Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Nabi Saleh Children

UPDATE: A more politer version of this article is found over at Electronic Intifada.

[Freedom in Colors. I sent the link to my dad, adding "I know I'm pushing my luck here but can I please go?" The reply was unexpected and sweetly succint: "Yes, you may go, but please take your sister with you." I was ecstatic. All the doom and gloom from the past week disappeared in a puff of smoke. I was going to Nabi Saleh again. I was going to see the other activists. I was going to hug and squeeze and smother my little Spiderman with kisses again.]

Jana, Dana, Rand, 'Ahd. Salam, Areej, Mahmoud, Ahmad. Ranin, Hamada, Osama, Shatha. And of course, Samer aka Spiderman, and Hisham aka Batman.

Ask each child about what happens every Friday and you'll be left reeling at their solemn impassivity. They sound mechanical, a bit put off at having to repeat what they no doubt have already done to other activists. Some look at you, others fiddle with the bracelet you're wearing.

Spiderman doing what he does best
Lara, called by her pet name Lulu. She's two and a half years old, has chubby cheeks (plenty of room to draw on!), and her hair is twirled into pigtails. She doesn't talk and stares either at the ground or past your shoulder. Last year her mother threw her out of the window from the second floor of the house. The IOF were firing tear gas inside the house and everyone inside was suffocating. Lulu, along with the others who managed to escape outside, had to flatten themselves on the ground as the tear gas whistled and exploded over their heads. The incident certainly has its traumatic and psychological scars; for a while Lulu hated her mother, thinking that she threw her out of the window on purpose.

Jana spent a few months in the US, so she understands and speaks some English. Ask her where she lived in America, and she'll reply, "West Palm-en Beach." Ask her what goes on every Friday and she'll reply, "We go out to the maseera [protest]." Ask her to elaborate a bit more, and she'll comply. "The soldiers fire tear gas and live ammunition, and the shabab throw rocks. I'm not scared of the soldiers." I wonder, is it not criminal for "live ammunition" to be part of a five year old's vocabulary?

Samer, my special little Spiderman, climbs on your knees, makes himself comfortable and starts talking. He can't pronounce the 'r' sound and substitutes it for 'y'. "The army comes every Friday. When they leave I throw rocks on their jeeps. I'm not scared of them then."

'Ahd on the left, Areej on the right. Both taunting the soldier. "Shoot me! You're scared, look at you hiding behind your gun! Inta majnoon!" And just to make it more clear, they said it in English: You are CRAAAZY!

Izz is eleven years old but acts like he's forty. He dodges my hand. "What do you want to draw on my face for-do I look like a baby?" He puts his hand on his chest before tapping his head once, in the old man gesture of thanks-but-no-thanks. I watch his skinny figure walk away, his shoulders squared, his voice deepening whenever he raises it.

Salam is the youngest child of Basem and Nariman Tamimi. He's a natural Beiber, straight naturally highlighted hair almost covering his eyes. He was initially very reluctant to share in the fun, latching himself onto his mother like a barnacle, burying his face in her leg. Later I saw him running, holding onto a string of balloons, with a sun and a moon painted on each cheek.

Ranin is ten years old. She doesn't take part in the protests themselves but watches them from her rooftop. "When the soldiers get angry, they start shooting tear gas inside the houses. We're worried about my sister Ro'a, she's only nine months old." I asked her about whether she thinks the protests actually mean anything. "Even if you all didn't come, the army will still be here. Today at least, you made us have fun."

This Friday in Nabi Saleh was planned as a day of color and fun. Balloons, clowns, face-painting, kite-flying, the works. It was dubbed as "freedom in colors." It was a day centered on the children, for them to live one day as normal carefree kids, a day to temporarily make them forget about their reality that consists of soldiers, jeeps, and tear gas. The idea was for the children to take their kites, made from plastic bags and newspapers, and fly them at the spot where the Israel jeeps park, before the children then advance over to the neighboring hill. Because the soldiers won't fire at children, right?

We painted faces, mostly flowers and hearts and the flag of Palestine. I took out my artistic prowess on one face as I drew tiger stripes with aplomb. Nearby Manal Tamimi was getting interviewed about her predictions for today: "No, I don't think the army will be better to us this time, or any less dangerous." The hours leading up to noon prayers were filled with kids playing with hula hoops, little girls comparing their body art, the older boys engaged in a game of football. Prayers weren't even over yet when the IOF pulled in with their jeeps and got out to line up in front of the smattering of children who were at the end of the street at the time.

There's a distinct acridness in the air. The villagers are immune to it, but i could feel it tingling on my upper lip and just inside my nostrils, making me sneeze some fifty times.

One of the kids planted a Palestine flag on the jeep. Woot woot!
This time, the border police, more sadistic than the army, were the ones who faced us menacingly. More children came down, a couple holding their kites. Last week, the IOF gave us at least ten minutes of chanting before unleashing the tear gas. This week, without the presence of diplomatic consuls, their true colors didn't hesitate to come out. The older people barely had time to congregate when the sound bombs began. I was inside Manal and Bilal Tamimi's house, and the women were hurriedly closing all the windows because by then the tear gas had already filled the air. Chancing a look outside, I saw two border police violently pushing and shoving Maath Musleh, the guy behind the Nabi Saleh online live streaming, who was decked out in his usual Press vest.

Things calmed down briefly, and everyone went outside. Hamada, Spiderman's older brother, had a kite in his hand but seemed unwilling to go out. Hamada was once hit by a tear gas canister in his side which caused internal bleeding and damage in his liver and kidney. The injury was quite serious, and his family had feared the worst. Thankfully, he is all healed now. I picked up the tail of the kite and we stepped outside together, his mother encouraging him all the way. There was barely any wind. I had to throw the kite up in the air and Hamada would have to shorten and tug at the string while simultaneously running backwards. He couldn't run more than five steps because the border police, with the army behind them, were standing right there. After a few more tries we finally succeeded in keeping the kite aloft for a few seconds.

We then chanted as usual, singing Fairuz's song about kites, and sat down on the burning asphalt. The commander went to his jeep and the loudspeaker on top crackled in urban Arabic, "This is a closed military zone. You have five minutes to disperse or we start shooting." This was met with jeers and cat calls. A chant then started up, "Show us the papers! Show us the papers!" referring to the nonexistent legal document that specifically states whether Nabi Saleh is in fact a closed military zone or not.

There's a difference between the army and the border police. Essentially they're part of the same wrapper, but while the army soldiers look passive and impervious to our actions and slogans, the border police positively drip with malevolence and hostility. Their eyes don't stare blankly ahead, they rove from one face to another, and whisper to each other little first-world jokes and sneer as our chants become more vociferous.

One minute passed. Their stances shifted, grew more aggressive, so we stood up. "This is a closed military zone. This protest is illegal!" the loudspeaker blared out again. How-and I'm struggling with words here-ironic? Paradoxical? Ridiculous? And so much more. Today was supposed to be all about the children. For them to live one Friday not plagued by tear gas or the frightening explosions of the sound bombs or being confined to their houses. The children were to parade their faces and fly their kites. But the IOF can't differentiate between children and armed threatening forces.

"You have five minutes."

I kept my eyes on the tear gas canister in one of their hands. But I didn't see it getting thrown, and I was suddenly engulfed in white smoke, with the flurry of people moving all around me. I squeezed my eyes shut and then opened them again-big mistake. They immediately began to burn, really burn, and once again I stumbled blindly into one house, down the stairs, eyes glued together and streaming, trying to inhale deeply, a permanent saw against the back of my throat. You think you don't panic when the tear gas hits you because you don't throw your arms up in the air shrieking with fear and pain, but in all honestly I was thinking about not losing my cool too much to actually pay attention to what's happening around me. Later I was told the canister was right between my feet, and guys were yelling at me to move to the side. Downstairs I paced back and forth, counting down the minutes until everything in my body went back to normal, my heart thudding dully. I was trying to figure out what happened, well that was a no-brainer really but did they just fire tear gas into a crowd filled with children? Where does Shakira's laudable work for children fit in here? Oh that's right, it doesn't.

The tear gas got so bad we had to stay in the houses. The children were kept preoccupied with cartoons but after a couple of hours they grew restless. I went upstairs with Manal to help make tea for over twenty people ("Please use plastic cups," I implored her) and the kids followed shortly after, opening the veranda doors inside the kitchen and going outside.

Kids Vs Army

Jana, Rand and Salam making their voices heard at the Israeli jeeps below

The Nabi Saleh children began singing nationalist songs. The oldest couldn't have been more than twelve years old. A bunch of them went around the back of the house and stood in front of the armored jeeps, peace signs at the ready. Spiderman followed them. Without warning, the fucking IOF shot tear gas at them from a close range. The wiser ones skipped away and ran back to the house, poor little Spiderman stayed where he was and got the full blast. He was obviously terrified and in pain. Later, back in his mother Manal's arms, he had finally stopped crying. Manal asked him how the gas had affected him. He answered, "3adi, zay kul muya [murra]." The same, like always.

That's some profoundness for you.

Some soldiers don't want to be in a village firing at civilians using disproportionate force. They are just there to do their "duty". The border police want to be there, they don't exactly garner up sympathy in court cases once they get exposed for beating up an unarmed Palestinian. We went back outside and asked one of the soldiers, why do you shoot at children? The answer we got was mind-blowing and drenched in sadism: "Because I want to." That statement illustrated itself as once again the tear gas started. One canister hit ten year old Areej square in the back. She fell like a sack of bricks.

Every child has a right to a childhood. The Nabi Saleh children are denied this right. Jana and Rand were watching Cartoon Network when the sound bombs went off yet again. Jana barely raised her head, tiredly saying "Khalas. Stop it." After a few minutes Rand got bored and opened the door. She came back to where Jana was curled up on the couch, tapped her shoulder and said, "Yallah, let's go see the army again." It's cute, it's bitterly funny, it's heart-breaking to see them act this way, as if that's completely normal. I wonder how these kids will turn out to be. I wonder if they ever think of Israeli children whether they are innocent, and if later the bitterness and jealousy over these Israeli children living in such relative comfortableness and security will begin to manifest destructively.

Our own heroes, Spiderman and Batman.

Dear Obama, fuck you.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Vittorio Arrigoni, Immortalized in Ramallah

It certainly has been an emotionally charged past few days. Last week a documentary about Al-Jazeera Arabic broadcasted a documentary about Vittorio Arrigoni and his time in Gaza. My sister and I both wept throughout the show.
He was a huge loss to Palestine and its resistance. I've never cried over a stranger before, but in the weeks after April 15th as I read more and more about him, bought his book (about the massacre in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead), and watched countless videos, it was clear that his larger than life personality, his love for Palestine, and his determination and steadfastness and absolute commitment to shedding light on the injustices Gazans suffer every day and his dreams of seeing a liberated Palestine left a deep mark in Palestine's history books. He wasn't just an activist, he was a Palestinian through and through.

I got a pleasant surprise, albeit tinged with sadness, when this recent graffiti of him adorned one of Ramallah's walls. His motto, Stay Human, is written in Italian "Restiamo Umani".

Restiamo Umani
كي تبقى الانسانية
Stay Human

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Palestine Youth Voice in a Letter to Me

I got the most touching letter after I wrote about my parents' undesired reaction to my partaking in protests from Anonymous, who represents the collective Palestinian activists. Emphasis is mine.

A Letter to Linah
In reply to her blog post:

To Linah,

You’re part of us. We are part of you. Just wanted you to know that we all went through, and still do, the same with our parents. We understand the worries of our parents for their children. But our worry for Palestine is just greater. We understand very well that a lot of sacrifice has to be done. And we are ready to give these sacrifices. Our struggle is not for political solutions. Our struggle is for our rights. I for one have participated for the first time only in March 15. Not because I didn’t believe in the cause before that, but I just didn’t believe in the fruitless protests. I’ve been in hunger strike for 21 consecutive days (30 days in total) and slept on Al-Manara for more than 40 days. Not to get Hamas and Fateh to agree, but to unite the Palestinians here and in exile. That’s why our first demand was the PNC elections. The past 3 month of my life is more precious to me than the whole 25 years of my life. I met people that are the world to me. They’re not politicians they’re revolutionaries. The ladies who led the protests and the movement were an inspiration to me. I’ve witnessed first-hand the reason the word Freedom and the word resistance in Arabic are feminine.

We are still struggling. We see the light at the end of this dark tunnel. And we will reach there eventually. If we didn’t, having the honor of the attempt is enough for me. Other than the ladies, Abul Qasem El Shabbi was an inspiration to me.

I’m aware of all the opportunists around us. But I for one have taken the decision. I had two choices. One is to sit home go to my work get rich and my world would be revolved around me. Or the second was to stand up and make my world revolve around Palestine. I chose the second. I believe that the movement I’m part of now may not achieve our rights. But for the past 3 months I lived proud like I never did. I loved Palestine like I never did. And for the first time in my life, I don’t have dreams at night of what can I do to free Palestine. I’m living that dream. This is the first step. But I’m living it.

I’ve never loved in my life. So I was always shocked to see what people in love do. They go through useless hell to be together. My love is Palestine. And I’m willing to sacrifice everything for it. At the end, it’s not about how you die. It’s about how you live. If I ever had children, I would want them to talk about my actions to their peers, not repeat my words blindly.

Dear Linah, I was honored to meet you in Nabi Saleh. You showed extreme courage there. Hope to see you in front lines more. If I don’t, I know, we all know that our backs are safe with people like you.

Hopefully sooner rather than later we would be reminiscing about this in a free Palestine.

The belief is all I got now. I couldn’t convince my parents, but I surely live in peace with myself. If I die tomorrow, I will know that I have nothing to regret.

Stay safe and strong.


A Palestinian

Posted by Palestine Youth Voice at 2:40 AM

Thank you. I can't find the words to express my gratitude for this letter, a simple thank you will barely suffice.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Unwanted Reaction to Nabi Saleh Excursion

One thing I neglected to mention in my Nabi Saleh post was that my parents had no idea I was going there. I knew they wouldn't let me, so I took advantage of my mother's absence of a few days where she went to Amman to help my father move into another apartment. She left Thursday and got back on Monday. My sister told everyone I was at a friend's house in Ein Yabrood.

I faced the music Saturday night. I was over at my uncle's house, and the electricity in Ramallah got cut off for an hour. My uncle's family had come from the US only a couple days before so their house didn't have any candles or flashlights. We were plunged into darkness. My sister called Mama before letting my uncle talk to her jokingly about the electricity. Then the cell phone was transferred to me.

My mother's voice was brisk and all-knowing, a tone of Don't Bullshit Your Way Out of This. "Where were you on Friday Linah?"
My heart sank.
"Where you in Ein Yabrood or Nabi Saleh?"
I answered in a resigned voice, "Nabi Saleh."
"Nabi Saleh ah. Okay, I'm not going to say anything, talk to your dad."

All I could think of then was how my dad was scared of roller coasters, how he over-panicked whenever his children got sick, and how I could picture my mother standing next to me in protests instead of him. I then got the rollicking of my life.

"What the hell were you doing there in Nabi Saleh zift! Next time before you go anywhere, remember you have family, remember to ask for their permission, to let them know where you're going! This is the last thing I need on my plate right now, for my daughter to be protesting amid choking on tear gas and getting hit by sound bombs and then getting arrested and thrown in the back of some Israeli jeep! For you to be in jail! Why didn't you tell me? Why didn't you ask me?" The decibels were getting louder. "What were you thinking!!"

I sensed the panic behind his yelling. I kept my voice even, low, neutral, quiet. I answered in one words. When my dad is in a temper, you let him continue steamrolling on. Maybe later when calmness is regained again, we can have a proper discussion. A tiny "maybe".

"I don't want you to be involved in this nonsense anymore, do you understand?" he shouted on. "This is the first and last time you go, I forbid you to be involved in this stupid shit, is that clear? It's all empty words, nothing is going to change! You go out to your friends' houses, out to eat and socialize, but none of these protests do you hear me? Even to the stupid ones around the Manara square!"

I was grateful for the darkness, as the tears coursed silently down my face. I squeezed my eyes shut, taking deep inaudible breaths as images of Friday's events flitted across, forever tattooed to my inner eyelids.

Dear Baba,

I'm sorry I didn't tell you where I really was on Friday. I knew you wouldn't let me, so I saw no point in asking you if I could go to Nabi Saleh or not. So instead of asking you and getting the negative answer and then going on to defy you anyway, I didn't beat around the bush and thought it best not to mention it. You have to know, "tear gas" and "sound bombs" sound threatening in the news and in print and on screen, but I was never really in any danger. These protests are glorified a bit, to garner more attention and sympathy, but if you were protesting with me, if you actually were there you'd know that if you don't get out of the army's way when they're firing tear gas and sound bombs then there's nothing more to it really. I know you care deeply about me, and I love you a lot for that. But you have to understand something. Yes it sounds like I've just tried to minimalize the dangers of the protests, but I never felt that I was under anything close to a life threatening situation. I have a job interview on Tuesday. My grades are really good, and I've sent you every article I wrote that was published over the internet. Baba, if I had children I would encourage them to go out and demonstrate. I wouldn't want them to become squares, getting a university degree and then a boring job and treating politics with sneering disdain discussed over overpriced lattes and cappuccinos. I would want them to be active, all for the sake of fighting for a worthy cause and for a better future for their own children. If there is no voice, how can we fool ourselves that the Palestine cause still exists? You know that the youth are imperative to changing the political landscapes, not the corrupted officials and politicians. I wish you could relate to this more, and it's frustrating to me because you can but don't want to. I know how immensely active you were during your own time at Birzeit University, to the point where they had to expel you for your political views. I never told you how in my first year, I was sitting with friends and an old guard came up to warn us about not leaving our food on the ground. We offered him cake and he asked me who my parents were. I told him your name, and he smiled ruefully. "I remember him clearly. Your dad was a troublemaker," he said. "Very outspoken, caused a lot of commotion. Your mother was deeply in love with him." Don't think I don't understand the gravity of the consequences. I am not an idealist, I don't get sucked into slogans and banners. I explained my presence to one of the foreigners as a sort of citizen journalist, almost like a casual observer. I had my notebook with me all the time, jotting down a few words here and there. I'm sure this isn't about the case of me being a female Baba. You cannot undermine the immense role the Palestinian women played throughout our history. Leila Khaled became active when she was barely out of her teens in Lebanon. The ones making the most noise, the ones who were leading the chants at the protest were young women, all of them passionate and realistic. I wish you still lived here and made a report about Nabi Saleh. They have the most incredible steadfast families. I wish you could understand it from my perspective. I know that the one thing you care about first and foremost is my safety and well-being. How can I convince you that being at the protest actually invigorated me, and that I never felt like I was in danger? Sound bombs don't hurt anybody, and I'm not stupid to let the tear gas engulf me. We don't instigate and we don't taunt the soldiers, we just stand there chanting, and they show their fear of our freedom ringing voices by dispersing us with the canisters. I'm sorry I caused you to worry and be shocked into a rage, but please don't tell me I can't go to any more protests. I won't go every week, and I personally know some of the protesters, as do my brothers, and they are good people with normal jobs and everything. Don't think that they are the ones who have influenced me, you know where I stand politically, or rather, apolitically. You know how frustrating it is for me having to write about the incompetence of the PA and Hamas, the indifference of the street, and the increasingly heavy hand of Israeli occupation. I was well aware of the protests in the villages of Bilin, Nilin, and Nabi Saleh. I once shared the view that what the youth are doing there is pointless and as you said, empty words. I didn't see the point in getting tear gassed every week after throwing a few rocks. But then a new youth movement appeared, designed to resist "non-violently". It is still in its fledgling stages, but I honestly believe with the right amount of dedication, passion, and leadership this movement will make history. Non-violent resistance obviously includes writing up firsthand accounts and disseminating that information all over, but once in a while you must be in the field to maintain that level of authenticity. I dreamed of having these kinds of discussions with you, but I'm not very articulate or eloquent or convincing when it comes to speaking, as you might have gathered. I do understand your concern, but you must also understand that I would never unwittingly put myself in an "intense" situation just because that's where all the action is and how secretly I crave that sort of attention. That's not the case at all. Believe me when I say that if I felt like I was in any danger, I would stop going to the protests immediately and content myself with writing about the events I wasn't part of. Believe me when I say this isn't bravado. Who knows, maybe I'll become disillusioned with the whole state of affairs pretty soon, and maybe I'll be part of the close knit network (who have already expressed their enthusiasm for my writings) that will have succeeded in changing the status quo. All I am asking you is to please give me a chance, let me find out on my own, or I will never forgive myself. I have never known a more ardent family about our land and history than ours. Do you remember Mama taking us to every Arab-related protest in D.C and London? Even if there were only 11 people, she'd take us. I consider it a duty to continue protesting, because history has taught us time and again that in the face of oppressors, it is the oppressed who will finally triumph in the end.

Happy Father's Day.
I love you,

UPDATE: This morning another phone call. Much more calmer, and a million more times worse.

"I'm extremely angry with you," he said quietly. "Listen, putting the fact that you acted irresponsibly and lied to us about where you were on one side, there's something you must understand politically. The protests that take place in Nabi Saleh and Bil'in and Nil'in all happen with the blessing of the PA and Israel. You think the PA has nothing to do with this? You think Israel can't crush the protests once and for all? Their tactic is to confine and encourage resistance to these tiny villages, and that resistance completely debilitates armed resistance, as if it's something that is taboo now. They know that the protests have no chance in spreading to the larger towns and cities, and the youth get caught up because they believe they are making a difference when they are actually the victim of the PA's stratagem. I'm all for popular resistance, but what's happening now isn't that. You're not going next week or anytime after that, ok?"

I fought to control my voice. "I won't be in the protests themselves. I'll be in the houses, talking to the families and the women."

"You are not a credited journalist. Whatever you do there, even if it's so something completely innocuous, you're still technically involved in the protests."

I tried to make him understand. He hadn't read my letter yet because he didn't have internet access. [He since has:"Thanks for educating me about civil resistance and patriotism." Now we all know where I get my sarcasm from.] He kept telling me that I would not go again, and I stayed silent, refusing to consent. My dad has a way with articulating even the most banal thing powerfully but I wouldn't say, "Yes Baba." He finally told me that I wasn't allowed to go until I graduate, and even then we'd have another long discussion about what I was allowed to participate in. In the meantime, he encouraged to me to continue writing. "Look at some of the journalists who go to Gaza for a week. They continue to write about their time there even after a month, a year even. Khalas, you went to Nabi Saleh, you got the experience, now you know what it feels like."

After that, I went into my full cleaning mode. I cried as I washed the dishes, thinking of my promise to Samer, my little spiderman. I broke a couple of trinkets dusting. I threw books from the shelves. I finally calmed down, realizing that the song 'Killing in the Name Of' was playing loudly in my ears. I finish university for good in another three weeks, completing the most useless years in my life in three not four. Did he mean then, or in August where the stupid little graduation ceremony was going to take place? Life gives you lemons, turn them into lemonade. Yes, there are other things I could do within the borders of Ramallah. I breathed.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Nabi Saleh

The amazing Frank makes me want to learn Hebrew so bad after hearing his musical swearing. Hebrew can actually be musical, it's all not kha's and kho's!
Nabi Saleh has got to be one of the most phlegm ridden villages in the world. I told my sister in a nonchalant way that I was going there the night before. The next day I got dressed and walked from my house to the Manara Square, where I was told transportation would be at around 7:30am.

Friday mornings saw the streets completely devoid of any human life. I took my time walking, enjoying the cool wind and sun, and repressed a shudder as I passed by the renovated Muqata'a compound, where a soldier was posing with his gun, probably ready for his shift to be over.

There were only two other guys sitting around the Manara Square drinking nescafe from plastic cups. I hesitantly approached them.
"Good morning, do you know if the Nabi Saleh cars took off already?" I was after all about 20 minutes late.
"Not yet."
"Are you both going too?"
"Yep. Where are you from? Hayaki Allah."

I took my seat on the pavement next to them and began writing, their conversation washing over me in light waves.
"...for that the foreigners don't agree with it."
"Ya zalameh, my dad hit me, trying to stop me from going today."
"Your dad hit you? With all my respect, but your dad is a complete wackjob/متخلف"
"Why? He cares about his son, there's nothing wrong with that."
"How old are you, to be letting him hit you like that?"
"It doesn't matter, he's been hitting me since I was seven for the things he doesn't like to see me do. He cares. After I got out of [Israeli] prison, I spent a year there, and I stopped going to the demonstrations. The first day I started going again I got a bullet in my leg. His intuition is amazing."

I wondered what my family would say if they saw where I was sitting right now. I smile. All I need now is a cigarette in my mouth and a few girls to hit on.

The conversation turned to being around dead people. I was getting a little exasperated ("I think my dad was still alive when they put him in the morgue, the next day his head had moved") when two more guys joined us. They introduced themselves and offered me cherries from a black plastic bag. We hung out for a few more minutes, before a policeman walked up to us, eyeing me curiously. One of the guys broke away and explained to me in a hushed voice full of contempt.

"Every week one of them comes and asks the same damn questions again.Who are we, where are we going, why, who's giving us rides, and so on. Can you believe it, these are our very own defenders of the nation!"

The police car came and parked right next to where we were sitting. The guys began to talk about their experiences, taking my wide eyes for adoration.

"You do know about the shit truck of course. It's something unbelievable. And now they want to come out with diarrhea gas. Tear gas, ok we get it, but how the hell are we gonna combat diarrhea gas?"

Two more police cars began to circle the Manara. We got up and walked a little down the street, waiting for the ford/microbus. More guys showed up, we were probably ten in total. I asked about the low number.
"Don't worry, the others from here will join us later today."

I got the seat of honor next to the driver, as it would have been morally unacceptable to be squished in the backseats between male bodies. That's how far their chivalry extended, as the banter turned raucous and they began to tease one another about their manliness. Then they all broke out singing numbers that were popular during the first and second intifadas. I couldn't help but to smile at their off-key voices, drowning each other out. One of the shabab told the driver to take the long way around because he swore he heard a policeman talking in his walkie-talkie to stop any microbus heading to Nabi Saleh. The driver complied, swinging the vehicle around with gusto.

It's a 20 minute ride to Nabi Saleh. As expected, the gate to the village was closed by the IOF and so the microbus turned into the street below the village. We all jumped out, the settlement of Halamish looming up behind us like an imperial crown, and I saw the big rocky hill we had to climb in order to get inside the village itself. Some good morning exercise for you. I could see burnt patches here and there where the tear gas had spluttered into oblivion. Once we reached the village, one of the guys, who goes by the name of Abu Nasr, took me to the first house on the right, the home of Bilal and Manal Tamimi. I asked him why he was taking me there, and he replied so that I can wait for the other female demonstrators and how I'll be safe here. I bit my tongue; this was my first time and I didn't know how things usually went so I took his patriarchal sexist attitude as one of genuine brotherly concern.

Palestinian hospitality is astounding. I was greeted warmly by the family, and they took me downstairs to where they had foreign diplomats and consuls watching the footage Bilal Tamimi and others such as his brother's wife Nariman documented. Nariman's husband is Basim Tamimi, currently imprisoned for what the Israeli court calls "incitement"/"engaging in unlawful protests" and what every other human calls "standing up for your basic human rights." Most of the videos weren't new to me as I had already seen them on YouTube. Thanks to the social media, these videos get circulated widely, but apparently not enough for the mainstream media to raise its heavy sleeping head. Manal was commentating in English for the foreigners, who were all deeply engrossed. The family made sure I was sitting comfortably and could see perfectly, even in a crowded room. I asked Bilal if they do this every week, hosting foreigners and educating them a bit about how the demonstrations usually panned out. He told me that this was the first time, and that these diplomats/consuls from Holland, Malta, France, and the EU weren't supposed to even be here because of their work. I recognized Jonathan Pollack, the Israeli activist who is always in Nabi Saleh for the protests, and was surprised and a bit annoyed at myself that his Arabic was better than mine.

After watching the videos, we all trooped outside and into the opposite house, Abu Hussam's. A lavish breakfast smothered every inch of the dining table. The drinks-juice, tea, coffee- were all served in glass cups, and when I went to the kitchen to ask if they needed any help, the two women there shooed me out, looking like they definitely did not mind acting as dishwashers. If it were my house, everything would have been served in throwaway plastic cups. I need to get in touch with the hospitable side of me.

Nabi Saleh is a small village. As one of the locals put it, we number 500 counting our chickens. It's basically one main road with houses on either side. In 2009, after Israel expropriated more of the village land in order to expand the settlement of Halamish which was "established" in 1977, they took over the village's spring, Ain al-Kus. Manal Tamimi recounted what the settler women said about the spring, how it was a biblical site and very holy and how it washes away the sins of the settler women who bathe in it. Apparently, holy water is exclusionary. The protests have taken place every Friday. Along with Jonathon Pollack, Joseph Dana has been another key voice in writing about the events as a firsthand eye-witness.

Activists kept dropping in, saying hello, grabbing a quick bite to eat before making their way to the village center, the congregation point. They were treated like family, everyone knew each other's names, there was a real sense of camaraderie. Finally, the calls for noon prayers sounded. The consuls went up on the roof to witness the protest, and I walked with Abu Hussam to the village center. He kept pointing out each house to me.

"This one, right here, and the other two around it got sprayed by the skunk. It was inside the house, God forbid should you ever have to live in that smell. It stays for weeks. And this one, the one with the broken windows, the army threw teargas at it and it started a fire. A whole sofa set was burned."

"'Amo, is that the skunk smell? It's horrible."

"Yes, I told you, it stays for weeks, even on the streets. Now this house here..."

We reached the center. He dropped me off under a large tree where a crowd were milling about, and went to the adjacent mosque to pray. I sat down next to one of the guys I was with at the Manara square.

"So, how's it going so far? Are you scared?"
"No," I answered truthfully. "Why would I be? These people have been doing this for two years now, every single week." Plus the fact that I honestly can't get past my condescension for the IOF.
He didn't believe me. "It's ok, nothing to worry about. You'll get your first taste of tear gas, see if you like it or not, that's all there is to it." He pointed to a group. "These are the Israeli activists. I don't trust them. The other shabab, look how they're fawning over them." Just then one of the Israeli activists came up to him and they embraced tightly.
He sat back down again, ignoring my smirk. "You know, I don't even trust some of the guys that we came with. I don't think their intention is at all noble." He glanced at me sideways. "Just to make it clear, I am talking to you like a brother and nothing else."
I rolled my eyes. I wasn't aware of any sparks between us. "Would you let your sister come demonstrate?"
"You are a perpetrator of the patriarchal system! How can you be so hypocritical?"
"I told you, some of these guys...they come here just to see and talk to the girls."

Bullshit. And even if they did, are they gonna make out every time the soldiers pause to reload?

Prayers were over. Everyone stopped fooling around and went back to business. My lovely female comrades drilled my head with What to Do and What Not to Do.

Do NOT rub your face when the tear gas hits you. You'll only make it worse.
DO hold your breath and move as fast as you can away from the gas.
DO cover your face, Do NOT even think about rubbing your eyes.
DO put your mask on. Make sure to get some gauze drenched in alcohol.
Do NOT stand or remain in the street when the soldiers intensify their shooting of the tear gas.
DO run inside any house, they're all open and will welcome you.

We made our way back to the beginning of the street, near the two houses that I was in before. We chanted and chanted. I looked at each soldier's eyes. They betrayed no emotion. How do you explain that cool dispassionate stare? The tear gas was fired. Everyone ran. I ran. I forgot to hold my breath though. How do I explain tear gas? The nasty, acrimonious taste at the back of your throat, the sudden sharp stinging of the eyes, all coupled with unbridled fury. There are CHILDREN protesting, there are HUMAN BEINGS unarmed harmless using only the weapons of their voice-boxes, WHERE ARE THE EYES OF THE WORLD TO WITNESS THIS! The soldiers are decked out from head to toe looking like an infantry troop about to embark on another Operation Cast Lead, and here we are, no more than 40, all dressed in jeans and shirts and holding up posters, flags, two fingers in the victory sign. Before at breakfast the family recognized a new face and asked me why I came. I told them to see it firsthand. To know what it feels like to resist the occupation, as opposed to Ramallah's suaveness. I wasn't prepared for this fury though.

We regrouped and began chanting again. Louder and louder, more vociferous than before, stamping our feet on the ground, yelling out "5,6,7,8 Israel is a fascist state!" and the more creative chants in Arabic. The tall blond German next to me moved a couple of steps down to my left, when I turned my head again seconds later all I saw was blood streaming down his face and the flurry of people as they began to run again. The screams, the yells, the high pitched whistling of the sound bomb canisters before they exploded in momentary deafening. More tear gas was followed, tears streaming down my face. I followed blindly around the back of some house before getting inside. The blood on the German's face turned out to be pepper spray, which was squirted right into his face. I heard that this was his first time in Palestine, his second day only. As he was getting treated into another house cum makeshift hospital, he just couldn't understand why him. "I wasn't even doing anything!" Abu Hussam laughed. "Tell him it's exactly those who don't do anything that get targeted." One girl grimaced. "A hundred tear gas canisters over getting sprayed by filfil any day," she remarked. "The poor man...God help him."

It's easy to read about the protests in Nabi Saleh, Bilin, and Nilin. Sometimes it's hard to stomach the violent videos, but as long as you're watching them and not actually experiencing them, then it's easy to think in a calm and collected manner about the whole situation. Being on the front lines really makes you think about your survival only. In Bil'in Jawaher Abu Rahmeh died after getting hit by a tear gas canister fired at a high velocity at her head. Her brother Basem died the same way only it was aimed at his chest. This wasn't about finding a bit of glory and fame, I don't think that idea exists in the protesters' minds anyway, it's about something much more simpler. There is a well that belongs to the village. They depend on it. That well got stolen from them. They are banned from coming anywhere near it. They want it back. They want the land that Halamish was built upon back. Rocket science, oh imperial powers? Israeli children have a right to security but Palestinian children do not? The three boys and one girl of Nariman and Basem Tamimi, are they also not entitled to security and a safe environment, instead of witnessing their father being dragged away on ludicrous charges, their mother every week with her camcorder, trying to do her bit for B'tselem but inevitably getting caught up in the demonstrations? Nabi Saleh is a tiny speck on earth. It is a seriously aggravated tiny speck on earth. Human rights mean nothing at all here compared to the tiny settlement outposts?

I asked in the morning whether it was the same troop every week. It is. The demonstrators have their faces memorized. The shabab broke away from the demonstration and went to conduct their own nuisances against the Israeli army. It takes a hell lot more guts to stand there, in front of the IOF's faces, demanding basic rights, keeping an eye on their hands and fingers always alert on their huge guns, than throwing rocks at them from a distance. At one point, it was three young women standing at the front, protesting loudly. The other protesters simply disappeared. There were five jeeps blocking the end of the street, blocking off our advance. Nevertheless we crossed to the other street by jumping from behind a house, to where the gas station was on the opposite side. Two jeeps left, to guard the shabab throwing rocks at a distance. At the end of that street is the yellow gate with the Israeli watch tower next to it. As soon as they saw us moving, the tear gas started again. This time I lost my head. I took a deep whiff and backed into the wall of the house, coughing and clearing my throat. I heard yells to move forward, but my eyes hurt so bad, I couldn't open them. I stumbled in one direction, and the smell of tear gas got sharper. I forced my eyes to open, and finally crossed over to where the gas station was, all fluids flowing down like Niagra Fall's mother, tears and snot and everything in between. I was immediately handed gauze drenched in alcohol and was instructed to wipe my face with it after breathing it in. Note to self: please do NOT wear mascara next time. The other guy who I sat with at the Manara in the morning was wearing a paramedic's vest. He was torn between concern and amusement.

"How do you like it? Is it to your taste? No seriously, be more careful next time. Here, stand there, just breathe."

Be more careful next time. There's no telling what those maniacs will do. They fire straight at a person, or on the ground to purposely let it bounce up and down before ricocheting uncontrollably.

The German man who had earlier gotten pepper sprayed was speaking in awe to his companions. "I've never seen anything like this. The amount of...of inhumanity in a person. I've never seen anything like this. I'm..I'm shocked!"

After a brief lull, more chanting. This time the IOF used sound bombs, firing at close range. There were only meters between us. One sound bomb hit my ankle, causing it to throb for a good few hours. I barely got out the way and become temporarily deaf as it exploded. The more sound bombs they threw, the more aggressive the tone of our voices. Eventually, the protesters made their way across the rocky hill because they couldn't get down the street. They have never succeeded in getting near the spring. I stayed behind because I didn't know what they were doing, or saw no point in it. As expected, the tear gas once again hailed down on them like swirling grey cotton candy. One guy wearing a paramedic vest became unconscious. Because of the distance, we thought it was only a vest on the ground. Then one of the soldiers came and started kicking the vest, which turned out to be on a body, just to further demonstrate the humanity in him.The guy was carried, after a lot of yelling not to shoot. The Israeli border police, decked out in riot gear were the ones to play with us on the hill, instead of the army.

After that we all crossed over to the hill. It sort of fizzled by then. Plenty of time to reflect on the tactics used so far. On one side of the hill was where the road extended, where the spring was, and where the settlement was. The settlers had come out to celebrate their trophy, taunting us up on the hill. The police were forced to calm them down and disperse them, a minor victory on our part. I was wondering whether chanting every week was going to change the status quo. Maybe it's my impatient nature, but there should be more creative angles to deal with this problem. Chanting works when there are masses, huge rolling crowds of them. That is definitely not to deter from the sheer amount of effort and work the activists and protesters do, both during the tear gas confrontations and after, but the new youth movement in Ramallah needs to shake its shackles a bit more (to be discussed in a later post.)

We finally make it back to the village. The sun is lowering itself steadily. Protesters are in a good mood, some saying that this is the first time they felt something like optimism. I'm gathering it was a quiet day compared to the weeks before. Obviously, the presence of consuls watching from the rooftops made the IOF behave itself marginally better. I talked more with Manal and Bilal, and found out that this was the first time the jeeps didn't advance into the street itself. Usually, around 4 pm when the foreign activists leave, the army moves in and within seconds the whole village looks like a war zone. This time, it was after 6, and the jeeps were still parked. Children were playing football with the sound bombs used earlier.

I stared at the couple in front of me. "How do you find it in yourself to do this every single week? Your faith is enviable."
Bilal laughed. "You said it yourself, it's faith itself. When you have something to believe in, you fight for it no matter what."
Manal looked at me with twinkling eyes. "We're originally Hebronites," she tapped her head. We laughed. Hebronites are known for their notorious stubbornness.

Three of the jeeps began to move up the street, obviously not to start anything, and the little four year old children began chucking stones at the armored flanks. Little Jana screamed with delight and jumped up and down waving her arms in the air, victorious as her tiny stone hit the back of the jeep.

It was getting dark, the microbus was here. I swooped up a four year old Spiderman in my arms, the youngest son of Manal and Bilal and took a juicy bite out of his cheek.

"Do you want me to come back next week?" I asked.

He nodded shyly. I kissed his cheek again, said goodbye to Manal, and left Nabi Saleh, my head swirling.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Getting to Know the Birawees

So what do you know about Ramallah's twin city, Al-Bireh? More importantly, what do you know about the Birawiya or as they're known in the Arabgaleez (Arabic + Ingleezi) language, Birawees?

First of all, make sure you refer to Al-Bireh as a city, not as a town or a village despite its colloquial rural patois. Birawees are touchy about that. They've got an immense load of pride which gives off the impression that they're full of themselves, which is absolutely true. And before we go on, we must give off the disclaimer that the rest of this post will be full of stereotypes and generalizations to further enrich that Orientalist mind and make the enlightened liberal one shake its head sanctimoniously.

One thing that is quite obvious from the start is that Birawees are a bunch of stuck-up racists. We're both half-Birawees, and our non-Birawee mother and father have always been referred to as ghareeba/ghareeb i.e. strangers. The offspring are then looked at in a condescending manner. Those poor urchins...suffering from the demise of being a half-blood. Jesus Christ we're reminded of Harry Potter, Mudbloods, Purebloods, and Half-bloods. Every year Muntaza Al-Bireh, a public park with a huge fountain in the middle and a building with wedding halls in it host a dinner for all of the Birawee graduates of high school. We weren't invited. We didn't lose any sleep over it of course. That's just their screwball mentality. The women wail when their daughter gets married to someone outside Al-Bireh, and say "gharrabna bintna!" which means we have foreignified (or alienated, to use proper English) our daughter.

Long ago, the Birawees were known for being rich mother-heifers because they owned so much land. This lead to some back-stabbing, double-dealing, and subterfuge as the males in the family swindled the inheritance papers so that their six sisters (and if the male was a real asshole, his four brothers also) wouldn't get a share. The father would die, thinking that even in death his words will be final, not suspecting the craftiness of his youngest son or his good for nothing firstborn who change the will barely after the earth settled on the father's grave. Of course, this birthed very strained family ties and relationships for the future generations, who know no God when it comes to land and money. Til this day, there are grandchildren who do not know their second or third cousins because their grandfathers were at each other's throats over this issue. Nevertheless, it has not lessened the supercilious attitude. That's because the next generation immigrated to the United States, made their money in grocery stores, liquor stores, gas stations, various 7/11's, etc. So they were still filthy rich. Some dragged their families years later back to Al-Bireh, where their children would moan about how boring the "blad" is and how the Palestinians living here are such boaters. The money earned would be showing its class in monstrous architecture that pass for villas. The men who worked for 35 years behind the cashier would die in the States from diabetes, lung cancer, high blood pressure, kidney failure, osteoporosis, rheumatism all rolled up into one package. The smarter ones sell their stores after 30 years and come back to their hometown to open up a pizzeria or some other quaint project, and spend the rest of their lives holed up in the dirty coffee shops right next to the Omari mosque.

The sons of these old men marry American women, have a kid, and then get a divorce. They go back to Al-Bireh to marry a proper Muslim bint il-balad, then return to the States and have five more kids. The kid from the American woman is discarded somewhere. When the five children reach their teens, the parents move the daughters back to Al-Bireh in order for them to remain chaste virgins and not the hoochie mama sluts who dress in short shorts and tank tops, have boyfriends and go to school with. The sons remain in America, finish high school and start working at the respective grocery store/liquor store/gas station etc. They make a little money, grow even more thick-headed, and believe that they are God's gift to everything. They wear jerseys and jeans that can fit a whale, have about five custom made Nike shoes, and shop at Rocawear. "Education, who needs university when I'm making money already. No Ma, I don't want to get married. I tried banging the local stripper and all I got out of it was two freakin kids." They do end up getting married, well into their thirties, and they will not settle for a bride unless she's a 17 year old virgin that lived all her life in Al-Bireh, and who gets sold off by her father because his future son-in-law has US citizenship which automatically means moolah. Those who immigrated to America and breed generations there come back with the same damn mentality of everything is haram and everything is 3eib.

The daughters who are "lucky" enough to be trusted by their parents not to turn into hoochie mama sluts and so continue living unabated in the US come every summer to Al-Bireh, pretending that they hate the chaotic backward lifestyle but secretly kill themselves over finding a husband. These girls take the Ramallah perverts too seriously, curse the taxi drivers because he can't understand their chopped up Arabic, and think that if they wear a knee length skirt they will be branded as Americanized Britney Sbears and so consider it a sacrifice on their part to dress in longer sleeves and not wear capris. They are also the same ones who dress to the nines at every single wedding in the summer, even the ones that they're not invited to, all in the hopes of finding a suitable husband, one that comes from the same mold as they do. The girls are essentially all clones of each other. Sometimes you see them walking in large packs either late afternoon or at night, their Snooki poofs visible from a mile away, their straightened hair lying dead on their shoulders, dressed in the same skinny jeans (Seven if you please) and that inevitable purse swinging from their arms. These girls have devalued what a Coach bag is. The savvier ones are moving on to Michael Kors and Louis Vuitton, but the Coach bag is a staple of the masses' wardrobe. Despite coming here every summer they still don't have the wits to figure out that speaking English (especially their lightning speed nasalized tone) in public will cause store owners to triple their prices and get chased by a greasy haired bunch.

It's a whole Little America in Al-Bireh during summertime. The streets are suddenly flocked with jersey-wearing Amrikan with their sagging jeans and silver chains bouncing off their chests, and the weddings are full of pencil skirt wearing girls who size each other up based on whose got the biggest flash factor.

Now let's get in the clan divisions. I believe there are five in total: Karakra, Tawil, Hamayel, Quran, and Abed. Even within Al-Bireh the stereotypes attached to each clan are well known and well made fun of.

Karakra: Not much is known about this small clan other than that they are an arrogant bunch. The joke is that they put on airs when they number a total of 14 members as everyone else is in the US or dead.

Tawil: This clan is known for its superior, haughty vainglorious nature. It is so true. They point their chins forward, flare their nostrils, and look down their noses at everything and everyone. They can only have nothing but the best. The best houses, the best cars, the designer clothes, the best looking wives and daughters, etc. They make others want to smack the shit out of them.

Hamayel: In Arabic we say "Hamayel are habayel" i.e. Hamayel are stupid. The mean people go a step further and say "Hamayel are hamayel". The "h" in the first word pronounced like the numeric transliteration of "7", as in Hmar/7mar (donkey.) The second "h" is is regular English sounding H. The second word means degenerates, lowlifes, ruffians, etc. Rumors (and overwhelming evidence) has it that some families are into the drug trade. We are so gonna get quartered for this post.

Quran: This clan is one of the largest. It is huge. They are known for being hilariously cheapskates. Like, really cheap. They give the most extravagant weddings, the only time where they will actually spend money, but they sleep on cardboard because they don't want to invest in mattresses, never mind beds. The girls with braces get married early so that their husbands will pay the orthodontist bills. The women have a whole closet full of gold jewelry but whatever happens they will never ever ever sell their stash, even if their nephew back in Louisiana faces up to 5 years in prison if he's unable to pay the 5000 dollar bail.

Abed: Another large clan. Dar Abed are known for being essentially astoundingly stupid. They're, quite simply, airheads. They love the color red, like their Arabic coffee too sweet, and can't mentally add up beyond the number ten. When it comes to another round of "Whose the Best" they are always at loggerheads with Dar Quran, as Dar Tawil are sooo above those trivial matters, Dar Hamayel are busy getting caught with crack stashed behind the embroidered pillows, and Dar Karakra are too busy weeping over their infinitesimal lot.

The Birawee women are a peculiar bunch. They know exactly who your parents are from the first look, even if you've never ever met each other before. One time I was walking home from somewhere. The sun had just set, my crap music was blaring through my headphones, and the lovely breeze put me in a good mood. A bunch of old women were walking slowly in front of me. I passed by them, made the mistake of mumbling good evening-damn my good upbringing-, and a conversation started.

"Inti bint meen? Whose daughter are you?"
" grandma is-" I hate that question. It goes without saying that they automatically assume you're from Al-Bireh. It makes me spill out my whole life story, and my parents' too. It's unheard of that a young woman from Al-Bireh would marry a young man from Gaza (a refugee no less).
"Ahhh, I knew you were Manal's daughter! Look, its the blood my dear. It's in your face."
"I'm..I'm kinda in a rush now.."
"We know your aunts too! Didn't they all get married into Dar Tawil? Of course they did! Good for them."

These women find brides for their sons by flicking through high school yearbooks. They start from the seniors' page, then go down to the sophomores'. Their sons can be the most idiotic shithead in the world, with no degree to his name who lives off his parents' money, but the girl must be an angel. She must be young so she can be raised up by her husband and his family. She must be well brought up. She must be docile, doe-eyed, and pure. She must be tall and slender. She must be white with fair hair and blue eyes. The guy can work in a bar, have a few girlfriends back in America, and maybe a kid or two that no one is supposed to find out about. He can drink, he can be abusive, he can do whatever the hell he wants but the girl must fit the upper criterion. A perfect match.

The white skin..dear oh dear. A bride was found for a cousin. She was perfect, had all of the excellent qualities, was educated, demure, religious, had American citizenship. But she was...samra. Too dark for their taste. And by dark I mean cafe au lait dark. Sorry, fsh naseeb!

Weddings are simply an occasion to show off the most expensive embroidered thobe and the heavy weight of gold around their necks, heads, and wrists. When we were younger, we enjoyed going just for the dabke and dancing. Then we quickly found out that we were simply prey for the old wizened vultures. One time when I was 15, a veiny hand shot out and snaked itself around my waist, pulling me from my friends and the dance floor.

"Inti bint meen habibti?"

That time I had figured out the magic word. I felt so smart. I played on their racism.

I shouted, "My dad's from GAZA!"

The veiny hand shot back. "Gaza?!?" She gave me the most disgusted putrefying look.
I was still young enough to feel insulted so I muttered "bitch", a big word for my innocent soul, and went back out on the dance floor.

Heba's had her own share of matchmakers knocking on her house. She's the baby of the family, with three older sisters who at that time were unmarried. The matchmaker wasn't having any of it, reiterating that 16 was a perfect age. The matchmaker finally left, feeling thoroughly insulted.

It gets worse when they find out you have American citizenship, which they call "ceetizen". They will literally HOUND you. Back when I had a heart I actually burst into tears because this woman and her crone of a friend were so fucking relentless. Never mind I was still in high school and had my own plans for the future. What the hell was I waiting for? He's a really good guy, he has his own grocery store here next to Masjid Ali and wants a ceetizen wife. No, of course he's not gonna dump your ass after he gets ceetizen. And if he does, well that's your fault since during the green card months you ran out of ways to entertain him.

What's your father's name?
Please fuck off.
What's his name? Your family's name? Come on.
Ignoring you right now.
Look, write it down, don't be shy now.
[My eyes blur.]
You-you're her friend right? Write down her father's name.

Despite all of this, despite this mountain load of shit, we are privy enough to know that other cities and villages and towns hold the same stereotypical view. The Birawees are loaded, their mother in laws are complete busybody hyenas, the women are known for their sharp tongue and forceful attitudes (she's a kawiya!) and the men are a spiritless lot behind their walls of cash. This may be true in some cases, God knows everyone knows each other's life stories, but again you must dismiss everything that's been said here as a fat generalization. Wait, why the apologetic tone? It's all true man.

PS It's wildly known among the older folk that Elizabeth Taylor, she of the violet eyes Sophia Loren, is originally from Al-Bireh. Her parents died when she was a toddler and so she was sent to some orphanage school in Bethlehem where she got adopted by an American family. True story.

UPDATE: For those spitting at me because "your families aren't like that at all" I wasn't aware I was writing about them specifically. For those who are digging on my mother (one of your own!) stop it immediately. For those who analyzed that I must be an angry jealous bitch because not one single rich Birawee asked for my hand, how the hell did you know that! Best explanation there is. Shucks.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Good Shit

Freedom for Palestine by OneWorld.

When it breaks into the mainstream, then we can compare it to Sun City. Where are you now Bono, Bob Dylan, and co?

Coldplay came out in support of this song on their Facebook page and its bid to make it to number one on the music charts. Cue some intense Zionist trolling. We always knew there was a mean anti-Semitic streak in that band. In fact, if you play their song Viva la Vida backwards you'll quite distinctly hear a growling voice chanting "The Jews are the source of all evil in this world" over and over again.

The Qatar Experience II

 After the initial southern belle reaction to the hotel and the food and Doha's public bathrooms (so clean! so bright! so perfect!) we settled down to enjoy our classes-even the homework was fun, albeit scribbled down at breakfast or in the car. After 3pm we had a lot of time to kill, so we visited the thousand and one tourist attractions Doha has to offer. Ok, I can count them on my fingers. There was the Museum of Islamic Art, an impressive structure built on the Corniche and designed by architect M. Pei. Really fascinating stuff. You walk through each exhibition room based on time spans and witness how the spreading Islamic empire's identity was formed from the cultures and traditions of far east Asian countries all the way to Andalusia. Paintings, carpets, coffins, robes, jewelry, buckets, Quranic inscriptions, pencil cases, lanterns, tiles, knockers, screens, lattices, beakers, compasses, etc. It was so much to take in, and oh so beautiful.

Suq Waqif was another attraction. It's an old suq, or marketplace that retains some magical aura because of its original authenticity and age. It's popular because it is proof that Doha has some cultural aspect. Now it's being modernized by new building structures made to look like they are old, and all the restaurants that were once located along the Corniche were forced to relocate to the suq for tourism purposes. The smell of incense pervaded the air before we turned to the restaurant sector. Big fans were blowing outside stores and restaurants alike, to combat the heat and humidity, which was at its strongest at night. It's rare spotting a Qatari though. The tiny country is made up of, what two thirds expats? We still prefer Jerusalem's Old City, no doubt :)

The city center mall was right around the corner from our hotel. The girls went and marveled at the clothes and the expensive prices. It was also a chance to capture Doha's glass skyscrapers against the night sky as they went walking, forcing themselves to become immune to the heat. The other fancy mall, Villagio, had the whole roof from the inside painted like it was Hogwart's very own Enchanted Ceiling. It has its own river too, complete with a couple of gondolas. Both malls unleashed the horror of "Islamic Swim-wear" to us. I've seen pictures of the burkini before, but having to see it from a close-up on a mannequin makes it about a million more times uglier.

Dina and I were lucky to watch the last episode of The Doha Debates this season live. The wording seemed a little off: "This House believes that resistance to the Arab Spr ingis futile." Typing that now it makes perfect sense, but I remember during the debate I was racking my brain trying to paraphrase the motion into something more understandable. Nadeem Houry, supporting the motion was passionate in voicing his opinions, but I found them a little too optimistic. On the opposing side, Jane Kinninmont had to remind the audience a few times that the motion is not about whether they are against the Arab revolutions, but against the presumption that the dictators will simply roll over. It was very interesting too see and hear. Personally I was on the fence, infused with optimism that no matter what the dictators will do the people's resolve won't be broken or tampered with-the wall of fear has been broken-, and then with a more realistic outlook as dictators can buy off the protesters and won't desist in their killing sprees. Don't forget to tune in! Oh, it was broadcast on June 4th and June 5th. Never mind.

At VCU on another night was the book launch for Kate Lord Brown. It was our first sighting of Qataris! Dina received a signed copy, and there was a reading and a Q and A session followed up by finger food.

Our last tourist stop was at the Al Jazeera compounds. Getting through felt like going through a watered down experience at Ben Gurion airport. In the Arabic compound, we saw the museum, a small room that displayed the jackets of slain journalists, the wreckage from its bombing in Baghdad at the start of Bush's holy war, the calligraphy of the logo, the sketches of the logo itself, the letters Sami al Hage wrote to his wife during his seven year unlawful detainment in Guantanamo Bay (we saw him in his white dishdashah, standing an arm's length away from us. He received his Qatari citizenship on the day we visited!). We entered the newsroom and the people working there barely gave us a second glance. We stood next to the auto-cue (but out of the camera's way) as the two anchors rattled off the world's news. Then we went to the English compound, whose interior design doesn't give the feel of a permanently 90's stuck atmosphere. The lighting was pretty, oranges and pinks and purples. Our tour guide, who happens to be my relation, told everyone that we were from the Palestine Writing Workshop. Everyone perked up at "Palestine" looking at us with renewed interest. Those Paalistiniyunns. Hello, welcome! Enjoy your tour! Al Jazeera struck me as being laid back and quiet. I half expected it to be intimidating, full of frantic people and chaotic scenes. Also, I could have sworn it housed a breeding terrorist cell. Still, it was nice looking at the empty studio rooms and learning what people did there.

It was our last day, and we took a lot of pictures with our new friends. I wanted to catch the sun set while riding a boat, so Dina and I got dropped off at the Corniche and clambered upon a ship. There were absolutely no waves, and the water wasn't Mediterranean clear. Didn't stop us from taking more pictures of each other and the beauteous sun set, reflecting off the glass buildings. Half an hour later we stepped on concrete again, and forgetting we weren't in the hisbeh hassled the poor Indian man to accept the little money we had. I think I won him over when I said, "It's our first time here!" with an innocent fresh green smile. I stopped short of mentioning that we came from Palestine because that's just a dirty tactic. One I will use on later trips no doubt.

After that there was a small event for the participants of the Summer Writing Institute, made especially for the "Palestine delegation." We had trouble getting to the venue but finally we made it. The techniques we learned during the week will definitely help in writing more consistently now, khalas there's no excuse. After a late dinner everyone read a piece that they wrote during the week. It was a last hug, smile, and pose for a picture opportunity. After getting back to the hotel, I stayed up to have my own private time at the beach, 4 am. Wearing my own improvised Islamic swimwear, I swam in the sea, watching Doha's sky turning lighter and lighter, wishing I could stay for one more week.