+972 Magazine » Mya Guarnieri http://972mag.com Independent commentary and news from Israel & Palestine Sat, 25 Jun 2016 11:13:34 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8 The Long Road to Bethlehem: Epilogue http://972mag.com/the-long-road-to-bethlehem-epilogue/119258/ http://972mag.com/the-long-road-to-bethlehem-epilogue/119258/#comments Wed, 11 May 2016 14:13:09 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=119258 Read the full series: The Long Road to Bethlehem

A road leading through the West Bank. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

A road leading through the West Bank. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

I began writing this series in December 2014, just a few months after I arrived in the United States, and finished in September of 2015. Much has changed since then.

Shortly after I finished the last essay, the current escalation in violence began. I also returned to Israel-Palestine for October and November of 2015 (read about that trip here) to update my research for a forthcoming book about migrant workers and African asylum seekers in the Jewish state, a project I’ve been working on in one form or another since 2007.

Despite heightened political tensions, I met with my husband’s family for the first time in November of 2015. And in January of 2015, I gave birth to our first child. Mohammad and I got our happy ending. But what about Israel and Palestine? Can the two peoples also have a happy ending?

For a long time, I believed in a one-state solution. Or, to be more accurate, I didn’t call it a one-state solution because “solution” implies something optimal that everyone has agreed to. I believed in what I called a “one-state outcome.”

Considering that the Israeli government already controls most aspects of life between the river and sea, there’s already a de facto one state on the ground. I felt an acknowledgment of that single state was inevitable. It was only a matter of time — well, time, and international pressure.

After my experiences living and working in both the West Bank and Israel, however — and much has been omitted from this series — I no longer believe that there is a solution to the conflict, in part because so many foreigners, Israelis, and Palestinians have a vested interest in the continuation of the conflict.

Even if there is eventually some sort of a peace agreement, I don’t believe that it will put an end to the fighting, whether that fighting is internal or between the “two sides” (though there are arguably more than “two sides” involved).

Lastly, a number of readers have emailed and messaged, asking if I will and suggesting that I should turn the series into a book. I’m trying. Thank you for your encouragement. And thanks for reading.

Read the full series: The Long Road to Bethlehem

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The Long Road to Bethlehem: Part six http://972mag.com/the-long-road-to-bethlehem-part-six/118510/ http://972mag.com/the-long-road-to-bethlehem-part-six/118510/#comments Fri, 22 Apr 2016 08:10:22 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=118510 Read the previous chapters of The Long Road to Bethlehem here.

We live with Mohammad’s brother for the first two months as I look for an apartment—a difficult thing to find in America when you’re both living off of your meager savings, your ex-husband has successfully wrecked your credit (long story), your foreign partner doesn’t have a social security number, and neither of you have proof of current employment.

In early October I see an advertisement on Craigslist for a house with three small bedrooms and hardwood floors. The pictures show a tidy, clapboard, whitewashed home, edged with mango and avocado trees. It’s located in a historic neighborhood. Best of all, it fits our modest budget of less than $1,000 a month—criteria that has only yielded, thus far, section eight housing in the ghetto. And there’s an option to buy from the owner—no money down, no banks—the right tenants can simply take over the mortgage. It seems too good to be true.

In South Florida, rentals can go within minutes of being listed—and some are snapped up “site unseen” meaning that the renter hasn’t seen the property in person—so I call right away. The landlord tells me to drive by the place first. If I’m still interested, he’ll show me the inside of the house.

“The neighborhood is,” he pauses and clears his throat, “eclectic.”

Mohammad and I go that evening. As we pull up at the address, we notice the rundown cars lining the other side of the street. A man is sitting in one of them, his parking lights on. Another man approaches the passenger side and leans in the open window. The two talk. Money and baggies change hands. A drug deal.

I notice the house in the background then. One of the windows is broken; some wooden two-by-fours have been hammered across the hole. The other windows are covered with heavy black fabric. It’s impossible to see what’s going on inside. A smashed TV is in the middle of the yard. Nearby, a man takes a shit next to some overgrown bushes. I wonder, for a moment, why he isn’t going behind the shrubbery. He stands and stumbles about. And then I realize:

“It’s a crack house,” I say to Mohammad. “That’s why this place is so cheap. It’s across the street from an active crack house.”

Still, I’m not ready to give up on the three-bedroom cottage with hardwood floors. I point towards the tidy white place. “But look. Our house is perfect. And if the neighborhood comes up, it’ll be a hell of an investment.”

Mohammad shakes his head. “I didn’t leave one war zone to move to another.”

“Maybe it’s not as bad during the day,” I push. “Let’s come back and see what the neighborhood looks like in the morning.”

We do. And, in the daylight, the crack house looks even worse.

I realize I’ve crossed the globe only to end up in a place that, in some ways, isn’t so different than the one I left.

“Okay,” I say, as we stand in the front yard of the rental home. “But if you put your back to the crack house and just look at our house…” I raise my arms and open them, gesturing towards the trees. “Look how green! It’s like we’re in the Caribbean. And there’s the mangoes and avocadoes—”

“Are you going to feel safe here alone while I’m at work?” Mohammad asks. “Are you going to want to go for a run in this neighborhood?”

“I ran in the West Bank.”

“It was safer there.”

I’m not ready to admit that yet. “Let’s walk around a bit and get a feel for the area.”

Mohammad obliges me. We link arms and move deeper into the neighborhood. The houses’ architectural details mark most of the houses as historic but many are boarded up. I admit to myself that this is a bad sign. Good things don’t happen in abandoned buildings. That the owners can’t rent or sell their properties doesn’t say anything too promising about the neighborhood.

“These houses would be a great long term investment, I’m sure,” I say.

Mohammad nods.

At the end of the street, we see a woman picking litter out of her yard. I approach her; she doesn’t speak any English. Spanish only—my long-neglected second language. I sweat and blush as I stumble my way through a clumsy conversation. Still, we manage to communicate: she lives in the neighborhood with her husband and children. I ask her if she feels safe here. She bends over to pick up a faded soda can. She stands up, puts the garbage a plastic grocery bag and offers me a weak smile and a wane “sí,” yes.

“You see?” I say to Mohammad as we walk away and I offer a literal translation. He didn’t understand our words but he picked up on the nuance of her movements and facial expressions; he offers me a skeptical “huh.”

The next block seems a little nicer and we see a house for sale. Just for fun, I call. The real estate agent cuts to the chase, “Look, I can find you a house on that part of the neighborhood—the west side of the main road—for thirty thousand dollars. But you won’t want to live there. Check out the east side. It’s much nicer.”

You know something’s wrong when a real estate agent is steering you away from his own listing.

I close the phone and report back to Mohammad. He interrupts before I can repeat the whole conversation. “And he said we should look on the other side of the main street.”

“How did you know?”

He smiles. “I did my research, dear.”

Mohammad leads me out of the west side, to the busy main road. We stand next to an empty lot, waiting for a break in traffic. I see liquor stores, parked taco vans, and storefront churches, including one named the Mount of Olives. English signs proclaim “We take EBT [food stamps] here!” The Spanish ones advertise “Money transfers to every country.”

On the other side of the vacant lot, I notice dozens of Hispanic men milling about. From their clothes and heavy work boots, I guess that they’re day laborers, waiting for potential employers to pull up. I think of south Tel Aviv’s parks, where African asylum seekers sometimes stand in wait of work. I remember the human rights worker who told me, in 2010, that the scene resembled “a slave market.”

I realize I’ve crossed the globe only to end up in a place that, in some ways, isn’t so different than the one I left.

There’s a pause in the flow of cars. Mohammad and I dart across the street. Just steps into the east side, I see the difference. There’s no litter in the lawns here, no crack houses, no boarded up windows, no chain link fences.

“How do you feel here?” Mohammad asks.

I have to admit that I’m more relaxed.

“Can you imagine yourself running in this neighborhood?”

I can.

“You see, dear? This is where we want to live,” he says.

***

A week later, I find a tiny studio in the “good part,” the east side, of the neighborhood. The landlady, Rebecca, tells me that she’s on her way out of town but Ada, a woman who lives across the street, has a key and will show me the place.

Ada lives in a one-story quadruplex less than a block from the Intracoastal Waterway. A wooden carving of the word “Love” hangs next to the door. Indian music and incense streams from her open windows. A post it note on the doorbell tells me that the buzzer doesn’t work. So I knock.

A tiny woman—she can’t be taller than 4’10”—with a shock of curly white hair opens the door. She wears jeans and a blue spaghetti strap top, revealing bone thin but toned arms. She lights a cigarette, takes a drag, and sizes me up.

“You here to see the place across the street?”

“Yes,” I say and introduce myself.

“Rebecca’s my friend,” Ada begins, pausing to take a pull off her cigarette. “So if you talk to her again, don’t tell her I said this, but it’s a shithole. And she’s asking too much. But let’s go.”

She closes the door behind her, locks it, and we head across the street, the Indian music fading as we move away from Ada’s apartment.

Rebecca’s house is surrounded by palm and banana trees; the plants are so dense it’s hard to see the building. Ada cracks open a side gate but it sticks as she pushes. We peer around it and see random things—a mildewed chair, some milk crates, empty Tupperware containers—piled on the other side. Together, we push the gate open enough to squeeze through and follow a sidewalk to a door. Ada unlocks it and we step inside.

“Look at this. You don’t want to live here,” Ada says. She’s like the anti-real estate agent.

The room is about 15 feet by 15 feet with a kitchen counter and a sink. There’s a small bathroom. A sliding glass door that leads to the back yard. I look up at the ceiling fan—there’s no AC—and notice the pitched ceiling and dark wood beams.

“I like the exposed beams,” I say.

Ada snorts as she lights another cigarette. “A month in this place and you’ll hang yourself from one. Trust me. You’re two—“

“And a cat.”

“Two and a cat. You need more room than this.”

“But the price is right,” I insist.

“She’s asking too much for this small a space,” Ada pushes back. “You’ll find something else.”

“But we’ve looked and looked.”

“So keep looking.”

I sigh.

As we leave, Ada invites me over for a coffee. She drinks Café Bustelo, the Cuban-style espresso that got me through graduate school. When I spy its trademark yellow can in her kitchen, I feel at home in a way I haven’t in months. But the feeling passes as quickly as it came.

***

The building is surrounded by a wall, there’s a guard and a gate—it reminds, a bit, of a settlement.

The apartment hunt continues. I find a couple of decent places but the next step is always a lengthy application—including a credit check, bank statements and pay stubs from the past three months, and local references. We have none of those things.

I feel like we’ll live in Mohammad’s brother’s guest room forever.

And then Ada calls, “Some neighbors just moved out. The place is perfect for you.” She doesn’t have the landlord’s number so she gives me the super’s instead.

When I arrive, I find a large two-story house that’s been subdivided into four apartments. The super, an older African American man named Robin, shows me the place: a galley kitchen, a space that can double as a living and dining room, a small bedroom, and a tiny bathroom with a stand-up shower. A park and the Intracoastal Waterway are, catty-corner, across the street. When the wind blows, I smell the saltwater.

It’s perfect.

Robin gives me the landlord’s wife’s number. Her accent is so heavy I have a hard time understanding her—I’ll learn from her husband, later, that they’re from Guyana, which he still refers to as “British Guiana”—but I make out that they’re in New York City visiting family and that they’ll be back in a week. “We get in Monday night,” she says. “Call me again on Tuesday morning.”

Before we hang up, I ask if there’s a rental application.

“No,” she laughs.

I’m thrilled.

The backyard of the house. (Photo by Mya Guarnieri)

The backyard of the house. (Photo by Mya Guarnieri)

The neighborhood is full of green spaces. While it’s a little rough—prostitutes congregate on the main road just a few blocks away, a few homeless people camp out in our park, burglaries are a problem, and I often find empty nickel bags and used needles on the ground—it’s relatively quiet and safe. Especially compared to the neighborhood on the other side of the main road.

We decide to get married in one of the many parks near our house and to have a small reception at home. Mohammad’s brother, my parents, and grandmother will come. Some friends from Gainesville will join us, too, and they generously offer to contribute a wedding cake. Mohammad and I will do the cooking. Excited, we start planning the menu.

I call the landlady back on Tuesday morning and tell her about Mohammad and myself. I’m honest and admit that he doesn’t have a social security number and I don’t have a job. As she and her husband were immigrants themselves, the woman is sympathetic. I’ll pay her cash every month and we’ll meet that afternoon for me to give her our first month’s rent and get the key in return.

A few hours before we’re supposed to meet, she calls me back.

“I’m very sorry but there was some sort of confusion with my husband,” she begins. “I didn’t know that he’d listed the place with a real estate agent.”

The agent already promised the apartment to someone; it’s not available after all.

There’s nothing to say. I thank her and hang up. Where will we get married? And forget about the wedding, where will we live?

The phone rings again later that afternoon. It’s the landlady.

“We went to meet the real estate agent and I didn’t like the way he looked. He had bad energy,” she says. “The place is yours.”

We seal the deal the following day with a handshake—the arrangement feels more West Bank than West Palm Beach.

***

As I spend the next three weeks getting the apartment ready, other minor miracles occur. Ada supplements her social security by cleaning apartments in what we call “the tower”—expensive condos that sit directly across the street from us, next to the park, perched on the Intracoastal Waterway. The building is surrounded by a wall, there’s a guard and a gate—it reminds, a bit, of a settlement.

One of Ada’s clients there has just bought a second condo in the building and it came completely furnished. But the new owners are gutting the place and dumping everything in it. Ada tells them about me and they say that I’m welcome to come by and take a look. I score some furniture, pots and pans, sheets and towels.

I find a great couch at Goodwill for 50 dollars. We paint. Our new home is ready before the wedding, as is the custom in Palestine.

We get married in another park a little further up the road. Smaller than the one by our house, it’s a long, thin stripe of green, edged by palm trees, running all the way to the water. We sign our Florida marriage license, a Muslim wedding document called a katib al ktab, and a Hebrew ketubah. We take our vows under a blue veranda, with my family, Mohammad’s brother, and a few dear friends from Gainesville looking on.

At home, during our little ten-person reception, I make a toast. I tell our guests that everything feels like a miracle: that we stayed together through the difficult year in the West Bank of crossing checkpoints and spending hours on the road; that we found this place; that we lost it and got it back; that we got the apartment ready in time; that we pulled together a wedding in three weeks. Our love—and our life together—feels like a miracle.

***

I’ll feel stupid that I didn’t put it all together sooner: the empty dime bags and needles I’d noticed in their yard.

Our new home—which is in a black and Latin neighborhood—reminds Mohammad of a refugee camp. Something about the place reminds me of south Tel Aviv. With a neighbor next to us and neighbors on top of us—and with our building wedged in between over-crowded duplexes and quadruplexes—we have little privacy. Because we don’t have proper AC, we keep our back door propped open. Our neighbors often appear in our doorway to borrow-some-sugar-borrow-some-milk-borrow-some-aluminum-foil-borrow-twenty-dollars-offer-some-pie-give-us-some-mangoes-from-a-brother’s-yard, mangoes-that-are-sweeter-than-the-ones-we-have-on-our-lot-and-here’s-a-pineapple-that-was-growing-in-the-yard-of-this-place-where-I-cut-the-grass-the-other-day-and-oh-did-you-hear-about-what-happened-with-our-other-neighbors-and-oh-I-heard-you’ve-got-shingles-here’s-something-for-your-skin.

My upstairs neighbor, Tania, drops the tube of medicine over the railing into my waiting hand.

They show up in our doorway to comment on our relationship, “So,” Ada begins, sucking on a cigarette. “You guys had an argument the other night…?”

“It’s been quiet lately,” Tania says on another occasion. “Things are going good, huh?”

I’m making jerk chicken one night on the stove, which is right by the backdoor, and the smell of the spices drifts up to Tania’s balcony.

She and her guest—a male visitor—lean over the railing.

“Girl, what you cookin’?”

“Let me guess,” her friend shouts. “That’s some jerk chicken.”

“That’s right,” I yell from the kitchen.

“Damn, smells good.”

When Robin, the super, passes our doorway he often remarks on my food. “You got it smellin’ good up in here, girl.”

Our back porch faces the parking lot. One afternoon, Clyde, our other upstairs neighbor, pulls in. When he gets out of the car he tells me, “Hey, I have an interview on Monday. What color tie do you think I should wear?”

“Blue?” I offer.

“My daughter says burgundy,” he says.

“Burgundy’s nice, too.”

When Monday comes, I ask Clyde how his interview went and what color tie he wore. He went with blue, he says, and he fills me in on the details of his day. On other occasions, he shares the local news about shootings on the west side of the neighborhood. In the summer of 2015, there’s a spate of them—gang violence—and Clyde gives the grim updates.

Still, we all feel safe over here.

I realize, though, that the neighborhood could tip in either direction. One spring night, I’m jerked out of sleep by gunshots—TAK TAK TAK—three in a row, one right after another. I don’t know where they’re coming from but I know they’re close; without thinking, I jump out of bed and lie flat on my stomach on the tile floor, below the windows.

“Mohammad!” I shout at him to get down, too. A heavy sleeper, he doesn’t wake up. I’m too scared to get back on the bed and shake him. I stay on the floor until I feel certain that it was just those three gunshots, that whatever happened outside is over.

One of our neighbors in the quadruplex next to us—not Ada’s building but the one that’s painted a cheerful Tweety-bird-yellow—is a drug dealer. I’ll discover this during one of the many screaming matches he has with his baby’s mother, when she’ll shriek that she’s tired of people coming round all the time to buy from him. I’ll feel stupid that I didn’t put it all together sooner: the empty dime bags and needles I’d noticed in their yard, that strange white couple that lingered on the man’s back porch one afternoon. They took turns ducking down behind the low wall that runs along the steps while the other one kept watch, round eyes peering out from gaunt, sweaty faces.

So the five of us in our building—we watch out for each other and the friends among us. When Ada’s dog dies, we all pay our sympathies. When Robin falls into a depression after the landlord threatens to kick him out—locking himself in the apartment for days, only to emerge to ride his bike to the liquor store and back—Ada and Tania get worried. Via phone, we conspire as to who will check on Robin and what we should do if things get worse.

Fortunately, the fog lifts. Robin returns to our shared back porch, where he spends most of the mornings and evenings drinking. Robin stays on top of the weather updates and shares the daily and weekly forecasts with me almost every morning. We talk about music (Motown, Curtis Mayfield), life, love—Robin has never been married but he has loved. Three times. He tells me about each of the women. We talk about my cat. We talk about gardening. Robin admires our plants and gives me tips. I marvel at the mango and guava trees he plants; they seem to shoot up overnight.

Robin tells me about growing up in West Palm Beach, about what things used to be like here, about how the first black people here were runaway slaves who joined the Indians to fight the white settlers. Robin tells me about his regrets—the days he sold drugs. He tells me how he’s one of seven boys and how out of all of them only his littlest brother made it. The youngest is a software engineer who owns a home; he’s the pride of the family.

We talk about God. Robin has a lot to say about Jesus.

Robin tells me all of this in an accent that I remember from my childhood—his mother grew up in Gainesville, where she lives today. The music in Robin’s voice reminds me of the kids on the bus, only he doesn’t call me “white girl,” he calls me by my name.

Clyde drives a school bus during the week and a tourist trolley on the weekend. During a cold snap, a petite woman forgets her denim jacket on the trolley. Clyde brings it to me.

Six months later, during the summer mango season, our landlord will steal milk crates off of Clyde’s porch to hold the fruit he’s stripped from our tree. It’s scandalous and we all stand outside by our respective apartments talking about it—Tania and Clyde hollering from upstairs, Robin and Mohammad and I shouting up to them from below. But our shared indignation gives way to laughter—this man owns over a dozen properties in West Palm Beach and New York City and God knows where else and here he is taking our mangoes and using Clyde’s milk crates. He’s so stingy it’s funny.

As Mohammad and I take our seats on the porch, he smiles and shakes his head. “It’s like Dheisheh here,” he says. “We can’t escape Palestine.”

***

But it’s not Palestine.

Sometimes, I fall into memories from the places I lived. My footsteps on the stairs as I walked up to my old, fourth-floor apartment on Sheinken and Allenby. The sound of the key in the lock, the door shutting behind me. The smell of the basil plants I grew in discarded olive tins from the shuk. Sudden winter rain, the sound the latches made as I closed the windows. Music, conversation, and laughter floating up from the wine bar on King George, a tiny place I can see from my balcony.

The ding-ding of the Jerusalem light rail. Wind in the pine trees. The cold walk from the train stop—the last on the line—to my apartment, the gate squeaking open, the door sliding across the wood laminate floor. Sitting on the wall next to my apartment on Friday evening, watching the sun fall into the Jerusalem forest. Shabbat’s curtain of quiet. Jackal’s mournful cries, drifting over the hills at night.

Those flocks of tiny black birds that put on aerial shows in Tel Aviv in the late afternoon. Their swoops and dives, their excited chatter.

I realize I must leave Israel and Palestine behind. Or at least find a way to contain them. My life literally depends on it.

Having tea with Mohammad on the roof of my apartment building in Abu Dis. Watching children play in the streets below. Bethlehem’s stones. The smell of the wood-burning oven at the bakery across my second sublease there; the sounds of the family who lived across the small, narrow street. The call of those same birds I heard in Tel Aviv.

Mohammad’s key in the lock on Fridays, the door closing behind him as he entered. The sound of wedding in the surrounding neighborhoods—horns honking, the music, the celebratory gunshots. The musaharati.

I say I “fall” into these memories because that’s what it feels like. I stumble upon them and am pulled into a hole where I am completely surrounded, where I see nothing but the world around me, the maps inside my head. I trace my route from my apartment in Bethlehem to the bus station where I would board the service to Abu Dis. Or I follow the stones to the dukkan down the street, where I would buy al-Juneidi white cheese. I’m entering the store, saying “kif halak?” to the owner, walking to the cooler. I’m taking a container out and heading towards the counter. I’m paying, stepping out onto the sidewalk. Home is just up the street.

This happens once as I’m driving towards a red light. I don’t see the intersection or the cars ahead. I don’t see the grassy median on my left or the lane on my right. I’m overcome by a memory—Bethlehem’s stones. I see them and the deep yellow they take on in the late afternoon. The long shadows in the garden. The almond tree. My bench. Dheisheh.

“Red light,” a voice whispers in my ear.

The trance is broken. I look up and gasp as I realize I’m flying towards an intersection and that the light, is indeed, red. I slam on the brakes. Tires squeal to a halt.

Later, I wonder about that voice. Was it my subconscious or something divine? Whatever it was, I understand it as a wake-up call. I realize I must leave Israel and Palestine behind. Or at least find a way to contain them. My life literally depends on it.

***

Mohammad seems to adapt better than I do, maybe because, as a Palestinian, his life was much harder under occupation than mine was as an American-Israeli who chose to live in the West Bank. Sure, we both lost time and productivity on the road moving between cities. We both went through checkpoints. But, unlike Mohammad, a soldier never pointed at me and asked me to get out of the service so they could search me. Unlike Mohammad, a soldier never held a gun to my face and threated to put a “bullet in the head.” Policemen from the Palestinian Authority never beat me. I didn’t carry a green ID; I could go to the sea whenever I wanted.

Mohammad carries even less here—after years of making sure that he didn’t leave the house without his wallet, which always included his green ID, he doesn’t carry a wallet anymore. He no longer wears a belt, either. He often has to hike his pants up as he walks but he doesn’t want anything that will add even an ounce to his body. He says he likes feeling light.

I find myself carrying more since we left: I keep my teudat zehut in the same pocket it was in every time I went through the container checkpoint. In my wallet, I still keep my Israeli driving license, my Israeli health insurance card, my bus pass, an expired Tel Aviv Cinematheque subscription card, and the 90 shekel credit for the bookstore in Jerusalem.

On the best days, I feel optimistic. Though we’ve been in the States for over a year now and I have yet to find gainful employment in either of my professional fields—and have blown through most of my meager savings—on these days, I’m certain that something will work out eventually. I’ll find my place, I’ll make friends, I’ll build a life here.

On the worst days, tears come for no reason. Evenings tend to be difficult. I realize it’s another day that I didn’t run with Dima and I didn’t go to the university where I would have spent the morning with my students, helping them hone their writing skills. Nights are hard when I realize a whole day has passed and I haven’t spoken any Hebrew or Arabic. I think about the time I invested in both languages, the years I spent building a life there. Almost a decade, tossed out the window on the way to Ben Gurion Airport.

I’m angry about a political situation that made it impossible for us to have a normal life there in the West Bank. I’m angry about the impact that the political situation has made on the Palestinian economy, making it hard for Mohammad to find decent, steady work that would afford us a modest, simple existence. I’m angry that his family has suffered under the occupation—that his father was deported from the West Bank, that cousins have gone to Israeli jails, that Jewish soldiers have raided uncles’ homes, that a cousin died while he was in an Israeli prison, that two cousins have been shot to death by soldiers during the most recent wave of violence. I’m angry that all of this happened and I’m angry that we’re paying a price for their suffering. I’m angry that we had no choice but to leave.

I’m lonely. And because I’m lonely, I join Facebook, something I’d resisted for years. But it doesn’t help. I scroll through it and see both Palestinians and Israelis with foreign partners— foreigners who can live legally on visas or permanent residency with their spouses in the land while my Palestinian husband and I, a citizen of Israel, cannot remain together on either side of the Green Line. Hafuch alhafuch alhafuch.

On one of the worst nights, Mohammad and I lie on our 50-dollar-Goodwill couch, head to foot.

“Close your eyes,” I say. “We’re in the garden again, in Bethlehem.”

He smiles.

“The wind is blowing and we smell the jasmine and the lemon tree and the mishmish baladi,” I say. “We pick mishmish and we don’t bother to wash it, we just bite right into it. The juice drips off our chins. We wipe it off with the back of our hands. We sit on the bench and look out over the orchard.”

I close my eyes, take a deep breath, and I swear—just for a second—I can feel the wind coming up from the valley, I can smell the earth from the freshly-tilled orchard below, I can hear the grape leaves stirring above.

“We’re home.”

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Torture is a gruesome symptom of military occupation http://972mag.com/torture-is-a-gruesome-symptom-of-military-occupation/117436/ http://972mag.com/torture-is-a-gruesome-symptom-of-military-occupation/117436/#comments Sat, 27 Feb 2016 12:03:05 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=117436 Israel’s use of torture is part and parcel of the occupation, and an inseparable part of maintaining the military occupation of Palestinian territories and Jewish hegemony in those lands.

A Palestinian youth, arrested and blindfolded by Israeli soldiers during the closure on Hebron. (photo: Activestills)

Illustrative photo of a Palestinian youth, arrested and blindfolded by Israeli soldiers. (photo: Activestills)

A new report about torture at the Israeli Shin Bet facility Shikma is, rightfully, making headlines. The details are horrendous. The report, penned by HaMoked and B’Tselem, is also significant because it points to the close collaboration between Israel and the Palestinian Authority — essentially reminding that the former is outsourcing its dirty work to the PA.

While the report is new, we shouldn’t forget that torture in Israel is not. Palestinians have long suffered under the apparatus of the military occupation, with word of the practice surfacing in the 1970s — 40 years ago. Israeli human rights attorney Lea Tsemel says she was first exposed to accounts of torture in 1972, during the “Haifa Trials.” In a report on the issue for Adalah, Tsemel writes:

The Haifa Trials were only the beginning of my exposure to torture cases, because subsequently all manner of very cruel tortures – indeed those classic tortures that you read about in books and hear of in Guantanamo and Iraq – were used here very often. There were so many detainees to interrogate using these methods that they had to shorten the interrogations in order to process more people.

It is estimated that some 700,000 Palestinians have been detained by Israel since the occupation began in 1967.

Tsemel continues:

Of course, the vast majority of the interrogations of thousands of Palestinians took place in the GSS centers. Today, the fact that most of the interrogations of political detainees involved torture or ill-treatment during the first 32 years of the Occupation [before the High Court’s 1999 ruling] is no secret. Almost every Palestinian who was interrogated can tell you about the sleep deprivation, the denial of access to a toilet or shower, the hunger, the physical pressures, including being made to sit tied to a small stool for days, the beatings and the kicks, the threats, the hanging, the bending, the shaking (sometimes to death), etc.

She also points out the fact that the Israeli public has known about the widespread phenomenon since 1977, when the London-based Sunday Times press published dozens of Palestinians’ accounts of the torture they had experienced in the hands of Israeli forces.

In the book Palestine Speaks, a collection of narratives about life under Israeli occupation, Palestinian attorney Abdelrahman al Ahmar recounts the torture he experienced at Israeli hands in 1984, when he was just a teenager. After Israeli soldiers took him from his parents’ home in Dheisheh refugee camp in the middle of the night — a practice that is still commonly used against Palestinian children today — al Ahmar was brought to the Russian Compound in Jerusalem. It was a cold, winter night and the interrogation began thus:

…they took off all of our clothes, stripped us naked. Then they tightened our handcuffs, took us outside in an open area, and put bags on our heads. The snow was coming down, and we were naked out there. I couldn’t see the others, but I could hear their teeth chattering, and the sound of the handcuffs shaking was so loud…. This is where we stayed for forty-five days between interrogations. Our bodies turned blue, we were out in the cold so long.

Al Ahmar recalls the grim details of the interrogations that were conducted by Israeli authorities:

[T]hey beat me, and there was loud music playing the whole time. We were allowed to go to the bathroom just once a day. They would tie our hands to the pipes… If I lost consciousness, they would throw water on me or slap me so I’d wake up… Sometimes they would keep me awake for many days straight before they gave me four hours of sleep. And with the pressure of sleep deprivation, I started hallucinating…

Today, al Ahmar’s body still bears the signs of torture. He has a scar on his wrist, he explains, because “[t]he handcuffs were so tight they cut to the bone. I still have marks on my legs from the beatings.”

[tmwinpost]

For almost 40 years, the Israeli public has known about these practices. The same is true of the international community. Yet the horrific violation of human rights that is torture continues. And nothing will change until torture is understood as a gruesome but entirely unsurprising symptom of military occupation and Jewish privilege, both inside Israel and beyond the Green Line.

Sadly, it seems that the gross violation of human rights isn’t enough to make Israelis and the Jewish diaspora reflect critically on these practices. So, here’s another tack: torture can also be understood as an unfortunate but necessary tool to maintain the military occupation of Palestinian territories and Jewish hegemony in those lands. As such, it is the duty of all Israelis and Jews to ask themselves if a project that necessitates such brutal tactics is worth continuing and, if so, are we willing to pay the bill that inevitably comes in the wake of such atrocities. Because pay, we will, in blood and spirit.

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The Long Road to Bethlehem: Part five http://972mag.com/the-long-road-to-bethlehem-part-five/116360/ http://972mag.com/the-long-road-to-bethlehem-part-five/116360/#comments Thu, 28 Jan 2016 16:29:29 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=116360 Read the previous chapters of The Long Road to Bethlehem here.

Israel’s “Operation Protective Edge” begins in Gaza. I am consumed by the news. I scroll through Twitter with the television on, flipping between Al Jazeera and CNN. Horrifying images stream out of the Strip. Rubble. Bodies. Crowds around hospitals. People running, carrying limp loved ones. Shujaiyah.

When I can’t take it anymore, I turn off the TV, leave my phone inside, and go to the garden. I realize how fortunate I am to be able to “take a break” from the war — even if that break is somewhat of an illusion. No, I’m not in Gaza, but rockets are falling inside Israel; a few that are intended for settlements hit Palestinian areas in the West Bank. We have no siren in the Bethlehem and so there is no warning when one afternoon — BOOM, BOOM — two rockets land close enough to my house that the floor, windows, and walls shake and shudder. The neighbors — a young couple who live in an apartment down the hill, below my garden — call.

“What was that? Did you feel it? Are you okay?” we ask each other.

We pass many nights together, worrying over a bottle of whiskey, watching for rockets. Sometimes we see them tearing the black fabric of the sky. Sometimes we spot shooting stars instead. We gasp and point at them and make silent wishes.

One morning, a rocket slams into a Beit Sahour home.

The rockets make me reluctant to drive into Israel to visit friends, even though I have less than two months left here. I know the odds of my car taking a direct hit are slim. But I don’t know what I would do if the siren went off while I was driving alone. Would I stop, get out of the car, lie flat and cover my head with my hands? Or would I just keep on driving?

Smoke caused by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip towards Israel, seen on July 16, 2014. Operation 'Protective Edge' enters it's ninth day of Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip, as yesterday's ceasefire agreement proposed by Egypt has failed to restore calm. (photo: Activestills.org)

Smoke caused by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip toward Israel, July 16, 2014. Operation (photo: Activestills.org)

I can’t decide, so for the first four weeks of the war, I rarely leave Bethlehem and Beit Sahour. I don’t leave the West Bank at all.

A Jewish Israeli friend, an artist, who was born and raised in the north calls me from her parents’ house in Upper Nazareth one afternoon. She speaks Hebrew and, because I’m sitting in the garden, I answer her in English. She asks me if I think it’s safe to be alone in the West Bank during a war. She’s “very, very worried” about me and she’d like me to come back in — I’m welcome to stay with her — until things cool down.

I decline. I assure her that I’m fine and that I’m not concerned. I don’t tell her about the nights that I sleep on the floor, wedged between the bed and the armoire. I don’t even tell Mohammad about them.

I find myself at once appreciating and bristling at her concern.

I know that this soldier was someone’s child, someone’s boyfriend. He was alive. Now he’s not.

As we hang up, I realize that it’s not just the rockets. I’m not driving in to Israel right now because I can’t handle what I know I’ll see there: flags, soldiers, jingoistic stickers, banners, graffiti, and newspapers filled with distorted headlines. And I don’t want to catch snatches of people’s conversations, don’t want to hear things like “I’m a leftist but…” or “We should just obliterate Gaza and finish this business already,” because I know that my stomach will roil with anger.

In the beginning of August, when I finally do go to Jerusalem, it will be exactly as I expected. I will overhear a small child boast to his sister, “We destroyed almost all of Gaza.” His mother will shush him, “Don’t talk like that in public.” The stickers and banners I knew would be there will indeed be there, too, proclaiming things like, “Together, saying thank you to our soldiers,” and “Strong together, loving Israel, supporting the Israeli army.”

And then there will be the newspaper. I’ll be in the Emek Refaim neighborhood, on my way to an appointment, when I’ll duck into a small grocery store to buy a cold drink. On my way out, I’ll scan the front pages and I’ll see photos of a young couple; “Goodbye my love” will rest like a headstone below their faces.

The sub-head will read: “The last messages on Whatsapp, the shared dreams, the big hole that’s left in the heart.”

Yes, he was a soldier attacking an occupied territory. No, the conflict is not bilateral. Yes, there is a power imbalance and, yes, according to international law, Palestinians have a legal right to armed resistance. No, he shouldn’t have been serving in the army. Yes, he could have — should have — refused.

'Together, we say thank you to the soldiers.' Stickers praising Israeli soldiers adorn the streets and alleyways of Jerusalem during the 2014 Gaza war. (photo: Mya Guarnieri)

‘Together, we say thank you to the soldiers.’ Stickers praising Israeli soldiers adorn the streets and alleyways of Jerusalem during the 2014 Gaza war. (photo: Mya Guarnieri)

I’ll know all of this. I’ll also know that he grew up in a fearmongering society that brainwashes most of those who live inside its borders, and even some beyond. I’ll know that he was someone’s child, someone’s grandson, someone’s boyfriend.

He was human. He was alive. Now he’s not.

Just as I’ve wept for the people of Gaza, I will find myself shedding tears for this boy and those he left behind. I stand there, in the doorway of a grocery, one foot on the tiled interior, the other on the sidewalk. I stand there and I look at the pictures of him and his girlfriend and I read that headline over and over again “Goodbye my love” and I cry.

I can’t bear moving between the two sides right now. So for all of July, I don’t go to Israel. One day, not long after my friend called from Nazareth, I rifle through the political memorabilia I had accumulated over the past seven years — ranging from leaflets from right-wing Israeli rallies to an Islamic Jihad sash a friend brought me from Gaza — until I find a Palestinian flag. I plant it in the garden so it’s visible from the road below. I plant it in the garden so when army jeeps come roaring through the night — a likely scenario, considering that soldiers are still raiding houses in Beit Sahour — they’ll remember where they are.

Palestine.

***

I talk to Mohammad every day. I wear my engagement ring. But I don’t pack. I don’t throw or give anything away. I make no effort to sell my car.

And I don’t buy a plane ticket.

My life shrinks to the house, the garden, and the neighbors’ apartment — a young couple that invite me over to drink whiskey at night and watch the sky for rockets. I wear the same summer dress for weeks on end, changing only when I go to bed or leave the house. I move between the TV and the bench outside, where I sit and read or look at Dheisheh refugee camp while nursing hangovers and icing my still-fractured foot. My landlady often joins me, lifting my legs from the bench, sitting, and putting my feet back in her lap.

Sometimes she’s quiet as I read. Sometimes we chat. She doesn’t say it but I know she’s sad that I’m leaving; I know she’s trying to eke out some last bits of quality time together.

One afternoon, as we sit like this, she asks me to take down the Palestinian flag.

I put my book down on my stomach and look at her. “Really?”

“Yes.” She explains that, to her, the flag doesn’t mean what it used to. “I wish I’d been born somewhere else — America, Europe. Australia!” she snorts as though imagining herself Down Under is preposterous.

When I ask her why, she tells me what I’ve heard from so many Palestinians. She’s disappointed in the PA and the post-Oslo reality. She’s sick of the corruption and the lack of unity.

Palestinian Authority police attempt to prevent youth in Aida Refugee Camp from clashing with Israeli forces, Bethlehem, West Bank, September 27, 2013. The clashes were in reaction to recent provocations at Jerusalem's Al Aqsa Mosque by right-wing Jewish settlers. (photo: Activestills.org)

Palestinian Authority police attempt to prevent youth in Aida Refugee Camp from clashing with Israeli forces, Bethlehem, West Bank, September 27, 2013. (photo: Activestills.org)

She’s also discouraged by society’s increasingly religious, conservative nature. “Now, all these girls walking around like this,” she pretends to pull fabric around her face, gripping it under her chin. She opens her eyes wide and sucks her cheeks in to emphasize the scarf’s tightness.

She adds that she likes my PFLP flag — a dead giveaway that she’s gone through my collection, which is tucked away in a closet.

Before I have a chance to do it myself, she gets up and pulls the Palestinian flag out of the ground. She rolls it, hands it to me, and begins fussing over the grapes that hang over the bench.

“They’re too dry this year,” she sighs. “The only thing they’re good for is vinegar.”

She ducks into the storage closet, next to the garage, and she returns with a large glass bottle and some small pruning shears. With a snip, she clips the grapes from the vine and stuffs them into the bottle. When she finds a good bunch, she hands them to me. I limp inside, put them in a bowl, wash them and bring them back out to the garden. I offer the bowl but she wrinkles her nose.

I pop one in my mouth.

“They’re fine,” I insist.

“No, they’re not quite right.”

As I eat them, my landlady asks if I have figured out when I’m leaving.

I know that she needs to find new tenants. But I hesitate to commit to a date. Instead, I give her the date of my end-of-the-summer course and say that I’ll leave “sometime after that. I don’t know exactly.”

***

Another afternoon, my landlady comes into the garden, waters the pepper plants, the nana, the azkadenya tree and then plops down on the bench next to the door. She puts her hand over her heart. I know that, in the past, she had two heart attacks. I leap up from the bench and run to her, despite the sharp pain in my foot, calling her name.

“Are you okay?” I ask when I reach her. I kneel before her.

Her breathing is labored but she nods.

“What’s wrong?”

“The TV,” she gasps. “I can’t watch it. Gaza. The bombs. It reminds me of Jaffa, when we left. Boom! Boom!”

She is a little girl running from the army again. She is out of breath. I sit and hold her hand.

***

It’s Ramadan and every night, around 2:30 in the morning, a young man walks around the neighborhood drumming and singing. He is the musaharati; his music reminds those who are fasting to rise and have their last meal—sohoor—before the first rays of sunlight fall upon the land.

He taps on the tabla tucked under his arm — a short shot of percussion — stops, and raises his voice, “You sleepers, believe that there is no god but god the everlasting.”

He hits the drum and pauses to sing, “You sleepers, believe in your lord, who created you will not forget you.”

And then comes the staccato rhythm again. It stops and the musaharati’s voice rises, “Wake up for your sohoor, the dear Ramadan has come.”

Palestinians arriving for the West Bank walk into Danascus gate in Jerusalem'd old city, on their way to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, on the second Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, June 26, 2015. (photo: Activestills.org)

Palestinians arrive from the West Bank on their way to pray at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, on the second Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, June 26, 2015. (photo: Activestills.org)

The tabla and singing never compete with one another; rather, they give way to one another, taking turns, weaving together as he moves through the streets.

The first notes are faint as the musaharati walks up the hill from Beit Sahour. His voice and the drumming grow louder as he approaches my apartment. As he rounds the corner that the house stands on, he passes the bedroom window level with the street. I feel like he’s singing into my window, calling to me, assuring me that I, too, am safe and will not be forsaken, like he’s asking me to rise and join the community.

So I do.

I rise from my spot on the floor and slip between the sheets. After several nights of this, his songs no longer find me wedged next to the armoire. His voice rouses me from my sleep in the bed.

***

The following week, as Israel is pummeling Gaza, a student launches an anonymous campaign against me. The writing style is distinct, though, and a few sentences in, I know that it was authored by the same girl who previously said that anyone could bring a gun to campus and shoot me. She sends her emails to most of the student body, other professors, and the administration.

She accuses me of being a Zionist, of having lived in a West Bank settlement (for the record: I haven’t), of supporting the Israeli occupation of 48 lands, of calling the military — which I always take care to refer to as the Israeli army, never “defense forces” — the IDF. She has spent hours combing through my writings and media appearances and points to an article in which an editor changed “Israeli army” to IDF as proof positive that I not only support Israel but I also support the Israeli line about “self defense.”

In the wake of the Israeli attack on a UN school in Gaza — a strike that kills 16 Palestinians — this student sends an email to hundreds of people claiming that I support the Israeli assault on civilians.

A number of students know better. They send me supportive emails, including students whom I’ve never had in my classes. They write to me privately, however, and not to the group. And I realize that no one is going to stick their neck out for me publicly. This hurts.

Still, I appreciate the warmth I get from students. “I just want to say that I wish I could have the pleasure to attend any of your classes but there was no chance,” one writes, adding that he is annoyed by the emails. “I hope one day I will have the honor of meeting and learning from your knowledge in person.”

A Palestinian child stands in front of his destroyed home in the Tuffah neighboorhood of Gaza city, Gaza Strip, February 9, 2015. Six months after the Israeli military offensive, tens of thousands of Palestinians are still displaced. (photo: Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

A Palestinian child stands in front of his destroyed home in the Tuffah neighboorhood of Gaza city, Gaza Strip, February 9, 2015. (photo: Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

A former student reaches out. He calls me an “inspiration” and says he’s upset to see what’s happening but that, given the occupation and war, it’s “no surprise” that students are turning on me. He encourages me to stand up for myself, urging me to respond, to set the record straight.

I don’t. I remain quiet. And my colleagues — international, Israeli, and Palestinian alike — are, for the most part, silent, as well.

I remember that, in the spring, a few of them had warned me that the anti-normalization conversation was growing stronger in the West Bank. Some considered my presence, as well as that of other Jewish-Israeli instructors, normalization. We are making people uncomfortable, they had said. Regardless of how our Palestinian colleagues felt about us personally or as individuals, they wanted us out, I was told.

One colleague said that the university was going to start following the boycott. I reminded her that according to BDS guidelines, someone who holds Israeli citizenship shouldn’t be singled out. The boycott applies to those who represent the government or government-funded institutions. Not any Jew who holds an Israeli passport.

I think about these conversations when another long, mass email goes out from that student and is met, again, with silence.

Eventually, an administrator responds that they are investigating the student’s claims. “We are calling students on her class lists, and [until] now, nobody even knew about these allegations [until] they read your e mail…” they write. The administrator reminds the student that there are proper avenues to lodge complaints and that unless the student can prove every word in their emails, I could sue them for libel.

Still, the girl continues her campaign, sending emails on a near daily basis. She includes links not to my work but that of other +972 writers who lean toward the liberal Zionist end of the spectrum. She argues that these journalists’ writings represent me and my ideas.

Regardless of how our Palestinian colleagues felt about us personally, some people wanted us out.

She claims that she is speaking for a group of students. She also remarks in her emails that students have spotted me in Jerusalem and Beit Sahour lately and she warns that I’d better “apologize soon” if I’m “planning to visit our University again.”

I’m not sure if she’s gathered my whereabouts from the articles I’ve published during the summer or if she has, indeed, spoken to classmates who have remarked that they’ve seen me. Either way, I’m disturbed by the combination of incitement and suggestions as to where I might be found.

I tell an administrator that, I’m sorry, I can’t teach the end of the summer course. I’m not comfortable and I don’t want my presence to make students and colleagues uncomfortable. The administrator assuages my fears and asks me to hang in there a little while longer as they try to resolve the issue.

But the war grinds on, the death toll ticks up in Gaza, and the emails continue. Some members of the administration begin to express concern about my safety. Ordinarily, my security isn’t a concern for them. Now, with Israel turning Gaza into rubble, it is.

***

I refuse to lie on the floor. Every night, I get into bed and wait for the musaharti to come by. Only after he has passed, only after I’ve been tucked in by his drum and soothing words, do I fall asleep.

***

Another email from the student, more handwringing on the administration’s part, and still, I don’t book a ticket.

Instead, I find myself wandering through the tourist stores, accumulating hand painted dishes from Hebron and embroidered pillowcases. I haggle over everything, explaining to the shopkeepers that I’m engaged and leaving soon to make a new home in America. I drift through the flea market and buy random things: a used Persian rug, a Pesach plate. I pay 10 shekels for a framed, embroidered depiction of a belly dancer — Mohammad will later guess it to be handiwork from Syria or Egypt, circa 1950. I splurge on an expensive dress — an import from Turkey — to wear to a close friend’s wedding, which will take place in Beit Sahour during the last days of July. And even though I tell people over and over again that I am leaving, I can’t figure out if I’m buying souvenirs or if these objects are simply anchoring me here.

Though the dress is the lightest and most portable of my purchases, it strikes me as the thing that most roots me in the West Bank. Attending a wedding in Palestine is not just about the bride and groom, the ceremony, the reception, the music, the dancing. It’s about standing alongside the people you live and work with and among — be they strangers, acquaintances, friends, or family. It’s about being a thread in the community’s fabric and acknowledging yourself as such.

That is why my friends are choosing to go ahead with their nuptials in the face of destruction being wrought on Gaza, despite the night raids on Beit Sahour. It’s a small act of resistance — a way of showing the Israelis that try as they might they can’t tear this cloth.

As I pull a black lace dress over my head — the dress I’ll wear to my friend’s henna ceremony — I wonder how I can go to this party and her wedding. How can I eat and drink and dance with her and the groom and their families and then just pick up the next month and leave, leave the place and everyone in it behind? How I can tear myself from this cloth?

I fasten myself into strappy gold heels, sit at the vanity, and apply my make-up. I slide my face powder and lipstick into a tiny, beaded clutch, leaving my Israeli and West Bank cell phones at home along with my Israeli and American IDs.

I double check the name of the restaurant where the henna is being held and, as I lock the door and back out of the garage, I try to remember the vague directions my friend offered me.

I can’t.

I head down the hill that leads to Beit Sahour. Jordan is just visible on the horizon. When I reach the bottom of the road, I lean out the open window and call to a boy walking down the street, asking him where the restaurant is. More vague directions. I drive a bit more and ask again, continuing on until I make it to a fork in the road where a small sign nailed to a post bears the restaurant’s name in Arabic only. An arrow points me to the right.

A young man who works there is standing outside, guiding cars toward open parking spaces. I still don’t believe that I understood the directions I got on the street, doubting that I read the signs correctly. I ask him if I am, indeed, at the restaurant. He looks at me blankly before responding with a polite “Yes.”

I almost ask if the henna ceremony is taking place here but decide to save myself the embarrassment.

***

I enter the women’s side of the party where I find the bride-to-be wearing a sleeveless black dress edged with traditional Palestinian embroidery. She is posing for a photo with her future sister-in-laws. I wave to let her know that I’m here.

Several pictures later, the bride-to-be needs a break and a cigarette. She, her best friend, and I pile into my car and drive a couple of blocks to a store where we buy junk food and beer. We park alongside a half-finished apartment building that is reportedly sponsored by the PFLP. The bride and her maid of honor smoke while I flip through the radio, pausing briefly on the news. It’s unbearable and I know that none of us need to hear it right now — it’s with us even during the festivities.

How can I eat and drink and dance and then just pick up and go? How can I leave everyone behind?

That night, I leave before the party is over, early by the bride and groom’s standards but late enough that there is no one on the street to ask for directions. The sky is dark, there’s only a slice of moon hanging in the sky and scant street lights. But somehow, my little car and I bounce along the dusty road, popping over potholes, making all the right turns until we climb the hill and I’m home.

I peel off my dress, get into bed, and fall into a deep sleep long before the musaharati begins his rounds.

***

The following week, I get a one-line email from the administration telling me that it would be in everyone’s best interests if I did not teach the end of the summer course. It’s Mohammad’s parents rejecting me all over again. It’s another reminder that I cannot have a life in the West Bank as long as there is an occupation, as long as there are refugees, as long as Palestinian citizens in Israel are treated as second class citizens.

Hours after I receive the administration’s email, I book a one-way ticket to Florida.

Several days later, I’m at a café with a few girlfriends when I get the news that the airline has cancelled my flight because of the war. I rebook with my friends at my side asking me why I’m not making it round-trip. It’ll be cheaper, they argue.

And don’t I intend to come back to Palestine? They ask. I can always change the dates, they insist.

And if I do come back? I counter. I’ll have to book a one-way ticket to the U.S. eventually. Or will I just keep booking round-trip tickets to Palestine indefinitely, forever calling the airline and changing the return dates, coming back to visit the West Bank, only to do it all again?

I keep it one way.

***

With the war unfolding on my TV screen, with the land devouring its own inhabitants, there is nothing left to do but break down my house.

I bag most of my clothes and shoes and bedding and drop them off at the YMCA, where volunteers are collecting things to send to Gaza. I take more than half of my books to a store in Jerusalem, hoping to get a decent price for them or at least a credit that I can use… when? If I come back? I get a paltry 90 shekel credit for a car full of books, the owner claiming he can’t use most of them.

I know that I’m being ripped off but I don’t care. I dump the books and drive back to Bethlehem faster and lighter. In the week that follows, I box up the rest of my library and take it to the DHL in Bethlehem, where I fill out Israeli customs forms and remember that though this is “autonomous” Area A, Israel in control.

Nervous about taking it through the airport, I dump most of my political memorabilia, including the Hamas flag I’d snagged at a campus rally. When I go to take the garbage out later that day, I find that much of the paraphernalia is gone. But the familiar green banner is still there, its white letters now gray — the flag has been trampled, kicked about, walked upon, and lies filthy on the ground.

Palestinians demonstrate supporting the resistance in Gaza Strip, in Nablus city, West Bank, three days after a deal signed by Israel and Hamas ending a 50-day of the Israeli attack, August 29, 2014.

Palestinians demonstrate in support of Hamas during the 2014 Gaza war, in the West Bank city of Nablus, three days after a deal signed by Israel and Hamas ended the 51-day war, August 29, 2014. (photo: Activestills.org)

I cannot part with the Persian rug I bought at the flea market, though it will serve no purpose in Florida. I cannot get rid of the heavy, synthetic blanket emblazoned with peacocks — a kitsch piece I spent 15 shekels on, which kept me warm during my first and only Bethlehem winter. So I ship them along with, and against my better judgment, my heavy juice press. The dishes from Hebron are boxed up and sent along, too.

Before I actually pack any of these things I snap photos of them and send the pictures to Mohammad asking him “What about this?”

And this?

And this?

The rug he understands. The juicer, well, we can buy another here, he says, and it’s not worth it to ship.

But the blanket? Mohammad draws the line in his gentle way. It’s heavy, it’s large, and we really won’t need it, he says.

But don’t you remember that we used it here, in this house, in Bethlehem? I insist. And during the snowstorm!

Ta’aban. Of course. But it’s way too hot for Florida, dear. I promise you we won’t need it.

I box it up and take it to DHL anyways.

I jokingly ask Mohammad if there’s some way I could bring my landlady with me. I ask him what he would do if he came to pick me up and she peeked out at him from behind me, “Marhaba!” Hello!

My landlady doesn’t want to come to America with me but she does have her eye on a few things — my TV, electric heaters, and radiators. She enters without knocking on a Saturday morning and immediately starts talking prices — prices that are uncomfortably low to me. But, I reason with myself, she lives in poverty and what else would I do with the stuff?

Still, it’s Shabbat. And I’m sad about moving and overwhelmed by how much I have left to throw away,give away, or pack. I can’t handle it right now.

I’ve spent the morning walking from room to room, looking at piles of random things. To throw away those right-wing leaflets and the Islamic jihad sash? And what about the Hamas flags I snatched from campus? To take the paraphernalia with me and risk being caught at Ben Gurion with it? What for? I don’t support Hamas or Islamic Jihad. But they seem like important things to hold onto. Should I ship them via DHL, where the box will pass through Israeli customs and could be opened and inspected?

“Please,” I say to my landlady. I stop pacing and stand at the bottom of the stairs, looking up at her on the landing. I don’t think about what I’ll say next. I just say it: “Not now. I don’t do business on Saturdays.”

“Why?” she asks. “Because you’re Jewish?”

“No,” I volley back. “Because it’s the weekend and I’m tired.”

She lets it go at that and heads back upstairs. Before she closes the door behind her, she reminds me that I promised to come spend some time with her before I leave. She wants show me her family photos, the few that remain from Jaffa.

***

I wait until my last night to pack the clothes that I didn’t send to Gaza. My closest girlfriends come over for one last dinner — mine has become the apartment that our circle always gathered in — and to keep me company as I stuff things into the two suitcases I’ll take to Florida with me. They depart with my dishes, pots and pans, glassware, teas, spices. My neighbor, the one whose wedding I’ve just attended, calls her husband to pick her up. Rather than taking her home, though, he joins the three of us to drink whiskey late into the night.

It’s past one when they leave. The taxi will be here in five hours. I look at my half-empty bags. The send-off dinner and packing party haven’t given me any sense of closure, maybe because I didn’t even manage to pack. It feels like another night of entertaining and I can’t believe that there isn’t another to come.

I text Mohammad and tell him I’m very sorry but I can’t do it, I can’t leave. I can’t move to Florida.

He asks me why and I come up with something ridiculous, the type of break-up attempt you only make when you’re half a bottle of whiskey down: I know you prefer dark-haired women and my natural color is auburn. And there’s grey coming in now, too, and you know what? I’m tired of dying my hair.

I’ll never be what you want me to be.

And I have quit studying Arabic, too. You really want to share a home with a Hebrew speaker? I love singing along to Dikla and I’m not giving that up — occupation or not!

Eternally patient, Mohammad calls and convinces me that I am indeed what he wants. He’ll take my auburn hair — when he met me I hadn’t yet started dying it and, from his side, it was pretty much love at first sight.

But I’ve gained weight, I protest. The war, my broken foot. The neighbors and their whiskey!

He insists that he likes my curves.

And what about my Arabic?

You speak good Arabic, he says, in Arabic.

No I don’t, I protest, pouring myself another drink. And fuck Arabic anyways. If your people reject me, I reject your language!

Beseder, Mohammad answers in Hebrew.

We go on like this —  me raising “concerns” and him shooting them down — as I place one piece of clothing after another in the bags while talking. The next thing I know it’s 3 a.m. and I’m packed.

My excuses are all gone. I tell Mohammad the truth. “I just can’t leave.”

But I know that it’s time. My car is gone, my job is gone, my love is gone.

He tells me to get some sleep, says I’ll feel better in the morning. “I’ll see you soon, dear,” he says as he hangs up.

***

My alarm goes off two hours later. I make Nescafe and go out for one last coffee in the garden. When my landlady comes in, my cat — who is scared of her — runs off to hide. We had agreed to have coffee together before I go but I have got to get my cat into the soft-sided carrier I am taking on the plane with me. There are still a few small things to pack, so I ask her to leave. Maybe because she doesn’t know how to say “I love you, don’t leave,” she refuses, insisting on staying in the apartment so she can see me off and close the door behind me. We fight like mother and daughter.

I’m protesting, “You don’t respect my boundaries!” when the phone rings. I look at the number — it’s the taxi.

My cat is cowering under the bed.

“I don’t have time for this now,” I tell my landlady. “Please, my cat is scared of you. I have to get her into the carrier, please just go away for a second so I can get her into her carrier!”

She retreats to the top of the stairs and I coax my cat out of her hiding place and into her bag.

The taxi calls again.

“I’ve gotta go,” I yell into the house as I struggle to pull my two suitcases outside, the cat carrier dangling from my arm, along with my laptop bag and purse.

“Okay,” my landlady says.

This isn’t the goodbye I imagined.

***

Omar, the same East Jerusalem taxi driver who took me to the airport in late May,—helps me with my suitcases. And then we’re in the car, moving down the street. We pass the right hand turn I would make if I wanted to head to Beit Sahour, the road I took the night of the henna party. We head towards Beit Jala, where we’ll roll past that army base, and merge onto a road that takes Israelis to and from settlements. When we see the checkpoint, we’ll cobble together a story to tell the soldiers in case they ask us any questions—we’re on our way to Ben Gurion from Har Homa.

“What if they ask to see my ID?” I ask. “My address is still Kiryat Yovel.”

“You stayed at your cousin’s last night,” Omar answers. Some Palestinians call the Jews their cousins; I’m not sure if his pun is intentional or subconscious.

“I stayed at my cousin’s,” I repeat. Silently, I wonder if they’ll ask for my “cousin’s” name. I realize it’s unlikely.

Chances are, they’ll wave us through.

The tires growl as we roll over the rumble strips. We slow down, and bounce over the speed bumps. I hold my breath.

Omar nods at the soldiers as we pass. They nod back. We’re through.

An Israel taxi parked in Kiryat Shmona. (photo: (Jotpe/(CC BY-SA 4.0)

An Israel taxi parked in Kiryat Shmona. (photo: (Jotpe/(CC BY-SA 4.0)

I don’t know I’m crying until I feel the tears dripping off my chin. The realization makes me cry harder. Omar glances at me in the rearview mirror; his face reflects my pain.

“Oh, please don’t cry,” he says in Hebrew, his brow knitted with concern.

He concentrates on the road for a bit and then looks back at me.

“It’ll be okay,” he tries again. “Aren’t you excited? You’re going to America and getting married!”

America — a place I left for a reason, somewhere I haven’t lived for nearly a decade, where I have few contacts and even fewer friends. And just a few hours ago my house was full of conversation and laughter. And our wedding. Who will come? My friends won’t be there to share our joy.

I cry harder.

By the time we’re closing in on the airport, Omar has switched to the same approach he uses with his elementary school-aged daughter. “Who’s a big girl? Who’s a big girl?” he asks me in the rearview mirror.

“Mish ana,” not me, I groan in Arabic.

“Ken at ken, ken at ken!” Yes you are, he insists in Hebrew.

As we approach the checkpoint at the airport’s entrance, Omar warns me that we’ll get the Arab treatment because he’s from East Jerusalem. We cobble together a story again, one that fits my Israeli ID. He quickly memorizes my old address in Kiryat Yovel and we agree that he picked me up there and we came straight to the airport. I dry my eyes and blow my nose into my shirt.

After we clear the final checkpoint, we pull up to the curb. Omar puts my suitcases on the sidewalk and offers me his hand.

Ben-Gurion Airport. (Shutterstock.com)

Ben-Gurion Airport. (Shutterstock.com)

I take it and he grasps my hand with both of his own.

“Good luck,” he says, in Hebrew. “And may God be with you,” he finishes in Arabic.

I can’t answer without crying so I nod.

He opens the door to his car and looks back at me. He punches his fist into the air, “Remember — you’re a strong girl!

I nod again and watch him drive away.

I manage to load all my luggage on to a trolley, check the departures board, and head toward the line. I slide my passports — Israeli and American — out of my purse along with my flight confirmation. And, just before I present everything to the security guard, the tears start again.

“Nu, what’s your problem?” he asks. He eyes me suspiciously — the suitcase, my cat in her carrier.

“I’m leaving.”

He shrugs. “Okay, but you’ll return, right?”

“I don’t know,” I say. “I don’t think so.”

He softens. “Don’t worry, miss, we’re not going anywhere. You can always come back.”

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The Long Road to Bethlehem: Part four http://972mag.com/the-long-road-to-bethlehem-part-four/114903/ http://972mag.com/the-long-road-to-bethlehem-part-four/114903/#comments Sat, 19 Dec 2015 08:01:11 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=114903 Read the previous chapters of The Long Road to Bethlehem here.

“I’m leaving.” I tell people in English, Hebrew, and Arabic. The words sound unexpected and foreign in every language, as though someone else is speaking them. While I’ve resigned from my post at the university and someone has already been hired to teach my fall classes, I haven’t given my landlady a firm answer as to whether or not I’m vacating the apartment, never mind a last-day-here-date. Nor have I begun to dismantle a houseful of stuff, the accumulations of a life.

My place looks like I’ll stay there forever. But tomorrow I’ll head to the US for a month; first to an artists’ residency in Vermont, then I’ll head to New York City, where Mohammad will join me. There, he’ll meet my family and we’ll attend my aunt’s wedding. After that, he’ll head to Florida to start his new life there. I’ll return to the West Bank as I’m scheduled to teach a two-week class at the end of the summer. We will spend July and August apart.

It’s our last afternoon together in Bethlehem. Our impulse is to pass the time in the garden, picking mish mish baladi (a local variety of apricot), sipping tea, and taking in the view. But we decide to pay a visit to the streets, alleys, and buildings that witnessed our courtship.

We head out, passing an old, large house like the one I live in. The limestone is the color of sand, the arched windows are framed by glistening white stone. We pass the French school—a stately building of rose-tinted stone surrounded by a blue gate—and we duck into an alley that cuts through the Christian quarter. It’s a residential area; there’s laundry hanging, the sounds of knives on cutting boards, the smell of food, voices, doors ajar reveal porches lined with potted plants.

On a white arch, red, spray-painted graffiti reminds the passerby: Palestine. I’m puzzled—everyone in this area is local and the word is written in Arabic. Why would someone in this neighborhood need to proclaim this Palestine to other Palestinians? Or was it something more personal, the artist’s way of asserting to himself or herself that Palestine persists?

Graffiti reading ‘Palestine’ is seen in Bethlehem. Is it the artist’s way of asserting to himself, or herself, that Palestine persists? (Photo: Mya Guarnieri)

Graffiti reading ‘Palestine’ is seen in Bethlehem. Is it the artist’s way of asserting to himself, or herself, that Palestine persists? (Photo: Mya Guarnieri)

We cross the plaza adjacent to the Church of Nativity and pass the tourist shops with their bright scarves flapping in the wind. As we climb the stairs next to the souq, we pass several gold stores. The moment we notice the jewelry, it’s obvious to both of us that my engagement ring should come from Bethlehem.

We go into one store and find a ring we like but decide to keep looking. In the second shop, we find an unusual ring—the edges are wavy rather than straight. We’ve never seen anything like it. I try the ring on my right hand—where I’ll wear it when we’re engaged as is the custom in Palestine. I move it to my left, as we will when we get married. It fits both hands perfectly. I head home alone while Mohammad haggles and pays.

When he joins me at the apartment, he’s holding a small plastic bag. I can see the outline of a box inside.

It fits perfectly

‘It fits perfectly. When we get married, I’ll move it to the left hand.’

“I can’t give it to you today,” Mohammad says, adding that he wants to surprise me. But I know from previous conversations that he’s conflicted about getting engaged without his parents’ knowledge and blessing. This is especially true while we’re in the West Bank. I’m reminded, yet again, of how impossible a shared life would be here, that if we want to be together, we have no choice but to leave.

In the earliest hours of the morning, a driver from East Jerusalem arrives. “Omar,” as I’ll call him, already knows my ID situation and he knows how to avoid soldiers. He greets me on the street in Arabic; with the windows rolled down, we’re careful to stay in the language until we’re out of Area A. Once we’re on a settler road, we switch to Hebrew because it’s the easiest way for us to have a conversation. We chat all the way to Ben-Gurion Airport about everything—his family which includes a wife and four children, the situation in East Jerusalem, his thoughts about the Jews, the difficulties Mohammad and I have faced.

Omar is certain that if we really want to make it work, we can. He’s sure that, once we’re married, Mohammad’s parents will come around.

“If we get married,” I correct him.

***

Just a few days before Mohammad is supposed to leave for America, three Israeli teenagers—Eyal Yifrach, Naftali Fraenkel, and Gilad Shaar—disappear in the West Bank. The army focuses its efforts in Hebron and the surrounding villages; Hebroni men below the age of 50 are not allowed to exit the West Bank. Although he lives in Ramallah, Mohammad was born in one of those villages of Hebron; its name is written in Hebrew on his ID card. There’s no hiding where he comes from. Will he be able to cross Allenby Bridge into Jordan? Will he make it to my aunt’s wedding? Will he meet my parents? If he can’t get out of the West Bank, we wonder, how long will he be stuck there?

Israeli soldiers stop Palestinians at a flying checkpoint near Hebron, June 15, 2014. The Israeli army put a complete closure on the area as it searched for three kidnapped Jewish teenagers. Heavy restrictions were put on any Palestinian from the area, including, for a time, a ban on exiting the West Bank. (Photo by Activestills.org)

Israeli soldiers stop Palestinians at a flying checkpoint near Hebron, June 15, 2014. The Israeli army put a complete closure on the area as it searched for three kidnapped Jewish teenagers. Heavy restrictions were put on any Palestinian from the area, including, for a time, a ban on exiting the West Bank. (Photo by Activestills.org)

***

Two days before his flight, Mohammad decides to try his luck at the bridge. He gets through.

And then it’s the evening of his arrival; his plane will land in just a few hours. I don’t know what to do with myself in the meantime, so I dress up like I’m going to a party. I put on a one-shouldered black and white striped dress. I have a painful hairline fracture in my left foot and the top of my foot is swelling a bit but I wince and cram it into a black high heel. I slide into the other shoe, apply make-up, and pull my hair up. Some jewelry, perfume, a swipe of lipstick and I head to the subway.

As I ride the train to JFK airport, a couple of young black women board and sit across from me. One points at me and says to her friend, “Ooooo, look at princess, all dressed up. Don’t she look good?” They fall into each other, laughing. When they catch their breath, they continue to taunt me.

I grew up in the Deep South so this sort of thing isn’t new to me. And, as a public school kid, I saw enough white on white and white on black and black on black violence to know that the girls are looking for a reaction, that they’re trying to provoke me.

I avoid eye contact but settle into to my seat. I feign nonchalance—I lean back, cross my legs, and examine my nails. I play with the silver bangles on my right arm, counting them, rearranging them. When I realize my fidgeting makes me look nervous, I stop, pull a collection of Hebrew short stories out of my purse, and do my best to concentrate on the words on the page.

Still, the taunting gets to me, in part because I resent the assumptions behind it. But I can’t tell these girls that I grew up in a neighborhood that probably wasn’t so different from theirs; I can’t tell them about the free lunch days; I can’t tell them how we qualified for food stamps but my mom was too proud to take them; I can’t tell them that I was the only “white girl” on the bus to elementary school and that the black kids reminded me of that every day. “White girl, white girl,” they said when I boarded. I can’t tell them that those children never bothered to ask my name, nor did they ask themselves how it was that we lived on the same side of town and rode the same bus. Nor did they ask why when we all went through the lunch line together I—like them—didn’t have to pay.

I can’t tell these girls that I’m going to meet my partner at the airport because we aren’t afforded the right of living together in what’s supposed to be our land. I can’t tell them that we’re moving to America hoping to avoid exactly the kind of thing that’s happening on the train right now.

I’m angry and disappointed. Even though Mohammad hasn’t even arrived yet, I want to protect him from these type of encounters. I wonder if—with his rosy view of the U.S. in general and of New York City, in particular—he’ll be even more disappointed than I am when something like this happens again. And it’s inevitable that it will.

Still, I keep my mouth shut. I remind myself where these girls are coming from and how, despite the poverty I experienced as a child, my light skin has afforded me some privilege. I understand that they feel voiceless and that it’s easier to pick on a white girl alone on a train than it is to tackle the enormous and deep inequalities that are part of the fabric of American life. So I sit and take it until they leave.

***

Illustrative photo by Shutterstock.com

Illustrative photo by Shutterstock.com

I have Mohammad’s flight number memorized. When I get to JFK, I find it on the arrivals board—on time—and head to the customs gate. There’s a crowd milling about. I ask an Asian woman with glasses if she’s waiting on the flight coming from Heathrow, which is where Mohammad had his layover. She is.

“Have any passengers come out?”

“No, not yet.”

I find a place to stand. My left foot throbs. I clench my teeth against the pain. I make a fist and dig my nails into the palm of my hand. I will not take these shoes off. I will look perfect when he steps into the terminal. We will have our happy ending.

I edge closer to the frosted, sliding glass doors. I find myself in the middle of the aisle, step aside, only to realize I’m right in front of someone. I excuse myself, move closer to the doors. Put my purse down between my feet. Pick it up, put it back on my arm. Move again, repeat, like some bizarre sort of square dance sans partner.

The frosted doors slide open and, the passengers begin to trickle out. Their faces hopeful, they scan the waiting crowd. That flash of recognition, a smile, a wave. Their gait speeds up, they rush towards their loved ones.

The crowd thickens as the passengers meet their families and friends. It thins as they move on to collect their luggage. Soon, it’s just a handful of people left, waiting. The doors are shut again. Where’s Mohammad? I worry that maybe there was something wrong with his visa. Or maybe he’s being questioned. No, this isn’t Israel. But sometimes the U.S. doesn’t seem so different.

Or maybe I’m at the wrong gate.

I ask a black woman with short hair if this, indeed, is the flight from Heathrow. “I sure hope so,” she laughs.

A moment later, she’s waving at a man striding towards her. They hug and off they go, his carry-on rolling behind him.

There’s just a few of us left at the gate.

Maybe Mohammad fell asleep during his layover and missed the flight, I think.

The doors slide open and a man in a bright blue uniform comes out. Homeland Security. I brace myself, certain he’s going to come tell me that they’ve detained Mohammad. Instead, he turns and opens a door at the end of the hall. I see people inside. It looks like some sort of waiting room. Is Mohammad in there?

The glass doors part and another Homeland Security official emerges. He heads down the hall and into the same room. I try to get a peek but can’t.

And then the glass doors part again and it’s Mohammad. He dons a wool sports coat—I know without asking him that he wore it so he could save space in his luggage—a white linen button down shirt, jeans, and leather shoes. He’s got only one bag and a backpack with him. He puts them down and we hug.

Hayati,” my life, he says as we hold each other.

***

It’s the morning after Israeli forces shot and killed a Palestinian in Ramallah, just meters from Mohammad’s old office. We’re headed to Coney Island for the day and, in a bid to keep our expenses down, are filling his backpack with snacks and bottles of tap water. I unzip a pocket only to find the ring from Bethlehem. Not wanting to blow the surprise, I don’t say anything about my discovery. I continue stocking the backpack.

When we get to Coney Island, we start at the aquarium. Inside, it’s cool, dark, and quiet—save for a school group that weaves through the place, puncturing the silence like a radio suddenly turned up to full volume. We linger at each tank, watching fish flit against endless turquoise waters, admiring electric-fluorescent skins and glimmering scales that seem to change colors as their wearer curves around rocks. I forget about Brooklyn, Israel, Palestine—the world—as I follow the fishes’ meanderings.

Illustrative photo by Shutterstock.com

Illustrative photo by Shutterstock.com

When we step outside, the day is hot, the sky cloudless and bright. The light is painful to our eyes, which have adjusted to the aquarium’s dim lighting. We squint.

Mohammad’s phone rings. It’s his brother calling from the West Bank—not the brother I’ll meet soon, in Florida, but one I’ve never met. When Mohammad answers, the phone disconnects. It rings again. And, again, Mohammad picks up only to hear nothing on the other end.

Mohammad tells me he’s worried something has happened—why else would his brother keep calling and calling like this? He sits on the nearest bench, clutching the phone in his hand, staring down at it. He tries to ring his brother but gets a busy signal.

This goes on for nearly half an hour until they finally manage to connect. Mohammad’s voice is full of relief when his brother answers. He smiles and laughs when he realizes everything is fine. He tells his family that New York is good and talks about his trip. But he’s careful to do so only in first person singular. “I.” There’s no “we” or “us.” There’s no Mya in any sentence. No mention of the fact that he’s met my aunt and her fiancé, my favorite cousin, my grandfather, that in a few days he’ll meet my parents.

If there’s a real emergency in Palestine at some point and Mohammad has to go home, I wonder, will he quietly omit me then, too? Will I stay alone in the States—maybe with children—so he can head back free of his unacceptable Jewish wife? And what if he has to stay in the West Bank for whatever reason? What will happen to me?

Intellectually, I understand his situation. Still, I can’t bear sitting there, listening to him talking about his solo trip to New York City. Listening to him talk to the family I’ve never met, who don’t know that he’s bought a ring and that we’ll soon be engaged.

I mime that I’m going to the bathroom. When I lock myself in a stall, I stand, focusing on my breathing. I try to stifle the voice in my head that’s telling me I’m a fool to have quit my job when I’m not even sure that he has, indeed, told his family about me at all. I try not to wonder why I’m following him to Florida, a place that holds few opportunities for me in a country I have no desire to live in.

Later that day, Mohammad proposes to me. We’re on the Ferris wheel, suspended in the sky, Coney Island tiny and insignificant below. My heart should be floating, too. But the unmovable earth awaits us.

The ferris wheel at Coney Island. (Photo by Gregory James Van Raalte / Shutterstock.com)

‘My heart should be floating, too. But the unmovable earth awaits us.’ (Photo by Gregory James Van Raalte / Shutterstock.com)

***

The day Mohammad flies to Florida, the three Israeli teenagers who disappeared in June are laid to rest. Late that night, Jewish settlers kidnap Mohammed Abu Khdeir, a 16-year-old boy from East Jerusalem and drive him to the woods. They take him to the forest adjacent to Kiryat Yovel. There, between the trees where Mohammad and I took our first picture together, the Israeli men commit a murder beyond brutal. They force the boy to drink gasoline. They soak his thin body in the liquid and set him alight while he’s still alive. His last breaths were full of ash.

Now East Jerusalem is burning on the muted TVs at the gate at JFK, where I await my flight to Tel Aviv. Palestinians are clashing with Israeli forces. The scene flashing before me is unfolding on streets I’ve driven and walked, roads I’ll be on again in just a matter of hours as I take public transportation from Ben-Gurion Airport to Jerusalem and then to Bethlehem.

I realize Mohammad will not be coming to spend every weekend with me this summer. I’ll be alone, the West Bank simmering around me.

Thousands of Israelis mourn at the funeral of Eyal Yifrah, Gilad Shaar, and Naftali Fraenkel, the three Israeli teenagers who were kidnapped and murdered in the West Bank, July 1, 2014. (Activestills.org)

Thousands of Israelis mourn at the funeral of Eyal Yifrah, Gilad Shaar, and Naftali Fraenkel, the three Israeli teenagers who were kidnapped and murdered in the West Bank, July 1, 2014. (Activestills.org)

Palestinian protesters throw stones at Israeli security forces days after Muhammad Abu Khdeir was kidnapped and burned alive in East Jerusalem, July 5, 2015. (Photo by Activestills.org)

Palestinian protesters throw stones at Israeli security forces days after Muhammad Abu Khdeir was kidnapped and burned alive in East Jerusalem, July 5, 2015. (Photo by Activestills.org)

***

An American-Israeli friend stayed in my apartment and took care of my cat while I was in the States. He’d been contemplating a move to Bethlehem; my place was his trial run.

I arrive home to find that he’s already left.

He emails me, explaining that the situation has been very tense. Israeli forces have been raiding houses in Beit Sahour—which is just down the road from my apartment. And my friend almost got nabbed by soldiers when he took the bus in to Jerusalem recently.

He’s had enough and went back the previous day.

I’ve always felt safe in Bethlehem but, when I go to bed that night—with Israeli tanks and troops amassing on the Gaza border and Hamas firing rockets into the south—I think about something a Palestinian friend said to me in December, during the Christmas party Mohammad and I hosted. I’d had a little too much to drink and found myself, more than once in the evening, slipping into Hebrew. The friend, a close friend of Mohammad’s, realized I must have an Israeli ID and pulled me aside.

“I’m scared for you,” he said, in Arabic. He emphasized that he, personally, had no problem with me living in Bethlehem. He knows me, he knows my politics, he loves me and he loves me and Mohammad together.

“But there are people who don’t think like me,” he continued. “And if they find out that you’re here, alone—I’m scared for you.”

Six months later, as something stirs in the garden, I remember his words. I think of the family of settlers who were killed in Itamar in 2011. I recall the student who waited for me after class one day. “So, I heard you’re Jewish,” she began. “I really admire you for teaching here. You’re so brave. Anyone could bring a gun to campus and shoot you.”

The view from the garden outside my house in Bethlehem, with Dheisheh refugee camp below. (Photo by Mya Guernieri)

The view from the garden outside my house in Bethlehem, with Dheisheh refugee camp below. (Photo by Mya Guernieri)

I tell myself that there’s no one in the garden. It’s just the wind, I think, reminding myself that I’m not a settler. And I curse myself for thinking like a racist, paranoid Israeli, for being so self-centered and so self-important as to lie in bed thinking anyone would care that I—one person, a harmless woman who works at a Palestinian university and rents from a Palestinian landlady and is not occupying anyone’s home—am here and that they would be so bothered as to do something about it.

Outside leaves skitter across the garden’s stone path.

Or are those footsteps, someone walking through the leaves?

I try to think things through. The house is nestled into the side of a hill, on an old olive terrace. It’s at least a ten foot drop to the orchard below and then another huge leg-breaking-jump down to the road. So for someone to get into the garden, they’d have to scale not one but two stone walls. I’m completely safe.

The leaves rustle again. I think of the three settlers who disappeared (but you’re not a settler! I remind myself again) and I think of Abu Khdeir. Most Israelis wouldn’t kill a Palestinian. And most Palestinians wouldn’t kill me. But both sides have their extremists and these are tense times.

My mind fills then with angles—the various trajectories a bullet could take if it was fired into my bedroom from different positions.

I remind myself that my bedroom is on the other side of the enclosed porch that also has bars on the window. It would be quite a shot, aiming through the bars of one window towards another barred window.

Still, I can’t sleep.

I slide out of bed and, staying below the window, edge towards the armoire. I remove some blankets and I make a nest on the floor in the “blind spot” between the bed and the bureau, where no bullets could possibly reach.

The sun rouses me in the morning. As I wake and remember why I’m on the floor, I feel ashamed. I fold the blankets and put them back in the bureau. I make the bed and look at the room, which is full of light. It’s like last night never happened.

I make some Nescafe, grab an ice pack and a towel for my still-fractured foot, and take a seat in the garden. My cat joins me. It’s a beautiful summer day. I tell myself that everything is fine, that everything will be just fine.

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Asylum seekers mourn ‘lynched’ Eritrean man http://972mag.com/asylum-seekers-mourn-lynched-eritrean-man/113154/ http://972mag.com/asylum-seekers-mourn-lynched-eritrean-man/113154/#comments Fri, 23 Oct 2015 15:11:27 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=113154 Asylum seekers hold a memorial service for Habtom Zerhum, who was mistakenly shot and then severely beaten by Israelis at the scene of a terrorist attack in Be’er Sheva earlier in the week.

Members of the Eritrean community in Israel hold a memorial service for a memorial ceremony for asylum seeker Habtom Zarhum in Levinsky park in south Tel Aviv, October 21, 2015. Zarhum died after he was shot by an Israeli security guard at a bus station in the southern city of Beersheba where he was mistaken for an assailant in an attack that killed an Israeli soldier. Zarhum, who was kicked by an angry mob after being shot will not be recognized as an official victim of terrorism. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Members of the Eritrean community in Israel hold a memorial service for a memorial ceremony for asylum seeker Habtom Zarhum in Levinsky park in south Tel Aviv, October 21, 2015. Zarhum died after he was shot by an Israeli security guard at a bus station in the southern city of Beersheba where he was mistaken for an assailant in an attack that killed an Israeli soldier. Zarhum, who was kicked by an angry mob after being shot will not be recognized as an official victim of terrorism. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Hundreds of Eritreans and Sudanese nationals gathered in south Tel Aviv’s Levinsky Park Wednesday evening to mourn Habtom Zerhum, the asylum seeker who was shot and severely beaten Sunday night during a terrorist attack in the Beer Sheva bus station.

They lit candles and wept.

Desale Tesfay, 35, from Eritrea, explained to +972 that the gathering also served as a moment for members of the community to come together and talk and support one another.

Mourners expressed shock and anger at the accidental killing of the innocent man, who was mistaken for a terrorist and shot by a security guard. Some, like Tesfay, also criticized the Israeli government, calling on it to formulate a meaningful policy to help asylum seekers.

+972′s full coverage of asylum seekers in Israel

Speaking quietly during a moment of silence, Tesfay reflected on Zerhum’s life and violent death.

“He’s a human being who ran from [Eritrea] because there’s no democracy there,” Tesfay explained. “He was a young man who didn’t do anything wrong, he went to renew his visa and look what happened to him.”

Members of the Eritrean community in Israel light candles at a memorial service for a memorial ceremony for asylum seeker Habtom Zarhum in Levinsky park in south Tel Aviv, October 21, 2015. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Members of the Eritrean community in Israel light candles at a memorial service for a memorial ceremony for asylum seeker Habtom Zarhum in Levinsky park in south Tel Aviv, October 21, 2015. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Members of the Eritrean community in Israel hold a memorial service for a memorial ceremony for asylum seeker Habtom Zarhum in Levinsky park in south Tel Aviv, October 21, 2015. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Members of the Eritrean community in Israel hold a memorial service for a memorial ceremony for asylum seeker Habtom Zarhum in Levinsky park in south Tel Aviv, October 21, 2015. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Tesfay left Eritrea in 2008 after he was forcibly conscripted to the Eritrean army for eight years, for very little pay and with no end in sight. “It’s a dictatorship, that’s why we left. If it was a democracy, we wouldn’t be fleeing.”

When asked if Israel is also a democracy, Tesfay laughed long and hard.

“Yes, there’s democracy here, as they say, for their people [the Jews]. But for the refugees?”

Tesfay, a father of two, points out that his children cannot receive Israeli citizenship even though they were both born here. His visa stipulates that he does not have permission to work. And, when Tesfay arrived in 2008, he spent six months in Saharonim prison, without trial.

Members of the Eritrean community in Israel hold a memorial service for a memorial ceremony for asylum seeker Habtom Zarhum in Levinsky park in south Tel Aviv, October 21, 2015. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Members of the Eritrean community in Israel hold a memorial service for a memorial ceremony for asylum seeker Habtom Zarhum in Levinsky park in south Tel Aviv, October 21, 2015. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

He added that while he has not been summoned to Holot, the desert detention facility where Israel sends asylum seekers, he feels like he is “still in prison.”

“It’s like the government put a long string here,” he said, pointing to his ankle. “I go to work, I come home and [otherwise] I don’t move.”

“Now, today, we are supposed to go to jail again,” he said, referring to Holot. “It’s not how things should be. We don’t deserve jail. What did we do? We requested [protection] as refugees.”

Tesfay said he does not fear for his personal safety after what happened to Zerhum. But because he has no rights in Israel, he added, he feels he must accept whatever happens to him “quietly… even if someone comes to kill me.”

Next to us, the mourners began to wail again.

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The ‘lynching’ of Habtom Zarhum: A history of incitement http://972mag.com/the-lynching-of-habtom-zarhum-a-history-of-incitement/112998/ http://972mag.com/the-lynching-of-habtom-zarhum-a-history-of-incitement/112998/#comments Tue, 20 Oct 2015 13:53:17 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=112998 Activists, asylum seekers and refugee advocates in Israel are pointing to the incitement directed toward African asylum seekers — by politicians, state institutions and the media — as necessary context for the vigilante mob and shooting that killed an Eritrean asylum seeker.

Habtom Zarhum

Habtom Zarhum

An Eritrean asylum seeker was mistaken for a Palestinian during a shooting attack at the Be’er Sheva bus station Sunday night. Habtom Zarhum, 29, was shot by a security guard who thought he was a terrorist and then – as the asylum seeker lay bleeding on the ground – civilians kicked him, cursed and spat on him. A bystander bashed his head in with a bench.

In a video that circulated on social media Sunday night, one man is seen holding a chair over Zarhum. It is not clear whether he was trying to harm the asylum seeker or protect him.

[tmwinpost]

The video also shows a small number of policemen and civilians trying to stop the mob from further harming Zarhum. But their efforts were unsuccessful. At one point a man walks through the loose ring they’d formed around Zarhum, who was writhing in pain, and casually kicks his head like a soccer ball as he passes the already bloody and battered asylum seeker.

When medical personnel arrived, a crowd that was chanting “Death to Arabs” tried to prevent them from reaching Zarhum. The medics first treated the wounded Jewish Israelis. The asylum seeker was reportedly the last to receive help.

Zarhum later died of his injuries. Police on Tuesday said they were waiting to charge anybody in the death until an autopsy clarified whether the gunshot or the beatings caused his death.

Israeli media quickly labeled the incident a “lynch.” Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel’s top-selling daily newspaper, ran a photograph of Zarhum lying in his own blood and trying to protect his head, on the front page of Monday’s paper with the caption “A terrible mistake.” The article inside the paper was titled: “Just because of his skin color.”

Members of Israel’s African asylum seeker community expressed sadness and shock. Asylum seekers who are currently imprisoned in the Holot detention facility — where they are held for no specific crime and without trial for 12 months — held a vigil yesterday in Zarhum’s memory.

Dawit Demoz is a 29-year-old asylum seeker from Eritrea who has been in Israel since 2009. He criticized the security guard who shot Zarhum for using racial profiling, “You don’t just shoot [because of] the way [someone] looks. [Zarhum] didn’t do anything, he was trying to escape like everyone else… he was just trying to run away from the terrorist.”

Activists, asylum seekers and refugee advocates Israel were quick to point to the incitement directed toward African asylum seekers — by politicians, state institutions and the media — as necessary context for the killing in Be’er Sheva. “You leave a horrible situation [in Eritrea or Sudan] and when you come here and call yourself an asylum seeker, [the government and media] call you an infiltrator,” Demoz explained, referring to the term the Israeli government and media use to refer to African asylum seekers, a term rights groups have long decried as derogatory and inflammatory.

In death, however, Israeli media has taken to calling Zarhum an asylum seeker, “the Eritreat,” and in some cases, even a refugee. Police, strangely, began referring to him as a “foreign subject.”

African asylum seekers in Israel prison. 2014 (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

African asylum seekers in an ‘open’ Israel prison, Holot. 2014 (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Rotem Ilan, head of the migration department at the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, echoed the same sentiment. “You can see the difference between how the media talks about asylum seekers every day and how they talk about them when they die. Suddenly, they don’t use the word infiltrator,” she said, “suddenly he’s a human being.”

The lesson Ilan hopes that Israel will take from this incident, she continued, is “to treat people as human beings while they’re still alive.”

Some 45,000 African asylum seekers, most of whom are from Eritrea and Sudan, are currently in Israel. Authorities systematically reject or ignore almost requests for refugee status by African applicants. Israel has granted refugee status to only four Eritreans and no Sudanese nationals. In the European Union, by comparison, Eritrean asylum seekers’ applications for refugee status receive a positive answer 84 percent of the time.

At the height of their migration to Israel, there were 60,000 asylum seekers but numbers have waned as a result of an official policy to “make their lives miserable” and encourage those who are here to leave. Numerous Israeli officials have called African asylum seekers a demographic threat.

While Israel cannot deport Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers directly back to their countries of origin — because it would blatantly violate the principle of non-refoulement — most of the asylum seekers who live here do not receive work visas. With no legal way to survive, they work low-paying black market jobs where they face exploitation.

Israel has also tweaked its 1954 Prevention of Infiltration law, which was initially created to stop Palestinian refugees from returning to their homes, broadening the legislation to imprison African asylum seekers. The Israeli High Court of Justice rejected the legislation that authorized indefinite detention twice as unconstitutional, and upheld a third version while limiting the administrative detention of asylum seekers to one year.

Some activists, like Ilan, are pointing a finger at politicians for fomenting the conditions of xenophobia and vigilante violence that led to Zarhum’s death.

An African man who was attacked following a rightwing rally in Tel Aviv, May 23 2012 (photo: Oren Ziv/activestills)

An African man who was attacked following a rightwing rally in Tel Aviv, May 23 2012 (photo: Oren Ziv/activestills)

In the wake of stabbing attacks carried about Palestinians from East Jerusalem and the West Bank, politicians and state officials — including Knesset Member Yair Lapid, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, and the Jerusalem District Police Commander Moshe Edri — have encouraged Jewish Israelis to arm themselves and to “shoot to kill,” as Lapid put it. Last week, human rights groups issued a public letter expressing their concern about such statements.

ACRI, where Ilan works, sent an additional letter to the country’s attorney general warning of the consequences of such dangerous rhetoric.

“In such a tense time the leader’s job is to calm things down not to add fuel to the fire,” Ilan reflected. “In our letter we said that the end result of this current atmosphere and [politicians’] careless [remarks] is that innocent people will be hurt. This is what we saw yesterday.”

Unfortunately, this is far from the first time asylum seekers have experienced violence at the hands of Jewish Israelis. For years, the community has dealt with near-constant, low-level violence accentuated by more serious attacks. Things boiled over in 2012, when a small race riot broke out in south Tel Aviv after Knesset Member Miri Regev, who is part of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, called African asylum seekers a “cancer in our body.”

When asked whether or not he feels safe in light of yesterday’s events, Demoz sighed and answered, “I don’t know what I’m feeling really. It’s hard for me to answer this question.”

*While the Israeli media has identified Zarhum as Haftom Zarhum, he has been identified by the African Refugee Development Center as Habtom Zerhom.

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Israel using ‘preventative arrests’ to stifle dissent http://972mag.com/israel-using-preventative-arrests-to-stifle-dissent/112923/ http://972mag.com/israel-using-preventative-arrests-to-stifle-dissent/112923/#comments Mon, 19 Oct 2015 13:00:20 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=112923 Palestinian citizens of Israel are being subject to preventive arrests as Israel attempts to silence dissent.

Israeli police arrest an Arab youth during a protest in Nazareth in northern Israel, October 8, 2015. (Omar Sameer/Activestills.org)

Israeli police arrest an Arab youth during a protest in Nazareth in northern Israel, October 8, 2015. (Omar Sameer/Activestills.org)

Israeli police came to Adan Tartour’s Jaffa home at half past midnight. They pounded on the door. When the Tartours opened it, police said that they had an arrest warrant.

Adan, an 18-year-old Palestinian citizen of Israel who hopes to study law and history at university, was arrested for “suspicion of violence and terrorism” — all because she’d signed up to take a bus to a protest in Nazareth.

[tmwinpost]

Although the demonstration, which was scheduled for Thursday, had not taken place yet, Tartour and other activists were detained last Wednesday night. Some were arrested on suspicion of planning “illegal” demonstrations. Others who managed to actually attend demonstrations were arrested and charged with taking part in an “illegal” gatherings or attacking police. In reality, lawyers say, the protesters were the ones who were assaulted.

Lawyers and activists point out that, in Israel, protests do not need authorization. They say that the wave of “preventive arrests” reflect Israel’s attempts to quiet dissent against its recent provocations at Al Aqsa and the shooting deaths of Palestinians in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. They believe that Israeli authorities aim to frighten and intimidate Palestinian citizens of the state.

Attorneys also say that the arrests violate Palestinian citizens’ right to freedom of expression and that minors’ legal rights were violated while in custody.

There are also reports that protesters were beaten — they have appeared in court with visible bruises on their bodies. Family members who are not involved in demonstrations have also been arrested, as was the case when Tartour was detained last Wednesday night.

“They had an arrest warrant for me and my father,” Tartour explains, adding that this was the case with other female detainees. “They were arrested with their fathers… it’s humiliating and chauvinistic.”

The two were taken to a local police station before being transferred to Nazareth, where they arrived at 4:30 in the morning. During her interrogation, which began at 5:30 a.m., police repeatedly told Tartour that she “is a shame to her family” and that her actions are “not good for her family.” She felt that this Orientalist appeal to “family honor” was an attempt to dissuade her from protesting.

“But what they don’t understand is that our [Palestinian] families stand by their daughters,” she says.

While her father was released early Thursday morning, Tartour’s detention was extended by an Israeli court. After four days, she was let go with the caveat that she might be taken for additional investigation, and under the condition that stay away from Nazareth for two weeks.

She is also “forbidden from joining protests.”

Israeli police arrest an Arab youth during a protest in Nazareth in northern Israel, October 8, 2015. (Faiz Abu Rmeleh/Activestills.org)

Israeli police arrest an Arab youth during a protest in Nazareth in northern Israel, October 8, 2015. (Faiz Abu Rmeleh/Activestills.org)

And that’s the ultimate goal, according to Tartour and others — the Israelis want to frighten Palestinian citizens and thus stop them from demonstrating.

Reflecting on her experience, Tartour is troubled by a number of things, particularly the treatment of minors, the court’s role in upholding and extending detentions, and the state’s attempts to depict Palestinian protests as illegal.

When Tartour appeared in court and her detention was extended, Tartour recalls, “The judge said because of what’s happening in the state… they couldn’t interfere with the police’s work. So what is the courts’ job?”

“All protests are permitted and legal,” she adds. “[When] people have to ask for permission [to protest], that’s a worrisome situation.”

Recent weeks have seen a number of demonstrations that the Israeli police have not attempted to prevent or stop: a small number of Jewish Israelis protested the occupation and the escalation in violence; some 15,000 rallied in Tel Aviv for animal rights; twice in Jerusalem, hundreds of right-wing Jewish Israelis marched, chanting slogans like “Death to Arabs.” While on one occasion police prevented the latter from entering the Old City’s Muslim Quarter and arrested four, they did not detain those most of the people involved.

In Haifa, approximately 400 right-wing Jewish Israeli activists attended a protest against Arabs in an area of the city with many Palestinian-owned businesses. Some of the demonstrators wielded sticks. None were arrested.

According to Adalah — The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, between 160 and 200 Palestinian citizens have been arrested before or during protests in recent weeks. Like Tartour, most of those detained have no criminal record. As of Sunday, 40 Palestinian citizens of Israel were still being held.

Sawsan Zaher, a lawyer with Adalah, says that these arrests are illegal. “According to the Israeli law you, cannot arrest a person based on the fact that there is a fear that in the future they might commit a crime,” she explains, adding that stopping people from protesting is a “violation of their constitutional right to freedom of expression.”

It’s not only demonstrators and their family members who are being locked up. Several bus drivers who attempted to transport protesters to Nazareth — but were turned back by police outside of the city — were later arrested and were detained for four days. “Police claimed that the drivers themselves had participated in an ‘illegal’ demonstration,” Zaher says, even though the protest “did not need authorization in the first place” and despite the fact that the buses did not actually reach the protests.

The buses were also impounded. The vehicles were held through the weekend and were then released.

Not only have courts upheld requests to extend activists’ detention, it has, at times, accepted highly questionable “evidence.”

“Judges referred to onions [found with demonstrators] as an indication that the protesters meant for a violent demonstration,” Zaher explains. “We have never seen onions being referred to as a legal defense.” (Editor’s note: Onions are often used to counteract the effects of tear gas.)

Zaher adds that judges have also detained Palestinian citizens based on investigation material that she and other defense attorneys do not have access to. In one case, a minor who doesn’t know Hebrew was being held on the basis of a “testimony that was written in Hebrew” and signed by the child.

Minors’ legal rights are being violated in other ways, as well. According to Israeli law, minors’ parents should be informed and are allowed to be with their child during questioning, children may have a social worker present, and minors should not be interrogated after 10 p.m. Lawyers have seen some or all of these specifications ignored by Israeli authorities during this wave of arrests.

Farah Bayadsi is a lawyer representing a number of activists and minors who were detained. She also says police are preventing detainees from getting the legal counsel they are entitled to, according to Israeli law.

“A police officer intervened when I was giving a 14-year-old teenage [girl] a legal consultation before her interrogation, as [provided for in] the law. The policeman kicked me out of the office and told me that my time was up,” Bayadsi says.

Israeli authorities used similar tactics during the 2014 conflict with Gaza.

For some, recent events are reminiscent of the Israeli military regime that ruled over Palestinian citizens of the state from 1948 until 1966. Shira Robinson, an associate professor of history and international affairs at George Washington University and the author of Citizen Strangers: Palestinians and the birth of Israel’s liberal settler state, remarks, “There were tons of preventive detentions” of Palestinian citizens of Israel between 1948 and 1966. “It was the name of the game.”

She offers the example of Israeli authorities’ attempts to stop commemoration of the Kafr Qassem massacre, which took place in October of 1956. In the days and nights before the anniversary, “Israeli authorities would round up known activists ahead of time. That was standard fare.”

“Military rule [inside the Green Line] was abolished in 1966 but the British emergency regulations in which it was rooted remain on the books today,” Robinson says, adding that the British initially created these regulations in response to riots in colonized India and the Caribbean.

Zaher says that it’s unnecessary to look that far afield. She remarks that the manner in which Israeli police and courts have handled protesters points to a fundamental difference in the way the state treats and views its Palestinian citizens versus its Jewish ones. Ultimately, she says, Israeli authorities treat their own Palestinian citizens similarly to Palestinians in the occupied territories:

“It doesn’t matter where you are—if you’re Palestinian you’re an enemy and you’re a threat and you’re treated as a Palestinian.”

The Israeli legal system, Zaher continues, “is based on a perspective of a Palestinian…as an alien. When they are viewed as an enemy and this is anchored in the law then you have the legitimization to do anything.”

A shorter version of this article was originally published on Al Jazeera English.

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Which is the ‘right’ side of the Green Line these days? http://972mag.com/which-is-the-right-side-of-the-green-line/112612/ http://972mag.com/which-is-the-right-side-of-the-green-line/112612/#comments Mon, 12 Oct 2015 18:06:42 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=112612 Read parts onetwo, and three.

Thursday morning: I wake up and check the news this morning to see what happened last night and then head to the doctor’s in north Tel Aviv. I’m 24 weeks pregnant — yes, with a Jewish-Palestinian baby. My physician in Florida, where we live now, has advised me to keep up with my medical care in Israel even though I’ll only be here for six weeks to freshen up my research for the book I’ve just sold.

I’m a few minutes late to my appointment . When the doctor’s door opens, the woman who is scheduled after me steps right on in. She shuts the door in my face. I check the list next to the door and announce the time of my appointment aloud.

“So, it’s your turn,” the other women who are waiting say. They urge me to knock and assert myself.

I knock and the patient who just entered opens the door. “I’m sorry,” I begin, “but I had the 8:40 appointment.”

She shrugs, smiles. “But you were late.” And the door slams shut in my face again.

“Israelim,” Israelis, one of the women smirks.

When the door opens again and the patient emerges, I’m quick to make my way into the doctor’s office. We talk for a few minutes about what tests I’ve already had in the States, their results, and how I’m feeling. At my American doctor’s insistence, I’ve brought my medical records with me. I offer them to the doctor. He says they’re not necessary and then he sends me on my way to get checked for gestational diabetes.

As I’m leaving, there’s a commotion in the lobby. A Filipino man has followed an elderly Israeli couple into the building.

“They hit my car!” he shouts in English.

No one responds.

“You hit my car!” he tries again to the couple.

The clerk — a Palestinian citizen of the state I spoke to on my way in — goes about his business. Another elderly couple puzzles over a piece of paper.

You hit my car and you’re angry with me?” his voice indignant.

I step onto the sidewalk just as the Filipino man is heading towards parallel parking.

“Look,” he says, pointing. “I was there, they pulled in and hit me, and then they got out, didn’t apologize, and yelled at me.”

“Israelim,” I say.

“Look at how much room they took!” he continues, pointing to the couples’ vehicle, which was, indeed, taking up two spaces. “And they hit me!”

The worst part, he tells me again, is that when they got out of their car, they started shouting at and blaming him rather than apologizing.

I think of Israelis’ reactions to the events of this week — their inability to reflect on what has brought Palestinians to this point. I think of Israelis’ unwillingness to understand the stabbings as violent responses to the violent occupation that began in 1948 for some and 1967 for others, depending on who you ask.

The scene of a stabbing attack near Damascus Gate in East Jerusalem, October 10, 2015. (Anne Paq/Activestills.org) The body is of the attacker, 16-year-old Ishaq Badran of Kufr Aqab in East Jerusalem, who was killed by police.

The scene of a stabbing attack near Damascus Gate in East Jerusalem, October 10, 2015. (Anne Paq/Activestills.org) The body is of the attacker, 16-year-old Ishaq Badran of Kufr Aqab in East Jerusalem, who was killed by police.

I think of what’s happening, specifically, in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, where Israel has taken most of the land and resources and is constantly expropriating more. Where there isn’t enough land and houses for normal population growth, where Palestinians are forced to build “illegally” because the Israeli government refuses to grant them the necessary permits. Where one might have to then pay for the demolition of their own home.

Where the economy has been crushed by the occupation; where there is no freedom of movement; where the lack of freedom of movement further suffocates the economy, feeding only the sense of desperation.

Where there is no hope. No hope for anything — a decent job, a good income, a normal life. Where there is little trust in the PA or politicians or negotiations that wrought the current reality, Oslo, or the negotiations that are resurrected from time to time just maintain an unbearable status quo.

I think of the place my former students live, the place where they left home every morning for school, uncertain that they would make it through the checkpoints and arrive, let alone on time. The place where a student might find that a friend hasn’t made it — maybe his classmate has been taken to administrative detention. Or maybe he has been shot. Who knows? One’s fate is just as uncertain as the roads in the territories.

The stabbings are screams of frustration, rage, despair, hopelessness. They’re the screams of people who are lost, who have no leadership and see nothing on the horizon. I think of the Israelis’ inabilities to hear these screams; I think of how they hear no one’s voices but their own.

Police turn a man away at a checkpoint outside the Old City of Jerusalem, October 4, 2015. (Faiz Abu Rmeleh/Activestills.org) Israeli police banned most Palestinians from entering the Old City for a few days after a fatal stabbing attack.

Police turn a man away at a checkpoint outside the Old City of Jerusalem, October 4, 2015. (Faiz Abu Rmeleh/Activestills.org) Israeli police banned most Palestinians from entering the Old City for a few days after a fatal stabbing attack.

Next to me, the Filipino man is still going on about his car.

He’s looking for consolation, which he won’t get from the elderly couple. I simply repeat back to him what he’s already said to me. “Israelis don’t take responsibility for their actions,” I say. “Instead, they get angry and blame others.”

He shakes his head and cradles his face in his hands as he stands on the sidewalk, looking at the damage done to his vehicle.

Later that day, when I arrive back at the city center, I notice a pile of old hand-painted tiles on the sidewalk near my apartment. They’ve been placed there, neatly stacked one on top of the other, by the Palestinian workers doing the renovation in the building next to mine.

I pick a tile up, brush the dust off, and examine it. I contemplate taking it back to Florida to join the other pre-state tiles I collected in both Tel Aviv and Bethlehem — souvenirs from a time when things were different, from a time when the land wasn’t divided. Remnants from a time when there was still such a thing as Palestinian Jews.

One of the workers joins me on the sidewalk. “Something interesting to you here, miss?” he asks.

“These,” I say. “Are they garbage?”

“Yes, that’s why they’re here.”

As we’re talking, another stabbing is taking place. This time, it’s in Tel Aviv.

“It’s a pity,” I say, “to throw these things away.”

“Death,” he says. “That’s what’s really a pity.”

I leave the tiles and head into my building. Upstairs, I call Mohammad. It’s morning his time and he greets me with a sunny “sabah al-kheir.”

“Sabah al-noor,” I respond as I check the news and update him on all that has happened today, including the Tel Aviv stabbing, which is breaking news on my Twitter feed.

Usually, it’s the other way around — Mohammad checking the news and giving me the toll of Palestinian deaths and Palestinian injuries. On several occasions, he’s told me that a person was killed in “cold blood” and I have had the odd experience of hearing myself arguing with him.

“But they were stabbing people,” I protest. “They weren’t exactly killed in ‘cold blood.’ It’s not like the police walked up to them randomly on the street and executed them for no reason.”

First responders remove the body of a Palestinian man who carried out a stabbing attack in Jerusalem. Police shot him dead, October 12, 2015. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

First responders remove the body of a Palestinian man who carried out a stabbing attack in Jerusalem. Police shot him dead, October 12, 2015. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Of course I think that the police should find other means to stop an attack. Of course, the suspect should be arrested and not killed. Of course, their family home shouldn’t be demolished.

And, of course, I’m not defending the police’s actions. I’m just explaining the mainstream Israeli mentality, I tell Mohammad. It doesn’t mean that I agree with it or condone it.

I try to steer the conversation with my husband back to safe ground—international law. “Civilians aren’t supposed to be targets,” I say.

“Settlers aren’t civilians.”

“Not everyone who has been stabbed is a settler,” I answer. “Just because someone is on the other side of the Green Line at the moment of an attack doesn’t mean they’re a settler. Remember when I lived in Kiryat Yovel and I took Arabic in East Jerusalem? What if I was still doing that and someone stabbed me on my way to class? I don’t think they’re stopping people and asking them whether or not they’re settlers before they stab them.”

“Everyone there is a settler,” Mohammad answers. “Tel Aviv is a settlement.”

I realize I’m not getting anywhere.

“Okay, first of all, the international community recognizes Tel Aviv and everything else inside the Green Line. Second, let’s say Tel Aviv is a settlement — settlers are still civilians. And according to international law, civilians aren’t legitimate targets anywhere. Not in Israel, not in the West Bank, not in Gaza.”

“After we have our rights, we’ll follow international law,” Mohammad answers.

“Really? So this is okay to you? It’s fine to go around stabbing random civilians?”

“No, of course not,” he says, adding that he doesn’t consider me or other Israelis who live inside the Green Line settlers. “I’m just telling you how a lot of Palestinians see things.”

I point out that we’re engaging in exactly the type of conversation that the Israelis want us to — in arguing about the violence, we’ve both lost sight of the context that has given rise to the stabbings in the first place: the occupation, the settlements, the Palestinian refugees, the discrimination Palestinian citizens of the state face inside Israel. And we agree about all of these issues: the occupation must end, settlements must be either dismantled or opened to Palestinian residents, Palestinian refugees have a right to return, and Palestinian citizens of Israel must have full equality.

We also agree that no one deserves to be killed, whether by gunshot or knife.

An Israeli bus driver uses toilet paper to clean blood from the entrance of his bus following a stabbing attack, Jerusalem, October 12, 2015. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

An Israeli bus driver uses toilet paper to clean blood from the entrance of his bus following a stabbing attack, Jerusalem, October 12, 2015. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Today, when I tell Mohammad about the stabbing in Tel Aviv, we don’t argue at all.

“Nowhere is safe,” I say. I sit at my computer, staring at the news, hand on my belly. Our daughter kicks so hard that my stomach moves.

Mohammad jokes that I should wear a headscarf so that I won’t be a target for a stabbing. But, he adds, that could mark me for a shooting.

We can’t figure out which of the two is better right now.

We also talk strategy: should I stay away from crowds? Or are crowds actually better protection?

We can’t figure that out, either.

So I decide to go about my life. Sort of. I was planning a trip to Bethlehem this weekend. I count my friends there as among my closest — we considered naming our daughter after one of them — and I’d also hoped to visit my landlady. Chances are I’d be fine in Bethlehem. It’s the drive out there that worries me. Even in a yellow plate car, an attack by a settler seems as likely as being hit by a shebab-thrown stone.

I message “Leila” on Viber, telling her I’m not sure about coming to visit after all.

“Don’t” she answers.

She calls. “Mya, you’re pregnant. The soldiers, the tear gas, the stones. You can’t.”

I tell her that I’m frustrated — last summer, I was stuck in the West Bank during the war and unable to give a proper goodbye to friends and places on the other side of the Green Line. And because my move to America was hasty, I didn’t process that I was leaving this land. Now, I’m back and I understand that while I’m here, I’m also gone. I have both the energy and the time to say my goodbyes. But I feel stuck in Tel Aviv, unable again to visit my loved ones on the “other side.”

We talk about the current situation and draw the same inarticulate, crudely phrased conclusion: fuck the Israeli government, the PA, all of the useless Israeli political parties and the Palestinian ones, too. Fuck the violent settlers and the shebab who are stabbing civilians and the police who shoot the shebab and fuck the soldiers, too, who are killing boys who are armed with nothing but rocks.

Palestinian youth clash with Israeli troops in Bethlehem following the funeral of a 13-year-old Palestinian boy who was killed by an IDF sniper during clashes, October 6, 2015. (Muhannad Saleem/Activestills.org)

Palestinian youth clash with Israeli troops in Bethlehem following the funeral of a 13-year-old Palestinian boy who was killed by an IDF sniper during clashes, October 6, 2015. (Muhannad Saleem/Activestills.org)

It’s all wrong. And it’s wrong that we can spend the weekend together neither in the land that is hers nor in the country the Israeli government and international community claim to be mine.

Still, regardless of what’s happening around us, we end the conversation the same way Mohammad and I end every call:

“I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

***

Friday: I decide to attend an anti-occupation protest. On the way there, I indulge myself in a naïve fantasy that it will be massive. I arrive to find a handful of people; the numbers grow to about 150.

That’s it?

Members of Israeli communist party Hadash attend an anti-violence protest in Tel Aviv, October 9, 2015. (Photo by A. Daniel Roth)

Members of Israeli communist party Hadash attend an anti-violence protest in Tel Aviv, October 9, 2015. (Photo by A. Daniel Roth) Most of the Hebrew signs read ‘Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies.’

The slogans are nice, though. They’re catchy and, in Hebrew, most of them rhyme. The protesters chant things like: “No, no, to escalation, we don’t want another war,” “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies,” and “We can’t build peace on the bodies of children.”

But they’re just words. And though I’m not surprised that only 150 people are here, I’m upset by the Israeli public’s seeming apathy.

Still, I stay until the end of the protest. When it’s over, I pick up some groceries at the shuk, and then head back toward my apartment.

The corner where the protest was held just an hour before is empty, it looks like nothing ever happened here. As I pass, I catch a line from two men’s conversation, “You know, leftists aren’t really Jews,” one tells the other.

In the evening, a friend texts me to ask what I’m up to.

“Trying to write,” I answer, “but mostly checking the news.”

“Stop,” he says. “You’ll drive yourself crazy.”

I go to bed.

***

Saturday morning: Seven dead in Gaza; three rockets fired from the Strip; a stabbing in Jerusalem.

As I sit hunched over my computer, alternating between Ynet, Ma’an, and my Twitter feed, I realize that I haven’t driven myself crazy. But I’ve fallen behind on everything. I make a mental list:

On Wednesday, I was supposed to speak with a lawyer who represents a Sudanese refugee. But I was so preoccupied with my brother-in-law making it in from the territories safely to visit me in Tel Aviv that the interview slipped my mind. This is the first time in nearly a decade of working as a journalist that I’ve stood someone up. Granted, we didn’t have a firm appointment. It was a casual thing — I was supposed to drop by his office sometime in the late afternoon. But, still.

My brother-in-law has a permit. And I insist to my husband that the police aren’t just shooting random Palestinians in cold blood. But if I really believe that, why did I spend Wednesday afternoon concerned that something would happen?

I worried because, at the end of the day, my brother-in-law is a young Arab man. And according to the body count, he’s more vulnerable than anyone right now.

I jot down a note to call the lawyer and I start composing a profuse apology in my head. No excuses—the lawyer and I have enough of a rapport that I can tell him exactly what happened: I was worried to distraction.

And there’s the Sudanese refugee, who is now in Ethiopia, whom I’m supposed to call.

And there’s the interview I need to finish transcribing — a Darfuri’s horrible account of torture in the Sinai, his discussion of what he has faced in Israel since arriving here. I sit at computer, put on my headphones, try to get started, but find myself checking the news instead. Another stabbing, another Palestinian shot to death. Senselessly. When an Israeli stabs Palestinians, the police can manage to detain him without using lethal force. The same protocol can and should be used for Palestinian suspects, as well.

I can’t concentrate. I go out for a walk. I decide to make use of the time away from my desk — I head toward a book store that is open on Saturdays to pick up a collection of academic essays about African refugees. I vow to come straight back my apartment and get down to work when I return.

I navigate the streets without thinking. After all, I lived here for years. But as I pass not one but two apartments I lived in — places that hold so many memories — I’m surprised that I feel nothing. No pangs of nostalgia. I walk by cafes where I sat with this or that beloved friend; I see street corners where I had a conversation with so-and-so as we were on our way to such-and-such. And though I remember it all well, the images that come to mind feel like someone else’s. The memories don’t feel like mine anymore.

Women sit on a bench on Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard. (Illustrative photo by Activestills.org)

Women sit on a bench on Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard. (Illustrative photo by Activestills.org)

I look at the crumbling buildings, the cracks in their sagging faces filled with grey spackle. The sidewalks are littered with dog shit and the streets smell of cat piss. The neglected animals — starving and mangy — mill about.

What did I ever see in this city in the first place? I wonder. Why did I stay for so long?

I pass one full cafe after another. I remember how, once upon a time, I loved sitting in Tel Aviv’s cafes myself. Today, I find myself mentally counting the people sitting there in the sun, chatting over their coffee, beer, or wine. They can spend hours sitting out here on a Saturday, I think, but they couldn’t be bothered to spend an hour at the protest yesterday. If all these people crowded into cafes today, on Shabbat, had come yesterday, maybe something would change here.

But change is exactly what Israelis don’t want. The status quo suits them. Right now, they think they can have security — that is, quiet — without peace. At some point they will have to understand that’s impossible.

When I arrive at the bookstore, I discover that they have sold out of the title I’ve come for. I wander about, reading synopses on back covers, trying out the first page or two of several different novels, skimming through some poems.

As I flip through the books, I remember the days when I cared so much about improving my Hebrew — I went everywhere with a notebook and, anytime I encountered a new word, I jotted it down. I read online, I read the newspaper, I read books with my notebook next to me; I watched Israeli TV with Hebrew subtitles, my notebook in one hand, a pen in the other. I wanted to speak more fluidly, too, I wanted to get rid of my American accent.

I remember the days that I argued that Hebrew wasn’t Israel’s alone, that those in the diaspora needed to own the language. That all Jews—  regardless of political affiliation — could participate in a Hebrew culture.  I remember the days of hoarding Hebrew books; I remember hiding them in my apartment in Bethlehem, packing them up, shipping them to Florida.

I want to feel that way again. I want to buy a book. I pick up title after title, trying to let something grab me.

I leave the store empty-handed.

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The people behind the numbers: ‘Palestine Speaks’ http://972mag.com/the-people-behind-the-numbers-palestine-speaks/111530/ http://972mag.com/the-people-behind-the-numbers-palestine-speaks/111530/#comments Tue, 08 Sep 2015 19:52:43 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=111530 A collection of oral histories offers a penetrating look at life in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. 

Gaza could be uninhabitable by 2020. More than 2,000 Palestinians were killed in 2014 and more than 17,000 were injured. Israel arrests and detains between 500 and 700 Palestinian children every year. In August of 2015 alone, Israeli forces demolished nearly 150 Palestinian structures.

palestinespeaks_cover_PR_STORE_lores-(1)When it comes to the Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, there’s no shortage of statistics. But while numbers may tell, it’s the stories that show the deep impact the occupation makes on Palestinians’ lives. Enter Palestine Speaks: Narratives of Life under Occupation, a moving collection of interviews compiled and edited by Cate Malek and Mateo Hoke and published by Voice of Witness in the U.S. and Verso in the U.K..

The detailed oral histories offer the reader more than a look at life under Israeli military rule. By including voices from a wide range of backgrounds, they also offer an intimate look at Palestinian society itself: from a lawyer from Dheisheh refugee camp who spent nearly 20 years in Israeli prisons to a young female journalist in Gaza to a West Bank farmer to a middle-aged housewife. Too often the media represents Palestinians as a monolithic group, relying on convenient stereotypes like the humble villager or the freedom fighter with an indomitable spirit, the martyr hero. Palestine Speaks breaks such Orientalist depictions by bringing us individuals rather than a faceless, fetishized mass.

The reader also gets a glimpse of history through Palestinian eyes. Recalling the Six Day War, Ghassan Andoni, a founder of the International Solidarity Movement, says:

I saw the soldiers coming into Beit Sahour with their weapons. Everybody was scared. Some people were saying the Israelis would kill us, we should leave, and others were saying we shold stay. But it was over in a week. I still remember an injured bird that had been trapped in my relatives’ house after the bombing ended. I caught it and cared for it while I was waiting to go home. After a couple of weeks, the Red Cross arranged a bus ride for me and others back to Jordan. I tried to take the bird with me back home. I held it in my hands on the trip back, but it died on the way.

The editors could have ended the passage at “But it was over in a week”—indeed, those who are focused more on the story of the conflict rather than the stories of the people who live the conflict would have stopped there. Instead, Malek and Hoke give the narrators room to express themselves fully; the inclusion of details like Andoni’s attempt to rescue the bird bring nuance and complexity to the stories, helping readers better see and understand the people behind the statistics—their desires, hopes, fears. Their struggles. Their heartbreaks. This collection is revelatory for those who have neither the resources to travel to the occupied Palestinian Territories nor access to the people who live there.

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Each chapter is compelling but, in addition to Andoni’s narrative, I was particularly taken with two stories—that of Muhanned al Azzah, an artist from Al Azzah refugee camp who joined the PFLP when he was a teenager, and Nader al Masri, a runner in Gaza. Both offer viewpoints rarely heard in the current discussion about the conflict and Palestinian society. While much has been written about administrative detention—perhaps because it’s a relatively straightforward example of injustice—the media rarely addresses stories of political repression like al Azzah’s, who was imprisoned because of his PFLP membership. Al Azzah’s story offers a look at how jailing one son puts the whole family behind psychological bars; he also speaks about the lasting impact of his imprisonment. Further, the image of a rising artist who exhibits in London might upend some readers’ ideas about the PFLP and who is attracted to the party.

Al Masri’s story speaks of a man who quietly defies multiple layers of oppression—the Israeli occupation and blockade as well as the expectations of Palestinian society. The feeling of freedom al Masri has while running points to the limits that Israel puts on Palestinian life. That he persists—“When I was young, before I had a family, I’d even run when there was an Israeli invasion or bombing in Gaza City,” al Masri says—also reminds that there are many means of resistance, including the simple act of focusing on and following one’s dreams.

Of the 16 oral histories in the book, two belong to Israelis—one a settler, the other a radical leftist who lives in Ramallah. In the introduction, the editors explain the decision to include these Israeli voices: “We share their stories partly because Israeli citizens living in the West Bank make up a substantial portion—perhaps as much as 10 percent—of the total population of Palestine. And because many of our narrators often refer to settlers throughout this book, we felt it journalistically responsible to include Amiad’s narrative in order to offer readers a look at life within a settlement…”

There’s still something vaguely uncomfortable about seeing Israeli stories behind a cover that reads Narratives of Life under Occupation. And it’s worth noting that predecessors to Palestine Speaks, similar books composed of Palestinians’ narratives—namely Arthur Neslen’s In Your Eyes a Sandstorm: Ways of Being Palestinian and Wendy Pearlman’s Occupied Voices—did not include Israelis.

However, I could argue against myself and say that the discomfort I felt about their inclusion is representative of life in the West Bank. One can’t move without seeing the settlements and the Jewish Israelis who live in them—their presence is inescapable.

I also felt unsure about the editors’ decision to focus on Palestinian voices from the West Bank and Gaza only. I could imagine the criticism this choice might draw: the editors might be accused of failing to acknowledge the Palestinian claim to all of historic Palestine, an area some consider every bit as occupied as the West Bank and Gaza. Some might also take issue with the absence of narratives from the Palestinian diaspora.

But Malek and Hoke were damned if they do and damned if they don’t, as is often the case when discussing Israel/Palestine. Had they included Palestinian citizens of Israel in the book, they ran the risk of drawing the ire of the pro-Israel right who would have taken issue with the title Palestine Speaks, asking if the editors (and, by extension, the publisher) consider UN and internationally recognized Israel to be Palestine.

And my quibbles are small. Palestine Speaks is an indispensable text. By presenting the personal stories of Palestinians, this book complicates what the media often depicts as a black and white, bilateral conflict between equals. The narratives presented in Palestine Speaks also remind that those who live under occupation want something breathtakingly simple: freedom and human rights.

Full disclosure: Editor Cate Malek is both a friend and colleague; my name is listed in the acknowledgments.

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