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September journey part 19: Travels in disharmony

Staying on the move in Israel and the Palestinian territories through a month of trial. And today: from the family home to Hamas valley.

Saturday begins with a visit to my folks. They live in an outlaying eastern suburb of Tel Aviv named Ganei Tikva. From their 13th floor window a huge chunk of central Israel can be viewed: from Tel Aviv’s rich-only towers to the troubled region of Bil’in across the Green Line. In the middle of the tableau is the airport, our way to escape from all this, and also our gate of return.

Cute Mitar, my niece, looking down.

And we do return, because we love the family. Here’s my sister Tamar and her boyfriend Ari with the children of my other sister, Michal, and her husband Noam.

Tamar is an actress. Ari is in real estate. The kids are Lego artists.

My parents own an unusual piece of furniture, kept in their home since the days we all lived in Jerusalem. It’s made up of tiles of the sort one finds attached to doors of private homes around these parts. During the 1970s and ’80s, everyone in Jerusalem, whether Jewish, Palestinian or foreigner, would buy their door tiles from the Armenian Balian family, whose workshop is situated not far from Damascus Gate. The Balians have a long history of decorating tiles in traditional Armenian fashion, but even experts make mistakes. Whenever a typo would occur, the tile in question would be added to a display of flawed tiles, from which customers could pick a pattern.

When my father noticed the display and asked whether it was for sale, Mr Balian told him: “Don’t take the one with errors, I’ll make you one without errors.” It is precisely the errors, however, that make this into such a treasure, from mismatched Hebrew and Arabic names to more historical stuff. Author David Grossman, for one, spells his first name with a “yod.”

Great literature is to be found on bottom left-hand side.

My parents made the display into a coffee table. Around this object infused with the spirit of Jerusalem and with unintended humor, we sit for coffee and what is destined to be a difficult conversation. My parents are still angry at me for the act that led to my arrest near Hebron: Walking through territory “swarming” with people who seek to mercilessly disgorge me. At the same time, I myself am cross with them for making me feel like a 15 year old.

Miraculously, the issue isn’t raised at all, and thus I avoid divulging the fact of my invitation for police interrogation in Qiryat Arba tomorrow. Conflict, however, seems unavoidable. We end up arguing about the tent struggle and the committee put together by Netanyahu in response to it.

My father puts trust in this committee, while most members of the younger generation do not. He also comes to the defense of the Ofer Brothers’ company, a conglomerate that suffered many of the protesters’ arrows. It now surfaces that the Ofer Brothers were helpful to the Mossad, sailing their cargo ships into Iranian ports in defiance of an embargo in order to transport and rescue Israeli agents. The rest of us think this too meager a price for what the Ofers got in return, namely: The majority of Israel’s natural resources and previously state-owned chemical industries and shipping line, which were all sold to them for a fraction of their monetary worth.

In this country, security interests justify everything, including the paving of an “Israeli only” road, running through the heart of the West Bank, the one which carries us east after lunch.

Nothing like the wide open road.

To be fair, the Israeli Supreme Court ordered that this road be open to limited Palestinian transportation, whereby my tax money quickly constructed a heavy duty checkpoint on each converging road, making travel such a hassle for Palestinians that their presence here is sure to remain extremely limited. I’ve never personally seen any Palestinian car on Route 443.

We are taking this road to Ramallah. If I get a serious warning tomorrow at my interrogation, travel into Area A will become even more unwise, so Ruthie and I take a chance and head for a spin on the wild side. September is still going on, and this travelogue can’t be limited to one side of the line. Not yet.

First we reach Ramallah’s buzzing downtown,

Al Manarah roundabout, Ramallah. One of the lion statues wears a stone wristwatch. It's a long story.

…which is decorated with the flags of full-fledged UN members, as well as with countless bilboards advertising Fatah’s UN initiative.

The tower on the right marks the entrence to Arafat's burial place.

We don’t stop here, though. Ruthie has a dream: to visit the ancient city of Nablus, 50 kilometers to the north. Nablus is the stronghold of Hamas in the West Bank, and is the frequent target of IDF incursions. While all of this interests my adventerous girl, she’s also going there to explore another issue: stuffed chicken.

Nablus is known as the culinary capital of Palestine, which is enough of a reason to take a rickety bus through surreal Samaria, where settlers mark Palestinian houses as warnings of doom,

The symbol of my nation, used as a threat.

And tiny amusement parks grace the hillsides.

The view from the ferris wheel includes the Balata refugee camp.

Nablus is beautiful. Sandwiched dramatically between two steep ridges, the Biblical mountains of Grizim and Ebal, it receives us with the drama of vertical urbanity,

Like two juxtaposed Haifas: Nablus.

with its magnificent, endless qasba,

Sharif don't like it. We do.

with old fashioned shops such as this spice den, all of them offering fantastic goodies, be it state-of-the-art halva to dream coffee,

As a rule of thumb: anything that comes from a place that looks like this is amazing.

and finally, with good conversation. At a small shopping passage near the bus terminal we meet Marwan, a retired lawyer. He asks us where we’re from. As all good Israelis would when visiting Nablus illegally, we pretend to be from elsewhere. “America,” we say.

Alas, wrong answer. Obama’s failure to support the Palestinian UN bid caused great disappointment here. We see it reflected in Marwan’s eyes, but he shares a word of optimism too: “I think Obama has a plan, but it’s not a simple plan. When you are the President of the United States and you want to pray, you first must first wash your hands with Israeli water.”

Marwan assures us that no one will take offense at our being American, since Ruthie “looks like an Arab” and despite the fact I look like “an American cowboy.” We of course have somewhat bigger worries. After strolling through the old town, we end up in a neighborhood extremely rich with posters depicting martyrs of the struggle against Israel. We quickly learn to distinguish those who died by Israeli actions, like this young man.

Samah Nizar Adel a-Shafi'i, aged 17, died of rubber-coated metal bullets shot by IDF soldiers. According to B'Tselem, he was not engaged in warfare.

from those who died committing violent acts themselves. They have been photographed and filmed before leaving for the operation.

Couldn't find any information about this guy, and not sure I want to.

A bunch of young guys seated on the street call us over for coffee. They don’t fully buy the American story and use occasional Hebrew words to see whether we’d react, exposing ourselves. No go. The images on the walls keep us alert and nothing breaks the harmony of the encounter.

These guys are great.

We’re talking about the previous night’s speeches. Ruthie and I are overwhelmed by the support expressed for the bid. Aljazeera reported last night that Hamas authorities in Gaza were deeply opposed to Abbas’s efforts and that police were stopping cars and confiscating any Palestinian flags found therein, in the best fashion of IDF soldiers. “However,” the reporter said, “what we sense from the population is that they are very much pro.”

Even here, in what seems to us a Hamas-leaning neighborhood, everyone appears to be excited about the President’s speech and distraught about the U.S.’s apparent determination to let the Palestinians down. We can’t help but feel that Abbas dealt Hamas a decisive political blow over the weekend, and we can’t help but be happy about that.

The guys, who forgive us for whatever we are, show us the way to a wonderful nearby restaurant where we feast and watch a dramatic series about the Nakba on a Tunisian television channel. Having cleaned our plates, we head for one last, lovely Nablusy walk.

In many respects, I could have just as well remained in Spain. The streets are lit in the same pleasant yellow as those of Harvas, where the members of La Karamba walked, singing beautiful Sepharadic Jewish songs.

And they were all yellow.

And the spirit of Iberian football is present here, as it is everywhere in the West Bank. Everybody loves F.C. Barcelona.

Homage to Catalonia.

Our night ends over a pint in Ramallah’s Beit Aneseh, a wonderful pub that, but for its nargileh smoke, could have been found in any of the more fashionable quarters of Madrid.

At Beit Aneseh the glass is always half full.

But this isn’t Madrid. I just walked through streets from which assasins rose to kill the likes of me, streets that have seen countless assassinations committed by those claiming to protect me. Tomorrow in Qiryat Arba I am to be interrogated for having committed a criminal offense –  that of meeting with the occupied face to face, on their turf, and hearing their views. After 35 years on this soil, I still can’t get used to it at all, how close things are to each other and how far. How near my parents home is to those posters, how distant that amusement park on that hill is for the kids who dream of Tel Aviv’s Luna Park, how scary the checkpoints at night.

Click here for more of the September journey

Thanks for reading and taking part in the adventure. If any of you would like to pitch in for my travel and food, please do so using the “donate” button at the top of this page. Please be sure and specify that you are contributing to Yuval’s September Journey. I’m deeply grateful to those who already donated. Thank you so much! This trip would have been impossible if not for you.

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    1. george

      I would like to contribute a remark or two, from a foreigner living in Nablus.

      1) speaking hebrew to you doesnt mean they are “testing” you. Many times it’s the foreign language they know best, so when speaking english they resort to hebrew if they can’t find a word.

      2) Guns on a martyr poster doesnt necessarily mean they were fighters. Photoshop works miracles and part of the annoying macho culture is that if you die a martyr (that’s any victim of the occupation) your poster will look “better” if you have a gun. In Balata I saw posters for 10 year olds that included m16s. In this case it says “the fighter martyr” though.

      3) The old city of Nablus is very dense and very diverse, I think you are putting the Yasmine neighborhood in a box a little hastily by calling it a Hamas area.

      Good luck with your interview!

      Reply to Comment
    2. Historian

      A beautiful piece. Thanks.

      Reply to Comment
    3. AYLA

      thanks for another beautiful leg of your journey, Yuval. Altogether, yours will be one of the truest accounts of life here I’ve come across. And just from walking around, talking to people. Maybe you’ll name the book, “Because you’re mine, I walk to the line.”

      p.s. when morning-after editing, change “heaving cleaned our plates” to “having”, since you probably know, as a good american impersonator, “heaving” is american slang for vomiting, and I gather that meal left you wanting to digest for a long while.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Thank you all so much. The “heaving” thing is so funny, one of those things that go under the radar of the spell checker. I apologize for all other English language errors. I first learned English by listening to the Beatles, whose name is mispelled word.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Jalal

      “Tomorrow in Qiryat Arba I am to be interrogated for having committed a criminal offense – that of meeting with the occupied face to face, on their turf, and hearing their views.”

      strong words, it is sickening that I have to read such thing in today’s world.

      Oh and,
      “Even here, in a clearly Hamas-leaning neighborhood…”
      what makes you say this? :p I am sure there weren’t any Hamas flags (PA wouldn’t allow it). I just hope you didn’t assume that because of Hijabi women.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Jalal

      Keep us updated with how your interview “interrogation” goes tomorrow!

      Reply to Comment
    7. It was the posters, more than anything else, and especially the number of them, which exceeded anyhting I’ve seen in thatcity or elsewhere in the West Bank. In any case, point taken. I changed it to: “what seems to us a Hamas-leaning neighborhood.” Thanks.
      the interrogation post is up already. Here it is:

      Reply to Comment

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