Diana, the eldest member of our group at 68, said the above while we were on our way back from supper tonight at 9, reflecting that we would have to be up and with the group at 7:30 for breakfast. God, what a trip. Combine a foreign country, not to mention a decades long conflict over the territory, with visits to incredible ancient religious sites, spice liberally with a bunch of political figureheads of the region, blend in a bowl with hours of Quaker work each morning led by the tireless Max and Jane Carter, and bake on high in sleep deprivation. This dish will give you some idea of the incredible experience!
Did I mention dishes? Once again tonight we had wonderful food. Koosamati – I’m sure I butchered the spelling – is the name of these incredible miniature sized stuffed squashes, which may have been my favorite dish so far. Grape leaves, chicken rice cheese lentil dishes, so many incredible foodstuffs. Each bite is like an explosion of flavor! I’ve never had such incredible food and so much. Tonight we ate at the Hamdan family’s household, some of you may know Dana Hamdan from Guilford – she was home, which we were unsure of and it was great to catch up with her! Her mother is an incredible cook. The view of the sunset over the hills above is from the roof of their house, which is an incredible place to sit and talk, looking out over the lights.
We didn’t do too much talking about the politics of the conflict while we were out on the roof (we talked about Guilford politics instead!) but today and yesterday have been full of talk about politics, and now that I’ve had some more chance to digest the conversations I can reflect a bit. I do need some rest, though, so this one will not be too long. Today we met with the two other founders of the BDS Movement – Hind Awwad and Fajr Harb. These two were incredible, young, and vibrant. Fajr was the first person we’ve spoke with who asked us about what our perceptions of Ramallah as Americans were, and we had a great conversation about social movements. I learned alot more about what BDS actually is. The three parts – boycotts, divestments, sanctions – amount to more or less the same thing: by making the occupation unprofitable for the companies that currently profit from it, isolate Israel economically and highlight their violations of international law and human rights violations. They spoke alot about BDS campaigns on college campuses (look up the campaign at Berkely recently for a great example that drew alot of controversy) which had me really excited about mobilizing at Guilford.
I was reflecting with Fajr that one of the most incredible things this trip has showed me is how misguided our perception of the Middle East is in America, even for those who think they are open minded and have an accurate picture. You can’t know the people and their culture until you’ve been here – I still don’t, I can only marvel at what I’m experiencing now. People here are incredibly hospitable and kind. I have not once been afraid that I would be robbed (except in Jerusalem) or get in a fight on the streets, or anything. Take this as an example. We went to the mosque today with Muhammed, our guide at the school. After prayer (which I’ll get back to in a second), we were socializing a bit. We met the mayor of Al-Bireh (municipality next to Ramallah), Jamell Taweel (I’m sure I didn’t spell that right), who invited us to have dinner with him. You would never have this happen in the states! Kelsey, who was in the women’s section of the mosque, related to us that every person she met after the service invited her to dinner.
The mosque itself was incredible, and although the sermon was in Arabic and I couldn’t understand a word, I was moved by it. When we prayed, everyone going through the same motions at once and murmuring “amen” (same word, different pronunciation), I felt such an incredible bond with everyone in the room. It was like we were a close knit community, and I had never even been there before. This kind of represents what is so incerdible about the region for me and what was so incredible about the mosque – the feeling of family, and deep-rooted tradition that holds values firmly in place in this society.
Another note about politics. We met Jeff Halper yesterday, and Israeli Jew from Minnesota who lives in Jerusalem. He was the only Israeli Jew on the first Gaza flotilla. Incredible man! He spoke some to the misperceptions that we Americans have of the situation. First of all, the idea that Israel is a center of democracy in the Middle East. You could maybe call them that, if there wasn’t an occupation. However, think of it this way: the Israeli’s want a Jewish state in a land that has a majority of non-Jews. So, in order to call themselves a democracy, they expell about half of the Palestinian Muslims (the Palestinians who are now living in exile, in refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and Egypt) and lock the rest in a tiny area. This way, they can hold elections but still keep radicals in power. However, no one thinks of it this way because Israel is a master at framing the situation in a certain way – to make themselves look like “a Western democracy besieged by Muslim terrorists.” (Jeff Halpers exact words, they need no others for their framework) Remember I said I’d keep this short? Nevermind! I’ll stop here. But first, consider this – another insight from Jeff. What’s wrong with the current 2 state proposal for Israel right now? Consider – they get 78% of the land, while the Palestinians get 22%. They keep their expanding economy (the Shekel is currently stronger than the dollar internationally) and their regional dominance. They don’t stop, Jeff speculates, because a) Zionists in the government. b) They (Zionists) think they can win (esp because they own the US Congress.) c) The military industrial complex – they have a testing ground in Gaza for weapons and arms – incredible revenues (they are the 4th largest weapons exporter in the world.)
So what’s the point of typing all these words that I just typed? Well, so that you can read them and I can go to sleep satisfied that I am helping convey my experiences, and spread the knowledge that I am learning to help dispell some of the ignorance that characterizes our view of this conflict. Next time I’ll post more about the conversation Fajr and I had about social movements and the way our generation is changing the world. Oh, and remember I promised one about nightlife? Inshallah we’ll go out on our free night, Saturday night after we have dinner with the may(we don’t have to wake up until 9:30 on Sunday!) and I’ll have that spun in somewheres too. Im off to bed, gute Nacht!