Sunday, December 30, 2007

A gift

Usually, someone who returns from making the hajj brings gifts for his family, friends and neighbors, an expensive custom it seems to me. I had hoped that my sister in law could bring me a copy of the Saheeh International translation of the meaning of the Qur'an with her when she went this year, but for some reason they didn't give her a visa. Her son did get his visa in time, and he gave my husband an Arabic Qur'an that was published here when he returned.

Have you ever seen a Qur'an with a picture on the cover? It has a picture of Masjid al Aqsa on the front cover, and the Dome of the Rock on the back cover. "Mushaf Masjid al Aqsa" is written on the cover, in calligraphy that is difficult for me to read. This Qur'an with it's shiny cover with a picture on it looks so different from every other Qur'an I have seen, that I don't think it is immediately obvious that it is a Qur'an.

My kids noticed that the script in it is a little larger than the Qur'an I use, so they handed it over to me. I am always looking for one with big script since I often read a little bit with out my glasses right after prayers. I am just learning Arabic; don't think I am good at it. The printing is nice. There was also a prayer rug that is padded, which my kids also immediately handed over to me, since I have trouble with my knees. My goodness I sound old! Padded prayer rugs and large print Qur'ans.

In Bloom, Dec. 30, 2007

Whenever I am stressed and depressed, I go look at the flowers in my garden.It's as if Allah is showing me that no matter how bad things seem, there is always beauty if you look for it. Sometimes you just have to ignore all the crap and garbage in life, and focus on the beauty.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

DSL dependance

My youngest had a math exam today, and last night, about 10 minutes after he was supposed to be in bed, he announced that his protractor was broken, and he needed one for the test. Typical. We searched the house, but couldn't find another one. What to do? It's not like I could just jump in the car and go buy one. No stores around here would be open at 9:30 at night, and besides, we have no car. So what did I do? I went on line and downloaded one, naturally. I found several, and luckily I had a few sheets of plastic for overhead projector transparencies, so I printed one and cut it out. Problem solved. What would I do without the internet?

It seems like almost every time I have a problem, I go look for the solution online. When I need the latest news, I go online. Want to talk to friends? Online. Need a recipe? Online. Want to listen to Qur'an? Online. Feel homesick? Go online. Need to learn Arabic? Look online. Want to watch the latest movies out in the American cinemas? Well, I heard that you can do that online. I seriously don't know how I used to manage without the internet. According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistices, as of 2006, only 15.9% of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have internet access at home, and only 32.9% of homes have a computer. In fact, only slightly over half of homes here have a land line phone. So I know I am one of the privileged few. We actually have 2 computers in our house. One of them is a Pentium 1 I put together from a pile of discarded computers, but it works!

But the coolest thing that the internet has done for me is to let me talk to you, who ever you are, where ever you are. Thanks for listening.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

more walking

Here is that hill I climbed yesterday. I walked along the road on the other side of the highway today. From this side I could finally see East Jerusalem . That's Beit Hanina.There are a lot of walls all over the West Bank, not just the "Apartheid Wall" variety. There are walls around everyone's property, and retaining walls built to create terraces on the hill sides for farming. These walls were in an empty area. It didn't look like anyone had farmed this land in ages. I wonder how long ago they were built? It could have been 50 years, or a couple hundred. Think how much work was involved in carrying each one of those rocks and setting it in place. I kind of have a fascination for the rocks and the rock walls. Well, if you are going to live in Palestine, you may as well like rocks. There certainly are a lot of them!
I promised some prettier pictures yesterday, so I walked to a valley where another group of bedu have settled.
I did not alter the colors in these pictures, the grass is really that brilliant green. We don't have rain here all summer, and once it begins to rain in the fall, the dry land begins to spring to life.
There were 2 donkeys wandering around in the field.Can you see the bedu homes in the back? They sort of blend into the landscape.My other fascination is with the olive trees. I love it when they are old and gnarled. These aren't too old.
While I was looking for the best shot of the olive trees, I suddenly realized that there were camels! I have never seen anyone here actually use a camel for transportation, so I assume these were being raised for the meat. It is expensive. I couldn't get close to get a better picture, and unfortunately, it was also the last picture before my camera's memory was filled.
Obviously I am not working with a high quality camera, and it only holds 11 pictures at it's best resolution. Oh, well. Another day, inshaAllah.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The end of the road

It was bright and sunny today, and much warmer outside than in the house, so I decided to take a walk. The village I live in has been almost completely surrounded by Israel's wall. They cut off every old road out of our area and built a new road to Ramallah for us, and then put a checkpoint on it. So there are just 4 villages in our open air prison, and a couple twenty-something soldiers guard the entrance day and night.

This road used to be the main road out of our area, and then after the intifada started, they blocked all the other roads, so it became the only road out. Now the road dead ends at the wall. The sign over the road says "Bir Nabala Welcomes You," although this was the end of Bir Nabala. The other side says "have a safe trip," or something like that. They put the sign up backwards! No matter, almost no one sees it now.
If you walk around the wall to the right, you see what is left of one of the buildings that was in the way of the wall.
I decided to walk along the wall, up the hill, to see if I could still get a glimpse of East Jerusalem.
Many Bedu (beduin) families still live in the open areas between the villages, but they are running out of space. Between the wall and the "Israelis only" highway, They have a lot less room to move around in.
It will be about 40F/4C tonight. I hope they are warm enough. I know the pictures are small, but you can see that this is where they live; you can see the line of laundry. The wall that goes across the picture below is the "Israelis only" road.
This is the view of Bir Nabala from the top of the hill. I had my back against The Wall when I took the picture, and that's the "Israelis only" Road in the valley. It looks kind of pretty from up here.On the other side of this wall, it's considered Jerusalem.

Here is where the "Israelis only" road meets "The Wall." On the other side of The Wall is Atarot, where the Israelis are considering building a new settlement. They are talking about 10,000 flats, for Orthodox Jews, in an area between East Jerusalem and Ramallah, completely surrounded by Palestinian neighborhoods. All the neighborhoods you see in the picture below are Palestinian, and all are on land occupied in 1967. Atarot is currently an industrial zone.
Can you see the tower in the picture above near where the road meets "The Wall?" Here is the same area, so you can see how high the road was built above the neighborhood it runs through. There was a shallow valley there before. Do you think they are trying to tell us they don't want the likes of us on their road?
Thanks for taking a walk with me. Next time I will try to find some prettier pictures.

Monday, December 24, 2007

winter's flowers

It's so cheerful to see flowers in the winter.

These are Rosemary flowers. I love having herbs fresh from the garden.


Ha'aretz article " Meanwhile, in the West Bank"

By Gideon Levy

Don't let the quiet fool you: It is imaginary. While all eyes are on Gaza, the impression has been created, under the aegis of a media turning a blind eye, that the West Bank is quiet. That's where the "good guys" are in charge, those with whom we went to Annapolis, those who will be getting the money from the donor nations, and life there is great, so it seems.

Well, that is not the case. The lives of the Palestinians in the West Bank are also intolerable, blood is being shed there too. For the Israel Defense Forces it is business as usual, with a frighteningly quick finger on the trigger. The spirit of Annapolis and the lofty words of the prime minister do not prevail there.

I have visited quite a few mourners' homes in the West Bank in recent months. They were all mourning family members who had been killed for no reason. Every week, innocent people are killed in the West Bank, and nobody talks about them. Among the dozens of Palestinians killed recently, not all were Qassam launchers or gang leaders from Gaza. If a new uprising erupts in the West Bank one day, it will originate in these mourners' homes.

The daily routine in the West Bank is also patently inhumane. The night I spent last summer in the Jenin refugee camp brought that home to me: The IDF enters the camp every night, and even when it does not kill, it strikes great terror in the hearts of thousands of families, who are the victims of anxiety. There are few Israelis who can imagine the daily routine of West Bank residents, during the day and even more so at night. And we have not said a word about the poverty, the roadblocks and the home demolitions.

The story of the recent killings in the West Bank is not on our agenda, because so far the Palestinians there have not responded with attacks in retaliation for these deaths. But it is not certain that this quiet will continue.

Adib Salim, paralyzed on his right side, sold lupini beans. When the IDF conducted one of its raids on Nablus he dared to stick his head out. The soldiers killed him. The IDF Spokesman claimed that he threatened to shoot at the soldiers, but the paralyzed bean seller was totally incapable of doing so.

Abdel Wazir, the 71-year-old cousin of the legendary Abu Jihad, was a retired accountant. He spent a terrifying night in his home: for hours the soldiers fired next to his window, while he sat with his wife on the sofa, both of them incapacitated by fear. When the order to go outside was heard, he left his house and was immediately shot dead.

Jihad Shaar, 19, was making his way from his village, Tekua, in order to register for university. Soldiers killed him for an unexplained reason with cudgel blows and kicks, while he was waiting at the bus stop. The IDF Spokesman said that the soldiers "behaved appropriately."

Mohammed Salah was a Palestinian policeman, after years of working as a tiler in the settlements. On duty, he stopped a suspicious Palestinian commercial van, which had tried to avoid the Palestinian checkpoint in Bethlehem. Salah opened the door, suspecting that the van was carrying stolen merchandise, and the IDF undercover soldiers inside shot him to death. The IDF Spokesman claimed that he tried to shoot at the soldiers, but all the eyewitnesses have rejected this version out of hand.

Firas Kaskas went for a nature hike near Ramallah, accompanied by his brother and his brother-in-law. When they noticed a herd of gazelles running down to the wadi, they stood to watch. The soldiers who suddenly appeared shot him from afar, without warning. The IDF Spokesman claimed that the soldiers thought that he was placing an explosive device in the heart of the nature reserve.

All these people were killed by the IDF in recent weeks, for no reason. Add to them Mohammed Askar from Saida, who was shot at close range during riots at Ketziot Prison; Kamela Kabha of Bartaa, an elderly woman whose son tried to rush her to the hospital in Jenin and was delayed at the Reihan checkpoint for three hours, until she died in his arms, and other incidents of killing, and you will get the true picture of Israel's "peace efforts."

And we haven't even mentioned the construction in the settlements.

Saturday, December 22, 2007


I moved to Palestine the first time just before the first intifada began. My mother used to watch the news, and ask me to come back to America, "where it is safe." After a year, we did move back to the US, and we eventually ended up in Los Angeles. There we dealt with the Northridge earthquake and the riots, and each time, my mother-in-law asked us to please come back to Jerusalem, "where it is safe!"

"Safe" is a very relative term.

I know my family worries about my safety here. And although I try to act as cool as a local, my stomach still gives a lurch of fear every time I have to pass soldiers at a checkpoint. But I mostly stay in Palestinian areas where I feel safe and secure. The area I live in basically has no police. It is one of those "area C" zones where Israel has "security control," and the Palestinian Authority is in charge of schools and garbage collection. The Palestinian police have to get permission from the Israelis to enter, and the Israelis rarely enter for ordinary law-and-order type policing. If a couple guys get into a fight, no one calls the cops; the neighbors and family take care of it. If there is a dispute, it is the neighbors and family again. If there are some robberies, the neighbors look out for each other. But mostly, it's quiet. There is way less crime than you might expect considering there are no police, although I did hear that there are drug dealers here who have taken advantage of the lack of police.

If you talk to older Palestinians, they will tell you about the "good old days" when no one felt the need to lock their doors. But even now, there is a remarkable amount of trust. On the third day of the Eid, I went out with my kids to an arcade in a little mall in Ramallah. It was still Eid and also a Friday, so most of the shops were closed. On the first floor of the mall, there were about 10 shops, and only one of them was open. The shop in the picture was closed, and it didn't look like it was going to open that day. The owner had left a large display of merchandise, costume jewelry and hair ornaments and such, sitting outside of the shop, just covered with a blanket. My daughter thought I was a little crazy wanting to take a picture of a closed shop, but I thought it was one of the nicest things I had seen all day. The building was full of kids in the arcade downstairs, and this shop was right there on the main floor, easily accessible from the street. But all those easily shoplifted items were safe and secure, nobody bothered them except one odd ajnabiya who took their picture.

I am a little late saying it, but I hope everyone who reads this has had a wonderful Eid holiday and may the next year bring you everything good.

In Palestine, the first day of the Eid is usually spent visiting with relatives. The men of the family go out and visit the female members of the family, and give out presents of cash to all the women and children. Because the families are so big, each visit is fairly short. The women all prepare their sitting rooms with fruits, sweets, nuts and seeds for snacking on, and have coffee and juices ready to offer any visitor. Each lady tries to stuff her visitors with the treats she has prepared, and the men arrive home in the evening stuffed, buzzed from too many cups of strong Arabic coffee, and considerably poorer.
Our house is considerably quieter than other people's houses on Eid. Since I am ajnabiya (foriegn), I don't have any family to visit my kids and I. My husband's family comes, but the last few years it has gotten much harder for them to visit. They all live in Jerusalem, but we live just out side the wall around Jerusalem, so instead of taking 5 or 10 minutes to get here, it can take an hour.
Many families go on some sort of a trip on the second or third day of the Eids. We hadn't gone on one of these trips for years, but last Eid we went to Jericho, and it was wonderful. Maybe I will make another post about that later. This Eid, I took some of the kids for a day out in Ramallah. They played in an arcade, shopped a little, tried "cheese steak" for the first time, bought yet another game for the computer, and ate donuts. Not a big deal, but the best we could do.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

A little perspective

For the last two weeks, I have been stressing out over the idea of my oldest daughter getting engaged. Every fiber of my being resists the idea that my little girl is one day going to move away from me. To be honest, when she does get married, she wont really be moving too far away. It's only a couple of miles "as the crow flies." Unfortunately, I can't fly over the walls and checkpoints as well as the crow. So there have been a few tears on my part at the thought of losing my little girl.

Today, the bus that my daughter was coming home from college in was involved in an accident. She was knocked out of her seat, but a quick thinking young man grabbed the back of her jacket and kept her from falling face first into the front of the bus. May Allah subhana wa ta'ala give that young man every good in this life and the next! Alhamdulillah, she was shaken up, but unhurt.

Sometimes I wish I could keep my kids little and close to me, away from the big bad world and all the bad things that could happen to them. But I know I have to accept Allah's qadr for us and be grateful for having them in my life. I still hope to see her finish college before she gets married, but now I realize that having my daughter marry a nice young man and move to the next village really isn't losing her.

Thursday, December 13, 2007


We had the wierdest weather this morning. Many times we have fog first thing in the morning, but it usually burns off early. But today it lasted until the sun was high in the sky and everything looked eerie in the bright mist.

So I decided to try and snap a few pictures to see if I could capture the mood.

A way to spoil a lovely day

Yesterday I went to Ramallah to do some pre-Eid shopping with my daughter. I meant to take my camera, just in case, but of course I forgot it. The streets busy and full of shoppers, but one of the first things we noticed was that all of the traffic police were female. About a month ago, a new class of female police recruits graduated, after their EU provided training. My daughter thought they looked "cute" in their uniforms. They wore bright blue shirts, un-tucked, with wide black belts over them, black pants tucked into heavy boots and black berets. Some of them wore scarves under the berets, and others had long, loose hair. They seemed to be having a bit of trouble convincing some people that they actually had to wait to cross the road. Central Ramallah always seemed like a free-for-all to me, with people wandering through the traffic, so it looked like a step in the right direction. Then there was a parade, with dozens of school children waving flags and a marching band. After the parade the kids passed out little papers, explaining that in a civil society, people had respect for rules, and that the police were there to provide safety and order. It was kind of cute and funny at the same time.

I planned to come home and write about how unfamiliar a concept it seemed to be for Palestinians to wait in a straight orderly line, especially for the older women. I was in a pleasant mood and at peace with everything around me, wanting to poke a little fun at the society around me, but still loving it. The only problem was that I wanted a picture to go with my little story, so I thought I might find one online. I didn't find one of the local kids, so I thought I would look for one of the female police. The first one I found was on a blog that was ridiculing them. And the post had hundreds and hundreds of comments. Nearly all of them were painful to read, and I sat and read almost every one. I shouldn't have, it was ugly, but I just couldn't turn away. They attacked and defamed this culture and these people in every way they could. They confused aspects of other Arab and Islamic cultures, and reworked every ugly stereotype. There were even a few comments on how Palestinians were all married to their cousins and inbred, which hit a particular sore spot for me. They had a party trying to see who could be the nastiest and ugliest. I finally went to bed, sad and discouraged. I seriously can't understand how there can be so much hate in this world. It oozes all over the place and spoils every thing it touches.

So no pictures. And it was such a pretty, cheerful day.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

I wish I wrote this...

and I am glad I read it.

From Br. Naeem's Blog
The Test of Faith

Honey and onions

When we moved here 13 years ago, I learned an old Arabic saying;

Hayk ad-dunya, marra 'asal wa marra basal.

"This is life, one time honey and one time onions."

I don't want this blog to only be about the bad things that happen here. Sometimes you get bad times, and sometimes good. I love to look at the land and landscapes here, and my garden has been a source of comfort and inspiration for me when times seemed depressing.

I am originally from Western Pennsylvania, where winters are cold and snowy, so I always revel in the fact that I can have flowers here all year. It sometimes snows in late January or February, but there is still usually something blooming quickly when it melts. I miss the mountains full of red and gold leaves in the fall, but I have a plum tree by my kitchen window that turns a lovely red to remind me of home.

The rains last week knocked the last of the pretty leaves to the ground, but they also started the growth of all the weeds. It doesn't rain here in the summer, and most of the native annual plants grow in the winter and spring. I absolutely love wildflowers, and if I keep up with this blog, inshaAllah, I will probably post many pictures of my favorite "weeds". One of the loveliest is the wild cyclamen, which is starting to put out it's pretty variegated leaves. And there is clover all over the place, which will have wonderful yellow flowers in a couple months.

These pretty purple flowers have just started blooming,
And the geraniums and these cheerful yellow flowers whose names I have forgotten are also blooming.

Bored yet? I have flowers in the house too!

Who is obsessed? There are more, but that is enough for tonight.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

"Change cast in concrete"

This New York Times article illustrates the situation we are in with the wall. There is a video with the article that even shows our neighborhood. I wish I could embed the video here, but I don't know how to do it when it is from the New York Times.

The video explains that it is all to protect Israel from terrorism. Of course they don't mention that if a strong, able bodied terrorist wanted to get around the barriers, he probably still can. People do it every day, as explained in Lawrence of Cyberia's great post
One Thousand, Two Hundred And Seventy-Six People Per Week. (I also have no clue how the "trackback"stuff works. I am such a newb!) But it sure makes life hell for average men, women and children who just want to go to work or school, or even visit with their families. Oh, and they also have a guy from a settlement explaining how they need the wall to protect them because the communities are so close. No mention of how the settlement itself is illegal.

I guess now is an appropriate time to mention that I think that the suicide bombings of buses and shopping malls are immoral, and I am glad they aren't happening anymore. But I seriously don't think that the wall is going to make Israelis any safer in the long run. They might say "Good fences make good neighbors," but not when you build the fence through your neighbor's front lawn!

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Hello? Is anyone out there?

I have been thinking of starting a blog for ages. I think I have had a blog in my head all my life. I am always looking around me, thinking how I would describe things around me , how I would photograph them, but never doing it. All plans and no follow through. InshaAllah, maybe I will follow through this time.

Of course I wonder why anyone would want to read the wanderings of my mind. Maybe it doesn't matter. Maybe just doing it is what counts. Maybe just the act of trying to climb out of my shell, over the walls that separate me from other people is what I need.

There are times when I think that other people would have been interested in my stories. I should have started blogging when things were "interesting" here; on the days when I stood on my roof watching Israeli helicopters fire rockets into Ramallah, or when my kids and I got tear gassed while we were out shopping for shoes, or when APCs (anti personel carriers, like tanks without the big gun on top) used to drive past our house. InshaAllah, I hope things won't become that kind of "interesting" again anytime soon. But now this day to day struggle goes on in another way. The area where we live is being completely surrounded by the wall. "The Wall." There is only one way out, into the rest of the West Bank, through a checkpoint. Our house used to be near a main thoughfare, but now we are near the end of the road. All the shops are closing, because there is no traffic anymore. Sometimes kids play in what used to be a busy street. No one wants to visit any more because it is such a hassle to get here.

And I go on the internet, to try and reassure my self that somewhere out there, some people are still living "normal" lives.

(AP Photo/Nasser Ishtayeh)