Where to begin. It’s impossible to take in all the changes to Falasteen that have occurred over the last year. The settlements are growing at an astonishing rate. Around Beit Lahem Gilo on the one side and Efrat on the other are hovering over the area. I spent last night driving around Beit Lahem, Beit Sahour, and Beit Jala with a friend of mine for hours and hours. We probably could have reached the Lebanese border if we were not trapped inside the prison that is Beit Lahem. When we drove around the back of Deheishe refugee camp we could see the lights of Efrat and the Israeli occupation forces military compound that lies on the edge of this illegal Israeli settlement. Incidentally, this is where Itamar Marcus resides, the former New York Jew who has led a vigorous campaign of libelous claims about Palestinian textbooks with his sidekick Hillary Rodham Clinton; my talk at Al Quds University yesterday was about this dangerous duo. As we drove around we could see Israeli occupation forces jeeps surveilling the area deep into the night (we didn’t get home until around 1 or 2 in the morning). But this is normal here.
Things have changed at Ibdaa in Deheishe, too. There is a big new sign on the front of the building (and the new website is up and looking fabulous!) and they have a bus now to take the children to their sporting and dabke events around Falasteen, but the license plates are Palestinian so it can’t be used to take children to their villages in 1948 Palestine. And, the best thing is that the Ghassan Kanafani mural that used to be at the entrance of the camp, but was covered up by a new building a couple of years ago, is back! How much I love to see that face and all that he represents in his literature when I walk into the camp!
Things remain difficult here in a number of ways. Prices are rising for basic needs like bread, oil, and cooking gas. UNRWA has stopped its food distribution until April, except for emergency cases/hardship cases. There are issues with this and with salaries at UNRWA and there is a strike that is in process among the workers who are doing partial work stoppages daily and they are building up to a full work stoppage if they do not get their demands met by the end of 21 days.
For the past couple of days there has been no school. This started because of the fighting in Ghaza during the celebration of Yassir Arafat, commemorating the anniversary of his death. Hamas opened fire on the people in Ghaza and many people were injured. Out of fear that conflicts would break out elsewhere, universities were closed. So when I presented my paper at Al Quds University in Abu Dies the campus was empty. I was sad because I was looking forward to going up to the English department to look for former students and colleagues. But it was a ghost town. Today things were closed in general because it is Palestinian Independence Day. The most ironic holiday possible given that there is absolutely no freedom here. For anyone. Not for Palestinians in 1948 not for Palestinians trapped in this prison that is behind the Apartheid Wall.
Today I spent the afternoon searching for items requested by Palestinian friends in Beirut around Al Quds and then I went out with an old friend. He told me a disturbing story about one of my favorite poets, Mahmoud Darwish. Recently, he was drinking at the bar of one of his favorite Palestinian restaurants, Azkadunia in Al Quds. Darwish came in for lunch and ordered a bottle of wine. The waiter informed him that they had Italian, South African, and Palestinian wine, but Darwish said that he would prefer to have Israeli wine–and not just any Israeli wine! He asked for one made in the occupied Golan Heights from an illegal Israeli settlement! When the waiter said that he does not serve Israeli products in his restaurant he demanded that someone go out and purchase him a bottle of this specific wine (can’t recall the brand name). I am so shocked and disgusted by this and have lost all respect for him as a result of this story.
Speaking of the boycott, it seems that the Palestinian water company Arwa now belongs to Coca Cola, which is one of the key American products on the boycott list because of their heavy investment in the Zionist state. It seems that it’s just Eriha water that is safe to drink. The conference at Al Quds University this week seemed to think that despite the fact that there are perfectly good Palestinian water, tea, and sugar companies that they should serve Israeli versions of these items. I was so disgusted by this that I demanded they get rid of these products and bring in Palestinian ones, which they did this morning, but only the water changed. To be sure, it is a more complex process to actively participate in the boycott here because the Israelis have so infected the economy that it is a major challenge not to purchase their products. The same goes for American products. But one must resist at every opportunity and make people aware of the importance of this.
One last thing. I mentioned the new machine taking handprints in the Israeli occupation checkpoints that one must go through to go between Palestinian cities on the Green Line (or Israel’s version of it). I managed to get a picture of one tonight in the Beit Lahem checkpoint, but it’s not that easy to see. I’ll try to get a better one, but this is all I have for now. I tried earlier today, but the Israeli occupation soldiers grabbed my passport, threw it on the ground and spit on it because I was taking photographs.