Thursday, April 07, 2005

Coming Home

Well, I just found out that I'm coming home on Sunday... I'm totally not mentally prepared for this! So much for my new-found flexibility - I need a rigid, well-planned schedule, and this is definitely not it!
More, perhaps, to come. Stay tuned.
And for those of you who are still wondering, no, I don't work for the CIA.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Fraternizing with Fatah

Well, the feeling of “life here is mundane” has been alleviated a little by the fact that, when we opened up the local paper this morning, our pictures were in the same frame as Qurei, the Prime Minister. That’s right. I’m in the paper. In Palestine. With one of the most well-known figures in the Middle East. Where did this life come from? I'll see if I can get a .jpg of it, and send it around.

We went the launch of the new domain “.ps” – the official Palestine internet domain. It was really interesting, because I came into it thinking, “Um, ok. Great, a new internet domain.” The point, though, had very little to do with the internet, and quite a lot to do with nationalism. The crux of it being that “Palestine” is a concept that is really more mental and emotional than geographic. For a nation with such a tenuous hold on land, the idea of a virtual community is very powerful. An event that would register in the American media with barely a blip became a very real manifestation of Palestinian nationalism.

The entire event also underscored a very interesting fact. This place is very, very small. Everyone knows everyone. “Far away” is two hours by car. One of the guys in the office was talking to me about how rare it is for single women to live alone in Palestine, and I was talking about how, in America, if you live 500 miles from your family, it’s not even really all that “far.” It’s an odd feeling, to see such a closely knit community.

There is no street crime here – you can walk around, and you won’t be mugged. The police spend the bulk of their time directing traffic (the security forces are another matter, but they aren’t running after muggers, either), or so it appears, and even right around the refugee camps (which aren’t actually camps, after this long – they’re more like public housing projects), the problems are poverty and unemployment, not drugs or crime. To be honest, I’m not sure what to make of it.

Here, we have a city that is faded and run down, but safe, on a day-to-day basis. At home, we have beautiful parks, and a shining capital, but places where you can’t get out of your car for fear of being shot. Is there always this dichotomy? How do you find the balance between fighting the outside world, and fighting yourself? Neither Washington nor Ramallah has managed to do that yet.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

"I'm not a terrorist, I'm a student!"

My friend Hamad was talking the other day about how much he likes going to Europe, because he can travel with no one stopping him. "You're more free in my country than I am," he says. And it's true.

He told me a story from a time two years ago when he was in college, and late for a lecture.

'I was on the road headed back to Jenin, and stopped at a checkpoint. The soldier looked at my ID and said, "You are from Jenin. Are you a terrorist?" (Let's just stop here for a second and think about whether that question would have any effect whatsoever, and then continue our story.) "I'm not a terrorist," I said. "I'm a student."
"Pull over there, please."
An hour passed.
The soldier returned and said, "Tell me a story."
"I'm sorry?"
"Tell me a story! When were you born?"
"Ah, 1980."
"Alright, you can go." I never did tell him the story.'

I honestly have no idea what to make of that. I suppose it's what happens when you put children in charge of security.

Friday, April 01, 2005

This one's about politics

Raise your hand if you’ve ever danced until 2:00 am in a Palestinian nightclub to such old favorites as Ace of Base’s “All That She Wants,” or a remix of “I Will Survive.” From what I can tell, my “date?” last night may actually have been a “Date.” Not entirely sure what that means here, though, particularly as I’m leaving in a matter of weeks. We’ll see if anything gets interesting.

Meanwhile, as you may have read on the news, a group of militants shot up Abbas’ compound on Wednesday night, and then hit a few restaurants in downtown Ramallah. Abbas’ compound is about half a mile away, so we could hear the shooting, but didn’t know what it was about until later. It’s odd – Ramallah’s a pretty quiet place, but all you hear on the news are the pieces like this.

The reaction here? Everyone I know was either nervously frightened, or angry at the people who had caused the shooting. It’s interesting, as the Palestinians are fairly united in their opposition to Israel’s policies (although divided on the means to such opposition), but the question of their relationship with the rest of the world is a bit murky, and the reaction to Abbas’ diplomacy (or capitulation, to some) is divided.

Uniformly, no one likes Bush, and this entire region is, if not angry, then astonished at the way that the Middle East, and the Palestinians in particular, are portrayed in the American media. The EU is more popular, and visible, here. The apartments where I’m staying have the Palestinian flag, the UN flag, and the EU flag. Despite the fact that there are some Americans here, our flag is conspicuously absent, and I find that its lack makes me feel safer. If I’m taken for a Brit while abroad, so much the better. The people I’ve met have nothing against Americans as people, but they do not like our policies, and will tell you so at any opportunity (over dinner, in the cab, etc.). They will, though, be careful to make the distinction between policy and people, which is comforting.