07 September 2006

990) Palestine Diary

Selma Sevkli
27th July 2006, Bir Zeit

7.15 a.m. I am on my way to Jordan-Israel border in a comfi car that has been alloted to me by Prince Hasan Bin Talal. I met his highness in a reception hall two days ago and had a conversation along with the Jordanian university students. It was so nice of him to send met to the border.

I am excited, i am nervous, i am happy. I am not sure what to feel. It’s been just 2 weeks since the Israel attack on Lebanon started; Gazais under attack, and I am going to Palestine despite everything.

Before I can feel the happiness of my being admitted to the international summer camp that Bir Zeit University organizes every summer, the camp has been canceled due to the security problem and insufficient participation. I call the program coordinator and ask whether they could arrange a place for me to stay if I wish to go to Ramallah. I start preparing when I hear the reply “Sure”. I first go to Amman (Jordan) upon the invitation of Ambassador Hasan Abu Nimah, who I met 2 weeks ago. I stay at his residence for 6 days.

Amman seems to be a preparation stage for Palestine: 70 % of the people I met are Palestinian, the city is full of refugee camps. As the attacks started, I didn’t feel like sightseeing. So i spent most of my time by learning about Middle East history and politics.

It didn’t take more than 45 minutes to go from Amman to Israel border. The car left me at the King Hussein Bridge (Allenby) and i ‘checked out’ from Jordan. There are two buses to go to Israel ‘check in’: One for Palestinians and one for foreigners.

Selfishly, I was happy to qualify foreigner as the other bus waits for hours. My bus drives over the bridge and arrive at Israel side. It is rather crowded. The border that seems like a little bus terminal, there stand approximately 200 Palestinians and a few foreigners. We wait under the sun while an Arab officer collects the passports and hand them over to the Israeli officers. It is interesting to see cooperation right away. After 30 minute wait, they call my name. The officer checks the passport carefully, notices I am Turkish and calls out to the Israeli officer. They direct me into the building. After I get put in 2 X-raymachines, there comes another machine in the shape of a prism and then I get disinfected with spray. I feel nervous when the confident serious looking officer comes to question me:

--“Where are you going?”
– First Ramallah, then Jericho, Betlehem and Jerusalem.
--“Why did you come to Israel in such a time?”
--I wanted to see Palestine and Israel, I made my plans before the Lebanon attack.
--“Why didn’t you cancel your plans when the situation got worse?”
--As far as I know Ramallah and Jerusalem are safe.
--“What do you have to do in Ramallah?”
--I want to see the city and Bir Zeit University.
--“ Do you have relatives there?”
--No.
--“Any friends?”
--No.
--“Why are you going to Bir Zeit University but not an Israeli University?
--I want to see Ben Gurion University as well, I’d like to see both.
--“How did you make connections with them?”
--I searched on Google and saw the summer camp program.
--“What will you do there?”
--“I want to see historical and religious sites and talk to people.”
--“Why do you want to see the historical places?”
--??? … I am tourist, a traveller…
-- “Are you Muslim?”
--Yes
-- “Then why do you want to see the churches?”
-- I respect all religions, and want to learn about Judaism and Christianity as well.
--“How long are you going to stay?”
--14 days
--“Who will you see in Jerusalem?”
--Nobody special.
--“Show your hotel reservations.”
-- Here.
“How did you find this place?”
--Internet! There websites you know?
--“Show me your return ticket.”
--Why did you come from Jordan, and going back from Tel Aviv?
--I visited friends. After visiting Jerusalem I thought it would be more convenient to leave from Tel Aviv.
-- “What do you do in Turkey?”
--I work for an NGO and planning to go to grad school soon.
--“What did you study at university?”
--Psychology
--“What did you do in the US?”
--I studied English and communication and worked.
--“What kind of job did you have?”
--I worked with children with mental and physical disabilities.
--“You have been to Pakistan, and to the United Arab Emirates, why?”
--I went to Pakistan for earthquake help a few months ago, and visited friends in Emirates.
--“How long did you stay in those countries?”
--2 days in Pakistan, 3 weeks in UAE
--Who did you see?
--Many people, earhwuake victims, friends, people on the street…

After I answer tons of questions like these, the officer gets persuaded and sends me to a second interrogation. I wait for my turn for 40 minutes. There are 5 countersand behind them are female soldiers between 20 and 25. In the queue there are crying chidren, people sleeping because of exhaustion, and Palestinians with a look of fear and anxiety in their eyes. When it is my turn, an officer dissappoints me by taking my passport and says, “You are a foreigner, step aside, this area is for Palestinians.” Trying to be patient, I step aside towards another window and start waiting. When I realize that three people behind are speaking in Turkish, I leave my passport at the desk for investigation and start talking to them. 2 former parliament members and a doctor are going to Jerusalem for a visit also enjoy talking to me as we are all in the same situation as foreigners. The officer calls for me while we chat and we start again. After I answer questions of the same sort as in the former interrogation, the officer asks what I was talking about with those men, and how I know those people. I have a hard time convincing him that we just met there and then. She asks several questions over and over again. I feel such a pressure that I feel as if I am guilty. Yet, I keep calm and answer all the questions calmly and I get the permission to enter and a 3-month permission to stay. Later on I learn that it is enough to be denied at the entrance just to state that you are going to West Bank. This fact pushes many foreigners to hide their intentions. I feel lucky!

I join another queue in order to get my luggage that has been searched throughout. Meanwhile, I see this boy in Bob Marley shirt in his 20s and ask him how long it will take them to complete the rest of the procedure. The Palestinian youngster says he has been crossing this border every two weeks and that this is the last step. Faris is a Bir Zeit graduate and now he is the chairman of an NGO called “Youth and Peace Forum”. After he completed his studies at Economy Department in Bir Zeit University, he started to work for this organization and became the chairman in a short time. He visits authorities from various countries and explains the situation of Palestinian youth, share views. He also organizes youth-exchange programs. When I say I am going to go to Ramallah, he says he lives there as well and offers to get a taxi together. As much as Israeli officers make me uncomfortable, this boy looks very sincere and trustworthy and I don’t mind sharing a taxi.This saves me the trouble of changing 4 buses on the Jerusalem route. We find a third passenger, and arrive in Ramallah in 45 minutes. Faris helps me to get local cell phone sim card for cheap which helped me during my trip so much. He tells me to call whenever I need anything and puts me in another taxi to go to Bir Zeit dormitory. As the coordinator tells people in the dorm that I would go there, everybody expects me. I am met by an incredible hospitability and offered a flat with its bathroom, kitchen and living room, which is not any different from a luxurious flat. In the meantime, Bilgen shows up, a Marmara University student, whom I met once and learnt that she too was coming to the camp. As she came from Tel Aviv, her journey was much easier. I hug her with the joy I feel because I think that we did a big job crossing the border. We put our things in the wardrobe and go to Ramallah downtown with three students: Jamal, Maic and Sawsam, who volunteered to show us around.

We get a shared taxi all together. Students are happy about are presence. They say, many foreigners go there but they have not had Turks before. Even though it is sad that not many Turks go to West Bank, it feels special to be the only ones. I get almost shocked when I see the city center. Life seems quite normal. Minibuses, street vendors, pirated CD salesmen, restaurants, American ads on huge billboards are all around. The restaurant we walk in, to have something to eat, is quite clean, people eating, kids playing around, automobile horns in the air, just normal. God, am I in the right place? We were hoping to see Isreali soldiers, tents, exrtaordinary ruling. I go on an excursion. There are nice residences around, the roads are clean and wide. Later on we learn that today is the day when the employees (some, not all of them) got their salaries for the first time after 5 months. That is why the streets and the bazaars are crowded. Many luxury houses were built by Palestinians who returned from US after Hamas won the elections. Although there are no ‘tourists’ other than us, there are neither disturbing looks nor negative remarks. Prices are not that cheap: After we do some sightseeing and do some shopping, we go back to the dormitory. I in a shock, I can hardly believe the fact that everything looks so easy, conditions and the life standards seem to be so high. We go to sleep lulled bythe music coming from obviously a nearby wedding feast.

We get up early in the morning and go to Bir Zeit University campus. The coordinator Ms. Gadah meets us, tells us about her pleasure for our visit, and adds that she is going to help us as much as possible and allots a new host to us: Ahmad. Ahmad, who showed us around on the campus, and helped us meet students and teachers, is a 20 year old Palestinian student. He has a scholarship because he works for the Bureau of Public Relations at the same time. He shares a house with his elder brother, who works for the Association of Palestinian Prisoners’ Rights and his younger bro, who studies at the same university as he does. His family lives in a village around Hebron. It fills me with hope to hear his story and see his eyes full of hope. I meet the Palestine that I didn’t know before.

29 July 2006, Ramallah
We go to the department of Cultural Studies and ask for permission to attend a class. The topic is: Contemporary Arab Thought. The lesson is in Arabic but it doesn’t bother me as I am more interested in the general atmosphere. Some of the female students wear hijab, some do not. Males and females are seated together.The professor does not have a beard, he even wears flip flops. He puts forward a discussion topic and people express their ideas. Students are attentive and often participating. And even though it is obvious that we are foreigners, nobody pays attention to us. I am surprised at that fact because the case was different in other Arab countries. For instance, in Jordan or in Syria, which I visited last summer, it is rather difficult for a woman to walk on the street by herself because you continually get disturbed both by unpleasant remarks and looks of men. Unfortunately there is a narrow perception about “Western” women. People have a hard time undertanding the ones like me: Western looking Muslim women who cannot speak Arabic. There are no tourists in West Bank. Foreigners are there only to study at universities or to volunteer, and maybe that’s why the perception of foreigners are quite different: respectful and sincere. Of course, one also shouldn’t ignore the fact that the level of education and culture among Palestinians is quite high.

After the class is over, we go to the cafeteria to have lunch. The food is similar to Turkish food but a small difference is that it is somewhat more based on vegetable. In the mornings they have “simit” (a kind of pastry) and toast like we (Turks)do but “simit” here is four times bigger. They make toasts by putting cheese and mushrooms on the “simit” and have a kind of coffee, which rather tastes like Turkish coffee but is more aromatic when compared.

The drinks near the cash register catch my eye. Coca Cola and Nestle brands are put together there, which are brands that are protested and rejected by some communities but here students, who I would thing the most resistant, do not hesitate to buy them. Here is Ahmad’s explanation about this case: “We just don‘t use the Israeli products; no one is against American products.” Palestinians fight by studying and using ideas, but I do not see how much it can go like this in a world that money talks. This is an interesting case in such a school where Fatah, Islami Jihad and Hamas groups are organized. I ask about the communication among these groups. He says no conflict arises. Is there anyone who does not fast in Ramadan? Yes, the cafeteria is open and anyone who likes just walks in and has something to eat and does not encounter any verbal or physical reaction. “Sure it wouldn’t be very pleasant to do that outside the cafeteria”, says Ahmed, “I would regard this as disrespectful behaviour toward my religious beliefs, so they eat in the cafeteria”. There is a great deal of tolerance here. We keep strolling on campus. It is really hard to believe that we are in Palestine. It rather looks like an American university with its modern facilities, sports centers and modern amphitheatres.

We go to the Department of PACE, the Palestinian Association for Cultural Exchange focusing on Palestinian and Arab Studies. Foreign students attend classes for one or two semesters and study social sciences, history, politics and Arabic language. Even though it is easy to study here, one needs courage to come here. One needs a tourist visa from Israel and generally the application for a visa is rejected when they tell that they are going to study at this university. They have to go to Jordan and come back either every month or every three months, again hiding the fact that they are going to Palestine.

Ms. Besne, whom we met at the Department of Women Studies, complains that particularly female students encounter many difficulties. The roads leading to the campus are sometimes blocked by Israeli soldiers and it takes almost 3 hours for the students who come from a 5 km far-off village. Then, we go to the Bureau of Public Relations and meet Nancy from Chile. Nancy, who has been working here for 4 months is content with her life here and with the hospitality of the Palestinians. She tells us about the efforts that the students make for peace and to prevent conflicts. I am touched by her courage. She comes all the way from South America, learns Arabic and works for people. She tells us about a dance show that 700 spectators will be performed at Ramallah Cultural Palace by children and soon we book our tickets and set out.

When we arrive at the center that reminds me of Cemal Reşit Bey Concert hall (Turkey) we get puzzled again. The Palestinian elite are here. Expensive cars are parked ouside, the hair of the ladies have been done, the gentlemen are in suits and there are press members inside. We take our seats at the front and start watching the performance. The group consisting of young people between the ages of 12-17, 15 of whom are females and 15 of whom are males, sing songs in their traditional costumes, and do folk dancing. At the end of the show, The Minister of Education gives a speech and attributes the show to the ones who lost their lives in Lebanon and Gaza. She calls for cease-fire and everyone applauds but no remark against Israel is made; they choose to glorify the positive instead of damning the negative.

Because there is curfew in the dormitory, 10 p.m.,we immediately get ready and set out after we congratulate the choreographer and the organizers. The show is so similar to our “Anatolian Fire” show that we can’t help telling this to them and get astonished at the replies we get: “We invited them(the dancers in the Anatolian Fire) but they don’t want to come due to the insecurity and they didn’t act very friendly, either”.
While we go to the dorm, a Korean girl called Seruma takes the seat next to me. She has been here for 8 months, and studies political science and Arabic language but despite all difficulties, she says she loves it here. When I ask her what kind of difficulties she has faced, she tells about the trouble of going back to Jordan and get a visa every three months or sometimes even every month, her long waits at the border, and the sudden gunfires by the Israeli soldiers on the streets. Once, she says, they came to her house to search in at 3 a.m. in the morning, “but,” she adds calmly, “they didn’t do anything, just looked inside”. Then her cell phone rings and she starts speaking Arabic very fluently. I admire at her ambition, patience, and efforts. When I arrive at the dorm, I have a chat with the officers and go to bed, with the excitement of what will happen the next day in my heart.

It is Friday the next day, in other words, it is holiday. When we arrive at the city center, it is still and silent around. As soon as we learn that a demonstration will be held pioneered by Hamas at 1.30 p.m. right after the Friday prayer, we go to the Al Manara Square and take our place. Around 1000 people gather there, holding Hamas flags in their hands and they start walking while saying “Allahuakbar” after shouting slogans against Israel.I stare at the crowd, ¼ of which consists of women; have a chat with several of them, and take lots of photos. The security is maintained by the Palestinian police. Nothing unpleasant happens in this demonstration, which is quite normal to see on a Friday.

When the demonstration is over, we go to Al Jalazone camp to see a refugee camp. This camp, very close to Ramallah, reminds me of a typical Anatolian village. We go to the Palestinian Children‘s Club at the city center and get some information about the activities of the club and the general condition of the camp from the Chairman Ayman Ramahi. The camp, built in 1957, is under the control of the United Nations. There is settled life now; most of the people have a job in Ramallah, children go to school but what will happen the next day is unclear. The camp they live in is a rented area, they could be dismissed at any moment. It is forbidden to cultivate the land. Israeli soldiers visit the area with their tanks in order to “maintain security” twice a week on average. According to Ramahi, all they do is to frighten the people here. Most of the time they arrest someone for no reason at all. Because the adulthood legally starts at the age of 13 here, 65% of the prisons are full of kids below the age of 18. 13.000 people live on this camp and half of the population is below the age of 18.

We go out for a walk in the camp. As I see children on the streets I give them the barrettes I brought from Turkey. They accept them with shy looks. The ones who learn about the barrettes approach me and stare at me, but don’t utter a word. I also give them some barrettes, at that moment they start walking with us. Maybe it is 15 of them walking by me, but they don’t ever speak. But the happiness they feel because of a foreigner coming to their village and showing affection to them is visible. There is “life” in the camp: the hairdressers are working, people are dressed in fancy clothes, and when I ask the reason for this, I learn that there is a wedding feast in the evening. I excitedly ask whether I could attend the feast or not and I get really happy when I get a reply in the affirmative. Meanwhile, the groom and his relatives are dancing on a van, there is music coming from the vehicle in front of them and someone is recording them on the camera. They tour the whole camp this way, all the teenagers and the kids are dancing. We have one hour until the wedding ceremony and we go on with our excursion. We see an Israeli settlement just 300 meters ahead of us. I get warned against taking photos and staring at the settlement. The settlement, which is enclosed by huge walls and guarded by soldiers around the clock, is full of duplex villas. There is no connection at all between the Palestinian area and this settlement, neither social, nor economic. Surprised, we arrive at the wedding hall.

There are two sections, one assigned to women and one to men. Haditha, Ramahi’s daughter, takes me to the women’s section. There are about 200 people there, all of them in their special day costumes. Meanwhile, I see the children I met in the camp today and I feel touched when I see that most of them wear the barrettes I gave them. I take my seat at the front row and watch the groom and the bride walk in. The bride is in a white wedding gown, and the music at the background is the typical music from Western wedding ceremonies but the lyrics are in Arabic language. They step on the stage and put on rings on each other’s fingers and come down to the platform to do their first dance. Everyone applauds and then the couple get seated. All the women and the kids start dancing. The music is very similar to ours (Turkish music).I congratulate the bride and the groom and wish them happiness and of course I don’t leave the place without attaching some money to the couple. Their customs are really similar to ours. But I cannot stay any longer since it is late at night and I go back to the dorm. Despite everything, people get married, enjoy themselves, go to school, in other words they live. And this way I’m getting to know the things I don’t know about Palestine.


29 July 2006, Ramallah
GENERAL IMPRESSIONS
Palestinians are incredibly friendly and hospitable. I saw only 5 foreigners here in 4 days, I mean, there aren’t many tourists, nevertheless they are really friendly towards them. Maybe it’s because generally the foreigners are members of NGO’s that struggle for peace. Everyone greeted me in the refugee camp, they all smiled. When you have even a short chat, they invite you to their house. I haven’t been to one, yet.
According to what people say, 80% of the men here are employed, and 20%of the women work. There is employment, but salaries aren’t paid regularly. The public is not very satisfied with the current government. What is more, many associations that struggle for peace just left Palestine after Mahmoud Abbas became the president. But people talk about these only to express their ideas when asked, not to complain. They are rather patient and bare those hardships silently.

When it comes to the jobs they have, they mostly deal with trade, sales in Ramallah, banking and transportation. That means, Ramallah is a developed town. If I am to compare, it reminds me of Adapazar? (Turkey). The ones in the refugee camps also come here to work. Because the camps have existed for 50 years, the people there, have their own settled life style. Almost everyone makes a living in one way or another. Of course the case is different in Gaza but I cannot go there even if I want to at the moment. They say a special permission is required. I want to go to Nablus but they say it is dangerous to do so.

Ramallah is a cosmopolitan city, the churches and the mosques are side by side. There aren’t many Jews but there are plenty of Christians. There are foreigner restaurants: Italian, Chinese, Mexican. There are nice hotels, and even pubs. Alcoholic drinks are sold at the supermarkets. I haven’t seen any radical men wearing long robes and beard. There are a few with pushi. Most almost dress in the Western style. 80% of the women cover their hair but no one despises the ones who do not cover their hair.

Literacy rate is 88%. Everyone in the city center can speak at least a little English but it is much more limited in the camps naturally.

Some of the teenegers, generally the ones who don’t attend a university get involved in political organizations. Some directly go to prison right at the beginning and they spend years in prison without even being called to trial.

Here is our conversation with 18 year old Thaer, who I had a chat with in the camp yesterday:

-What is the capital city of Palestine?
-Jerusalem
-Well, can you go to Jerusalem?
-No because it’s forbidden.
-What is the capital city of Israel?
-There is no Israel!
-How come?
-Israel doesn’t exist! , he said and turned his head away.

Ahmad, who showed us around yesterday, also feel sorry because he isn’t allowed to go to Jerusalem. In last Ramadan, he says, it had been 8 years since his last visit to Jerusalem so he decided to go there secretly using some hidden routes and he got caught by the soldiers and he begged them, “Please, let me go. Just give me permisson for half an hour” and they let him go after taking his ID card. He kept his promise and returned back half an hour later. He went to Al Aqsa Mosque and called his mom. He says, “it was an inexpressible bliss for me”.

Yes, it is forbidden for the Palestinian to go to Jerusalem, only those who have been living there since the first intifadahave got a private Jerusalem ID card and only they can go to Jerusalem. And Jerusalem is just 16 kilometres away from Ramallah.
Palestinians are surprisingly mature about their ideas about Jews. They don’t feel hatred for the Jews because of their religion! But I need to emphasize that most people from West Bank haven’t ever communicated with an Israeli other than Israeli soldiers. They are aware of the seperation of religion and politics.

UN is not a very much respected organization by many people. There are UN vehicles driving around the city, people call them: “Unneeded Nations”

When I greeted an old woman in the refugee camp, the woman thought that I was one of the activists and she yelled at me that she didn’t want Israeli soldiers or their tanks there. I was told a very interesting story, which actually was quite normal for them: The son of a Palestinian father got shot in the street and the father donated all the organs of the child to Israeli children. I wanted to see the man but they said he was in Gaza. This striking event attracted a lot of attention in Israel.

They have got so accustomed to these hardships since they were born that they have no fear, it has become a part of their life, both the things that might happen to them and the events that arise everyday in Gaza and Lebanon. No one says “we don’t want war any more” because they have no such hopes; their attitude is like, “it has always been this way and it will always be”... They continue their lives, they hold their wedding feasts, have their coffee at Stars&Bucks(not Starbucks) because life goes on, and they try to survive.

30 July 2006, Bir Zeit
I had a terrible night. The cold I caught two days ago got worse, I suffered in the throat and the ears. And when I woke up I felt so weak but because I didn’t want to waste my time here, I took a pill and went out. Bilgen was there to take care of me. She suggested to rest and take the day off but I didn’t want to waste time by sleeping. This time the destination was Jericho that is 60 km away. The city, which have existed apparently for 11 thousand years, is known to be the oldest city in the world. I was very excited and nervous when I hit the road. We were in a shared taxi with locals. The taxi first drove out of Palestine and entered Israel which didn’t make sense as I thought all West Bank was Palestinian land, then a long wait at the checkpoint in the cab and then Israeli soldiers arrived and checked the ID’s. In the meantime the soldier standing next to me pointed his gun at a vehicle, and put his finger on the trigger, aiming at something. The other soldiers were having a laugh together then, that means, their aim was just to show off and frighten people. There was another check point 10 km away. When it was our vehicle’s turn, a soldier signalled to mean “proceed” but the driver interpreted this as “don’t stop, go ahead” and accelerated. The soldiers started shouting, I got scared and muttered things like, “stop, wait”. We turned back, they collected our ID’s, told us to wait for a few minutes and then we continued.

We kept going, the driver was too fast in the bends in the mountains, giving me a fright, as if he wanted to go out of Israeli territory as soon as possible. We arrived in Palestinian territory and went downtown. This is apparently the lowest place in the world, the altitude is below sea level, about –385 meters and has a rather dry and depressing climate. Feeling exhausted, we searched for a place to sit and ended up in the cafe of the town. People were dressed up in traditional clothes, the men were in long robes and wearing pushi. There is a big amount of black people here, surprisingly.
A man at his 60s approached and greeted us. He showed us his tourist guide card and offered to show us around the city. We didn’t have many other alternatives, therefore we had a bargain and accepted his offer. We saw one of the palaces that belongs to Arafat, then we visited Hisham’s Palace. This palace, which was built in AD 740, have suffered so many earthquakes that now there are only the remains. The building that have traces of Christian, Byzantium and Iran traditions reflect many periods in history. We went on to Alsa River, took photos of swimming children and got informed about the city.

Jericho, which came under Israel rule after the 1967 Six Day War, came under Palestinian control rule in 1994. According to the Holy Bible, after being baptised in the Jordan River, Jesus Christ is sent to the Mount of Temptation just before his becoming the prophet for a test. He withdraws into solitude for 40 days and nights and fasts. Today, the place where he spent his time then is used as a monastery under the control of Greek-Orthodox Church. This monastery has become one of the most important centers of faith tourism. We are so excited as we are going up by the cable car. When we meet the passengers in our teleferic, we discover that they are from Greece and we start talking. The couple, who have got a tourism agency in Athens, spend most of the year here, guiding the tourist groups that they take here. They say that they love Turkey yet they feel a bit disappointed when they hear that I haven’t been to Athens, yet.

We get off the cable car and start to climb up the mountain. Yorgo Kistaris says that the church is most probably closed but that the priest is a friend of his so he may help us to get inside. The door is locked, Yorgo calls the priest and the priest opens the door and lets us in. First, we visit the section where Jesus Christ had his rest. It is really a strange feeling to be here. The church is full of old and precious paintings. There is a sacred atmosphere that is hard to describe. Then we go on to the yard and the rooms here attract our attention. They say monks stay in these rooms but only three people have been living here for a long time. This monastery, in this godforsaken place, is far away from the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Father Gerasemos is a Greek at 72.He has been here for 22 years and has never left the place. Formerly, while he was leading an ordinary life in Salonika as an accountant, he started searching for the meaning of life and ended up here. He loves Turkey and Turks very much. He tells us about things but sometimes he becomes lost in thought as if he is in a dream. We have long conversation. He fetches a watermellon for us, we eat it together and then he says, “come with me, I’ll take you somewhere”. As we follow him, even Yorgo, who has known him for all these years gets surprised because the priest is taking us somewhere that is normally closed to the tourists. We pass through doors, rooms and get out and see a sepulchre here, on it there is a piece of writing in Greek. Yorgo, surprised, translates it for us, “Hatred causes only evil and death, love is the leader of all good deeds”. But the interesting thing is that this grave is the priest’s own grave! I get goose bumps. On the stone there is the year of birth but the year of death reads “20...”. I don’t know what to say. The priest is speechless too, we just stare at each other. He says “Please come again, you could even stay here” and bids us goodbye after giving some gifts to us.

Feeling strange, we go down together with the Greek couple. They insist on having lunch together. We go to a restaurant, we have our lunch along with a sincere conversation. They say they will go to another monastery and that they can drop us at the Dead Sea if we like. But I start to feel a bit weak so we decide to go back to Ramallah. Therefore, I miss the chance of seeing the tomb of Moses, which is rather close. We arrive at the city center after the long waits at the checkpoints and our exhausting trip; and we arrive at our dorm in Bir Zeit. We learn that 60 people died in Lebanon as a result of the Israeli attack this morning. We get depressed. There is nothing that we can do. Can we do something if we can ever get there? But they say Israeli soldiers wouldn’t let us. It is now harder and more dangerous to go to even Nablus or Nazareth. Yesterday, while a student was going to Nablus, a man travelling in the vehicle after him was caught with bombs that weigh so many kilos and the bombs were annihilated before everyone’s eyes. I now better understand the hopelessness of these people here.

I feel a little bit guilt because I am having a touristic trip here. From now on, I will make more effort to talk with people to learn about their feelings and ideas. Hopefully, I will get better soon. I am planning to visit an orphanage and get involved in a conversation with prisoners.

1 August 2006, Al Bireh
I went to visit the boy I met at the border today. After graduating from Bir Zeit University Economy Department in 2005, Faris Arouri started working for “Youth and Peace Forum” and became the chairman in a short time. The association, which organizes many exchange programs, believes that the “solution” lies with the young generation. We have a conversation about Palestine with Faris and I see that there are many things that I still don’t know.

West Bankand Gaza were under the control of Israel between the years 1967-1993. In 1993, when the desired outcome wasn’t achieved after the negotiations in Washington D.C involving Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Israel, the representatives of Palestine and Israel started negotiations in a free zone away from pressure: Oslo, Norway. In the end, they agreed on a treaty, which said Palestine was to be free in its domestic affairson the condition that its foreign affairs and border controls would be under the control of Israel. The majority of the Palestinians regard this treaty as treason and most favour resistance.

Of course the new regulations cause longer bureaucratic procedures in public affairs. Formerly, only the Israeli approval was required but now with this treaty, first Palestinian and secondly Israeli approval are required. Therefore, actually this all saves Israel the trouble of dealing with many cases firsthand. On the surface, it seems that Palestine has some kind of discretion but still approval and the authority to make the final decisions belong to Israel. However, Israel doesn’t remain loyal to these decisions, it continually makes surprise attacks, enters zones that are forbidden to Israel according to the treaty, prevents the right of the Palestinian police to carry guns and at last invades the area in 2000 again.

Palestinian territory is divided into 3 zones: Zone A is the region that is under Palestininan control. It is completely forbidden for Israel to enter this zone. 8% of Palestine comprises Zone A. For example, Ramallah is in Zone A, but Israeli soldiers make attacks and fire guns in the street twice a week and the police can(/do) not do anything. In Zone B, civil administration belongs to Palestine and military administration belongs to Israel. For the 20% this is the case. As for Zone C (72% of the country), it totally under the Israel rule.

Hebron, with its population of 100 thousand is only controlled by Israel. The distribution (of the zones) is not precise. Ramallah is in Zone A whereas the Jalazone camp, which is just 20 km away, I visited the other day, is in Zone C. Another area which is really close to us is in Zone B. It is really hard to tell them apart.
I ask about the procedure that Palestinian citizens have to follow to go abroad with their passports. Many countries recognize the passports and give visa at the consulates in Ramallah and Jerusalem. What is surprising is the fact that Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Libya do not recognize Palestine and also don’t let Palestinians enter their territories. These countries, which display such an attitude due to their opposition to the 1993 treaty, accept neither the Palestinian passports nor Israeli passports. Saudi Arabia makes it very hard to get a visa. Egypt makes Palestinians wait in cells for days even for transit passages through their country. The ones who make it easy to go abroad for Palestinians are European countries.

Palestinians do not care any longer about how the world sees them. But they are aware of the seperation between the public and the government. Yes, most people in the world favour the freedom of Palestine but just ideologically, they cannot reflect this in politics, or put it into practice. Well, then, does this fact disappoint people? Does it cause hostility? No, at first they say they felt oblivion, and dismissal but it’s been 50 years now; they gave up hopes and expectations of the world; they feel no hostility, though, they just know that no one but they can help themselves. Arabs supported their movement in the 70s, boycottes were done but those were the old days. Now children get killed before their eyes and no one says anything.

I ask where they find the power to fight the strong army of Israel and their government, which have the support of the whole world. I get the reply, “Just the desire to be free and independent”. Governments can change, the decisions taken or the policies followed can change but the belief of the people in freedom and independence never changes. In other words, leaders, politicians, both the ones from their own country or the rest of the world do not change the people’s ideas and beliefs. There is a very strong and old culture here; cities where history, humanity started, lands where prophets lived. 50- year captivity, or the opportunist policies of temporary politicians remain so weak when you think of the culture here. Maybe that’s why there are no pictures of the leaders on billboards in Palestine as opposed to other Arabian countries. People believe in just themselves.

There is no discrimination of Sunnites or Shiites because there isn’t any Shi’a here. They say it wouldn’t matter anyway even if there was because religion has never become the reason for a coflict in Palestine. For example, although George Habash (Secretary-general of Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine), who is known as “doctor” and is a Christian, got the support of the public with his opposition to Western imperialism and ziyonism; and his dismissal of the Oslo treaty, which Arafat signed in 1993 as treason against Palestinian revolution. What is more, the Palestinian Jews, andChristians haven’t suffered discrimination. There is a crucial point that all these people unite and that is independence.

People always watch the news in every shop in Ramallah, in the dorm, at school, in internet cafes, at the barbers, on TV everywhere. Popular culture, TV shows and series haven’t made them slaves. But they don’t react when they hear saddening news, it has become a part of everyday life. Maybe they just keep this worry to themselves, I am not sure.

For dinner, we meet Mohanad Yaqubi, a Palestinian film director, his wife Rani, who is the daughter of a Serbian mother and a Palestinien father; and Isthtiyaq Shukri, whose book The Silent Minaret has recently been nominated for the European Union Literature Award.

Mohanad is a very young director, he shoots short films. He has shot films in Venezuela, France and Tunisia. He has grown sick of politics and the condition his country is in. He says, “we have a culture and it isn’t composed of only Israel-Palestine conflict and I am trying to reflect those other sides of my country”.

His wife Rani studied sociology and anthropology at Bir Zeit University, she is also a musician. Rani’s mother, who was born in Yugoslavia, was an activist supporting Palestine in the 70s and Rani’s father was in Serbia then. They met each other, and later on got married. When Rani was 14 years old, they immigrated to Palestine. At first many people were prejudiced against her because she was Serbian but she says, “We came to Palestine because we were ashamed of the deeds of our country and we didn’t want to be a part of the war”. She missed her country very much at first, but now she says her home is Palestine. It’s been just 17 days since Mohanad and Rani got married. Mohanad’s family didn’t approve of this marriage for some time but later on they accepted.
Istihyaq Shukri is a Muslim author from South Africa. In his debut The Silent Minaret he mentions the hardships that minorities suffer in Africa and his anger at his country’s change for the worse day after day, injustice, and the loss of the culture there. Maybe that’s why he often visits Palestine.He says, “I find the culture I miss here on this land” and he adds that his next book will be on Palestine.

Faris’ father also joins us. Tayseer Arouri is a professor at the department of Physics at Bir Zeit University and a former politician at the same time. I ask him how he is perceived as a leftist politician and his reply appals me: In 1970s, just before he got married, some men break into his house at midnight and he is immediately taken to prison. He spends 45 months in prison without any accusation or evidence. Every 6 months his imprisonment time gets longer without any explanation. “The first two years were relatively easier, we had long conversations, we discussed issues. The right to use the library was limited, we had permission to spend only half an hour once a month. In the third year, the prison got really crowded and we began living in such a small space that it was 44cm2 for each men”.

Arouri was offended by execution without being questioned, rather than the years spent in prison. “No explanation was made”, says he, and mentions the director of the jail who began his duty in Arouri’s last year. The director, who was a Jewish Turk, got along with the prisoners. No matter which ideology they supported, the director had a positive and friendly attitude towards them all. Once, Arouri went to his room and asked why he was in prison and said that he just wanted to know the reason. The director called for him one week later and read aloud the letter that he’d received from MOSSAD, “Israel thinks that you might have ideas that may hurt them”. In other words, there is no action that Arouri committed or no valid reason at all! Just thoughts and hypotheses.

The director saw Arouri’s lawyer several times, he entered into correspondence and at the end of 3 months Arouri got released. “But it wasn’t over,” says Arouri, “in 1983 I spent 18 days in prison, and in 1994, 1 year”. He talks about these in a very calm manner, as though these were quite normal memories in his life. He is a professor at his late 50s and is not interested in politics as much. Everyone I talked with favour the two state solution. It may mean making a concession but they are sure that Israel wouldn’t adopt the idea of one state solution. (Palestinian gov.) The fact that they aren’t allowed to enter Jerusalem no matter their ideas or religious beliefs are offend Palestinians deeply. And today I am going to Jerusalem, their apple of the eye, their capital city though not officially; leaving Ramallah behind. But I promise both myself and them that I will come back one day.


1 August 2006, Jerusalem
I went back to Bir Zeit University the next morning, to bid goodbye to everyone I know. I first found the camp coordinator Gadah, she said, “You couldn’t even visit my house, I was going to cook for you!” and I could just say, “Next year I will, hopefully”.Both of our eyes filled with tears. I said, “You should visit Istanbul”, he gave me university T-shirt as a present. I called Ahmed and Lauri as they were showing 2 people around, people who came for the camp though it’d been cancelled, one from Romania, one from the US. I asked Amanda, the American girl, what her family thought about her visit to Palestine and she said that they didn’t know that she was here. She told her mother that she was going to Egypt and her father didn’t even know about the imaginary Egypt journey. And these two wanted to come and see it here despite everything. We had lunch together and chatted.

We started mentioning Jewish Palestinians who are living in a northern town. They all voted for Hamas.Then we started comparing the PKK and Hamas. Neither foreigners nor Palestinians regard the PKK as a terrorist organization. What is Hamas is the same as the PKK to them.

It took me hours to go to the dorm and pack; for some reason I didn’t want to leave this place, I didn’t want to leave Ramallah even if my destination was Jerusalem. I bid goodbye to everyone and set out. Actually I had 16 km to go but it took me more than one hour becuase of the checkpoints on the way. We had a chat with Namir, who was sitting next to me. Namir, who is a student at Bir Zeit and travels from Jerusalem to Ramallah for school. She lost his mother 2 years ago; and as she is the eldest of 5 siblings and as an elder sister, she has the responsibility of taking care of the household. While she was talking about these, an Israeli soldier stopped the bus and ckecked the ID cards. I realized that Namir’s eyes filled with tears. When I saw her like this, I couldn’t stand that. I asked, “Don’t you ever get used to this? Are you still affected so negatively?” She said, “Neither will I get used to this, nor will the situation get better, I don’t believe that the problem will ever be solved!”. We were in Jerusalem now and I could feel that I was no longer in Palestine, I was in Israel now. The local teleophone line I bought in Ramallah went dead, now occasionally it comes and goes. I got off the bus at the Damascusgate and started to look for the hostel I was going to stay at. But both the bags on my back and the ones in my hand were so heavy that I could hardly walk. I took a taxi but the driver told me that he couldn’t take me to the hostel because, all the roads had been blocked. Desperately I got off, took a look around and saw a grocery store. I asked the Palestinian shopowner about the hostel and he said it was just a 15- minute walk from there. But it was rather difficult with those bags. They let 10-year old Ahmad, their son or the apprentice, help me for money in return, so we set out. I followed Ahmad, noticing ultra-Orthodox Jews, Palestinians, priests, policemen, soldiers around and finally we arrived at a public square.

Hundreds, thousands of Israeli people, including kids were heading towards a direction with Israeli flags in their hands. Because of the heavy burden on my shoulders, our inability to find the hotel, and lack of communication (because Ahmad couldn’t speak English, and I couldn’t speak Arabic), I gave up and entered a hostel.I thanked Ahmed and dismissed him. My reservation started tomorrow morning at the hotel anyway, so I was going to spend the night at this hostel. I left my bags and went out in order to mingle with the Jews I had just seen. Meanwhile, I learnt that all of them were going to the Wailing Wall (the western Wall) both to pray and to spiritually support the war. Also that day it was the anniversary of Israeli settlers being dismissed from Gaza. I was stunned when I heard the words: “support the war”. Thousands of Israeli people of all kinds, old and young, kids and adults, had come to that spot for this demonstration by buses from the North, South, everywhere. Some teenagers were wearing orange headbands, some were seated at a corner with a book of prayer in their hands, praying while moving back and forth, some are running around. And I, confused, sometimes walk sometimes stop. I pass by churches, hearing call for prayer from the mosques. There are Armenian restaurants along the road. It is rather difficult to describe the atmosphere and my feelings. At last we arrive at the Wailing Wall. There is tight security at the entrance, they look inside the bags.

I guess there wasn’t any Muslim among them other than me. They didn’t feel the need to do body search on me, thinking that I was one of them. And I entered the area. The rabbi is uttering words in Hebrew, sometimes loudly sometimes in a crying voice, people are saying them along with him, listening to him. I felt strange. How come all these people, all these faithful people support the war? I took a few photos, recorded a few scenes and I couldn’t wait any more to set out and go back.

Passing through covered shopping arcades, I walked and walked in the old city, and at last I got lost. I was so impressed by the things I saw that I forgot the name of the hostel I was staying. I was looking for the public square I first saw when I came to the city but all the streets looked alike. Buildings and pavements made of stone, hundreds of narrow streets... It had got dark already, and all the shops were closing. I walked into a market and learnt the name of the square, and started walking again. The Jews had finished their demostration and now they were going home-it was crowded around. Palestinian shop owners were staring around with surprised looks. Yes, everone lives here together but not in peace, they ignore one another. It’s full of Israeli gunmen around anyway. Finally I found my hostel, had something to eat and now I felt really confused after the things I had seen that day.

3 August 2006, Jerusalem
Unfortunately, the internet here is far more expensive than Palestine, I cannot write that often. I am about to end my travel, herefore I am running short of money but everything’s alright. As soon as I got up yesterday, I moved into the hostel I had booked a room at. It’s much more comfortable here, it is thounds of years old, looks like an old castle and also it is in the middle of the old souq. There are people from Finland, Czech Republic, Canada, Palestine, Israel, Ireland, Germany, Italy, Belgium, England and Slovakia. I had a chat somehow with all of them, and everyone favours Palestine, including the Israeli people. War and politics are in every conversation.


At the entrance of the Hz.Omar Mosque (Dome of the Rock), which many people confuse with Al Aqsa, you have to prove that you are Muslim. The entrance is denied to non-Muslims. First I enter the Omar Mosque, it is the time for noon prayer, it’s crowded in the mosque. Then I go to Al Aksa and something incredible happens. I start crying as soon as I enter the place, even before I take a look around. I sit at a corner with a tissue in my hand, I almost sob, bewildered at myself, asking”why are you crying!”. Later on I notice that is because of the magnificant spiritual atmosphere this place has. The construction is simplistic, there is nothing around that will make you cry. I mean, nothing visually impressive, but the atmosphere is indescribable. Words would not suffice, one needs to exprerience. I don’t want to go out, I sit there for a long while. Then I see the basement floor, which is older; finally I go out, fascinated. I pass through covered shopping arcades again and walk towards Jaffa Gate to visit the Museum of the Tower of David. The tower consists of several sections- I mean, there is a minaret in the museum, but now it isn’t open to public, maybe the mosque has been destroyed, I have no idea. The museum tells the history of Jerusalem. In each section you can see various historical periods. The Ottoman period seems pretty small and dull when compared with other sections, although the Ottomans ruled over this land for 400 years. For this period there is also an interactive “film”. At the beginning, there is a depressing piece of music and the descent of the Turkish flag and the ascent of the English flag, later on a joyful melody starts and 1948, the ascent of the Israeli flag, happy ending! But, English ruling is depicted as more positive than the 400-year reign of the Ottomans.All the walls in the “old town” part were built by (the Ottoman emperor) Suleyman the Magnificent. When the Palestinians learn that I am a Turk, they talk about it in pride but the museum doesn’t give that much attention to Turks.

I meet a rabbi in the evening, a rabbi whom I had a contact with before I came here. His name is Jeremy Milgrom. He is an opponent liberal Israeli rabbi at his 50s. At the time we meet, a group of Jews are walking towards the Wailing Wall but not to protest anything this time, for prayer. They aren’t carrying Israeli flags. It is one of the important religious days of the year and all of them are fasting, from yesterday’s sunset till today’s sunset. We also walk along with them and I listen to Milgrom’s ideas about Israel, the war, and all that’s happening and I get amazed. “What is happening between Israel and Lebanon cannot be called a war”, he says, “It’s an unfair attack by Israel. It’s a raid and an unfair occupation” he adds. He tells me about his worries about his children’s doing their military service right now, and criticizes Israeli policies. At this moment, a radical Jew, dressed up in a black jacket and wearing a hat, asks for donation and Milgrom starts speaking in Arabic, just to see the his reaction. He says, “I thank God” and walks away. Milgram says, “This city could have been a peaceful city, but now one can live here this way only under security precautions.Actually there is no communication among various communities”. By the way I learn that in the whole country there are only 3 or 4 schools that both Israeli and Palestinian children can attend. Even this seems to be a big improvement to me.

Then I learn that Jews will try to get into Al Aqsa today. According to Judaism, this is on the Moria Hill where Solomon Temple was built, in other words, where Prophet Abrahamwas born. Jews gained admission to this place, but the police may do anything. No Muslim man between the ages of 20-45 is admitted. The last time they tried to do so in 2000 Ariel ªaron also joined them, they say it was in the second intifada. They say a big opposition may occur.

I found it strange when I saw that Palestinians’ Jewish accessories, key holders, and even T-shirts that read “Don’t worry, be Jewish” on them are sold at the market here. I asked about this to Fahmi, an employee at the hostel, “They need money, what else can they do?” he said, and I said, “Then it means they accept failure, they cannot claim Jerusalem any more, it is all words and no action”.

I haven’t lived through a war in Turkey but in the case of an earthquake, all people unite, everyone collects money and helps people far away from them. I couldn’t see such mutual support here. It seems as though no one cares about what is happening in Jerusalem and no one opposes to the Israeli demonstrations supporting the war. I asked why it is this way and he said they have given up, they have been forced to give up. Once you find a job and save your life, you try to support your family and grow individualistic. One more thing, when you are young, you are more active and you have faith in change; but then you see how powerful they are and that it is impossible for you to stand up and fight. He says he sometimes feels suspicious of even his friends, are they spies or so? Everyone is “sold”, one by one. Enterprises to set up an association, or unification are blocked, they have no leader here. The ones living in Jerusalem don’t even have their citizenship. They get a special travel document when they travel abroad. The situation is rather complicated, and multi-dimensional, what is more, saddening. It all seems hopeless to me now.

3 August 2006, Jerusalem
I thank God that the police didn’t let the Jews to enter Al Aqsa and the possible events have been prevented. I got up early in the morning and went to Betlehem. Ittakes 15 minutes to arrive at the “wall” by the vehicles that depart from the DamascusGate. Then you arrive at a big terminal that reminds one of an airport and you show your passport three times, you get searched twice, you go through X-ray machines and go to West Bank. Betlehem is a Palestinian city with its population of 22.000-half Muslim and half Christian. The Church of Nativity, where Jesus Christ was born is downtown. It is a very old big church, there aren’t many tourists around. Tourism has been affected badly due to the current events. I visit another Omar Mosque and have a chat with the officers here to get their ideas. They complain about the decrease in tourism. There are people who haven’t been paid their salaries for months. I ask whether they collect money for Gaza or not, but no! They transferred all their responsibility and right to Hamas. Okay, I say, “I want to donate some, but how could I be sure that Hamas won’t buy weapons? I want this money to be used for food and medicine”. They say, “Just trust” and they promise, but I don’t find them very reliable. Therefore, I donate just a little sum. The streets are full of beggars, and kids asking for ice-cream.

Then I take a taxi to go to Heroid Palace, 10 kms from here in Palestine, but it is in an Israeli military zone. The driver accompanies me, greets an Israeli officer and then I buy a ticket and walk around the palace-I mean the remains, taking photos. When I come down, I get happy to see a scene: the Israeli officer chatting with the Palestinian driver. Then again way back to Jerusalem through painful borders. I take photos of the slogans and graffitis favouring peace and freedom on “the wall”, reading things like, “let it go down”, “the wall can’t hide the truth” etc.

In Jerusalem, at the spot where I get off the bus, I see the sign of Garden of Tomb and I walk in. According to Protestant belief, this is where the tomb of Jesus Christ is. It looks like an open air church. As opposed to Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox people believe that his tomb is in the Church of Holy Sepulchre, which I will try to visit tomorrow.

For the first time I am visiting West Jerusalem. It looks like a European city with its stores. Life seems quite normal, modern and based on consumption. It is really different than the Old City. It is full of police officers and soldiers here, too. I can see around 500 policemen or soldiers in just one day. Security guards check bags at the entrance of even small shops.

By the way, I just realized that I have been staying at an Armenian district. Right next to that, there is the Muslim section, then the Christian one and the Jewish. These districts are next to one another. There is a little bit of interaction between the Christians and the Muslims but the Jews are totally isolated. This is the divison in this old city, which is enclosed by the city walls once built by Suleyman the Magnificent


5 August 2006, Nablus
Yesterday I got up early in the morning and went to the Notre Dame building that belongs to the Vatican for a conversation with a group consisting of rabbis and priests defending human rights. First, we watched a documentary about a Palestinian village where Beduins live, which was destroyed by Israeli soldiers and the people’s reactions to this. The people living in jerry-built houses and shelters are poor anyway, they live on animal husbandry. For several times they were asked to leave the village because an Israeli settlement was going to be built there but they didn’t accept. They resisted as much as they could. One morning, soldiers raided the village and destroyed all the houses. Upon this, some of the people were taken to refugee camps, and some have been continuing their life in tents in this dry, barren, Godforsaken place.

Abu Muhammad, one of the leading figures of the village says, “They not only dismissed us from the village but also make us build their houses on our own land. They make us build the walls around Jerusalem. Everytime I look at them, my eyes fill with tears! Turks reigned here but didn’t touch the people, but these men want not only our land but want it without anyone living on it. I will never work as their slave!”.

Palestinian workers building houses for the Israeli settlement say, “What else can we do? Will we starve to death? How else can we feed our babies? We have to work!”.

Several years pass. Abu Muhammad and some more people keep on living in the area though they are occasionally disturbed by the soldiers. Now the Israeli settlement is active with its luxurious villas, shopping centers and wealthy residents walking their dogs. I can’t help but ask the group, “Don’t do these people ever look 100 meters ahead and realize what they have done? Don’t they feel pangs of conscience?”. The rabbi answers, “Most of them were smiling as the houses were being pulled down. You could see happiness on their faces.” Then I understood that they have no mercy, no compession at all!

Confused again, I go out and start walking towards Al Aqsa in the amazing streets of the old city. Nuns are passing by, then the Jews wearing long curly sideburns and black hats, and Palestinian children play around colliding with the passers-by. When I arrive at the gate of the mosque, I see that a battalion and a bunch of policemen surround the place. There is tighter security because it’s Friday today. They ask for my ID and I show it. I go ahead and get blocked by another soldier, then another policeman. My passport is checked for 4 times. Eventually an officer at the last entrance door does not accept my passport. He asks for my ID because the fact that I am a Turk does not prove that I am Muslim. And I start saying all the surahs I know. Then the officer looks at me with bewildered eyes and says, “afvan, afvan” and allows me to go in. There is such a big crowd but unfortunately women are not allowed to enter Al Aqsa. I could only see Omar Mosque.So be it, I’ll feel grateful.

I go to the hostel and what I see stuns me: some ultra-Orthodox Jew is chatting with the Palestinian officer in the lobby. And I greet them and get seated. Those Jews normally have such a cold and indifferent attitude that I get surprised when I see this man chatting like everyone, with his hat in his hand. Jonathan is 22, a student studying the Torah at the School of Thelogy. He says he sometimes chats with the foreigners that come to the hostel. Unfortunately his English is not good enough to have a deep conversation, so I cannot get the replies to many of my questions. But I learn that he has got Palestinian friends who are against war. Finally we even have a picture taken together.

Towards 4 o ‘clock, I meet Mete Çubukçu, a journalist and an author, who spent 3 weeks at the Lebanon border and arrived in Jerusalem yesterday. He mentions the situation at the border and Gaza. He, too, has lost his hope though he has been occasionally visiting this country for 13 years and he is familiar with all that’s going on. He says, “I don’t know how it could be solved, it’s too late for Gaza now”. There is 24-hour mutualbombardment at the Lebanon border. A lot of fires break outbecause some of the bombs fall on forests, garbage lies in heaps in the streets, there is lack of authority and fear reigns in everyone’s heart. There is no end to this. You can never tell what will happen tomorrow, no predictions or hypotheses work here. A waiter approaches us and says that it is “Shabad” now and it’s time they closed the cafe. We say goodbye to each other. I return to the old city, and Mr. Mete to his hotel room to get prepared for his flight to Turkey.

The destination in my mind is the Church of Holy Sepulchre, the place where Jesus Christ lies according to Orthodox and Catholic belief. It is a very big old church. In it there are priests from various countries in the world: Asian, African, European. I walk towards the grand bazaar and run into Amanda and Marian, the American and Romanian students I met in Bir Zeit. We have lunch together and visit the Wailing Wall to watch the Shabad ceremony. In Shabad time, you aren’t supposed to use electrical appliances from Friday evening until Saturday evening but people have found a solution to this: there are buttons that have been arranged automatically so that the lights of the houses and some electrical devices are automatically turned on. It means people don’t touch the buttons anyway, in other words, they don’t use electricity!

Because it’s the third time I have been to the Wailing Wall, I keep my visit short and we go to the Mount of Olives to see an incredible scene. The 2000 year old olive trees are being protected by special guards. There are Jewish, Muslim and Christian graves all around. Because it is believed that the resurrection of all the dead on the last day preceding the Last Judgement Day will start on this mountain, these graves are special. It is very difficult to find a place and it’s very expensive to buy one.
Passing by the graves, I walk downtown and on my way I encounter some Israeli soldiers. Marian starts a conversation and I, having found the chance, ask them what they think about the war and one of them says, “We hate this war but we support the war!!”, “What do you mean?”, “We have to defend ourselves”.

It’s the first time I have had a chance to chat with these soldiers, who are between the ages of 18-25. Actually I am so biased against them that I refuse to talk with them at first. But then, when I see their friendly attitude, I start talking. I see that they aren’t conscious of many things. None of them is a brutal killer with a burning desire to go to the border and kill Arabs. 5 minutes after I leave them, I feel a sharp pain in my stomach, like the pain of a knife wound. I can’t even walk. And I can’t figure out what it is, not a spasm I guess. Amanda takes care of me, she says some insect bit me. Thank God, she has medicine with her so she spreads it on my stomach. Could it be that I have been punished because I talked to the Israeli soldiers? I could believe anything in Jerusalem, this city is comething different.

The city is full of historical and holy buildings. There is a magnificent atmosphere. As I am taking photos and chatting with the Palestinian kids playing in the street, I suddenly realize that I am in front of the church where the tomb of Virgin Mary is. Every moment there occurs something interesting, one thing after another. I certainly want to spend a few months here.

We go to a small simple restaurant to have our dinner with Amanda and Marian. We run up a very high bill. We ask about it to the Palestinian owners and they say, “It’s Jerusalem here, in the western part the prices are double”. Anyway, they give a discount. And I say,
“You always say that you are poor and unjustly treated. But here everyone rips off the tourists. I have a bargain even for a bottle of water. Each time, I tell them that I am Muslim so that they sell things at their normal prices. Why is it this way?” He says,
“We are poor people, so you should help me, you are Western people”. ,
“OK, let’s help you but do you help Gaza and Lebanon?”

He replies, “Yesterday aid trucks went there but Israel wouldn’t let them pass. We cannot enter Gaza. Also we have our families here to support”,
“You could help if you really wanted to, but you don’t. You find excuses and hide behind them. Unless you protect each other, how can you expect that from Western people?”

I cut the conversation short because I also can’t understand it all. When you go into deep, you see that they also want to leave the war behind. They want to lead normal lives like everyone else. Nevertheless, their indifference is killing me. The Palestinians living in Jerusalem are really different from the ones in West Bank. Money has such a power that it changes religions, nations; it makes everyone slaves.
When Amanda and Marian talk about Nablus, I decide to see that city. I get up early in the morning and go to Nablus. Now I am at An Najah University. There are lots of European students working voluntarily here. I get informed about these projects so that I can come later to stay longer. Now we set off for a tour in the city and the refugee camps.

6 August 2006, Jerusalem
Nablus is a 7000 year old city, thus it has a considerable cultural heritage. But its current state is miserable. Lots of teenagers are walking in the streets with guns in their hands. There is a lack of authority, the police don’t work because they haven’t been paid their salaries for the last 6 months, no one obeys traffic rules. More than half of the cars in the city are stolen property. The city with its population of 180 thousand suffered an Israeli attack two weeks ago. Israeli soldiers had been after someone again called Ala Sanaqra and they bombed an area full of municipality and government buildings. In the bombing, an old building dating from the Ottomans also got destroyed. The attack lasted for 3 days and 70 prisoners in a nearby prison were not released, nor were they transferred to another prison. They begged but no one helped them. Sanaqra had been hiding in a house close to the area and when the bombardment was over, he waved at people, saying, “Don’t worry, I’m alright” and walked away. It was the city that suffered, plus the injured and financial loss.

Amjad Rfaie, the chief of the Rehabilitation Center at New Asqar refugee camp says,
“these incidents are a part of our daily life. We don’t even get surprised”. New Asqar was built in 1964, 6 years later than all the other refugee camps throughout the country. Virtually everyone in this camp of 6000 inhabitants is unemployed. Before the intifada they had been working as workers in Israel, 35 km from here; but later on they got fired and now they live on aids coming from outside. They have no hospitals or schools. They use electricity and water illegally. Before Hamas came into power, their situation had been better but now all the foreign associations stopped their aid. Rfaie says, “I don’t like Hamas either. I support Fatah.But didn’t the world want democracy from us? So, we held an election, and Hamas won the elections. Now we respect that, but the rest of the world is punishing not only Hamas but also all the people here by ceasing their aid and support”.

The story of the rehabilitation center they founded is interesting. Rfaie and many other men like him go to prison in the early 1990s. He spends 5 years in prison at various intervals in 7 years. “The difference,” he says, “is that I didn’t have my wife and children with me, that’s all. Here I have them now but I still suffer, we live in a outdoor prison”.

When they are in prison, they decide to get together and do something. Neither fighting with guns nor all other political approaches work for them. So they found this center so that they could give hope to children or at least to the next generations. In 1992 they had their first library in the middle of the camp outdoors. They didn’t have even a hut, but now there are supporters more than ever and they do have a 3- story building. They execute lots of aid projects to which many foreign associations give support. They offer physical and speech therapies, and lessons on music, dance, computers etc. 18 foreigners work here voluntarily, most of whom are American. The managers say that they are trying to raise the leaders of the future. There are 300 children here, all of whom are very clever and nice. Their life is very hard but this center means hope for them.

I ask whether they receive any help from the government. They say, on the contrary, the Ministry of Social Services direct the ones who ask for help to the rehabilitation center. Civil servants don’t work anyway because for the last 6 months they haven’t been paid their salaries, 100 dollars a month.

On my way back to the hostel, Uhud, an employee at the center, offers to give me lift to the university. But, she says, she has to stop by the police station to have a report written because he had his car plate stollen several days ago. We set out together, and see that not only the camp but also the surrounding districts are miserable. The roads are impaired, the weather is hot, people are trying to reach somewhere in that hot weather with their kids. Houses, bombed and destroyed, huts...When we arrive at the police station, we see a sleeping police officer, and empty rooms. On the walls there are the posters of “martyrs” according to Palestinians, “terrorists” according to Israeli people. They have a photo holding guns and Al Aqsa in the background. There are maybe 50 of these posters on the walls. As we are walking in the station, where half of the rooms with worn out walls are empty, a female officer says “hi” to us and invites us to a room. The officer, who hasn’t received any salary for 6 months and who keeps on working in this wretched building in this hot weather, kindly chats with us as if everything was alright and writes the report Uhud needs. Then Uhud takes me to the school and we go downtown with 2 new hosts. I get a bit scared when I see some civil teenagers walking in the streets with their guns. The hosts say, “Don’t be afraid. It’s quite normal here. But when Israeli soldiers come here, you cannot find any of these men here”.The shops are closed, the houses have been destroyed, teenagers walking with guns in their hands, and posters of “shehids” who died for their country. This is Nablus. But what surprised me most is that the hosts accompanying me take everyhing as normal and continue their lives. They feel neither fear nor anger. They are concentrated on their schools and future.
As I am touring around the city, I notice an Ottoman toughra (sultan’s signature) on a clock tower. Then I learn that the architecture in the city belongs mostly to the Ottomans. When I learn that the house I see at a corner is a 400 year-old Ottoman house, I knock on the door and get in the house. 4 relative families live together in the same yard in this big house. Their surname is Aga, but they are Palestinian. Nablus is the homeland of “kunafa”(a kind of dessert), by the way. It originated here. There are several kinds of it.


I don’t stay long because there are many checkpoints on my way. A taxi takes me to the border and I see a queue of about 1000 people waiting. Soldiers don’t give permission, they just keep people waiting like this. I show my passport and pass, the others will wait God knows for how many hours. I get stopped twice at checkpoints. I am the only foreigner. When we get close to Ramallah, we realize that the road has been blocked. There are 2 tanks on the road and they block the road, no explanation or a valid reason! We wait there for about an hour in 40 C, then we are checked again and we pass. Arrival at Jerusalem also takes hours. To be precise, it takes me four and a half hours to go 70 km. Exhausted, I immediately go to sleep at the hostel.
It is my last day here today. They do it even in Jerusalem: Today soldiers blocked the roads again, they look for Palestinians in the vehicles they stop, find them and search them.

7 August 2006, Istanbul
It was a hard day yesterday. It was both because it was the last day there and it made me mentally exhausted to see so many things in such a short time and to face something new as I was trying to digest another. Twice, I found myself crying for no reason in the streets of Jerusalem.

Last night I went to the Palestinian National Theater to see a Palestinian movie I had wanted to see so much in Ramallah. It told the story of 2 villages in the Lebanon-Israel (Palestine) border, 100 meters away from ecah other and lots of mines laid between. It was in Arabic and there were no subtitles but it wasn’t so hard to understand because the effects of the incidents could be read on people’s faces.
For the last time I watched Al Aqsa from the terrace of the hostel. Then I packed and went to bed. In the morning I went to the airport. On the gate of Ben Gurion Airport there are huge “no guns” signs in addition to the usual “no smoking” signs. I joined a queue and an anxious wait started. An officer approached me and typical questions came one after another: Where have you been to, why did you come here, what will you do here, why are you alone, what did you do in Jordan?, and so on. Then he took a look at my old visas. When he saw the visas of United Arab Emirates and Pakistan, a sour look came over his face, as if he disliked Arabic. He asked me why I had been to those countries, and he took my passport and walked away. After a few minutes, he came back with his manager. My dear US visas and cool Schengen visa hadn’t worked.

No sooner did the manager start asking the same questions than some man approached us and said in Turkish , “Is there a problem?”. Then he turned to the officer and said, “Why are you keeping all of us waiting? It’s obvious that she is just visiting the country, why are you treating her like this? What is your justification?”. The officer asked the man, “Who are you, mister? What is your title?”. The man asnwered, “I am a colonel. I am Turkey’s military attaché”. The officer withdrew, and muttered things like, “We just wanted to ask a few questions, OK you may pass” and he gave my passport back. But he didn’t forget to stick certain labels on my bags, meaning “ultra detailed search is needed”. There are 4 colors of labels to stick on bags and they are arranged according to the officers’ suspicion level. For instance, mine was lilac. In the second step, the bags are being searched according to these colours, some very casually and some very carefully. I got surprised and I thanked the colonel. He said, “This is the way they are. When they see ‘Pakistan’, they treat you like a terrorist, but they fear us”. Well, I didn’t know that Turkish army has such an impact on Israel.

Then my bags were opened, one by one, all the wraps of the gifts were torn, the bags were examined carefully for half an hour, including the buckels of my sandals. Then I went to the THY (Turkish Airlines) counter. At that moment an Israeli officer signed at me, like, “I am not working. Try the next window”. The colonel made an effort again and said, “Come with me”. Again the same reaction, as a result the officer apologized, “I didn’t know, sorry.” And she asked gently, “Would you like aisle or corridor?” and she gave me a wide area right behind the business class. I again thanked the colonel, who came as a godsend and immediately another control started. All my IDs, diplomas, everything including the interiors of my toothpaste lids! Finally I made it to the plane and got seated with my T-shirt with the Palestinian flag on. And I felt as if I had achieved something big, and I felt so free. I arrived in Istanbul, leaving my heart in Palestine.

selmasevkli@yahoo.com

Copyright © 2005 Journal of Turkish Weekly

0 comments:

Post a Comment

Would You Please Update/Correct Any Of The
3500+ Posts by Leaving Your Comments Here
- - - Your Opinion Matters To Us - - -


We Promise To Publish Them Even If We May Not Share The Same View

Mind You,
You Wouldn't Be Allowed Such Freedom In Most Of The Other Sites At All.

You understand that the site content express the author's views, not necessarily those of the site. You also agree that you will not post any material which is false, hateful, threatening, invasive of a person’s privacy, or in violation of any law.

Please read the post then write a comment in English by referring to the specific points in the post and do preview your comment for proper grammar /spelling.

Note To Spammers
If you believe Your Comments will ever appear here, You are DREAMING

You need a Google Account (such as Gmail) to publish your comments


Publishing Your Comments Here:
Please type your comment in plain text only (NO Formatting) in an editor like notepad first,
Then copy and paste the final/corrected version into the comment box here as Google/Blogger may not allow re-editing/correcting once entered in some cases.
And click publish.
-If you need to correct the one you have already sent, please enter "New Comment" as we keep the latest version and delete the older version as default

Alternative way to send your formatted comments/articles:
http://armenians-1915.blogspot.com/2007/05/Submit-Your-Article.html

All the best