Tuesday, July 5, 2011

What would the olive tree tell you?

by: R.Kafri

On my way to Abu Dis, right before the road turns onto the big Ma’ale Adumim Highway, sits an olive tree graveyard. Tree stumps neatly organized in rows like grave stones witness to what once was on this land. I remember the first day I drove to Abu Dis and saw them. I did not really comprehend what was in front of me. I thought there must be a scientific reason why all these trees have been cut down almost to their roots. After all who would really cut a tree unless it was deathly ill with no hope for a cure or posed a serious threat on its fellow trees? Right? My scientifically trained mind needed a logical explanation to what it was observing; something based on facts and observed experiments. As I drove back and forth between Abu Dis and Ramallah teaching day in and day out, I slowly realized that what I witnessed every morning on my way is nothing but an olive grove grave yard, cut down by Israeli occupation forces for “security reasons.” Perhaps it is the same grove I saw on the news. This is probably were cameras stood filming the massacre. And every morning, with no fail, the pang of pain, mixed with a dash of despair and a rush of anger washed over me, causing me to push the gas paddle a bit harder to end the scene slightly quicker. It was sadly poetic, with an eerie wind about the stumps, as if haunted by ghosts of seasons past when they used to be green, lush and filled with shiny olives. It all belonged in a thriller movie; the heavy silence, no leaves rustling in the wind, no farmer sitting to take shade in the trees…just heavy silence…just tree stumps…standing on dry, desert like land, with no water, no hope…just simply dead.

The entrance to Azariyyeh is in fact a junction that leads to Maale Adumim, the largest and one of the oldest settlements in the West Bank. This monstrosity of architectural disaster is now forming a ring around Jerusalem, making any negotiation for any reasonable and just agreement almost impossible. Ironically at the junction in the middle of the traffic circle, where Palestinian cars and settler cars meet, sits an ancient olive tree, its stem wide and tangled, its leaves shiny and blow so gracefully in the wind. At first sight it looks majestic, but when you look closer, bulldozer scars are visible from the day she was uprooted from her original land to be planted here. So beautiful, so out of place, so lonely she stands. If this tree could talk she would tell you about the old grove she belonged to, the kind hands that harvested her every October, the children who played in her shade only to grow up into men and women who cared for her and watered her roots; trimmed her branches and plucked her olives. She would sing of families laughing, lovers meeting secretly under her shade, whispering to each other words of eternal love and promising her to always come home at harvest time; hoping to bring their children with them. She would tell you of cold wet winters, and hot scorching summers. She would tell you of rolling hills dotted with olive trees, loud with birds chirping and bugs squeaking. But then, she would also lower her proud leaves as if in shame to tell you of the day they took her. ..

It was a dark day; she was uprooted with the wails of loved ones in the background, the resilient but helpless cries of those who once filled her shade with life. She would point to her scars and say: this was a bulldozer, this was where they dug the hole to take me, and this one is where they threw me into the empty, hot, dry truck. They planted me here, but oh how I wish they just cut me. I would have rather died with the rest of my trees than been brought here. I am what have become of my owners, scattered, separated and pushed away from home…I am a refugee like countless others…I am you and you are me…Diaspora

note: Picture by interfaithpeacebuilders (http://www.flickr.com/photos/ifpb)

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Return of Summer

by: R.Kafri

Summer has returned, and your trees have bloomed again, with majestic green and bright reds and orange. Apricots hang so heavily on outside of old homes, cherries glisten in the sun, ruby red in color, sweet as sugar in taste and figs poke their heads awaiting the hot dusty days to fully blossom. Your streets, abandoned, quiet and very grey in the winter are now dotted with walkers, joggers and runners, flooded with cars from all directions and drowned with the smell of argeeleh. The schools have gone silent, and the swimming pools have gone wild. The playgrounds empty very late, and ice cream men start their daily tours at 11 a.m yelling my favorite two words: “Roookkyyaaaab;” “Ballaaddnnnaaa.” Even the young boy selling nawa3em [sugar cakes] is back on the street corner. At night wedding convoys with their beeping horns fill the street s, one, two , three, four…..countless weddings. Everyone gets married in the summer.

Homes are busy with the long anticipated warm hugs, hot tears wiped with a kiss on each cheek. Your long, patient wait for your far away children is over for now; they are back, so rejoice, they have returned to fill silent homes with conversation, music, dance, and never ending feasts. Rejoice. For soon it will be time for goodbyes and your streets will empty again, your tree leaves will yellow, and quiet will fall as Fall washes over you.

Oh how beautiful you are in the summer; so elegantly dressed, softly manicured, and revving with life. Never mind a few bad hair days; everything is fixable. Broken streets will be paved, wilted trees will be groomed….It all really does not matter, for you are beautiful, ever so inviting, ever so exciting, ever so ours. Summer has returned, our Big Olive…Shine…

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

On the Town

By David Moser

“Hi Ahmad, how are you?”

“David, I am very good. I am very good. Where are you?”

“I am in Abu Dis now, on my way home.”

“Do you want to do something? I too am here in Abu Dis.”

I wanted to go home. I wanted see if there is more news about yesterday’s protests and violence for Nakba day, I wanted to look at facebook and take my shoes off, but Ahmad almost never calls, and I felt like I should see him. I had written to him the night before to see if the posters I had been seeing hung around Abu Dis the past few days were of a man he introduced me to. The man was murdered with thirty six bullets on a busy street the week before over a blood feud between Abu Dis and the next village.

“Ok Ahmad. Are you in the junction?”

“Yes. I am exactly in the junction.”

“Ok I will see you in two minutes.”

Ahmad’s face has been thin from fasting since Ramadan almost nine months ago. It was just over a year ago that we met. “David, I am Ahmad. You don’t know me, but I work at the university also, and I have seen you. You work with the Bard College.” We met through mutual Spanish friends who were living in my building while spending a semester at the university. Tonight, I spotted him, talking with two other young men leaning against a grey sedan. I greeted him, “How are you Ahmad? It has been a long time. How are you doing?”

“Ahh David. My friend. It is good to see you. I have been thinking of you.” He turned to his friends, “This is David.” We shake hands and exchange hellos. “Would you like to go to the café?”

“Yes. I want to eat pizza.”

“Ok. We will go there.” We invited his friends to come along and when they thanked us we said goodbye and turned around.

"So how are you? I wrote you last night because the man who was killed looks so familiar. I thought maybe I met him through you.”

“No David, you thought he was Iyad who took us to Jerico. The man who was shot, he was a driver. He is a poor man. It is so sad what is happening here. These people are ignorant people. They try to make the law with their hands.”

“Yes it is sad. It feels strange to see his face on the posters. I guess I didn’t know him. But I recognize his face.”

“You know this is new in Palestine, in Abu Dis. This did not happen before, families killing each other in Abu Dis.” We walked into the café to find it empty of customers. “There is no one here, its like we are in curfew.”

“Can we still get pizza?”

“I will check, if we cannot, I can take you somewhere different.” He asked the two teenagers standing behind the brown stone counter with a smooth marble top. We were in luck, so Ahmad ordered. Before sitting down we each took a soda from the case. I had a can of Fanta, Ahmad a glass bottle of sprite. One of the guys working was mentally retarded. As we turned away from the counter he handed us two straws. We said thank you. As we turned away again he held out a bottle opener and raised his chin and squinted, looking at our faces over the flesh of his cheeks, scrunched up as two mounds. Ahmad placed his Sprite back on the counter to be opened. We said thank you again.

“He is doing well,” Ahmad said. “His mind is not perfect you know, but he is doing good I think.” We sat down on firm couches under a brown tapestry. “I am not happy here in Palestine David. Really I feel depressed. There is nothing fantastic in Abu Dis.”

“You used to say you loved it here.”

“I know. I used to love it. I don’t know why I am unhappy. I was blaming myself for this.”

“You were blaming yourself for being unhappy?”

“Yes. You know I was in Spain during the winter. I could have stayed there illegally. I could have married Diego too. You know, we are both straight. But for the law to stay, I could have married him.”

“Is gay marriage legal in Spain?”

“Yes, come on, Spain was the first in Europe to make this law. Is it the law in United States? I think in Louisiana.”

“No, not in Louisiana.”

“But I know a woman who was there eighteen years. She said it was very common in the cities there. It was like normal.”

“I’m sure being gay is in some parts. But gay marriage is only legal in a few states.”

“Europe is amazing. The people are very free there. With their bodies. They will go on the beach with nothing. In Spain I saw this. They will go on any beach. In America it is only in their clubs that they will go like this. It is the law. If you go with nothing on the beach they will arrest you.”

“Yes, it’s not like Europe. We always wear a bathing suit.” Another group entered the restaurant – three men in their mid twenties. They were each unshaven and sat down on other couches around a table. They looked exhausted in the way one does during a long flight, enduring the work of stagnation. They ordered two water pipes of sweet flavored tobacco and instant coffee.

“Ahmad, do you think that the fighting here will continue, from yesterday, from the Nakba day?”

“Yes, I think there will be an intifada. I hope it will not. But I think it will. Because of the political situation here. There is no future in Palestine. The future is blackness. I see only blackness.”

“Yeah, it’s bad.”

“Why did Fatah and Hamas come to work together? They are surrendering.”

“You think so?”

“You cannot go ten meters without a settlement or a checkpoint. I want to tell the Israeli government to take and give, take, and give. Don’t just take! Look at what is happening in Abu Dis. Families are killing each other. They are shooting. No one can stop them. There is no Palestinian security, there is no Israeli security. Give us something!”

Our pizza arrived. I knew not to expect much from Pizza in Abu Dis, but it still looked beautiful, the shining yellow cheese bejeweled with salty canned vegetables: red and green peppers, kernels of corn, brown mushrooms, sliced green olives. I could never understand why they cover pizza in colorful but mushy and salty vegetables in a place with so much cheap and delicious fresh produce. Perhaps they are worried it would rot; business did seem slow. We started eating.

“I am so depressed here David. I tried to change it. I went to a church. I went to a mosque. Do you believe me that I went to a church?”

“You prayed in a church to be happy?”

“Yes I went and fired a candle and sat there but it didn’t work.” He paused. “Do you know b-12 vitamins?”

“Yeah, I guess.”

“I went and bought b-12 vitamins and took them. They are for your spirits. They are to make you feel excellent. I tried them but they did not work. I feel like it is hard. I am still looking for my girl. I am twenty nine now. I feel like I am getting old.”

“Man, you look like your fifteen.”

“That is because my face is thin now. Do you remember last year when we met?”

“You looked good then and you look good now Ahmad.”

“Thank you David, really, thank you.”

We went to the counter. I tried, but Ahmad paid. He insisted, “I invited you. You deserve something more than thirty eight shekels. You are my guest here.”

We thanked both the guys at the counter and turned to the door. I pushed it open and stepped out into the air. I breathed in deeply through my nose. It was cool for May, and that was a nice surprise.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Long Time Comin'

By Tala Abu Rahmeh

A Tunisian man, with beautiful silver hair, stood in front of the camera a day after the ex Tunisian president fled the country and said, "I have grown old waiting for this golden day to arrive," he kept saying "old" while touching his soft hair and shedding tears. Last night, an Egyptian man, 29-years-old, said that he has never understood democracy or freedom, but he always wanted them both, badly, together, and now is the time.

I was born in a house where pictures of Jamal Abdul Naser and Yassir Arafat glimmered side by side, and stories of Arab dignity and pride weaved themselves against the harsh water of Jordan, then suddenly, the pictures grew dusty, and became occupants of the slit sitting between the fridge and the wall. At 7, I used to tell people that I was Arab; not Jordanian, not Palestinian, not Egyptian, but Arab. My mouth tasted the honey of vowels and the bitter weather. At 16, while hiding under my bed from bombs and having little to no mention in the news, I renounced it all.

Then, out of nowhere, a slit in the clearest sky pushed itself open, and suddenly, we became alive. People took over their streets and screamed in hunger and anger. Demonstrators are still getting shot in the streets of Cairo and Alexandria. Everybody who endured garbage city and slept on old graves of past kings finally said NO to tyranny and indignity, no to being so rejected from life. Most demonstrations were planned via Facebook and text messages. On the news, Arab thinkers are calling us the Facebook generation who is sparking a modern revolution.

It all started when a Tunisian graduate student, exactly my age (26), burned himself in protest. He had been selling vegetables to support his family, and the government, for no reason at all, confiscated his cart. I think of him every night, his brown skin curling in flames and shedding like flakes of thin chocolate. His body slowly folding in on itself, surprised at its ability to burst in pure, unstoppable fire. Two days later, young men burned themselves in Algeria and Egypt.

You might wonder, why should anyone be proud of youth burning themselves and getting shot in their own streets? Because who knew, that in the year 2011, people would still believe in hope? If our people didn't believe in an enormous amount of humanity, why would they bother? News channels race to report the names of the fallen, all aged 20, 21, 22. In the times of iphones and big houses, there are still people willing to die for the freedom of their people.

If anything, this proves how long our path really is. In Amman, people flaunt their Gucci bags in giant malls while the rest of the population is hungry. In Palestine, officials glued themselves to their seats and took the initiative to sell their people for little to nothing. In Cairo, Mubarak thinks he can silence his people by firing their own army at them. In Saudi Arabia, women can't even drive let alone have rights. In Iraq, people are killed by the American Army then bombed by their own people. We need so many revolutions to restore just an inch of love and dignity.

Nevertheless, today, we should celebrate; celebrate our own capacity for courage, and determination to never be silent. Real change has never been made overnight, but even the most pessimistic of us cannot deny that there is revolution in the air, and the taste and sweet smell of something new. So, hurray to our Facebook generation, may you never let yourself be silenced.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

An American High School Story

By David Moser

Continued from Part One

Part Two: Three Wars

The week after the planes hit, our team had a party. We each drank several two-ounce shots of cheap vodka around a kitchen table in Stockbridge— I was the first to take mine. That night the alcohol ran through my blood like nothing I had felt before or since. I was light and nimble and warm as the world around me pulsated and bent. The next morning we rose and drove to the high school where we joined the effort to paint a 1500 square meter American flag across the hill in front of the building. A few days later, the whole school was photographed sitting around it for the newspaper.

The weekend the United States began bombing Afghanistan, I was in New York. The city was still covered with pictures of the missing, the dead—our dead. Every corner had flowers, phone numbers to call if the pictured were spotted, prayers. I spent that Sunday afternoon making out in Central Park with a fling from camp. We found grass in the sun and then let our sixteen year old tongues take over. As we walked out of the park, Fifth Avenue was waving hundreds of flags. It was Columbus Day weekend, and I was excited by the new air of the new season and the rare occurrence of a hand in mine.

That night I took the Long Island Rail Road to Great Neck for a seventeenth birthday party. It was a crowd of camp friends, many of whom had not seen each other for over a year; with our trip canceled, we had just spent our first summer for a while in different places. In a furnished basement, we drank whatever watery beer and no-name liquor we had—I was angry at a friend who drank too much too fast and spent the rest of the night drooling over the toilet. Some of the other girls held her hair back as she vomited; I told her she fucked up our chance to hang out. The television in the corner talked about the opening hours of a bombing campaign against the Taliban. Later in the night a few of us found a spot down the street, obscured by a pine tree, to smoke pot from a water pipe.

When the weekend ended, and I returned to Grand Central, a middle aged white man with dark hair, a blue shirt and jeans, stood in the great hall holding a sign over his head: “Death to the Taliban.” His display, in this center of the world, did not bother me, or it seemed anyone else. He smiled with bravado and hope, and most of us smiled back. It tickled me as I got on the train.

The Taliban fell quickly as our soldiers lent fire power the good guys of the Northern Alliance. The news was excited:

“The men can shave again! Look at how they fill the barber shop!”

The months passed with college visits and anticipation. When I visited Bard, the students wore strange sunglasses and cursed in class. A white sheet hung from an Ivy covered building with, “Free Palestine” hand painted in dark orange. When I visited Syracuse, there were signs advertising a discussion of “Life in the IDF,” with recently discharged Israeli soldiers. The war in Afghanistan was reported quietly enough for most of us to ignore. Reverence for the morning pledge depleted, and people in the government started to talk openly about a war with Iraq. My community divided between “No Blood for Oil” and “Bomb Saddam.” Two of my friends were arrested in town for protesting against a war without a permit. They loved that they were arrested and the story of their detention was more brutal with every telling. One of them later joined a sniper unit.

I didn’t go to many protests, but decided to make a documentary about the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. Now that I live in the West Bank I hate every filmmaker I meet. I was eighteen and traveled around the northeast taping interviews with young Israelis and Palestinians studying and working in the states. I asked them about their home and their conflict. I heard testimony from a Palestinian college student in Portland Maine about sneaking around checkpoints to enter Jenin and find much of the city in piles. He talked about soldiers who took over his cousin’s house to use as a base, piled the family’s clothing in the center of a room and defecated in it for days. I listened to a red haired Israeli tell of losing his grip on sanity staring into the night on guard at his base. After I turned the camera off, he told me the soldiers used to compete for who could masturbate most in a shift. Two months after our interview, as a civilian, he watched a bus explode outside of his home in Haifa, and then carried bodies out of it.

The weekend the United States began bombing Iraq again, I was with Palestinians in Westchester. They told me that the Arab satellite networks were reporting large numbers of American casualties and a strong Iraqi defense. They weren’t sure who to believe. After the interviews, I joined them for a cigarette. One of the guys was hung over, and took me to the dining hall for greasy French fries.

That spring I spent hours most afternoons in the editing room. I would drive home excited, listening to Guru rap about American ghettos, and feeling that somehow, I was taking my stand: against the war, against the intifada, against the occupation. In May of 2003, I screened my video in the high school auditorium. My family was there, my friends and some of their parents came, my teachers came, and some teachers who I hardly knew showed up out of interest. The movie ended with hope: there were good people living through this conflict, most wanted peace, and they all had faces. The project was well received and I was deeply happy to share its stories and take my stand. That night, lying in bed, I pressed my face against the plastic screen of my bedroom window. Rain was landing loudly against the new, full, leaves of spring, and I could smell the earth drinking. It was the most accomplished I had ever felt, and in that moment I thought, “This peace shit is for dreamers.”

I still hope I was wrong.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

An American High School Story

By David Moser

Part One: Two Autumns

I started reading the news the day Mohammad Al-Dura appeared on my porch. He was in his father’s lap, on the front page of our paper. I had known Palestinians had arms and legs, feet for stepping on flags, hands with fingers for pulling triggers or ignition chords. But their heads had always been masked. Rather than eyes or dimples, they had featureless cloth, sometimes a black and white checkered pattern wrapped their heads, other times it was just black or white, like bank robbers or the Ku Klux Klan. Mohammad and his father though, they had faces—one a man, and one a boy, and their hands held each other. I was fifteen, and felt closer to the boy. My mother explained the pictures: screaming for help, cowering in terror, still. That day, my mother made me read the news. Every day after, the news itself did. I desperately wanted the violence to stop. Through my camp, I had been registered for, and was eagerly awaiting, a trip to Israel the following summer. I would hike Masada, swim the Dead Sea, and celebrate Shabbat in Jerusalem. The trip was eventually canceled, and America was about to get scary too. In less than a year, during Spanish class, the towers fell.

I must say, the weeks following September 11th were a good time in my life. I was running varsity cross country, and for the first time feeling that I had come into my own within the high school social world. A senior from the team was teaching me stick, letting me drive his Jeep without a license. My mind was never far from the towers though, and times were strange. At a candle-light vigil for the victims, I saw my father join others in song for the first time. When I was a toddler he would sing “Chicken” along with Mississippi John Hurt. That evening, he sang “God Bless America,” although I don’t know what he would have meant by the God part. At night, the wonder of the stars had to compete with the wonder of the planes, criss-crossing our sky and blinking with terrible new potential. But none of it compared to the wonder of growing. I was sixteen, and one Saturday afternoon stepped out of the shower and noticed, to my surprise, that I had abdomen definition and burgeoning visible pectorals. My right hand tracked the growth of my chest every morning in homeroom as I recited the Pledge of Allegiance with, for the first time since kindergarten, a sense of earnestness and awe. The Berkshire Hills turned orange and yellow, ever oblivious to the other changes of the day.

(To Be Continued)