why can’t I say anything meaningful?

Personal note:  it’s hard for me to talk in detail about the Israeli military occupation of Palestine. 

...while in Arabic it says that any person who "touches" the wall is in mortal danger. This wall divides a street literally in half by running down the very middle of the street in a residential Palestinian neighborhood

-One reason is that I’m terrible at talking politics.   I don’t have a television or  speak Arabic well enough to listen to the radio, so news is slow getting to me.  There are people doing a good job blogging the cold hard facts about Palestine and the military occupation of Palestine by Israel.   They have a grasp of the politics and history of this situation.  They share pictures of the devastation and humiliation Palestinians are subjected to on a daily basis.

my dad and I at that same wall shown above (with the mortal danger sign).

Me?  I’m a full time mom living under occupation.  I see the occupation in terms of kids’ toys and groceries, safe playgrounds and clean bathrooms.  My corner of Palestine is ruled by my 2 kids who need to eat, play, and get to bed before 9pm and who (I confess) I love more than anything else in the world.

"Hitty Mouse". Ah, did you mean Whack-A-Mole? This is at one of the indoor play places that is just packed with ultra-stimulating "shekel toys" or mechanical penny rides.

we played on this mobile basketball hoop because the playground has been closed for the year. Actually, we had a good time playing on it but I do wish we could do something about parks here.

-Which brings me to the second reason I don’t feel I can “blog for Palestine”.  My life in Palestine is cushy compared to Palestinians who are living outside Ramallah.  Ramallah is relatively stable, free of Israeli soldiers, and has the benefit of being on the media’s radar.  If something big happens, coverage starts in Ramallah where one can find a 5 star hotel, a chain of American-style coffee shops called “Stars and Bucks” and a KFC.

or you could try "Birth Cafe" if Stars and Bucks is too mundane. I wonder if they serve lollipops and ice chips?

Of course, coverage also seems to end in Ramallah because just outside Ramallah people are getting their homes demolished, people are being brutalized, imprisoned, and killed in actions sanctioned by Israel in the name of this occupation.  When was the last time you heard media coverage about the West bank village of Az-Za’ayyem?  What about ongoing shelling in Gaza?  Did you hear that pin drop?  So I don’t feel qualified to speak in broad terms about the occupation while I sit here in Ramallah as a privileged foreigner.  But I will tell you about my “cushy” life under military occupation in Palestine.  It counts…but not as much as if I were a mom in Gaza.

Ramallah’s Bubble:

They call this the “Ramallah bubble.”  The insinuation is that I am safer here than elsewhere in the West Bank.  But Ramallah is still under military occupation and “bubble” is exactly right.  It’s something rare and delicate that you can’t count on.  And safety is relative, isn’t it?

we had to drive next to one of many settlements on the way to Jericho. Amidst the pastoral scenes of small villages and women picking in their gardens, these ugly outposts just appear and suck the pretty out of everything. Who wants to live behind all this barbed wire?

Illegal Israeli settlement on top of a ridge on the drive to Jericho. All settlements are illegal as it is considered a war crime to settle land that you are also subjugating/occupying. I am sure those weird geometric domes have an obvious purpose, but all I can think is that they look all the more forced and alien in the midst of Palestine's beautiful rolling hills.

for example, these beautiful rolling hills and that beduoin encampment.

I carry my passport everywhere, “just in case”.  To drive to the next town causes me anxiety because if we get lost we inevitably end up on the wrong road headed to a military checkpoint or maybe (worse) a settlement.  Not to mention the reports of Palestinians (or anyone assumed to be Palestinian) being attacked by Israeli settlers on small interior roads.

Israeli settler graffiti (?) on a beduoin encampment on the drive to Jericho.

moonscape with Huggies. Strange.

My eyes constantly flit to the 2 car seats full of everything that matters to me in the world as I drive from Ramallah to Jericho.  “Is it worth it?” I ask myself.  It’s unlikely that I would encounter any trouble, but it’s also true that I am closer to war, desperation, oppression and an unpredictable military presence than I have ever been.

 

Qalandia

coffee for traffic weary Palestinians stuck in the Qalandia checkpoint traffic jam. See the brass coffee pot on the little table between the lanes of traffic? Love it.

*pop* goes our personal bubble:

Last week I went to Jerusalem to see the old city with a friend and her lovely 16 month old son, Z.  I chose to leave my 2 kids with their Baba because I had an agenda (agendas and my kids don’t mix well) and I knew the day would be much longer than either of my kids would enjoy.  Plus absence makes the heart grow fonder…it’s good to get a break now and again.  Z did amazingly well, and at the end of the day I decided that I ought to bring my 2 kids to Jerusalem next time with no agenda and just spend a few hours wandering the old streets with them.  It would be nice to do something outside our box and learn to travel a little more together.  Plus we’d have pictures of it forever:  them in the old city beside the beautiful antiquities, them walking the cobbled stones and winding streets.   By the time I got home I had made up my mind and had even recruited my friend and her son to come back with us.  Smiling, we agreed it would be a great way to spend a day together as 2 moms and 3 young kids with nothing to do but explore.

It took me until that evening to remember that my plan was impossible.

*pop*

You see, my kids have a Palestinian dad.  And while my American passport has a stamp that allows me to visit Israel, my kids were denied the same stamp when they entered Palestine 10 months ago from Jordan.  So my American passport holding, Texan, home-birthed kids ages 2 and 4 have been denied entry to Israel, denied the very same stamp that their mother has.  Are my 2 and 4 year old children a threat to Israeli security?  Of course not.  This is just a little peek at the big, Kafka-esque, crazy-making occupation machine.  I can enter Israel, but my 2 and 4 year old kids cannot.

me in the old city Jerusalem

laundry drying above St. Anne's Chapel in the old city of Jerusalem. Ancient and modern are jumbled together, and live atop one another.

And while I’m venting, I might as well mention that my husband also cannot enter Israel.  Ever.  So any trips to the old city of Jerusalem or the beach at Tel Aviv will never shared with him.  He can’t come to the airport to pick anyone up.  If we need medical care from an Israeli hospital, he can’t get there.

*pop*

Not being able to take my kids to Jerusalem was a rude awakening, and it is the first time the occupation has directly affected my children.  The occupation suddenly felt personal and creepy, like an insult.  Like a threat.  Someone who doesn’t know them at all has decided precisely what my children are, and based on that they determined what my kids cannot do in their lifetimes.  At 2 and 4 years old, their lives have already been restricted.  Limited.

bar code street art in Birzeit

 

It’s not right.  My kids are so young, the world should still be their oyster. That’s how I want to them to see the world they live in and that’s what we tell them (and I am fully aware that this is my version of the White Man’s Burden, because even with this restriction my kids are among the most privileged in the world).

This was also the first time it hit me just how powerless I am over here.   Welcome to the occupation, mom.  We’ll take it from here.  Palestinians to the back of the bus.

Travel

If I want to travel out of Palestine I am funneled along with all West Bank residents through one (just one!) teeny tiny portal to the outside world called the Allenby Bridge where I can expect fees, questioning, long lines, dirty bathrooms, confusing processes, hostile soldiers, and a lot of stress.  Did I mention I have 2 very young children who travel with me?  And when I return, it’s a guessing game whether or not Israel will issue me a new visa and for how long.  3 months?  1 month?  Or will they tell me I have 48 hours to get my things and go?  I’m told never to use the word “home” when referring to Ramallah because I’m not allowed to live here.   I’m told I must mention my strong desire to see holy sites in Israel or I will be denied that little stamp in my passport just like my kids.

None of this even begins to address daily life under occupation.  Add kids and you have my daily life under occupation:  off brand groceries, dismal playgrounds, iffy healthcare, electricity going out whenever it rains or if I plug in 3 appliances at once, inadequate sewage solutions, diesel fuel to heat my home…this blog.

more odd groceries (a little obsession of mine). "Cross Nursing Toothbrush"?

 

The occupation does not entirely define Palestine. 

a photo of onions. I came across this little still life next to a worksite and I presume they are from the laborers making lunches. Nearby were some turkish coffee pots as well.

Palestine is not the occupation.  The occupation is like a cancer that Palestine is fighting: insidious and uninvited and apparently really damn hard to get rid of.  Palestine itself is full of good people, and other loving moms who are also unhappy with broken or non-existent playgrounds and iffy healthcare.  Moreover Palestine is full of people who are stronger and more resilient than myself and than most people I know.  And it’s really beautiful here.

seriously. this is just a short drive from my house.

another beautiful sunset over the wadi

We moved here to be close to family, to see Palestine, and to permanently connect our children to this half of their cultural heritage.  Seeing my kids get to know their Palestinian grandparents has been totally lovely.  And both my kids speak a growing amount of Arabic and have a taste for Arabic food.  They will never be able to eat those hockey pucks that pass for Falafel in the states!  And they will not know what to do with fish sticks or bagels.

making the best of it. Actually, making a pile of pillows to jump from.

While I’m not yet sure where I fit in, or where we fit in as a family, here we are.  We are making the best of it for now and I am enjoying blogging my personal experience of life under occupation.  So there you have it:  this is my non-political life in the eye of middle east politics.  As you can see, the politics of the occupation are unavoidable no matter how hard you try.  If you avoid checkpoints, your groceries will remind you.

Mom Thought for Today:  a little laughter.

For some reason today the kids and I were talking about our “star signs”.   Sufyan’s an Aquarius and Laila is a Capricorn.  These are new words for my kids so they’ve both been practicing telling me over and over what their star signs are.

Sufyan says he is an “Aquarium.”

Laila swears she is a “Peppercorn.”

Yoga Thought for Today:  asana with toddlers continues

downdog with pretend breakfast.

I have been away from my practice for 2 weeks owing mostly to having had a visitor and prioritizing our excursions into Palestine.  My body aches and I feel like I’ve got lead shoulder pads on. I realize once again that my practice is what is keeping me healthy and mobile.  However, Laila is going through some serious separation anxiety right now and a closed door (while I go practice) is so overwhelming to her that I really can’t leave her.  So we are trying an experiment.  I am practicing in their playroom.

jathara paravrtti, family size

They are free to come and go, and they get to try some asana if they want.  Plus they get to see me practice everyday so in some ways this is better for them because yoga practice will be a part of their awareness from this early stage in life.  I always envied friends who’d grown up with yoga.  I do miss closing a door and having some space to myself, but I’m sure there will be plenty of years ahead that I WISH they wanted to just come hang out with me.   Insh’allah.

dvipada pitham with a snuggle. Or a "snoodle" as Laila calls it.

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8 thoughts on “why can’t I say anything meaningful?

    • Thanks Beth. You also inspire me! You are so creative and loving to your 4 kids, you seem to have endless energy and I love reading about your take on life from your foreign country!

  1. An informative, infuriating, and inspirational post all at once!

    I just wanted to note that you *may* be able to get your children into “Israel”, as they are well below the age of 16 (when the soldiers start enforcing movement restrictions on them). Most likely, there would be no problem of you driving in with them. The soldiers will only check your identification. And even if they (somehow) determined that your kids carry a Palestinian hawiyyeh number, under Israeli law they are minors and have the right to enter as long as one parent is with them. I’ve used this loophole with relatives in the past. Hope this helps!

    • Yes, thank you. I appreciate the info. I remember now that I have heard before that I can take them until 16. What the hell is 16, anyway? So maybe it’s worth a try. The thing is, when we went through Qalandia with Z, the soldiers did ask for everyone’s passport including Z’s. I noticed he didn’t even open them, perhaps because they were all American. But if he had, and if Z had not had a stamp, maybe we would have had a problem or as you say maybe not. I think it’s worth a try! We are going.

  2. Hi

    I am writing to you from the other side of the wall. I am a Jewish person that moved to Israel 10 years ago. I am against the occupation of the Palestinian people and I fully believe in the need for a Palestinian state. I came across your blog after googling to see what life is like in Ramallah. To be honest from the photos that you have posted, life in Ramallah does not look as bad as I expected it to. I have found your blogs to be very interesting and provides a good insight into life under occupation.

    A few comments I would like to make with respect to your last blog

    1)Your fear of Israeli soldiers and settlers is very similar to the average Israeli fears of Palestinians.
    2) The occupation also works in the reverse – as an Israeli citizen, it is illegal for myself and my kids to visit Ramallah.
    3)I think its wrong to assume that if the occupation didnt exist that Palestine would be a thriving economic metropolis. The economy would more likely be on the level of Jordan or Syria rather than Israel or the USA.

    I believe for the long term viability of Israel as an independent state, there is no choice but to support the creation of a viable Palestinian state. You should be able to bring up your kids in Ramallah in peace and security the same as I should be able to bring up my kids in Tel Aviv in peace and security.

    Have a happy christmas and keep on blogging

    CG

    • Hi CG. I’m so happy to hear from you! What a wonderful note to leave for me and for other people wondering where the voices of dissent from the other side of the wall are. We know you are there. I am very happy to have the opportunity to see things from your perspective, and to organize my thoughts about your comments. Before I do, let me say that I believe it’s hard to convey correct tone via comments and emails so please know that my responses come from a place of gratitude to you for crossing the wall in your own thinking and warmth as a parent to another parent.
      Here are my responses to your comments:

      1)Your fear of Israeli soldiers and settlers is very similar to the average Israeli fears of Palestinians.

      —I’m not surprised to hear this. There is so much fear on both sides, so much anxiety feeding this conflict. I want to point out, though, that soldiers holding automatic weapons, who have dominion over your activities and your person are something to fear in a very real sense. It’s so scary to be around these young people, these kids, with guns while my children are with me in the car especially! The threat is literal and present. Also, many Palestinians have to encounter these guns and soldiers every day and in less regulated places than Ramallah or major check points. This is not to say that what the average Israeli fears is not real. I can only imagine how much fear there is of the hatred that the Israeli occupation has caused manifesting in some physical action should you find yourself facing someone who only sees you as an occupier. Not everyone is willing to think outside the box they’ve been put in.

      2) The occupation also works in the reverse – as an Israeli citizen, it is illegal for myself and my kids to visit Ramallah.

      —-I think you are pointing out that the Israeli military occupation negatively impacts life for Israeli citizens as well as Palestinians and I totally agree. What Israel is doing hurts us all. However, as you surely realize, to compare what you can’t do to what the average Palestinian can’t do is comparing apples to oranges. It’s your version of the white man’s burden. It’s like me complaining about having to go through the Allenby Bridge, because as an American I can choose to go through the foreigner side and be less subjected to the harshness of the Palestinian side. Palestinians don’t have that choice. Or, for that matter, the fact that if I had come in via Tel Aviv I would have retained the right to exit that way but since my husband (Palestinian) can’t do that I chose Allenby. Again, I had a choice that most Palestinians don’t.
      Also, you are being disallowed from entering Ramallah (area A) by Israel, not by Palestine. The difference is important because it points out who holds all the power in this situation. You are still allowed to travel into much of the rest of the West Bank without a special permit. My husband cannot enter Israel at all. Not to any city.
      One effect of you not being able to come into Ramallah is that you literally cannot see what life is like here. And from my pictures, life may not look “so bad” but let me assure you I am not taking pictures of the worst parts of life here. Refugee camps, for example. Or the area outside of Qalandia in which Palestinians who want to keep permission to enter Israel are forced to live and pay taxes but who get no municipal services at all (this I have seen with my own eyes). And I can’t take a picture of the depression that seems to have seeped in everywhere. The “occupation mindset” so to speak.
      So in not being able to come here and see with your own eyes, you may go on thinking it’s “not so bad” and that is to the benefit of those who want to keep this occupation alive.
      Also, I live in Ramallah. Things are the best of the worst here, so to speak.

      3)I think its wrong to assume that if the occupation didnt exist that Palestine would be a thriving economic metropolis. The economy would more likely be on the level of Jordan or Syria rather than Israel or the USA.
      —-You are right. I don’t think that without the occupation Palestine would necessarily be thriving. I have no idea what Palestine’s economy would be like had the occupation never existed at all because the occupation does exist and it is woven into the very DNA of every moment of life in Palestine. To my mind, the heart of the issue is not how great the economy might theoretically be if Palestine were free instead of occupied, but that Palestine needs to have it’s own economy to thrive or not on its own. I take it from your stance on the 2 state solution that you would agree with this. But it’s dismissive to say, “Well Palestine wouldn’t be that great off without the occupation, anyway.” You seem to be someone who has an open heart and mind, so I want to point out this sentiment that seems to be lurking under your well intentioned words.

      I believe for the long term viability of Israel as an independent state, there is no choice but to support the creation of a viable Palestinian state. You should be able to bring up your kids in Ramallah in peace and security the same as I should be able to bring up my kids in Tel Aviv in peace and security.

      —Absolutely. I very much agree. I support the creation of an independent state of Isreal.

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