Last night I dreamt about Ibrahim Shatali, from Gaza. He was driving the lead car in our 2-car convoy. It was raining, it was nighttime, he pulled off the road suddenly, I told the driver of the car I was in who’d not noticed the pull off to stop and wait along the road. There were about 4 of us in the 2nd car, males and females. After some long minutes waiting and worrying—what had happened to Ibrahim?—all of our phones rang simultaneously: Ibrahim was finally calling.
I answered—I heard only sobbing.
In reality, yesterday as I realized I was wearing briefs for about the 3rd day while J of ISM was doing my laundry, my last briefs, I set out on my morning missions and decided to simply buy new shorts. Examining carefully every store on my route to the center of Ramallah I located a clothing store. Turned out to be for kids. But right next door was an adult men’s store, shown me by a boy standing outside the first store. I entered, surveyed the many types of apparel—sweaters all with fake logos, slick pants, jackets, shirts all neatly wrapped, until I found the proprietor at the back of the store and asked him, motioning to my mid section, “got any briefs?”
He was thin, with a slight half beard, a smile, bright eyes, wearing jeans, probably among the best he sold, and spoke excellent English. He brought out a box, opened it, showed me the style, told me the price. Too small. I asked if he had anything else. Finally after about 4 boxes I found what looked right for me, color, size, degree of briefness (I tend to be more daring with my hidden clothing when on the rd), and made a selection. Cute black mid brief shorts, 3 of them for 10 shekels, about $2.50.
Assuming this was the end of our transaction, as I was about to leave the store, the man said, “Would you like to have lunch?” I thought maybe he meant outside somewhere, but no, he had a pot of yellow rice with meat and was offering to heat it up on a small gas cooker and serve me.
He served kidra, rice, chickpeas, beef, and spices, mild, traditional Palestinian and delicious, served with labna (yogurt). His wife had made it. We chatted.
He’d studied two years at Birzeit University, history and politics, but decided to leave and open a shop. “No money in history and politics,” he declaimed, “So I became a businessman.” He’d learned English mostly in university, doesn’t use it much, yet as he stated to me, it helps in doing business.
He’s been 6 times in prison, beginning in 1987 during the 1st intifada, for throwing stones. Most recently a few years ago, usually short term, up to a few months. “They think I’m a terrorist but I’m only saying no to the occupation.”
100% of his Chinese made merchandize comes thru Israel. They will hold up the containers in port, and each day’s delay costs him some $50 in storage fees. In addition, if Israel makes the goods ordered from China they will not ship them into the West Bank—too much competition. Because Israel no longer manufactures clothing, getting it mostly from China, his imports are not viewed s competition.
May I make your photo? I asked as I was about to leave. No problem, he replied, and posed for me in a corner with his clothing behind him.
Clothing shop owner
Life in Gaza
Another story, from Gaza. I spoke at length with Amal (in Arabic, hope), the director of the AFSC youth program. We now plan my visit for January, for about 3 weeks, teaching and photographing. She is confident she can get me a visa.
“How are conditions now for you?” I inquired. Bad, very bad. Many here are starving. Some government employees have finally been paid. Since the takeover by Hamas life on the streets has quieted, no more street fighting. The border with Egypt, Rafah, has been closed virtually the entire time since the summer of 2006. Israel is the chief controller, but Egypt plays a role. Until a few months ago they’d open a few hours each day, now not even that. We have a staff meeting in Amman Jordan scheduled for November, our only way out is thru the northern border with Israel, Erez, but so far Israel has refused us permits.
You remember about Ibrahim shot in the chest by other Palestinians? He is much better now after 2 wks in intensive care.
Part of my work last year for the AFSC was teaching writing. I was reluctant to do this since I do not have those skills. Earlier a friend, Louise, was to have accompanied me who could teach English but this fell thru. Recently I met someone at ISM who might be qualified, E, and I’ve forwarded her blog to Amal for consideration.
My relished conversation, very difficult if from the States, was costing me 25 cents per minute, and the cost kept rattling in my head. Amal’s spoken English is much better than her written so I reluctantly continued our chatting while trying to force the mounting cost out of my head. At least we could talk. Soon we will talk face to face.
And a 3rd story, quotidian compared with the 1st 2. I found housing. After months of searching from the States, one week from Ramallah, using the ramallahramallah list serve, talking with friends, hoping and praying, noticing how the rents have increased probably as a result of the entrance of so many internationals like me with comparatively deep pockets—how doe this effect Palestinians, more than half of them living in poverty?—Fadia wrote to say she knows of a place for me to live.
I met Fadia on my last trip. She is a world recognized water expert. She gave me many leads for my hydropolitics project. As I assembled photos for slide shows and print exhibits I consulted with her about statistics and interpretations. She was consistently responsive. She now works for Dutch church aid. When I arrived I phoned. We set a date for meeting to discuss further joint work. She mentioned that she has a paid intern from Denmark who has a large apartment centrally located with an extra room and the woman is willing to let me share the apartment, no charge.
Chamila and I met yesterday over drinks at Bassam’s Pronto café. Bassam had introduced me last year to Fadia. Chamila is short, young and dark skinned. Originally from Sri Lanka, she was orphaned and shipped to Denmark where a family adopted her and raised her as a Dane. She is much experienced in Palestine. Tomorrow she will enter Gaza for the month, researching the effects of the siege on child nutrition.
I offered to share utilities, since her employer covers her housing costs; there will be no rent for me to pay. This arrangement is provisional. I reside there alone for November, then together, and we’ll assess how well we get along. From sleeping on the floor shared with up to 10 others at ISM media headquarters in the heart of Ramallah I move to something I never expected to find.
There is one odd possible explanation for this apparent good fortune. It might be called the “law of reciprocation” or an example of the golden rule, “do to others as you’d have them do to you.” When preparing to leave home for this 3-month journey of discovery, I learned about a man needing housing in the Boston region as he underwent radiation therapy. R, from Maine, now lives in my apartment for November, rent-free.
Kalandia checkpoint & the Ramallah-Jerusalem road
Kalandia checkpoint, made invisible
Riding thru Kalandia checkpoint from Jerusalem to Ramallah I was twice surprised, first by the apparent absence of the checkpoint, a conclusion I later rejected, and the newly paved road to Ramallah. In the first case, fences, walls, and parking lots have cleverly disguised Kalandia. The checkpoint I first encountered in 2003, a make shift, rude, set of barriers, zinc roofs, concrete barriers, and sand bags had been replaced in 2004 and 2005 by an enclosed building with “facilities.” These facilities were shit laden, toilet paper absent, non-flushing, deteriorating toilets. With waiting benches, a feeble attempt at “hospitality.” Soldiers were no longer out in the open, sharing the weather with travelers but were behind bulletproof glass. They’d installed x-ray machines and metal detectors. Like airport security. And now that building is enclosed so that visitors not knowing, like me at first, would miss it entirely.
The system has changed as well. Jerusalem to Ramallah is one swift bus ride for 4.5 shekels, $1.25, a distance of about 8 miles, a time of about 45 minutes. However, for Palestinians Ramallah to Jerusalem still requires clearance thru the checkpoint. Internationals like me stay on the bus to be later joined by our Palestinian partners. End result: if you’re international, you’re golden, no problem, easy transit. What checkpoint? What matrix of control? What illegal occupation?
In 2002 partly as a reaction to a wave of suicide bombings of civilians and military in Israel, Israel perpetrated Operation Defensive Shield, a systematic invasion of all major Palestinian cities. This included Ramallah. Tanks tore up roads, Israel prevented repair, so for years I bumped along on these barely rideable highways. This time, however, travel was smooth, thanks to USAID.
One might inquire: why not require Israel to repair the roads? They ripped them up. Why not demand Israel rebuild the presidential compound, the Muqata? They destroyed it. Or the schools, the municipal offices, the homes? Paradoxically international donors like USAID and hundreds of NGO’s sponsor rebuilding projects, thus inadvertently fostering the occupation.