Today, I discovered other social issues that exist in the society in addition to the occupation and conflict. I visited the Arab Women's Union Society, which runs an orphanage for girls (ages 6-20). Many of the girls are not only orphans, but have been further stigmatized because their mothers were executed for being collaborators with Israel. Having a parent who was killed for being a collaborator with Israel is a serious stigma. But their mothers were not willing collaborators. Most likely, these women become involved in affairs with men before or outside of marriage, which is a serious offense in Muslim society. Israel uses evidence against them (e.g., photos or video) to blackmail them into giving them information about the community. The woman often feels as if she has no choice: she can be shamed in front of the Muslim community or give information to Israel. Either way, she will suffer and her children as well. The children of these women are shunned forever, and many of them were living in this orphanage. They were very sweet young women, who gave me lunch (watching my every bite), and then taking me to their common room for an "American" dance party.
Saturday, May 29, 2010
Friday, May 28, 2010
Much of the area of the South Hebron Hills has been confiscated illegally by the Israeli government and illegally by Israeli settlers to build the growing settlements of Carmel, Ma'on, and Otniel. Avichai told me about his training, which carried an overtone of treating all Palestinians as potential "terrorists", even if they had not committed any offense. He also said that his main job was to protect the settlers, even though they are living illegally on Palestinian land. Avichai introduced me to Yassir, a Palestinian resident of the village Susiya, who told the story of his village (consisting of tents and small caves) being destroyed by the settlers during the heat of July one year. The Red Crescent Society came and provided them with more tents, which were only large enoughfor the children to stay in. But the Israeli civil administrators came and confiscated the tents saying they were illegal. When the villagers sought shelter in the shade of the olive trees, the military came and chopped down their olive trees. When they went to stay with the shepherds and their herd, the military came and blared their sirens so the herd would scatter in fear. I was moved to tears when he said, "We have only tents and caves - they are nothing - and they want to destroy it all." [See the photo of Yassir's home consisting of tents, with the Israeli settlement - red-roofed homes - in the distance behind it.] Unfortunately, stories like this are not uncommon.
Friday, May 21, 2010
Today, I also visited the village of Sebastia, about 15K from Nablus, on the road to Jenin. My guide, Hassanein, told me the following story: "Archaeological evidence proves the site was Chalcolithic Period. In the 12th century BC, a small city grew up which acquired its economic and political power in the 9th century BC, when it became the capital of the Kingdom of Israel (or Samaria). King Omri, sixth king of the kingdom, elevated Samaria to his capital, open to the estern mediterranean cultural sphere. The influence of the Phoenician cities made itself felt in all aspects of life: material, culture, commerce, and religion. Threatened by the rise of Assyria, King Omri cemented an alliance by marrying his son Ahab to Jezabel, a princess from the powerful Phoenician city of Tyre. Ahab erected a temple to her gods, Baal and Astarte, in the city, thus infuriating the Judaeans who condemned this act as the work of an infidel. They looked upon the Assyrian conquest by the troops of Sargon II of the Kingdom of Israel in 721 BC as a divine punishment. The city regained its status as a provincial capital during the Persian period. In 331 BC, Alexander the Great made it a Greek settlement; the city was under Hellenistic cultural influence until its destruction by John Hyrcanus in 108 BC. Herod, the right-hand man in palestine of the Roman Empire, rebuilt the city on the model of the Greek polis, or city. He renamed it Sebaste (Augustus the Greek), in honor of the Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus (27BC - 14AD). In the second century AD, Emperor Septimus Severus conferred on Sebaste city status with all the pertainingprivileges. As the popularity of Christianity grew in the 4th century, this former center of Graeco-Roman paganism went into permanent decline."
I was especially interested in the recent history of Sebastia. Currently, the site of the ruins in considered Area C, which means it's under full Israeli occupation, and the town is considered Area B, which means its under Palestinian civil control and Israeli military control. (In contrast, Nablus is an Area A, under full Palestinian civil and military control, with no Israeli allowed to enter.) It seems like Israel has complete control of all of these historical sites around Palestine, which is where a lot of tourists come. The owner of the Palestinian cafe, where we had lunch, said that he wants to expand his business (put a roof on the cafe, and create wash rooms) but he is not allowed, because his cafe is in Area C. Another interesting thing is that the ruins (and the towns) are covered with graffiti, much of which expresses anger against the occupation. For example, in the Byzantine Church of St. John, where John the Baptist's head is supposedly buried, there are many blue Stars of David spray-painted on the ancient stones on the ground. These were painted on the ground by Palestinians to symbolize "stepping on" the State of Israel. In the Old City, there are Stars of David on almost every corner, some with a line through it, others as a part of an anti-occupation sentiment in Arabic, and others supporting the DFLP (Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine). Some of the translations I have made read: "Together we get freedom," and "Those believers who feel God in their hearts, keep our promise with him and say the right thing."
I visited the Samaritan village on the top of Mount Gezerim, guided by Husne Kahim (pictured below), the Samaritan's high priest and 163rd descendent of Adam (and he has the framed family tree to prove it). Nablus is the home to one of the world's last Samaritan communities. Samaritans are one of the world's smallest communities, numbering about 725 people (as compared to 146 in 1917). At it's peak, the Samaritans numbered over a million followers in the fifth and fourth centuries BC.
Their religious observances cement cohesion of the community and are strictly defined, with no tolerance for breaches. Women are particularly affected by laws to ensure their purity; they are not permitted to participate in any ordinary activity for seven days during their menstrual cycle or after their have give birth (40 days if the baby is a boy and 80 days if the baby is a girl).
They hold three passports: Israeli, Palestinian, and Jordanian. Samaritans believe that Mount Gezerim was not only the first piece of land ever created, but it was also the land out of which Adam was made, the only place spared in the great flood and the place where Abraham went to sacrifice his son (opposing the common belief that this took place in Jerusalem). Their small population, coupled with their refusal to accept converts, has caused a history of genetic disease. A Samaritan male may do so on the condition that his future wife convert and submit to a six-month trial period under the direction and supervision of a priest who decides in the end if the marriage may take place. The Samaritan High Priest said this process has been been done with 25 Jewish, 3 Muslim and 5 Christian women. However, there are few non-Samaritan women who want to live segregated on top of a mountain in the middle of Palestine.
Thursday, May 20, 2010
with the children after. After a debriefing with the children, they decided to perform a reprisal in which the soldiers were much less violent, and instead formed a barrier of interlinking arms across the stage not allowing the other children to pass from one side to another. This reiteration illustrated the current occupation in a very poignant way, as mobility is greatly restricted; however, the first performance was not forgotten.
Monday, May 17, 2010
Saturday, May 15, 2010
Many Palestinian adults express a palpable hopelessness that is heartbreaking. When I asked one successful administrator from An Najah University what he thought about a solution to the conflict, he told me, "There is no solution. There is no future. There is only the present. That's why I won't get married. I don't want my children to live in this." Since I have arrived the city has been in a constant state of reconstruction and improvement, rebuilding damaged buildings and the sprouting of new commerce. When I expressed my amazement to some residents of Nablus about the growth of the city, so soon after hostilities have died down, they said that people are trying to rebuild as quickly as possible before another rise in conflict begins. However, I think of all of the investment in children's programs as hope for the future. The West Bank has a great number of programs just for children and youth, which proves that there is some hope for the future, despite the persistent hopelessness felt by many adults.
Today, I visited Balata Refugee camp, which is the largest refugee camp in the West Bank, home to 25,000 refugees, some who have been there since it was created in 1953. With 75% of Balata's refugee population under 18-years-old, there are numerous programs for children and youth.
In Witness in Palestine, Anna Baltzer writes: "Balata sees more violence and incursions than most other places in Palestine, which is evident as you walk through the camp. There are bullet holes in every house, school, and store. The children are tougher than those in other Palestinian communities, and their parents are more suspicious. But the barrier is easily broken with a little Arabic and indication of solidarity" (p.47).
Their resilience is illustrated in the colorful graffitti marking the concrete walls around the camp: "Boycott Israel, Free Palestine," and "Love Palestine, Hate Racism, 1 People, 1 World!" The alleys between the UN-constructed 4-story buildings were tiny – just a few feet across, windows into dark rooms facing each other, so everything said in one house is heard in the next.
Nablus hosted a photo exhibit to com- memorate 62 years since Al-Naqba, or "The Catastro- phe". After a variety of partition plans, even proposals to transfer the Palestinian Arab population, on November 29, 1947, the UN General Assembly approved a partition plan - Resolution 181. Although Jewish people owned 6.5% of Palestinian land in private or collective property holdings, the Jewish state was awarded 56.5% of the territory of Palestine, and the Arab state was awarded 42.9% in the UN partition plan. Thus began the Arab-Israeli war, which brought independence for Israel and "catastrophe' for Palestinians. At the start of the 1948 war, 940,000 Palestinians lived in what was to become Israel. By the end of the war, 150,000 Palestinians remained in areas under Israeli control. Though israeli prime minister David Ben-Gurion frequently said, "Israel did not expel a single Arab," it is clear that many were forced to leave by Israeli military units.
Friday, May 14, 2010
I am now in beautiful Nablus, nestled between Mount Ebal to the north and Mount Gerizim to the south. Today, Friday, is a day of rest, so I spent the day catching up on reading and writing. Walking the empty streets, I notice relics of the city's violent past: some windows punctured with bullets and streets lined with peeling posters of Palestinian martyrs. Contrary to the Western media's depiction, every person killed in the conflict (whether a combatant or a civilian) receives a tribute poster. Nablus was the focus of repeated Israeli incursions during the second Intifada (meaning "shaking off"), when Israeli planes, tanks, and bulldozers targeted the city, killing dozens of civilians and damaging or destroying about 700 buildings. In fact, today is Yom Ha'Atzmaut (Independence Day in Israel) or Al-Naqba ("The Catastrophe" in Palestine), and to remind the city's inhabitants, the Israeli military flew several planes over the city in the morning, breaking the sound barrier. I can see the Israeli army has set up posts in the mountains surrounding the city, and often Palestinians in Nablus will tell me that they always feel as if "we being watched by Israel". During my first evening here, a gentleman sent a plate of fruit to my dinner table and introduced himself as Professor Sa'ed Jamal Abu Hijleh, a Palestinian poet/human geographer/political science professor/radio host/bogger. I don't usually accept fruit from strangers, but I trusted my instincts, and Sa'ed has become a great resource here in Nablus. Despite his exuberant activism, Professor Sa'ed Jamal Abu Hiljeh became extremely emotional when he started to tell me when his mother was killed by Israeli soldiers. In 2002, the 61-year-old grandmother was sitting on her front porch embroidering, when Israeli soldiers opened fire upon them killing her and injuring her husband. There is a memorial website for her here.