birdsongs

October 10, 2007

Inside a small Nablus grocery store, hours after Iftar, the store-owner stands smiling and chatting with neighbours.

Extraordinary chirps spring from various birdcages around the store’s top shelves. “In Arabic we call them ‘canar’,” Zafer explains. “Always, the male, he sings, so beautiful. The woman, she never sings.

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He proceeds to describe the different birds he has kept over the years. “I’ve had birds for twenty years. One time every year, for one month, these birds change their feathers. They don’t sing during that time. Otherwise, they always sing. The nest, the woman bird makes it in two days. I could look at it for 100 years—it is amazing.

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The store owner is maybe in his fifties, and is wearing the more traditional robes that many don during Ramadan. Another older man smiles in the background and seizes the chance to speak when the first man pauses. “Sport?” he asks, pointing at my track pants. I explain they are comfortable and were given to me. He asks my pants’ size and beckons me to the back of the store where he has a pile of jeans, new. He wants me to take one, two pairs.

Zafer joins us at the back and begins pointing at, then opening, the freezers and boxes at the back. “This one is fish, this is chicken.” He takes me into a store room a bit further back and beings opening more boxes, from the rows filling the room: “This is sugar, olive oil, tea, coffee, rice, salt…

As he lists off the essential food ingredients, he pulls out a piece of paper, in Arabic, and explains: “every year, one rich man gives all this to the poor people of the area. Each box is worth about 180 shekels. Every year he asks me, ‘How many poor families are there this year?’ and writes me a check for the families. This year there are 30 in our neighbourhood, and 200 overall in areas around Nablus.  We have food for 200 families.

Each family receives 5 kilos of sugar, 5 kilos of rice, 1 kilo of tea, 2 cans of tomato paste (from Italy!), 1 450g container of tahini, 2 large packages of dates…The list goes on: halwa, chickpeas, corn oil,1 kilo of meats, 2 kilos of fish…

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My host explains that at Ramadan, every person becomes equal.  Looking at a Ramadan for Dummies sort of website later, I read that the month of Ramadan is a time of self-reflection, among other things, to focus on one’s spirituality but also on one’s relation to others:

Allah will say, ‘Back in the world, your neighbor at one time was hungry and sick but you failed to tend for him. If you had fed him and looked after him in his time of need, it would have been as if you were feeding Me.’ It will only be then that this man will realize the tremendous reward of empathy towards his fellow human beings. Today the worst feuds occur between neighbors because people remain ignorant of the rights of neighbors.Among the lessons of good character that the Messenger of Allah brought is good will and etiquette towards one’s neighbor. This is something that has been relatively forgotten nowadays.Living as brothers and sisters and as neighbors has become virtually alien to us, but we need to remember that neighbors are merely a mirror image of ourselves.”

The true purpose of fasting is to value the tremendous blessings of Allah and realize that a large percentage of people in the world do not have what we take for granted every day.Time and again I have seen these values put into practice during my time here in Palestine.

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September 22, 2007

The Dahir al Bariit checkpoint was open today, open for Ramadan, explained an English-speaking Palestinian Jerusalemite on the servis.

I ask how he got his Jeru ID. He explains that he born in Jerusalem and was living there in 1967 when Israel took over and occupied the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem. Elaborating, he mentions how families were split after the Occupation: Maybe someone from Khalil (Hebron) had gone to Jerusalem. Israel registered them as living in Jerusalem, while their families were still in Khalil.

“Are you glad you have Israeli ID?” I asked him.

“I’m from Jerusalem,” he replied. “I don’t care if I have Israeli or Palestinian ID. I love the land, not the label.”

Our servis is stopped, traffic at a crawl. A man outside leans over and taps the door with his small hand-saw. The driver opens the door with a warm “Ramadan Kariim!” to his sawdusty craftsman friend, then to his 12 year old boy. They chat, exchanging further greetings, for a few minutes while traffic ahead starts to move again. Chatting a bit more, they bid goodbyes and the servis begins its crawl again.

None of the passengers uttered a complaint or were visibly put out by the exchange’s slight delay. Likely they would have done the same in the driver’s place

September 16, 2007

“They’re to waste your time. It costs money: half an hour, that’s half an hour of work, of your life gone,” the Jerusalem ID-carrying Palestinian told me. From just outside of Jerusalem, to get to work in the old city, where he sells hand-made jewelry, he must daily travel in the opposite direction, to Qalendia checkpoint, to then travel anew in the correct direction. Before the checkpoints and the Wall, his trip to Jerusalem was an easy one.

He, too, sees little security in the so-dubbed ‘security barrier’: “If there’s a will, there’s a way. If somebody wants to go over the Wall, they can.”

He talks about how the Occupation has changed not only daily life for Palestinians, but also life related to surrounding travel venues: “When my father was young and went to Damascus Gate (in Jerusalem), the taxi drivers called ‘Amman, Beirut, Baghdad….’ When I was younger and went to Damascus Gate, the taxi drivers called ‘Eriha (Jericho), Nablus, Khalil (Hebron)….’ Now, when my son goes to Damascus gate, the drivers call ‘Machsom Qalendia, Machsom Bethlehem (Qalendia checkpoint, Bethlehem checkpoint)….’

It gets smaller and smaller and smaller, our permitted area of travel.”

The road from Qalendia to Jerusalem normally involved a delay, in which the Border Police do another security check. Then, it’s just a matter of traffic…

Today, that stretch of road has a flying roadblock, possibly in place because of meetings with Condi Rice. If so, that is another irony in the endless, fruitless, staged peace talks: disruption of even an already disrupted journey.

The roadblock entails re-routing a re-routed entry to Jerusalem. The detour means that people already detouring from Ar Ram to Beit Hanina –just around the corner but out of reach due to the Wall and checkpoints –must further detour. The bus then has to backtrack to drop of these greatly-delayed passengers.

Back, all the way to the Dahiir al Bariit back exit, all because that particular exit is closed. It is closed, and yet one can evidently get dangerously close to it.

August 27, 2007

The road is ridiculously pot-holed. His servis threadbare: drivers mirror cracked but functional; bare minimum of upholstery with trivial bits of frill dangling around the ceiling edges. He’s working on a Friday –the holy day –and literally getting no breaks.

Just outside of Fawwar refugee camp we approach an impromptu roadblock (a “flying checkpoint”). Rather than risk the potentially long wait, he turns up a road, chugging up, up, up, and nagivates this pittance-earning servis over crusty roads.

He stops to ask locals for directions, alternative roads, then shares his new expertise with servis drivers passing in the opposite direction.

It isn’t about security, this flying checkpoint. A rambling and coughing servis can easily dodge the checkpoint. So, too, could those who supposedly want to commit terror attacks.

August 22, 2007

8:40 am

A round of walking to survey morning activities. Many of the problems reported by shepherds have occurred in the morning and at pre-sunset hours while they graze their sheep.

We sit atop a hilltop off the main highway. It is again a lovely scene, with rolling fields beyond and the angled morning light catching the white of the sheep –at sunset this is even more incredible.

Beyond these arid hills that somehow manage to nurture plants and harangued Palestinians, the expanse of Yatta stretches far, expanded by former residents of the older, greater Susiya, before the days of settler menance and IOF house-demolitions.

As with so many settings and incidents seen already, it is the harsh contrast of this serene environment and the local Palestinians’ brutal reality that stuns me again and again.

One can lose oneself to the wind, the birdsongs, the lulling heat, and pleasant view. And one can snap rudely awake to the absurdity of the settlers, soldiers, and the situation.

Days ago, we visited families across the valley, far west, moving from boy Suliman’s tent, where the women ask about bread in Canada [I’ve promised to bring a photo of my friends’ outdoor cob oven], to a cave where a young mother nursed her 2 week old boy and cared for her sullen, timid 2 year old son. The cave –quite cool in the heat of the day, and surprisingly functional –is isolated and seemed vulnerable to settler/soldier attacks and harassment.

We headed for Abu Malesh, whom we’d heard has had problems with passing settlers who stealhis figs, pilfer from his well, and assault even his sheep. Along the way, we were pulled into the tent of Aziz and his brother Abd’ Rachman who were assaulted, along with their young children, only last year by armed settlers, some wearing rifles, wielding a knife .  We later saw the house his family had been terrorized into leaving: a compact stone building overlooking the terraces of agricultural land below. Idyllic.

August 18, 2007

Najer, smiling, pays for my service, points out his home for a future visit, and smiles his way away, “M’assalamme!” in peace.

August 17, 2007

Visiting with people yesterday again highlights the privileges of having basic necessities, the devastation at not, and the grace of a many-times-battered Palestinian smile. A tentful of these smiles is blinding, and forgotten muscles stay locked in reciprocation.

August 16, 2007

A phone call from M in Rafah leaves me dumb and numb.

He thinks the recent IOF slaughter in Khan Younis is the start of something big.

“How can I use my privilege?” I asked him. “How can I influence my governments, my people, bring awareness and change?”

“I don’t know.” There was a long silence. I told him to take care, then immediately apologized for coming off so trite. How do you take care when being air and land bombed?

And I remember the Abu J family dancing in midday heat under the shade of their tent; I recall countless instances of young children touchingly concerned for even younger kids –or for me, offering tea with such graciousness. Memories of kids making do with barren, dusty, potholed surroundings, smiles bigger than I remember from my own safe childhood, playing football, sledding down a Tel Rumeida hill on a push-dolly, flinging out Dabka steps, shimmering to pop music from Egypt and Lebanon…

And I’m sure, Fatah or Hamas, kids and people are the same in Gaza, which is currently –yet again –being pounded by Israel.

There’s the family who, last week, welcomed me and another volunteer into their Hebron home, though we arrived after 10 pm and not actually knowing anyone present.

Sultan had earlier in the day told me of his sister’s wedding to occur the following day, minus significant family members stuck in Gaza. The sister was heartbroken, he said, that the family wouldn’t be together. He’d asked me to stop by the pre-wedding celebration that night.

But they graciously welcomed us, showing more interest in and hospitality to us than we deserved, unexpected strangers crashing a wedding party in tragic times.

I look at the words M brings together from his observations and from other news. It gives me deeper insight to the largely unreported tragedies occurring daily in Gaza, as well as the sporadic positive events and celebrations.

When I see the photos he takes, I cannot image seeing death like that on a near-daily basis. I cannot imagine the futility and bitterness that must grow with each click of the shutter. I can’t image how he gets any sleep at night, or gets past his own personal tragedies.

August 15, 2007

The young man at an Ar-Ram convenience store –always smiling and welcoming, this time giving me a cold glass of juice after a hot walk uphill –told me today, still smiling sadly: “I don’t want to live. What can I live for?”

He described finishing university and lamented the Occupation. Having seen its effects and heard the trauma from countless Palestinians, I still don’t personally know the Occupation. All I could do was say I knew about its effects and restrictions, that people around the world know about it and despise it. My words felt empty, as empty as the countless UN resolutions and international condemnations which, in the end, do nothing to prevent Israel from doing and taking what it wants to Palestinians.

The young boy, 9 or 10, beside me in the servis caresses his sleeping sister’s hair and cheek absentmindedly. His mother had shifted the 4 year old child over onto his lap, he accepting her uncomplainingly. And like so many I see, he displays the open affection and care for younger siblings that I rarely see to such a degree back home.

tired of peace talks

August 14, 2007

I’ve just come from an Israeli-organized Israeli-Palestinian peace event, where many of the Israeli participants were young, funky, dreadlocked men and women who talk of peace.

Combatants for Peace  
spoke there, Osama and Shimone giving their testimonies, Wael and Itimar fielding questions.

A few older Israeli women threw out accusatory questions on suicide bombers and Israeli military-resisters.

I drifted away.

Down roads lined with healthy fields, past a gas station and a military memorial museum –between which no less than 20 sprinklers tended a vibrant patch of grass –and along a trail.

Paused to admire some unusual bird calls, sniff the unfamiliar odor of moisture in the air –from the 20-sprinkler-strong lawn irrigation, the lush growth all around, the reservoir ahead –and watch the sunset illuminate trees and distant hills. Was struck by how far away, within this small stretch of land formerly known as Palestine, Hebron and Susiya were, with their thirst for water.

Gaza is on another planet, so cut off and unimaginably different it seems. Followed the path around, turning up another just as a small fleet of IOF jeeps trundled past.

The Israeli peaceniks, some do appreciate Palestinians’ daily trials and obstacles. And a great many are oblivious.

I admire Orr, and even Itimar who today talked of having vowed he would kill 200,000 Arabs with ease in order to defend Israel. He is, of course, changed, aware, fighting non-violently via education and dialogue to awaken other Israelis. They take on the hard-liner patriots, like the women of today.

M sent me an edit today. More Gazans killed in another IOF alleged hunt for “wanted men” and targeting of bystanding civilians.

It is all so tiring, all this Occupation and denial of history. And the re-playing of history, where the once-occupied become the Occupiers.