Since I’ve written, my days have been packed tightly with religious sites, museums, debkah dancers, falafel, shwarma, lectures, refugee camps and that just skims the surface. Most all of these places and moments were moving, including and especially my first drink of Arab tea. All of these incredible experiences, however, did not give me the same connection with the conflict or the land as the people here who I ate olives with– not heard lectures from or toured with, but the people who leaned in to kiss me on both cheeks and sat down with me and told me about their lives.
Abi means father in Arabic. This is what I called my host-dad from Beit Sahour. After our dinner together in a fancy restaurant, Abi strutted right in, draped in old flannel pajamas and cozy slippers. In the house, he insisted we saw it as our own; he force fed us meals, called us his children, taught us silly games, and most importantly introduced us to WWE. He watched it every night for hours, our whole family did. He’d shout at the screen endearingly, “Habibi! Habibi!” or “My love! My love!” whenever a wrestler did something extraordinary. Abi’s quirky but entirely hospitable personality made him all the more adorable, when he sat legs crossed in the corner of the couch cheering at the screen. Every so often Abi would take out rolling papers and fancy tobacco and roll his own cigarettes, then go out to smoke one. In the middle of this action, he asked us to join him on his back porch; he needed to show us something. The four Westtown students and his children followed him out back, where he pointed to Jerusalem. “We have a lovely view of Jerusalem.” He said with a heavy accent. “We used to I mean, before the settlement.” He then directed our attention to the hills in between his home and the home of Jerusalemites. The hills were covered in a major settlement, one that did not keep good relations with the neighboring villages. He stuck his chest out in effort to adjust his pride. “How am I supposed to see this as my land when Israeli’s are growing increasingly near? This is an illegal settlement. You see that wall?” He took in a loaded deep breath. “That wall marks where our land starts. And they don’t even care.” He brought us back inside because of the cold night’s air. “I love the Jews. Jesus teaches us to love all people. And the Israeli’s are people who I love, when I work out there, I spend the night in my Jewish friend’s house. No problem. The problem is in the politics.” He went on to speak more about this, the politics of the situation. Just as I began to think I was figuring this whole thing out… I hade hope, but seeing Abi swell with sorrow made me lose it a little. His whole self got bigger with sadness and deflated with hopelessness. He was the first person who really touched me.
The second person that really touched me was a liberal hands-in-their-pockets type-of-guy named Joe. Joe is twenty-one years old, and a German/Swiss man who comes to Palestine frequently because he feels a connection with the people. Joe is crazy. He was the first person we have really gotten to hang out with. Truth be told, this gave him an advantage in becoming our friend. He had a great sense of humor and had all the girls laughing. But he also told us the truth about the little things we couldn’t get in lectures: what exactly we dipped our pita in, what the colors stand for in the flag and he told us his own stories about the brothers he has gained here. Whenever he spoke, every girl at the table leaned in with complete interest in catching every word. Our Westtown boys thought we were smitten with him, when truthfully we just felt more real and connected to his perspectives then to the usual lectures (which, don’t get me wrong, are completely fascinating.) What Joe told us didn’t shock us like a tidal wave, it slowly lured us in to this way of life and he gave us time to process it. Being able to relate to a “local” woke us up from the rhythm we had become used to.
Now, I’m in bustling Ramallah with my habibti, Dalia. I’ve met people my age and had really genuine conversations about their place in the conflict and my place too. It feels powerful to not know everyone’s names but know their stories from the second Intifada. The fact that we are all so willing to jump right into that conversation makes me feel the strength behind the hope. There is a purpose to why we are becoming friends. I have come to realize now more than ever, how I will not be able to un-live these experiences. They have begun to affect how I view my future, the media, my place in the conflict, my government’s responsibility in the conflict…. It’s heavy stuff. But what I’m getting at is that I’m carrying these two weeks and these people with me forever.
It is so incredibly disturbing to me that this kind of oppression is present in the world and is dictating so much of US Foreign Policy—why is the U.S. letting this happen? Check out the BDS movement and consider participating. Also, watch Occupation 101. So much more to say, so little words to say it in, so many languages to translate this message to…