baha’a would approve i suspect. and i am kicking myself for not taking a photograph for him. first thing you have to know is that palestinians are famous for their hospitality. but second thing you must know is that palestinian grandparents up the ante quite a bit in the hospitality department. yesterday for the eid feast my friend’s grandma cooked–i kid you not–an entire crate of meat. i so wish i had taken a before an after photograph. i’ve never seen that much meat before in my life in one house. i joked that it was enough to feed an army. and she promised me that it would–and indeed it did. the family who came over for the feast was quite large and hungry for the delicious meal. they joked that the holiday should be called “eid el lahma” (which rhymes with eid al adha the name of the real holiday) because of all the meat sacrificed and consumed (lahma = meat).
after the feast last night we went to my friend’s grandfather’s village, neen, which is about thirty minutes away from nasra. on the highway we drove on to get there we passed by olive groves that belong to my friend’s family–on both sides of the highway. but the israelis confiscated all of the land on one half of the highway and on the land where they can still harvest their olive trees a mcdonald’s went in on their land. this is where you turn onto one of the village roads to get to their family’s homes. the first thing you notice about the roads is that they are instantly bumpy compared to the roads on the highways that take you through israeli settlements. this is something one also notices in the west bank: bumpy roads in nablus instantly turn into well-paved roads the moment one gets near an illegal settlement like ariel. i didn’t have a good sense of the village as we only went to visit and eat even more food (which i so wish baha’a was there to share with us…) but my friend’s extended family is lovely and very talented. so many people in her family are artistically inclined. this village of neen is famous because it is believed to be the place where jesus brought back a woman’s sixteen-year-old son back to life.
i woke up this morning still in a bit of a food coma from the amazing feast that never ended the previous evening. the morning was beautiful, filled with rain and a moody looking sky, which made the ground look so much more green. we piled in two cars today to head for ras al naqoura as they call it here or naqoura as they call it in lebanon. this is the same site where lebanese prisoners were exchanged this past summer and where the bodies of resistance fighters were brought home (though ironically some were brought in the wrong direction as here in palestine is where many of the bodies should have remained buried). as we drove through various villages we followed two different maps: one in hebrew (a fascinating map given the amount of territory that is not considered palestine nor israel that it includes in its borders) and the other in english of an nakba locating all of the original palestinian villages. the first one we marked on the map was al jadeida, the village where palestinian poet mahmoud darwish grew up because as a “present absentee” he and his family were not allowed to live in their village of al birwa after israel colonized and conquered it. we saw signs for al birwa, but it was in the wrong direction so we did not drive past it. then as we were driving along i noticed a church on the side of the road. we turned down the street to find not only an old palestinian church, but also a mosque, and two homes. we looked at the map and figured that this was the palestinian village of al bassa. all of these buildings are abandoned, though we could walk into the mosque and look around. the homes and the church were locked up.
we drove up to naqoura after our little detour and found a very tiny space with a magnificent view of the sea from high atop a cliff. although it started pouring rain on us it was really beautiful–particularly the colors of the sea that the grey sky brought out. it was strikingly civilian-esque given the fact that we were standing on the lebanese-palestinian border, which is, of course, controlled by israeli terrorist forces (itf). there are signs in english “welcoming” you, though it seems the only people welcome to cross the border are the itf. it looks rather different than the border did when the british controlled it (compare the above photographs).
we didn’t stay long at naqoura, partially because there isn’t much to see other than the view, partially because a bus full of jewish school children arrived, and partially because the rain was intense. in any case, we had more to see. one of my friends who i smuggled out of the west bank for this trip has never been outside the west bank in her life. she is a palestinian refugee who has never even seen the sea let alone her own village, which is only a few kilometers away from beit lahem. so it was important that we continue driving along. one of the friends who joined us today from nasra is an architect who knows a lot about palestinian architectural history and planning, which is just the sort of person you want to travel with when you are looking for palestinian villages that are sometimes quite hard to find. one of those villages she knew about, but we couldn’t get close to is al zeeb. this village is on the sea, but there is some sort of israeli water park/club med thing that blocks it off, at least in the winter, from allowing people to go inside to check out the village. but we did catch a view of it from the sea road and it looks remarkable–remarkable given how in tact it seems to be. if you look closely at the photograph below you can see the village–a grouping of homes and such to the left of the sea shore.
our next little find was right along the highway driving south to akka. it is obvious given its size and length. it is in a place called kabri springs and it is an aqueduct built by suleiman pasha to send water to akka. it was partially destroyed by napolean, but as you can see it is standing still today nevertheless.
this aqueduct is something you see right before hitting the bahai gardens about 2.5 km north of akka. we were passing by and decided to go to the bahai gardens. there were many pilgrims there (many i noticed with an american accent, too). they were there to pray at a shrine to baha’u’allah who is the founder of the bahai faith and he was buried there after he died in 1892. i am not a huge fan of gardens i have to say before i proceed. i find them to be a waste of space. i much prefer gardens that yield fruit and vegetables (plus lovely flowers), but acres upon acres of grass (which also wastes tons of water) is neither beautiful nor spiritual (and supposedly we were in some sort of spiritual space). to be fair there were some orange trees lining the paths, but in general it was a lot of grass and a lot of wasted space (and i suspect wasted water). this mansion and its gardens takes up 50 acres of land right outside akka. and i just couldn’t help thinking about how many palestinians could live on that land? how could they make better use of that land and that space?
my friends told me that the bahai faith places a premium on beauty. but i really have a problem with a faith that doesn’t place a premium on human life or on life more generally. those who are living here and now. we were standing on the land of a 50 acre space dedicated to a person who is dead. what sort of respect or land is given to palestinians who are living right here and now? palestinians in 1948 can barely find spaces to bury their dead let alone make room for growing, living families. and just to be sure: i’m not picking on bahai. i think that all religious people share this problem to a certain degree.
the real beauty came as we approached akka. the rain had stopped, or at least became more of a drizzle. and the sun peaked through for a few minutes before setting. this is what we saw as we approached the sea.
(ps: friends may see many more photos on facebook.)