Sunday, November 8, 2009

Jenin Harvest Days

On Friday, I went to Jenin and got slapped in the face.

It was a nice, sunny day and Tarek and I got in the car in the morning after a breakfast of foul and hummus with his mom and dad (don't tell them, because officially we went to Bethlehem to visit some friends... Jenin isn't considered to be one of the safer areas in Palestine).

We drove through olive tree valleys and cypress dotted hills, past two groups of Israeli settlers escorted by Israeli military and intelligence--I don't know, scouting out the landscape or whatever. We swished past checkpoints (anybody stupid enough to go north isn't worth checking), passed through Nablus, and went all the way to Berqin.

Palestine is beautiful.

In Berqin, a small village in the Jenin area, we pull up in front of Nasser Abufarha's new olive oil pressing facility for Canaan Fair Trade. I've written about Canaan before--the company that exports Fair Trade and organic olive oil from the ancient land of Palestine. The new facility looks great--the showroom is fantastic.

Mahmoud is there. Mohamed is there. Ahmed is there, with his little baby boy. Nasser is there, of course, but is too busy with all the foreign tourists that has come to get a tour of the olive presses. A bunch of farmers and farmers' wives I recognize from last summer when I interned there are there.

And Abir is there. With two of her sisters.

She kisses me, says welcome back and goes, "Remember her name?" in Arabic and points at one of her sisters.

I realize I don't actually remember her name, and ashamedly admit that I don't.

And that's when I get slapped. Or smacked, actually. Before I can even comprehend what Abir is doing, she smacks me right in the face for having forgotten her sister's name. Not a cute friendly slap, but a real, hard smack right in the face.

True to my spineless nature, I don't do anything but hide my shock and act as if everything is very normal. Abir and I keep talking. She finds out I've been in Palestine for three weeks, and goes:

"You've been back for three weeks and you didn't come to Faqo'a?!" and smacks me in the face again.

I say I'm sorry.

Is this what they call tough love?

Foreigners, mostly women in odd hippie clothes, sit under olive trees and around fires and drink sweet tea that farmers made for them.

Under one tree, a few men are conducting their afternoon prayers. Another man talks on his cell phone.

It's nice to see people again, but I feel a little disconnected. Not sure if it's me, or if it's because I live in Ramallah now, and I brought my boyfriend and I won't stay the night and I don't accept invitations to come to Faqo'a after the harvest event, and they all think I changed or got stuck up or something. Not sure.

Tarek isn't very excited about being in Jenin at all, being the city boy he is, and wants to leave before it gets dark. After all, we have more than two hours to drive. Way more than two hours, because on the way south again, we get stuck in checkpoint traffic at every single checkpoint.

Palestine is beautiful, but sometimes it requires quite a lot of patience to experience it.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Living Under Occupation

On the road from Ramallah to Khalil (Hebron), I sit sleepily and watch the world go by outside the taxi window. It's a cloudy, chilly day and the colors are dull. It is easy to forget that you live in a land that is under occupation when you stay in Ramallah for a week or longer, but the checkpoints and the separation wall cutting through the landscape bring you back to the political reality of the situation.

I sit and think.

A friend of mine from the states and his mom were held at Tel Aviv airport for eight hours the other day. They threatened him with a gun. Because he has previously been in the north of the West Bank? Yes. Eventually they let them enter Israel, but they kept their luggage for three days.

I look out the taxi window and see the Wall, gray and concrete-y, tower up against the sky.

In Jerusalem, Palestinian families keep getting forced out of their homes by Jewish settlers. About 30 settlers entered the home of the Al-Kurd family in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, threw out their furniture on the street below, and now refuse to leave. Meanwhile, Israeli police is blocking members of the Al-Kurd family from entering their own home.

We get to one of the checkpoints along the way. We pass through without having to show our identity cards or passports, round the bend in the road and come out on the other side of the mountain top. The road is packed--completely jammed with cars going in the opposite direction.

For something like two or maybe three kilometers, there are cars and cars and cars. It's eight o'clock in the morning, people are going to work, to school, and Israel is blocking the checkpoint. We get stuck in the traffic jam as well, even though we are going in the opposite direction.

I sit at my boyfriend's house one evening, and we see a light down in the valley. He says:

"See that light? That's an Israeli jeep."

"How do you know?" I say.

He goes, "Because it's a settler-only road." Palestinians aren't allowed to use it.

We drive on through the West Bank landscape, down towards Al-Khalil. I keep looking out the taxi window, and in the distance, lower down in a valley, there's the concrete wall. I look at it. And think:

It doesn't look much from above. It really doesn't look much from above in a landscape that's seen thousands of years of human history. A temporary human construction in some kind of a vain attempt to control a land that is only yours because you took it by force. But nothing ever lasts, and neither shall this concrete wall.

But of course, for now it confines Palestinians behind it; restricts them; controls their lives.

A friend of mine has been homeless since the beginning of the year because they finished the construction of the Wall in his village, and his house is now on the Jerusalem side. His wife and children have Jerusalem identity cards and can stay in the house, but since my friend is a West Bank resident he had to leave his house. He gets to visit his wife and children five times per every three months, but he must return to the West Bank before 7 pm every day he goes to see them. In other words, he can't even sleep in his own house.

And why doesn't his wife and children come and stay in Ramallah with him? Because they stand to lose their Jerusalem identity cards if they do.

I keep looking out the taxi window. Pass road signs with the Arabic village names sprayed over by Jewish settlers who aim to eradicate every last claim Palestinians have to their own homeland.