So a lot of things in Bethlehem were the same as other years in Bethlehem. There were a lot people selling balloons to children.And lots of Santa Clauses and people dressed like Santa Claus everywhere.
When we went to look at the big Creche in Manger Square we saw that a lot of parents wanted to take pictures of their children with Baby Jesus in the Creche.
So I had Kathy and Christopher take pictures of me in the Creche, too!
But for most Palestinian Christians like Christians all over the world Christmas is about remembering the birth of Jesus and spending time with your family, so they go to their churches for special services and then do a LOT of visiting. Sometimes like twelve visits a day! Christopher and Kathy and I went to the Christmas Lutheran Church. Kathy and I really like the services there, which are in German, English and Arabic. This year, they moved to a bigger room in the Fellowship Hall, but dozens of people still ended up having to stand. They did the sending words in a bunch of different languages.Then we all sang “Silent Night” in our own languages and lit candles. I took a picture of Christopher and Kathy after the service.
Christopher went out to dinner with some people who are working for the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel, but Kathy was tired, so she walked back to the house of her friends, Issa and Diana, where she usually stays over Christmas. The square looked different after dark!
When we got back, some of Issa and Diana’s friends were making some yummy Indian food! We were really hungry and Kathy hadn’t had Indian food for a long time!
Well, we’re back in Hebron now. It’s the third day of Christmas. Where are my three french hens?
Kathy, Maurice and I worked pretty hard yesterday. The people from EAPPI told us they were going to help clear the snow away from Qurtuba School and the nearby Samidoon kindergarten so the children could get to their classes next day and invited us to help. So Maurice and Kathy and I went over yesterday to do that. Our friend Hamed and his daughter Rama also came.
Like I said in my last post, it doesn’t really snow here, so there weren’t snow shovels for people to buy. Hamed tried to buy some regular shovels, but they had all been bought so he could only buy hoes and pick axes. We cleared a path to the kindergarten and to the toilets behind the kindergarten. It would have been a lot faster with a snow shovel!Then we started cleaning the schoolyard at Qurtuba School. I thought we would never get all the snow in the whole yard cleaned up! We were using brooms and squeegees to push the snow to the sides as well as the hoes and the shovels. Kathy was really glad to take over on a squeegee, because her back was getting sore. She worked on pushing melting snow down a drain as the sun began to melt it. After we were done, the schoolyard looked like this:Then Maurice and Kathy and I all went out to lunch with the EAPPI people and Hamed and Rama to the Royal Kingdom restaurant. It was yummy!
Most people, if asked to describe me, would not choose “selfish” as one of their first adjectives. Working for a human rights organization gives one an altruistic sheen, not always deserved, or not completely anyway. Most human rights workers, honest ones, will readily come up with a list of less altruistic reasons they do the work they do. They thought it sounded it like an interesting thing to do for a few years before their “real” careers began; they had friends doing the work; they like to travel; human rights workers are hilarious and often fun to be around (it’s true!)
And then there are the human rights people who are working out “issues” that I won’t go into here.
Hajji Hussein (with child on lap) was a political prisoner for whom CPT’s Iraqi Kurdistan team advocated. He was freed right after an Urgent Action e-mail Campaign we sent out on CPTnet. And right after #Pitchwars. Yes. Hajji Hussein’s freedom was really more important. Really.
I’m writing this entry because I’ve been really conscious over the last couple weeks of how my attention has NOT been focused on the needs of the people my organization serves, nor on the people near and dear to me. Pretty much, all I have been able to think about is getting my novel noticed by an agent.
It all started with the #Pitchwars contest. The premise of the contest is that “mentors”—agented authors, agents’ assistants or other people who have connections in the literary world, read the query letters and the first five pages of the novel that the authors are submitting to the contest and choose one author and two alternates to mentor. Then they read the entire manuscript and help the author sharpen both the manuscript and query for submission to an agent.
I got a mentor interested in my submission based on our shared interest in Joss Whedon, although she was upfront about it being outside her genre, and I began obsessively following the #Pitchwars Twitterfeed to watch her and the other three agents to whom I submitted discussing the entries. Now, I was getting ready to leave the country for another two-month assignment with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT); I needed to get my three substitute editors situated to take over CPTnet while I was gone; CPT was doing its end of the year fundraising push. I was very conscious that my mind needed to focus on other things.
I think it was at the meeting of my church’s Pastoral Ministry committee when we were discussing the needs of people in my church that I felt the most selfish. The other three people on the committee were discussing these needs–some of them pretty dire–and I realized I hadn’t really been giving them any thought, because I so very, very passionately want my novel–The Price We Paid, formerly Shea–to be published. And this #Pitchwars contest had given me hope that a little mentoring might get me there.
With a little distance now, I know it was a good experience. I am still surprised by how approachable the mentors were to unpublished authors with questions and how much time they put into their responses to the people they chose not to mentor. I think I realized later that the contest was not for literary fiction, and hence, not the best venue for my novel. I don’t mean that in a snobbish sense, but in the sense that the mentors who were critiquing adult fiction had a background in commercial and genre fiction. The mentors who commented said I should look for agents who represented literary fiction.
I also got good ideas for sharpening my query. For example, I think I’m going to have to cut out the Hosea and Gomer reference from all future queries, which hurts a little, since Hosea’s love life was the epiphany that led to the novel. But in my last conversation with Jim Loney, who is taking over CPTnet part of the time when I’m gone, he told me he had forgotten the connection the novel had with the biblical story, and he’s one of the novel’s strongest advocates.
Right before I left, I did a 35 word pitch for the novel in #Pitchmas, knowing I’d be in Hebron when the “Winners” were announced (75 pitches get posted on a blog. Agents pick from among the pitches.) Usually, when I’m on assignment, the work has a way of engaging most of my attention, so I’m hoping the Twitter feed won’t take up as much of my time (our Hebron apartment has spotty internet, anyway.)
Years ago, when I got a fellowship to workshop my first novel manuscript with Lee K. Abbott, based on the first chapter I submitted, he asked if I had completed the novel. Upon learning I had, he said the good news was that most aspiring writers never do that. The bad news was that I would probably have to write five before I got published. And I do have the beginnings of a fourth beginning to inkle about in my brain.
But I am not finished with The Price We Paid. Apart from all the ignoble reasons I want it published, I believe in it; I believe it has a life and that I am supposed to advocate for that life. I just wish I were a better promoter.
UPDATE: My Twitter Pitch ( “A” stands for “Adult”) was not chosen for the 75 “Pitchmas” pitches: “A/ Literary Dystopian Iz cheats on his wife but also helps her bring down corrupt religious regime that rules U.S. during 2065-2089 #Pitchmas” Again, I’m not sure literary novels lend themselves to Twitter-length pitches.
Kathy and I got into Jerusalem on Tuesday, but she had a headache on Wednesday, so we didn’t get to Hebron until Thursday. We were sad that we only got to work with Bob Holmes for one day! We worked with Bob during the Second Intifada ten years ago. He is a lot of fun, but he doesn’t like eating fruits or vegetables. He’s really afraid of pomegranates. But we miss him already. Sniff Sniff.
Right before Kathy and I arrived, Winter Storm Alexa hit Israel and Palestine and all the countries around them with a LOT of snow and rain. In Hebron, which is about 3,000 feet up, there was a lot of snow–like there is in Rochester during a couple bad days of blizzards, but no one here has snow plows or snow shovels. So it caused a lot of buildings and parts of buildings to fall down. Kathy and I will take some more pictures of that.
When we got here, several days after the blizzard ended there was still snow on the steps leading up from the women’s apartment to the roof. It keeps melting, so there’s always a little river running down the stairs, and we have to keep squeegeeing the water outside the door down the next flight of stairs because it collects into a little pond about 3″ deep outside our front door.
And it’s pretty cold inside the house. The downstairs apartment where the office is has a gas heater and an electric heater going, so it’s not too bad, but Kathy’s room is really, really cold. The little electric heater doesn’t help a lot. It only warms the part of your body that’s right next it. Kathy is always grateful to her mother-in-law Terri for giving her that black and gray wool dress that is too warm to wear anywhere that has central heating, so it is perfect to wear for winters in Hebron. In fact, she almost never takes it off. She wishes she could wear two pairs of wool socks with her shoes. Unicorns, of course have magic fur, so we’re fine in the cold or the heat, but we try not to be annoying about it.
On October 17, shortly before CPT’s Hebron team sat down to dinner, I checked my Twitter feed. I saw that something was happening in Elsipogtog—a community in Maritime Canada that CPT’s Aboriginal Justice team is accompanying as it resists fracking by SWN Resources on its traditional lands. When I checked the #Elsipogtog hashtag, hundreds of comments began streaming out about arrests, snipers, rubber bullets, teargas, and vehicles on fire. I realized that thousands of miles away in Occupied Palestine I was watching live, via Twitter, an attack by the Canadian police on the Elsipogtog blockade in New Brunswick. And so as we sat down to eat, in the relative quiet of Hebron that evening, we prayed for Elsipogtog—and our tweets about the ongoing attack on the encampment were later retweeted by some of the Palestinian activists who follow the Hebron team’s account.
The blurry red hat is on the head of one of my CPT colleagues. The policeman with the attack dog is very unhappy about her videotaping him.
Because of the chaos caused by the attack, even now, some of its details are unclear, but what basically happened is this: Canadian police, some heavily armed and in military-style camouflage, arrested Chief Arren Sock and dozens of other protesters, while they ransacked the camp and dispersed protestors using teargas and rubber-coated metal bullets. Some of the protestors responded by setting the police cars on fire and throwing things at the police. What had been a nonviolent witness until that moment fell apart.
In the aftermath of the incident, the KAIROS coalition (of which MCC Canada is a member), Amnesty International Canada and the Canadian Friends Service Committee published an open letter to David Alward, the Premier of New Brunswick. In the opening paragraph, the organizations noted, “it is our view that this clash could have been avoided had the province acted in a manner consistent with its obligations to respect the human rights of Indigenous peoples under Canadian and international law.”
The letter then highlights four areas in which the province of New Brunswick could do more to rebuild just relations with Indigenous peoples:
Acknowledge that Indigenous peoples have rights to their lands, territories, and resources that predate the creation of the Canadian state. International human rights bodies, including the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights have repeatedly condemned Canada’s failure to protect these rights.
Stop ignoring the land rights of Aboriginal peoples in day-to-day operations of the government. Canadian courts have decreed that governments must consult with Indigenous Peoples before making decisions that affect their rights. “Accordingly,” the letter says, “our organizations urge your government to retract statements indicating that the province is already committed to shale gas development, regardless of opposition.”
Acknowledge that the province must obtain “free, prior and informed consent” (FPIC) of Indigenous peoples when a proposed project has the potential to affect their cultures, livelihoods, health, and well-being. “Our organizations call on New Brunswick to acknowledge that shale gas exploration and development on or near the traditional lands of Indigenous peoples is clearly an example where the safeguard of free, prior and informed consent is appropriate and necessary.”
Deploy police with the understanding that they have a clear responsibility to respect and protect human rights, including the lives and safety of those involved in protests. “Use of force must always be a last resort and the scale and nature of the force deployed must be in proportion to the need to protect public safety.”
“Unless the province adopts an approach consistent with these obligations, further clashes may occur,” the letter notes.
Chief Arren Sock released a written statement on October 18, saying “Chief and Council of the Elsipogtog First Nation wish to state clearly that guns and bombs, if any, have no place in our peaceful efforts.” On October 21, Justice George Rideout denied the request by SWN Resources to extend its court injunction to prevent the Elsipogtog protesters from blocking its storage facility. But on November 18, the activists suffered a setback when Judge Judy Clendenning dismissed an application from the Elsipogtog First Nation for an injunction to stop seismic testing for shale gas.The story is still unfolding, streaming, and tweeting.
Kathy and I had to kind of rush away on Saturday, but we spent the last two days visiting with her friends Ya’alah and Netanel. And our friend Laura is ALSO visiting them so we got to visit with her, too! Hurray!
In one picture Laura’s face looked silly and in another Ya’alah was scratching her head, so Kathy cropped them out. In this picture Laura is sharing her sweetie with me. They are a cross between a grapefruit and a pomelo.
One of the things Kathy and I have enjoyed doing most this month is feeding the team’s compost to the ducks and geese from the shop that is the only other building on our street that isn’t locked up. They really like rotten tomatoes and they REALLY think the parts of cauliflower that humans don’t eat are yummy.
On Friday, Kathy, our teammate JoAnn and I went out to the Beqa’a Valley to visit her friends Atta and Rodeina Jaber and their children. Their daughters Dalia and Lara were helping them make dibs. At the end of the grape harvest, all the grapes that aren’t the very best grapes get put in a pot and boiled and boiled into syrup called dibs and it is YUMMMY! Especially when you mix it with tahini. Normally you visit, and then tea comes out and some snacks and maybe a little dinner and then coffee. Well for our visit, tea, thyme bread and coffee all came out in the space of about 20 minutes, and then Atta’s brother called to tell him that soldiers were shutting down the roads because so many Israeli settlers were coming in for a special occasion in Hebron, and JoAnn and Kathy and I had to leave right then. We missed out on a lot of yumminess and a good time with our friends!
Well I guess Kathy and I had better finish packing. I hear there are storms in the Netherlands. Hope they’re gone by the time Kathy and I land. Goodbye Palestine! Goodbye Israel! We will miss you!
I don’t know why Kathy decided to take a picture of this earlier in the month when she was in East Jerusalem. But Kiwi-fried chicken doesn’t really sound all that yummy.
Every time Kathy and I come to Hebron we always spend at least one evening with the Sharabatis. Hisham Sharabati is the first friend Kathy and CPT made in Hebron. He and his wife Nariman have five children, Abed, Tamer, Wi’am, ShuShu and Adam.
When Kathy saw Adam last time he was a newborn. Now he is almost 2! His favorite toy is his bouncing ball.
He didn’t like it very much when his brothers Wi’am and Tamer tried to get a picture with me and him and his ball.Nariman cooked a yummy dinner. We started with freekeh. It’s a soup made with green wheat. MMMMMM! Then we had roast chicken and potatoes and a salad. YUMMMMY!
Tamer finished his dinner before the rest of us and he asked if I could go play with him and his motorcycle. Then Wi’am joined us. It was fun!
Then ShuShu and I played with Adam’s backpack! Abed, Tamer and ShuShu got their homework finished, but Wi’am sometimes has a hard time focusing and getting his work done. Kathy helped him a little with his English homework. I helped him with his Arabic homework. Kathy asked him if I spoke Arabic. He said I didn’t, but I could help him erase stuff. Well, that’s all for now. Kathy was tired because she had been up since 5:30 for school patrol and she had to get up early again the next day I guess ShuShu was tired too.
I thought I would repost the team’s short news item on my blog because of the connection to the release I wrote. My teammates who interviewed the boy are Palestinian and Welsh. They followed him to the hospital and were able to conduct the interview in Arabic while he waited for his X-ray results.
Today CPTers talked with 15 year old Mohammed (not his real name) in the Alya Hospital Al Khalil/Hebron. Mohammed had been beaten by Israeli military for not having an ID.
Palestinians are not issued ID’s until they reach 16. Mohamed had been beaten in the back of his head and body by the soldiers who had also used the butts of their guns. Mohammed subsequently fainted.
The Military then covered his body and left him where he had fallen. After a crowd had gathered and news had spread, Mohammed’s family arrived on the scene and were able to get him to the hospital.
Mohammed was severely shaken by the experience, was awaiting the results of a X-ray and complained of having an intense headache.
The beating took place at the 56 Check point which sits between Shuhada Street, which is under full Israeli Military control, and Bab iZeweyya which is under Palestinian civil control.
A few days ago, my teammate Alwyn and I were sidetracked by phone call as we left for a food shopping trip. Another international monitoring group here in Hebron asked us to check out a
Offending snacks photographed by EAPPI after the staff person was finally released by the soldiers.
situation at the container checkpoint that separates the H-1 area (under nominal Palestinian control) from H-2 (under full Israeli military control) in Hebron. Soldiers had stopped a staffperson from a kindergarten near Qurtuba School who was bringing in a box of snacks for the children, which apparently the soldiers running the checkpoint deemed a security risk.
The staff person had been there an hour by the time we got there and would be there for more than another before the soldiers finally let him go. In the meantime, Alwyn and I became involved in another small human drama. A young man with Down’s Syndrome came through the checkpoint. The soldiers were searching most bags at that point, so I don’t know if initially they decided to be extra thorough with him, but perhaps because he made them uncomfortable, something compelled them to make him take his belt off, pull up his shirt, take off his shoes, and pull up his pants legs. They also went through the newspaper he was carrying page by page to see if it concealed anything.
He continued up the hill afterwards, belt in hand, cursing. He would try to put the belt through the loops of his pants, then start re-enacting the scene of his humiliation again and again, yelling and shaking his fist. Alwyn and I joined him and tried to calm him down. An older man came by to help him with his belt, and through him, we learned the young man’s name, Abed*, and that his father had died recently.
What seemed to restore his good humor was showing him my shopping list, and telling him, in Arabic, what we needed to buy (apples, bananas, milk etc.) He sat with us as we waited for people from the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme to relieve us. At one point he nudged me with his elbow, smiled, and said in Arabic, “I’m Jewish.” “Really?” I asked. The smile widened, nearly splitting his face in half and he nodded vigorously.
Before I joined Christian Peacemaker Teams, I worked with developmentally disabled adults. I have thought over the years I have worked in Hebron, that while people with mental disabilities here sometimes suffer worse treatment in the form of mockery on the streets than they do in the U.S., they often feel that they are more a part of the community than the people I worked with did. Still, I guess I do expect that soldiers are going to make special allowances for a young man like Abed, and not assume he is a criminal, which seems to be their default assumption for most young Palestinian men in their twenties. I know that soldiers have taken away boys as young as seven or eight on suspicion of throwing stones. I worry what a strong young man like Abed might face behind that gate where Israeli soldiers take the boys and men they detain. And I worry that we might never really find out what happens to him if they do.
Before we left Bethlehem a couple days ago, we visited the wall that Israel built around Bethlehem. Israel said it was going to build it for security between Israel and Palestine, but the wall isn’t built along the border of Israel and the West Bank. It goes inside the West Bank and has confiscated thousands and thousands of acres of Palestinian land. It surrounds Bethlehem on three sides.
Ever since the Wall went up people from all over the world have been painting pictures on it and writing angry or sad or hopeful or happy messages on it. Kathy and I took some pictures. Can you find me in them?
Some artist called Banksy who’s supposed to be a big deal did this.
People who get really angry at the wall throw burning things at it. I got kind of dirty posing on it.
Some mystery CPTer wrote this on the wall and no one knows who! My teammate Cory and I went looking for clues!
We came to a neighborhood that was almost completely surrounded by the wall. A woman whose home had been surrounded by the wall came up to us and asked us to look at her shop. She had designed some really interesting things. One was an olivewood nativity scene with a wall separating the wisemen and shepherds from baby Jesus, Joseph and Mary (you could take it out.)
When we got home, I was really dirty! So Kathy gave me a bath. Now I am all sparkley clean! Hurray!