Women in Bastan Village, Kurdistan

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Empowerment has a face--Workshops in Haifa and Jaffa- 09-19-10

It is impossible to put in writing all what is happening to me. I am having so many experiences, that I cannot keep up. This week was another short one here in Haifa, because of the Sukkot holiday. I had the opportunity to participate in two of the workshops that are part my organization effort to educate and empower Arab women in the northern part of Israel. There I saw really vivid, attentive, capable and strong women that are willing to take the future in their hands. One of the workshops was about conflict resolution and how we as women use our skills to manage conflict.The facilitator, one of the women that works with Kayan, explained the different actors and how they can manage things to act in their favor, when they want to win something that could be in conflict with their culture or in the society. We had a lecture and then we gathered in groups to analyze a conflict and give suggestions on how to better manage the specific examples that were personal stories of the women. I was part of one of the groups and even was allowed to give my opinion and felt very much part of the experience.

Women at Haifa University, participating in the Conflict Resolution Lecture .

Shahira Shalabi, Social Worker, Facilitator and Member of the Board of Directors of Kayan Feminist Organization

On Tuesday, we met with another group of women and this time the workshop was about consumer rights. These women were part of a project called “An Active Approach to Personal Economy” and they participate in a series of lectures that prepare them to know their rights as Israeli citizens and what are the different options available to save and to encourage them to think about their future. The workshops are meant to prepare the women to start to take action now to prevent them to become poor when they are older. They were participating actively and discussing about buying practices and what they do when they request services, all of them were speaking about their buying habits and they shared a lot of stories about when they go to the market, even I shared that I was also a victim of the market vendors, because here, you don’t know the price until you have to pay or if you asked, but imagine asking the price of tomatoes, peppers, onions, cucumbers, carrots……. Also it depends who is the buyer and who is the seller, so the price can vary from day to day. There are many laws in Israel that often go unnoticed by the Arab population, mainly women from the villages that don’t speak Hebrew or don’t have access to the internet. Kayan brings this information in an easily understandable manner and the purpose is that these women will bring this information back to the village and educate more women. I spoke to the women about a project that I am planning to do about a photo essay with interviews to the women about how these workshops will impact their economic lives. They were willing to be part of the project, so soon I will interview some of them and will share their stories with you and the rest of the world. I was very happy to participate in the workshops and to connect with the women, who were really welcoming and made me feel part of their groups and their struggles.

Women in Jaffa from the project of An Active Approach to Personal Economy.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

One month in Haifa between Beauty, Friendship and Identity Crisis--Haifa, Israel 09-29-10

Its been one month here in Haifa. It feels like I came yesterday. Yet, I have found it difficult to write about the politics of living in Haifa and on top of that, I am starting to have an identity crises. I work with Arab/Palestinian/Christian women. I live in the Arab neighborhood. I interact with Jewish/Israelis everyday. I ride the bus everyday to work with Israelis and I buy in Israeli/Russian market. I hang out with Arab/Palestinians, we always meet in Massada St. a kind of bohemian, colorful, street, full of cafes, where all the activists gather. Is really nice and the prices are lower. I have also have met some Jewish/Israelis and it is a challenge for me to listen to them with my heart open.

(1) Massada Street, Haifa

(2) A Bar/Restaurant in Massada Street

My Palestinian friends don't feel part of this country. They don't feel comfortable in a place full of people that have a different life style, and a different perception of them. People who think that they should go to Jordan, Egypt or Syria and that do not acknowledge the fact that they were also born here. They feel the discrimination when they are going to look for jobs, in the way they teach in university. One of my friend, she studies law at Haifa University and she was telling me that in her class they were teaching her that there were different definitions or different types of equality. We were talking about democracy and freedom and she was saying that here in Israel those terms were defined different. She was recently in the US and she felt so comfortable, she said that there were a lot of churches and that she feels that everyone can practice as they wish. That is really equality she says.

Two Kids playing at a festival in the Israeli neighborhood of The Carmel in Haifa

Sometimes is hard to see the discrimination. In the surface or from outside you would think that is wonderful that Palestinian and Israelis live together, but if you scratch a little you will see that is more like, you live there, I live here. You hang out there, I hang out here. Sometimes I feel really guilty and confused. I am living here within both Israelis and Palestinians, I am able to talk to both of them and to see the human side of both. But when you start to talk to Israelis you realize how little they know from the other side. One Colombian/Israeli told me that the Arab refused to divide the country half and half. Also that they had won 6 wars and that the Arabs had to get over it. Another Israeli, that there were no Jews in Palestine, that they had left Gaza. I have to deal with this everyday as well as with the Russian Israeli girls walking in mini-skirts and lots of make up, or the lady that the other day literally too a pair of sunglasses from my hands....when I was checking the price o buy them(really!). Or the guy serving the falafel in the food stand that asks me if I like Israel.

Well, I really like Haifa, is a beautiful city, with beautiful sea and beautiful mountains. I have friends and I go out and we can sit and talk about all these things!!What I don't like is that Palestinians still feel that they don't belong to a country that is theirs too, and that they have to live as second class citizens in their own country. And by the way about the peace talks, here there is no hope. The Palestinians said that it is all a show, they started to talk, the settlement freeze is over and the Israelis will start building, the Palestinians will say, "See, we wanted to talk, but you are building settlements in our future country, so there is no deal, see you when you stop building in our land" and that's it again, no peace talks. In addition, no comprehensive and genuine deal will be reached without including the Palestinians that live here, they are the ones that "know better the Israelis" because they are living among them, they speak the language and besides, they will be directly impacted by the decisions agreed.
Me and my friend Huda

Well, I guess I have to stand on the side for a little bit, and be able to listen, and humanize both sides of the story, always keeping in mind that we are all human and that we are made of the same flesh and bone and that we all have feelings and passion, I have to remember why I came here to learn and to work for peace, so that other generations can sand here as I am standing now and can live a live with dignity, no matter who they are.

Traditional Music Playing, sponsored by the Mosawa Center, where I live

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Women and Environment [wowcrowd]

Women and Environment [wowcrowd]

Please vote and pass to people you know that is interested in women empowerment and the environment. This project is sponsored by Kayan Feminist Organization: Empowering Arab women to be!!!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

It feels good to be at home!!!!--091210, Haifa, Israel

The past two days have been pretty slow. I have been cleaning, cooking, job hunting and studying Arabic. Except at night when I have been out, to get some fresh air and to feel the city. I think that I have stayed home because I still cannot believe I am not homeless anymore. It feels so good to cook and save some food for next day. Not having to look into my suitcase every time I want to change or take a shower.

So, yesterday I went out with a Palestinian friend and we went to the "Superpharm" for some miscellaneous stuff, soap, toothpaste, etc. I went to the cosmetics area because I lost my cosmetic bag somewhere (not that I loose stuff easily!!!!). I was in SHOCK, to see the price of a mascara: 115 NIS (about $30), that was an insult!!!!A single eyeshadow, like $17.....wow. I thought Israel was expensive before, but this, beauty needs; totally unacceptable. Poor women from Haifa!!!!We need an NGO for beauty rights!!!Just joking, but I guess the natural beauty and the inner beauty will always win! Thank God I got concealer and eye liner when I was in Turkey, everything seems to be much cheaper there!

After that shock, I needed something sweet, to recover, We went to get ice cream on Ben Gurion street, where all the restaurants and bars are. The street was full, my friend explained that these were families from the nearby villages that came to Haifa, because of the Eid holiday. You could observe walking side by side women in hijab and miniskirts. There was even a girl with hijab and tight clothes!!!! My friend was explaining that this is what makes Haifa a distinctive city and that he likes that, that everyone respects each other right to wear whatever they want. Here, he said, there are about 6% of Palestinians in Haifa of which 60% are Christians. He said in his village, you could also see girls with really short jeans.
We were talking about how here in the north there was an identity crisis (among Christians, I guess), because some Palestinians don't know if they belong to the east or to the west. They think that wearing jeans and shorts make them be part of the west. He was saying that most people don't care about politics, they just want to live their lives. But for me is really hard to think that they don't care about politics, because the Palestinians from Israel, they remember 48 very well. My friend always has this number in his mind: before 48 this, or after 48, that. But they were born here, in a place that they know as their country: Israel, but a country that does not recognize them as real Israeli citizens equal to Jewish Israelis. They have a feeling for Palestine, but Israel is their home. I feel weird when they ask me: Do you like Israel? I don' t know exactly how to answer.....

So, today I went to church, and the only roman catholic church I found, the mass is in Arabic, so now I am trying to learn the prayers in Arabic. So, the Our Father goes: "Abbana alathi fi samawat..." At least I can follow the readings, although I cannot understand them.

I came back home after church and I got a private Palestinian concert, there is a wedding beside my house and I can see and hear the music. This people party all the time, yesterday there was also some kind of party. I guess next time I will have to join them, cause it feels the party is here in my living room literally, well i got a video from my bathroom! Anyway, I don't mind.....it looks that they are having a lot of fun. And so am I....

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Happy Eid and other thoughts...090810--Haifa, Israel

Today was one of those simple days that I just love. I was off since it is a long holiday weekend, as both Muslim and Jews celebrate the Eid al Fatar and the Jewish New Year. I bought a book on the Palestinian Arabic dialect and was studying a little on the morning and then went to the market and got some fresh fruit and vegetables. Later on, I came back and cleaned my place. I am living alone now in a kind of apartment (actually a dorm) which I'm supposed to share with 7 other girls but there are no students for now. I have two other male floormates, Wa'el and Sliman, but they are always working, so I never see them.They work until late in the evening to pay for school and their expenses for living away from home.

Later in the evening, I went out and sat at a local bookstore where they had a coffee shop and free internet. Internet seems to be available everywhere, except in my room, I cannot get it, weird! you can just sit almost everywhere and there will be an available network that you can connect, So, I sat and got a latte and started to practice my Arabic with the owners, which happened to be Christians, but a little bit extremists. I said that we all have the same God, and they automatically stopped me saying that the God of Muslims was not the same and that Mohammad was always ordering people to kill and that their God was a different God. I found a text in the Bible and showed them that in the book of Numbers, in the Old Testament, God also ordered Moses to go and kill some people from a different tribe as a vengeance, he said that it was different. He showed me a passage that said in the New Testament that you should not receive or talk to people that does not believe in Jesus, in 2 John, I just listened to them and kindly disagreed. They were preaching to me and showing me some Bible passages to make their point. It is interesting how religion here is dividing people instead of uniting them and how people want to use one verse of one book or the other and do not go for the true message of tolernance and love of your neighbor.

Talking about extremists, there was an article today in Haaretz about Orthodox Jews that burned copies of the new testament. What is all this bullshit of burning Holy Books, can't we respect the right of the others to worship? If you don't want a Bible, don't take it. If you have your own faith, then don't mess with other's people faith and respect what it means for them. Don't say that other person's religion is of Satan (as the guy told me in the library).

At night, I went to a shop to get bread and milk and I got a pack of oreos, just to satisfy my sweet tooth and just realized that the price of the oreos was 4 shekels (About $1) almost the same price I paid for the bread and the milk (each 5 shekels). No more oreos. Well, my budget is shrinking every day, so I have to be careful. I plan to start teaching English or Spanish while I'm here to try to get some money.

I am starting to get to know my neighborhood, and being receptive and with my eyes and ears open as I walk everyday to my work. It feels so different from the walk to work to the Tent of Nations on the West Bank......no checkpoints here, but milder signs of discrimination. I hope to keep improving my Arabic, so I can connect more to people here. In the meantime I keep writing as I hear the non-stop fireworks from the Eid celebration, they seemed to have stop now, but all of a sudden there is another loud noise, like now. Happy Eid!!!!