LETTERS FROM PALESTINE
November 30, 2005
Note: This was written just as I was leaving Palestine. A beautiful
week in Dahab, Sinai, Egypt followed, and then I went home to my family
in Oklahoma for Christmas. I am now living in Washington, DC. I have at
least half a dozen major stories still to finish about Gaza, my parents
visiting, etc. I will try to post them when they are done.
This is my last week working in Ramallah at my
present job. I'll be back home in Oklahoma on
December 17, then in New York for New
Year's. Then I'll move to Washington, DC,
probably for a year or two. Look me up if
you're in the area.
I haven't written much in the past few months; when
there's the most to write about, there's usually the
least time to write about it. Since the 1st of
September, I've averaged about 1.5 days off per month.
(I define a day off as one in which I can, if I so
choose, spend all day at home in my pajamas cooking
hashbrowns and watching MBC2.)
But here are a few random stories I've put together
since then. More will be coming about Gaza, trips
with American friends, visits to settlements, etc.,
before too long, insha'Allah.
On Friday, September 2, I headed to Jenin to visit
some beautiful areas up north and check out a
newly-opened road next to a famously pretty ravine.
The small section of road, closed for many years to
Palestinians for the exclusive use of illegal Israeli
settlers, is one of the most strikingly beautiful
stretches in all of the West Bank. It also cuts the
journey from Nablus north to Tubas and Jenin by hours.
The entire area around Badhan and its ravine are
impossibly picturesque except for the illegal,
ideological, expansionist Israeli settlement of Elon
Moreh and its military base sitting on the mountain
top overlooking it all.
I often wonder, when I look at all the hilltop
settlements in the West Bank, what they see when they
look down on Badhan or Ramallah (Psagot settlement
sits on a hill overlooking Ramallah's downtown), when
they see life going on here. Are they able to blind
themselves to the humanity of the residents entirely?
Do they just see ants or cockroaches, mere
inconveniences to their aims and claims? I suppose
many of them must. Just to live there, they'd have to
believe they had some strange right to it that
transcended the property deeds of those whose lands
(A few months later I visited Elon Moreh with an
American friend to find out. The short answer is that
many simply don't recognize as legitimate anything
that's happened since the Old Testament. And their
interpretation of the OT is pretty narrow and twisted.
An American woman who was visiting one of the
hardline settlements in Hebron had a different view,
however: she believes that since Israel conquered the
West Bank by force, Israel can do with it whatever it
likes, and tough beans for the natives. She said
superciliously, "That's the Rule of Civilization."
At that point my irony-meter just spun around and
And yet the pesky Arabs remain. Their solution?
Put the Arabs in reservations and/or move 'em out.
Sharon seems to agree, although he'll call the Walled
reservation he's preparing for them, without access to
their best land and water, and without control over
their borders or airspace, and with minimal and
provisional internal freedom of movement, "the
Palestinian state." A nice little sleight of hand
like South Africa's Bantustans, granting nominal but
not actual independence. Even in Gaza, Palestinians
still have no control over their coastline, airspace,
or exports, and can be bombed at will by Israel. And
only Palestinians with Israeli-issued IDs may pass at
I'll write more about the settlement visits in an
The ravine didn't disappoint at all; if it weren't for
the army base and settlement up above, it would be a
world-class place to hike and climb. The steep rocky
landscape with mountain spring water rushing down to
the fertile valley below was dramatic and lovely. The
West Bank is an old landscape, softened by time. The
ravine was a refreshing surge of youth.
After Badhan came Tubas, a regional capital located
between Nablus and Jenin, which is relatively
unmolested by settlements. Even the five Israeli
military bases surrounding it are between six and
twelve kilometers away rather than right up in their
faces, and fatalities here in the past five years have
been refreshingly small.
I've reported on hundreds of incidents in Palestine
during the past year, and the incident in Tubas that
comes to mind is the 13-year-old boy who was killed on
Thursday, January 20, 2005, the first day of the Eid
al-Adha festival holiday. It was also the day before
my 25th birthday.
He was playing with other children in the street,
probably thrilled to be outdoors on a school day, when
Israeli Jeeps passed and began shooting at the
children. Maybe the kids were playing with toy guns
or tossing stones, as the soldiers claimed. A
13-year-old with a rock on a holiday playing in his
own street is apparently an executable offense here.
He was shot in the back with live ammunition as he
tried to run from the invading Jeeps and was buried in
his new holiday clothes and shoes.
Every holiday seems to have its share of children shot
by Israeli soldiers. This year on the first day of
the Eid al-Fitr holiday, a 12-year-old boy in his own
neighborhood in Jenin was shot in the head by an
Israeli soldier and killed. The soldier claimed that
the boy was playing with a toy gun that looked real.
For this he executed the child on sight.
His grief-stricken parents decided to donate the boy's organs, and six Israelis received them.
There has been no talk of an investigation or
punishment for the boy's killing. Even Captain R, who riddled that little girl in Gaza with so many bullets last fall, was recently cleared of all charges.
The land around Tubas is lush and gorgeous, green and
cultivated, with a few stone ruins dotted here and
there. It's located on a high, hilly plateau
overlooking the Jordan Valley, idyllic as a
Renaissance painting, verdant as a Hidden Valley Ranch
After that I went on to Jenin for a bit, but it was
Friday and everything was closed, and my contact
didn't have his cell phone turned on. So I headed
back to Nablus, where I hung out with an Aussie friend
and watched Wag the Dog on MBC2. We were both bemused
to think that it was made before the Bush
administration took power.
The next day I hiked around Badhan, as I mentioned in
a previous email. I got up Sunday morning and went
directly from Nablus to my office and worked until
Thursday, when I went to Gaza for six days to witness
the Strip before and after disengagement. I'll
describe this later. It was amazing but exhausting in
Snake 'n the grass
I worked the two days after I got back from Gaza, and
then on Thursday, September 15, I stayed the night in
Jerusalem so I could catch the next day's 7:00 a.m.
bus to Eilat. It was time to renew my visa.
The crossing into Egypt wasn't bad. The border girl
asked the usual dozens of questions, and when I said I
planned on leaving Israel on December 16, she warned
me that I'd only get a one-month visa on the way back
"That's what you think," I thought. I planned to take
the boat across the gulf from Nuweiba to Aqaba and
cross from there so I'd get the necessary three
I arrived in Dahab, an inexpensive Sinai resort town,
around 4:00 p.m. and grabbed a bite to eat. Then I
caught a cab up north to the Blue Hole, from which a
camel trail leads directly to Ras Abu Gallum, a
Bedouin camp/village on a flat spit of land between
the mountains and the Gulf. It was getting dark, but
I had a head lamp, and I figured an empty camel trail
would be pretty tame.
I walked with a Bedouin guy part of the way and was
offered tea and a place to stay at another smaller
camp along the way. But I declined, itching to see
the place where I'd spent such
wondrous times exactly
two years ago.
One odd thing about the eastern part of the Sinai is
that you never really see the sun set. The mountains
to the west gobble up the sun long before it hits the
horizon, and the day fades lazily away without anyone
really noticing it. The sun was behind the mountains,
but not down yet, when the translucent, almost-full
moon rose in the east over the dusty rolling Saudi
mountains in a hazy pale pink and blue sky.
As the twilight deepened and the moon began to shine
more confidently, its reflection on the silky calm
gulf waters took my breath away. Gently, brilliantly,
the soft white moonlight glittered off the bottomless
clear aquamarine gulf and shone like a spotlight on
one area in the middle, like a stage where spirits
dance. The reflection trailed in a shimmery line
toward me like a path.
The Sinai is a haunted place, and I mean that in the
best possible way. It's where the spirit world goes
to hang out, it seems. It's their French Riviera. I
have no trouble believing someone named Moses felt a
great presence here.
The moon climbed higher and grew stronger as I made my
way north, and finally the Bedouin camp was in sight.
Instead of following the trail all the way in, I
decided to cut down to the beach at the entrance and
walk along it a bit. For old time's sake.
I put my hand on a boulder to steady myself for the
jump down to the beach, and as I did, I heard a sound
that made no sense: an unearthly hissing, in stereo,
crescendoing rapidly, seeming to come simultaneously
from many directions at once and yet from one compact
space near my head on the rocks.
The hair on my neck stood up, and I swung my head lamp
around just enough to see a writhing, coiling,
sand-colored mass looking as alarmed as I felt about
four feet from my head. I withdrew my hand and walked
away evenly, my ears burning, feeling for some reason
as mortified as if I'd walked in on a couple having
sex, and a lot more terrified.
The terror came and went quickly as I realized I was
safe just seconds after I realized I was in danger.
But the burning in my ears lingered.
I approached a group of three or four Bedouin men
sitting on mats sharing tea between the first line of
huts and the beach. They motioned for me to join them
and offered me tea. I told them about the snake, and
they asked what color it was. I pointed at the sand
and asked in Arabic, "Is it dangerous?"
One of the old men laughed heartily and said, "VERY
dangerous!" (Ah, fi khaTar KTIR!)
Er... Ha ha?
Soon one of them offered to sell me some herb, but I
wasn't about to fall for the old
buying-herb-in-the-Sinai trick. I'd sooner buy ice in
Sure enough, within minutes of declining to buy, I was
offered a nice fatty, gratis. Maybe it was the
exhaustion of traveling since 5:30 a.m. all the way
from Jerusalem to B.F.Egypt, and having a near-death
experience on top of it all, but one puff and I was
gone. I raised my eyebrows at the guy who'd rolled
for me, and he smiled knowingly.
I looked toward Dahab. The mountains in the west
vanished to a point just where the lights of Dahab
softly glowed, where the sea, sky, and mountains met.
Two Septembers ago I was here during the new moon.
Now the moon was full. Every time I blinked, my old
memory from the darker new moon days would be replaced
by the present scene, with a bright moon suddenly in
the sky, lighting up the hills and changing all the
I had some stale bread and runny cheese for dinner and
then retired to a khousha (grass hut) for some
desperately-needed sleep. It lasted until the sun
cleared the khousha next to me and started shining at
me through my roof the next afternoon.
I felt stunned and exhausted by the pace of my life of
late, and I couldn't bring myself to do much of
anything but sit around and occasionally scrounge for
food and water and herb. I went snorkeling for a bit,
but some of the young men from the village kept trying
to pick up sea creatures and show them to me, which is
illegal and damaging to the fragile life. I stopped
snorkeling so they'd stop doing that. And there
weren't any glow spots in the tiny surf this time of
the month; they only come out when there's a new moon.
By Sunday morning I couldn't wait to get out of this
twilight zone and back to a place where I could just
buy a cup of tea when I wanted it instead of having to
make friends with someone and pretend to be interested
in buying some of their beadwork in order to get it.
I was grumpy, hungry, and in desperate need of a
shower. I'd gone to Ras Abu Gallum to be alone and at
peace, but I wasn't afforded the personal space I
craved, my head hurt from speaking only Arabic, and
there was no place to go to the bathroom. Peeing was
done on a strictly ad hoc basis.
I got started around 9:00 a.m. and walked until 11:00.
When I arrived in Dahab, I sat down at a seaside cafe
and ordered exactly what I wanted: garlic mashed
potatoes, a boiled egg, and guava juice. My stomach
was so shrunken from two days of eating basically
nothing that I couldn't finish it. But sitting there
by the sea under the sun with a full stomach, sipping
my sweet NesCafe ma' halib (with milk), I felt
I ran into a few of the people I'd done my rescue
diver course with in February. One of them, an
Egyptian Coptic Christian, invited me to a
get-together that night with some Palestinian-Israeli
friends (Palestinians who live inside Israel and have
Israeli citizenship, often called Israeli Arabs). It
was strange hanging out with them. There was kind of
a Western edge to them. They were more polished and
distant and well-fed than Palestinian Palestinians,
and one wore an enormous gold crucifix.
The next day I got up early to catch the bus to catch
the ferry from Nuweiba, Egypt, to Aqaba, Jordan. The
usual hassles and long waits ensued, and the boat was
hours later than it was supposed to be. The
foreigners banded together to try to make sense of
things and complain to each other about the
meaningless posted schedules and the asinine
bureaucracy. I didn't make it to the border with
Israel until nearly 7:00.
The border sadist du jour kept me more than half an
hour, right past the time when the last bus would
leave Eilat for Jerusalem. Finally the blond Russian
passport control girl said she could only give me two
weeks since I was doing an internship (as per my story
of the day) and was therefore not a tourist. She said
I'd have to take it up with the Ministry of the
Interior. It wasn't even because I'd been in
Palestine; I'd somehow failed to mention that. She
was just on a power trip.
This was terrible news. If I did go to the Ministry
to try to get it extended, they would grill me within
and inch of my life and might tell me to bugger off.
It'd be tougher lying to them, and why would they want
to help me continue to work in Palestine? On the
other hand, if I went back to another border to try to
get it extended, those border guards would want to
know what I was guilty of at the last border to
warrant only getting two weeks. My stomach clenched in
On the way out I grabbed a few extra visa papers to
experiment on. Maybe there would be some kind of
underhanded way out of this. Since the Israelis by
all evidence have no respect for their own or anyone
else's laws when it's not convenient, why should I? I
don't recognize their dominion over the West Bank
anyway, and didn't Gandhi and Thoreau teach us to
respect our conscience above the laws of colonial
governments? Any excuse would do, anything but
another border crossing...
The Israeli girl who took my gate pass was sweet and
offered to call me a cab. While I was waiting, a
young Israeli man asked me where I was headed.
"Jerusalem," I said, although that was a pipe dream by
now. There wouldn't be any more buses until the
morning, and I had no idea where I'd stay in Eilat.
"Come with us, we can take you as far as Tel Aviv," he
He seemed nice enough. "How much?" I asked.
He shrugged and smiled, "Just to come, for nothing."
"Wow, thanks, that'd be great."
I got in the back seat of his car. An older Israeli
man was sitting in the front. We pulled up to the
gate to pick up their other passenger just as my taxi
"Oh, crap, that's my cab," I said. "I should go--"
"No, no!" said the first Israeli man. "Don't go,
don't do anything, he might want you to pay."
"But I called him, I should--"
"No, don't go, it doesn't matter. Forget about him."
No matter how much I insisted I go, they insisted that
I stay, right up until the cab drove away empty. I
felt bad. They acted triumphant. Weird.
Anyway, long story short, the guy they were coming to
pick up crossed the border shortly, and we headed off.
We stopped once for McDonald's and once at a
Palestinian Israeli's house in Arad, and we didn't get
to Tel Aviv until 3:00 a.m. One of the guys offered
me a place to stay, and since I didn't have much
choice, I accepted.
The next day I was five hours late for work.
At work that day, I was so delirious and miserable I
did something really dumb: I tried to scratch off the
part of my visa stamp where the border guard had
crossed out "3 months" and written in "2 weeks". When
I was done it no longer clearly said "2 weeks". But
it did look completely and deliberately mangled.
Brilliant. I'd gone from having a legitimate but
inconvenient two-week visa to having a mangled and
useless and incriminating non-visa.
But wait! What if I threw my visa into the washing
machine? Then it would look mangled, but not
purposely mangled! And maybe they would just be able
to pick out the part that said "3 months" and not the
part I'd scratched off.
I took the extra visa papers I'd grabbed and started
experimenting. I filled out the papers, drew in a
fake visa stamp, wrote in "2 weeks", scratched it out,
folded them up, threw one in the washing machine,
washed one by hand, and used an exfoliating scrub on
another to try to fade out everything else to about
the extent the "2 weeks" line had been faded.
Now, instead of looking intentionally mangled, they
all looked intentionally mangled twice.
It wouldn't have mattered anyway since it's on their
computer how many weeks/months I've been given. But I
wasn't thinking that clearly at the time.
I worked all week and FINALLY got a day off on Friday,
September 23. I think I went ahead and took Saturday
off, too, because by then I had the flu. But I had
trouble sleeping because I was sick, and I went into
work on Sunday still exhausted, miserably mindful that
I'd have to go to Jordan and face the borders all over
again the next weekend.
The two weeks between visa renewals were infused
thickly with the dread that the next border crossing
could be my last, and this could be my last two sick,
miserable weeks in beautiful Palestine. I was one
giant ball of bummed out. I didn't know whether to
tie up all my affairs or not, or whether to say
tearful good-byes to good friends or not. Because I
might be back in three days, or I might be barred for
the next five years. One never knew. It was all up
to the shrewdness and moods of the Israeli guards.
For me it was two weeks of psychological torture.
Israel doesn't grant anything but tourist visas even
to permanent residents of the Palestinian Territories.
If you weren't in the right place at the right time
to receive an Israeli-issued ID, you're a tourist, and
that's that. Some people who have grandparents buried
here and who've lived here for more than ten years
still have to go in and out every three months (or two
weeks, as the case may be) and put their fate in the
border guards' hands every time.
It's another pernicious form of total control, another
humiliating embodiment of Palestine's lack of
sovereignty. Palestine can't even choose its own
citizens and foreign employees. They're all subject
to Israel's tri-monthly approval. And sometimes,
without warning, Israel can give someone a little
black stamp in their passport that indicates they
can't enter Israel -- which controls all of
Palestine's borders -- for five years. I know a woman
who was denied at the border and given one of these
stamps when she least expected it. Her life, work,
friends, and possessions were all still in Palestine.
Israel has refused repeatedly to give her an
explanation, and months later she's still trying to
get back to a place she considers Home.
Given how many hundreds of thousands of people pass
through checkpoints every day here, there's a fairly
low chance of any random person being detained,
beaten, injured, or killed at them, just as there's a
low chance of being outright denied at an Israeli
border. But the helpless fear and awful dread, every
time you must put your fate in their arbitrary hands
in order to pass, is punishment enough. If they want
to beat you, detain you, deny you, tell you you can't
go to work this morning or you can't go back to the
home you built, they can do that. And there's almost
nothing you can do about it.
I knew my chances at the border would increase greatly
the less I looked like a backpacker/activist. I
ironed my nicest clothes, bought some strappy leather
sandals, and found a reasonably-priced faux-Louis
Vuitton rolling carry-on to replace my beat-up
As for the visa, I finally decided that my best bet
was telling the border guard I'd lost it entirely. It
happens. Better than presenting her with the
pathetically mangled rag I'd made out of my visa
Up at the northern crossing near Beit Shean the next
Thursday, I clicked smartly across the linoleum to the
passport control window in my high heels and shiny lip
gloss. The border guard didn't even let me finish my
elaborate story about the lost visa. She was like Dr.
Evil, shushing me every time I tried to explain.
"Look, I'm really sorry, but I lost my--"
"Mmm..." She grabbed my passport and turned to her
"Here, I have the Jordanian stamp to prove--"
She waved her hand at me dismissively, tapped a few
taps on her computer, asked if I preferred a visa on a
separate piece of paper (the first time any border
guard ever asked me that), stamped a couple of papers,
handed them to me, and said with friendly sarcasm,
"Don't lose this."
It was the easiest border crossing in my long and
colorful history of them. I practically floated
across the bridge to Jordan.
Canadian Horse of the Nile
On the other side, I waited to see if anyone else was
catching a taxi to Amman so I could split one. It's
about a three-hour $35 ride. I saw a guy in jeans,
black leather shoes, a black sports jacket, and an
out-of-place movie star hairdo tell one of the drivers
he wanted to go to Amman. I walked up and said,
"Biddi Amman kaman." (I want Amman, too.)
The movie star guy looked at me and couldn't seem to
make up his mind whether to talk to me in Arabic or
English. Finally he settled on sign language.
"Amman?" he said, pointing at the cab.
"Er..." he pointed at himself and then me to ask if I
wanted to go together.
"Tayyib, leish la?" Sure, why not?
On the road, we spoke in Arabic until I got around to
asking where he was from and found out he was a
Palestinian with Canadian citizenship who has family
near Haifa in what is now Israel. Then we switched to
English, which was nice, because I'd used up most of
my Arabic by then anyway.
He said he was a singer whose stage name, Jawad el-Nil
(Horse of the Nile), was given to him by an Egyptian
television host. He was heading to the Marriott in
Amman for some meetings. When we got there, he
invited me in for coffee, and he dropped every name in
the Arabic music industry. ("Oh yeah, I met Haifa in
Paris," "Sure, me and Amr Diab are like brothers.")
He invited me to come back after his meetings so we
could have dinner together.
We went out to a nice Arabic place. He said he had a
website with some of his photos and music videos
posted. I checked out his
music videos, and they're pretty wild.
Afterwards he invited me up to his room in the
Marriott, but I declined and went back to the
Al-Sarayya Hotel in downtown Amman to spend time with
Fayez and Eiko, some old friends. We talked for
hours, ate together, and had another lovely kunafe
On Friday I just stayed in bed at the hotel and
watched movies. I was still kind of fluey, and it was
nice to take a day off. Out my window I saw the
Citadel silhouetted against a last Amman sunset,
minarets glowing green against dusky stones and sky.
In the end I was kind of glad that last border girl
only gave me two weeks.
Allenby's eternal limbo
On Saturday morning I got up early to face the border
once more. I had a boiled egg and a slice of tomato
for breakfast, and somehow it didn't sit well with me.
By the time I was explaining myself to yet another
blonde Russian girl, I had the kind of headache that
meant losing my lunch was inevitable.
A girl dragged me out of the metal detector line right
away and pretended to strike up a conversation with me
in between security questions. "Wait, don't I know
you?" she asked with faux-curiosity.
"I don't think so," I said.
"When was the last time you came through here?" she
asked, her brows furrowed fatuously.
"I don't know, a couple of years ago," I lied.
Otherwise she would have asked more stupid questions.
"Oh, then, nevermind," she said, losing interest
Who put Pollyanna on psy-ops? Why couldn't she just
ask her question outright instead of being all weird
and sneaky about it? Who takes nice little teen-agers
and turns them into the patronizing schizo boneheads
at the borders?
In the next room I told the passport control girl that
I was doing consulting in Ramallah. She looked
crestfallen and said apologetically, "I am sorry, we
have to do a security check on you. Please sit over
I suspected she looked pained because she knew very
well that the "security check" was just a process by
which I would be made to sit on a bench for a few
hours for no reason. She was probably new and still
sensitive to asinine wastes of people's time. I'm
sure that will change with time.
I sweated a bit, not because I was nervous, but
because my stomach was becoming more and more
unsettled and the pain in my head was getting sharper.
Thankfully they didn't ask me any more questions, and
after the requisite couple of hours were up, the girl
gave me my passport back with a three-month visa and a
sweet and sincere apology. I smiled and thanked her
Taybeh: Churches and Beer
I'd made it a point to come back as early as possible
on Saturday so I could catch the first day of Taybeh's
First Annual October Fest. Taybeh is the only
all-Christian village in Palestine, and it makes a
preservative-free microbrew called Taybeh Gold, which
is sold all over the Territories. Or at least in
places where foreigners, Christians, metro Muslims,
and Communists hang out.
I caught a service taxi from Jericho to Taybeh, and
the white stone village, with its church towers rising
gracefully above the crest of a terraced green hill,
was as breathtaking as anything I've seen here. White
crosses decorated the town's gates and buildings, and
everything was impeccably clean and brushed up for the
But by the time I arrived I was anxious to get
somewhere with some Pepto and a toilet. I wandered
miserably among the food stands and craft tables, said
hi to some friends I happened across, and then went
straight back to Main Street to try to catch a service
taxi to Ramallah.
By now I was almost delirious, and soon I was overcome
with nausea and started heaving onto one of the trees
planted along Main Street. Within seconds, a young
woman and a young man wearing a Palestine Medical
Relief vest were at my side asking in English if I
needed any help. I wasn't quite in my right mind and
didn't know what to say and couldn't think of anything
I needed except to go home. But the girl brought me a
carton of milk, a bottle of water, and some snacks.
Another man offered me a place to sit near his shop
and a place to stay the night if I needed it. I
thanked him but said I was anxious to get home.
I finally caught a service taxi and had to get out
once to throw up on my new sandals, and later I threw
up in a plastic bag in the van. When I got home I
kept throwing up until I blacked out and hit the back
of my head on the floor. I came to quickly, but I was
too dazed to know what to do, so I called my friend
John and asked if we could meet in town.
I felt as insubstantial as a shadow and as miserable
as death. But when I met John, he helped me order
some tea and then later got me some soup, and soon I
was back in the land of the living.
The last perfect day
The next day, Sunday, October 2, John and I met again
at Sinatra Cafe, a little cake shop and restaurant run
by some Palestinian re-pats who lived in San Francisco
for a while and then moved back home to Ramallah a few
years ago. I felt almost 100% again, and the weather
was mild and perfect, the Mediterranean mountain air
as fresh as ever. We chatted and watched the sun set
as we shared one of the cafe's divine American-style
home made chocolate maple cakes. The hills faded to
their sunset red color, the sweeping views of green
trees and white stone buildings faded to dusk, and the
sky fanned out in a glorious cloudless sunset rainbow.
We drank it all in line sweet wine.
It was the last summer night in Ramallah.
The next day we were hit simultaneously with Ramadan,
winter, and daylight savings time, the trifecta of
outdoor nightlife death. They fell like a ton of
bricks. The perfect season was done.
For all of Ramadan, of course, we couldn't eat or
smoke in public during daylight hours, nothing was
open for lunch, and alcohol was seriously taboo 24
hours a day. Only a handful of places sold alcohol
during Ramadan, and they lived in mild fear of
gun-toting thugs getting bent out of shape about it.
The cafes closed their outdoor gardens, and since
everyone with a family was at home playing with their
nieces and nephews and cousins, the crowds were pretty
But, happily for us family-less ex-pats, Ramadan's
long gone now. The winter rains have cleaned the dust
off everything and the weather has turned mild. The
shops and cafes are all open, some have fireplaces
going, and the beer once again flows like wine.
My friend Jeff from Stanford is visiting, and together
we took one last whirlwind trip around the West Bank
to Nablus, Jayyous, Qalqiliya, Hebron, and Bethlehem.
We visited with a lot of colorful characters including
The Prince (aka Michael Bolton) of Nablus, some
Khalili communists, and a few unselfconsciously
self-contradictory settlers. More on all this later.
A new place just opened in Ramallah called Al Makan
("The Place"). Its white stone terrace encloses a
fountain, tasteful wall displays of stone,
wrought-iron, pottery and flowers, and two graceful
olive trees that just brush the ceiling. The trees
and walls are hung liberally with old-fashioned lamps.
The nargilas are smooth and the food is excellent.
Surprisingly, they don't charge much more than the
normal Ramallah prices. Anywhere else in the world, a
place like this would cost $100 a plate.
I can't wait to get home and see friends and family.
But I am definitely in love with this town. There's
nowhere in the world quite like it.
Next: Letters from Palestine 2