Friday, April 24, 2015

Alice Rothchild 4/3 & 4/5/15 post# 15

Home visits in Jalazone                                                                                   4/5/15

M. has been a psychologist at the Treatment and Rehabilitation Center for Victims of Torture for six years. After a lively supervision session with four other psychologists, we walk through the jostling streets of Ramallah and pay three-and-a-half shekels for a service to the Jalazone Refugee Camp just north of the city.  The camp is crowded into a quarter of a square kilometer, some 15,000 to 20,000 people descended from 36 villages in the Lydda/Ramleh area pre-1948. UNRWA lists its major challenges as a lack of a sewer system and overcrowded schools. The UNRWA school was renovated in 2014 after years of double shifts. On the radio, a man sings verses of the Quran and Mohammed urges me to “Just listen, the Quran teaches peace, just listen.” 

At a rotary near the Jewish settlement of Bet El, there are burned/blackened areas, the sites of frequent conflicts between stone throwing Palestinian young men, burning tires, and heavily armed IDF soldiers.  We reach a concrete road block with two Israeli soldiers, M. informs me we are 20 seconds from Jalazone, but we have to make a wide detour on a poorly maintained, narrow, bumpy, circuitous road, the traffic slows to a crawl.  M. talks of a cousin in Omaha, his wedding in July, of the poverty in the camp, and the strength of the people.  He is coming to make several home visits.
Center of Jalazone refugee camp

Jalazone refugee camp

First we stop for what seems to be a slow paced schmooze at the Rehabilitation Center for Disabled Children, checking in with the lively director, chatting with two patients.  I tour the facility, the small children’s arts and crafts and play therapy center and a larger area for physical therapy. M. has run weekly group therapy sessions here, but all the talk is about the 20 year old young man who was shot dead in the street one week ago, throwing stones, can M. add his family to his case list? His family is very poor. A poster on the wall features a man crouched in a bottle and the words: Thirst for Freedom.  A smart phone rings with the same jingle as mine, a staff person works at a computer, chain smoking. Lots of people smoking here, men and women.
Rehabilitation Center, physical therapy unit, Jalazone refugee camp
We head out to the first family and I am struck by the bleakness of the camp, all chalky concrete and winding streets, no green space, many martyrs posters, a rare scrawny plant, houses against houses.  M. is well-known, he laughs when I say that he is the camp psychologist and I can see he is enjoying his rock star status. He greets a number of former clients, ex-detainees, mothers of detainees, there is much embracing and strong handshakes and conversation.  An older woman who has had two sons in prison bemoans her life, asks to have a picture taken with me so she can be famous in America, and boasts of the many children she has, the exact numbers are a bit lost in translation, but what I can gather is that she has 75 children/grandchildren/etc., which seems about right for a place where girls marry young and have large families who do the same. 
woman at Jalazone refugee camp, mother of two ex-detainees
We walk up the stairs to an apartment where the living room is a separately locked room across from the rest of the house and sit in a room with plump stuffed chairs and a shelf lined with certificates, like diplomas or sports awards.  But this is Jalazone and these are the certificates of everyone arrested in her family.  M. estimates that a very high percentage of the males in the camp have been detained, often the first arrest is as a young boy caught throwing stones or just caught being a young Palestinian boy.
Jalazone refugee camp, certificates of arrest for one family 
We are joined by a woman maybe in her 40s and a large older woman of indeterminate age (everyone looks older than they are) and a buff young man who wanders in and out, smoking. The younger woman has a son arrested one year ago, the older woman lost one son to the IDF and another is imprisoned serving ten long years. The women serve us tea and when I do not drink mine (in my chronically overhydrated state) she urges me to drink, there is no saying no. While the session is in Arabic with a minimal amount of translation, there is a lot of talking and a lot of listening. I watch the body language, the sighing, the gently rocking back and forth, the agitated young man. They discuss the arrests and M. does what he calls narrative therapy, reconstructing their stories which are obviously filled with pain and anguish to find the moments of strength and pride.

The younger woman’s 21 year old son is imprisoned in the Negev, they are allowed to visit monthly though obtaining a permit is difficult.  The whole trip starts at 6 am and ends at 9 pm.  She spends 45 minutes with her son, staring at him through a glass panel and talking via telephone. No gifts or food are permitted, but they bring shekels for his canteen account.  The older woman’s son was first arrested at 23 by the PA, served two years, and then he was arrested by the Israelis while at his home.  He is now 28 years old. Hearing that I am a doctor, they ask me about blood donations.

At the second home, two very overweight women sit on a wooden platform with a thin cushion, one is smoking; the room is under construction.  Three men are applying concrete, tiling the walls, a woman and a child come in, the men stop to smoke and drink coffee, there is no privacy and a chronic level of chaos. One woman with clearly African features has a son in detention for 30 months, the older woman has a son who is now an ex-detainee.  When he was arrested the Israeli soldiers smashed down the door of the house and caused extensive damage. The ex-detainee underwent psychological and vocational training at TRC, but now he sits at home without a job, like many men in the camp. The women are clearly very depressed, there is a general flatness of affect, and M. suspects PTSD though it is hard to be “post” when it is really “ongoing.”  It is also clearly impossible to do a session under these conditions.  After we leave he reflects on how challenging it is to work with this population, the lack of privacy, the inability to plan visits, it all sounds to me like working with any poor disorganized population who have chaotic, unpredictable lives, an enormous amount of trauma and a mountain of need.

M. decides to visit the mother of a boy paralyzed by an Israeli soldier who shot him in the spine, but the boy is in the hospital in Hebron, so that visit is also cancelled.  We wait for the Ford Transit, watching the flood of children getting out of school, often arms draped over each other, with their large Micky Mouse backpacks, some fighting aggressively in little boy ways, one boy kicking an empty box of sanitary pads, (he clearly needs a soccer ball), many yell, “Hi!” and openly stare at me. M. may be the rock star, but I am obviously the stranger and the camp once again has made the decades-long refugee crisis real and urgent for me.  I watch the sweet faced little boys parading past and wonder what is their future, do they still dream of anything but a life in the camp, no job, a cycle of arrests and detention, their face on a martyrs poster, what pain and disaster awaits them and when will this end?
poster of young man killed by Israeli soldiers
one week ago in Jalazone refugee camp

What’s Mine Is Mine And What’s Yours Is Mine            4/3/15

It is Good Friday and Erev Pesach and I am celebrating the day by taking you, dear reader, on an exploration of the landscape of occupied Palestine.  The sun is in its glory, birds are singing with the passions of spring (after all, what do they know of occupation), and I am eating some freshly made pie concoctions of oregano and goat cheese, all drenched with the life force around here, olive oil produced on the ancestral lands belonging to my host family.  These urban folks have invited me to their village of Sarta and I am taking you there, mile by occupied mile. 

We are traveling north from Ramallah, there are permanent checkpoints and checkpoints like Jaba’ that are closed about once a week (unpredictably of course to cause maximum havoc), halting all north/south traffic. We pass the Jewish settlement of Psagot and at the DCO checkpoint I see a grey Israeli guard tower and two soldiers; they check the husband’s ID and we are waved through.  It seems there is a cat and mouse game that is played out between occupier and occupied: the soldiers are generally young, unsophisticated, and the Palestinians have spent years developing strategies: where to go, which permit where, fake IDs, real IDs and needless to say they have had a lot of time to practice.    

I can see Psagot expanding eastward; we head north on Route 60, an Israeli army jeep just ahead of us.  I notice that all the signs are for Jewish settlements, it seems Palestinian towns and villages have been made geographically invisible. We pass a guard tower on the left, a sign that metaphorically fascinates me: “Caution side winds,” and expanses of spring green penetrating the dynamic grey/brown rocky hills.  It is pretty spectacular. We pass the Jewish settlement of Bet El, the official coordination site of Israeli occupation in the West Bank and formerly the central command headquarters. On the right I spot the impressive settlement of Ofra, circles of red tiled houses and barbed wire and then the sign: Ventra and Tanya Wineries.  Translation: the nice kosher Israeli wine you buy at your local supermarket probably comes from grapes grown illegally in the occupied territories.

On the right there is a collection of beautiful Palestinian homes, Turmus Aia, many houses owned by Palestinian Americans who want a foothold in their homeland; last year this is where an IDF soldier pushed and killed a Palestinian activist. More massive rocks, a single tall minaret surrounded by a cluster of cream colored Palestinian houses, stubby trees clinging to rocky terraces, Israeli flags flapping in the wind, Chag Sameach, this road is used by everyone, but there are obviously no yellow or green flags for you know who.  Lush green farms spread across the valleys, tall cedar trees pierce the landscape, dunums of grape vines fan out before us; it seems that the settlers have a nasty habit of seizing Palestinian farm land for their own under the what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is mine theory of co-existence.

While we drive by many Palestinian villages I am impressed with the amount of open space around us and I am informed that this is Area C. So a quick Oslo Accord lesson: we are traveling through Area C, about 60% of the West  Bank which is under total Israeli control and the location of the majority of Jewish settlements.  Sarta is in Area B which is under Palestinian Authority civil control and shared Israeli military control, shared being a pretty theoretical concept here.  Someone from Sarta built too close to the edge of B and C and their home was demolished. Area A is the main cities, the urban population concentrations which include the fellahin in search of work in Ramallah or Nablus or what could now be viewed ironically as a people without their land.

Farmers and families are bent over in their fields, the earth a rich red color, the hilltops are scattered with tiny outpost settlements, rows of caravans that will someday be major colonies. (I am just being honest here so take a deep breath.) We pass Zatara, a major rotary with signs to the Jordan Valley as well as Tel Aviv, a mere 53 kilometers away, and of course a major checkpoint that can easily close down the entire area. Grey rock huddle like sheep, the settlement of Ariel on the left is a wide expanse of apartment buildings and continuous construction, surveillance towers puncture the horizons; at the base of the mountain that is Ariel lies the unfortunate town of Marda.  It has had no new construction approved since 1967 and desperate families, who strangely enough have continued to have children, get married, and need housing, are expanding vertically, the air above the roof being the only space not quite under Israeli control.   Ariel really goes on forever and forever.  Another rotary and guard tower, a sign to Tel Aviv/Jafo and we come to the largest industrial settlement in the West Bank. In Barqan, (which is partially on land expropriated from Sarta) there are a variety of major industries including plastics, food processing, wood production, huge yellow cranes, tractors, and construction equipment.  International organizations have documented that industrial parks in the West Bank such as this easily evade Israeli environmental safety regulations, thus contributing to the pollution and devastation of Palestinian land and water resources.  Perhaps I am feeling too emotional, but I call this the slow rape of Palestine.

Another tall Israeli guard tower, signs to Qalqilya on the right, followed by a massive settlement that is under construction and a sea of yellow flowers, spring groundset, completely oblivious to the turmoil around them.  We pass the family’s grandmother’s land that has been taken by settlers, rows of majestic, resilient olive trees; interestingly the original family still harvests the olives. Past the home of the mother, past Bidya, and then a left to Sarta, old winding roads and clusters of Palestinian houses.

We arrive in this 500 year old town of teachers, and farmers, and PA employees, people who have never left, people who are returning, or building their country homes on family land.  Families work in Ramallah or open businesses in Norway or get PhDs in Ohio, but return for the children or the land or the smell of orange blossoms in the spring and the quiet of country living.  It has an old city, ruins and courtyards, and children playing along the street, a mosque and a school.  The old men still wear suits and ties on the weekends and red checkered kaffiyas with the black iqal circling their heads.  At the top of the hills I can see the high rises of Tel Aviv.

I am completely unprepared for what this family has built here.  On the grandfather’s land, surrounded by brothers and cousins and relations of all kinds, we enter a magical Garden of Eden, white stone paths, gazebos, terraced gardens, roses blooming, metal archways wound with vines that will burst into bloom, and vineyards, olive trees and bushes that sparkle in yellow and red and purple, enormous geraniums; irises and crown anemone spring up between cracks in the stones.  The iridescent sunbird, recently declared the national bird of Palestine (glad those legislators are involved in such important decisions) flits in the sun, drip irrigation winds its way through impending paradise, and walls of volcanic rock frame the paths and terraces. There is a small pleasing white house, a cast of rambunctious well-loved children, and relations to visit.  The nonstop eating and drinking begins early, (a fabulous date cake, followed shortly thereafter by an amazing traditional dish of stuffed squash and grape leaves, lamb, and chicken preceded and followed by tea and coffee on an every hour or two kind of schedule).  I thought we women were “hiking” (at last) while the men were praying at the mosque, but we “hiked” up the hill to the first relation and the date cake. Exercise in Palestine. The only real dose of reality is the Jewish settlement visible on the crest of the mountain from almost anywhere in the garden. It occurs to me that planting this land is perhaps a quiet but palpable form of resistance.       
Jewish settlement visible on the crest of the hill adjacent to Sarta

Hours later we head south along the western route, a circuitous snaking mountainous road through Masha, under a modern bypass road (ie for vehicles with Israeli license plates only, translation Jews only), past Israeli jeeps parked ominously along the road, the fortress like settlement of Ofarim, Palestinian wedding parties, Israeli guard towers, Fatah flags, snub nosed goats and braying donkeys, to deliver me to my friends in Aboud, an intriguing village that is half Christian and half Muslim.  I learn that “Palestinians turn stones into gold,” cutting the massive rocks that pervade the landscape and selling them to Israelis and Jordanians, while “Jordanians turn gold into rocks,” buying these stones to build their cities.  We drive by a mountain top that has been flattened, huge piles of dirt, the beginning of a new settlement, through more olive groves and farmers bent towards the earth. Past tiny villages and flashy gated mansions, baby olive groves, replanted after decimation by Jewish settlers or IDF, then left into Aboud.  The sign, “Welcome to Aboud” lies on its side by the road and a rider-less horse gallops by. Reality as allegory. 

I am excited to spend Good Friday with a Christian family, another cross cultural experience for this wandering Jew and I am in no mood to celebrate Passover.  As we are warmly greeted, I learn that the Christians in this town are Catholic and Greek Orthodox.  In an unusual show of ecumenical unity, they celebrate Christmas on the Catholic calendar, (December 25th), but Easter (and thus Good Friday and Palm Sunday) on the Greek Orthodox calendar. Thus, I am amazed to learn that in this town, Good Friday is next week.  Fortunately for me, the women have already started cooking traditional cookies and breads for Easter, delicious little cakes filled with dates (the crown) and walnuts (the sponge).  If you are lost, check out The Passion.  Let the eating begin. By 11:00 pm, many cups of coffee/tea/juice/plates of couscous/chicken/special Easter bread drenched with olive oil and za’atar… are you getting the picture? I am discretely wrapping tasty morsels in tissue and dropping them into my bag to avoid offending anyone in this generous, food-is-love you are most welcome kind of place.

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