Welcome home...

Ash and I have very close birthdays (mine was the 16th and his is next week) and this year it worked out for a number of reasons to spend a weekend in Amman celebrating alone together. We stayed at a small hotel called the Hisham that feels way more expensive than it is. We ate some of the most amazing sushi I've ever had. Ash hasn't yet warmed to the idea of sushi, but this meal pushed him a whole lot closer. I also had a great homemade (not frozen, like any found in the West Bank) hamburger with cheddar cheese and turkey bacon. Our last night there, we stayed in; gathered a wide variety of cheeses, crackers, breads, yogurt, and chocolate and topped the meal off with a bottle of bubbly. As you can imagine, it was relaxing, romantic, perfect.

But of course, anything that goes up must come down and anyone who leaves home must return.
For those of you who don't know, Israel does not recognize family unification for Palestinians. As Israel controls all of Palestine's borders and decides who can come, who can go, and who can stay, not granting residency to foreign spouses is yet another power play and seemingly yet another tool of ethnic cleansing. When Palestinians marry non-Palestinians, the non-Palestinians have a very difficult time staying with their Palestinian spouses unless they move out of Palestine together. For a few years, Israel has been issuing year-long B2 no re-entry not-permitted-to-work tourist visas to us. However, if you leave the visa is cancelled (can only get one per year) and there is no guarentee that you will be allowed to reenter the country. Needless to say, this discourages people like me from travelling very much and is one of the reasons why we are thinking it will be better to live in the states (they win...heh...).

So our amazing birthday evening was followed by a very long, crazy day. I woke up with a pit in my stomach. I couldn't tell if it was a slight hangover, the cheese, or nerves. It was probably a combination of all three.

Upon arriving at the bridge, nervous already about being denied entry simply given my marital position, I was questioned about who I was there with, where I was going, and how long I had lived in "Israel". After a brief questioning, the plain-clothes security officer let us go. Ash waited as I went to the window for foreign passport holders. The young girl behind the plexiglass seemed to recognize my name when I handed her my passport and continued the questions:
"What's your father's name?"
"What's your grandfather-on-your-father's-side's name?"
"Where does your husband live?"
"What's his ID number?"
"Are you staying only in Ramallah?"
"How long are you staying for?"
"What do you do there?"
Etc., ad nauseum...


She noisily stamps two things. My passport? "Go sit over there and someone will come talk to you soon." Pointing...


I go to sit down, expecting to settle in for the next two hours or longer when, after about two minutes, the same nerdy-looking security guy appears. "Sarah?" he says, "Both of you! Give me all your bags and come with me". He takes us to the room we were in before, throws our bags on the ground in the corner, and sits us down together. A different security guy appears: black hair, black shirt, black pants, almond skin, and cocky black sunglasses resting on his head. He is not in a good mood. He stands over us, looking, and talking on his radio. We try to make light of the situation and end up smiling and laughing a bit. He stands Ash up and makes him sit accross the room. Like kindergarten.

Soon a woman emerges from a secret door. She sees me and immediately starts arguing with Mr. Black. She doesn't want to do this. They only do this to Palestinians. She is embarassed, ashamed. She takes me behind the curtain and does a (clothed) body search. She takes my shoes and leaves me alone behind the curtain. My nervousness increases. She returns with my shoes and instructs me to sit back down. Ash is back. Next they do the same to him.

A third security guy, with a blue fleece jacket, khakis, bald head, and cocky sunglasses appears. I realize that my passport and now Ash's ID are still gone. Mr. Blue has us pick up our bags and follow him. We are taken to the last room of the big hall, where people collect their bags and leave. Instead of being set free, we are told to leave all our bags on a stainless steel table. Ash is sat in a corralled area with about thirty chairs. I am taken to an area with three lone chairs, facing him, about five meters away.

After we sit there staring at eachother from a distance, nervous and confused, for about an hour, Ash gets up. I am too far away to hear the conversation, but am later told that Ash tried to speak to him in Arabic and was ignored. In English he says, "What's going on?" "You are detained." He then asks to at least sit by me and Mr. Blue gives in and allows it.

The whole area seems to have a constant traffic of 18-year-old kids in white polo shirts and black pants. They go on breaks to eat sandwhiches, they joke and laugh, they seem bored and oblivious.

At some point Ash has a conversation with an Arab-looking kid whose job is to make a final check of people's passports and confirm that their luggage has made it through to this room. He asks Ash (in Arabic) why we are sitting there. Ash tells him (in Arabic) the tall bald guy in blue told us to. He says that's impossible. When Mr. Blue reappears, the guy shouts across the room to inquire about us. Mr. Blue mouths something and then the Arab-looking guy understands.

Mr. Blue leaves and is replaced by Mr. Green: green striped polo shirt, khakis, gelled brown hair, and cocky sunglasses. Why do Israeli security men all wear sunglasses perched on their heads? It's November and they are inside all day! But I digress...at some point yet another security guy pokes his head in from the Passport Control room and calls a name: "Ashraf?". Ash gets up and quickly walks toward him, as he is turning to leave, and reclaim his ID. Mr. Green shouts and follows him. He escorts Ash back and tells him that if he wants to move for any reason, he needs to ask. Mr. Green is our gatekeeper. A minute later Ash's ID arrives and he is "free to go". I am still detained, though, and he insists on staying with me.

More time passes.

I ask Mr. Green if I can go to the bathroom. This seems to remind him that I'm human and when I return I hear him saying my name into his radio. Soon he comes to tell us that we can take our bags and go back to the Passport Control room and wait there.

Maybe fifteen minutes later, a young blonde girl (the same one, coincidentally who was working the bridge on Thursday night when I left) calls my name. I go to her window and she says, innocently, obliviously, "Where have you been? I've been calling your name for at least an hour!" I start to explain that I was detained with the security guys for a long time, but her eyes glaze over and she turns from me.

As I open my passport, I see a and a 3-month visa to Israel stamped inside and also a paper with the same stamp. This is when I realize what the first girl in the first window had stamped...more than three hours ago.

I curse the Israeli army, government, machine, and briefly contemplate issuing a complaint. Then I realize there seems to be no infrustructure for this. Also, I am very much aware that I am able to be here by permission of the Israeli system. I feel that by letting them think I am non-threatening and unaware of their control they are more likely to let me keep coming back. For me, right now, selfishly, that is what really matters. I hate that I have to make that choice, but as long as there is occupation and Israel has ultimate control over these borders, this land, these people...I must.


Trips and why I do them

Neve Gordon writes in the LA Times today about boycotting Israel as an Israeli Jew. His article was the final push of inspiration I needed to finally sit down and write this post. I am a few days later than I promised, but at least it's done.

As I mentioned a few days ago, I recently spent 10 days taking a group of 12 Americans around the West Bank, Jerusalem, and "Israel"/Palestine '48. This was the third such trip I have led. I originally agreed to do it because last year I was not working, was in dire need for something to do and a little income. However, during the first trip and increasing since then I have come to embrace this as my brand of activism. There are two things I very much believe about the situation here: first, that any otherwise uninformed and unafflicted American who is presented with raw facts about what is happening here will undoubtedly agree that Palestinians have certain rights that are consistantly and systematically being denied. Once they know this, many Americans will use conversation to convince others of this. I believe that the average American is a decent human being who, once they have right knowledge, will want a just solution here. Secondly, I see the American government as the third party in this conflict. They are by no means an impartial unbiased negotiator for peace. They are perpetrators and invested partners of the Israeli regime. That said, I think much of the power to end the occupation and bring about just peace lies in the hands of the American people's responsibility to hold their government accountable. This can happen through tax-refusal, sanctioning, aid reform, and voting but also through grass-roots efforts such as boycotting and divesting. This is why I bother to do these trips. The Global Exchange trip is not perfect and I actually believe there are better trip out there, but for now this is the opportunity I have and one that does a damn decent job at achieving what I have in mind right now.

So, what do we do? First, participants are given a pretty substantial amount of reading material to prepare them for what is happening here. This is historical, contemporary, and political. Then, participants come and see. We spend 10 days meeting with organizations and individuals who are working for a just solution. On the Palestinian side, this generally includes a day in Dheisha refugee camp, Addameer, Hani and Muneera, the Right to Education and many others. On the Israeli side, this includes ICAHD, Zochrot , B'tselem, Who Profits and others. We also meet with several "joint" projects with both Israelis and Palestinians working with them such as Combatants for Peace and the Alternative Information Center. We visit as many people and places as we possibly can in ten days. On this past trip, we got to Jerusalem (including the Ma'ale Adumim settlement), Ramallah, Hebron (including the Efrat settlement and one of its outposts), Bethlehem/Beit Sahour, Jenin, Jayyous/Qalqilia, Yaffa/Tel Aviv, Rahat/bedouin villages in the Negev, and drove through/stropped briefly in Nablus and Jericho.

Generally speaking, at the end of the trip the participants are feeling tired, overwhelmed, and eternally greatful they took the time, money, and energy to come. One of the complaints I have of the trip thusfar is that its participants tend to not do as much when they go home as I'd like. I think this is a problem with all such trips to anywhere in the world. However, the most recent group is giving me hope. Several of them seem quite enthusiastic and energetic to get to work.

Palestinians active in the boycott campaign tell me that the boycott in some ways is secondary to the primary goal of the education campaign. The more people who come here and see it first-hand means there are more people in American who know someone who came here and saw it first-hand. As the people who came here make presentations and have conversations, the more it spreads. Israel has, since its creation, consistently spent billions of dollars and uncountable man hours to develop its PR and media machines. Palestine is now developing this in a very grass-roots way and it is starting to have an effect. I have watched general public opinion among Americans shift quite substantially (in a good way) just since I first got actively involved in this issue maybe five or six years ago.

The third thing I believe about the situation here is that one possible way the occupation will end is that America will say it has to end. I am no Obama-is-going-fix-the-world believer, but I do think he is in a unique position of having the trust and interest of a lot of people on both sides here. I think if we, as Palestine activists, play our cards right, he could be an ally to creating a just solution here. However, I think grass-roots efforts, supported by trips like these, will have the most power effect long-term.


A Truely Motley Crew

I am well aware of the fact that I have been slacking over here lately. Part of it is that I've had too much to say and can't find the ambition to put it down in an organized way. Part of it is that I've actually been really busy with various things. Part of it is sheer slacking brought on by inherent laziness.

So, over the past three weeks or so I've had a few interesting experiences that deserve being written about. First and of least political importance, the hubby and I have cooked several new and delicious things. I have photos of these at home and will post about them this week. Second, I led my 3rd delegation of Americans through the organization Global Exchange around the West Bank and '48 (Israel). Third, I had the pleasure of my first "tweetup" in Jerusalem with four very different people. For today, I want to write about the tweetup and deal with the other two topics later this week.

This past Friday I met up with Glenn, israelimom and dad, and yeshivaguy in a West Jerusalem coffeshop creatively called, "Coffee Shop". Heh... When I first walked in with Glenn (who I met in East Jerusalem and shared a cab over with), Israelimom and I shared a hug and kisses. When I sat down, I was reminded that in this part of this land people walk around casually with M-16s precariously slung around their bodies and no one around them flintches. I am continually suprised by this when I cross the Green Line. It's so weird to me. The guy in the cafe actually had an attachment for firing tear gas on his gun. Yes, I notice these things.

But I digress... Glenn, Israelimom, her husband, and I talked for awhile about different things. I really like them all. I have been talking to Israelimom since just after I joined Twitter in late-May-ish, so it was great to meet her. She has a warm feeling about her and a relaxing energy. Her heart is in the right place, and part of me really wishes more people like her stood up and did something about what they think should happen.

After about half an hour yeshivaguy showed up. I must admit, when I first saw him, I was prejudice. I expected someone politcally extreme. This guy dresses in a long black coat, black slacks, white shirt, black kippa under a big black hat. He was sans "keys to Heaven" and beard, but otherwise fully decked out. You can imagine what I may have thought. He proved me wrong. He's a young American studying here and planning to leave when he's done. He, and many of the people he studies with, are basically apolitical, but generally see the Israeli state and the methods that have been used to found and maintain it contrary to the teachings of the Torah. He is smart, witty, and easy to be with.

To be honest, he reminded me of this. I'm not saying that yeshivaguy agrees with these people, as he seems simply non-political (as oppossed to anti-Zionist), but the article came to my mind, connected by the thread of "Orthodox Jews who would be fine living in a joint-state situation". The article is in Arabic, but basically this group is called Natori Karta and they are against the Zionist government. After Hamas was elected, they sent a delegation to the PLC to show their support. They were welcomed by Aziz Dweik. Also in this category would be the Samaritan Jews who live in Nablus. From what I understand, they hold Palestinian IDs and they have a seat in the Palestinian Parliament.

The thing that struck me about the meeting is was how much time was spent talking about what Ramallah is like, if it is safe here, what people are like, how religious they are, etc. I know this is curiousity speaking, but it's shocking to me how little Israelis know about how Palestinians actually live. I know there is no way for them to know, as their own government makes it illegal for them to come here.

After spending about two and half hours with this ecclectic bunch, I went back to Ramallah and told Ash all about it. He couldn't believe I sat with an orthodox Jew, but kept saying how much he wished he could have been there. The whole time I was sitting with these folks I felt the same: I wish he could have been there. It's not that he didn't want to. It's not that his own government or people tell him he can't. It's not even that it's impossible. But it would be a big risk, bigger than he's willing to take to meet some interesting people. Collective punishment is a powerful thing. And in the end, for me, it's all about the power imbalance and finding the right people who have both the power and the will. Which, tomorrow, will lead into my second post of the week...the Global Exchange trip.

UPDATE: For another take on this tweetup, read Israelimom's version here.


Happily Ever After

Wedding season has begun. I'm pretty sure most of the world experiences more weddings in the summer months than any other time of the year. In the past three weeks, I was invited to three weddings. I went to two of them and I've pretty much had my fill for the summer.

The first (a female coworker's) was the first Palestinian (or Arab for that matter) Christian wedding I've ever been to. When I lived in Egypt our dorm was across the street from the most popular wedding church in Cairo, so we heard a lot of weddings, but I never did go to one. It was an interesting experience. The church service was solemn and beautiful. There were prayers and the couple were donned with crowns and exchanged rings. We were required to stand more than I ever have in a church, but I get the feeling this is an orthodox thing rather than a wedding thing. Immediately following the service, there was a small reception outside. There was juice and cookies and people congratulated the family. Lots of hugging and kissing and well-wishing took place. About two hours later, there was a proper party held at a Christian hall close to the church. There was a hired singer with band and dancing. Two things about this party were different from others I've been to here: there were men and there was alcohol. I, personally, wasn't interested in either of those things, but they were there. Ha. It was a little bit weird for me (since I've been living here far too long) to see women in short or otherwise revealing dresses dancing with men. It was kind of nice to be reminded that it does happen, though. I guess the thing I liked about this wedding was that I felt that had I wanted to dance (which I didn't), that would have been welcomed...and I would have been able to dance with the group, not as some sort of side-show freak. Everyone was welcome to dance (or not) as they wished. Although, to be fair, I did notice that a lot of people did not dance. We left early, though, maybe once they got good and liquored up they danced? Also, people appeared to be socializing more than at other weddings I've been to. There are a million reasons that could explain this. The bride was beautiful and seemed to have a really great time. She had been not really looking forward to marriage, but in the days and weeks following the wedding, it turns out that she is enjoying it quite a lot. I'm really happy for her. Unfortunately, Ash was still in the states for both weddings, so I don't have photos of either...this behavior will soon be remedied.

The second wedding was for the son of a good friend of ours. I attended with a group of women who also know this friend, but not the bride. Being that this was a Muslim wedding, there were two parties: a women's party upstairs and a men's party downstairs in the same building. When we first entered, we were quite a sight. Palestinian women tend to dress their BEST for weddings. While we made an attempt, with our limited fashion resources, we were by far the most underdressed people there. The guy manning the door stopped and asked who invited us. Thankfully, name dropping the groom's father's name got us right in. The thing about Muslim weddings I've been to, including my own, is that they don't seem as participatory. In my experience, the basic format of Muslim weddings is that the bride and groom (the only man allowed in the women's party) alternate between sitting on a couch at the front of the room and dancing on a small dancefloor which is the center of everyone's attention. Generally, female relatives (mothers, sisters, aunts, and cousins) of the couple attend the party in formal party wear and cocktail dresses. They dance with each other and generally seem to have a great time. Everyone else at the party tends to wear what they normally wear, sit on chairs facing the stage/dancefloor and watch the family of the couple have a good time. They eat cake and go home. Certainly the family and the couple have a wonderful time, but I have to wonder if they same can be said about those in attendance.

Whenever I go to weddings here or mention to a non-Palestinian that I am married to one, I constantly get asked about it. The group of women who attended the 2nd wedding with me put me through an on-going compare and contrast to my own wedding. Honestly, I understand. I know people are curious. I just wish that my response could honestly be, "We never had one." and leave it at that. I never dreamed of having a wedding, I never even thought I would be married until I met Ash. My former roommate and I used to bond over the fact that we never wanted to get married...now we both are. I love being married. It is comfortable, fun and has brought with it a deeper love than I could have ever imagined.

Our wedding, however, was a nightmare. I felt exposed, uninvolved, a novelty rather than an active participant. Despite all our efforts to try to make an event that neither of us wanted comfortable for everyone involved, we ended up being disappointed at every turn. We ended up spending a lot of money and don't have any of the fond memories I feel we should. None of the things that I repeatedly expressed as being the important things to me happened. I wish I could just forget about it.

I've seen several episodes where Dr. Phil and Oprah deal with people like me: "Lady, seriously, move on! You have a fantastic marriage! You are happy and healthy and moving forward! Just forget about it." I would, if I didn't have to relive it all the time. It's just such a downer. I know I should just respond, "Well, it wasn't exactly what we expected, but his family had a good time", but I am finding it difficult to find the strength for that.

Part of me know that my resentment stems from this wedding, in my mind, being a symbol of everything I have sacrificed in moving here (being away from family, growing distant with friends, adapting to a new culture and temporarily giving up small pieces of myself in the process) and my inability to connect the wedding with some sort of gain. It was also one of the most betrayed periods of my time here during which I felt that all my sacrifices went unrecognized and unappreciated. I don't know if we will have a "wedding" or a big 3rd anniversary party or anything when we move to the states next year, but on some level this may be what I need. I want to celebrate with my friends and family in my way. I wish our families could have celebrated together, and I still dream of them all being together some day, but until then I think that having some time to share our love and happiness with my side is an important first step.


Ezra Nawi and Free Gaza

I was working on a post today about weddings in Palestine and my sincere dislike of them. Today seems too politically important to write about that. It's almost done, I will save it for tomorrow or the day after.

Today, though, two important things are happening. Israeli activist Ezra Nawi is facing sentencing for a crime he most likely did not commit and the 8th journey of the Free Gaza boats is underway.

Since I don't know Ezra besides being in the same room as him and meeting him very briefly a few weeks ago, there are better people to handle this topic. Ezra himself wrote about the experience and his work with Ta'ayush here. Also, one of my favorite Twitter people ibnezra wrote about Ezra here.

He is being sentenced today in Jerusalem at 15:00. If you are around and free, please go! If not, please sign the letter to the Israeli Counsulate here. It's not to late.

The Free Gaza boats were scheduled to leave Cyprus last week, on the 25th. They were, however, asked by Cypriot authorities for lots of papers they've never been asked for before and were asked to sign waivers stating that they will not hold Cyprus accountable for their safety. They felt that these actions were taken under pressure from the Israeli government. The Israeli government also sent notices, specifically mentioning the boats to the American Embassy in Tel Aviv. The White House has said that Israel should allow medical supplies and concrete to enter Gaza and these boats were scheduled to carry those things.

The boats finally departed last night and about now about 2 hours away from the coast of Gaza. The transferred from Cypriot waters, to international waters, and will go directly into Gazan waters. They will not enter Israeli territorial waters. They are unarmed and pose no threat to the Israeli Navy. However, while in international waters, they have been blockaded, stalked, had their radios/GPS jammed and were threatened by the Isreali Navy.

In December, the Israeli Navy rammed one of the boats and threatened to shoot them. They turned back another boat in January. This time, the passengers and crew have said that they will not turn back until the reach Gaza.

Please support these brave people in their attempts to achieve what governments are unwilling to. You can do this today by calling representatives of the Israeli government and Navy, listed here (scroll down to bright red).

Check back later this week for less political things and thanks for your help and support with these important efforts.