive oil, crucial to the villagers’ local economy. The semi-mountainous landscape also provides them with the land they require for grazing animals, particularly sheep.

Yesterday morning I was lucky enough to make a trip out to Wadi Foquin. In a valley between two peeks, Wadi Foquin is surrounded on the one side by the neighboring Israeli settlements, Hadar Betar and Betar Illit, and just past the Green Line on the other side lies the Israeli town of Mevo Betar. The Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem states: “The close location of Hadar Betar and Betar Illit to the 1949 Armistice [Green] Line and their proximity to the Israeli town Mevo Betar on the other side of the line make these settlements likely targets for formal annexation to Israel in the future.”[1] The ever-increasing rate of confiscation of villager-land by the settlements certainly supports this statement, with the settlements having already confiscated more than 12% of the villager’s territory. (In the below images you can find the depiction of continued construction of settlements encroaching on the village).

I had heard a great deal about Wadi Foquin in Sacramento, especially this past April when the “Friends of Wadi Foquin” were invited by the Lantos Human Rights Commission to submit a proposal for a briefing on the human rights abuses in Wadi Foquin. (“The mission of the Lantos Human Rights Commission is to promote, defend, and advocate internationally recognized human rights norms as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”)[2]

A good summary of the human rights violations being committed agains the residents of Wadi Foquin daily can be found on the website ( However, to witness striking and blatant evidence of these violations, the following one minute video (from just last month, in July 2013) records waste water from the sewage plant in Betar Illit being released onto the land of a local farmers in Wadi Fukin:

Walking through this land – a manifestation of the very roots of Palestinian existence on this earth – the words of Mahmoud Darwish kept cycling through my brain “On this earth, there is what deserves a life”. How could the existence of these villagers, and their heritage here – a genuine representation of all Palestinian people – be denied or negated in the face of such blaring evidence? I stood as a proud witness of this evidence: terraced hillsides constituting an agricultural system as old as time; an irrigation system based on flooding and gravity and a Roman well in the center of the agricultural territory still in use to irrigate the land; a local mosque, so old that it was in fact built upon a church constructed by Constantine’s mother, Helena, during her trip to the Holy Land in the 4th century AD, and later converted into the local masjid; an ancient Roman burial ground within the village territory, upon which no buildings are erected.

Before we departed from the village we went to visit the community center being renovated with the help of the Methodist Church’s presence in Palestine. There was no talk of human rights violations here, as young men worked energetically, piling bricks and mixing cement to construct a new wall and window for better airflow through community building. My friend, who has been working with Wadi Foquin for several years, say there is a new energy in the town now as a number of the youth of the wadi have been elected to the community council and are helping to rejuvenate and bring awareness to Wadi Foquin, both locally and internationally.


Roman cistern still in use to irrigate agricultural land, farmer adjusting the water flow for his day’s turn to water his land

Farmer’s water cisterns, sometime mixed with manure to prevent settlers from trespassing and swimming in them

Continues settlement construction over Wadi Foquin

Welcome to Wadi Foquin

Burning Palestine

Chapel, University of Bethlehem

Burning Palestine

August 14th, 2013 // 8:26 PM

It keeps getting hotter and hotter, a little bit each day. I have always been a fan of the heat, especially when given a choice between summer heat and winter chill, but I have also never before tried to stay productive in such lazy-summer, nap inducing temperatures. Luckily, being a desert climate, it gets relatively cool here in the evenings. There is only about one month remaining in my stay here, and I can’t believe the time has passed so quickly. The past two weeks have been a blur – starting two new courses at the university, conducting research for my graduate studies, trying to get things settled for repainting the signboard in manger square, and trying to get other projects off the ground. This would be a lot normally, but doing this under Palestine’s August sun has been quite the challenge.

As a refresher, I spent an evening earlier this week with friends who were kind enough to share another wonderful, home cooked meal of Maqlube (literally meaning “upside down” for the way the dish of rice and chicken or lamb is flipped over onto a plate before serving). The dinner was followed by coffee, tea and dessert, while listening to amazing stories about various experiences growing up in Palestine, the most captivating coming from my friend’s mother, a young woman during the first intifada. It is evenings such as these which bring me back to myself, and what I am really doing here in Bethlehem. The stress of homework, research, and projects all fall away in the face of such a surreal-reality. “We were children who were forced to become men and women overnight,” she said. “As important as they [our actions] were, those of us who lived through it … we don’t want that for our children. The best way for them to fight for our freedom is through their education. They will go out into the world and show who we – the Palestinians – are.” And they will come back and build Palestine. Hearing her speak, this incredible women, who (just as an example) would sew Palestinian flags during the resistance – illegal and punished through imprisonment during the first intifada – I thought of Rafeef Ziadah in her poem, “We Teach Life, Sir” (

It’s very difficult to not feel the pressure of the sun above and the pressure of the walls around, especially now with the “peace talks,” which appear to mask further land confiscations for settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Yesterday’s release of 26 prisoners is bittersweet. Many Palestinians are not blind to this “benevolent” strategy used to appease not the Palestinians, but rather the remotely-cognisant international community, and yet another means of masking Israel’s ongoing transgressions in any peace proceedings. But just like at the end of the day, when the sun recedes and a cool breeze sneaks through the open window, the lingering hope remains that there will be an end to the sweltering heat, and that dusk is just a sunset away.

From Cremsain Valley to the Naqab

Land to be annexed by Israel in the Cremisan Valley, part of the Cremisan Winery, Salesian Convent

From Cremsain Valley to the Naqab

Land Seizures, Annexations & Violations of International Law

July 31st, 2013 // 3:55 PM

My mom started the long journey home yesterday, and so on Monday we planned our final day trip to Cremisan Winery for the last round of gifts. We hired the “family” taxi driver (whose service has been called on for two decades) to take us up to the hill tops of Beit Jala. As I looked over the valley I saw the wall curve into the cavern of the hill, forming and a long U-shape. This version of the wall was even stranger than usual, topped by a solid-canopy forming a tent-like enclosure ostensibly “protecting” Israelis from Palestinians.

Like so many villages throughout Palestine, Cremisan Valley has been the site of numerous protests against Israel’s annexation wall. Both the Salesian Sisters of Cremisan Convent and the Palestinians of Beit Jala will soon see their land annexed by the wall, which will separate more than 50 Palestinian families from their agricultural land (1) with only restricted access via an agricultural gate. These gates are controled by the Israeli authorities who often leave Palestinians waiting for hours before responding to requests for entrance, if responding at all. In addition, the the wall will separate the Salesian Convent from 75% of its land (2). The separation wall will, in fact, divide the the Salesian Convent’s territory in two parts, with the agricultural land and monastery in “Israel proper”, and the convent and primary school in the West Bank.

An appeal is being filled (after a seven year legal battle) of the recent ruling to construct the annexation wall in Cremisan Valley; however, as with many actions in Palestine, success often requires international attention and support to postpone often inevitable land seizures and violations of international law. (Petition to save Cremisan Valley:

To further demonstrate their authority in the face of popular resistance, Israeli forces raided the Cremisan Monastery in Bethlehem just this past Sunday, July 28th. As reported by the Independent Catholic News, “Witnesses told the Palestinian News and Info Agency (WAFA) that Israeli soldiers broke into the monastery, held the people who were inside, and inspected their personal documents. The raid has been condemned as a violation of the sanctity of places of worship, and a violation of international law.”(3)

As we drove up to Cremisan Winery, located on an uppermost hill top of Beit Jala, our taxi driver pulled momentarily to the side of the road as my mother pointed out the terraced slopes which have characterized the Palestinian landscape over countless centuries, and are now so quickly disappearing with the seizure of land and the lack of agricultural space. Our driver points out the farm at the bottom of the terraced slope. “This farm is completely cut off from the rest of Beit Jala by the wall. They have no electricity, and have to bring in their water supply by truck, which costs three times what it costs the Israeli settlers on the top of that hill over there. It’s hard for them to live here because they are cut off from everything, and are often threatened by settlers. But they live here still.”

Chances are that the separation wall will go up through Cremisan, and chances are that the Palestinian’s living in this territory will see their land annexed by Israel, and again their lives will be made more difficult. However, as the drivers said to me, “I am not scared of anything. I have been attacked by settlers three times. I was shot at by soldiers and had to run away and leave my car. In the siege of Bethlehem [in 2002] my entire house was destroyed. I am no longer scared. We lived here through all that, and we will continue living here. Inshallah, one day it won’t be like this.”

This is only one man’s story. And the story of Cremisan is the story of only one valley near Bethlehem. But this happens all over Palestine. Everyday. Tomorrow Palestinians and international activists will come together for the second time in the past month to protest the Prawer Plan, which intends to evict 50,000 Palestinian Bedouins from their land in the Naqab (Negev):

“On July 15, thousands of Palestinian citizens of Israel along with Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and regional refugee camps, held numerous demonstrations against the so-called Prawer Plan being advanced by the Israeli government. Protesters – including Palestinian Members of the Israeli Knesset, marched, blocked roads, and were violently dispersed by security services (including several arrests).This second ‘Day of Rage’ promises to be even bigger, as Palestinians assert their opposition to a plan condemned just this week by UN human rights chief Navi Pillay.” (3)

To read more:

(2) Ibid.
(3) Ibid.
Beit Jala farm and terraced field [farm in lower right corner]
Agricultural land belonging to the Cremisan Winery, Salesian Convent
Cremisan Winery

“Tourist Guide to the Occupation”


Updated “Tourist Guide to the Occupation” installed in Manger Square

“Tourist Guide to the Occupation”

July 27th, 2013 // 2:02 PM

The new “Tourist Guide to the Occupation” signboard is finally up in Manger Square in front of the Bethlehem Peace Center, across from the Church of the Nativity. We started redesigning the layout in January 2013, including additional languages (now in Arabic, English, French, German, and Italian, with Russian translations available inside the Peace Center), and now after several months we have the final product. The realization of the new signboard was the result of an all-round community effort, both in Bethlehem with help from the Mayor, Municipality, Bethlehem Peace Center, and numerous others, as well as in Sacramento from SacramentoBethlehem Sister City and its partners and friends.

Today’s installation of the poster was another example of the community effort and friendship that characterizes the Sacramento-Bethlehem relationship. When I went to unlock the glass door protecting the signboard this morning, and the key got stuck in the lock, I was immediately approached by helpful hands. The municipality came to the rescue with oil to loosen and open the lock. When I started clearing the glass, volunteers came quickly to assist from the Bethlehem Peace Center. When the printers came to install the new poster they were offered assistance and advice by passers by who had been around already helping with the lock and the clearing. Those in the square were quick to offer assistance, until what started as a one-woman job ended as a joint effort, concluding with all involved admiring their work.

The only remaining step is to repaint the exterior of the signboard. Next time you are in Bethlehem we hope you come visit, and be sure to point friends and family in our direction!





Between Bethlehem and Jerusalem

Image of the wall coming down between Bethlehem and Jerusalem

“Between Bethlehem and Jerusalem”

July 21st, 2013 // 7:53 PM

Matthew 10:14
“And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet.” ~ Jesus on Jerusalem (care of my mother)

We finally made it over to Jerusalem today. We drove past it on our first night here, however, since arriving in the confines of Bethlehem (including Beit Sahour and Beit Jala), and through the border crossing, I have been perfectly content with the amount of exploring Bethlehem has to offer. This is not to say that I don’t plan on exploring more of Palestine, but rather that as a natural homebody in a very homey atmosphere, I have slipped into my natural habits. In any case, everyday presents opportunities for small adventures, such as yesterday’s excursion to the Franciscan office in the Church of St. Catherine’s, where we were shown records for our family tribe stretching back to the 1600’s. Afterwards I was lucky enough to make an appointment with a local Bethlehemite professor to help guide me in graduate research I hope to commence here. I came home to a full afternoon of coloring with my niece and nephew, and by the time dinner was over I was ready to curl up in bed with a new book from the Bethlehem Peace Center.

But today was destined to be a different kind of day. Our friend (and taxi driver) picked us up in a hurry this morning, not wanting to be late for a relative’s baptism. As we were about to leave Bethlehem he received a call from his niece asking for a ride to Jerusalem, where her mother-in-law was in the hospital. At the border crossing our American passports caused no disturbance, however, her Palestinian papers caused the usual ruckus. I couldn’t see the soldiers faces as they stood up next to the car with only their torsos showing, and the large weapons strapped over their shoulders. Three soldiers questioned our friend through the driver’s window regarding the Palestinian girl’s presence in the car. He eventually got us through, assuring them that he would have taken the other road [e.g the longer, non-Israeli road] but he only picked her up on the way, and his rush to get her to the hospital was the only reason he brought her this route. After some more hassling we were allowed through, my mom insisting in her clear American accent, “The poor girl needs to get to the hospital!”

We arrived in Jerusalem almost immediately. Now writing from my bed, the distance between Bethlehem and Jerusalem feels like it must be hundreds of miles. The most marked difference upon entering the city limit was the immediate lack of Arabic signage (apart from the roadsigns in Hebrew, English and Arabic). I have become accustomed to the Arabic, or Latin-letter-Arabic, which lines the streets of Bethlehem. I saw a soldier running to catch the bus with the signature gun strapped to his back. I saw many people of various faiths, and yet it seemed obvious that power, not faith, is the dividing force here. We entered through Lion’s Gate into the old city, directly into the heart of the “suq”, which seemed to branch out in all directions across the old city. We made it to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, however, were unable to visit Dome of the Rock due to the time of day we had arrived. The “suq” was fun but exhausting. The presence of Israeli soldiers, on the other hand, (even guarding the entrance of Al-Aqsa and Dome of the Rock) was just exhausting. The tension inside the walls was palpable, and I dare say it is the same outside them in East Jerusalem, where Palestinians are being pushed out of their homes almost daily by “legal decree” so as to make room for new settler housing.

What I tried to reason through on the way home in the bus from Jerusalem was why I am capable of feeling so energetic in Bethlehem and not in Jerusalem. The occupation is ever present here as well, whether it is due to lack of water, the threat of enclosure at the border or, most prominently, the ever encroaching settlement’s like Abu Ghuneim, just to name one of the many tightening borders (via construction) in this area. However, one can not underestimate the physical embodiment of colonialism and occupation as represented by the Israeli soldier and his gun. The wall can be re-appropriated through paint; the soldier and the settler can not.

The bus let us off at the border crossing at the Wall and we walked through the narrow gated passages, numerous turn-style doors, and corridors to the other side: Bethlehem. Home. Numerous taxis wait on the other side of the wall to drive incoming Bethlehemites and visitors to their destinations; however, invigorated by our return home my mother and I walked the short distance back to the house. Walking along the Wall, I couldn’t help snapping a few more photos of what has become an iconic symbol of Palestinian resistance. One restaurant, “The Wall Steakhouse” has painted a large white square, manufacturing a concrete screen where they project soccer games. Another store has set up a “Banksy Cafe” near a site of one of the Banksy murals. In Palestine invention is often the byproduct of resistance. “Samud” does not only mean “steadfastness,” but also perseverance. I’m more than certain this all exists in East Jerusalem as well. But maybe Bethlehem is just in my blood. In my roots. I belong here.

“Thirsting for Justice” campaign near you!

Palestinian vs. Israeli water use and access

“Thirsting for Justice”

July 19th, 2013 // 3:38 PM

This past Tuesday night I went to the Alternative Information Center, AIC Cafe ( for the first time. This venue, for international, Palestinian, and Israeli activists, is engaged in disseminating information about the occupation, and puts on weekly talks and events. I have been meaning to it check since I arrived (better late than never!).

Tuesday evening’s talk with Nadi Farraj addressed the the impact of the Oslo agreements on water access, particularly with regards to Israeli water confiscation and Palestinian water consumption. Mr. Farraj worked with the Thirsting for Justice campaign ( to help farmers and herders in Area C to construct wells (which is illegal under Israeli law) to sustain their families and livestock. Their wells have been destroyed by settlers and the government repeatedly, however, in another example of Palestinian “samud” (steadfastness) they continue to build and rebuild.

For more information about Thirsting for Justice (and how to organize a presentation) visit:

Some important facts….

Under International Law

“Under international law it is illegal for Israel to expropriate the water of the Occupied Palestinian Territories for use by its own citizens, and doubly illegal to expropriate it for use by illegal Israeli settlers.” [ (November 2003)].

The Truth about the Wall

“Many of the most important underground wellsprings in the West Bank are located just to the east of the Green Line dividing Israel from Palestine. Israel has built the Wall not only to annex land but also to annex many of these wells in order to divert water to Israel and illegal West Bank settlements.” [ (July 2013)]

Average Palestinian vs. Israeli water consumption

“Average Palestinian daily consumption of water is about 70 liters per person, well below the 100 liters recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) to cover domestic and public service needs. In contrast, the average Israeli daily per capita consumption is about four times the Palestinian average (300 liters)[ii]. This is in contrast to European levels where for example the average daily water consumption in the UK is 149 liters per person while in France it is 287 liters per person[iii]. [ (July 2013)]

Who “Owns” the Water?

Israeli policies and practices limit Palestinians’ access to the water they are entitled to under international law. Israel controls all sources of freshwater in the West Bank. Palestinians are only allowed, according to the Oslo Accords, to take 20 percent of the “estimated potential” of the Mountain Aquifer underneath the West Bank; Israel extracts the balance[iv]. As a result, Palestinians in the West Bank are forced to purchase over half of their water from Israel. Israel takes this water from the Mountain Aquifer over which Palestinians have rights to an equitable share[v].

In Gaza, 90 to 95 percent of the Coastal Aquifer, on which Gaza inhabitants are dependent for water, is contaminated due to over extraction and sewage contamination, making it unfit for human consumption. Palestinians in Gaza have hardly any other sources of water available to them. The aquifer is depleted and in danger of collapse[vi]. Restrictions imposed by Israel as part of its ongoing blockade make the rehabilitation of the aquifer and the search for alternatives extremely difficult. Palestinians in Gaza are not allowed to access water from the Mountain Aquifer. Israel also limits the entry of construction materials for construction, repair and rehabilitation of infrastructure that would allow for improved water management. Mass desalination of seawater as an alternative is too costly and unsustainable within the current context given frequent electricity shortages in Gaza associated with Israel’s blockade. [ (July 2013)]

For more information about Thirsting for Justice (and how to organize a presentation) visit:

No Time for Injustice

“Banksy-homage” on the Separation Wall, Bethlehem

No Time for Injustice

July 16th, 2013 // 3:38 PM

How is it possible that another week has gone by so quickly, even though everyday feels like three. Even the simple past-time of playing referee as my niece and nephew jump on the bed, or running down the steps to the corner-store, or sitting down to read in the rare moments of lucidity are more potent. The best moments are like the produce here – smaller, but much sweeter. But there are also so many reasons to start feeling desperate.

This week: George Zimmerman’s not-guilty verdict was released for the murder of Trayvon Martin, from a “justice” system that works in favor of the fear-mongering, waning white majority, alive and well in both the United State and Israel; Israel is in the process of legalizing forced feeding to detainees on hunger strike, like the US performs in Guantanamo; Israel’s suspected attack on Syria at the beginning of July was confirmed, and another suspected this week, reflecting an approach and mentality much like that of the US in the Middle East, somehow above international reprimand; and yesterday, massive demonstrations in Palestine against Israel’s Prawer Plan, which passed in parliament in early June and threatens to confiscate 1,000 square meters of Palestinian Bedouin land and expel between 30,000 – 50,000 from their homes.

There are so many reasons to feel hopeless, and yet here I constantly come across people filled with hope. This evening I was invited to dinner in the garden of new friends. Abu Sami showed me proudly around his plot of land, where he grows everything from pomegranates and figs, to tomatoes and zucchini, and guided me back to visit his goats. Abu and Imm Sami, his wife, whom he doted on throughout the evening, sat us down for an organic meal of taboulleh (the parsley and tomatoes coming from their garden), pickled eggplant and cucumbers also from their garden, home made bread, and even organic wine made by Abu Sami himself. Sitting us down for a massive meal that he demand we consume in its entirety, Abu Sami joked that he was crazy, but that Palestine was a place only for crazy people. His joy was effusive, and even boosted the low spirits of my friend and her husband. Imm Sami said, “Please, eat more. You hardly ate anything,” with the reply, “It’s our spirits that need nourishing, not our stomachs.”

My friend and her husband, a Palestinian, met and were married more than twenty years ago and lived for many years in the United State. Some years ago they moved back to Palestine, however in that time their application for family reunification status has not been granted by the Israeli government. Now my friend’s visa is about to expire, and she is terrified to leave the country to renew it as she may not be permitted re-entry. These kinds of restrictions on movement affect not only the Palestinians themselves, but those with familial and emotional ties to Palestine. These tactics of intimidation and control not only cut off Palestinians from their loved ones in and outside of the country, but attempt to limit and obscure the Palestinian voice from reaching outside its parameters (primarily, to the “western world” with whom the Israeli government is most concerned).

Nonetheless, Palestinian voices and those who accompany them are being heard (although the end results are still to be seen): Today, the Israeli government responded with frustration to the European Union’s ban of EU cooperation with Israeli institutions operating in illegally seized, occupied Palestinian territory.

For more information about BDS (Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions):

Water rights, water wrongs


Water Rights, Water Wrongs

July 13th, 2013 // 10:17 PM

The dreaded day finally arrived. We ran out of water (and I don’t mean bottled water). We have been very lucky so far. There is a shared well (controlled by an electric water pump) which the four surrounding houses use, not to mention their relatives and friends, from which we get our fresh drinking water. As for running water for washing dishes, showers, washing, etc., this all comes from the cisterns on top of each home. The West Bank has no direct water access, and the issue of water rights is of course a critical problem here. Even knowing this, however, we weren’t as careful with our water consumption as we should have been. Therefore, on Wednesday morning when only a weak trickle came out of the shower faucet, it was time for me to tie my hair back into a tight bun, rather than washing it, and go next door to my aunt’s doorstep to confess water abuse. “This is our problem here,” said my aunt apologetically. “Every summer it’s like this with the water. We always run out and have to be very careful,” and she repeats, “this is our problem here,” as if she has something to be ashamed of for there not being water. I ask naively, “when will the next shipment of water come?” even though I know the answer – no one knows. “It could be a day, it could be a week, it could be a month.” It costs about 100 US dollars to fill the cistern, but besides the cost, the real problem is that there is no certainty when it will arrive.

The gap in water consumption between Israelis and Palestinians is a well documented problem followed by human rights organizations, such as B’tselem, which provide specific statistics. For a broad understanding of the consumption ration, B’tselem reports that the “per capita use in Israel is three and a half times higher than in the West Bank” (for more information visit This means that the majority of water goes to Israeli-proper and the settlements (statistics as high as 80%), and what remains goes to the West Bank and Gaza.

This time we are lucky – my uncle is able to share half of his cistern with us. I can hear the water pump refilling our tank, and his feet treading across the flat roof between his house and ours. My aunt reiterates, “we must be very careful,” and by “we” she means “me.” We’re both embarrassed, her as the host, and me as the guest. I promise her to be very careful, and she tells me to please not worry, and that surely the water will come soon. This morning as I left the house I looked up to the large, rectangular cistern on top of the house, as through seeing it for the first time. I imagine it being shot through by a bullet as I have seen in videos and read online.

The Right of Return

Palestinian olive wood sculptor, Beit Sahour

The Right of Return

July 6th, 2013 // 5:06 PM

My uncle knocked on the door early Saturday morning ready to take my mother and I to Beit Sahour for a special “behind the scenes” tour of several olive wood and mother of pearl workshops. When my aunt and uncle discussed this outing last night they used the word masna’ (factory), so I was expecting something quite different when we pulled up to the small hillside home. The owner of the workshop pulled up beside us in a brown Volkswagen Bug and walked us down to his one room workshop containing various hands tools, a workbench, a professional sander and saw, and stacks of finished and unfinished pieces. He brought us coffee (which I drank too quickly, terrified I would spill it on something) while we browsed and debated over gift options. After picking out several gifts (and some mementos) the Beit Sahour carpenter offered to give us a brief demonstration. Within minutes he had turned a flat piece of olive wood into the perfect figurine of a donkey (“khimaar”). The donkey, he said, was the faithful companion of Jesus in all places he went from Jerusalem to Egypt.

Breaking the tranquil moment, I added that “khimaara” was the first Arabic word (or scolding) I learned from my father (true story). The laugh this incited in the wood carver was gift enough, but as a special bonus he included the “khimaar” as a keepsake. Many pilgrims come back from Bethlehem with tokens of their faith. I’m coming back with a donkey.

The next shop was filled from the ground to the ceiling with exceptional olive wood and mother of pearl figurines, statues, plates, and prayer beads to name a few. I finally found an Arabic Bible, something I have had little luck with in the United States. After purchasing our second round of gifts, we headed to the third workshop. This workshop was pulled back from the road, and protected by a walkway fashioned from piles of olive wood. Here three men worked on their own machines, on their various projects. I wondered how many more workshops like these must be scattered around the hillsides. And how many generations back they had been working this profession.

In the evening my family and I attended a special event welcoming expatriates back to Palestine, young and old, at the Arab Women’s Union located down the hill from Bethlehem University. The event was filled with music (a fully equipped youth orchestra), a traditional Palestinian dance troop, and as the final act, the members of the Arab Women’s Union each in their “thobe btelhami” (traditional Palestinian dress) singing traditional and not so traditional songs (such as ‘Blowing in the Wind’ in both English and Arabic).

So, given all the tourist outings this past weekend one might think it would be impossible for me to pick my favorite. But, alas, the best part was Sunday morning spent with my niece and nephew. Sneaking into our kitchen to find us eating cereal we couldn’t help but feed their tummies and their curiosity. Along with cereal we watched “iftah ya semsem” (Sesame Street), “al-sanafer” (The Smurfs) and “tuum u jiirii” (Tom & Jerry). I got to try out my Arabic on their little ears (the true test of my progression). Finally, when their mom took them away, scared that my mother and I weren’t getting our own work done, my nephew slipped a picture of us under the front door like a fugitive passing furtive messages. It’s hard to believe that two weeks ago this was all unknown to me. For me, this brings a whole knew meaning to the right of return.