Posts Tagged ‘ramallah’


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.



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.


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.


Weekly Post:

May 15, 2010

Teenage Boy Shot Dead by Israeli Settler:

My friends and I went out on Thursday night to a bar called La Vie in Ramallah. We listened to some live music, had some drinks, and were having a very nice night. When we decided to go home, the road we walk on leads through the Ramallah Hospital. As we walked through at around 1:30 am, we noticed that there were about a hundred men outside the hospital—which is very unusual for that time of night so we knew something was wrong.

I assumed there had been a fight or something, but my Palestinian friend stopped to talk to some of the people there and ask what was going on as we continued walking. He caught up with us and told us that a teenage boy had been shot by settlers after throwing stones with some friends at the settler cars as they passed. They were near the village of Mazra’a Al Sharqiyya.

My friend looked upset and I asked him if he knew who it was. He told me it was a friend of his…

The boy, Aysar Zaben, had been shot in the back after throwing stones at his shooter’s car. His friends ran away when the settler stopped his car, and apparently Aysar had been running away as well since he was shot in the back. No one found his body until hours later—and Aysar by then had bled to death.

We didn’t know that it was settlers at the time; we assumed the boys had been throwing stones at Israeli jeeps that were raiding in the area. I got a call from one of my friends in the PA and he told me the type of ammunition they found in the boy wasn’t from an M-16—they type of weapon most IDF soldiers carry. Later, we found out it was a settler who killed him. For throwing stones at his car—since when does that warrant killing someone??

Two Settlers Injured by Palestinian Fire

On Friday, two young female settlers were injured as their car was fired on when they were driving in the same area that the Palestinian boy was killed. Again, I got a call from my friend in the PA who asked me if I knew what was happening near Ramallah. I hadn’t heard because I was at the weekly protest in Bil’in at the time.

He told me about what happened and I was very surprised. It’s not common for Palestinians to shoot at settlers or soldiers because most Palestinians do not have guns…just stones. Even the PA soldiers who stand on the streets with Kalashnikovs are not allowed to fire any bullets unless they have already coordinated with and got permission from the Israelis (strange? Ha). So shooting bullets is a very big deal.

Today in the news, I saw that the Imad Mughniyeh Group of Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades had claimed responsibility for the attack on the settlers. They said that the attack was in response to the killing of Aysar the day before by settlers.

They also said that the attack symbolized their rejection of the indirect peace talks that have begun between the Israeli and Palestinian leadership. I don’t blame them because so far, every time there are peace talks, the Palestinians end up making all the compromises and fulfilling the demand s of the Israelis, while the Israeli government gives nothing, and usually takes more land and more concessions from the Palestinians.

IDF Forces Gather Around Ramallah

As my PA friend was telling me about the attack on the settlers, he mentioned that hundreds of IDF soldiers were massing near Ramallah in an attempt to capture the people who shot at the settlers.

That night, there were flares in the sky near Ramallah. Flares are a pretty good sign around here that kind of Israeli military raid or attack is about to begin. So that was kind of scary. Killing of Israelis is not taken lightly by the Israeli government and military—since the two settlers were only injured by the glass that broke when the shots were fired at their car; it was only a raid and not an attack.

There were 3 young Palestinian men detained last night from the village of Sinjel near Ramallah. It’s not clear yet whether they were detained because of the attack on the settlers or whether it was “just another” Israeli raid.

Bil’in Weekly Protest Against the Wall

I went to the Friday protest in Bil’in yesterday, it was a pretty small group of demonstrators, but there was a big percentage of Israeli activists which is always a good thing (despite the fact that a few of them were most likely spies…).

We marched to the wall together and after about 5 minutes of standing at the wall (without throwing one stone…) the IDF started shooting gas grenades at us. Most of the first-time protestors and internationals retreated to the back of the protest, but all of the Palestinians from the village and a small group of internationals and Israelis stayed.

They kept shooting the teargas grenades—the gas they used this week was extremely strong and focused mostly on the eyes. My eyes stung for about 10 minutes after I got out of the gas and were half shut. My face also stung a lot.

Then over a dozen Israeli soldiers came through the fence and chased us down the hill towards the village while shooting teargas at us. They also set off a huge gas bomb that caused a bigger cloud of teargas than the teargas cannon (which shoots out over 30 teargas canisters simultaneously into the air). In that cloud, they caught one Palestinian journalist from Al Arabiyya. Luckily, the rest of us ran fast enough to not be caught in the teargas and we were able to get away from the soldiers.

The soldiers made one more run at us and we went back even further. Then the Palestinian boys from the village started moving towards the soldiers as we all ran away. They started picking up stones and throwing them at the advancing soldiers. The soldiers shot teargas grenades directly at the boys but luckily didn’t hit any of them. The rocks were still flying at the soldiers (in full riot gear and armed to the teeth…) and the soldiers got scared and started to retreat.

The boys followed them back to the fence, still throwing stones at them and being fired at with teargas. Then the soldiers turned around and made a run for the wall and they all went back to the other side. Victory! Haha.

Fire in the Olive Fields

After the soldiers went back to their side of the wall, the boys started throwing stones at the side fence where there were soldiers. The soldiers responded with teargas grenades shot at head level. The gas grenades caught the dry brush in the olive fields around where we protest on fire. Within minutes there were several small fires. And soon after that they turned into a big wildfire that was threatening to burn down olive trees. The people at the front started shouting for everyone to come up and help put out the fire because the weather had been so hot and dry that the fire kept getting bigger and bigger.

We ran up to the fields by the side fence and grabbed olive tree branches to beat the land that was on fire to put it out. Then the soldiers started shooting teargas at us! As we were trying to put out a fire they started! The men ran straight to the fence and started yelling and arguing with the soldiers, who eventually gave us about 15 minutes of ceasefire to try to stop the fire.

We were all beating the fire with the olive tree branches, inhaling regular smoke and teargas at the same time. Eventually, we saved the olive trees and got the fire under control when another fire near the front fence started. Luckily, a fire truck finally arrived at the scene and started to put the front fire out as we took care of the small fires that kept popping up in the first area.

After that the ceasefire was over and the soldiers began shooting teargas at us again and we had to go back. The boys stayed and kept throwing stones at the soldiers for a while longer. The protest organizers declared that the protest was officially over and the demonstrators should leave. Only the boys stayed, the rest of us headed back to the village.

In the end there were a couple of people who were injured by being shot with the teargas grenades, but no serious injuries.

World’s Largest Keffiyeh

And to end on a positive note, Palestinians recently reveiled the world’s largest keffiyeh at Al Muqata (the main military and political headquarters in the West Bank).

The Friend’s Society (a Quaker Society here in Ramallah) organized this event and volunteers began weaving the keffiyeh months ago. The keffiyeh is 500×500 meters and will be entered into the Guinness Book of World Records.

They plan to put the keffiyeh up on another “world’s largest”—the Separation Wall between Israel and the West Bank and then bring the keffiyeh to Palestinian refugee camps outside of Palestine.


Contemporary Dance Festival:

May 3, 2010

Dance Festival Website

From April 19th -May 8th there is a Contemporary Dance Festival going on in the West Bank (Ramallah, Hebron, Bethlehem) and Jerusalem. There are dance groups visiting and performing from all over the world including USA, France, Norway, Tunisia, Switzerland, Hungary, Germany, and more.

Last night I went to a performance that included the dance group “Leyya Tawil’s Dance Elixir”  and the group that is the organizer and owner of the Contemporary Dance Festival, Bottega, from Italy. It ended with a performance by Amal Khatib, a student at the Sireyyat Ramallah Dance Group.

My favorite performance was Bottega. Their style was hip-hop breakdancing with a little bit of ballet influence. They were breakdancing to Opera music–it was actually a really amazing combination. There were two women, who had the more ballet style of dancing and two men who were excellent breakdancers.

They ended with one of the men performing a dance as “Handela” (Handela is a cartoon character that is very famous in Palestine, it is a little boy who you can only see his back, and his arms are always crossed behind his back–He represents the Palestinian refugee, he was made a refugee in 1948 when the Palestinians were driven out of their homes so Israel could be established, and he never grows up, he remains the same age until he can return to his home) to an Arabic song that had Palestinian poetry about the land in the background. It was very powerful.  And he did the entire dance with his back to the audience, including breakdancing and stalling. It was amazing and the crowd loved it.

There are just a few performances left this year, but they will be back again in 2011.


Weekly Post:

April 27, 2010

Sinai Visa Trip:

I just got back to Ramallah from my travels. I spent 2 weeks in Sinai, the original plan was to spend a few days in Nuweiba at the Bedouin camp I always stay at, Sababa, and then go to mainland Egypt to see Luxor and Aswan. That didn’t work out as planned because of the visa bureaucracy involved with entering Sinai from Israel through the Taba border. Egypt gives out 2 types of visas, one just for Sinai and one for mainland Egypt. If you come into Sinai from Taba, they automatically give you the Sinai-only visa—I think because they are trying to keep the Israeli tourists in a small area so they can better keep track of them (for their safety….).

So even though I’m not Israeli, I still came from Israel so they gave me the Sinai only visa. My friends Chris and Julian and I tried to get the Egypt visa from the Egyptian consulate in Eilat but since it was Friday the consulate was closed for the next 2 days. We didn’t want to wait in Eilat for 2 days so we decided that there must be another way to get the Egyptian visa from Sinai and we crossed the border. At the Egyptian side, we asked about the Egyptian visa and a man told us we could get it only if we paid 50 dollars to get a letter from a travel agency taking “responsibility” for us. We didn’t want to pay that bribe so we decided to try and find it in Sharm El Sheikh at the ferry to Hurghada (mainland Egypt).

Sababa and the Egyptian Visa Fiasco:

We went to Sababa camp in Nuweiba for a few days and relaxed on the Red Sea beaches, snorkeling and laying out in the sun. After a few days we took the first of 2 trips down to Sharm to try to get the visa to Egypt. Long story short—it’s impossible to get the visa on the ferry. You have to have the visa even to buy the ticket for the ferry. In order to get the visa, you have to do three things: First, pay 15 dollars to buy the Egyptian visa sticker, then pay 50 dollars bribe to get the letter from the travel agency, then go to the Sharm airport, go out of immigration like you are taking a flight, and then turn around and come back in and get the official stamp on the visa sticker.

On the first trip, we didn’t know about that whole process, so we just went straight to the ferry and tried to get on without the visa—hoping we could get the visa when we arrived in Egypt (like any normal visa process…) but they wouldn’t let us. So we drove all the way back to Nuweiba (2 ½ hour drive north) and decided to try again the next day—following the instructions we got from the officials at the ferry.

We drove back down to Sharm the next day—went to Thomas Cook travel agency to get the 15 dollar visa sticker. We asked them if they would write the letter for us so we could get the visa stamped at the airport. They told us we didn’t need it, the sticker was all we needed and that we should go to the airport to get the stamp.

So we drove to the airport (all the while the taxi meter is running….ughh) and went to Terminal 1. We went out immigration and tried to get the stamp. The guy told us we needed the letter, after arguing for a bit about what Thomas Cook told us, we asked where we could get the letter in the airport. He said there was a travel agency in the same terminal. So we went to information, and after being passed from person to person (taking about 45 minutes…) they said we had to go to Terminal 2.

We ran over to Terminal 2 and asked around about travel agencies. After the same, “Go ask this guy” process of being passed from person to person so they wouldn’t have to help us, someone finally told us there was no travel agency in Terminal 2 but there was one in Terminal 3. AHHHHH!

So off we went to Terminal 3 (meter is still running in the taxi…) and saw what looked like a Russian refugee camp. The entire terminal was packed solid with Russian tourists camped out sitting on the ground surrounded by luggage. We had to fight our way through them to find the information desk. When we finally made it to the desk, the man said there was no travel agency in Terminal 3 that could write the letter, but he knew a guy in Terminal 1 that could write it for us.

Back to Terminal 1, and we waited by the information desk for this guy to find us for about 20 minutes. Finally, a guy in a shiny suit, gelled hair, with a used-car salesmen vibe found us. He told us he could write the letter for us for 100 dollars each—all the while with a smirk on his face letting us know he knew exactly what he was doing and that he was our only chance for getting this visa so he could bribe us for as much as he wanted.

I decided to screw the Egyptian visa and the whole Luxor-Aswan trip because I was not about to pay 100 dollars to THIS guy—especially since I had spent most of my budget for the trip on the two trips down to Sharm trying to figure out how to get the stupid visa. So we returned to the taxi and asked him to drive us up to Dahab.


Dahab is a city on the Red Sea about mid-way between Sharm and Nuweiba. It’s more developed than Nuweiba but not as touristy as Sharm (which is mostly just huge glitzy resorts and nothing else…) so it’s a nice place to spend a week or so.

After my friend and I got to Dahab, another friend of ours from Ramallah, Lazar, arrived and we spent the next week in Dahab snorkeling and hanging out with the locals Lazar and I had met in previous trips to Sinai. Dahab was really busy because of the ash-cloud from the Iceland volcano—most of the tourists were British and the rest were European so their flights were all cancelled for a week. So we met a lot of people, relaxed on the beaches, and saw some really cool coral and fish.

Israeli Border:

Lazar was planning to stay in Sinai for a few weeks, but I had to get back up to Palestine for my work so Chris and I went back up to Nuweiba for one night before crossing the border back into Israel. The next day we went through the border. Chris got a three month visa after a thorough security check where the border guards opened all of his luggage and x-rayed everything individually. I didn’t even get that security check but at the passport control I was unlucky and got a soldier who wasn’t very accommodating.

She saw my previous Israeli visas (almost a year’s worth already) and asked what I was doing “in Israel” all this time. I played the tourist card and when she asked more questions about why I wanted to be in Israel so long without being Jewish I told her I had a Jewish boyfriend. This kind of convinced her but she ended up only giving me a one-month visa (usually signaling the end of the ability to get more visas in the future) and telling me if I needed a little longer to wait for my “flight home” I could go to the Ministry of Interior in Tel Aviv and apply for an extension. The Ministry of Interior is probably one of the scariest places in Israel, but I will have to go there in a couple of weeks and hope they take pity on me—my family is finally coming to visit me and see the region in June, so I need to be here for at least a month after my visa runs out.

Anyways, I took my passport and one month visa and took the bus ride from hell back up from Eilat. We met an American guy at the exit of the border—he asked us if we wanted to share a cab to the bus station. We got to talking and it turns out he had just come out of 3 hours of Israeli interrogation in the border (thank God—if it wasn’t him it might have been one of us….). He made the terrible mistake of mentioning “Ramallah” to the border guard. For the record, you cannot mention anything related to Palestine, Islam, or Arabic anything when you are talking to the border guards if you want to get in the country without problems. Since he mentioned Ramallah—which I’m not even sure he knew was in Palestine, he got 3 hours of interrogation before they realized he wasn’t a threat to Israel and gave him a visa.

When we got to the bus station we realized that we had missed the last bus to Jerusalem because of the surprise one hour difference between Taba and Eilat, so we had to get the bus to Tel Aviv instead. That means adding an extra 2 hours at the least onto an already excruciating journey. So we got that bus, after 5 hours arrived in Tel Aviv and looked for a sherut (minibus) to Jerusalem outside. To our surprise, the sherut driver was Arab Israeli and agreed to take us all the way to the Qalandia checkpoint instead of just central Jerusalem.

West Bank:

At Qalandia, the driver didn’t know exactly where to park so before we could stop him he drove all the way into the car lane for entering the West Bank before he stopped. He was very worried with all the soldiers carrying M-16s around. We got out quickly to grab our bags and let him get out of the wrong part of the checkpoint. As we were opening the back, the soldiers started yelling at us in Hebrew to get out of there. We told them just wait one minute and he will leave. Then the soldiers in the watch towers started screaming at the driver to go, so he started driving off in a panic with the back door open and half of our bags in his trunk. Ha.

We managed to get him to stop for 10 more seconds before he sped away from the madness and we got all of our bags. Jason, the American guy we met at the border, had agreed to come straight to Ramallah with us instead of spending a night or two in Jerusalem first. So he got a pretty crazy first impression of the occupation. We dragged and pulled at our bags to get them through the THREE turnstiles we have to walk through in Qalandia checkpoint to get into the West Bank, and caught a cab home on the “other side.”

We agreed to meet the next morning in the center to go to the protest against the wall in Bil’in—Jason would have a very interesting time in the West Bank. Haha.

Bil’in Conference and Protest:

The next morning we got to Al Manara (the central square in Ramallah) and took a service (minibus) to Bil’in. This week was the annual Bil’in conference—they had three days of workshops and tours for internationals and Israelis coming to visit Bil’in to learn about their nonviolent struggle. So there were a lot more people than usual, including important politicians and the representative from the EU for Palestine.

We marched to the wall, and for a little bit the soldiers didn’t shoot at us. Then, they pulled up the skunk water truck and most of the crowd disappeared in a few seconds. They never shot it though, so some of the braver protestors began making their way back up to the front.

After that, the soldiers started shooting a new kind of teargas canister—it is high velocity and SILENT. You can’t hear when its shot—which is what most people use to determine whether they need to run or duck or whatever. So by the time you see it its either passing right by you or hitting you. It was the craziest thing—and the soldiers were shooting them straight at head level instead of up into the air in the legal way to disperse nonviolent crowds.

I was going nowhere near the front because those crazy silent teargas canisters were appearing out of nowhere in all directions. A friend of mine that I work with, Rafke, was in the front though. A few seconds later I heard a lot of yelling for an ambulance, and the ambulance sped up to the front. I couldn’t see what was going on through the crowd surrounding whoever had been hit. Then I started seeing the blood….on people’s hands, clothes, and all over the ambulance door as it sped away towards the hospital (which is 30 minutes away, and not the hospital you want to be taken to in critical condition).

I heard what happened—a man from Jaffa (near Tel Aviv) had been hit in the forehead with one of the silent, high velocity teargas canisters. It broke open his skull—which explained the blood everywhere and the speed with which the ambulance drove away. Then I saw Rafke, looking pretty shocked, with some other of our friends walking quickly down the hill away from the front.

Turns out she was standing right next to the guy who was shot—shoulder to shoulder almost. She said she didn’t hear or see the canister; the guy was standing next to her one second then the next he had a metal teargas canister sticking out of his forehead, with blood spilling everywhere.

She said the guy was conscious when he was put in the ambulance, and actually he stood up and kind of walked into the ambulance. When a person is injured that traumatically, they don’t feel the pain at first—because they are in shock I guess. Not as traumatic for sure, but when I was shot in the leg with a high velocity teargas canister I didn’t feel any pain for an hour. But after that I couldn’t even stand up—and I still have a bruise in the shape of the canister on my leg almost a year later.

During this whole time, the sadistic Israeli soldiers were still shooting these canisters at the crowd—while the guy was being taken into the ambulance, and while the rest of us were trying to get out of range after we saw this guy who everyone thought was going to die before he reached the hospital. I was really scared because I was standing next to a short stone wall and these silent teargas canisters would just appear next to me out of nowhere. I couldn’t avoid them because I couldn’t see or hear them, and they were being shot from 2 directions—the fence at the front of the protest, and the fence that runs alongside the protest. So I grabbed my friend Barbara who was standing upright and we crouched down in these thorn bushes behind the wall to avoid being the next one shot in the head.

Then gas canisters were flying everywhere, and everyone panicked and tried to run away back to the village. But the road that leads back to the village is parallel to the side-fence (with soldiers shooting at us from behind it) so the whole time we were running back the teargas canisters were being shot at us from all directions—at head level.  As we ran along the road in panicked groups, teargas canisters were flying through the olive trees in the field beside the fence.

I took cover behind the trunk of an olive tree with a couple other people—piled on top of each other so that we were all covered by the small tree, and canisters were appearing from nowhere and flying past us. So we took off again down the road, through clouds of teargas, choking and running. I finally made it to the safe spot where a lot of the protestors were gathering to watch what was happening. Then the soldiers shot the long range teargas canisters at us and we had to move further back.

We were all really shaken up, still being teargassed every now and then, and waiting for news of the man who was shot in the head. Most people were saying that he was going to be dead before he got to the hospital. Finally we heard that he made it to the hospital and was in critical condition, but stable, and he was going to live—even if that meant a yearlong coma and brain damage like the American protestor Tristan Anderson who was shot in the head with the same kind of teargas canister in Ni’lin (another village that does weekly protests against the wall).

As we were recovering, the soldiers climbed over the fence and started charging at us and shooting teargas. Usually when they do this, they run at us for like 50 meters just to scare us further back, and then they turn around. This time, they didn’t stop so we all had to sprint away up the hill—lungs full of teargas and choking. In the end they arrested 4 people that they caught.

I decided enough is enough, and we went back to my friend Jaber’s house in the village to decompress on his roof in the sun—away from soldiers and teargas. His mom had made an amazing lunch for us—musakhan (bread covered in oil, onions, and spices) and chicken. We ate until we couldn’t eat another bite and then laid out in the sun for a while before going back to Ramallah.

Settlers in Hebron:

The next day, we found out, there was going to be a new spot for weekly protests—Hebron. They would be protesting against the illegal Israeli settlement right in the middle of their old city. One of the most violent places for interaction between Israeli settlers and Palestinians is in the middle of Hebron. The settlers have taken over the central marketplace by getting all of the upper apartments over the Arab stores below. From their apartments, the settlers throw stones, glass, sewage water, boiling water, etc…down on to the Arab market below. For this reason, the Palestinians have had to put chain link fencing over the alleyways to catch projectiles thrown at them and tourists by the settlers.

The Israeli military protects the settlers by putting checkpoints all over the old city marketplace and putting bases and lookouts on the roofs—so there is a very heavy military presence in the center of this Palestinian city. I heard from one soldier that being assigned to Hebron to protect the settlers is almost a punishment in the Israeli army—because they know how crazy and uncontrollable the settlers are. If a settler gets the urge, they can beat up any Palestinian they come across, or grab the veil off of an old Palestinian woman, and have a soldier grudgingly protect them from any repercussion.

The settlers in Hebron walk around with M-16’s slung casually over their shoulders, and when the settlers need to go anywhere, the military closes the roads they will walk on to Palestinians, and escorts them with soldiers and M-16’s—causing lots of chaos for no reason.

The Palestinians in the old city decided that it was time to start weekly, nonviolent protests there as well since the other villages like Bil’in and Ni’lin were getting so much press and the Palestinian Authority had started recommending mass nonviolent protests around the West Bank.

So we all decided to go support them in their first protest—knowing that it would probably be crazy because of the reputation of Hebron’s settlers. We got to the marketplace and couldn’t see any groups gathering, and no one seemed to know about any protests. So we walked further down the market place and found the protest. It was mostly Palestinians and Israeli activists (which is how it should be…) along with press.

Hebron Protest:

The protest was right in front of the gate that blocks Shuhada Street—a street the military closed to Palestinians because the settlers wanted it. The closures and checkpoints in the marketplace have had a devastating effect on the economy in Hebron—by forcing Arab shop owners to close their shops and scaring tourists away with violence and guns. If a settler wants an Arab shop to close, they will threaten them by marking their store up with racist graffiti and warning them not to open again (does that sound familiar? World War II and the Holocaust….?). It’s sick.

We stood there in front of the gate—which had a watch tower to the side of it, 3 soldiers standing outside the tower with guns, and one inside taking pictures and video of the protestors to make it easier to arrest them later…on the left side of the gate is a huge Yeshiva (Jewish religious school) and the settlers were standing on the roof watching us with smirks on their faces. There were military posts on all the roofs surrounding us—full of heavily armed soldiers and other soldiers taking pictures of our faces.

We chanted slogans for about an hour, attracting more Palestinian protestors from the old city, before marching down through the old city to a closed street. In a narrow alleyway, the protestors came face to face with a group of settlers and soldiers. They stood facing each other and chanting for the end of settlement in the old city for a while before about a dozen heavily armed Israeli soldiers ran at them from behind.

Everybody scattered to avoid being arrested. Then the situation calmed down a little bit and we walked back to the gate where the protest started, side by side with the soldiers who had just charged at us to disperse us. There were more of us than them, although they had M-16s and other weapons, we were surrounding them as we walked back to through the alleyways, and they kept looking over their shoulders and seemed very uncomfortable—as if we would do anything!

We got back to the gate and heard that one Israeli activist had been arrested, and he was being interrogated and “processed” behind the gate. Then we heard that a group of settlers was moving through the old city with a military escort and would be going in through the gate. So we tried to do a sit-in style protest to block the gate, but the soldiers started pushing all the protestors back before they could even sit down. Then some protestors (mostly Israeli) started pushing and shoving the soldiers.

I was watching from a distance because if an Israeli activist gets arrested, they get a slap on the wrist and are released within an hour, whereas if an international gets arrested, they get deported and banned from Israel (and therefore Palestine) forever. (Of course, the worst is still if you are Palestinian and arrested, in which case you get a severe beating and are thrown in jail for months without even being charged with anything—at the end of which they have to pay a huge fine to be released).

I saw an Israeli activist and an Israeli soldier fighting each other—then the soldier got behind him and wrapped his arm around the activist’s neck and was choking him down to the ground violently. After that, the other protestors went to stop the soldier and started a huge brawl where dozens of protestors were pushing and shoving with the soldiers. After that, the Israeli soldiers dragged off a few more people (2 Israeli and 1 Palestinian from the Hebron Popular Committee—who organized the protest) behind the gate to be arrested.

After this, the soldiers locked arms to make a wall to block the protestors from getting too close to the group of settlers that were coming through the old city to go through the gate. A few dozen teenage settlers walked casually behind the wall of soldiers with their military escort, smirking at us arrogantly. Then they went through the gate and disappeared into the Yeshiva. The soldiers went in behind them and closed the gate. We saw that the soldiers on the rooftops were preparing to shoot teargas to finish off the protest so the organizers decided that we should leave so the Palestinians who lived in the area would not get teargassed because of us.

Road Trip–Golan Heights:

After the weekend of protests, some friends of mine invited me on a trip to the north in Israel to see the Golan Heights, Galilee and the North West coastline (Haifa, Akko, and Caesarea). I decided to join them on the first night only which was camping in the Golan.

The Golan Heights was Syrian until it was occupied by the Israeli military in the 1967 war. Since then it has been an extremely contentious issue between the Syrian and Israeli governments and is used as a bargaining chip by Israel to blackmail Syria into establishing better relations with Israel. The territory is scattered with mine fields leftover from the beginning of the occupation—most of the mine fields are marked by barbed wire fences and skull and bones signs, but every now and then lost tourists and locals stumble into them accidently.

We were going to stay in official campsites only for this reason, ha. The north of Israel has a lot of national parks but according to the guidebook we had only a couple had sites for overnight camping. We chose one called Hurshat National Park, which is almost to the Lebanese border (called the “Good Fence” by Israel, hahaha). It was supposed to have the Dan River running through it so we thought it would be nice.

Armageddon (Megiddo) City:

On the way there, we drove through Megiddo (also called Armageddon…) which is an ancient city, and national park now, which is mentioned in many End Times prophesies in the Abrahamic religions. It is supposed to be the place where the final battle of Armageddon starts. So since we were driving through it, we decided to stop and see the ancient ruins of the city. After we passed the MacDonald’s (ahahahaha) we found the signs pointing to the museum and ruins.

The ancient city of Megiddo had been destroyed 25 times in its history because of its strategic location on the main travelling road between Egypt and Mesopotamia. It was established (as far as we know) in 7,000 BC and destroyed for the last time in 586 BC. It has as many archaeological layers that have been uncovered that tell its history. We parked outside the museum and ate some hummus and bread while looking out over the wide plains that stretch for miles where the End Times battle is supposed to take place. It looked very peaceful to us…

We paid the 25 shekel admission and watched a short film about the history of the site, browsed the museum, and walked around the ruins. Because the city was destroyed so many times, there were huge walls surrounding it to keep the people safe. But their water source was outside of the walls. To reach the water source without leaving the safety of the walls, they dug a long tunnel that began in the city and led to the underground spring outside the city.

They have excavated the tunnel and we walked through it. It’s really amazing, you walk down these stone steps deep underground, and then there is a very well made, uniform in height and width, tunnel that leads to a spring that still has water in it.


After Megiddo, we headed on north to Nazareth. Nazareth (like the rest of the “Arab Triangle”—the area to the north of the West Bank in Israel that has a high Arab population) is a very Arab town, but mostly Christian Arabs, not Muslim. Over the hill from the center and Old City is the Jewish Israeli part of town.

Because it was Sunday, the Christian holiday, the Old City was completely closed along with most of the restaurants and shops in town. Luckily, the Church of the Annunciation (where Mary received the message that she would be the mother of Jesus) was open for tourists and we were at least able to take a look around inside before we headed north.

The church is very big and the architecture is modern—and very gray except for the bright stained glass windows. There are three levels to the church, the bottom is the ancient church that archaeologists have uncovered, the 2nd is a silent chapel, and the 3rd story is a Catholic church. Outside the church is the most interesting part for me—there is artwork sent from many different countries portraying Mary holding the baby Jesus. It’s interesting because each is done in the cultural style of the country that donated it…and they are all either mosaics or made with ceramic tiles.

Sea of Galilee:

About half an hour from Nazareth is the Sea of Galilee/Lake Tiberius and the Israeli city Tiberius. The sea is where Jesus is said to have walked on water—and archaeologists have recently discovered a boat dating from Jesus’ time almost fully preserved in the sea that you can see in a museum there. We stopped there and sat by the sea for a while, ate some gelato, and then continued on to the Golan Heights.

Hurshat National Park:

We got to the park around sunset, and the camping ground turned out to be a very unnatural park looking place with part of the Dan River diverted through the middle of it. It was nice, but definitely not an authentic camping experience.

We set up our site and made a fire and cooked hotdogs and roasted marshmallows. Most of the people in the park were Arab Israelis and Druze—Arabic music was blasting from every site and the smell of kebab was everywhere.

We walked around the campsite and came to a group of young men smoking arghile, listening to Arabic music, and dancing dabke. We joined them for a little bit and started talking to them in our broken Arabic about how we came from Ramallah—where we worked. They didn’t believe us, and started laughing. Then they said something about Israeli soldiers in the campground. We looked around, and then they were like “No. WE are Israeli soldiers.”

We looked at them confused, and asked if they were joking as Amr Diab sang “Habibi, Habibi…” in the background. Then they said they were Druze, not Arab. There are some small Druze communities in northern Israel, especially in the Golan Heights since Syria has a pretty large Druze community. The Druze, unlike the Arab Israelis, are allowed by the Israeli government to serve in the Israeli army—since they don’t identify with the Palestinian cause and are not Muslims.

We talked for a little bit about our work in Palestine, and joked about them being the soldiers who shot at us in the protests in Bil’in and Hebron. Then the guys realized we weren’t joking about being from Palestine and they started getting uncomfortable. Soon after, they shook our hands as we sat there and said “BYE! BYE!” with the intimidating look of Israeli soldiers we all knew so well.

We took the hint and left their site and returned to our own corner.

Golan Heights:

The next morning we left camp early and drove around the Golan Heights. We stopped by a beautiful lake called Lake Ram, which was next to a Druze village. It was so beautiful that we sat there for about an hour and ate lunch at a little covered seating area we came across. Soon after, some Druze men came over in traditional clothing (black billowy pants and white square shaped hats) and said welcome and told us about the fish that they catch in the lake, and the cherry and apple trees they grow on the terraces on the hills that surround the lake. It was very idyllic and the people were so friendly and welcoming.

We continued on to Nimrod’s Castle—which is a large stone fort on top of a mountain that is said to have been built by Nimrod (a character from the book of Genesis) but was actually built by the Crusaders in the 12th century.

As we drove on, we passed more mine fields that were marked by barbed wire fences.

We were trying to find the Quneitra viewpoint where you can see Syria and the disengagement zone (a few kilometers wide) that separates the occupied Golan Heights from Syria. We found a nice spot to see it and there were some Druze men selling Za’atar, honey, olives, and other things. There are some spots in the Golan Heights where Druze can call across the disengagement zone to their families on the Syrian side who have been separated since the occupation—and not allowed to physically meet each other unless they decide to give up the right to ever come back to Golan.

Druze Villages:

There are two famous Druze villages in the Golan Heights which have held onto their Syrian identity and are fiercely anti-Israel. They are called Mas’ada and Majd As-Shams. We drove through Mas’ada and continued on to Majd As-Shams which is the larger and more authentic of the two. You could see women in the traditional white, semi-transparent veil and long black dress and the men with their square shaped white hats.

We stopped to get coffee at a restaurant and when we went up to pay the man wouldn’t take any money from us. He was so friendly and welcoming, along with all the other people we came across in the town. I definitely recommend visiting these Druze villages—they are very different than the confused Druze who serve in the Israeli army. ha


Biden’s Visit with Abbas in the West Bank

March 11, 2010

So yesterday, when my friend from the PA told me it was the VP of Brazil, he was JOKING.

The real visitor, as I found out soon after, was the VP of the USA, Biden. The PA didnt want to announce his visit beforehand because of the security risk. Now at least I understand the need for the huge military presence in all the streets of Ramallah.

Anyways, I had low expectations of the impact of Biden’s visit to the region. But he did do a couple of good things. He showed up an hour and a half late to his dinner meeting with PM Netanyahu in Israel. Hahaha. Then when Netanyahu announced the government’s approval of 1600 new housing units in a settlement near Jerusalem, on occupied Palestinian territory, he snapped and “condemned” Israel’s decision.

Of course the word “condemn” has been thrown around so much about Israel’s activities, and never followed by any concrete measures, so it doesn’t mean anything on the ground. But at least he condemned them. And he did an interview with Al Jazeera explaining the irrationality of Netanyahu’s behavior and how it was only serving to break the “trust” between the Israelis and Palestinians who are trying to restart negotiations.

I think he might be starting to get the point. ha.