– Post by Samer –
03.10.2018 – Day 07
I left my home at 7:35 in the morning to Ramallah to meet the rest of the team and go to Bethlehem trip.
I took public transportation and arrived in Ramallah at 7:50. While walking toward the apartment where everyone lives I already could see some of them gathered by the entrance.
Some of them went to the juice shop at al-Manara square, and Jenny K got me orange juice, Shukran Jenny.
Renad was waiting for us with her sister in their village Hizma which is located near Jerusalem. She sent us a message saying that the bus will be 5 minutes late due to traffic.
It’s morning traffic because everyone goes to their jobs and schools… etc.
We all gathered by Al-Kasaba theater, and a few minutes later the bus arrived. We started the trip by going toward Qalandia, and over there we could see the checkpoint, we can’t go through it since the bus has a Palestinian license plate.
Only Vehicles with Israeli license plate can pass this checkpoint after being checked and searched, and all these cars belong to Palestinians who live inside the occupied areas, like Jerusalem.
Sarah R had an awkward moment, she spilled her strawberry juice over Sarah M grey pants. Sarah M said “oh it looks like that I got shot”. After cleaning and holding juice cups and water bottles between each other everything got back to normal in the bus. Then we arrived at Hizma, and we picked up Renad and Razan.
Apparently, we are taking a route to Bethlehem that I am not used to. Since I hold a Jerusalem ID, I can pass by most of the streets in the country. For me the way to Bethlehem from Ramallah, if I don’t count the waiting time at the checkpoints, would take like 40 minutes.
We arrived in Bethlehem after a two hours drive passing by curvy roads on high altitude mountains.
Finally, we arrived in Bethlehem the bus dropped us by the Nativity Church, the birthplace of Jesus. Immediately I got flashbacks from 2002, and what happened in this area, there were Tanks in the same location, the area was surrounded by Israeli snipers, it was a curfew and anything that moved would die.
Many people were locked inside the Church for five weeks, some were from the resistance, others were priests and civilians.
First of all, we wanted to have breakfast, so we all went to a restaurant, and we had a big meal for 14 people, hummus, falafel, salads and tea. It was tasty and fun between the group talking about random stuff studies, sport, food. Then we went toward the Nativity church.
We got inside the Church through the super small door that you have a bend to get through it. The Church was full of tourists and inside we could see there is a very long queue for viewing the spot of Jesus Christ birthplace. Many of us avoided the line and went to explore more places in the Church, others went through the opposite direction and had the chance to see the spot. The Nativity Church contains three churches inside of it: Catholic, Orthodox and Armenian. Some of us went through the church quickly and we met outside, others took their time in exploring more details inside. Majid said he doesn’t like the Touristic places and would prefer to be in regular spots in the city where he can not feel the attention to him as a tourist.
After a while of waiting, the group was complete and we walked toward the Milk Grotto Church. Prof. Wulf and I had a talk about innovation and education in Palestine, we discussed a lot of issues from challenges and development that can make an impact and sustainability in the startup scene and the projects that we are building here in Palestine.
We kept talking even while we were inside the church, and we were a bit loud. Suddenly I see Marios from far waving to us and say “SHHHHHHHHH”. So we stopped talking and when we got there, we saw that there’s a nun who is praying, and she was alone there in the middle of the praying area. Everybody observed her from behind a glass wall.
After taking pictures and observing, Prof. Wulf and I walked outside and continued our talking. Then he informed me about a meeting in the early morning with the Minister of Education in Palestine and asked me to join.
In the Nativity Churchyard, we stopped by a shop that sells Palestinian Kuffieh, and other souvenirs, a bunch bought Kuffieh and scarfs. Marios, Aydin, me and Prof. Wulf decided to start walking into the city. It was a long walk, and we reached the separation wall.
We stood by the wall, its 8 meters height and took some pictures and videos. The weather was scorching, we had to sit in the shade under a tree waiting for the rest of the group to come on the bus. Meanwhile, a man came to us looks like he is in early 40’s showed us one Graffiti that he made on the wall, it was Flowers and a key. “The key is the icon for the right to return for the Palestinian refugees” and another Graffiti that he wrote, stating “make Juice, not walls”. In front of it, he had a simple table for selling juice under two umbrellas. He was joking all the time with us and he told us that his English is only 2 months old and he is from Aida Refugee camp in Bethlehem. He was smiling and joking all the time, Marios asked him: “How is the situation in the camp?”.
He answered ironically “It’s fine, we have gardens, beaches, everything is beautiful,” but Marios replied, “come on seriously, how is it?”. At that moment, his smile disappeared and started to tell us his story. He was in an Israeli prison for 6 years, blaming him for throwing stones and trying to stab a soldier, although he didn’t do it. They put him for two months in a one-meter square cell, and when they took him out of it, they needed doctors to help his joints getting back to function again since he stayed in one position for two months. He has two kids, one of them in a coma because of the tears gas that the soldiers always throw in a significant amount in the camp, and his second kid goes to a special needs school due to disability. Surprisingly, he said that he is only 25 years old although he looks way older than that.
He showed us pictures of his home, where the soldiers come every week and destroy everything in the house in the purpose of searching. Therefore, he said he doesn’t buy furniture anymore.
By heading to the Walled Off Hotel (aka Banksy Hotel), you have to pass by the separation wall and see a variety of Graffitis on the wall. We noticed one girl who is posing for yoga pictures with the separation wall, it felt somehow awkward. When we got closer to the hotel, second thoughts started to come into my mind why these gratifies are not on the other side of the wall? Has the separation wall become a touristic area?
If it is so, that is a disaster for the Palestinian cause. People just come to take pictures with gratifies on the wall and leave, and the messages on the wall like ” this wall must fall” on the Palestinian side, and it is not the Palestinians who built it. In my opinion, this wall should stay ugly as it is.
We reached the Hotel, it is facing the wall directly, and the entrance is on the corner of the building. The name Walled Off hotel is similar in phonetics to the Waldorf Astoria hotel in Jerusalem and it was built inside historical building related to the Ottoman empire.
Finally, the rest of the group arrived, we entered the exhibition in the hotel. It starts with Balfour declaration, then you come different rooms full of detailed information about Palestine and about the struggle of the Palestinians on a daily basis. In the last place, there is a guestbook, so people can write in it their thoughts. I saw Jenny K flipping the pages, then she said “it’s all empty words, people just come here, see and leave” and I saw tears in her eyes.
That kind of confirmed what I was thinking about “Tourism”.
When I stepped out of the hotel exhibition, I got deeply confused thoughts. The exhibition inside is reliable and straightforward, but the people’s behaviour around the hotel and the wall show the opposite. The girl who was posing for taking pictures next to the wall appeared again. This time she sprayed a stencil on the wall, it was her Instagram account.
She made a handstand pose and taking a picture next to her Instagram account stencil. Is it an advertisement wall now?
We met Hasan who wanted to take us to some villages around Bethlehem. We were super hungry, but we had to go to the villages tour. We started with Al-Walajeh, it is a village in Area C, where you pay taxes for Israel Jerusalem Municipality and you get zero services. Up the hill, we saw something like a construction site. You can see most of west Jerusalem in front of you and the settlements around you. When I looked behind me, I saw two tents and two caravans under construction and a lot of rubble in the back. It’s a family who takes the tent as a shelter because their home was demolished by the Israeli forces.
The mother told us how the special forces came that night with borders guards and the municipality cars. “There were approximately 300-400 soldiers” she said. “Their vehicles surrounded the whole village, we had a few minutes to empty the house and leave.” She took her kids not to let them see what will happen to their home. But on second thought, no they should understand and know how their house got demolished.
Their daughters now, whenever they see a bulldozer or a police car they ask if they are coming to demolish their home again. The father works as a taxi driver, they didn’t pay their total credit yet and the house got destroyed. They were telling us the story, but they kept a smile on their faces.
It was really ironic when we got back to the bus, you could see the settlement near is getting more buildings under construction and nobody stops them, although it’s on stolen land and on the other side this small family couldn’t build a small shelter for themselves. A few people from the team bursted into tears, it was the first shocking fact about Palestine.
We are heading to Shoshala, a tiny village surrounded by five settlements. I call it ” a one-man effort village.” The man’s name is Mohamad, who decided to protect that village and land from the occupation and from any expanding of the settlements around it. While walking up the mountain to reach the village, we noticed a very ancient wine press of the time of the Romans. After a long hike, we arrived at Shoshala. A simple shelters that has a metal ceiling and they are built by old stones. Now there are 25 inhabitants in Shoshalha, Mohamad lived there alone for 10 years. “People got motivated to come and live here after they saw me here residing and building”, he said. He and Hassan took us up the mountain, we were surprised to see that we are very close to the settlement and what is between us is only a fence. The view from there is breathtaking, but I was suspicious all the time although I didn’t notice anything. A lot of us in the team took pictures and it was sunset, perfect time for taking photos.
We were asking questions to Mohamad, he was super loud with a funny accent. Sometimes, I couldn’t even translate what he is saying, because it’s super funny in Arabic and it doesn’t make any sense in English.
He told us how he faced attacks from the settlers and the soldiers, but he kept reporting them all the time for everything they do. Therefore they did put a fence between the settlement and Shoshahla. We went back to Mohamad’s place to have a cup of tea and have a small chat together. We decided to move back to the bus, which is parked down since it can’t reach Shoshahla. We walked toward the fence, the moment I was wondering why we are taking this way instead of going from the middle of the mountain. I heard somebody shouting ” STOP STOP” in Hebrew, and the sound of at least two rifles getting loaded. Immediately, I told the rest of the group to step back because there are weapons. I was anxious that those people are settlers, then they said: ” COME HERE!” for one of the residents of Shoshahla who were leading our group. Then three Israeli soldiers showed up, everyone was in shock, how easy and fast things can escalate. They were asking about who took pictures up the hill, and why we took photos of the settlement. They asked to talk to someone who speaks English and Hassan moved toward the soldiers. He told them that we are a group of students from Germany and we came here only to explore the village and took selfies with each other. Now the soldiers took the bad cop and good cop game, one was mean and talking aggressively, asking for showing ID’s and Passports, and the one who is trying to check the documents, was super nice and he justified their action by “We saw people taking pictures up the hill we thought they are terrorists.”
It is super silly! If you see people taking pictures, that means you saw who we are, and it is obvious we are not terrorists. I was the first one who gave my ID for checking, he saw it was a blue ID, an “Israeli ID.” He didn’t want to check it but I insisted in him to check it and I was surprised by his reaction, smiling and saying “good picture.”
That never happens! Usually, I need to answer a bunch of stupid question while they are checking my ID. But then it hit me, I am in a group of foreigners, so showing a friendly communication might give a good image and justification for their actions.
Minutes later, the Captain of the group came and started to talk to Mohamad and he told him that everyone is free to go. We all went down to the highway where we need to cross it to get on the bus. Then Mohamad told me the Captain just passed on the Highway just to be sure that we really left the area.
We got into the bus and we headed back to Ramallah, it was a long way. In the middle of the journey, Marios asked to translate what the driver was telling him, he said “Qalandia Checkpoint is closed. Therefore we need to take another way to get into Ramallah its like 7 minutes more. And we will pass on the DCO checkpoint.” A few minutes later, Konstantin showed me a news article says, “DCO checkpoint is closed today until further notice because of a major accident happened there”.
I notified the bus driver, and he started to make some calls, but luckily, the checkpoint was open.
Finally, we arrived Ramallah after dropping Renad and Razan in Hizma. We were all exhausted. I said goodnight to everyone, and I took a taxi and headed back home.
04.10.2018 – Day 08
I woke up at 7:30 and started to get ready for the appointment that we have with the minister of education Dr. Sabri Saydam. I took my car and drove there, noticing the early morning traffic and mess on the streets. I parked a bit far from the ministry, I didn’t want to get stuck in the traffic. Then I walked to the Ministry waiting for Dr. Iyad to come with Prof. Wulf and Konstantin for the meeting. They arrived a little bit late, due to the traffic. Then we headed to the Minister office and we had a good meeting with him.
After the meeting, I headed back home, and I had to do a few paperwork at home, then I laid on the sofa and slept, I was still super tired from the day before.
In the afternoon, me, Majid and Julian decided to go to get some video footage in Birzeit University. I picked them up from Ramallah with Aydin and Sarah M and we went to the University together. Aydin and Sarah left us earlier and went to the Engineering Faculty and we went to the IT Faculty.
We had a discussion about what happened at Shoshahla after I parked the car, then we moved on to the Palestinian Museum.
We were looking for someone to assign a time to do an interview with but at the museum, they refused to give us the contacts. They asked me to leave my contacts there, so they could contact me later. And as a Palestinian, I know they will not contact us. It is totally different, in Germany when I ask someone for an interview for research, people are more keen and open but in Palestine, they are not.
We decided to take 360 footage for an exhibition in the museum, then we moved out and made more footage for the surrounding. Majid was surprised that we could see Tel Aviv from there.
We messaged Sarah and Aydin, and we went to Bistro Restaurant in Birzeit together. They had two dishes: the first one was Okra with tomato sauce and white rice, and the second one, was spiced rice with Chicken. After the excellent meal, we left to Ramallah, and everyone went back home.
05.10.2018 – Day 09
I decided to stay at home and finish some unfinished work for the university. In the afternoon Jenny K asked if anyone would like to go to Vanilla coffee shop. I said yes, it would be great to have some time with the team. I arrived there, and they were already sitting Sarah M, Sarah R, Jenny K, Aydin and Tamar.
Everyone ordered lunch or shakes. After the orders arrived, we had different chats about multiple topics. Aydin said he will go to the restroom. Almost everyone finished their food and Aydin still didn’t show up, which left us worried. I went to check on him in the toilet, I opened the door to shout his name, but it was a one-man bathroom! Oops!
I walked outside and Aydin was on the phone, sitting on the stairs next to the coffee shop.
When he got back, we all decided to have some Knafeh at Zalatimo sweets. I have a car, but we are 6, so the girls had to squeeze and spoon. Super illegal, but we managed to fit in my tiny vehicle. While having Knafeh, Jenny K was making funny videos, and post them on our group chat. I took some Knafeh with me for my parents and we all left home in the tiny car.