This is an excerpt from a Middle East Eye article I published in the summer reflecting on the social documentary project my dear friend Asala Salhab and I carried out on the West Bank, Palestine in the summer of 2014 🙂
Today I attended the Celebration of the International Day of Jerusalem in Sofia which featured talks by the Palestinian and Iranian Embassadors in Bulgaria and other high profile individuals related to the politics of the Middle East. The talks all revolved aroun the current situation in Gaza and on the West Bank, so at the end I asked to adress the public and was actually given the floor without being on the schedule or even knowing the organizers in advance. Continue reading
In second grade I invited my classmates and friends from school to celebrate my birthday. My mom and I cooked all day and prepared a one-of-a-kind home-made Barbie-like cake with a real doll inside. It was perfect.
When nobody came I stayed at our apartment’s balcony hoping that people are just late, crying. The only kid who showed up was a girl I used to go to kindergarden with whom I had randomly met and invited the previous day. This girl, Lina Stankova, soon became my best friend and has been a best friend in the true meaning of the word ever since.
As I grew up I stopped being excited for birthdays. I think it was just less painful than expecting much and getting dissapointed, especially on the day the world tells you should be your one “special day”. Continue reading
Today I led my first class of English for beginners at the Hebron YDRC.
The group for beginners will meet every Tuesday and Thursday and I was very excited to finally start teaching after spending last week correcting placement tests and preparing lesson plans 🙂
I had scheduled a program of diverse activities aiming to help my students develop all the skills necessary to confidently express themselves in English emphasizing on speaking which I have been told they have had the least exposure to.
As the group gathered we started with getting-to-know-each-other activities I had prepared. The first one, called “Name cards”, consists of participants writing their own “name cards” and then distributing them to others. The game allows learners to both get to know others and exercise introducing themselves in English.
As I explained the rules I asked them to write on their name cards three main things: name, age, and occupation. As they are beginners, I tried to simplify the vocabulary I used and in the heat of the moment I figured they might not understand the word “occupation”.
“You know what “Occupation” means, right?”- I asked. They looked at me bluntly.
“It refers to what you do: whether you study, or work…”
“Occupation” has two meanings”- this smart guy pointed out and in that moment I realized how inappropriate my choice of words has been unexpectedly…
Occupation has two meanings. Sure they know it.
I excused myself and the class moved on with new games, exercises and laughs, and, presumably, no more mortifying mistakes on my part.
And while there wasn’t much I could do to prevent my unconscious vocabulary misjudgment, it was a great call to be mindful of the environment and not to forget that we are all students and teachers to each other! Inshalla!
I work at the Hebron Youth Development Resource Center and I live in what is known as Beit al Tafl, probably the biggest center for youth and children in the West Bank.
As we were about to finish work today, my collegues told me there were shootings and gas bombs thrown nearby by the Israeli soldiers because of the protests of civilians.
Men and women from the city have been protesting for several days in support of the Palestinian political prisoners gone on hunger strike. According to Palestinian News Network (PNN) more than 40 prisoners have been hospitalized after spending more than 30 days without any food; many of the protesting prisoners have been held in detention.
As we went outside to see what’s happening, the smell hit us immediately. The soldiers have been dispersing a chemically produced substance with extremely heavy smell, which makes you lose your breath, cough and experience various negative physical reactions.
As we moved towards the street, we could clearly see the soldiers who seemed to greatly outnumber the protesting crowd. I wondered why my colleague Omar brought us on the side of the soldiers and whether it was safe, but he assured us the international press was allowed on this side and it was okey to take photos and video for the sake of the freedom of the media.
I later met Mousa, a representative of the Roters agency, who gave us tips: “When they throw the gas bombs, the wind may direct it in the opposite way, so you have to run as far as possible”. “Don’t touch your eyes”.
The smell of animal dirt coming from the liquid dispersed towards the Palestinians was all around us, heavy and sticky.
I briefly saw one of the women protesters- an old woman, holding the photo of her son, held in jail because of his resistance towards the Israeli.
We soon decided to go back to the office. “Someone will get killed today”- Anas, my other colleague and friend said- “Two people were killed on Ras Eljora (the name of the street nearby a big check point) last year”. As we came back our female colleague Ayat complained about the way we smelled. We were lowered to animals without even being at the center of the action.
We soon decided to leave and all got in Omar’s car. I was going with my friend and volunteer Asala to join her family for dinner. As we came closer, we saw the soldiers on the groud with the guns in their hands, ready to shoot. Stones were thrown in the same direction fromyoung Palestinian boys. We drove closer to the Palestinian crowd as we wanted to get into the city.
For some reason we had to get out of the car and walk.
As I got off the car, gas bombs were thrown in our direction and teenage boys were holding stones to throw at the soldiers.
It was a great chaos.
Fear was so present and so was the need to hold on to each other and to look out for each other. I was trying to keep up with Anas who was walking ahead and looking back to see where Asala was.
There were some guys sitting nearby, quiet. They weren’t running away.
They must have been used to it.
In the evening the protests continued, but this time I was looking from the balcony of Asala’s house. The men were on horses; flags were raised in the sky, Allah was called for assistance.
It was just another day in Hebron.
In the forefront lines I observed with unbelief. Men were enemies.
Men were risking their lives, their futures, the futures of their not-yet-born daughters and sons.
And all I could think was: how is the world letting this happen?
I arrived at the Tel Aviv Ben Gurion airport in Israel at 00.15 on the 23rd of May after what I know was the longest and most stressful travel experience I’ve ever had. It all started in New York as I was told I can not board my flight to Moscow as my flight to Tel Aviv would depart from an airport different from the one I would land at and I did not have a Russian visa to be able to travel between the two. After much stress and some tears, I paid an extra fee and got a ticket for another flight from Moscow to Tel Aviv. My first flight of at least 10 hours went by in sleeping and reading books. The Russian carrier Transaereo did not bother to entertain us which was rather unfortunate as I had another 14 hours to spend at the Moscow airport and yet nothing once I read the two books I had on the plane. Continue reading