Commercial English Twists and Malaprops

It’s always amusing to see how English is used in commerce in non-English speaking countries. This is just a fun collection of some of the signs that  caught my attention in the West Bank. I missed some really good ones on my rides to and fro Hebron and Bethlehem as the Service was faster than my camera. And in the interest of fairness, when I traveled in Taiwan, I could have compiled an equally absurd collection had I thought of it at the time – all in good fun.


Coming from our American culture of political correctness, I found these two fashion-oriented store names in a society where dark complexions and coal brown eyes are the norm kind of amusing.


You can aspire for the crown, or you can – well, never mind.


Well, we *are* in the Holy Land


Not exactly the big box version. I’m not sure what they were targeting here.


You’ve got your shoes for boogying and then you’ve got the respectable ones


If four kids get a little too rambunctious, you can always go over to Gentle Kids


I’m not sure what this green saloon was selling. It looked like wedding dresses, but maybe that was a front.


Every time I come here, I feel like I’ve been here before.


Why stop with one turkey when you can have two


We don’t want to leave out the men.


Meanie Market, Mini market, Mine Market ?


This was one of my favorites. How can that not make you smile?


This is one of the most aptly named tattoo parlors I’ve ever seen. If you’re straining to read it, yes it does say, “Pain Art.”


And my all time favorite. No one would ever believe me if I hadn’t posted a photo.


I need to dedicate a couple posts to some of the other lovely people I chanced to meet during my month in the West Bank. Hijazi is a Palestinian guide whose specialty is walking tours of the West Bank. My group last year had done a day trip with Hijazi, but he often takes groups on tours of a week or more, with overnights in a variety of places, including hotels, Palestinian families and in Bedouin camps. He lives with his family in a village near Bethlehem, but he keeps an apartment in Bethlehem to accommodate guests. This was the apartment I rented for my month in Bethlehem. As my previous posts have indicated, I did a tremendous amount of walking in Bethlehem and Hebron, often getting lost in the process, but always discovering new and interesting things. Walking really can’t be beat when it comes to becoming intimately familiar with a place. If you should have the good fortune of travel to the West Bank, and if you want to experience the beauty and serenity of some of its most beautiful, natural spots (or the history of the cities and villages for that matter), I couldn’t imagine a better guide. He will be able to take you and give you all the information you need and to make sure you are well fed and housed along the way. Part of the deal in my renting the apartment was that there would be a few nights in which I would be sharing it with some of Hijazi’s guests which turned out to be an added perk for me.

The first group came from Grenoble France. Pascale, Marie, Pierre and Joel were returnees to the West Bank and big proponents of Palestinian rights. They had not only toured previously with Hijazi, but he had spent some time visiting them in France. They were such good sports, struggling with English to accommodate my complete lack of French. They were there for a couple of evenings, and I felt a little lonely when they left. We exchanged contact info and I chalked it up to one of those “hope our paths will cross again” encounters. Well, our paths crossed again much sooner than any of us expected.

When I was in Jerusalem on my last Saturday before going home to meet with the lawyer from Diakonia, I spent some time after the meeting getting lunch and then wandering around East Jerusalem to enjoy the sights. I had written earlier about finding some quietude in Lutheran Church of the Redeemer. After I left and was trying to orient myself toward the bus station, I was walking past an outdoor café and out of the corner of my eye, I saw a person I recognized. On second glance, to my complete surprise and delight, I realized it was Pascale. They had left the apartment in Bethlehem a couple of nights earlier, and here they were sitting in Jerusalem, the day before departing back home to France. We all had a huge laugh over the complete coincidence of my running into them so randomly. Somehow, I failed to snap a picture of them, but Marie shared this with me.


The second set of guests was a group from Wales and England, Janet, Paul and Monica.


They only spent one night at the apartment, but we had a fun time scouting town for beer and good eats (a break from my routinely uninspired cooking for one) on the evening of their stay and I got to tag along with them the next day for a hike to Wadi Qelt and for a float in the Dead Sea. The extra perk here was that Paul is the most accomplished birder I have ever met apart from my brother-in-law, Dan Peak. I have a sneaking suspicious their paths will cross one day. Although I was inited to tag along on a couple of hikes, this was the only one I managed because I was so busy with work in Hebron.

Wadi Qelt (Wadi means valley which is an understatement here as it is an enormously, deep gorge) is itself a worthy destination for a hike in its magnificent natural beauty. But, it is also the location of the St. George’s Monastery nestled into the cliffs about halfway down the gorge.


Approaching the monastery.


A cave down in the gorge. This area is full of caves and they were inhabited by monks through the centuries who were hiding from their persecutors.


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These two pictures are looking down on the easy approach to the monastery that starts from a parking lot.  The ant-like size of the people gives perspective of how deep the gorge is.


A couple views of the monastery from on the premises.


Looking out a window from inside the monastery


We had to crawl through this little door to get into the monastery. As we were leaving, this group was trying to get in.  They did give us berth to leave. Good thing, because it was quite a huge group.

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Beautiful views along the way as we were walking toward Jericho


The remains of one of Herod’s palaces


Both groups, the Brits and the Francos, were here because of a shared passion for Palestine. It is really good to know that so many people are taking the initiative to try to spread awareness of the reality of the occupation. Israel is a country of remarkable accomplishments and has much to be admired, but  its 48 year old occupation and domination of some 5 million Palestinians is a downward drag. Until it reckons with this, it will never be secure and it is quickly gaining the status in the world of a pariah state. Yes, there are some Palestinian terrorists.  When you consider that a 14 year old in Gaza has experienced 3 full-scale, devastating, infrastructure-obliterating,  inescapable wars, is it any wonder? In spite of this, the overwhelming majority of Palestinians simply want the freedom to live normal lives and support and educate their families.

To Hebron Rehabilitation Committee with Love

I had promised earlier to talk a little more about the work I was doing at HRC. Several months ago, I had answered an online ad seeking an intern to do legal research. After a Skype interview with Nicole, a lawyer from the legal department, I committed to work for them for a month. My initial assignment was to research venues within Europe and possibly the U.S. to bring claims on behalf of Palestinians in Hebron whose human rights were violated. Prior to my arrival, Nicole let me know that the focus of my work would change a bit a to bringing claims in the U.S. There were two primary areas I was asked to research: challenging the tax exempt status of organizations which fund the settlers on the basis that the settlers are committing so many illegal acts against the Palestinian residents.

I’ve talked in previous posts about the horrendous situation in Hebron in which the main street for commerce, Shuhada Street, has been shut down to accommodate just 500 or so illegal Jewish settlers who are trying to reclaim the old city of Hebron. I’ve posted some pictures of the Palestinians shops with doors welded shut by the Israeli authorities. I’ve talked about the devastation to the economy of Hebron and the displacement of 100s of Palestinian families. This was all a result of the terrorist attack by  Baruch Goldstein, a Jewish extremist at the Ibrahimi Mosque in 1994, in which he sprayed machine gun fire in the mosque, killing 29 Muslim worshippers. Israel’s response? Rather than protecting the residents of Hebron, they cut off Shuhada Street, the main commercial area of the old city to create a sanctuary for the radical Israeli settlers, and if that was not enough, they divided the Mosque so that one half is now a Jewish synagogue. Mind you, this mosque has been there as an Islamic Mosque, in a city that has been predominantly Muslim for more than 800 years. But, such is justice under Israeli occupation.

HRC is one of the organizations that has tried to make a difference in this imbalanced equation, fighting for the rights of the Palestinians citizens in the face of a brutal, US-financed occupation. Their primary objective has been restoring buildings in the old city for the use of Palestinians and by doing so, helping to restore the economy  which has been so devastated by Israel’s sequestration of the area. They are funded by many sources, the government of Norway being a major donor. They have done a remarkable job at restoring many buildings in this amazing old city, by many accounts, the oldest city in the world. So they are doing the double duty of preserving antiquities and preserving living and working space for the indigenous population.

On Sunday, I came into Hebron to drop off my work: two memos on the two different areas of research. Nothing was really scheduled to this end, so I was expecting no more than to just print them out and hand them to someone in the main office who would pass it on to the general director, Emad Hamdan. As it turned out,   Emad was there and was eager to hear about my work. We had a brief meeting, and he expressed great appreciation. The general vibe I had gotten throughout my month there was general incredulity that I, a professional with an office in the US, would take time off to come and do volunteer work in Palestine. I met this with my own incredulity that this could be perceived as such a sacrifice. I felt and feel so very honored to have been able to work in this beautiful place amongst these dedicated, resilient people who are working every day, years on end against such incredible odds. By comparison, what I had done is such a tiny drop in the bucket.


Emad presented me with a beautiful book that HRC had commissioned called “Old Hebron: the Charm of a Historical City and Architecture” which will preserve my memories of this charmed and beleaguered place and grace my coffee table for years to come.


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I also want to express my warm wishes to some of my HRC cohorts. Unfortunately I did not get a picture of Tawfiq Jashan, the permanent, local staff attorney.


However, here is his secretary Lama who graciously brought me wonderful Turkish coffee on many cold mornings.

I had previously mentioned Sami, (Zbnek Wojowski), the general coordinator guy. Sami is from the Czech Republic and and has been there for seven, going on eight years. He has made himself rather indispensable. He is one of the few fluently English-Arabic, bilingual staff at HRC, in addition to knowing all of the inner workings of the organization. He translated for my initial meeting with Tawfiq during which Tawfiq praised Sami effusively, noting that he  was sure that Sami would someday be the president of the Czech Republic. When I mentioned this later to s0me of the others, they  laughed about how Tawfiq likes to butter people up, but the message regarding Sami’s value to the organization was clear.


So, here is a picture of Sami, with my office mate Samantha. Samantha is from Canada and is in the legal department doing a volunteer stint helping out on some reports about the local conditions. She provided some good laughs and respite from some heady work.

And finally, Nicole Trudeau is the lawyer from the US who hired me via a Skype interview. I didn’t see a lot of Nicole during my month, as she is out in the field and doesn’t usually work at the HRC buildings.


This is a pic of our initial meeting at one of her favorite hangout places, Q Candy (along with Samantha – they are roommates, btw) which is a kilo or so from the Old City and serves great coffee in any style imaginable for a fraction of what Starbucks charges. Nicole is another attorney who had a left behind a lucrative career as a litigation attorney in Rhode Island to work for a fraction of the pay at HRC.  There is something about Palestine that really captivates the soul of many of us internationals.


And then another picture of our final meeting on Sunday for farewells. The young gent is Stephen, also a lawyer doing volunteer work. He is from Bulgaria.

So, in closing, I just want to share some more pictures highlighting the beauty of the old city of Hebron which HRC is so diligently working on to preserve for its indigenous, Palestinian residents.  (Keep in mind that you can click on pictures to enlarge them for better viewing.)

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These are examples of the narrow streets, and passageways and little staircases leading up to homes one sees throughout the old city.P1120320 IMG_1063

Looking upwards at a couple of buildings

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These two are from the breezeway of the legal unit. I spent a good amount of time here  catching sun on some of the cool days wen the stone of the office retained the cold from the previous night.


An example of a building that has been left to deteriorate.IMG_1418 IMG_1419 IMG_1420 IMG_1424  IMG_1426

Some artifacts in a cubby in the main HRC office.


As expected, my month flew by. The last couple of days were a whirlwind of trying to fit everything in. I had made arrangements to meet with Mitri Raheb’s wife, Najwa at Dar al Kalima Univeristy where she works. Alas, our wires crossed and she was just leaving for a dentist appointment as I was arriving. So she was able to give me a lift back into town, but I never did get to see the university. Dar al Kalima is just one of the many things that Mitri has spear-headed for the benefit of the people of Bethlehem, both Christian and Muslim. The Diyar Consortium is another. It is located right next to Christmas Lutheran Church. The center itself is beautiful and includes a guest house and coffee shop. I failed to get pictures.  Among the its many functions is a children’s summer program, an elderly care program and a really wonderful craft center where beautiful crafts made by community members are sold. I bought this lovely little figurine.


She’s a handmade clay figurine with a the traditional dress worn by older Palestinian women adorned with the classic cross-stitched embroidery. I  had actually had my eye on it last year, but didn’t think I’d have the space to bring her back safely. Fortunately, she waited for me and I was able to bring her home this time.

In addition to a meeting I had with Mitri a week or so into the trip, he had invited me to dinner along with his wife and two delightful ladies from Finland. This was from a couple of weeks ago, but fits with the the topic here.


Here we are after having enjoyed dinner at Nativity Square.

If you want to read about the Palestinian plight from a Christian perspective, Mitri’s book, Faith in the Face of Empire is a must read.  It’s very accessible and succinctly lays the background of the struggle and what Palestinians continue to endure under occupation.

But the main reason I mentioned the failed meeting with Najwa is because I had planned to spend my last full day (Sunday) in Hebron and was not planning to go to church. She mentioned, however, that I had told Mitri I would be there. Not that I would have been particularly missed had I not gone, but I just felt it wasn’t right to miss my last Sunday there. So, I went and had a brief goodbye with Mitri prior to the service as I didn’t have time to dawdle afterwards. The service was wonderful. Some parts were in English. His sermon was not, but he gave a brief synopsis in English afterwards. I had picked up bits enough to know that he was talking about the Armenian genocide which was being commemorated that weekend and he had tied in other genocides as well, including Hiroshima and Nagasaki and of course the Holocaust – heavy stuff and a reminder of how brutal mankind can be.

I’ve posted pictures of Christmas Church in an earlier blog entry so won’t repeat them here, but this is a shot that I took that morning. The writing on the windows is in German since the church was originally built by Germans. I love all of them, but this one in particular: Bread of Life.


I then rushed off to Hebron to say goodbye which deserves its own post.

Before I go there, however, I want to mention how comforting and welcoming I find both Christmas Lutheran Church and Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Jerusalem . Both cities, Bethlehem and Jerusalem are lovely and old, but bustling and chaotic. Both churches provide a  beautiful respite from the noise and the chaos. When I was in Jerusalem the day before, I wandered into the church. I snuck into the chapel which is a smaller worship area. The caretaker saw me and welcomed me.

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And the church also has this inner wonderful cloister-like area. I found a deep and great appreciation for the word sanctuary from this trip.

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This little detail was in a cubby. I was struck by the unintentional face in the stone.


And some views from the church from outside. My only regret was that I didn’t get to try out the organ. As wonderful as the caretaker was, he wouldn’t give me leave to that – this was the providence of the organist!

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My month in Palestine is nearing an end. It flew by as I knew it would. The last few days have been jam packed with must-dos. On Friday, I went into Jerusalem to meet with a lawyer from the human rights organization Diakonia. You can read about them here. He was a young, very bright Italian chap named Alessandro. He’s been working for them for a couple of years and prior to that worked for the Palestinian advocacy group, Al Haq, which you can read about here. We met in a nice little book store in East Jerusalem, the focus of which was Palestine. I ordered a grapefruit juice and got an eye-poppingly huge tumbler full of fresh squeezed juice. There must have been 3 grapefruits in it. It was delicious. I’m proud to say I drank every last drop,too.


Here is Alessandro. We compared notes on our work and he gave me a lot of good ideas. I hope our paths will cross again (I’ve been saying that a lot lately!). Inshallah.

Before sharing lovely pictures of Jerusalem, I  am compelled to talk about the trip into Jerusalem. Bethlehem and Jerusalem are very close to each other, but you would never know that anymore because of Israel’s slow, deliberate attempt to sequester all of Jerusalem and its surrounds. I’ve shown a picture of the separation wall in Bethlehem where people would pass from one city to the other.


Here is it is again – on the Bethlehem side.


And a detail of graffiti on the wall from the same area. There are so many good ones, but this one really spoke to me.

But, that’s not all. There are three large settlements that surround Bethlehem and are further encroaching on it. I have shown pictures of Har Homa which overlooks my neighborhood. They always build the settlements on high hills, giving them the advantage of being able to look down on the Palestinians in a siege sort of mentality. Imagine the feeling of the Palestinians having to constantly look up at them. These modern metropolises that are so out of place in the environment, secured by tall cement fences and with roads on which only Israelis are allowed, dissecting farms and villages.

I had spoken in a previous post about the ridiculous road that Palestinians must now take traveling north-south around Jerusalem. Ramallah used to be a 20 minute or so trip from Bethlehem. It now take 1 ½ hours or more. Here’s why.




If you look at the map, draw an imaginary line going north and south through Jerusalem.  That would be Route 60, the major throughway going  directly through Jerusalem. This route is open to Israelis but no longer to Palestinians. BIn the name of security (the excuse for the whole occupation and all of the land grabs), this road has been closed off to Palestinians who get the special road from hell, (euphemistically referred by Israel to as part of the Fabric of Life roads). Its purpose is to bypass not only Jerusalem, but also the several, huge illegal settlements that have spilled well over the green line into the West Bank. So, the Palestininan route roughly follows those red lines which demarcate the wall. The irony is that Uncle Sam financed the road from hell through US Aid dollars – Israel couldn’t even foot the bill to keep Palestinians off of the good roads.

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Here  are a couple of  views of the wall snaking around Jerusalem that I took on the bus on my trip in.

I caught the bus at the main station in Bethlehem. It was quite full of people when we left. The trip itself was maybe a half hour. Again, you can’t go directly to Jerusalem, you have to snake around the city. But, all in all, it was maybe ½ hour or less. The aparatheid system was readily apparent when we arrived at the checkpoint. All of the Palestinians or the ones without dual citizenship had to leave the bus. We privileged persons got to stay on.


Two armed border police came on the bus to check our passports . . .


. . . while the Palestinians were herded into a queue outside to wait to be checked. They also spent quite a bit of time grilling our bus driver and on the telephone dealing with him for God knows what reason.


So that was the checkpoint, and by many accounts these days, very uneventful.

To counter the tragedy, I need to share a little bit about Jerusalem. After my meeting with Alessandro, I wandered the city a bit. Since it was Friday, there were droves of Muslims headed toward the Al Aqsa Mosque (the 4th holiest Muslim site in the world and site of huge controversy because it is on the Dome of the Rock aka Temple Mount, which was the site of the Jewish Temple that was destroyed over 2,000 years ago). A couple of times, not really knowing where I was going, I got caught in the crowd, and being a fast walker, was snaking through. At one point, a man politely chastised me telling me that I couldn’t take cuts. Without realizing it, I was in the midst of the throng on the way to the Mosque. At another point, I was stopped by an Israeli police indicating that I was going into an area restricted to Muslims. Once I got out of the way of the Muslim worshippers, I was able to see parts of Jerusalem I hadn’t seen during last year’s trip. It’s such a beautiful, ancient city. Everywhere you turn, these is something fascinating or awe inspiring.

The photo at the beginning of this post is the Damascus Gate. It is near the bus stop and this is the entrance through the ancient city wall  to the Muslim quarter of  old Jerusalem.


This is a little section of the wall near the Damascus Gate. It’s so beautiful how the wall is built into the natural rock.

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And just a few random shots from around the old city.


Oh, and the amazing falafel plate I had for lunch along the Via Dolorosa.

To end this, I need to share a song that popped up on Facebook a couple of days ago , from the group Kairos Palestine, coinciding with my trip to Jerusalem – another little piece of serendipity. It’s a little sappy, but the words are poignant. I hope you’ll take a listen, because the message is so important.

Also, Kairos Palestine is an ecumenical group that stands in solidarity for the liberation of Palestine.   You can read about it here.


I’ve talked about Laila in a couple of posts, the lovely woman in the Hebron Souq (market) who sells beautiful hand made items from the nearby women’s cooperative. I finally was able to get out there with her help to see how it is all done. The Women in Hebron Cooperative is actually located in a village about 10 kilometers outside of Hebron call Idna. A young man and friend of Laila’s escorted me to the Service (Serveese) station to find one that would take me there.  As I’ve explained earlier, these are the yellow vans that hold 7 passengers and are a cross between a taxi and a bus.

It was another one of those situations where I just put my faith in the goodness of the people around me and  Allah that things would work out. I always thought that I was a fast walker, but this fellow was a challenge to keep up with, weaving between parked and oncoming cars and heavy foot traffic through the busy market streets of Hebron for ½ mile or so until we got to the station which is a multiple story parking garage pack-jammed with identical yellow. vans. The young man pointed me to an older gent who was apparently going to be getting on the Idna van as well. At that point, he pulled a bunch of Palestine trinkets out of his pocket. So, I realize, okay, this is the part where I pay you, I asked him how much one of the plastic bracelets are, and he tells me 10 shekels. Wait a minute! I paid the guy in Tel Rumeida 4 shekels for an identical one. Sigh. I gave him 10 shekels knowing that it was worth no more than 4, but he was a good chap in dropping what he was doing to get me on the right Serveese and a guy has to earn a buck.

The man I followed into the Service was heading home to Idna.  So, out of the hands of  bracelet boy, and into the hands of a stranger from Idna. We spoke falteringly with his limited English. At one point he handed me a handful of little slightly fuzzy, green pods that I have seen overflowing in barrels in the market recently, and had wondered about. I thought maybe they were fresh, unhusked almonds. I asked him how to eat it and he demonstrated by biting right into it and eating the whole thing. It was not a nut after all. It was a sour, green-applish tasting thing. I can’t say I really liked them, but they weren’t bad either. I need to figure out what in the world they were. When we arrive din Idna, he pointed me in the direction of the cooperative and as soon as I walked through the door I was greeted by Laila’s daughter, Maysa. She showed me around the workshop a bit.


This lady, Aisha was teaching a younger woman how to make rugs. Aisha agreed to the photo but her apprentice declined.


Here as a peek from Maysa’s office into the area where the women work. IMG_1211 IMG_1210

These are examples of some of the dresses the women make and embroider. These two are both wedding dresses. Maysa took me to a stack of folded dresses and told me to pick one out to try on.



This one actually fit quite perfectly. It was made from thick, lush velvet.

She then brought in lunch of chicken and rice and tomato salad that we ate with Aisha.After that, she took me into the workshop, and this is where the real fun began.



There were five  young women working on the sewing machines. They were stitching together pieces that had been embroidered into little zippered pouches, cases and bracelets. There are over 125 women employed through the cooperative, many of whom work at home doing the embroidery.


They made a place for me next to one woman (I need to get her name) who proceeded to teach me how to do the cross stitching that is emblematic of Palestinian stitchery. She asked me to write down my name, I thought, so that she could remember it. Well, the little sampling she had me working on turned out to be my name. I would slowly do three or four stitches, and then she would whip out the rest of a letter and start the next one, and so it went until it was done. Then, however, came the surprise. She handed the piece across the table to girl at a sewing machine and she in very quick order turned it into a bracelet by stitching a backing onto it with cords for ties. The whole time, the girls were laughing, occasionally asking me a question in faltering English, me sometimes trying to answer in even more faltering Arabic. At times they were probably laughing at me, but it was all in good fun, and I couldn’t help but to laugh along with them.

At one point they seated me at a sewing machine and let me have a go at it. I thought, “no sweat. I’ve been sewing all my life”, but these machines are heavy duty and it was sort of like learning to drive a stick shift car.  Every time I pressed the pedal, it roared out of control. The girls had a good laugh over that.

I had brought in a box of candy, and that got passed around and heightened the joviality. This was an aspect of Palestinian life I had experienced for the first time –  this girls only, letting loose atmosphere. It was so fun and joyful and productive, all at once. Maybe not whistling while they worked, but certainly a lot of giggling.

As soon as my friend had finished the bracelet, she started another piece, this time with my name stitched in Arabic. About this time I was getting a little nervous about getting back into Bethlehem and home before dark, and let them know I needed to leave soon to catch the 4:30 Service.   She quickly finished stitching my name in Arabic and again, handed it across the table where the other girl made  it into a little pillow. I started to leave, and she insisted on first finishing if off with embroidery around the edges. She was not about to let me leave with an unfinished item. Maysa also gave me an absolutely beautiful pencil case. IMG_1259

These are my treasures. And below are examples of some of the many different beautiful things made at the cooperative.

IMG_1198IMG_1205IMG_1206I’d really like to see them market to the U.S. to import stores. The items are so beautiful and it’s such a wonderful way for these women to help support their families. Until then, you can buy things online. You can also “like” them on Facebook.  And

So the ride home was a bit of a challenge as needed to get back to Hebron first to catch a bus back to Bethlehem. I caught my Service in Idna and it was a raucous ride with 3 men in the back seat who all knew the driver and each other and they were whooping it up pretty much the whole ride. I knew they were talking about me at one point.  Finally, one of them who spoke fairly good English deliberately got my attention with a  loud, “Madame!”  I turned around and proceeded to converse. After the obligatory “where you from?” “what’s your name?” line of questions, he proceeded to tell me that they guy next to him wanted to marry me, and it was love at first sight. Haha! At my age, I have to say, rather than getting offended at these sorts of things, I’ll take it when I can get it. Anyway, my admirer insisted on taking a picture of me with his phone, so what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. I took one of him.


You just never know what you’ll encounter on your rides on the Serveese.



I can’t remember anymore who told me about Ferykal Abu Haikal, but she was high on my bucket list of people I wanted to meet during this trip. After my encounter with the soldier at the check point and my walk up desolate Shurada Street, I really didn’t know where I was going. Along the way a saw a couple of settlers. They look so very out of place, and maybe it was just my bias, but they looked steely, unfriendly and unapproachable. I need to check that way of thinking. It’s those biases that have made the situation here as impossibly entrenched as it is. That said, they do have a  well documented reputation in Hebron for hostile, despicable behavior toward the Palestinians around whom the have chosen to live.

Along the way, I ran into a group of EAPII volunteers, and one of them had been at my first day’s orientation meeting at HRC. They are one of the many groups here to monitor the situation, and one of their major functions is accompanying Palestinians to and from school where they are constantly harassed and attacked by settlers. After a quick chat, they pointed me in the direction of Tel Rumeida. When I came to a cross road, a rather puzzled looking soldier directed me to the left. The street was very quiet, and there was something a little eery and unsettling about it. This is a place where both settlers and Palestinians co-exist, in a manner of speaking.

I encountered a Palestinian boy and asked him where Feryal lived. He pointed me in the direction of her home at the very top of the hill and walked with me a ways, ultimately pulling some Palestinian souvenir trinkets out of his pocket to hawk. I gave him 4 shekels for a plastic bracelet emblazoned with the Palestinian flag and he was on his way. I rang the bell at a house and a young woman answered and when I asked for Feryal, she pointed me to the next house. I rang that bell and waited a minute or two hoping that my climb was not not going to be for naught. Well, in actuality, nothing here is for naught. Every step I have taken on this trip has led to something interesting. One thing is for certain; it has made me a huge fan of walking.

At the top of the building I heard a door open and there stood Feryal with a slightly furrowed brow, no doubt wondering who this unannounced stranger standing at her door stop was. As a Palestinian, she is no stranger to unannounced and often unwelcome knocks at the door. I briefly introduced myself and explained my mission and she waved me up. Her front door was unlocked and I climbed the stairs where she greeted me and took me to her beautiful living room.


I’ve noticed that although many Palestinian homes are very plain on the outside, they are often lavish and very welcoming on the inside. When we sat down, I explained in a little more detail what I was doing in Hebron and why I came to see her, and then I mainly listened as she recounted some of her stories. She was quite apologetic about her English, but believe me, it was more than adequate to this end.

Feryal’s house, as explained is at the top of the hill in Tel Rumeida.


Its location has two strikes against it in the Israeli/settler/occupation scheme of things: it is in the part that is occupied by  Jewish settlers and it is on top of an area that Israel has designated as an archaeological site. Excavations have already begun next to her house to build a “Bible Park.”


She said that they are digging to the bedrock in attempt to unearth remnants of ancient Jewish civilization. In the process, they are destroying more recent, but significant non-Jewish layers of history, including a hundreds year old Muslim cemetery which was brazenly desecrated. Archaeology is one of Israel’s 1984-ish terms which has been turned on its head. In reality, it is used throughout Israel as a means of erasing Palestinian history in attempt to prove to the world that Jews were the only presence in this part of the world. This is currently happening on a wide scale in East Jerusalem where Palestinian homes are being bull dozed en masse for creation of a massive “King David Park” a Zionist Disney World.


Another example of this is the planting of groves of pine trees in the countryside to European-ize the landscape and in many cases, hide the remnants of ethnically cleansed Palestinian villages. That foolish practice has not only led to the decimation of the beautiful, natural landscape, but also some massive forest fires because pine trees are like tinder in this dry climate.

Feryal and I chatted for close to two hours.  You can read a little Wiki blurb here about how the occupation/settler movement forced the Haikal family off the land they had farmed for decades. And here is a video of her talking about Tel Rumeida.  (There are others of her on Youtube, as well)

She told me about how the curfews during the 2nd intifada interfered with schooling. If a curfew was on, that meant not leaving the house, and even when curfews were lifted, schools were off limits for a significant period of time. Feryal defied this by holding class outside in the parks. At one point, when a curfew was lifted, she called everyone to school. She was then confronted by a soldier who yelled at her that it was only lifted to allow people to shop for food. Feryal is a master of non-violent resistance.

In 1995, when they were finally able to officially reopen the school, she planted a Palestinian flag on it. It wasn’t long before a settler snatched it and burnt it. No matter, Feryal had two more at the ready. She took the children, flag in hand and marched them through the street to show the soldiers and the settlers that they were not defeated. A settler grabbed the flag from her and started beating children with it.   With resolve they continued, and at the school, she planted her third flag.

I had recounted in an earlier post how Baruch Goldstein murdered the Muslims praying the synagogue. He was tackled and beaten to death only after he killed 27 people. But, that wasn’t the end of people like him in Hebron. Baruch Marzel is another radical member of the Kach organization  and is behind a lot of the violence in Hebron. He once angrily confronted Haryel and told her, “every dog has its day.” She nodded her head and looked him straight in the eyes and said, “yes, he does.”

She told another story of how an Israeli worker came to her house asking for ingress through her land in connection with the excavation they were doing. She told him to come back the next day and she would have the entrance ready. After he left, she erected a barricade. When he returned the next day and saw that he couldn’t get in, he said, “I thought you were going to have it ready.” She replied, “Yes, it’s ready.” She laughed and told me that he told her that she should have been a lawyer. And then explained that she knew from experience that if she had allowed him in this “one time” she would never see the end of it.

Israel is trying very hard to confiscate two lots that directly abut her home. Her family has rented them for over 65 years from the Islamic Waqf. There is a case currently pending in the Israeli Supreme Court. She hopes for justice, but it is a rare thing for Palestinians. God knows what will become of her home if those lots are seized.


Here is a view out of her living room of the land in jeopardy.

She is very proud of her children and the fact that they have all managed to stay out of trouble – no small task in a land where nearly every family has or has had boys or men held in Israeli prisons, often in “administrative detention” which can be as long as six months at a time with no charges filed, and no access to the secret files. When we discussed this, I mentioned a friend whose son-in-law is currently on his second consecutive four month administrative detention, without charges, because of his advocacy on behalf of Palestinian political prisoners, and how he has a baby he has never met. It made Feryal weep. I felt bad, but then again, weeping is probably the healthiest response to the situation.

She told me how she was named Palestnian Person of the Year in 1996 and how she was nominated in 2005  by the Peace Women Project as one of  1,000 Women nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize that year. And she was also very proud to recount how Yassar Arafat had come to meet and congratulate her.

Probably the most notable thing about Feryal is her passion for education. As mentioned, this is her life’s work, but it is also reflected in her 11 children, six of whom are engineers. Girls or boys, it does not matter. Education is paramount in Feryal’s mind. One of her sons is finishing his PhD in engineering at M.I.T. this spring. We were amused by the fact that her son will be leaving M.I.T. just as mine is starting his post-doc work there.

These are just a few of Feryal’s stories. She has toured the U.S extensively and you can watch her on YouTube. Feryal is testament to the Palestinian spirit which is alive and well and will not be put down. I feel very honored to have made her acquaintance.


(I think I’ve finally gotten the hang of selfies – hehe).

“DON’T YOU KNOW IT’S DANGEROUS THERE?” said the fox to the chicken

Today was a really interesting one. I skipped church and went to work in Hebron as most Hebronites do, because it is largely a Muslim city with a Sunday through Thursday work week. When I was hungry for lunch, I went down the old city street into the market and got a falafel and went to Laila’s shop to eat. Laila is the woman who runs the women’s cooperative shop where the jewelry and needlework made by local women is sold. For anyone who has read my earlier posts, she was my guardian angel when I kept getting lost the first few days of work. She also gave me some heartfelt advice about convincing my oldest child (whose name I won’t mention) that he needs to get married and start having children.


This is a picture of her with me in her shop.

When Sami from HRC gave us the tour of the old town on the first day of work, he had introduced us to Laila.  She served us tea and Sami told us how she vents her frustration at at the occupation by keeping her hands and mind busy making jewelry.  One of the specialties are earrings made from pre-Israel, Palestinian coins. I finally chose a pair for myself today – yippee!  She also sells keffiyas in every imaginable color, all loomed right here in Hebron.

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Here are a couple of shots of the women’s handiwork in Laila’s shop. I am hoping to visit the women’s cooperative where these things are made later this week.

As I was chatting with Laila over my falafel, I told her that I want to meet a local woman, Feryel Abu Haikel whom I’ve read about it. She has become quite well known as being on the forefront of the non-violent resistance front in Hebron. She lives in Tel Rumeida which is on the outskirts of the old city and has been very, very hard hit by the occupation and the invasion of the old city by Jewish settlers and their IDF enablers. She was a teacher and then became the principal of the Qortoba School in Hebron. The school is located on Shuhada Street, the street that has become nearly a ghost town because of Israel’s closure of all of the Palestinian stores and erection of check points. Again, bear in mind that this was all to protect settlers from Palestinians, after 27 Palestinians were murdered in the Ibrahimi mosque by a fanatic settler, even though it is the Palestinians who continue to be attacked by the settlers, and even though IDF soldiers by many accounts outnumber the settlers in the old city. If you don’t believe my account of these things, you can read the blogs of the various international observers and peacekeepers who keep a presence here to protect the Palestinians. Here are a few of them )

So, as I was in Laila’s shop asking her about Feryal, who should walk into the shop, but Feryal’s youngest daughter along with her sister out shopping for things for her upcoming wedding. So, I was able to get the go-ahead to visit her mother, with assurance that she is in her house most of the time, and general directions as to walking there. I am really loving fate these days.


This is Feryal’s daughter and me in Laila’s shop. Her sister declined to be in the photo but obliged by taking this shot of us.

I left work a little early to make my way over to Tel Rumeida to try to pay my visit to Feryal. This took me a little bit out of my comfort zone, in that the streets are rather confusing and I do have a tendency to get lost. To get there, I had to go through a check point. As I approached the turnstile, the soldier guarding it asked me where I was from. I answered “the U.S.” He then responded, “What are you DOING there! Don’t you know it’s dangerous?” He was referring to the old city where I have been walking and working nearly every day for the past three weeks. The irony of this heavily armed IDF solider whose very presence is nothing short of intimidating chiding me for taking such a reckless risk as to mingle with Palestinians just about bowled me over. I just smirked and replied, “It’s not scary in the least.” Sigh.


This is what I find scary.  This scene was from just today –  young, testosterone driven soldiers with big guns, everywhere you look. How very brainwashed these people are, and it starts in kindergarten when IDF soldiers come to their classrooms to glorify the army and fill the children’s heads with  fables of the scary “other”; namely the Arab.

Another reason I’m glad I took this walk is to once again see Shuhada Street and to snap a few more pictures. Bear in mind, that this was the busiest market in Hebron before Israel came in and shut down the shops and closed off numerous entrances and egresses.

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You can see the barred shops. The doors are welded shut and the shop owners are not even allowed inside their own buildings. What a sad and desolate sight is Shuhada Street.

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More closed shops and a a beautiful set of windows, pains all broken above one of the shut down shops.

There was another propaganda sign that stated how the shops were all shut down because of the murderous Palestinians. I saw a hasidic Jewish couple intently pointing at and reading the sign, no doubt beaming with pride that their people were able to put those dirty Arabs in their rightful place. Sigh

So, after a couple of stops along the way for directions,   climbing up, up, up the hill to Tel Rumeida, I finally found Feryal’s house. (to be continued 😉 )


I am so happy to have been able to reconnect with Hiam Saleh, a woman who agreed to entertain all 39 of us Lutheran pilgrims last May in her home. If that doesn’t tell you something about her hospitality and sheer energy – well, I am about to tell you more. For me, Hiam is one of those people who you feel you have known all your life.

Getting to Aboud is a little bit of a challenge if you don’t have a car. From Bethlehem you first have to get to Ramallah and then it’s another 20-30 minutes. I had the good fortune of being able to hitch a ride with Hijazi, another person from last year whose friendship I was able to rekindle. I had mentioned my hope of visiting Hiam, and since he was going to Ramallah for a visa application, he offered to let me come along for the ride and then swing over to Aboud to meet Hiam.

Once again, I got to traverse that US Aid built road that detours around Jerusalem through the Wadi Nar – the Valley of Fire. This adds around 45 minutes to the trip to the direct route through Jerusalem from which Palestinians are now barred.   And it is the only north-south route for Palestinians – one more example of life being made miserable and hazardous for Palestinians at the whim of the occupier.


I do have to say, it’s a breathtakingly beautiful road if you don’t have to get anywhere too quickly and the weather is good.

Along the way we passed by a town under curfew.  Both entrances were blocked by the IDF.

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Too bad for you if you needed to get in or leave town that day.

We ended up being later than we had planned because Hijazi had to wait a couple of hours for his European visa application.


This is the entrance into the city. I killed the time by roaming the streets of Ramallah.I’ve done so much walking during this trip, I’ll be surprised if there aren’t holes in my boots when it’s over.

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The area around the German/French consulate was really pretty, with old buildings and lovely gardens.

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Of the cities I’ve visited in the West Bank so far: Jerusalem, Hebron, Jericho and Bethlehem – Ramallah definitely seems the most urbane. It is where most of the Palestinian Authority government offices are located and it has quite a cultural/art scene. I noticed quite a few hipster types among the more traditionally clad Palestinians.


Hijazi still waiting to be seen at the consulate.

When we finally made it to Aboud, Hiam had a huge meal waiting for us: Maqloobeh, which means upside down.


It’s one of the most famous Palestinian dishes. It’s made with layers of rice, vegetables and meat (usually chicken) in a pot which is flipped onto a platter when everything is cooked, hence the name. It was quite a treat. She also had some wonderful date and almond Easter cookies to go with Turkish coffee to top it all off. After our late lunch, Hiam was ready to take us for a tour of her little town.


This is on the balcony of Hiam’s house.


And this is the view across the street from her balcony. I love the domed roofs on the old Palestinian homes. It takes me back to the picture books from Sunday school classes.

Hiam has lived in the village of Aboud for most of her life; however, her family sent her to England for nursing school in the 1960s. While she was there, the 6-day war erupted. When things had settled down a bit, and she embarked upon a trip back home, she encountered the shock of her life. As she was attempting to enter Israel and showed her Jordanian passport, the Israeli customs official told her she was not allowed in. Exasperated, Hiam explained that she was merely trying to return home to her country after being abroad studying. To that the official curtly stated, “this is not your country anymore.” Through a series of coincidences and pulling of strings, she was able to get a very short term visa and made it back home to the country where she was told she no longer belonged.

Amidst all of the turmoil, arrangements were made for Hiam go to the United States to continue her nursing studies. She ended up living in the Boston area for several years, and worked for awhile at Malden Hospital where my son Peter was born. I love these coincidences. The other one with Hiam is that she has an unusual, antique German wall clock that is the identical twin of one that I inherited from my mother. After around ten years in the US, Hiam craved returning to her home and was able to do so. Fortunately, her family home was still intact and for the most part, the Israelis have left Aboud alone. Her extensive nursing training was put to good use in her community.

First stop on our tour of Aboud was  across the street from Hiam’s home to the original family home which is now inhabited by her nephew and his family.


The gate to the old family house which is in the foreground.

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The courtyard of the old family home.

Hiam  is very, very close to her nephew’s  three little girls who she calls, cheeky monkeys and they did not disappoint.


You can barely make out the shadows of the two younger girls who were bouncing with excitement when they saw their Ama approaching.


The little girls were just as adorable as Hiam had promised.

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The youngest and I decided to do some selfies – hehe.


And then her older sister decided to get in on the action. The girls had some fun teasing me about my faltering attempts at Arabic. So, after a nice visit with the girls and their Mom, we were off on our village tour.

Aboud is a really beautiful little town of around 3,000 inhabitants. It is populated fairly evenly by Muslims and Christians whom Hiam likes to point out get on together very well. They do tend to live in their own sections of town, as do the two different Christian populations. Hiam said that in all of her life she remembers only one substantial conflagration between Christians and Muslims and that was basically a teenage neighborbood brawl which was quickly dispersed by the police. It sounded to me a little like the sharks and the skins.


We stopped and chatted with a number of people along the way. Hiam knows everybody in town. This is the priest of the Orthodox church which hosted my pilgrim group for lunch when we visited last year.

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As we were walking, Hijazi spotted this flock Egyptian vultures migrating back up from their winter post.

Although the town is picturesque and quiet, it is far from immune from the indignities and hostilities of the occupation. As we walked down the main street of Aboud, we came to the end, except it didn’t used to be the end. The street used to continue as one of two ways out of town.


The road, however was blocked by a mountain of dirt and concrete to “protect” two illegal Israeli settlements which have been built on Aboud village lands after uprooting many ancient olive trees. Apparently villagers dug this egress through the road block and so far it remains open, at least to this extent. Resistance comes in many forms.


This is on the other side of the roadblock looking onto the settlement. There are plans to confiscate yet more Aboud land for the separation (Aparthed, if you will) wall.

The other thing Hiam told us about was a recent raid in which nearly every house was stormed my IDF soldiers in the middle of the night. She says that she was lucky because hers was one of the last, and so she was already awake at 6 am when they came pounding on her door. I asked her what prompted the raid, and she had no idea other than it was probably some sort of drill. The soldiers frequently ruthlessly tear apart homes during these raids, and children are traumatized. Of course there is no recourse for damage, physical or psychological,  because it’s all about Israel’s security.  I get so angry when I hear these stories and it never ceases to amaze me how in stride most Palestinians seem to take it all. I guess, what choice do they have.


Sun setting on the sweet little town of Aboud.


The reaction of many people in the US to my stated plan to visit Palestine has been a breathless, “Be Careful!”, as though I were about to enter an active combat zone. In a sense, it is, in that Israel Defense Soldiers (more appropriately, Israel Offense Soldiers) are a constant presence in and threat to Palestinian life.



This is a shot I took the yesterday in the old city of Hebron. I was chatting was a shop owner when this little squad came stomping by. The street was quiet and there was nothing particular going on, but they constantly make their presence known. They are there for the sole purpose of protecting the 700 or so extremist, squatting Israelis who have decided to make their home in the middle of Hebron – a major Palestinian area for at least the past 800 years. And by most accounts, the IDF soldiers here outnumber the settlers. The visceral reaction is a quiet, angry tension, biting one’s tongue until the big guns have moved on by.

The irony is that this grossly disproportionate military presence in Hebron all started after an extremist Jewish settler entered the Ibrahimi Mosque and started spraying the Muslim worshippers with machine gun fire, killing 29 of them and wounding many more.  Instead of taking actions to protect the Palestinians, Israel sent in the IDF to harass them by imposing severe limitations on their movement and the use of their own property. Even though the indigenous residents of Hebron were victimized by this brutal attack, Israel provided its protection to the perpetrators of the violence. It is worth noting that the attacker, Baruch Goldstein is venerated by the radical settlers as a great hero of their cause of reclaiming Hebron, even though it was never theirs in the first place.  This is the epitaph engraved on his grave stone:

“The revered Dr. Baruch Kapel Goldstein… Son of Israel.  He gave his soul for the sake of the people of Israel, The Torah, and the Land.  His hands are clean and his heart good… He was assassinated for the Sanctity of God” – See more at:

A little of the settler’s narrative is worth noting. The radical settlers hope to reclaim all of Hebron as it is the locale of the Tomb of the Patriarchs where Abraham and some of his progeny are buried, as well as Rachel’s tomb. Their claim, of course, goes back several thousand years in time. No only that, these patriarchs are sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims alike. They provide the roots for all three religions. Until the Balfour Declaration announcing the creation of a state of Israel, people from all three groups lived quite peacably together. It was only when the indigenous population started to feel threatened by the influx of European Jews and their creeping confiscation of land that widespread violence between Palestinians and Jews erupted.

In the early 1900s, there was a small community of Jews living in Hebron which was primarily Muslim.   Because of the perceived threat from the influx of European Jews, there were riots in Hebron and 67 Jewish Hebronites were killed . In response, the British government exiled the remaining Jews from Hebron who numbered around 400. This is the event that the modern, Jewish settlers, many of whom herald from the Bronx, New York, use as their justification to retake the city, even though they comprised only a  tiny minority for many hundreds of years, while simultaneously giving a hearty nod of approval to the much more recent brutal mosque massacre by one of their own.

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These signs are from the settler-only portion of the old city of Hebron and tell a very 1984-esque version of events – a narrative embraced by many Zionists of both Jewish and fundamentalist Christian persuasions. Well financed American foundations bring in busloads of people to which to spoon feed this propaganda and seek ever more funding for the purpose of pushing out the Palestinians. In addition to the small Jewish presence in the city of Hebron, there are two large settlements outside of the city with around  7,000 settlers. As mentioned in an earlier post, these tour groups also arrogantly traipse through the Muslim section of the old city flanked by IDF soldiers. It is a continuous reminder to the inhabitants that their presence in their ancient homeland is under constant threat.


Just a few years ago, this banner hung prominently in the the section of Hebron taken over by the settlers. Apparently the powers that be thought that was just a tad too inflammatory  and perhaps didn’t play well to the media and had it taken down.


This picture is taken from the point where the old city street leading to my office begins. To the right are concrete blocks delineating the section of the old city taken over by the settlers. The large building to the right was a Palestinian school. When it was turned over to the settlers, they built on top it, destroying the historical integrity of the building. You can see a solider standing watch on top. Straight ahead is an ancient building not yet confiscated by Israel but left in a state of dangerous disrepair because Israel will not allow its rehabilitation. Not only is this yet another piece of Palestinian cultural heritage left to waste (HRC was ready and willing to do the rehab), it is also a hazard as whole sections of buildings like this often collapse during extreme weather events.

So, about the question of my own personal safety that I keep countering, here is the scariest thing that has happened to me during all of my time in the West Bank. The other day, I took a walk in the fields and up the hill behind my apartment building. I wanted to get a closer look at the Har Hona settlement which is one of the several settlements which are slowly and with planned deliberation, separating East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank.


Here it is, complete with its ugly separation wall and watch towers.

As I approached the top of the hill, I noticed the hulks of about a half dozen sleeping, feral dogs. I have heard stories of packs of dogs viciously attacking people, so I quickly and quietly backed away, hoping to avoid arousing their attention. Just as I thought I was in the clear, one started barking and charging toward me. With an adrenalin rush, I instinctively reached down and grabbed a couple of large stones. The dog took notice and backed away. Of course the dog didn’t know that I can’t throw worth beans, but the gesture was enough to signal danger to the dog. To me, it was a visceral experience of the power that one can feel in wielding a stone. If only the stones thrown by young Palestinian boys evoked a similar response from the occupiers.

For anyone interested, you can read more about how the settlements in and around Hebron are making Palestinian life extremely difficult.