Time Travel Tuesday, on a Saturday~ Home

Originally published in 2007 after returning from my project in Palestine.

“I’m already going to hell, so it don’t matter anyway!” yelled my shuttle driver as he argued with a man who was blocking his parking space.

Al Aqsa Mosque, taken with my $20 plastic Holga camera.

God bless America.

The sights and sounds of Times Square filled my senses and reminded me that I’m home. Colorful billboards cluttered the sky, horns blared in rush hour traffic, advertisement for adult theaters and the smell of hot dog venders overwhelmed me as I realized there’s nothing quite like America.
The sounds of my driver and his nemesis engaged in the art of road rage, physically standing outside their vehicles yelling at one another was simply music to my ears. The driver glanced at me and I saw the look of confusion as he looked at the eagerness with which I watched this scene and the smile on my face. Anger at fellow drivers is universal, only I can not understand the comments when I’m with Arabic drivers.

We drove off and upon learning I was from the south, my van driver told me of his last visit to South Carolina.

“I didn’t want his money, only a little time.” The driver stated he just wanted a little acknowledgment of his existence from his father. A lifetime devoid of birthday cards and Christmas gifts was written on his face. “I guess he was just a sperm donor,” said the driver. “Here’s Penn Station.”

With six hours to burn until my train for North Carolina left the station, I set out into the neon saturated night to find some American cuisine. I stumbled onto a coffee shop and diner not far from the station and settled in for a meal and a little people watching.

“I need a minute,” yelled a tiny old woman occupying the booth behind me. “Waitress, I’m ready,” she shouted thirty seconds later, loud enough for everyone within a one mile radius to hear. She took a long time placing her order, with special menu requests and triple checking with the waitress to make sure she took down her order properly.

After her meal was finished, she asked the women at the table next to her what time it was, but they didn’t speak English.

“You don’t speak English?” she looked at the pair with despair and incomprehension. “Pity!” she claimed, shaking her head as she turned to me and asked for the time. I replied and she said, “Oh, that’s my father’s birthday. When’s your birthday? Mine’s in October.”

She muttered some more phrases to herself and shuffled out into the night wearing her pajamas and clutching her bag of food from the restaurant. She stood on the sidewalk, unsure of where to go, and shuffled back and forth for several minutes. She then walked out into the street and dodged the cars to cross to the other side.

Was she someone’s mother? Was someone waiting for her at home besides some fish or a house cat? Did she even have a home?

I returned to Penn Station to wait for the 3 am train to take me home. Most people would not consider an overnight stay in Penn Station to be desirable or even an option, but what better way to reenter your homeland than at its most raw and inhibited. Riding an Amtrak gives such an insight into so many aspects of American society and the variety of cultural differences; each station has a subculture, each train has a hierarchy of social status and functionality and each town that you travel through is so diverse. The view from the window shows you a tiny peak into other people’s lives; into their backyards, into their main streets and into their skid rows.

As a whole, Penn Station is quite safe with a strong police and National Guard presence and the seated area is regulated for ticket holders only, so sleeping on your bags is not an unsafe option. The only interesting times are when nature calls and you must venture into the dark realm of the public bathroom.

“Maybe she don’t have no family. Maybe no one wants her. I’m here now ‘cause I can’t get along with my family. But I won’t be here for long,” a young black woman dressed in a lace, see-through nightgown talks to the white woman cleaning the bathroom.

Another voice bellowed from the stall beside me. “I need toilet paper!” the anonymous voice screams. She then embarked on a tirade of garbled words in a language I’ve never heard before; some odd mixture of English, German and guttural noises.

As I exited the bathroom, I saw a group of young gangster teens playing games with a cop who pulled out his taser-stick device and began to run after the misbehaving youth. After boarding the train, I finally received a small gift from the travel gods, my own two seats with enough space to curl into a ball and get some real, horizontal sleep. Heaven

After arriving in Union Station for a three hour layover, I decided to take a stroll around the train station. I walked to the front of the building and see the Capital in the distance. I notice a protester holding a sign and passing out literature. ‘Its not Iraq, Bush let’s the CIA run the world!’

It is so nice to be home.

In front of Union Station, a large statue was erected in honor of Christopher Columbus. Though it never ceases to amaze me that in America we honor a man who committed such a mass and brutal genocide, I can not help but notice the irony that this particular statue is the temporary home to some of DC’s homeless people. A man stared at me with a vacant look and lit a cigarette and I see a multitude of people huddled under blankets strewn about on the statue.

Outside of the Holy Church of the Sepluchure, taken with the trusty Holga.

In that moment, the profound sadness I felt upon returning to America begins to take form. In the Middle East, the people take care of their families, no matter how crazy they may be, and people are not allowed to fall into the personal despair that exists in the US. I look at people now and see a deep embedded sadness that lies on the surface of most of the faces I see. This sadness is not mine personally, I am quite happy to be returning to my home and my life, but the sadness is deeper, embedded within the fabric of the society in which I live.

People rushing to jobs that fill their lives with stress and remove them from their families, people that are completely alone in the world and living on the streets, sleeping in train stations, on street corners and on cold marble benches out in the night. So many people engaged in so much pain.

Americans have the ultimate gift, the thing that every Palestinian and oppressed person in the world longs for– freedom. And what do we do with our freedom? Maybe that’s part of the sadness. So much of our freedom is wasted. And I wonder just how wealthy we are as a nation when we let our children starve in the streets and our fathers and mothers wander the bus stations alone. How free are we when a grown man comes to the realization that his estranged father is nothing more than a “sperm donor.”

In a place with so much oppression and pain, Palestine had a richness that is difficult to find in America. Their greatest wealth is their families and their proximity to and relationship with these family members. Palestinian families, Muslim families in general, are large and close and everyone lives in the same apartment complex or on the same street. They all help to raise one another’s children. Brothers and cousins become one, sisters and mothers become one and fathers pass their legacies and their skill onto their sons.

We lack that in America. We go far from our families, choose to disown family members and even turn our backs on our families as conflicts and disagreements arise. This makes us a poor nation. This leaves our fathers on the streets, leads our sons into gangs, causes young teen girls to seek acceptance by becoming young mothers, it leaves our grandparents to die alone in nursing homes and leaves our cousins to wander the alleys looking to turn tricks for food. This poverty of family and belonging leads us, as a whole, to a profound sadness. It is despair we may not see everyday, in fact, many of us are insulated from this sadness. Some of us seek to embrace the sadness and work to bring hope to that one person’s life. But there is a cloud of palpable sadness that permeates the corners of our cities and the streets of our towns.

And it is a sadness that should not exist. For in the eyes of a Palestinian we have the ultimate gift; the one thing they know they will never possess and will go to their grave having never known what it tastes like, what it smells like, what it means to just leave—we have freedom.

How we use this gift– that so many have died to preserve—should be a reflection of our society; should be a reflection of our knowledge, our wealth and our abilities as a nation to embrace our gift and remove the elements of sadness from our society and others throughout the world. And how we, as individuals, use our freedoms should be a reflection of our engagement with the world and our desires to help those within this world, our cousins, our parents, our children– even strangers walking down the street in need of coffee and someone to share it with.

Time Travel Tuesday~ Leaving Jerusalem

Originally published in 2007

Leaving Jerusalem

A young Palestinian mother sat down beside me on a bus bound the Mount of Olives. In her arms was a beautiful little boy, around age two, with large brown eyes and little curls that brushed his cheeks. He reached out to me several times as we wound our way up the Mount, and gave me a sly little smile each time his tiny fingers grabbed my shirt.

A young Bedouin family takes refuge from the sun on a summer afternoon.

He rested his head on his mother’s shoulder and looked at me without his smile. His round eyes seemed to hold all the pain and suffering of the Palestinian people that he was born into. We exchanged a long, knowing glance for several moments, I was thinking of how difficult his life was going to be growing up under occupation in a land with no hope for peace and he seemed to understand my thoughts. With a little sigh and another stare he seemed to say; “yes, I know my path is long and difficult and I know there is little hope for my future.”

While I was simply projecting my sentiments onto a young toddler, I’ll never forget his face and that look of knowing he possessed. The look of sorrowful understanding that only a child born into the pain and suffering of a people can know. I’ve seen the same look on the faces of toddlers in a Nepalese orphanage, of street children working in the landfills of Kathmandu, of Indian children living in a beggars camp in the Himalayans, on the faces of Tibetan toddlers living in orphanages separated from their parents in China and on the faces of children living in the public housing units in downtown Durham, N.C.

Such a look of pain, understanding and resignation should not be inherently present in the eyes of a toddler who cognitively does not know his role in this world yet.

A young Palestinian girl watches the sunset at the Sullha Peace Festival in Israel.

My departure from Israel took the form of an overnight bus filled with young Jewish adults heading to the Red Sea resort of Eilat. The bus was filled with teenage laughter and iPod music, soldiers in uniform heading for vacation and the occasional western tourist. Our bus arrived at 4am in a destination very similar to Atlantic City; neon saturated streets, all night bars and cafes and drunken young adults staggering about scantily dressed and looking for mates. Quite a shock from the conservative young adults of Jerusalem, dressed modestly and reading from the Torah at a coffee shop while gossiping with friends.

After a brief wait for the border to open, I was allowed to cross into Jordan. I was shocked at the ease of leaving the country, when compared to the seven hour ordeal of entry. A Jewish couple also crossed into Jordan for a day of vacation and asked if I’d like to share a cab. We walked to the Jordanian side of the crossing and I could tell they were a little nervous. The young man admitted this was his first time entering Jordan. Eilat is 2 miles by car from Jordan and a mile or less by boat. The couple lived in Eilat and had never crossed the other side. Odd.

The Jordanian border crossing was a welcoming site. The guards were taking their time opening everything and as is custom in Muslim countries, the pace of activities is much slower then elsewhere. The guards were having their morning coffee and chatting in a room as they told us to wait a few moments until the coffee was done.

Crossing at Eilat warrants a free visa with a one month extension, with no questions or interrogations. The man happily stamped my passport and smiled at me.

“Like the sun!” he exclaimed as he pointed to the blue visa stamp in my passport, which bared the resemblance of the sun. Jordanians possess a strong sense of nationalism and this can be seen even in the tiniest of actions. Such a stamp has never been so welcome in my recently weathered passport.


And welcome is just what I felt. As our cab drove towards Aqaba, I saw the enormous Jordanian flag flying over the shore and felt a warm sense of relief. Jordan is a very comfortable country and the people are so affectionate and pleasant, even towards Americans. They may give a little ribbing about Bush, but they enjoy American people. While eating lunch with my driver and his friends at the Dead Sea, one friend said he loved Americans because they are so open and so happy, unlike the Europeans. I am always amazed at the misconceptions that we in America have of most people living in the Middle East.

Upon returning to the hotel in Madaba, where I began my journey three weeks ago, I was greeted with a warm smile and handshake from the receptionist. The next morning as I sat in the lobby waiting for my favorite driver to take me to the Dead Sea for a little float, the receptionist asked me to join her at her house for dinner that evening. I accepted and she gave me a warm smile and said she just cooked a big meal yesterday and that I will enjoy her family.

My Jordanian dinner hosts.

Later that afternoon, we walked through the streets of Madaba towards her home. We chatted and were shocked to find out that we were the same age, born only a few weeks apart. I told her how refreshing it was to be welcomed into stranger’s homes for coffee and dinner. This was not the first invitation I received on this journey and it never failed to amaze me the hospitality of the Arabic people.

A budding photographer.

Could my hosts be any more adorable?

As we walked, we talked about how in America the people have a distance between themselves and that, while in my own country, I have never received an invitation from a stranger to join them for coffee in their home. I asked if she had ever been to America and she replied, “No, I will only go to Syria, not America.” When asked why, she gave an interesting answer. She said that America was too fast paced. That people worked too hard with too much stress and often times missed out on the enjoyable aspects of life. She feared that Jordan may become the same fast paced landscape one day and she doesn’t want her children to live that way.

Walking through Madaba.

She has a point. I’m guilty of neglecting the finer things in life, the things that bring joy and relaxation because I’m too busy for such an indulgence. In fact, the past two years have been such a whirlwind, that I’m ready to find an island all to myself and hide from the world for a year, and I’m only finishing my undergraduate degree. I can only imagine what has been missed by those who have been grinding away on careers at break-neck speed for decades.

Yes, we need to support ourselves and we should seek employment that allows us to do so while finding enjoyment from our jobs and our professions, but when I visit other countries and see how happy people are with so much less than Americans, I have to question our motivations.

Life can be a simple endeavor, we can seek enjoyment from things other than our professions and we can also derive pleasure from our professions while enjoying our personal lives. Yet, often we choose not to do both. When did we sacrifice the self for advancement of careers and what will happen when we reach the end of that career and we see all that we might have left in its wake?

An interesting point of contemplation as I return to America and debate my own career path and the desire to start a family; can the two co-exist, particularly when part of my career requires extensive travel, to at times, undesirable places?

Or better yet, should the two co-exist? Should one seek both family and career, knowing that one will be sacrificed in the end? And what happens when that career is also, and always has been, your passion? Is there room for both the passion and the family? And is that a fair environment to bring a child into, knowing that young children can not, nor should they, understand the parent’s passion for a profession? A never-ending debate- which I am beginning to believe has no solution, only a warranted compromise.

Time Travel Tuesday~ A Futile Protest?

Originally published in 2007

In a small town just outside of Ramallah, international tourists, protesters and several local Palestinians gather for a weekly engagement with the IDF soldiers who guard the road leading into Israel. Following afternoon prayers, the Palestinians gather, along with the visitors and press and walk towards the checkpoint to engage in this dance, complete with tear gas, rubber bullets and rock throwing. International protesters place themselves between the soldiers and the Palestinians, with the belief that the IDF would not fire upon them due to the passports they possess.

Over the past several years, Israel has been consuming the rural landscape which is the livelihood of many of the Palestinians living in Bil’in. While the legitimacy of any protest can be questioned on many levels, the core reasons for engaging in this protest seem justifiable, if one faced the prospect of losing their livelihood due to occupation. (I apologize for the lack of research on this point, but here’s a link to more information about Bil’in: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bil%27in)

Curious to see this event and its role within the broader context of this conflict, my colleague and I decided to witness firsthand the protests and the interaction between the IDF, international demonstrators and Palestinian protesters.

What lies beneath the surface of this weekly event reflects the banality and absurdity that civil disobedience and peaceful protests can produce when the message is muddled by outside ‘revolutionaries,’ the media and some thrill seeking tourists. Sadly, this revelation is not surprising but to actually see the events unfold and the media’s role in the process is appalling and somewhat deplorable.

After our cab dropped us at the guest house which was the temporary home to these Friday protesters, I and my colleague walked to the protest site and waited quietly under a tree for the crowd to approach. A group of photographers arrived first, complete with helmets, vests and gas masks. Their helmets had the letters AP taped to them (Associated Press) and they had the word PRESS on the back of their vests. I couldn’t help but think that such an outfit might come in handy in about ten minutes.

As the protesters approached, I began to shoot from one side of this small group, trying to get a feel for the amount of people and identify the heart of the scene. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw several people dressed in pink clown suits complete with costume makeup. I paused for a moment to process the presence of clowns.

The press hovered about the group and once they reached the barbed wire, I crossed the line onto the Israeli side to shoot with the other photographers. I slowly began to distance myself from the group, knowing that at any minute canisters of tear gas would be shot towards the crowd. As I walked towards the filmmakers and the soldiers, I noticed that the main “director” of the film crew was sending his cameraman towards the soldiers when they were clearly yelling at them not to come any further. The “director” continued to yell at the soldiers and checked to make sure his crew was in position.

As I tried to digest this reality and still create distance, the sounds of canisters being shot into the air drowned the yelling protesters. I found a nice little rock wall blocked from the wind and the soldiers and watched this dance from a close vantage point. The clowns kept walking up the street and the soldiers kept shooting canisters at them. Laughter rang out from the IDF positions, and I can not say that I blame the soldiers. One clown received a canister to the rear end, which created quite a bit of laughter from the soldiers, some of whom documented the event with their camcorders and cell phones .

Several of the international protesters, with point and shoot cameras in hand, continued approaching the post where the soldiers were standing and shouted silly phrases of peace and cursed the soldiers, only to have a tear gassed response.

Beyond the ridiculous nature of clowns and “tourists” shouting at soldiers with teargas; what I found quite amazing during this time was the behavior of the press. I use the term press loosely; several AP photographers, some local shooters, some filmmakers, bloggers and the brother of a famous writer with a digital point and shoot.

Several of the Palestinians remained close to the barbed wire and the photographers would stand next to them and wait for the gas to be shot. Often times, some of the photographers provoked the soldiers to shoot the gas canisters and approached the point where clearly they would be fired upon and waved for the protesters to approach as well.

While waiting for a gas cloud to pass, I heard a cell phone ringing nearby; and the protester actually answered it. In a calm voice, amidst a cloud of tear gas, the protester told the caller that he was at a demonstration, now was not a good time to talk and that he would have to call them back soon.

Afterwards, several protesters gathered the canisters and more photo opportunities were available for the press. Off to the side of the protest, just below the heart of the village, several young kids began throwing stones at the soldiers and the IDF engaged with more tear canisters and rubber bullets. The international protesters ran to the hills to participate in this engagement while the remaining participants made their way back to the guest house.

At this point, the real tragedy of this dance presented itself. After witnessing the behavior of the adults, these young children with slingshots began to aim for the soldiers. In theory, international protesters are supposed to provide a physical barrier between the Palestinians and the IDF, yet as soon as the rubber bullets began to fly, the international protesters cowered behind a wall as the young children continued to throw stones and receive rubber bullets.

A Palestinian man yelled “welcome” to the international protesters and they ran over the hills to watch this part of the demonstration. Having seen enough, I walked back to find my colleague and digest the events I witnessed.

What are these young children learning from this event? Each week they watch the process unfold and they participate in ways that could cause them serious harm. There have to be better methods of protest, better means of conveying a message, better ways to conduct an effective act of civil disobedience that does not end in harmful fumes and rubber bullets.

Outside the falafel stand, people swapped stories of near misses, shared photos and laughed about their involvement while eating ice cream and having refreshments. The ‘documentary filmmaker’ bragged about their footage, gloated about starting the revolution in Kashmir and then asked who was heading back to Tel Aviv for drinks?

While driving back to Ramallah with several very kind and informed protesters, I raised the perspective that the presence of clowns (members of an NGO who uses clowns in demonstrations to show the soldiers that the violence is comical or unnecessary) degrades and demeans the movement of the Palestinian people. While this weekly protest, in my opinion, seems to have little positive effect and influence on the conflict, the fact that people are dressed as clowns gives the impression that the cause itself is something for amusement. The people in the car had never viewed their presence in that manner before.

Left behind was a town filled with Palestinians who have to live the side effects of occupation every day. Every Friday, their children have to breathe the gas fumes from these interactions and they watch tourists and demonstrators fulfill some personal need to feel engaged in the Palestinian movement. The press arrives and provokes an escalation- either through their presence alone, or deliberately as the filmmaker demonstrated- the mass media picks up a few photos of angry protesters and people watching the news gain incorrect perceptions of the reality that exists in the West Bank.

Most journalists wage a constant struggle with the ethical ramifications of their presence in the situations they document. At what point does my presence effect the situation and at what point does my presence introduce an element of falsity? Would this child be throwing stones and provoking soldiers to respond with bullets if my camera was not documenting the process?

Am I misleading the news consumer by selecting the ‘intense emotional’ moments of a weekly protest and placing them into the mass media for consumption; while leaving out the clown with the point and shoot camera and the Japanese teenager eating ice cream after he’s gathered the gas canisters for the Palestinians to place in front of the camera for a perfectly emotional photo opportunity?

At what point do the peace protests and demonstrations become completely futile? The ease of showing up every Friday, getting gassed, taking some snapshots, yelling slogans of peace and provoking IDF soldiers seems to be a simple escape from becoming engaged in a diplomatic peace process. Seeking an education and work experience in conflict resolution; working on diplomatic levels to enact a broader level of change for a country or for individual people; documenting the actual issues in a manner that has a purpose and is framed in the context of reality are all methods for those seeking solutions to truly be engaged with the peace process. Some people at these protests have genuine intentions and are engaged in the process on a level that will promote a viable outcome on some level; but I must question the motivations from most, not all, of the people I interacted with on that day.

Two Days Late

Originally published in 2007.  This one is a little political, so feel free to skip it if politics or foreign policy aren’t your gig.

Two Days Late…

The flow of information in Jerusalem is somewhat slow and censored, generated mostly from word of mouth. At times, I feel as though I’m staying in a small bubble, and engaging in the outside world is an effort. So when news of Jewish settlers being forcibly removed from the homes they were illegally occupying in Hebron hit the Times and the BBC, I figured we should make an effort to seek some breaking news. One note, western media is seven hours behind my current reality- a point that seems obvious, but not so for this ‘journalist.’

A boy rides his bike through Hebron.

While sitting on a packed local bus with people smoking and yelling into cell phones, I think to myself there is a reason that journalists have expense accounts, translators and drivers. Oh, what luxuries! After an hour long trip, we hop off the bus while stuck in traffic and head off to the market to find our news. We meet a local Arab shop owner who graciously volunteers to act as our guide. Weaving our way through the bustling old Arab market of Hebron, we enter yet another Israeli check point. After passing the first checkpoint, we make our way to another gate with an armed guard and our gracious guide says he can go no farther. Arabs are not allowed entry into certain streets and neighborhoods, despite the fact that Arabs have lived in Hebron for hundreds, even thousands of years.

Deserted store fronts in Hebron.

We walk the empty streets and ask people where the house is located; some look at us as though we have three heads, others tell us to be careful because of the IDF guards and the large number of journalists. Arabs were forced to abandon the buildings and homes they owned in this area when the IDF blocked the streets; yet the Jewish settlers have no legal right to be in these dwellings. Blocks of homes and shops sit empty and abandoned, giving Hebron the feel of a modern day ghost town.

A Quiet Anger

An IDF soldier is standing watch outside the homes which two days ago were plastered about the news as though a major pullout of the West Banks had begun. Two small, two story homes adjoined by one wall look as though their guts have been ripped out in haste just moments before we arrived.

An IDF soldier watches as we tour the occuppied apartment.

Inside the first home, bottles of shampoo sit open on the sink, the windows are missing, a child’s drawing decorates the hallway and two holes speckle the wall in the room adjacent to the other home. Peering through the holes I can see the damage done to the other home where soldiers knocked down the door to reach the settlers. The holes were created to reach the settlers who had built a pillbox to barricade themselves within on the other side of the wall.

The pillbox used by protesters.

The soldier then takes us to the other home and we see the pillbox. He explains how the squatters built the box, filled much of it with cement and fashioned a large metal pipe to receive oxygen. The box is quite small, and off to the side there is a tiny entry hole. The soldier then states that the squatters had taken a baby into the box with them to participate in their protest. Such a statement takes a moment to digest. Who in there right mind would build a tiny wooden box, fill it with cement, use a 10 inch diameter metal pipe for air in order to hide from heavily armed soldiers and then bring an infant into the box as well? What would possess someone to do such a thing? Particularly in a home which is not owned by them and which an Israeli court ordered the Jewish settlers to vacate.

I notice a number of settlers stopping by the site of the extraction to view the carnage of the home. I wonder what is going through their minds. I can see the dismay and the anger on their faces. To them the IDF committed a crime against their own people and the squatters had a right to the home and the land because of some divine reasoning and due to various creative assertions of property rights. As I look through the holes from the other home, I notice a young Jewish boy looking at the pillbox and I can see the look of curiosity turn to a quiet anger as his elders talk about the situation. The boy can not be much older than ten and his impression of the Jewish right to this Arab land is being cemented in his mind. Misunderstandings and misinterpretations are being formulated as he stares at a box where his neighbors barricaded themselves to make a stand against the IDF and the property rights of these buildings.

A young boy walks through the apartment in question.

Stoned Soldiers

After lunch we decide to visit Abraham’s tomb. Christians, Jews and Muslims all refer to Abraham as a major part of their religious beliefs and the relevance is not lost on the security measures. There is an extensive check point to enter; passports or Palestinian papers, statements of religious affiliation and the justification of camera equipment. In 1994, a Jewish man opened fire on the Arab side of the tomb, killing 29 Arabs and wounding over one hundred. The tomb is now separated by bullet-proof glass and the extensive security is understandable, to a point.

My entry to the mosque and tomb is denied due to my cameras, so I wait for my friends just outside the guard stand. Every five minutes or so, some young boy with a large AK-47 asks why I am standing there and I point to the other soldiers and say ask him. My patience for these soldiers is at a low-point and having a cocky 21 year-old soldier harass me about my cameras and flirt with me as he denies my entry into a tomb is just beyond my threshold of tolerance. As I wait, I notice the fumes of marijuana coming from nearby, a point my friend made repeatedly every time we passed this spot. Confirmation that these soldiers were getting stoned came a few minutes later as my friend talked with one of the soldiers and he could tell the soldier was wasted. (College students have an astute ability to make such assertions).

Our guide takes us around the city pointing out the locations where Arab families recently left and Jewish settlers moved into empty homes.

The streets are empty except for the IDF trucks and police cars, stores are locked and kids wave at us from barred windows over the empty stores. Our guide takes us close to a major Jewish settlement but states he can go no further. He warns of guards and electric fences that can kill you when touched. We thank him and tell him we hope to see him soon.

You Want a Rose from Me?

As we are walking up the street towards the settlement, a man working outside his home asks if we would like to join him for coffee. Another man walks up at the same time, and invites himself in as well. We tell them we are journalism students and want to ask some questions about living in Hebron as a Palestinian.

Our host’s home is beautiful, large spacious rooms filled with marble and ornate furniture and the rooms echo with the sounds of kids running throughout the halls. We enter a living room and our host’s son serves the best Arabic coffee I have tasted on this journey. One of the men is eager to practice his English and answers our questions with passion and emotion.

(His story deserves its own entry, so I will elaborate soon about this conversation, but some of his words are relevant to the present topic of discussion.)

“I have many Jewish friends, is good people, when alone. But when dressed as Army, is not person, is without feeling, is without respect,” our visitor emphasizes his words by pressing his finger on the table and lighting his cigarette. He chain smokes as his emotions intensify. “IDF closed the road and take which places they wanted, said [Arabs] killed 4-5 people. Said to the press, they killed our children. Both Arab and Jewish people have children, why destroy the world when one person dies. When Arabs die, they are dogs, is no problem. Why I give you respect? They close everything, say Arabs are terrorists. They kill my wife, kill my father, take my land- and you want rose from me?”

Our friend goes on to explain that only IDF vehicles are allowed on the streets, Arabs have to use donkeys if they want to haul goods.

His eyes begin to water and his voice waivers as he speaks of his wife and two children- ages 5 and 7. They live in Haifa, an hour and a half away, and the three of them have Israeli papers, meaning they can travel freely throughout Israel. Our visitor does not have such papers. He is confined to the borders of Hebron and claims the IDF has turned Hebron into a prison. He has not seen his family in three months and each time he goes to the IDF to get permission to visit Haifa, they deny him the proper paperwork. I feel a pang of guilt when I realize that Haifa is one of the locations I hoped to visit before leaving Israel and I am free to visit when I please.

We eventually make our way to the bus station, which is located inside a large and beautiful Jewish settlement. The guard asks us our religion and looks at our passports and asks if we know any Arabic. He then pulls aside my colleague; she was born in Pakistan but has an American passport. After five minutes of notifying everyone within range of his radio that a Muslim was stepping through the gates, he allowed us to enter. A car filled with soldiers slowly followed us to the bus stop, making several loops around the block to see that we were not straying from our declared path of travel.

Adopt a Soldier

Later that evening, our fellow travelers that separated for lunch show us some literature they gathered at the pizza shop in the Jewish section of Hebron. An “adopt-a-soldier” placemat asks patrons to offer their support of the soldiers who keep them safe by donating $15 to buy them lunch. I can not help but think that a stoned soldier came up with a method to cure his case of the munchies and asked the store owner to create the program. Several fliers state the justification to the property rights of Hebron for the Jewish stem from the fact that Abraham purchased this land over 3400 years ago at “fair market value.” What exactly is the fair market value during that time period; two chickens, a goat and several camels?

The flier also complains that the separation of the tomb after 1994 is unfair because it gives the Arab side more space and better scenery, yet fails to mention the reason for the division in the first place. A multitude of mis-staments and falsities were stated throughout the fliers and I can not help but think of all the people who have read this literature and believed it. For if words are printed and if the paper has the guise of professionalism, people tend to believe the words are true.

A Distant Hope

I can only hope that people actually seek to verify what they read. I can only hope that visitors to Hebron and Israel can see the disparity between the two populations living here and the strain that living with such a separation causes for both populations. I can only hope that the mass media will stop playing with peoples lives and manipulating reality to create a perception of terrorists lurking in the shadows waiting to kill you while you are safe within the walls of your home. I can only hope that the media will begin to tell all sides of a story, to tell the side that people don’t want to hear, and stop using these people to promote the political agendas of our leaders.

When I see the human cost of our political agendas in the face of a man separated from his family or in the hunched shoulders of a young man who can not cross the road because he is Arab or I see the look of quiet anger on the face of young Jewish boy who is formulating an ingrained perception of his neighbor; I harbor little hope for the current paths of society.

A young boy plays in some discarded furniture on the streets of Hebron.

I do hold hope that one day, the powers that control the media and our leadership will be discarded by people who will demand better for their world. People who will demand that citizens of countries in distant lands will cease to be used as pawns for someone else’s agenda; people who will demand that their tax dollars be used to fund American inner city schools and health care for every US citizen and not have their money fund the oppression and destruction of citizens in other countries. People who will demand that their leadership use their power to benefit the greater good, not the minority of corporate leadership using politics to reap society of its natural resources and strip people of their dignity and identity. I harbor a hope that one day people will seek to control their destiny once again, as the founders of America once did, but the more I witness throughout the world, the more distant that hope becomes.

The Love of a Mother

Time Travel Tuesday~ Originally published in August 2007

Tucked away on the Mount of Olives lives Ibrahim. His home is open to anyone, for any reason. He embraces travelers, spiritual pilgrims, volunteers, students (and a multitude of stray cats) regardless of their race, religion or nationality. This is my home for the next two weeks.

Inside the Holy Church of the Sepluchure.

My housemates vary each day but their stories are nothing short of fascinating. Currently, this dwelling is home to a French gardener, a nun, two French travelers, one British peacemaker, a Belgian volunteer and ten college students from the United States (5 of whom are fellow Tar heels).

Ibrahim believes that no one should want for food or shelter and spends many hours cooking for all his house guests. Large batches of rice and lentils, hummus and pita, pasta and potatoes decorate the large table which occupies much of the kitchen and the guests eat in small packs. We gather around to share stories, debate politics and listen to Ibrahim tell stories of traveling the world to spread his message of peace.

He works with religious and spiritual leaders from all religions and they gather often to work towards mending the divide that grows each day within the borders of Israel/Palestine.

His approach is simple.

‘If the money used to make walls and wars were given to the people in need, there would be no more fighting. If I have food and I don’t have to make work, I’m happy, I won’t fight you; what would we fight about? Why should one man make one million in a day when another man makes less than a dollar?’

Some may argue the economics and simplicity of this approach towards world peace, but at its roots, the theory makes a good deal of sense. If a man can provide for his family and has the ability to do so without interference from an occupying force or his own government, there remains little reason to fight. When young men are given a chance at a hopeful future and are allowed to engage in productive activities and are given a purpose and a means to support themselves, they have little reason to bear arms and engage in violence to achieve what they believe is a viable future.

Starve the youth of their future, force a man to watch his family face famine, separate a community with walls and check points, dehumanize the identity of a citizen in their homeland, withhold the ability to seek knowledge, deny the freedom of speech and dialogue and you will see violence, you will see conflict and you will see bloodshed.

A young Palestinian boy delivers bread to the baker inside the Old City.

Mother’s will see their children die for the glimmer of hope that a revolution may provide. Families will watch their loved ones die violently because a community is filled with hatred and misunderstanding. Children will be orphaned because the leaders of another country want to possess and control a resource within their lands. Wives will bury their husbands because their government wants to gain a profit from the military machine.

Ibrahim points to the younger listeners at the dinner table, ‘So it is up to you, the young people, to change these things. To stop this war, to stop the violence. It is up to the mothers to stand up to their leaders and say ‘don’t send my child so far away from me. Don’t send my son to a distant land to die.’ Soldiers should protect borders of countries; they should not go far away to a land where they do not know the language or the people and fight. It’s up to you, the young people, the mothers.’

And yes, it is up to us. We will carry the burden of correcting the faults of our leadership. The dangerous foreign policies that our governments implement will be ours to repair and we will have to answer for the pain and suffering our governments are causing throughout the world. And maybe it is time for the women of the world to stand up and say stop killing our children.

Maybe the women of the world do bear the burden of repairing the damage done by the powerful men of leadership. For, as my host pointed out, every man has a connection to a women, they see them as their mother, as the nurturer as the one that provided both life and love.

Is it possible that the strong men of power can be reached through the gentle yet reinforcing hand of the mother?

Artwork inside the Holy Church of the Seplechure.