– Post by Majid –
09.10.2018 – Day 13
I was now almost two weeks in Palestine and had already made unforgettable experiences. It seemed to me as if it had been months ago that I got on the plane in Cologne/Bonn. This morning Julian woke me up as usual with the official Bayern Munich club anthem. He came into my room and started to yell: “FC BAYERN STERN DES SÜDENS”. Strangely enough, I liked being woken up like this in the morning, for whatever reason. Today we had the filming of Ramallah on our daily schedule, so we started the day a bit more relaxed. I surprised the others when I made myself a sandwich for breakfast and left Kellogg’s out this time. As always, I didn’t get a sound out of my mouth for the first hour after getting up, but the others were already used to it.
We planned our tour after breakfast and decided to start with the market “Hisba”, then film the grave of Jassir Arafat, cover the city center and finally the old town. Aydin spontaneously decided to accompany us to record our work for the social media channels. Arriving at the market we had to realize that it was not the best idea to film without company because we couldn’t communicate with the workers when they started throwing vegetables at us. I grabbed the camera and went into the covered area of the market to continue. The moment a tomato hit Julian’s back of the head we packed up and moved on. I had to swallow my anger because I knew it wouldn’t help to discuss with the people in English because they wouldn’t understand me. The situation demotivated us so much that we first moved towards the old town to breathe a sigh of relief. When we arrived we sat down in a quiet place in front of the town hall and talked about what had just happened. The lack of understanding of everyone spread and we decided to get something edible and go back to the apartment. Unfortunately, we had to realize that the people here react very sensitively to cameras in this way, but we had become a bit smarter again. The food from the Asian restaurant in Rukhabstreet didn’t really improve the situation.
Afterwards, it was okay for this day that we didn’t film because we had a lot to do to write field notes and sort ourselves. We stayed at home for the rest of the day and worked from there. In the evening I went to sleep around 21:30 because I also had to catch up some sleep I missed in the last days.
10.10.2018 – Day 14
New day, new chance. I wanted to hack off yesterday as fast as possible and got up early in the morning. Even though I couldn’t really sleep well last night, I took a cold shower and pulled myself together. Today the motivation was at its peak again. Bethlehem was on the program. Samer picked Julian and me up at 10 o’clock and we drove towards Jerusalem because he had an appointment there. We wanted to meet Nizar there and then go to Bethlehem together. Even though we were already there together with the whole group we decided to go separately again to concentrate on filming. On the way to Jerusalem, we had to pass the checkpoint “Qalandia” again where I had been a few days before. I hated the crossing at checkpoints because I always felt a certain tension, but the people here had to go through it almost every day. Today we were lucky because there was hardly any movement at this time of day and we arrived relatively fast. We drove into the queue of cars and I tried to observe the surroundings. The separation wall was decorated with various graffiti which surprised me. “How do the people here manage to spray”, I asked Samer. He explained to me that they mainly worked at night and in groups. Part of the group distracted the soldiers while the others started spraying. I was amazed that people took the high risk just to spray, but they just shared their message and that had to be respected. The first watchtower was externally burned and one\recognized the traces of the clashes here.
Shortly before the crossing to Jerusalem, the tension increased. Most heavily armed soldiers received the cars and controlled personal data. At the side, I recognized the transition for passers-by. Crammed into narrow fences the whole thing reminded me of cattle keeping. Traveling in Palestine was always very difficult and not comparable to the situation in the cities. Finally arrived on the other side we drove directly to the appointment. Samer showed us a small place where we could have breakfast and said goodbye for the time being. There was delicious hummus, falafel and bread. Julian and I filled our bellies. Afterwards, Nizar who came from the university joined us. We drove further into Jerusalem and stopped at what Nizar called the best schnitzel restaurant in Jerusalem. Of course, a daring statement because he had the schnitzel experts with him, Julian and me. In general, it was a very pleasant atmosphere to be on the way with the group because we all understood each other quite well and could work together at the same time. We crossed the checkpoint between Jerusalem and Bethlehem and headed for the wall at “The Walled of Hotel”. There we were with the group a few days before and visited the Banksy Museum. We filmed both the separation wall, the hotel and the Banksy exhibition. While Julian and Nizar filmed inside, Samer and I sat on the terrace. It still seemed so strange to me to sit in front of the gigantic wall and drink my coffee but it had become a tourist attraction, no matter if it was good or bad.
Afterward, we made ourselves on the way into the city interior. We first headed for the panorama balcony and filmed the endless view which reached almost to the dead sea. I was told that on clear days one would see the dead sea from here, which once again showed how small the country was. Such a small country with so much history and meaning. We also filmed the Church of the Nativity of Jesus and the Milk Groote. The city center was overcrowded on this day by tourists who pilgrimage to the holy country. Also, we held the mosque which directly beside the church enthroned as well as the old part of town with the bazaar. It was a successful day for us and we headed back to Ramallah in the early evening. I was especially curious how long it would take to be at home as this was always a surprise. When we visited Bethlehem some days before we needed about 90 minutes for the journey and 120 minutes for the departure. So we made our way via Jerusalem. We drove through the rich region and dived into a completely different world. We drove on the flawless highway through East Jerusalem past the modern football stadium, the villas and skyscrapers, and huge shopping malls. It was a perfect contrast to Ramallah, about 20 kilometers away. The infrastructure as well as the houses and buildings resembled our western world and almost surpassed it. Since Samer had an Israeli license plate we could use the streets effortlessly and succeed in just 30 minutes back to Ramallah. We drove directly to Popeyes the Arabic KFC and stuffed ourselves with crispy breaded chicken. A nice conclusion for a successful shooting day.
11.10.2018 – Day 15
Nablus, the hometown of my father. Today it was finally time: Team “YALLAH!” drove to Nablus. At 08:30 the bus picked us up from our apartments and we made our way to the biggest city in the West Bank. On the bus ride, I sat down at the very back of the window to enjoy the landscape in peace. We drove on country roads through beautiful fields with olive trees, saw shepherds with their packs and the mountains in the far distance. The way to Nablus would have been so idyllic if there hadn’t been all the settlements, checkpoints, and Israeli soldiers. Although I tried to enjoy the landscape to the full, it seemed almost impossible to ignore this side of Palestine. Sawi who had sat next to me told us what it was like with the surroundings and answered our curious questions. Arrived the bus driver put us out in the old town and we began our tour.
Our walk through the narrow streets led us into a small company hall for traditional soap production. We asked the responsible person if we were allowed to take pictures and to take a closer look at his craft. Julian and I found it very convenient as we generally planned to visualize traditional Palestinian handicrafts in our project. While the group received all kinds of information about the company we started with our work. Back outside, a man with physical and mental limitations became attentive to us. He came over to us shaking excitedly everyone’s hand and began to hug us each time. I looked into the faces of the others and realized that they were similar to me. We didn’t quite know how to deal with the situation and continued on our way towards breakfast. The man accompanied us on the way there by the old part of town and could not be shaken off more or less. I noticed all the chickens that were trapped in narrow cages or even stacked boxes. The cries of the animals, as well as the smell, accompanied us on the whole way. Even though it was terrible to look at, I knew that mass animal husbandry and consumption in the Western world was far worse than this. You just didn’t get it the way you did here. Arrived at the hotel then also our companion said goodbye to us and Hummus and Falafel strengthened the forces
Since I wanted to find my family in Nablus, Renad and Julian decided to leave the group and accompany me on my search. The support of the others in my project made me very happy and motivated. When finally our tour guide Ghaith for the village “Sabastiya” which was still on the later program arrived, it started for the four of us. The rest of the group explored Nablus as we made our way to Rafeedia to find my family. I called my father and he explained to Renad about where we need to go. As we got into the taxi, my excitement shot up. I wondered how my family would react after 24 years without contact, or if we even find them at all? Since this was my first time in Palestine and I was more or less on the trail of my roots, it was a very personal affair for me. Arrived in Rafeedia, Ghaith told me that we were nearby and that it would not take long. He stomped into the first supermarket to ask if anyone knew my relatives. To my surprise, the man at the checkout could list my whole family tree and embarrassed me a little because even I couldn’t do anything with some names. I became aware of how little I knew about my own family in Palestine.
He led us finally to the address of my great aunt. Now it was so far I stood before her door. When I opened the door for her, a little petite woman, her hair covered with a cloth came out. She looked at us in amazement and immediately Renad started to translate and told her who I was. It took her a few seconds to put her thoughts in order, but she immediately took me by the hand and offered us in. She never let go of my hand and started talking to me in Arabic. It was a very nice feeling to finally be able to visit a part of my family from Palestine. She didn’t care that I didn’t speak Arabic and I didn’t have to. We were just happy to get to know each other even without the possibility to talk. She led us through the apartment and proudly showed us the family photos and told us stories. My father’s younger aunt from Paris was also visiting. We drank tea and I finally got the long-awaited Labaneh I had been dreaming of forever. I felt as if I had never been away and was welcomed like a part of the family, it was an indescribably beautiful feeling. Then I asked them if I could visit the grave of my relatives and they called my great-uncle. We made an appointment at the graves in a nearby area at a school and said goodbye. My great-aunt hardly wanted to let me go and hugged me all the time. It was a very nice meeting and so I was sad about the farewell, but I knew that I would come again. Arrived at the school a man came up to us and to my surprise immediately recognized me. It was the brother of my grandfather. Through a locked gate we reached the graves of my family. I could not believe how many of my family members were buried here. My great uncle invited us still to a cup of tea which we, unfortunately, could not notice any more there the bus already waited for us. He gave me his phone number and we said goodbye. Arrived in the bus I had to pause for a moment and fell silent.
We continued our tour and next stop should be the village “Sabastiya” near Nablus. It was a small village with a lot of history and should be an interesting place for further pictures. The anticipation was made us on the way there, however, to niece. Our bus suddenly stopped shortly before the village on a narrow access road. Right in front, I recognized a group of Israeli soldiers who had set up a checkpoint and apparently searched the cars for someone or something. A soldier went through the car row and occasionally opened doors, trunks and controlled people he pulled out of the car. More soldiers followed him until they finally arrived at our bus. The young soldier ordered the bus driver to open the door and entered the bus. I could feel his nervousness when he looked through the round and looked at us. “Kol shi tamam?”, which means as much as: “everything okay?”, he shouted through the bus and looked at us. Another soldier stood in front of the bus with a weapon ready to hand and looked at us from the outside. The young soldier got out again and went on without asking any more questions and the tension of everyone slowly subsided. Unsuspectingly we remained sitting in the bus and waited, that it went on, nevertheless, for minutes nothing moved. The cars began to turn in the middle of the road and drive away but we waited further. When the soldiers let the first cars through, coaches, taxis and other cars pushed their way past us towards Checkpoint. The worry that he didn’t go any further was clearly noticeable and so the bus driver tried to get to the front as fast as possible. Arrived in front the same soldier came then again into our bus. We had already been able to investigate that there were incidents between settlers and Palestinians in the area and that the soldiers were looking for the “guilty ones”. So we kept our passports and visas handy when the soldier reacted again and spoke to us in Hebrew. One of the group replied: “English please”, whereupon the soldier asked where we were from. When he heard we were coming from Germany he immediately pointed to Sawi sitting in the last row and quoted him forward. He literally pulled him off the bus and controlled him from head to toe. It was not a pretty sight and I felt powerless and worried at that moment. They took him a few yards with them as they asked to wait and wave the bus through. Immediately Sarah and Marios reacted, went outside and asked the soldiers to speak. Sarah explained to the soldier that we were a group of German students making an exchange at Birzeit University and Sawi was also part of our group. They insisted that we only continue the journey with him and also showed some photos to prove, that he was with us all day. Fortunately the two soldiers who looked at each other questioningly gave in. He was let back into the bus and we could finally leave here.
We arrived in Sabastiya. The bus driver, as well as our travel guide, tells us that the soldiers would most likely have taken Sawi with them and arrested him. Arrested because he has a Palestinian identity card and was in the wrong place at the wrong time. The sad truth became clear to us once again and we were all glad that we arrived complete and safe. We all needed a moment and sat down to take a deep breath. It was like always in Palestine, from 0 to 100 within seconds. Just as fast we dived back into the beautiful world of Sabastiya. Ghaith led us through the village and showed us the historic mosque, the tomb of John the Baptist, and his dungeon. It was amazing how many eras and peoples were united in this place. Julian and I were able to make some good shots and I was very happy to be allowed to film in the mosque. The tour lasted about two hours and we even got a small Dabkah introductory course. In the meantime, we had heard from various sources that all roads around Nablus had been closed. Apparently, two Israeli settlers were killed whereupon seat blockades were formed with the help of soldiers and vehicles with Palestinian number plates were thrown with stones. As we later discovered, a couple died in the assaults. At that time nobody knew exactly what was happening and what the consequences would be. We knew only that we had to take an alternative route over Jericho back to Ramallah and that our journey home would run along the Jordanian borders through the desert and mountains. Arrived at the last stop of the tour at the restaurant we sat on a large square which I perceived as the center of the village. I heard the noises of drones in wide height over our heads and a queasy feeling made itself open in me. As often in Palestine, I felt powerless. I did not know this feeling so far and hated it. I tried to put myself in the shoes of the people who were exposed all day long. Our tour guide was very relaxed with the whole thing because it was his reality. It was normal for him, but something like that should not be normal for anyone. It was unimaginable that something like this would happen to us in Germany and the two different worlds became visible again.
When the food arrived we decided to take it with us on the bus because we still had a long journey ahead of us. In the back of our minds were the attacks of Israeli settlers who were going on at the same time, but we tried to make the best of the situation. Apart from all the events that day, I still managed to enjoy the ride. The sunset in the desert around the dead sea was unique. We drove over the mountain tops before Jericho in the direction of Ramallah. We arrived around 19:30 again at the headquarters. My mother sent me a photo of me and my grandpa and the emotions were boiling over. My grandfather died when I was 14 years old but I still had quite good memories as he lived in Aachen. I realized that today I saw his younger brother for the first time after 24 years and remembered how he told me I had the eyes of his brother, my grandfather.
It was a very nice but also emotional day for me. Nevertheless, I was very happy to have taken the step and visited my family. At the end of the day, we watched some documentaries about settlements and the history of their origin and shared our opinions as we always did. I enjoyed being together after eventful days as we processed things together and my picture, on the whole, became clearer and clearer. In this case, we also talked a lot about my family visit because everybody was curious about how it went. Finally, we watched the video Julian had filmed of it together. It was a very nice conclusion to another very exciting day.