Saturday, November 07, 2009

The Country of Everest - Beit Jala

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to spend a weekend at the Everest Hotel, which had been given good publicity a couple of weeks ago in the Jerusalem Post. The conference was sponsored by the Center for Emerging Futures advertised as:

Building Grassroots Partnerships

Beyond opinions, beyond fears,
beyond simplistic solutions and beyond politics:

A meeting of Palestinians – Israelis – Internationals
A human gathering of listening and co-creation

Sounded just like what I needed. I remembered the tough time I experienced last time I was there two years ago and I hoped things would be a bit different this time.

I didn't feel like spending money on a cab to get to Beit Jala. I took the bus from Maaleh Adumim to Talpiot when I decided I would take the Arab 21 bus straight to Beit Jala. I saw an Arab woman standing by the stop and started a conversation with her in my very broken Arabic but enough that she understood that I wanted to get to the Everest Hotel. She was so pleased that I asked for her assistance, after all, it's not every day that an Israeli woman would come over to ask an Arab woman for directions. She quickly offered me some of the seeds she was eating and invited me for coffee at her house. I would have loved to go, but I was going to be an hour late already. I sat in the back of the bus, some people staring, probably wondering if I was Jewish, a journalist or just a plain ol' foreigner or all three. The bus pretty much emptied out at a stop where taxis were waiting to take people to Hebron. It took about 15 minutes to get to Beit Jala and the bus left me off quite close to the hotel.

The introduction circle had already begun. I was listening to people's share of why they came - some had never met the other before, some wanted an end to the occupation, some wanted this for their children and I said I needed this kind of gathering for my mental health, which elicited some laughter. Of course, I mentioned that I came from Maaleh Adumim, which caused some murmuring among the crowed, but I happily saw that there was another young man from my city too.

We sat in a listening circle with Raed from an area near Ariel. He was harsh. No settlements! he cried, No occupation!!! YOU move to Tel Aviv and I move to Maaleh Adumim. He glared at me.

I told him that's impossible. Although I love to visit Tel Aviv, I'm not moving from Maaleh Adumim and if he wants to move and live with me in my community, that would be fine with me. I'm obviously not thinking or caring what my other 37,000 neighbors think of my ideas. He quieted down because he actually liked the idea of "living with me" and kept on repeating "living with you?" about 20 times. But he still believed that the settlements were the only problem and if they were removed, peace would miraculously appear in the region. I said the conflict was much older and deeper than 1967. He walked away from our table only to return with some crackers shaped like fish and handed each one of us a cracker - like a peace offering of sorts. This we thought was a lovely gesture from a man so angry, and we spoke about it in the larger circle.

Other forms of "giving" were done that weekend. One young Palestinian from Hebron said he was touched when, on Friday night, he complained of a horrible stomach ache. A Jewish woman made him some mint tea.

Another said he had a terrible headache and a Jewish tai chi instructor gave him some treatment and within minutes his headache was gone.

Jewish Oud player Yair Dalal entertained us on Friday evening with young musicians from Beit Jala.

This weekend I connected more deeply with some people, especially some of the women that came with their husbands from Twane and Umm al-Kheir. My Arabic was slightly better than it was a couple of years ago and their husbands spoke good English. They were such sweet people. One came over to me after I had lit the Sabbath candles and wished me a warm "shabbat shalom". They feel tormented by the Jews who live in nearby Carmel and Maon farms. Although the settlements receive 100% water supply and electricity, they don't have electricity and running water more than 3 hours a day. I guess we can't exchange email addresses. By the end of the weekend, my partnership goal/promise was to assist the families as best as I can by them making goat cheese and milk and yogurt products, as well as olive oil products and assisting these families in selling their products to tour groups and individuals who visit the South Hebron area. They can't really produce organic or any veggies or fruits, for that matter, on a large scale basis because of the water/electrical shortages. They are just able to grow whatever they can for their own use. But I figure this might help them out just a bit.

At breakfast Saturday morning, I sat with two young women, one raven-haired Jewish beauty from Belgium, whom everyone mistook for an Arab woman, and one who recently moved from Seattle who was 23 years old, but had the compassion and maturity of a much older woman. I told her my kids, who were her age, just thought about parties, shopping, friends, etc. She told me she was born an old woman and I laughed. We then sat around and spoke about visiting one another in Tel Aviv and Ashdod and perhaps having brunch on the Tel Aviv Port one day and then the conversation abruptly stopped.

"You know 'they' can't do all these things we're just taking for granted" - we almost said in unison - looking at our Arab table mates. We were almost embarrassed by this.

Leaving my nirvana on Saturday afternoon was difficult this time. We really connected and just this week I had a call from Twane asking when I plan to come down to visit. I told them for sure later on this month. Promises made have to be kept.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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