in 30 minutes, if i go by palestinian time, i will be 40 years old (probably before i finish writing this). if i go by my home town of los angeles i’ve still got about 10 hours left. in any case i suppose it is a milestone. i’m not really one to celebrate my birthday. but it does seem strange to turn 40 especially when i don’t look like i’m 40 (and often still get carded in the u.s.) and when i don’t feel like i’m 40. though today i remembered one of the ways that one knows one is getting older: you think your body can do the same things it did when you were 20 or even 30 and it just doesn’t quite work the same. you’ll see what i mean below as i explain. i went down to ramallah last night and friends took me out to dinner at darna and i had all kinds of kibbe and other yummy food, including a lovely chocolate birthday cake. i had asked an old friend of mine in ramallah if he would do something with me for my birthday (not the cake and dinner actually): i wanted him to get up at 5:30 in the morning with me to go on a hike. anyone who knows this friend (hint, hint laila) knows that it is a huge sacrifice for him to do this (he is like me, normally up until 3 or 4 am working, often falling asleep on the couch after/while working. we had been talking about doing this for a while.
raja shahedeh, the writer and lawyer who founded al haq, wrote a book a couple of years ago called palestinian walks. since writing this book–or actually before it–he started taking groups on these “walks” (having been on one now i think the name should be changed to palestinian hikes. since he is based in ramallah they seem to do these hikes around this area so they meet on friday mornings at 6:30 am in the center of ramallah. he doesn’t always come, and he did not come today, but many of his friends were there guiding us who, like shehedeh, have been hiking in these hills for at least 25 years. here is shehedeh sharing some photographs and narrating his love of hiking in palestine:
and here is an interesting report from jacky rowland on al jazeera from a couple of years ago when the book came out. she went on one of these walks with him and they encountered israeli terrorists along the way (something that happens frequently, though we did not encounter them today):
i was especially happy that we chose today to go on the hike because my birthday happens to be on the first day of spring and we have already seen a number of signs of spring in the lovely wildflowers all over palestine. but of course i knew that on foot we would see so many more varieties. after meeting up with the rest of the group in manara square we got into two services and drove for about 20 minutes to beit rima where we would begin our journey. (last night sami told me that this village is a very famous village for its communism, something one could happily glean from the graffiti on the walls.) like most of palestine the hike meant moving down into the valley and then circling around and climbing up to the top again to reach kufr ‘ain.
i had imagined that some of it would be a bit treacherous because of the rocky terrain. but little did i know how challenging some of this would be. initially it was a lovely stroll and all of us constantly stopping to take photographs of the beautiful flowers and herbs along the hillside. hanan ashrawi’s husband, emile, was on this trip with us and he is a professional photographer so he was cataloging everything. the olive trees were also amazing, of course, on so many levels as you can see from some of the shots here. one of my students is writing her research paper on the symbolism of the olive tree in palestine and something so simple struck me today as i saw some of these ancient, sturdy trees clinging to the land: one of the reasons they are such an important symbol is because they embody the steadfastness of the palestinian people. no matter what these trees are here to stay. the israeli terrorists can continue to uproot them, but palestinians will replant them again and again. and in the end the olive trees will outlive these colonists just as they outlived the british and the ottomans.
because of all the picture taking at some point our group broke into two. but our group didn’t realize it because we had a couple of the group leaders in our group. and we actually thought that we were in the middle and that part of the group was behind us. we had to catch up with them which is when the real hiking and climbing began. a lot of the time when hiking in these hills you can manage, most of the time, by doing so in an s-shape so that you follow the slope and you don’t have to climb. but because we were rushing now to catch up, we had to cut across the landscape in a way that meant we had to do some climbing. and i mean some really steep climbing. (this is when i knew my body was not quite the same any more in terms of being able to just jump or reach and climb easily with all my joints cooperating.) all of these hills are terraced with stones, as you can see in the shots showing a view. this is how palestinians have kept their olive groves for centuries. but i have a new found respect for the difficulty of doing such work now. especially since some of those terraced stones helped us climb up some very steep hills.
it took us a while to find the rest of the group. we actually had to do some extra climbing up to another mountain top to try to see the rest of the group and also to see if our voices would echo across the valley so we could find them that way. we finally found them and they had built a fire and laid out a lovely picnic spread and served tea. (the teapot was amazing–all charred and black as it has obviously been used on these hikes quite a bit.) after a rest we continued our hike. it seemed like the more we hiked the more beautiful wildflowers we discovered. and, of course, lots of za’tar and marimiyya dotted the landscape. most of us picked some to bring home to eat and drink.
the rest of the hike was not quite as treacherous as the first part–even the climb into kufr ‘ain was not too bad, not too steep. when we arrived we walked to the center of town where families were out working in their fields and on their land, where children were playing, and we caught services back into ramallah. the weather was so perfect today–not quite warm, but just right for hiking. really a beautiful day. i saw the best that spring has to offer. and despite our exhaustion (i forgot to mention that we were up until 2 am last night and woke up at 5:30 am this morning) we had an amazing time.
so now it is midnight. if i count by a palestinian clock i am 40. i did not get to celebrate my birthday with all my friends thursday night and today. mostly because even in the west bank travel is too difficult so everyone stays in their own bantustans (i actually found out that one of my students has never been to or through huwara checkpoint in her twenty years of life in nablus). if i had had birthday candles on my cake last night instead of one of those sparkler things i would have wished what i always wish for: haq al awda. for the right of return of palestinian refugees and for the liberation of their land 100%. part of this wish, i must confess, i selfish, however. i want to be able to be here in palestine with all my friends, with all the people i love from lebanon and palestine in the same room. that would be a beautiful birthday beyond my wildest dreams. to that end i have asked that if people want to give me anything for my 40th birthday i would love it if they would make a donation to the middle east children’s alliance to continue its work in refugee camps and also for the rebuilding the islamic university of gaza. to donate, please click on this link. their work to fight for the rights of refugees is unparalleled and their work is based on complete solidarity with the people; unlike most such organizations they do not treat palestinians as if they are some charity case whom the white man needs to save.
but today is not just my birthday. it is mother’s day in the arab world. it is also norooz in iran. it is also the anniversary of the american invasion of iraq. and it is also the anniversary of the sharpeville massacre in apartheid south africa:
But whatever doubts there may be of the sequence of events in those fateful minutes, there can be no argument over the devastating consequences of the action of the police on March 21, 1960, in Sharpeville. Sixty-nine people were killed, including eight women and ten children, and of the 180 people who were wounded, thirty-one were women and nineteen were children. According to the evidence of medical practitioners it is clear that the police continued firing after the people began to flee: for, while thirty shots had entered the wounded or killed from the front of their bodies no less than 155 bullets had entered the bodies of the injured and killed from their backs. All this happened in forty seconds, during which time 705 rounds were fired from revolvers and sten guns. But whatever weapons were used the massacre was horrible. Visiting the wounded the next day in Baragwanath Hospital near Johannesburg, I discovered youngsters, women and elderly men among the injured. These could not be described as agitators by any stretch of the imagination. For the most part they were ordinary citizens who had merely gone to the Sharpeville police station to see what was going on. Talking with the wounded I found that everyone was stunned and mystified by what had taken place. They had certainly not expected that anything like this would happen. All agreed that there was no provocation for such savage action by the police. Indeed, they insisted that the political organisers who had called for the demonstration had constantly insisted that there should be no violence or fighting.
haidar eid reminds us that this massacre, however, was a significant turning point to end apartheid and he connects this with the savagery in gaza, which he sees as a turning point as well (i have quoted this before a few times, click the link to see the connections between the two):
The horror of the racist apartheid regime in South Africa was challenged with a sustained campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions initiated in 1958 and given new urgency in 1960 after the Sharpeville Massacre. This campaign led ultimately to the collapse of white rule in 1994 and the establishment of a multi-racial, democratic state.
one can only hope that the end is near of the zionist entity. i just hope it is not another 30 years as it was from sharpeville to the end of apartheid. because of this anniversary it seems that my birthday is also something else that is pretty cool as outlined in this email i received from badil today:
March 21 was selected as the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination because it is the day in 1960 when police forces killed 69 people at a peaceful demonstration against the apartheid “pass law” system in Sharpeville, South Africa.
Today an equal if not more extensive pass law system dominates the Occupied Palestinian Territory. It is briefly described in a February 2009 UN report, which attests to the existence of 626 checkpoints and obstacles to movement throughout the West Bank. Israel additionally disregards the 2004 Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice calling for the dismantlement of Israel’s illegal wall, which snakes over 700 kilometers through the West Bank, stealing its natural resources and dividing Palestinian communities from one another.
Indeed, Israel’s system of racial discrimination is fundamental to the regime it has imposed on the Palestinian people. It denies the return of over seven million Palestinian refugees to the homes and lands from which they were expelled over the past sixty years despite the fact that return is a right enshrined in international law and affirmed by UN General Assembly Resolution 194 (1948) and UN Security Council Resolution 237 (1967). Meanwhile, Israel grants full citizenship to any Jewish individual through its discriminatory ‘Law of Return.’ This same regime relegates Palestinian citizens of Israel to an inferior status as the ‘non Jewish’ citizens of ‘the Jewish state.’ The effects of this discrimination include ongoing forced displacement, land confiscation, and denial of essential services such as health and education.
The UN’s Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racial discrimination, Mr. Githu Muigai recently noted that “History speaks for itself. Genocide, ethnic cleansing and other war crimes have been traditionally linked to the emergence of exclusionary ideologies based on race or ethnicity.” Zionism, the movement to create and maintain a
Jewish state on the land of Palestine, is such an ideology, systematically relegating non-Jewish Palestinians to an inferior status.
The recent brutality inflicted upon the Gaza Strip resulting in over 1,400 deaths, 5,000 injuries and 14,000 homes damaged and destroyed, is the latest manifestation of the contempt with which Palestinian life is regarded by Israel.
Perhaps more important than recollecting the extensive evidence incriminating Israel’s discrimination and its disastrous affects on the Palestinians is to shed light on the popular mobilizations fighting to counter it.
Governmental inaction towards Israel’s crimes is increasingly being met with a determined and growing popular campaign to build an international Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) movement against Israel, based upon a 2005 call by broad sectors of Palestinian civil society. Consciously using the tools of the South African anti-apartheid struggle, this
campaign seeks to make important advances at the Israel Review Conference being organized by the BDS National Committee, to be held in Geneva, Switzerland on 18-19 April, two days before the launching of the UN Durban Review Conference (See: http://israelreview.bdsmovement.net).
Now is the time for people of conscience to join arms through the struggle of BDS to ensure Israel is held accountable for its violation of Palestinian human rights. This is part of the tradition of the Montgomery Bus Boycott for civil rights in the U.S south, and the dock workers of Denmark and the U.K, who refused to handle South African cargo as an act of protest against Apartheid. From these previous people’s victories we gain inspiration knowing that no serious effort to
eliminate racial discrimination can take place on a global scale without progress on this front.
so i feel no different at 40 than 39, not that i thought i would. but as with every year of my life i feel more committed to a liberated palestine as my sole desire. i want the beauty of this land that i walked on today to be enjoyed, inhabited by the people i love in the camps in lebanon. i want all these colonies to go away, to be dismantled, including those we had to drive by on our way home (see below–including the last one, which is an “outpost,” meaning a new and growing colony for israeli terrorists). i want this land to be theirs again. from the river to the sea.