services & checkpoints

Today I made the first of my pilgrimages for Palestinian friends in Lebanon. I left Beit Lahem at 8 in the morning to meet a friend in Ramallah, which did not take too long. There is one main checkpoint between Beit Lahem and Ramallah in Abu Dies, but it was early and a weekend so it was not too crowded. We met up in Manara at the center of Ramallah, which has been renovated so as to deal with crowd control. There are bars all along each sidewalk leading to the traffic circle and now there are Palestinian police who make you cross in the cross walk if you want to cross the street. We met up at Stars & Bucks, which was just opening when I left a year ago. It’s a coffee shop on the Manara, which does a brilliant job of subverting Starbucks with its logo and decor. After filling up on Arabic coffee we got on a bus headed for Jenin at 11:30 AM. There were at least a half dozen checkpoints we got held up at on the way and we didn’t arrive in Jenin, the most northern city in the West Bank, until something like 3 PM. We found out that the last service back to Ramallah left at 4 PM so we only had one hour to walk around. But it was enough to get soil for Taha and to get a sense of the main downtown area of the city. But there is a lot to see in Jenin and I really want to spend more time there. It is quite beautiful. Lots of agricultural land and beautiful mountains surrounding it. I think the city–or the vicinity–is famous for Jesus curing lepers. It also has Cananite ruins as well as so many others–Ottoman, which I saw some of, Roman, etc. A reminder that many people have come to conquer this land and they are all gone now. Insha’allah one day soon the Israelis will be gone, too.

After I got the soil, my friend and I, who is also American, got on the service back to Ramallah. The service is so much better than the bus. It’s faster for one thing (basically a shared ride on a minivan) and it’s smaller so you wind up meeting interesting people in ways that you don’t on a bus. We had on encounter that was especially interesting–a first. The norm here is that the Israeli occupation soldiers ask for the huwiyas (ID cards) of the men. At one of the many checkpoints outside of Jenin we were stopped, all the men (including my friend) were asked to get out of the van and stand on the side of the road. They had to show their IDs. And then they interrogated my friend. They then requested that I get out of the service (but not the other woman, who was Palestinian). I went over to the military Jeep and they questioned me and asked why I was in “Israel” and what I was doing there. I told them that I was in Palestine (even if you buy the bogus argument that Palestine is only the Occupied Territories behind the 1967 Green Line, we were a good 20 km from that border) visiting friends. Then they asked their usual stupid questions such as where I was from (they had my passport) and when I came (the passport has a dated visa in it) so I told them to read if they wanted to know. Afterwards we all got back in the service and went on our way through another set of 6 or 7 permanent and flying (temporary) checkpoints. The area we were in, where most of these checkpoints are, is called Area C, which is controlled by Israelis. The entire area is filled with illegal Israeli settlements, who are armed, in addition to the high military presence. Areas like Jenin are supposed to be considered Area A, meaning controlled by Palestinians, but the Area A sign as you enter Jenin had the “A” crossed out. I’m not quite sure why, but it was at an official, permanent Israeli checkpoint. Both on the way there and on the way back I saw two different areas where Palestinian olive groves were on fire. Active fires. I am not sure who set them, but it’s somewhat frequent and normal for illegal Israeli settlers to burn or poison Palestinian olive trees. We finally got back into Ramallah around 6 PM, which means I spent something like 8 hours in services today, though I met another friend for dinner in Ramallah before getting on another one to take me back to Beit Lahem.

Yesterday I spent the afternoon in Halhul, a village near Khalil (Hebron), where a friend in Boise is from. I went to get her some grape leaves to make waraq ‘aynab from her mother’s trees. I got 4 huge 2 liter bottles of them. They fed me a lovely feast and we had a wonderful time chatting, mostly in Arabic, and I think the afternoon helped me regain some of my skills as they did not speak English. Their village is beautiful and they have so many amazing fruit trees and vegetable plants. And the hills surrounding them were also beautiful. I love villages with hills, especially during the azan when you can hear the call to prayer echoing off the mountains from various mosques.

It is quite a contrast from that village to Deheishe. As is usual here, the Israeli soldiers keep coming in every night and arresting people in the wee hours of the morning. The other night outside of my friend’s house they threw stones at the street light to break them. This is what is normal here.

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