Tonight we had a meeting with the women of Mass-Ha to discuss the village’s history. A woman whose daughter is teaching with us in the summer camp spoke about her unique situation, which is documented in the film, “The Color of Olives.” Her house, once formally part of Mas-Ha, is now separated by the wall and two gates. The Israeli government offered her a new home and payment, but she refused saying she would rather stay in her home, on her land, and endure anything that happens to her. They allowed her to stay, but the suffering she has gone through since 1948 “catastrophe” as they call it here, is unimaginable.
At first she was allowed into her village twice a day and if she missed the times she would be stuck on either side. She is not allowed visitors (which is a staple element of Arab culture). Living like this for a year attracted international attention. She was joined by members of the International Solidarity Movement, Human Rights Activists, and Red Cross who camped out in her yard. This support gave her the courage to ask the Israeli government for the key to the gate so she could come and go as she pleased. Even with a key, sometime she is unable to pass through so it is rendered useless. If she is locked on one side, she can call Red Cross, but they often take hours to get there to demand that she be let through. There are cameras on her home watching that she does not allow Palestinian men to sneak through the border to work in Israel, which they often try to do to feed their families even though it is illegal. People literally throw stones at her and her children. Once her two young children were playing in the front yard and a soldier told her they didn’t have the right to play there and had to go inside.
After talking about the village for a few hours, we were asked what we thought. What will we do now? I didn’t have any answers. I told them I support and believe in peaceful protest, especially from women using media as a tool. I think that what I have to offer is the teaching work we are doing in this camp as well as bringing was I learn and experience here back to America and share it with all of you. I feel very strongly that the decision to be peaceful and make a change must come from within the Palestinian people and then hopefully media will respond and support them.
They exploded with comments in Arabic. Wouldn’t we, the Bard students, when faced with threats on our home and family, feel the rage and passion to respond with violence? How can we claim that if someone throws stones at our children, we would not throw them back? We can’t. We came to no conclusion.
There is a Palestinian saying: I am so tired I am seeing the rooster as a rabbit. This is how I felt today after the kids camp today. The kids line up in the morning with their hands on each others shoulders (ketefs). The girl in the front of the line sticks her arms out straight like a zombie. My homeroom is called, “The Clowns" (moonhar) because when the speak to me in Arabic and I don’t understand, I have resorted to making silly faces or dancing. They must think I am an idiot, but they seem to enjoy it.
Most of my theater class is group physical and vocal warm-ups that do not involve words. Some of the older kids can handle improv games, but I have noticed a consistent resistance to making things up. They will mime “washing the dishes” or “praying” or “planting flowers” over and over. I try to explain that because it is theater they could be “scuba diving,” or “flying to the moon,” or anything.
The Bard girls had a private meeting yesterday. We were asked nicely to try to speak English more slowly so the Palestinians can understand and try not to dominate the conversation. We do tend to be louder, bolder, and more annoying than they are. We laugh at our own jokes, sit with our legs spread, and walk around the house less than properly clothed. I find that when I am wearing a headscarf, I am naturally quieter simply due to the restriction of movement. Maybe this is intentional. We emerged, laughing and talking, from our private meeting only to disrupt a solitary Palestinian woman praying quietly in the next room.
I am getting better at teaching the English Workshop in the afternoons. The girls are older (I have the advanced class since I don’t know Arabic). Yesterday we worked on Travel Vocabulary and I asked where they had all traveled. Jordan, Saudi Arabia, or Mecca was the most popular answers. We learned the verb “permit” (which unfortunately is a noun as well) and they made up sentences about being permitted to enter Jerusalem (Al Quds).
Last night we were invited to a wedding! I think there were more people staring at the Bard students than the bride. The celebration was in actuality an engagement party and lacked all the characteristics that an American wedding would deem successful. There were plastic chairs, nothing to drink, and no men. However, they did have a bride, beloved family members, and loud music. After kissing the bride four times total on each cheek, bending over to avoid her enormous lavender princess gown, we were eagerly beckoned onto the dance floor where we encountered women and children, many of them our students, dancing tirelessly and smiling at our earnest attempt to imitate their style. It was so much fun.
The food here is fantastic. Crisp, crunchy cucumbers, which I have never been a fan of until this trip. Amazing rich humus, and lots of it. Oven roasted chicken and eggplants with sweet mint tea. We live like a band of majestic goddesses. We do our own dishes with soda bottles filled with water from the bathroom, but one of the family members comes and takes our laundry to some unknown place and brings it back smelling like strawberries. The shower, though cold, is the size of a Bard single and is always very refreshing after being out all day clothed from wrists to ankles. My legs are blistering with mosquito bites and I have scarf hair most of the time, but I honestly have never felt more beautiful than being with these women.
We had falafel for lunch and stuffed eggplants, squash, and potatoes for dinner with a lamb stew of rice. Comparing notes over food led us to a discussion of Thanksgiving, which the Palestinians believed was a solely Jewish holiday. It is funny the things we misinterpret or take for granted about society. The fact that people say, “I do” at weddings or wake up to pray at 4:30am mystifies both sides of this cultural exchange.
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