Women in Bastan Village, Kurdistan

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Watering the Sunflowers-July 21, 2010-Bethlehem

We started the day as always at 7 am. The children came and we divided into the groups. Some of them went to learn an African dance. The girls were really good at it. Our group is preparing a play with the theme of reconciliation. The guys are doing a dance/fight with swords that they made themselves. The girls are working on a dabka dance for the happy ending of our play, where the two families that have been fighting for years finally reconcile when they realized that they have more thing is in common than differences. I am also trying to teach the children a song, it is called I believe I can fly. The song is about believing in yourself and in your capabilities and that you can touch the sky if you really believe in yourself. It is very difficult to make the children follow instructions, sometimes even frustrating. At one point I told them that I am going back to PR because they are not behaving, then I came back…

On the last session we painted the wings for the small girls to dance over the song. The German volunteers that are doing the art workshop helped the girls to paint the wings that we are cutting.

In the afternoon we went to Bethlehem with the German group to paint over the separation wall. I was wondering what does it mean the fact that we are going there and painting over a wall so high that is causing so much suffering. What does it represent for Palestinians that we paint and leave and they stay here, looking at the wall and being its victims. I didn’t know what I was feeling, only painting, being present and solidary. The Palestinians in the shop nearby the wall, looked with curiosity, maybe they thought, one more group painting here. Also I reflected over the German comments about the wall in East Berlin and what it represented for them to be painting in Palestine. They knew better what this wall means. Some people stopped by, curious, some took pictures while we were just painting. It felt so nice to be there painting, and putting some color to the wall. The topic was you look at me I look at you. Painting for justice, peace and conservation of the environment. It was a sunflower with two faces looking at each other. We explained to the shop owners what it meant, when two people are looking at each other, they have to listen and talk to each other. One of them asked how much they had to pay for the painting, since now it looked so beautiful where before there was dark or graffiti. It was really nice because at the end one of them came and thanked us and was really happy about the painting. I told him that now it was his responsibility to water the sunflowers….

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

From Bethlehem through the checkpoint, destination the Old City- July 20th-

From Bethlehem through the checkpoint, destination the Old City- July 20th-

Today our day started like always at 7 am. After breakfast and our meeting to prepare for the daily activities, we continued to pain the meeting room. I went with the girls to prepare the wings for the festival for our song. We took some fabric and cut them with the shape of wings. Today was one of our girls birthday, Lara and she brought a chocolate cake, with cups and plates and soft drinks and we shared it during our break. After we did stone painting with peace messages to give to Israeli soldiers. They were very impatient and it was hard to get them to work. Some did very nice designs, like Miral that did a dove, symbolizing peace in a blue background and the dove was on a cage. Suad also did a great design too and wrote the word peace on the stone. Then on the third workshop we wanted to work again on the wings and on doing invitations for the parents to come to the festival. The kids were very loud and running from one place to the other and I got a little bit anxious and started to scream to them to be quiet. Of course this did not work and Gisla was getting a little bit anxious too. She wanted them to paint some cards with different mandala designs but we could not get them to listen to her instructions. Mirna fell down and had some scratches in her leg, so I went to wash her leg and after she was with her big beautiful dark eyes and her sweet smile that always remember me why I am here. She smiled and gave me a kiss. I forgot all my anxiety. Eventually they were calmed and started to paint.

After the camp we took the kids bus and we were left close to the checkpoint to pass from Bethlehem to Jerusalem. There is a new practice that the soldiers use now, to make people trying to cross the checkpoint get off and walk through the checkpoint. One of the volunteers that has been here for 8 months and commutes from Jerusalem to Bethlehem every day was explaining her theory that this is done to discourage people from coming to Bethlehem with the purpose to debilitate the only source of income of this city. So, it was our turn to experience it, we waited for more than half an hour and eventually we passed. I realized that there was no point but to make people uncomfortable. On the other side the soldiers barely look at you when you were passing, so I really support the previous theory. The soldiers are behind a plexy glass and they are not doing a specific search of anything.

Once on the other side of the checkpoint you have to take another bus into Damascus Gate. Immediately we went to get a falafel from the kiosk on the corner and went into Paolos house, a very nice and beautiful guest house for German pilgrims. It has a great terrace that overlooks the old city and you can see all the churches and mosques from there, we went for a short tour of the city. We stopped at the western wall and Agnes explained that that wall was the wall of the complex that surrounded the third temple and was built by Herodion and destroyed it around 570. It is not the wall of the temple itself but it is the only structure that was kept. The complex including the wall; called the Temple Mount by Jews is very sacred to the Jews since they believe that God lives in the temple. Inside the wall now lies the Al Aqsa and the Dome on the Rock, where Mohamed the prophet is believed to have ascended into heaven. She explained that before there used to be a lot of Arab houses near the wall but the Israelis destroyed them to get access to the wall. It is controlled by the waqt, a Muslim institution. One of the city entrances is here, golden gate which is closed. The Jews believe that this is the gate by whish the messiah will come. We also visited the church of the Holy Sepulcher, There we learned about the current status quo that the different Christian denominations have to have control of different parts of the church: 6 denominations control the church in a very strict contract that includes who cleans which part of the church, Thank god that we believe in the power of religion to unite people.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Greeting the Soldiers ( July 18, 2010-Bethlehem)

I can’t believe I’ve been here already 3 weeks. First, all the travel to get to Jerusalem, then the intense week of lecture after lecture covering many aspects of the conflict. Then my first week in the farm, the kids at the summer camp…It has been so intense, preparing everyday for the next day workshops. Trying to convey a message to the kids and to take the kids out of the so harsh environment that they are exposed to every day because of the occupation. Then adjusting myself to the harsh conditions of living in a farm. Yesterday I was driving with Daoud to Bethlehem and just asked him if the farm was located in area A or B, and to my surprise he responded that we are living in Area C. During the intifada, the farm was completely isolated. The two only accesses it has, one to the main road that goes to Bethlehem and one to the village of Nahalin were completely blocked. Daoud said that they had to transport supplies using donkeys. Here, we don’t have running water or electricity, because the Israeli government does not provide any infrastructure, well, only to the settlements. Taking a bath is only allowed for 1 minute and not every day, most of the people do every three days. The food is great at the farm. We have Abu Farid as our chef. He works at a school in Hebron but is on vacation now, so he is helping to cook for the summer camp volunteers. Everyday we have visitors from different countries. We have had Canadians, Dutch, German, Dutchs. They stay for one or two day to learn about the situation here.

On Thursday (July 15), after the camp was over, I took the bus back to Bethlehem with the kids and on Friday morning I returned with them in the morning with the bus. When we got into the roadblock, the soldiers were there and some of the kids were greeting them and giving them the good mornings and shalom. The soldiers surprised replied to the shalom (Hebrew) or the assalamu alaykum with a smile. One of the most spoiled adventured to shake the hand of one of the soldiers and the soldier didn’t know what to do to such a gesture, but one had holding the gun and the other holding the child’s hand the two hands met. It was a beautiful moment, all the conflict melted away in those three seconds.

Friday, July 16, 2010

My first post after two and a half weeks

Sorry I haven’t written in a long time. I’ve been in Israel/Palestine for about two weeks now. The first week, I met all the students from my program and we were on a very tight schedule, between lectures, visiting villages, talking to university students and taking alternative tours in different cities like Hebron, Jerusalem, Haifa, Bil’in and Bethlehem. We learned about grassroots initiatives that are lead by Palestinians and Israelis. We listened to stories; some of them brought tears and some laughter, sometimes hope but often sadness. Every night we had de-briefing meetings to share and discuss with the others students from the program about the different lectures and presentations, we had very intense discussions, often we will disagree, but sometimes we would try to come with new and different angle that we never thought before. We heard from Israelis and Palestinians, we traveled between Israel and the occupied Palestinian Territories listening about the other side of the wall, its social and economical consequences and the side that is hidden from us because if we knew, we would be ashamed that people is being treated in such a hard way in the name of security. It has been intense and I still have not had the time of putting all my thoughts and feelings together.

Now I am in the Tent of Nations in Bethlehem, in this amazing piece of land, surrounded by many settlements an amazing sunset has been given to me every day. It seems so quiet and beautiful, but behind that beauty, there is a price, there are so many stories….My first night here, I was attacked by mosquitoes and now my legs look like a war zone. I have like a hundred mosquito bites all over my legs. Then I decided to fight back and now I sleep with long pants, long sleeves, socks and two blankets.

There is no infrastructure but the ones that have been built by volunteers, a couple of cisterns to collect rain water and solar panels to generate electricity while the huge settlements in front of us are lit all night long. Here, no construction can be made and we have 9 demolition orders including tents where we the volunteers sleep, while our next door neighbors (the settlers) expand day by day. But there is hope because since I have been here, many groups have come to visit and to learn about the situation. Two groups came on Sunday. A group of 26 young Palestinians and from Holland came to visit, followed by a group of 13 from Italy that came and celebrated mass in the chapel cave. It was very special to see that many people is choosing to have alternate tours and not only visiting the tourist sites but also getting to know locals and their non violent resistance projects. Here planting a tree means resisting the occupation, watering the plants or feeding the animals are actions that demonstrate the endurance and the strength of Palestinians.

I have been working for a week in the summer camp. We have about 60 kids from Bethlehem and the villages around. There are children coming from Bethlehem, Beit Jala and Beit Sahour. Our group consisted of 7 children: 5 girls Suad, Mirna, Miral, Sabeen, and Rinad and 2 boys Suhaib and Mohamed. We did some games and it was really nice to be working with the kids. The language barrier is a complication, but we have translators that help give the instructions. The second day we had an addition of 6 more kids and that complicated things because they were older and the activities we planned were mainly for smaller kids. It was hard to make them focused and to follow instructions. None of the planned activities worked. It was very frustrating. Today we split the group in guys and girls and it was a good thing since the guys went with the male leader which was a Palestinian American and he spoke some Arabic. The girls were less shy and more confident. We danced the dabka and other types of dances. They interacted a lot with each other and then we finished some stories that they started to write yesterday. Some wrote about the occupation, while others were not willing to talk about that since they came to the camp to forget about every day things and to enjoy themselves. One of the girls read her story about her dream to swim in the sea. She has never been in the sea, despite the closeness of the Mediterranean. She sees it only as a dream, but she knows that because of the occupation, it will always be a cream. One of the other girls, Lara who lives in the Deheisha refugee camp, in Bethlehem was complaining that she couldn’t sleep well, she was telling me that they arrested her cousin, a 20 year old guy, his family does not know anything about him, even if he is alive or not. This is part of the daily reality of the occupation. This is what the Israelis call the administrative detentions. They take male adolescents at night, arrest them and their families don’t get any news from them, where they were taken or anything up to 17 days and they can be arrested for 3 months without charges, and at the end of these three months the detention can be renewed. We heard from the Birzeit students, that they have 75 of their students under administrative detention and that they had one case where they have arrested university students belonging to student organizations, up to three years. It is very different to see the conflict from the eyes of the children and we often talk about terrorist, security and all this big words and we forget that this is all about people and we take for granted how this conflict is affecting the life of children that are not responsible for what is happening. These children are so beautiful and have so much to give. They are really hard to deal with since you cannot keep them busy for more than 15 minutes. The girls are so sweet. We play sports in the morning and then some activities like arts and crafts, drawing and painting. It is a very challenging experience and I hope that the children enjoy all the activities that we are preparing for them and that we can teach them that they have the power to shape their future and that they grow to challenge system its violent ways. It is easy to be angry but it is better to transform that anger in something productive and positive and is only by teaching the children that we can hope to transform the future of the Palestinian society.