Thursday, November 02, 2006

Hope and Flowers

I went to a retreat at the Hope Flowers School in El Khader near Bethlehem on Monday evening. I had to leave work early because the special bus taking us there was leaving at 3:00. I had planned to go several times in the past to this place but for some reason never could. So I was happy to finally be able to visit. But not before I had my harrowing cab ride with a cab driver who should have retired 10 years before.

"How come you don't take cabs often? You should call me whenver you need a cab to go home."

"I walk from work to the center of town"

He turned around to look at my legs. shithole.

I tried to turn the conversation around to make it seem like I'm just one-of-the-guys.

Bad mistake.

"I'm going to the soccer game on Sunday with my son"

"Do you go to the games on Saturday (when there is no public transportation)?"


"I can pick you up from your house and drive you there. We can go to the games together. Don't tell your husband"

"Huh? Oh, I could never do that - because he's my designated DRIVER! He always drives me to wherever I want to go on a Saturday."

"Here's my card. Call me"

"OK" and I dropped the card on the street. Maybe some lonely old lady will pick it up and give him a call.

The guitar player Ofer Golany was with us, and we began our journey with him strumming a lovely rendition of the traveler's prayer in both Hebrew and English. He said he'd have to learn the Arabic version to be fair.

First of all, I love the name of the school. Hope. Flowers. It's a private Palestinian school that teaches co-existence to its 250 pupils. In better times, there were more students. But now people are hard pressed. At least the teachers here get paid which is more than can be said for public school teachers in the Palestinian public school system, where funds are sorely lacking in the civil service departments. Teachers have been on strike because they hadn't received a salary in 6 months. And if Palestinian kids are anything like their Israeli counterparts, you wouldn't want to teach for free. Never.

This was a large school and was housed in a lovely modern building - nothing run down about it, but it was already quite chilly this evening and I had to leave my jacket on throughout the sessions. They don't have any heating/cooling system in the building. It must be difficult for the kids to learn that way. I also noticed the large windows which were quite low. There were no security bars on the windows making me freak out at how dangerous this was - and I feel they were just lucky that there hadn't been any accidents, because a safety inspector in Israel would surely have closed the place down until safety bars were installed.

I munched on some petit beurre cookies that seemed burnt. I muttered to Ofer "I think the Palestinians get our reject cookies. The Israeli market would never let these go for sale in our supermarkets."

"I'm not thinking that." he said.

But I am sure I wasn't imagining it. I know my cookies and I felt my instinct was quite true. I don't think our hosts toasted the friggin' biscuits and really believe they get our reject cookies.

But getting back to our gathering - we were a small group of around 15 people - half Jews - half Palestinians. We discussed the subject of "Reward" from our respective sources and again it only confirmed that we have tons in common. God seemed to reward us the same way and for the same things. But after about 1 1/2 hours, the conversation went from reward to that of not getting rewards and the situation our hosts found themselves in.

We heard fireworks outside. There was a big gathering/party nearby as one of the townsfolk had just gotten out of an Israeli prison after being there for 4 years. His crime? Being in Israel without a permit. The people there live with green ID cards (not the Israeli blue ones) and can't get into Jerusalem easily, even though it's a 10 minute drive only. We were curious about the situation, about the school. What does a private school cost? In Israel it's about 7,000 - 10,000 NIS a year ($1,500 - $2,500), much cheaper than a private school in the States, but alot of money on a lower Israeli salary. They told us that this private school costs 200 NIS a year ($50), but many students could not even pay that tiny amount. Many families in this town are unemployed and are supported by relatives in the Palestinian Diaspora in Europe and the States. If they send $200 a month, it can really help out a family greatly.

The principal, Ibrahim Issa, said they are in Area C, which means it is under Israeli control, which means they are caught in between Israeli and Palestinian territories. For example, if they want to get a fast internet connection, they are not able to connect with the Israeli cable companies, and are not able to connect with Palestinian companies, so they are stuck. They're in no-man's land, so to speak. They tried several ways to get hooked up, but were scammed a couple of thousand dollars already. They would really like to get internet connections so the kids in the school could connect with Israeli kids and make a good "connection". But of course no one outside the school really seems to care if they do or not.

They asked the army to please clear the roadsides which are full of rubble so that the school buses can maneuver the roads safely, but for some reason, they aren't even allowed to do that. It's a security risk, they are told.

So even with all these hardships, Mr. Issa and his staff, continue to plug away at teaching co-existence to his 250 students. As we say in Hebrew - Kol Hakavod! (What an honorable thing!)


tcdrtw said...

The Palestinians are a resiliant people. Hopefully they will stand strong until...until when really. Until the incursions stop, until there is a break in the killing? Until all is resolved or peace is restored? Maybe I'll just say I hope the Palestinians endure and persevere.

That's a great inititive. I hope there are many like it and I hope much good comes from it (not just words).

tcdrtw said...

I forgot to say...

When you talked about the heating and cooling system and it being hard to learn. I'd imagine that is the least of their worries. Since I've heard many schools have not been able to stay open for periods of time in the past due to IOF closures and such, maybe the kids are happier to come in too cold/too hot conditions than, say, American kids.