Monday, November 27, 2000

Next Year In Palestine

Dear Friends and Family,

Jerusalem is a magical city. I’m not sure whether there is a God, but after visiting Jerusalem I’m pretty sure that if there is one, he or she is hanging out there. It’s a magical city. Thanks to the preponderance of Jerusalem rock, the city has an architectural and aesthetic unity as well as a sort of golden glow.

We knew we didn't have much time to spend in the city, so we decided it would be best not to push it and just do one or two traditional things. We thought about waging holy war on each other, but changed our minds when we heard that there was a good exhibit going on at the museum. It was the collection of an ancient Hebrew glass blower called Chihuly. It cost a few shekels more than a catapult and battering ram, but was definitely worth it. The exhibit was great: the kind of thing you just couldn't see back home.

It was getting dark after the exhibit, so we decided to grab a beer and call it a night. On our way back to the hotel we had a little problem and needed to run our own personal relief mission. Luckily, we found this old Wailing Wall where we could relieve ourselves.

Due to the recent violence (a few days before we arrived a bomb went of a couple blocks from the school and right outside the main market, by the time we went to the market there was almost no trace of the explosion) there haven't been a lot of tourists running around Israel and the coast was pretty much clear in the old city.

As you can imagine, it is difficult to capture the essence and wonder of being in the holiest of Holy cities. So why try when below we have a first-hand perspective on the situation. It is from a law student at UW, who received a grant to do a year-long study in Israel. She's a mother of two and has been in Ramallah for about three months now on her grant/study.

At about the same time that we were in Jerusalem, my parents were in Ireland kissing the Blarney stone. With this in mind, I thought I would end our Jerusalem account with the following little limerick:

There once was a man named Kevin
Who knew the Deadly Sins, all seven
He's not a good Jew
But he's better 'n you
For he made Aliyah and can go to Heaven


Well....what can I say about this place?!! I have a love hate relationship with it. I don't even know
where to begin.

First of all...I feel like I am hostage to the Israeli media. Every day when I watch the news I know I am being brain washed. I get angry at the way they talk about Arabs of both the territories and inside Israel.

One thing that is very apparent is how they demonize Palestinians. They hardly ever talk about them as a people....they keep referring to Arafat this and Arafat that-ad nauseum. In doing so they focus the hatred on this supposed demon. I feel angry because there is no empathy towards the "other". I know that I am not family and friends are not Arafat....and the Palestinian people are not Arafat.

My auntie and her husband who live in Ramallah are doing fine. This is the worst situation they have seen since 1967....not even then did they experience such an intense Israeli shelling and closure. They have everything they need in terms of food and other needs and they just take the shelling noise in stride. They don't complain because they don't want people to worry about them. Their two daughters who live in Jerusalem try and visit them as much as they can. They have to time the visits around closures and events. They don't visit anywhere near as often or as long as they would like to in fear of being caught inside Ramallah or in the demonstrations and rock throwing that take place every day...usually after school is out.

My friend Maha, a social worker, and her husband Zuhair, a lecturer at Bir Zeit, also live in Ramallah. Maha was not able to go to work in East Jerusalem for two weeks during the height of the events. Their eight year old daughter asks them every morning..."is there a war today"? Her dad took her to see the confrontations from a distance and explained to her what was going on...this was an attempt to get her to be less fearful of the news and the shelling sounds. Still she is very scared. Two nights ago they were awakened at midnight by Israeli shelling in nearby
Betunia. This shelling continued until 3:00 a.m. Zuhair told me that he stayed up looking outside his balcony. He kept listening for shots from the Palestinian side but heard none...yet the Israeli shelling continued. He believes that the shelling is an attempt to unnerve the people and is paving the way for Israeli recapture of some of the regions which had been returned to the Palestinians in the Oslo agreement. This recapture would allow the Israeli's more control especially close to some of their settlements. The settlements that are not
supposed to be there in the first place under international law. The settlements that continued to
grow despite Oslo.

Inside Israel...things have calmed down considerably. However, there is tension. Jews are avoiding Arab populated areas and Arabs are avoiding areas where extremist Jews live. Businesses such as restaurants in Jaffa and Arab stores in Wadi Nisnas in Haifa are
suffering a noticeable drop. Political activities have been banned at all Israeli Universities for the
first four weeks of classes....we are now in the second week. However, I did hear that there will be a demonstration on campus next Wednesday....I plan to keep a distance.

What is really striking to me is that no matter how much politically to the left Israeli Jews are....They just don't get it that their Zionism came at a high price to the Palestinians and why the Palestinians fought Zionism in the first place. They don't understand how the Palestinians are Palestinian first and Arabs Arabs are not all the same and how they have different interests. They still don't get why the Palestinians are mad and why Oslo gave
them nothing. They are convinced that Barak offered Arafat some kind of unbelievable treasure at Camp David...which Arafat so ungratefully turned down. And then...if they go that far...they always get where can we go? We are not wanted anywhere...besides..this is now our home. was home to another people at one time. All I hear from them is this fear fear fear fear of annihilation as a people. I know and understand where it is coming from but how are they going to break this cycle of fear with its accompanying aggression....whose responsibility is it to do the healing?

One final story:
Two weeks ago I attended orientation in the Overseas Department at the University of Haifa. One of the directors assured the students...mostly young Americans coming to live in Israel for a year of "the Jewish experience"...that she is there to take care of their every need. If they needed to not have an Arab roommate or apartment mate in the dorms (there are two to a room and six to an apartment)...they just need to let her know and she will accommodate. I was so shocked I did not speak. I just felt a very sharp pain as if I was emotionally stabbed in my core. I felt very sad that she was giving the students a way out of what could be a very healing opportunity they may never get anywhere else. I remembered how the beginning of the process that brought me to the point of being able to be here amidst Jews was that I had the opportunity to work with an Israeli Jew on a paper when I was taking a summer course at GeorgetownUniversity in 1986. I remember how I felt when I first met my fellow student and how I felt at the end of the course...having gotten to know him as a human being and not just as the enemy. Not that we agreed in the end...but what a difference. Yet, here..this director was offering the students a way out of growth and understanding.

Well...i thought to myself....most of these students are American...they have studied the civil rights movement...they know the struggle of blacks against racism in the U.S....they are enlightened beings...surely no one will take her up. Unfortunately...the second stab in the core I felt that evening came after orientation was over and when I heard one student tell the director that he and his roommate do not wish to be in an apartment with Arabs.

On this sad note.....I will end. Call me an eternal optimist but I still have hope despite the sadness.


Thursday, November 16, 2000

Eastern Bloc and Roll

The country of Eastern Europe was formed as a result of the French-Indian War. A group of 'les indiens' moved from Monte Carlo after losing their money and needing a new place to settle.

Our journey began in Kiev which is a lot like Disneyland, except all the buildings are gray cinderblock, people wear a lot more black leather, listen to Bryan Adams and don't smile as much.

Upon landing we were greeted by a large woman with mustache answering to the name of Boris. She handed us our immigration cards and we realized that capitalism had definitely begun to breach the iron curtain. Advertisements for casinos, Aquanet, and Rubik's cubes covered the form. We had never seen anything like it.

People here are tough: men can regularly be seen chewing nails and shaving with rusty razors, and women wear mini-skirts in two feet of snow.

Actually, Kiev is a pretty cool place, with a busy and friendly downtown. And, yes, the Beatles were correct.

Next stop Zagreb, Croatia. A beautiful town with the highest café/bar per capita ratio this side of the Dagobah system. With so many cafes, restaurants, theaters and boutiques, Zagreb reminded us of Western Europe-without the scads of tourists.

Croatia has fought hard for its independence and wants to maintain their unique cultural identity. Nevertheless, there was something familiar about this fast food restaurant we found, and we were pleasantly surprised with the 'Big Mark'.

In the 15th century, Orthodox Byzantines, Catholic Romans, Jews of the Diaspora and Muslims coexisted relatively peacefully in the Balkan peninsula which at that time was part of the Turkish Empire. In the late 19th and early 20th century the ethnic and religious mix began to fall out of balance. In 1991, Slovenia, Macedonia, Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina all declared independence from Yugoslavia. This lead to a bloody and confusing three-way war (not even counting the ethnic cleansings of Albanians in Kosovo) which basically centered around our next stop, Sarajevo, now the capital of Bosnia-Hercegovina.

After landing, we drove through what used to be called "snipers' alley". Thankfully, the violence has stopped now and Sarajevo is working hard to rebuild itself. Although life has returned to normal and shops have quickly reopened, it still kind of looks like someone made Swiss cheese out of Sarajevo and forgot to pass out the crackers. Bullet holes and shell damage can be seen everywhere, and a huge cemetery dominates the hillside as you enter the city. The National Stadium's practice field was even converted into a cemetery to accommodate the overload of bodies from the war.

Still recovering from tragedy, Sarajevo strikes us as a tough place to be. So tough, in fact, that they had to fly in Robert De Niro to drive one of their city buses.

Vienna, our final stop in Eastern(ish) Europe, reminded us of Paris, only cleaner, with less attitude and with more schnitzel. Lots of museums, classical music and old important looking buildings. Very stylish. Walking around for the day, we discovered that Vienna has one classy establishment that even Paris doesn't have (yet): Hooters!

The city happened to be holding tryouts for the Boys Choir and we were lucky to get a call back to the second round. We refused to perform any further, however, when we found out that if we were picked to join the choir we would have to become eunuchs.