Saturday, September 24, 2011

Palestine - Thursday, September 8th


This morning I put on my tennis shoes and got lost.  I believe this is the only way to really experience someplace new.  I covered nearly every square inch of Bethlehem.  (Some more than once as I have zero sense of direction)  I spent hours in the markets trying to take everything in.  There do not seem to be many foreign tourists visiting the labyrinth of shops in the old city.  I saw maybe one or two the entire day.  Only the locals shop here and that is for daily necessities, not the higher end items tourists might purchase.  I spoke with several shopkeepers and their stories are all very similar.  There is no profit to be made but this is their life and it's all they know.

I spent a good part of my afternoon with Alaa.  He's 27 years old and runs a small shop that sells keffiyehs made in Hebron, hand-carved trinkets, musical instruments and various items his mother hand embroiders.  Some time ago he received a scholarship to the University of Chicago but has been denied a student visa 5 times.  He has given up on his own education and now works two jobs to pay for the education of his 5 younger sisters.  He joked that I should not call him Alaa but instead جمل (camel) because he carries the burden of his entire family.  He brought me some coffee and while we chatted, a friend of his that runs a shop across the street came running over, happy as can be, to tell him he had made a sale.  I thought it must have been big for him to be celebrating.  The sale was 15 dollars and it was the first one he'd made in 4 days.  Alaa explained to me that this was normal now.  The tourists that do come to Bethlehem usually come as a group with hired guides that never bring them into the old city.  He believes the tourists are afraid to venture in alone.  This just blows my mind that people are afraid to come here.  It's media hype and fear mongering that makes them feel this way.  I can't imagine anyone coming here and not having the experience I did today.  They are missing real life.

After a short break at BBC, I went down to the Wall to photograph some of the graffiti.  It's really amazing stuff.  The messages of love and peace adorning this monstrosity only highlight what this is:  it's apartheid and it's revolting.  I remember the first time I saw the Wall in 2008, I felt physically sick.  I knew it was here, I knew what it's purpose was and I'd seen hundreds of photos but it didn't prepare me for the visceral reaction I had when I saw it with my own eyes.  I felt the same way today.  I don't know how any normal human being could feel otherwise.  While the rest of the world is trying to move beyond the sins of their past, Israel is blatantly moving in the opposite direction.  My own country makes small but steady steps attempting to move away from it's racist path and at the same time the state of Israel is building a separation barrier that is higher and longer than the Berlin wall was.  If apartheid is immoral and unacceptable elsewhere in the world, why is it allowed to exist here?  To this day, it's the saddest and most disheartening thing I've ever seen and it makes me ashamed to be human.  

I decided to wait until morning to go to Nabi Saleh.  So instead tonight I went to dinner with Mary and Derrick (the keepers of the BBC guest house) and another guest, Gregg, from Oregon.  We had pizza baked on olive wood, mint lemonade and some bright pink pickled radishes that I don't think I'll ever eat again.  The conversation was great.  All three are devout Christians and understand after tonight that I am not.  They don't seem to hold it against me.

I have so much more to say but I have to be up in 3 hours to catch a bus to Ramallah and then figure out how to get to Nabi Saleh from there.  (insomnia knows no boundaries)

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