Wednesday, December 31, 2008

quick note

i just wanted to let everyone know i am in ramallah until tomorrow and then i head to tel aviv to meet up with a man that i will travel with to jenin. i haven't had much internet access so i will write more later.

Monday, December 29, 2008

time has a way...

as mentioned previously most of palestine is on strike in response to the egregious acts that took place in gaza on saturday. many are in mourning. there is an overwhelming sadness knowing that our palestinian brothers and sisters are suffering and not being able to help. israel is mobilizing for a ground offensive. we don't know when it will happen yet but despite international cries to cease, it seems that it will be soon. the death toll keeps rising and if israel invades who knows how many more will die. and while the news adheres to the false truth that it was hamas terrorists who were killed, we know that many others will remain nameless in their deaths. watching the video footage here we see children being carried out lifeless and bloody as well as the intended "terrorists". we need to start thinking and being aware, not swayed by words that have not only lost their meaning but are now used as weapons to denigrate others to defend and further inhuman acts.

due to the events and the sense of loss - i have had to postpone my work here. so i am still in aida camp, in bethlehem. but today i arrived at the center and the training has been scheduled for later today. i am appreciative that they have made the time despite the tragedy and i hope that it brings some relief. a small piece to help cope against such enormous injustice and suffering.

i also confirmed my travel and schedule to follow up with the training done in ramallah in june on tuesday, as well as doing another at the red crescent society on wednesday. i have received much concern for my safety due to the instability of what might occur if israel invades gaza soon. after much thought i have decided to continue on as planned. after talking to the people at TRC i am excited at the prospect of offering what little help i can in times such as these when so many are psychologically and emotionally traumatized. i ask you to keep the events in your awareness and speak out when you have the chance against such injustices that are daily life here.

thank you

US military funding to israel

please take the time to contact our government officials to let them know we will not support the inhuman acts going on in gaza anymore.

This is an email I received from my friend about the US monetary support going to Israel:

As of this writing, Israeli Air Force attacks today on the occupied
Gaza Strip killed an estimated 300 or more people and injured at least 400

This is ALOT of people (in case the numbers of dead people start to numb you)

These Israeli attacks come on top of a brutal siege of the Gaza
Strip, which has created a humanitarian catastrophe of dire
proportions for Gaza's 1.5 million Palestinian residents
(Most of whom have nothing to do with HAMAS-the organization targeted by the Israeli government)
by restricting the provision of food, fuel, medicine, electricity, and
other necessities of life.

In case you are wondering "What does this have to do with me?"

It is unmistakable that Israel carried out these attacks with
F16 fighter jets and missiles provided by the taxpayers of this
country. From 2001-2006, the United States transferred to Israel more
than $200 million worth of spare parts to fly its fleet of F16's. In
July 2008, the United States gave Israel 186 million gallons of JP-8
aviation jet fuel. Last year, the United States signed a $1.3 billion
contract with Raytheon to transfer to Israel thousands of TOW,
Hellfire, and "bunker buster" missiles.

In short, Israel's lethal attack today on the Gaza Strip could not
have happened without the active military and political support of the
United States. Therefore, we need to take action to protest this
attack and demand an immediate cease-fire.
Every week the Palestinian Center for Human Rights publishes a detailed
record documenting the Israeli crimes for that week.

My friend Jenka says:
the State Dept. bureaucrat directing policy
toward Israel is:
Director of the Office of Israel and Palestinian
Affairs Thomas Goldberger 202-647-3672

Please help flood his office with calls, demanding
that the US stop supporting an illegal occupation that engages in daily
violations of international human rights law and completely disregards
the internationally-recognized rights of the Palestinian people.

love Sarah

You can also TAKE ACTION by:

1. Contact the White House to protest the attack and demand an
immediate cease-fire. Call 202-456-1111 or send an email

2. Contact the State Department at 202-647-6575 or send an email by
clicking here:
and then click on the Email A Question/Comment tab.

3. Contact your Representative and Senators in Congress at
202-224-3121 or find contact info for your Members of Congress by
clicking here:

4. Contact your local media by phoning into a talk show or writing a
letter to the editor. To find contact info for your local media, click

5. Organize a local protest or vigil and tell us about it by sending
us an email to:

6. Sign our open letter to President-Elect Obama calling for a new
U.S. policy toward Israel/Palestine and find out other steps you can
take to influence the incoming Administration by clicking here:

Sunday, December 28, 2008

not to be used in (the) us

i just wanted to write quickly so that everyone knows i'm okay (after a barrage of emails). we left the center yesterday around 4:30 to join up with other groups to march in protest against the attacks that happened in gaza. just as we left the center the air was already filled with teargas? making us cough and our eyes burn, the more they watered the more they burned. there was a jeep parked at the top of the street so we went another way. and as we walked we could see the cloud of black smoke in the sky causing it. for no reason other than in anticipation of people gathering in protest of the deaths in gaza, which we should have every right to do. we met at the nativity church and then marched back up through bethlehem to the wall. along the way it was pointed out to me that there were almost 2 marches going on for the 2 different political parties. and once again i had conversations about how it seems they use these moments to further their own agendas instead of really helping the people, which seems endemic everywhere.

we were told there were soldiers up ahead waiting for us near the apartheid wall. when we arrived we kept our distance but you could see many young kids throwing rocks, and that seems to be the indicator that things will escalate. although i know that's not the best way - after being here i understand why it happens. the apartheid wall is a large ominous symbol that is almost always in view from certain parts of the city, and definitely always in awareness. i saw a young kid find some pieces and use a large rock to break them up so he had more. it's not about trying to cause harm its an attempt to express anger that has no outlet, outrage at an unfair unjust situation. then people started moving back from the apartheid wall and a sound bomb was set off and i heard it injured an international girl in the foot. after that they released tear gas. at this point we were already heading away from the apartheid wall but the cloud came fast, and soon we were running. a man ran next to me and offered me some essential oils(?) to breath in to help offset the affects of it. we saw some of the canisters and i was told it is clearly printed on the side - "not to be used in the US", though my guess is it's probably made there. our lovely tax dollars at work.

i don't know the exact figures - but US aid to israel, especially in the form of military has rose steadily for the last few years - this is what it is used for. to bomb, kill, and disrupt all aspects of forming a healthy society within the occupied territories.

as the protest was dispersed - not by force but by the people feeling there was no more to be done - my head felt cloudy and the tract from my nose to my throat was raw. and i thought jokingly to myself - it's definitely not organic, thinking about all the people so sensitive to every little synthetic smell, people here live with this poisoning the air at the whims of another government before anything had even occurs, with the intention of keeping them from gathering and voicing dissent. but instead of turning back or staying in their homes they cover their faces with kufiyas, in the manner which we have been conditioned to recognize as the image of a terrorist (i hope you think of that next time - maybe it is just so they could breath!)

after the protest i went with dr. Abdelfattah to his home for an amazingly delicious dinner of labeneh (w/zataar), humous, falafel, soup,... it was so good. i met his 5 children and his lovely wife. he lives in a beautiful home and shared with us stories of growing up in aida camp. refugee seems to have been taken out of the name commonly used here because many have been born here and now it is like another little town just outside bethlehem. he told me many stories i hope to relay. each one demonstrating the cruel inhumanity of occupation. his wife is from jerusalem and they keep an apartment there and their children go to school there so they can "prove" that she has reason to keep her ID card. if they don't they will have many troubles be able to travel outside the territories into jerusalem and "israel", and especially unable to travel outside the country except through jordan - whose borders are also under israeli military control now. no one with a palestinian identity is allowed to travel through tel aviv if the want to leave the country they must make arrangements (and hope to pass) through a bordering country, but as israel tightens its strangle hold on their movements the other countries are also lessening their freedom to move. they rented their apartment in jerusalem in 2000 and it took until 2006 for him to have a permit to live there. he told me of palestinian businesses as well. the import and export of all goods is controlled by israel so when trying to sell to other countries it becomes quite hard. israeli regulations lets the goods sit sometimes for YEARS! until it is no longer good or it ruins the ability to do business because exporting cannot be garunteed in any given time - and then they charge them for a storage fee! sickening.

he also told me stories of having to wait hours to travel 200 meters when his children were young. making them get in and out of the cars with a 3 year old and a 6 month old (at the time). because they can set up arbitrary check points anywhere they want.

also when he was studying in school he got a scholarship to go to france for a month, they refused to give him the permit and eventually when he was allowed to go they gave him a full scholarship so he lived and studied in france for 9 years. my friend aluk asked if he had thought about staying there instead of returning. and he responded as i have heard others who have and do have the chance to leave - they love their home and they want help those who don't have the same opportunity so that one day they may, they come back in the hopes of fostering a change. he has a nephew of 19 who has never seen jerusalem (al-quds), has never been allowed to leave. so although futile - throwing rocks at the symbol of imprisonment has to be seen for what it is. a small act of resistance against forces that daily make you feel powerless to create the society you wish to live in, one of peace and freedom. isn't that what we all want and strive for? unfortunately when we are led to believe that's what we have we find it hard to understand the acts of those who live in awareness that they are controlled.

The death toll raised to 205. i heard it's the most deaths in one day in years since the conflict began. there has been declared 3 days of mourning so the training i was to do here will have to be postponed and i have yet to see how it will affect the training and travel to ramallah.

so once again i'm so thankful that they have let spend this time with them the last few days and have taught me so much. i hope this all finds you well and know that i am safe, though my chest definitely feels the affects from whatever i inhaled last night. and hopefully this struggle can continue peacefully without more deaths and find an end that restores the humanity, which has been lost - insha'allah.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

free gaza

i was supposed to do the training at the center today but when i arrived the electricity was out for most of the camp. it doesn't happen all the time but it is also not out of the ordinary. there is no hot water and the amenities that we can't imagine living without come and go. so i traveled into bethlehem to run some errands and in a store the television was reporting on the events in gaza today. the man behind the counter translated everything for me. in what is going to be referred to as a response to the missiles launched from gaza on monday - which resulted in the death of one palestinian "militant" - israel used f-16's to bomb police and security buildings when children were getting out of school. the death toll has raised from 50 to over 100 in just an hour, and it will probably be more by the time you read this. we are going to a protest march tonight at the nativity church in bethlehem. violence is never the answer and while i'm definitely in no way condoning the launching of the missiles from gaza - how can we accept the deaths of so many for the acts of a few. i remember going to a speech given by ramona africa from MOVE (if you are not familiar i ask that you look at their history). she said something that i think will always stick with me. she said that even if all the things that were said about them in the media was true does that make it okay for what was donw to them. they were a movement focused on the respect of life and social awareness. it seems that as movements like that gain support from the public they are quickly attacked by the media and usually even violently from those in power who want to keep it. gotta go - more later.

la lucha bonita

I went to a dance performance last night put on by AlRowwad. They performed a traditional dance, the dabka. It was so beautiful to watch. It was performed for a delegation from Spain of a dance troupe. It is beautiful to see the young children so proud of their culture. I got to ride with them on the bus to the performance and they were so excited. The delegation was also doing interviews that they had done with both israeli and palestinian children. the interviewer asked the same questions most ask - "how do you feel about the jews?", "do you think you will ever be able to play with them", etc. One young girl responded that she would like one day to be able to play with israeli childeren but she doesn't think she will be accepted by them. I had a conversation with Dr. Abdelfattah - the director of Alrowwad - he said it's always the same questions. And what people need to understand is it is not about being jewish and muslim. i told him i hope maybe one day the questions will change - when we have a better understanding of what is needed to be asked.

At the center i have met amazing people. A man named osama is working on a play right now that he hopes to perform in february. it is based off the ideas presented by a political cartoonist named naji - whose image handala is used widely as a symbol of the palestinian struggle. the play is focused on the ideas of political divisions not serving the interest of the people. he realizes that writing and performing this play may cause some repercussions for those involved, but he feels like it is needed to be talked about. the feeling is the need for unity to overcome the forces of the occupation. they hope to explore what is needed for the future they hope to see - a future free from occupation. he told me that he got to visit his family's village for the first time last year. he had heard many stories from his grandparents about their daily lives there - until they were forced out during the nakba. he asks why? just because they are arab, why are they not allowed to stay. just last week one of the higher ups in the israeli government made comments that if you are arab you need to be under the palestinian authority on the other side, not in israel. the racism is very blatant here. again and again i come across palestinians who just want to live and be able to travel freely and be a self-determined people, while the israelis i've met want a purely jewish state - it seems at any costs. we talked to about the perception of the palestinians - he said increduosly "most think we are terrorists". and i thought about the fears my friends and family had when i told them i was coming here. it is true. the ideas fed to us by the media are blatantly false, or at least biased, most of the time. i have been treated with nothing but kindness and respect from everyone i have met here. everyone is so open to talk to me about how they feel about the occupation and their hopes and fears of it changing - hoping it will end, fearing it will not.

maybe it's hard to understand but everything here is controlled by israel, almost all the products are in hebrew, travelling outside a city you must pass through israeli security gaurds always with there hands on their guns. even the area just next to the wall, on the palestinian side. they were trying to build it into a park for the children but the israeli government will not allow it, and a christian group claimed it is part of a holy site on the other side of the wall - so there it sits in wreckage, from when they erected the wall 3 years ago in this area. why? even the sanitation, there are millions of dollars in aid waiting to build infrastructure for better sewage treatment systems, education, etc - instead because of blocks in permits it just sits. they are blocking every attempt at progress.

a story: my friend, aluk, is teaching english to the students here. he was teaching them words to express emotions and one of his students wanted to know how to say "goosebumps". he asked the student, when have you felt like that? he said when he was sitting next to a man who was crying. aluk asked where he was when this happened. the student responded it was in prison, and he began crying too because he shared the same experience as the man, and they cried at the thought of being "interrogated" again (he did not know the word for torture yet). they had done nothing and were "interrogated" daily trying to get them to admit to something they hadn't done. but he felt lucky because he was released.

another worker here told us she and her family are going to visit her brother in prison soon. he has been held for a year without even being charged yet. almost everyone here has a family member who has been in or is in prison, for little or nothing. and most the time they are forbidden to visit them.

the center here is focused on cultural expression for healing as a form of resistance. As i watched the children smiling and dancing i realized that that is the best form of non-violent resistance - keeping your cultural identity. when looking at the tactics of the oppressors one of the ways they gain the most control is by imposing their own values on the people they occupy and try to dominate by destroying their own ideas and values. and by keeping true to self-defined values the spirit cannot be defeated. and that is what i see here in the eyes of the children and in the graceful expression of their dances - a spirit that says you can't tell me who i am and who i can be, they get to decide that for themselves. is that so much to ask?

Thursday, December 25, 2008

building wings

we took the bus last night from jerusalem to bethlehem we were dropped of outside the apartheid wall. it's hard for any description to depict it's looming immensity. and to imagine that for most here it is just a fact of life. i have it easy, my foreign passport and features allow my passage to be quick, but for so many i have met today they tell me of how they have had to adjust there lives due to the inability to travel directly from one town to another. as i travelled to Al-Rowwad this morning i drove along the wall for quite a while. everywhere you look there are messages against the occupation and denouncing the tactics taken against the palestinians by the israelis. a shirt i saw - "with israelis - uzi does it" had a picture of the guns they see every day of there life held by soldiers who get to decide how many hassles they need endure that day. these kids (the soldiers) are young. almost all of them i've seen so far can't be older than early twenties if that. i realize i'm having a hard time finding the words to describe the grotesque inequality with which one can treat another without a second thought.

i went to Al Rowwad early this morning and arrived well before they opened. i sat outside for a while and had a "conversation" with a young deaf boy who visits the center. he tried to help me find someone to open the door but i didn't mind waiting. it's amazing to me how sometimes words have very little to do with the ability to communicate. i met with the women's unit coordinator, marwa. she is helping to arrange for the training i will do here later this week (hopefully saturday and sunday). she runs programs here in hopes of providing a space just for women, which isn't a typical part of this culture. she says for the most part housewives stay at home sometimes visiting with neighbors but mostly not having lives or outlets of there own. she is involved in an embroidery program, where the women who visit the center get together and embroider various items from clothing to purses. they have orders mainly from france and other places in europe as well as selling to visitors to the center. they also just got a few sewing machines and are teaching the women how to make clothing, with the hope of doing advanced training soon. she has also started a "fitness" program which is more a way of empowering the women through arranging for them to travel places they have never been, having group discussions, and finding ways to support self-confidence and expression. i am excited to meet with them. she showed me the beautiful work they have been doing.

the volunteer coordinator and dance/theatre instructor ribal took me on a quick tour of aida. he jokes sometimes he likes the wall - it gives him a place to express how he feels, referring to the massive amount of graffiti against the occupation. i asked him about a watch tower and he told me it's no longer used and was only used during the construction of the wall to shoot dissenters, young kids throwing rocks. there is a large space on the wall that has been painted white where they arranged movies and had performances there over the summer. he explained that his job here is to work with the children to give them another way to express how they feel about the occupation and the daily affects it has on them. it's a way for them to share their stories, that touches on a much different level than what the news may or may not report. they use theatre to inform the rest of us, through their eyes. they perform traditional dances and plays to depict events and acts that no child should have to experience, and it seems very healing to watch them laugh and play as they rehearse. there is a performance tonight that i'm excited to see.

enough for now, i'm very tired so i hope my thoughts are coherent. plus i'm not really use to writing them down.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

made it

i missed my plane and had to stay in frankfurt yesterday, which actually worked out well. the airline paid for a hotel and i got to acclimate to the time change before arriving here. i made it through airport security with no hassles and got on a shuttle to jerusalem. unfortunately the hostel i was going to stay at (and most others) was full but i met a lady there who lives in bethlehem where i was planning on traveling tomorrow. so we travelled together on the bus and she is letting me stay at her apartment tonight. so here i am in bethlehem on christmas eve. they want me to go to manger square at midnight, we'll see if i'm still up. i can't write much now i just wanted everyone to know i arrived safely.