Har Gilo, Israeli illegal settlement/colony in the West Bank, Occupied Territories of Palestine
Palestinian Authority military
Excerpts from my journal as I examine and portray the troubles in the Levant
April 1, 2012, Sunday, my home in Bethlehem
Yesterday as I pulled into the PNN office anticipating a day of stress-free work on my photos and blog Monjed nabbed me and said, come with us to Al Walaja for a meeting. Only a short time, he promised.
Al Walaja is a small village about 4 km northwest of Bethlehem virtually surrounded by settlements including Har Gilo and Gilo and the apartheid wall, some sections built and some planned. Israel confiscated some of the original village’s land to build Har Gilo, a settlement, illegal by international law. It is also the site of al-Badawi, a 5,000 year old olive tree, claimed to be the oldest in the world.
We wove in and out of the landscape to reach it in about 30 minutes, me, Monjed, and the video camera guy, Shaban. More than 100 people had already assembled beside a huge Palestinian flag. Traditionally dressed girls handed out sweets as we entered the seating area. I stood to one side for mobility and to try to gain some perspective of what was happening. Monjed rarely fills me in on details of what we’re covering. Turns out it is a festival or ceremony to celebrate the opening of a new gym funded by Oxfam connected with the EU. One speaker said, we asked the villagers what they most wanted and a gym topped the list.
I might ask, do NGO’s such as Oxfam perpetuate the occupation by funding benevolent works that either the Israeli government by international law should provide or that would be less needed if the occupation were to end? What if the NGO’s were to refuse any further humanitarian aid? A modest proposition.
Offering coffee to guests
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Dr. Salam Fayyad
Local director of OxFam
Speaker and employee of an NGO working with the village
Some debka (the traditional dance of Palestine) and some spoken word performances (or so I took this to be not understanding the Arabic) which I photographed, trying to show the settlements looming in the background. I then sauntered about, explored the exhibits and crafts for sale under the tent, the model of the area, settlements prominent, the grounds, the large hilly surrounding landscape, and the Palestinian military. Because the prime minister was present security was high. Real uniforms, real guns, but even tho officially Palestinian Authority, real authority? (Monjed later explained that when leaders are present anything can happen from factional violence to rabid settlers, but what, in either case, would the soldiers actually do? Do their guns have real bullets?) Near the end of the session I noticed 2 young boys eyeing a soldier. I lined up the image, waited, and I hope one of my series shows admiration—and a perhaps fatal attraction. To emulate the powerful. I know the feeling well, raised as I was immersed in the violence and militarism of the USA.
Har Gilo settlement in the background
Standing in the back of the crowd I noticed a familiar face: Fida! We were both extremely jubilant to find each other. We hugged, she said meeting me was a good moment for her. I’d worked closely with her about 5 years ago when she was director of the West Bank American Friends Service Committee youth program. We were under fire by Israeli soldiers together north of Nablus as we tried to cross roadblocks. She had recently injured her leg during an auto accident and could not easily manage the blocks.
You based in Bethlehem now, Fida? No, I teach public administration at Birzeit University, I came today with some of my students to show them more of life in the occupied territories. We exchanged phone numbers, I might call her today when I’m in Ramallah for Quaker meeting.
Fida Shafi on the right, examining a model of Al Walaja with Har Gilo hovering in the corner
A display of historic and contemporary photos of the village
Where’s the food? My constant (unspoken) question. When we gonna eat? I usually bring snacks, and if pinched might find a private spot and indulge myself. I smelled something cooking, discovered the bread oven, lingered awhile hoping for a piece of fresh-baked bread, and then spotted a line of what might have the notables heaping their plates with food. Is this for everyone? I thought. Better wait awhile, I am definitely not a notable. I again bumped into Fida who waved me toward the line. I enjoyed a cauliflower dish, with a side of what may have been couscous, topped with various pastries, some sweet, some main course, and a heap of that delicious bread that I’d been eyeing. Glory be, this is a feast!
Later at the office I edited and processed a batch of photos for PNN and even had time to rough out my second blog, this one about the Global March. Tiring, I thought, I’ll finish this at home on my iPad (since my laptop’s hard drive crashed last week). Not to be. The iPad, clever as it is, useful for the internet and minimal writing like I do now with my journal, is too clumsy for WordPress blog making. I was continually frustrated trying to scroll up and down to reach items I wished to change and the tools for changing them. Not to be. I must wait till I can work in the office tomorrow.
A list of what I lack:
one white sock-missing
one used toe spacer-missing
my wash cloth-missing
warm shirts-didn’t bring
maybe a light sweater-ditto
a slightly heavier jacket than my old red rain jacket-ditto
A list of what I’m pleased to have:
M consistently and lovingly in touch
a few family and friends also
Quakers including American Friends Service Committee
phones, at least one of which works anywhere in historic Palestine-so far
“This village is a microcosm of Palestine” — al-Walaja fights the Separation Wall, by Steffi Unsleber– September 15, 2011
Map of the Barrier around Al-Walaja, West Bank | Feb 2011