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When a Family is Forced to Demolish their own Home…

July 5, 2010

Imagine building a home for your family with your own hands…putting your life savings into this house and planning a future in it for your children. Then one day, the authorities come and say that you have built your house illegally. Because of this, you must now pay a fine of thousands of dollars, and if you don’t want to pay thousands more, you must demolish your own house—leaving your family homeless.

This is the life of a Palestinian Jerusalemite.

Background on House Demolitions in Jerusalem

In 1999, the Israeli Ministry of Interior said that more than 20,000 homes in East Jerusalem (the mainly Palestinian area of Jerusalem) had been built illegally. Following this, the Municipality of Jerusalem issued 141 demolition orders that year.

Almost one hundred homes have been demolished since the Oslo Agreement was signed—causing hundreds of people to be displaced in Jerusalem.

Judaization of Palestinian Neighborhoods in East Jerusalem

The Israeli government is very clear that they want Jerusalem as the “eternal, undivided capital” of their Jewish state. This poses a major problem for the Christian and Muslim Palestinian residents who have been living for generations in homes now considered illegal.

“It was reported that at a meeting of the Jerusalem Regional Planning Committee, Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert has said that the most important task in the coming years was to increase the numbers of the Jewish inhabitants within the city limits. He had also said it was important to include ‘Green areas’ in the plan. He had made little mention of any particular vision to develop the eastern part of the city.” (Jerusalem Post, 21 October 1999)

Between 1967 and 1997, only 12% of all new buildings were in Palestinian neighborhoods while at least 40,000 housing units were constructed in the Israeli public sector for Israeli Jews living on expropriated land.

The Blue Line and Green Areas

Jerusalem Now

24.5 square kilometers (35% of the total annexed area of East Jerusalem—70 sq km) is expropriated land by Israel. In theory, this leaves 45.5 sq km for Palestinian use. However, the Israeli authorities get past this using several different techniques.

Only land within the “blue line” can be built on, however, most of the land within the blue line has already been built on. The “green area” is land set aside for environmental or recreational reasons.

In reality, this is a zoning tactic used by Israel to remove the land from Palestinian use and reserve it for future Jewish housing. How many “tourist parks” does one city really need?

Here is one example of this:

The Jabal Abu Ghneim neighborhood was initially defined as a green area to prevent the neighboring Palestinian villages of Sur Baher and Umm Tuba from expanding. It was later rezoned for residential construction for the new Jewish settlement of Har Homa.

In general, there are very different attitudes and conditions used by the Israeli authorities about planning in Palestinian and Jewish neighborhoods. For Jewish ones, the authorities tend to promote and assist as much as possible  so that they can settle as many people as possible on the available land. For Palestinians, it is the opposite. They are confronted with numerous obstacles and restrictions.

Difficulties in Building “Legally”

On average, according to the Jerusalem Center for Social and Economic Rights (JCSER) the Jerusalem municipality grants Palestinians only 150 building permits per year. In addition to all the other bureaucratic difficulties in obtaining these visas, they also cost 25,000 USD—an unaffordable sum to most Palestinian residents.

Because of these obstacles, there are an estimated 1400 houses inside the Old city that are in desperate need of renovation but cannot get the permits. Because of this and the natural population increase, large scale “illegal construction” is the result.

Double Standards

When a Palestinian builds or renovates without the proper permits, the Ministry of Interior and Jerusalem Municipality respond by imposing high fines and by carrying out house demolitions. These demolitions can take place within 24 hours—leaving Palestinians no opportunity to go to court to defend themselves.

There have been some demolitions in West Jerusalem (the Jewish part) but only of an extra room or porch—never a whole building like in Palestinian neighborhoods. JCSER estimated that 84% of building violations take place in the Jewish sector of Jerusalem. While Palestinians are responsible for 16% of building violations, more than 60% of the demolitions are carried out on Palestinian homes.

Table of Palestinian Homes Demolished in 2009

Table of Palestinian Homes Demolished in 2010

Forcing Palestinians to Demolish their own Homes

As families grow, the homes need to grow as well to accommodate them. So what happens when the Israeli authorities will not give out the necessary permits so that the families can add extensions? Or when they delay giving out the permit for months or years?

In these cases, many families decide to build without permits. In doing so, they risk demolition and thousands of shekels in fines. If the family does not demolish their own home, the Israeli authorities will do it—and then send the family a bill for the costs of the demolition—leaving the family homeless and broke.

Abu Shusha Family

Abu Shusha, his wife and five children live in Al Tour neighborhood in East Jerusalem. In order to accommodate his growing family, Abu Shusha decided to add a room to the house. Soon after, he received a demolition order from the Jerusalem municipality, along with a fine of 90,000 NIS (24,384 USD).

The municipality claims that the land on which the room was constructed is part of the “green area” and therefore no construction is allowed there.

Officials from the Jerusalem municipality and the Israeli Ministry of Interior came to Abu Shusha’s house to threaten his family. They informed him that if he doesn’t destroy the room himself in the next 24 hours, the municipality will destroy it and charge the family additional costs to cover the expenses of the demolition.

To add a twist to this story, the Abu Shusha family had just moved to Al Tour neighborhood from Sheikh Jarrah. Sheikh Jarrah is one of the most infamous neighborhoods of East Jerusalem because of the problems caused by Israeli settlers moving in, and forcing Palestinians out with house demolitions.

The policy of Judaization by the Israeli authorities had forced this family to move only to be forced to demolish part of their own house.

Legal Statement

According to Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Conventions, the destruction of property is prohibited. This means that the Jerusalem Municipality and the Israeli Interior Ministry, which adopted a policy of demolishing homes in East Jerusalem since its illegal annexation, violate the Geneva Convention.

On 24 November 2001, the UN Committee Against Torture stated Israel’s policy of demolishing Palestinian homes may amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment in breach of article 16 of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which Israel ratified in 1991.

For more information, check out JCSER’s website at: http://www.jcser.org/

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Legalizing the Jerusalem Lie

July 1, 2010

A great article written by a friend of mine who works for Palestine Monitor (palestinemonitor.org):

Three months after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “spat in Obama’s eye” by timing high-level diplomatic visits with the announcement of sweeping development plans in East Jerusalem, the city is about to codify into law an even more ambitious master plan for taking over the entire heart of the stateless Palestinian nation. And once again, Bibi is off to Washington.

In symbolic microcosm, construction began this past weekend on the controversial grounds of the Shepherd Hotel. The compound lies in the traditionally Palestinian neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, on the Palestinian side of the green line in Jerusalem, just north of the old city. The hotel itself was considered property of the Jordanian authority (having passed from the erstwhile ownership of the Grand Mufti Haj Amin Al-Husseini) until it was purchased in 1985 by Irving Moskowitz, a wealthy American Jew and a major financier of the Israeli settler movement.

In the wake of dramatic 2008-2009 settlement activity in Sheikh Jarrah — recall that several Palestinian families are now living in tents outside their former homes while protected Israeli settlers sleep inside — plans were floated to construct 20 Jewish-only housing units on the large property of the Shepherd Hotel. The plan was met with international condemnation and was silenced more than once, but it never went away. On Sunday, construction work began. The new development will see upwards of one hundred Israelis wedged into the heart of Palestinian East Jerusalem.

“You see, they want all Sheikh Jarrah,” says local resident Muhammad Sabagh. Muhammad has problems of his own, because a legal claim against his house is currently grinding through the Israeli courts. He hopes to be luckier than some of his now-homeless neighbors. “We don’t accept settlers in our neighborhood,” he says.

On Tuesday afternoon, there was no activity at the hotel site. A security guard present said that construction work had never begun. The heavy-duty digging activity on the weekend, he explained, was just to test the support strength of the ground.

For decades, East Jerusalem has been the intended capital of a future Palestinian state, but in recent months, Israeli officials have pumped up the volume on their propaganda slogan that all Jerusalem is “open and undivided.” In this view, the east-west distinction is no longer relevant, and Israelis should be able to build and develop on the occupied Palestinian side as freely as they do on the Israeli side.

In a statement issued this week, city officials cleverly obfuscated, “Just like any other municipality in Israel, Jerusalem Municipality hands out building permits in the entire city based on their compliance with professional criteria only, and without checking religion, race, or sex, which is against the law.”

This statement, however, includes a massive lie of omission, because it implies that Palestinians have equal building rights. While the city may not discriminate on “religion, race, or sex, which is against the law,” they in fact discriminate on the basis of citizenship. The Palestinians of East Jerusalem have been deemed “permanent residents” by Israeli authorities but specifically excluded from citizenship. This distinction is crucial because only citizens can legally obtain building rights from the Israeli Land Administration, which has jurisdiction over most of the city’s residential landscape — both East and West Jerusalem.

As a report issued by an Israeli non-profit organization, Ir Amim, concluded: “Of all the land designated for housing development in West Jerusalem and in the Israeli neighborhoods in East Jerusalem [35,000 dunams], at least 79% [27,642 dunams] is ILA land, and therefore theoretically off limits to the city’s Palestinian residents.”

This means that outside of traditional Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, Palestinians have the official legal basis for building or owning in just 20 percent of combined Jerusalem by virtue of their non-citizen status. And within that sliver of the city, along with their own already inhabited neighborhoods, obtaining legal permits is notoriously difficult, both financially and bureaucratically.

As important as these details are, we must be careful not to lose the forest for the leaves. The fact is that Israel holds East Jerusalem by occupation, taken by force in the war of 1967. Like the rest of the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem was never meant to be a part of any Israeli state. Under international law, to which Israel is bound as a signatory, the transfer of civilian population into occupied territory is a war crime. East Jerusalem belongs to the Palestinians.

Despite this inconvenient truth, just this week, the city’s right-wing Israeli Jerusalem Municipality approved a provocative and self-styled “Master Plan” for urban development. The new document codifies into law the formerly talking-point view that Jerusalem is “open and undivided,” providing the legal framework for unlimited Israeli expansion in occupied East Jerusalem.

Under the new arrangement, projects like the Shepherd Hotel compound in Sheikh Jarrah would require no special authorization. There would be no difference between East and West Jerusalem.

Further, the plan appears to allow residential development on previously protected land. In the past, Israel has softened the perception of its appropriation of Palestinian territory by declaring certain areas off-limits to housing development of any kind. Now even these so-called “green areas” are fair game, rendering many previous points of contention irrelevant.

For example, according to Israel’s daily newspaper Haaretz, “Despite the National Planning and Building Committee’s decision to designate the City of David – which sits in the heart of the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan – as ‘a national park,’ the new master plan allows for the construction of residential units in the area.” So while Israel buttered the Silwan bulldozing announcement with promises that Israeli settlers would not move into the cleared neighborhood, the lie has been revealed.

Under the false banner that Jerusalem is “open and undivided,” the peace-killing initiatives underway in Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan will become the new normal and predictably the basis of tomorrow’s bloody conflicts.

There may be a prospect that America will reign in its rogue state, to reign in its rogue municipality, but even with Israel’s premier knocking on Obama’s door, I wouldn’t hold your breath.

Michael J Carpenter is a post-graduate student of the University of Victoria in Canada with a special focus on human rights and security issues, currently residing in Ramallah.

http://www.maannews.net/eng/ViewDetails.aspx?ID=296074

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A Typical Morning in Palestine…

June 30, 2010

I wake up to the sound of a jackhammer at 8:00 am.

They’re making a nut, candy and coffee store under my apartment. They’ve already been working on it for over a month, starting in the morning before I wake up and working late into the night when I’m trying to go to sleep—drilling and banging directly below my room.

A truck drives by rattling and rumbling as it goes over the potholes in the road; honking. They always honk in front of my building for some reason.

Thoroughly disturbed from my sleep, I get out of bed and wander out to the living room and clean up some of the mess from last night. Having friends over most nights of the week probably isn’t doing wonders for our reputation around town. And here, everybody talks.

But after the latest rumor about the apartment, which contributed to our apartment being investigated by the PA, we all realized that whatever we do or don’t do in our apartment, our Palestinian neighbors will probably assume the worst because we are ijanaab (foreigners).

Our neighbors, along with the guys from taxi office downstairs—which is actually just a front for having two PA intelligence officers stationed near our apartment, watch our every move.

One day, the taxi drivers asked my roommate why he didn’t leave the building all day, and then only to take out the trash. They see everything, and they talk a lot. And in Palestine, gossip travels faster than a high velocity teargas canister.

This is how we ended up being investigated on suspicion of running a brothel out of our apartment.

Another truck honks.

I check the mirror to make sure I’m dressed modestly enough to avoid trouble in the streets—which around here would mean long pants and long sleeves, definitely no chest and preferably no neck either. Everything’s covered and I leave the building.

I walk past the taxi office where the manager is smoking arghile outside. He never talks, I like him. He’s never asked me to marry him or go drink “whiskey” in Jericho.

Mo’een is inside watching a documentary about polo games in Dubai on Al Jazeera. He invites me in for tea but I know it’s just a cheap ploy to hit on me and talk nonstop about his trip to Dubai and all the clubs and money and girls there.

I wave, and without stopping say I’ll stop by another time.

I somehow make it across the 5-way intersection of death, dodging trucks and taxis, and wait on the sidewalk for a service. The public transportation system here in the West Bank is amazingly unorganized but also incredibly efficient. A minute later a service comes around the corner.

I wave down the service and get in. There are men sitting in both rows, one of them moves to sit next to the other so that I don’t have to risk my reputation by sitting next to him; where who knows what could happen in the five minutes between Masyoun and Al Manara.

Over time, I’ve begun to appreciate the sentiment.

In the Ramallah streets, the service is king. Every other car, including taxis, defers to them. A service doesn’t stop to give the right of way to anyone or anything and speeds down the narrowing winding roads like a racing driver. Cars will come to a screeching to a halt in order to avoid breaking the pace of a service.

Its great for getting to work fast for 2 shekels, but not so great when you are in the last row and bouncing over speed bumps. In Ramallah, there are more speed bumps than nut, candy and coffee shops.

The speed bumps are completely unmarked—no reflective paint or anything, so sometimes we get ambushed by them while driving at full speed, making the car fly for a second and then thud to the ground.

After an adrenalin and speed bump-filled ride, we arrive in the center of Ramallah. Forget Israeli soldiers and demonstrations. This is the real battle ground—at least for women, especially an ejnabiyya.

I get out and walk up the road past the unfortunate boy that chops up kilos and kilos of onions every morning outside a falafel restaurant. I feel like I’m being teargassed as I try to avoid the paper and empty plastic coffee cups rolling across the street.

I keep my eyes down—eye contact is 99% fatal here. No way out of the situation without being whistled or whispered at. I make sure to stay well out of the way of passing men, so I don’t give them any opportunities to feel me up.

I cross the street by Al Manara, the main square of Ramallah and ground zero for sleazy men. I see a Palestinian woman who’s definitely from Ramallah. She’s wearing bright purple, knee-high spiky healed boots, skin tight jeans and sweater, with a matching bright purple hijab. She walks confidently, seemingly unaware of all the eyes on her.

Unlike foreigners, Palestinian girls take a certain pride in being looked at and complimented on the streets, probably because they know the men would never do anything too offensive or dare to touch them.

Foreign girls don’t get that privilege.

Maybe if foreign girls didn’t react stunned when those kinds of things happened and actually made a scene it wouldn’t be so common. But even after a year here it still surprises me. I’m used to western streets where you can dye your hair green and walk around practically naked with spikes around your neck and no one will give you a second glance.

If a Palestinian woman feels insulted by one of the men on the street, she reacts by taking off her shoe and whacking the guy with it. And to give credit to the men here, the offending man will stay still until she is done revenging her honor—or men standing nearby will hold him down.

In order to avoid all that, I walk down a side street that passes the souk which is full of men shouting out prices of vegetables. The alleyway is full of wooden carts piled with cucumbers, tomatoes, onions and pyramids of strawberries. People are haggling over prices and small boys are riding shopping carts around trying to rent them out.

There are old women from the nearby villages sitting on the sidewalks surrounded by fresh mint, sage, green almonds, and grape leaves they grew on their land. They wear traditional Palestinian embroidered dresses and white veils loosely wrapped around their hair as they wait to make a sale.

I pass the money changers standing together on the corner smoking cigarettes stuck in elegant cigarette holders. They’re holding stacks of shekels, dollars, and dinars while gossiping.

I narrowly avoid being run over by services as I pass the central bus station, and mistakenly catch the eye of the guy who sells coffee on the streets.

Now, this is no normal guy selling coffee from a stand on the street. This is a grown man who is dressed in a very orientalist costume made of shiny red and pink fabric, a fez on his head and a giant dallah coffee jug strapped to his back.

To pour the coffee he has to bend over like a child would while singing the “I’m a little tea pot” song. I’ve never seen anyone buy coffee from him and I’ve never asked why they dress up coffee sellers like genies in Ramallah.

My face turns red and I immediately look away as he begins looking me up and down mischievously. He says something to me in Arabic that I don’t catch as I try to get away from him as fast as possible. It would be humiliating to be caught being hit on by the Dallah coffee genie.

Turning the corner, my luck changes when I see my favorite Palestinian male—he’s around 10 years old and one of the kids who sells one shekel gummy candies to people around the bus station.

I give him some shekels and he gives me the gummies with a big smile on his face as he asks me whether I got married yet. He’s worried that I’m waiting too long.

I tell him I’m still too young, and he asks me how old I am. I say 24, and the look on his face tells me that is much too old to be unmarried. I tell him I’ll get married soon and he seems appeased.

With my faith in the male gender slowly returning, I pass the old men sitting on the sidewalk wearing kuffiyehs and smoking arghile. They discuss world politics as the busy Ramallah day unfolds on the street in front of them.

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Silwan Clashes

June 28, 2010

Palestinian protestors clashed with Israeli Border Police officers near Jewish settlements in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan yesterday.

What began as a confrontation between Palestinian residents and the settlers’ security guards escalated into a face-off between 150 Palestinians and Israeli Border Police officers. At the height of the clashes, the Israeli Border Police used teargas, rubber coated steel bullets, sound bombs, and reportedly even live ammunition against the Palestinian demonstrators and the boys who were throwing stones.

The Israeli Border Police shot teargas into Palestinian homes, breaking windows and injuring dozens of women and children with teargas inhalation, causing several to faint.

20 Palestinians needed medical attention for teargas inhalation, one Palestinian was reportedly injured by live ammunition, and several were hit with teargas canisters—all of whom had to be treated at the scene because the Israeli Border Police would not let the ambulances leave.

Several Border Police were injured by stones.

These clashes were a continuation of the demonstrations that began on Friday in response to the decision by the mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, to approve the demolition of 22 Palestinians homes in the Silwan area to make room for a tourist park.

On Friday afternoon, the Sheikh Jarrah protests (another Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem that is facing house demolition orders in order to make room for Jewish settlements) merged with the Silwan protests. Over 500 Palestinians, Internationals, and Israelis demonstrated against the demolition orders.

The neighborhood of Silwan is particularly contentious because it is located on top of the ancient remains of the 3000 year old City of David.  Israeli settlements have been built in the middle of this Palestinian neighborhood in an effort to slowly Judaize the area and Jewish development companies have funded archaeological digging in areas where Palestinian buildings once stood.

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Israeli Airstrikes Kill 2 in Gaza Tunnels

June 26, 2010

2 Palestinians were killed while working in the tunnels in southern Gaza by Israeli airstrikes early Friday morning.

Israel carried out airstrikes on 2 tunnels, causing the tunnels to collapse on top of them. One of the bodies pulled from the destroyed tunnels was identified as Amer Abu Hadid, 23 years old. The other remains unidentified. The IAF also targeted a weapons storage factory in southern Gaza, and residents have reported damage to several other buildings.

The Israeli army says that these airstrikes were in response to recent rocket attacks from Gazan militant groups.

The Gazan people build these tunnels as a way around the strict blockade that Israel has imposed on the territory in an effort to weaken Hamas, however, the blockade is seen by humanitarian organizations and much of the international community as collective punishment.

Since the Israeli attack on the Gaza Flotilla, which killed 9 peace activists attempting to bring aid to the Gazan people, the Israeli government has agreed to ease the blockade. What that means on the ground in Gaza remains to be seen…

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Rally……….

June 25, 2010

So, one thing I realized soon after moving over here to Ramallah is that Palestinian guys LOVE cars and they love to drive them fast. Most of my close friends are or were at some point racing in the rallies, so every few months we all go to watch the rally in one of the West Bank cities.

This time, the rally was right outside of Ramallah, in Betounya district in a parking lot right next to Ofer Checkpoint. The wall –or fence since its unfinished right now– is right beside the rally, complete with razor wire and watch towers. It provides a certain type of atmosphere I guess, ha.

The whole rally, there were three Israeli army and police jeeps with about a dozen people watching from the other side of the fence.  I dont know whether they were there –for security reasons– or there to watch, but Im pretty sure they were enjoying it.

The rally drivers come from all over the West Bank and some Palestinians who live in Israel. The most impressive cars have doors that open vertically, make the most noise, or have the most stickers on them–and they get surrounded by teenage boys taking pictures and videos with their phones.

A friend of mine was driving in the race so my roommate and I went to find him. He had already done his first turn and would go again in half an hour so we watched the other cars race.

In the background, dabke music was blasting.

The drivers have to follow the course marked with cones–they drift, do donuts, and try not to hit any of the cones because they would get a 3 second penalty. There was a group of girls racing called Speed Sisters. They beat a lot of the guys who were racing and got most of the western media attention.

On the way out after it finished, the winners sat on the tops of their cars with their trophies, blasting music, and getting photographed by the media and teenage boys.

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Family Trip: 4 Countries in 10 Days

June 23, 2010

The trip started with me going to Jerusalem to pick up my parents and sister, Teri, by the Damascus gate after they flew into Ben Gurion in Tel Aviv. I was sooo excited to see them! We went straight to Ramallah because they had a lot of bags. I showed them my apartment then we went to Pronto -an italian restuarant in Ramallah- and they met some of my friends.

The next day I had my appointment at the Ministry of Interior -also known as hell on earth-. I had a letter from PMRS Jerusalem counterpart, MRS, saying I was a research volunteer there and they should give me a work/volunteer visa for 6 mos. The lady I got was a total bitch, typical Israeli, and yelled at my family for standing to close to us as I was explaining everything. Ughh…Anyways, I was missing a crucial document that I didnt know I needed so I escaped from her and made a new appointment, which is a de facto visa extension…so I have a new appointment on the 6th of July–which will hopefully help me get back in the country when my sister and I cross Taba border on the 2oth.

Then we had lunch in West Jerusalem and headed back to have dinner with Jaber and his family in Bilin. Jabers mom made a huge pot of stuffed grapeleaves, kussa -stuffed squash or something similar, chicken, and soup. We were all too full to move by the end of the dinner but it was amaaaazing food. My family loved Jabers family and we all had a great evening as Israeli apache helicopters flew by doing some sort of military practice in the area, hahaha.

The next day we did the Old City in Jerusalem. We started at the Austrian Hospice, a really nice old mansion where pilgrims can stay and tourists are allowed to go up on the roof for a great view of the Old City. Then we walked around and saw Al Aqsa/Dome of the Rock, the Western Wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulchar. Afterwards we went to Gethesemene and the Mt of Olives before going home to Ramallah.

In the morning, we drove to Jericho and saw the Monastery there, then tried to go to Bethlehem, but the soldiers at the notorious -container- checkpoint wouldnt let us through -because of our yellow plated car-. Meanwhile, yellow plated cars are driving in and out of this checkpoint. So I argued with the soldiers for a while but in the end they wouldnt let us through, of course without giving any kind of logical explanation.

So I had to drive all the way back through Izarriya and Abu Dees basically to Ramallah to go through Jerusalem. Of course, the traffic in Jerusalem was terrible and we ended up driving in circles for a while trying to figure out how to get to Bethlehem. I tried to drive through the Silwan neighborhood -one of the Palestinian neighborhoods facing evictions- and after a while we stopped to ask someone who looked like Jesus ironically, where Bethlehem was, and he showed us the -way-…hahaha.

So finally we were on the road to Bethlehem, went through that checkpoint for the first time–realllllly really strict checkpoint between Jerusalem and Bethlehem where you have to get out of the car and do the spin move, open the trunk, etc…so that was interesting. Went to the Church of the Nativity there then did some souvenier shopping and had some icecream.

I was planning to take my family to see Hebron and the crazy settlers but because of the soldiers at the container checkpoint we didnt have enough time to get to Hebron. We went back to Ramallah and some friends of mine, Wajdi, Frida, and roommates made Mansaf for me and my family. So we had a nice big meal, some wine and good conversation before going to bed.

The next day we started our Northern Israel roadtrip. We took Frida with us and drove out the Nilin checkpoint and up to Megiddo -Armageddon-. Saw the ruins and had a lovely time there, haha. Then we drove on to Lake Tiberious and had lunch on the sea. Drove past the Mt of Beautitudes, then up to the Lebanese border, then over to the Golan.

We stopped at Lake Ram, this really beautiful lake surrounded by mountains. Then went to Majdal Shams– a druze village in the Golan. We stopped there and walked around and did some shopping and had coffee. Saw the -Shouting Hill- where Syrian druze living on the Israeli side can shout to their families on the Syrian side since they cant ever meet in person. So terrible…

We drove on the dark and curvy Golan roads surrounded by signs saying -Danger Landmines- back to Tiberius. It was such a dark road…but luckily an ambulance turned in front of me and I followed him all the way back to lighted streets. My parents said it was another -angel type character- like the Jesus guy from Silwan. Haha…we had all been in the car for too long by that point!

We made it back to Nazareth in time for bed. Got up in the morning and did some sightseeing, saw the Church of the Annunciation and the Old Market. Then we drove up to Akko and had lunch on the sea. We went swimming for a while, watched the Arab guys jump off the high crusader walls into the sea.

Then we drove to Haifa and saw the Bahai gardens and the amazing almost 36o view of the ocean from the top. Next we drove back to Tel Aviv and had coffee and lunch on the ocean front.

We drove back through the Nilin checkpoint and stopped by the wall in Bilin where the demos take place so my parents could see where it happens since we got to Bilin after dark the last time we were there. While we were looking around we noticed that lots of the olive tree fields were black from being set on fire by the teargas canisters earlier that day during the demo.

We saw on olive tree on fire and my dad and sister tried to go put it out but it was hours too late and we decided to go before people thought we were settlers setting more trees on fire, hahaha. So we drove out of the village and got stuck in a huge traffic jam where a wedding was taking place and a car had stalled on the one lane road. It took like 3o minutes to get through–we were planning to visit Al Amari refugee camp in Ramallah and see some of my friends there but by the time we got back it was too late.

The next day was Saturday, and I freaked out because I planned the trip so intricately that everything had to go according to schedule or else the whole thing would be messed up. I forgot about Shabbat!!!! So the rental car agencies in Jerusalem were closed–and the car I planned to get to drive to Eilat that day so we could get across the border that night into Jordan was unavailable. And of course, no busses were running.

So after a while I figured we could take an evening bus to Eilat, stay there for the night and go across to Aqaba early in the morning instead. So we took the 5 hr bus to Eilat, which was surprisingly pleasant since it was still technically shabbat when we left at 5 it was half empty and very quiet. We saw the MacDonalds in the middle of the Negev desert and took pictures : P

Found a hotel in Eilat and went to sleep. The next morning we crossed the border to Aqaba–the soldier was about to stamp my passport but then something came up on her computer and she read for like 5 minutes with a serious expression on her face. She asked me some questions about what I was doing in -Israel- and I went with the story about MRS in Jerusalem I told the Ministry of Interior and showed her my application for a visa and everything and she stamped my exit visa. Im not sure how its gonna go when I try to get back in…but I expect theyll at least give me a transit visa to take my sister to the airport. Inshallah.

Then we checked into our hotel and left our bags there. Then we rented a car and went to Petra. Walked around there for a few hours, met some bedouin guys who still live in caves there–street one, cave two- hahaha…then we drove to Wadi Rum. We wanted to go have a bedouin dinner in a camp there in the desert but took the wrong road that ended in the sand…so we found some bedouins who took us in a jeep to their camp 12 km in the desert and watched the sunset.

Then cooked dinner over the fire and watched the amazing stars there for a while. We got back to Aqaba that night and went to sleep….then we took a ferry across to Nuweiba. The guys on the ferry recognized me from last time when they took me up to the bridge and showed me how to drive the boat..haha. So they took me and my family to the -VIP- section and took us up to the bridge to see the captain for a few minutes.

Hahaha, it was fun. Then we got to Nuweiba and Sababa and are now relaaaaaxing finally.