Sunday, September 26, 2010

End of What Settlement Moratorium?

Today is the last day of Israel's alleged moratorium on settlement expansion in the West Bank, and everybody is wondering whether the renewed peace talks will break down if Israel fails to extend the settlement freeze.

Meanwhile, I still ask myself what settlement freeze we're talking about? They call it partial, I know, but this is because Israel has excluded East Jerusalem from the construction ban, and not because in reality construction in many settlements around the West Bank has continued throughout this 10-month "ban".

Only yesterday, we took this picture on our way to Nablus. The white barracks are temporary dwellings; the gray concrete constructions are new houses being built on occupied Palestinian territory.

Just so you know.

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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Land of Olives

I don't have much to say but this:

The olive harvest is coming up and the olive trees of Palestine are insanely beautiful right now. Some with olives of green, some with frosty dark purple, and some with olives that are just beginning to blush.


Isn't that gorgeous?

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Monday, September 20, 2010

The Last Palestinian Scarf

This whole blog post is dedicated to Herbawi Texteal Factory in Al-Khalil.


For the simple reason that it is sad and a little heartbreaking that the last factory in Palestine that produces the hatta, or the Palestinian scarf that Yasser Arafat made world famous back in his revolutionary days, is going out of business.

Old Herbawi works six machines this week. Six out of the 16 that used to weave kilometer after kilometer of the famous black and white (or the Jordanian-style red and white) fabric under ear-defening jingling, metallic clamor in the 1990s.

Two months ago, he only had two machines going, so even though this month is a little bit better, the future of Herbawi's factory still looks bleak. Because people would rather pay 10 or 15 shekels for a cheap polyester "Palestinian" hatta made in China, than 35 or 40 for a 100 % cotton hatta made in Palestine.

So who knows when Herbawi's six running machines will be two again? And when two machines will be one? Or when the whole factory will go quiet?

The day when the last Palestinian scarf will be cut, hemmed and packed will come soon, and will not only be the end of a family business, but of a Palestinian tradition that became a national symbol and the very hallmark of the Palestinian revolution. 

This day will come unless people start buying Palestinian again.

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The Swedish Election and Racism

Two weeks ago, I passed through military checkpoints that separate Palestinians from Jews and other Palestinians, to  go and vote in the Swedish general  election at the Swedish Consulate in Jerusalem.

I did so because it is my duty as a citizen of a democratic country and because it is a way of making my voice heard.

But mostly, I went and voted because I was afraid that the extreme-right, anti-immigrant party, the Sweden Democrats, would win too many seats in the Riksdag if I didn't vote.

At the same time, I didn't really believe that the Sweden Democrats would pass the 4 % threshold and get actual seats in the Riksdag.

I mean, come on. We've been criticizing the Danish, the French, the Austrian, the Australians... all other countries who have voted for anti-immigrant, racist parties in large numbers in recent years. And anyway, the Sweden Democrats always loom in the background in our general elections as a potential threat to our open-minded society, but they never really reach 4 % of the Swedish votes. Why would they this year?

Well, this morning, sitting in a taxi on my way to a meeting in Tel Aviv, my taxi driver was listening to the news in Hebrew and suddenly I hear "Fredrik Reinfeldt" and something like "parliament" and other words I have no idea what they meant.

I asked for a translation, and the taxi driver said that the four ruling parties had gotten 172 seats in the Riksdag, the opposition parties 157. And the Sweden Democrats had won 20 seats.

20 seats.

That means that 5.7 % of the citizens of my home country voted for racists to partake in the governance of our country.

Living under occupation of, if not the most, then one of the most institutional racist countries in the world, this makes me wonder.

What makes people think that we will somehow build better societies by separating people based on where they were born? Or where their parents were born? Or what they choose as their religion? Or what their parents or grand parents once chose as their religion?

Who wakes up a happier person knowing that there are families with less rights and less privileges than you? Who feels more at peace with themselves with concrete walls, electric fences--legal, social, or physical as in the case of Israel--separating themselves from their neighbors?

Seriously, Sweden. Do you know what road you have turned onto?

It is one thing when people are racist, but something very different when racism becomes legitimate through a political mandate.

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Saturday, September 18, 2010

Even God is Angry

We woke up to a cloudy, gray day and got ready to go visit the Old City of Jerusalem.

Going anywhere here requires effort and usually quite a substantial amount of planning.

Originally, we had planned to rent a car and go to Akka and Nazareth in the north of Israel. It was the perfect opportunity: Tarek has a two-week permit to go to Israel (and annexed Palestinian areas), without which we can't cross Qalandia checkpoint between Ramallah and Jerusalem. Our new intern and friend, Moni, has a driver's license--I don't, and Tarek is not allowed to drive in Israel because he has a West Bank ID.

Why we wanted to rent a car instead of taking Tarek's car? Because no one--Palestinian or not--is allowed to drive a car with a Palestinian license plate through Qalandia checkpoint, nor inside Israel.

We thought we had planned everything perfectly.

But then we were reminded that Yom Kippur started today, and everything in Israel closes during the Jewish holidays.

So we decided to postpone the trip to the North until next weekend and go to the Old City in Jerusalem today. The Muslim and Christian neighborhoods don't close during Yom Kippur.

But then, Tarek's Mom reminded us that Israel imposes closures on the West Bank during Jewish holidays (for "security reasons" I assume). Closures mean that nobody with a green ID--the West Bank ID--is allowed to cross any of the checkpoints into Israel.

Tarek checked his permit, and because it has been issued for work purposes (meetings in Jerusalem), it says that it is valid even during closures.

So we went, Tarek, Moni, Ahmed from the office, and I.

Qalandia checkpoint was empty, even though Fridays are usually among the busiest days because everybody who has a permit (and is let through) goes to Jerusalem to attend the Friday prayers at Al-Aqsa.

We let Tarek try to go through first. Not very surprisingly, they wouldn't let him pass. He tried pointing out that his permit is supposed to be valid even during closures, but the soldiers behind the window didn't really care.

Again, we weren't very surprised.

We went and sat in the car while Tarek called the Israeli authorities to ask why he wasn't let through even though his permit is valid.

The lady answered that it is because of the closure.

Tarek said that his permit says it is valid even during closures.

The lady said that yes, she knows, but he still can't pass.

Tarek asked why. The lady said she couldn't explain in English.


Outside, the soldier up in the watch tower barked out orders to people in Israeli-licensed cars in broken Arabic.

"Stop there!"

A Watch Tower at Qalandia

We sighed a little, but neither the weather nor any Israeli closure would dampen our mood. We changed our travel plans a third time and turned to go to Al-Khalil in the south of the West Bank instead.

The way to Al-Khalil is long and sometimes a little treacherous as it winds up and down dangerously steep hills. And by "the way to Al-Khalil" I mean the way Palestinians are allowed to take (we're not allowed to take the much shorter road through Jerusalem, but have to drive around the whole city instead).

At one point, the road led us halfway up a hill, only to stop us at a dirt and rock mound that he Israeli military had dumped in the middle as a makeshift roadblock for reasons left unexplained.

We turned back and took a detour around the hill. Driving past Israeli settlements--the roads unusually full of military jeeps because of the Jewish holiday (I suppose)--Tarek motioned to the gray sky and said,

"Look, even God is angry at the Jews today."

Once in Al-Khalil, we visited the Herbawi Factory for Palestinian scarves (but I will write about this factory in another blog post), bought Khalili ceramics at the ceramics factory, and visited the Old City that the Jewish settlers are trying to take over by way of military force and harassment.

The Old City is dismally empty and quiet, like a ghost town. Palestinians can't keep their shops open and streets are closed off for exclusive use by settlers (I've written about this before here and here).

A small Palestinian boy ran up to us with a water gun and began to spray in our direction. He stopped nicely to have his picture taken.

Palestinian Boy with Water Gun

A grandmother invited us in for tea at her small shop that she keeps open in spite of it all. She already had two guests--two observers from TIPH, the international civilian observer mission in Al-Khalil that monitors human rights breaches and reports from the military checkpoints in the city.

Drinking Tea at One of the Very Few Shops that Remain Open

We discussed the situation and drank sweet tea from plastic cups. The grandmother's grand daughter tried on scarves from the store, and a small boy sat and played with a plastic gun and listened to the conversation, half in Arabic, half in English. The low, domed ceiling of the small room was covered with canvas. Nobody walked past on the narrow street outside.

The TIPH observers advised us to hurry and drink up if we wanted to visit the Ibrahimi Mosque before the Israeli military closed off the whole area for the settlers, because we don't want to risk getting caught in a crowd of settlers.

We thanked the grandmother for her hospitality, and walked down the empty streets, through the checkpoint, and to the Ibrahimi Mosque.

A few Palestinian boys followed us.

It's Friday today, and on Fridays only Muslims are allowed inside the Mosque. Tarek waited with non-Muslim me outside while Ahmed and Moni went inside. We sat on chairs that the Palestinian mosque guard put out for us.

The guard stayed with us and talked about the settlers. They would come out after an hour or so, he said, escorted by the military as always, on the eve of their Yom Kippur. Normally they come out to stir up problems on their holidays, but Yom Kippur is their Day of Atonement--the time of the year when they are expected to ask for forgiveness from God. The guard didn't expect them to do anything too bad today.

But he and Tarek were doubtful anyway whether any God could forgive them for what they are doing.

(What is it that they are doing? They set fire to Palestinian houses, break into their homes, harass them on their streets, take over their neighborhoods, throw stones at people and threaten with guns, and then camp on the lawn outside the Ibrahimi Mosque as if everything is perfectly normal).

Israeli Settlers Camp Outside the Ibrahimi Mosque, on the Side They Have Occupied

We walked on down to the Shuhada Street where the Israeli army has closed down (and welded shut the metal doors to) all Palestinian shops, and set up a military checkpoint with soldiers that keep all Muslim Palestinians off the street (Christian Palestinians can still go sometimes).

A small Palestinian boy joined us, or sort of decided that he wanted to escort us there. The soldiers thought Tarek is a foreigner and let him through. Ahmed was not allowed. We took a few steps on Shuhada Street.

I felt uncomfortable.

The boy tried to catch my attention, still standing behind the crush barrier that separates the settlers from the Palestinians, and I walked up to him.

"Tehkeesh arabi," he told me under his breath. Don't speak Arabic.

He doesn't want me to get into trouble.

Settlers, with their black pants, white shirts, their curls and kippas, walked on one side of the concrete barrier that leaves a narrow strip of the street for Palestinians to be able to access a street a little further down. The Palestinian kids who have followed us for some time leaned on the road blocks and observed.

Separation. Soldiers.

Soldiers, Settlers and Palestinian Boys on Shuhada Street

It was getting late, the settlers would come out soon. We walked back, told the grandmother to close the shop because the settlers would come.

She nodded.

I smiled at her and something broke inside of me. All the humiliation, the anger, the sorrow that I had collected during the day just somehow turned into tears, and I tried to walk faster to get away from it.

The sky was still gray, and if God gets angry then I suppose Tarek was right about today.

Even God is angry at the Israelis.

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Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Confessions from Palestine

We have a new intern in our office in Ramallah - Moni from Sweden - and even though she's fabulous in every way and we all love her already, I'm afraid she has a bad influence on me.

Or I on her? Whatever, this is what happened:

We went to Al-Khalil (Hebron) in the south today to hold a focus group meeting in preparation for a new youth project that we have. In Al-Khalil everybody is very traditional and fasts during Ramadan (not like in Ramallah where some people fast some days of Ramadan).

That meant no eating or drinking during the whole 3 hour focus group meeting (that was incidentally held in the Middle East afternoon heat, at lunch time after a looong drive from Ramallah,).

A little low on blood sugar, then, Moni and I went out and talked under the grapevine pergola outside the meeting room during the break, and sort of kind of maybe filched a grape or two.

In our defense (not against filching, but against breaking Ramadan code), we didn't eat them until we were in the car, and even then we tried to be discreet.

A poem by William Carlos Williams comes to my mind:

This Is Just To Say

I have eaten

the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

Anyway, it gets worse: after the event, Moni and I wandered off the youth center grounds, led by the sweet, coconutty scent of the fig trees surrounding it, and again, I think we may have maybe sort of filched a couple of figs as well.

It doesn't end there. On the way back, Moni, Tarek and our colleague Ahmed and I snuck into a Christian hummus and falafel place in Bethlehem while our General Director had a short meeting close by, and ate hummus and falafel and drank water and soda.


In the middle of the day, during Ramadan.

Forgive us
It was delicious

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Friday, September 3, 2010

We Have No Water

It's Friday morning, and we have no water. I'm assuming that there was some kind of problem the last time Israel delivered water to Ramallah, but I have no idea exactly what has happened.

We normally get water on Wednesday evenings, when Israel opens the water pipes to Ramallah to fill the water containers on our rooftops, then maybe on Friday (I'm hoping soon!), and then I'm not sure how much more water we get in Ramallah.

Normally we're okay, because we have extra water containers on the rooftop that serve as a reserve. It costs extra, but it's money you're glad to pay if it gives you access to water every day of the week.

The black plastic containers where Palestine keeps its water rations, waiting for proper water infrastructure

But this week something is obviously wrong. There's no water coming out of the faucets, no water in the toilets. Nor for the washing machine, nor, obviously, the shower.

Let me here quote some passages from Amnesty International's report on water access in the occupied Palestinian territories:
"Israel allows the Palestinians access to only a fraction of the shared water resources, which lie mostly in the occupied West Bank, while the unlawful Israeli settlements there receive virtually unlimited supplies." 
We in the West Bank, for instance, have the Mountain Aquifer as our only source of water. We are permitted to use about 20 % of this water. Israel, who has access to several additional water sources, uses 80 % of this water.
"While Palestinian daily water consumption barely reaches 70 litres a day per person, Israeli daily consumption is more than 300 litres per day, four times as much."
Illegal Israeli settlement, without a single black water container on the rooftops. They are connected to the Israeli water network.

As many as 200,000 Palestinians who live in rural communities have no access at all to running water:
"...Palestinian villagers are continuously struggling to find enough water for their basic needs, as the Israeli army often destroys their rainwater harvesting cisterns and confiscates their water tankers. 
In contrast, Israeli settlers, who live in the West Bank in violation of international law, have intensive-irrigation farms, lush gardens and swimming pools."
Makes you pissed of, doesn't it?

And to make matters worse, like I said, the water resources are mostly located in occupied Palestinian lands. But if you as, say a farmer in the West Bank (Palestinian of course, because Jewish farmers have all the water they want), want to access the water under ground to water your crops, you can't just start drilling. Because Israel
"has also imposed a complex system of permits which the Palestinians must obtain from the Israeli army and other authorities in order to carry out water-related projects in the OPT. Applications for such permits are often rejected or subject to long delays."
When Libby, the American intern who was in our office for a couple of months this summer, went to the Jordan Valley to see with her own eyes Israel's house demolitions and destruction of Palestinian Beduin villages, her car was stopped on the road by a small boy of maybe 12 years, waving his arms desperately. Panting, he asked for any water they could spare.

Libby gave him her plastic bottle of water, the only water they had in the car.

If small boys go thirsty when their settler neighbors have swimming pools, there is something very wrong with the state of the world.

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