Doreen’s Diary:July 3, 2004
Last night before turning in, we found out that Mohammed had been released from jail. We all went to bed smiling. After breakfast, Stacey and some of the other women and I began painting signs with slogans such as “My friend Rania is unable to visit her grandmother in Jerusalem because of the Wall” for a silent vigil we were to attend later in the day.
I was excited the entire morning because today was also to be the day that Rania and her friend were coming to the hotel so that she and I could finally meet in person. Rania is a 16 year old Palestinian girl whom I had been tutoring in English via the computer. We’d been working together for over a year and I had been trying, since I’d arrived in the West Bank, to set up a meeting. She’d been in East Jerusalem visiting her grandmother during the earlier part of our trip. When I’d finally spoken to her on the phone, she said we could meet today and that she was hoping to bring along some of her friends and some teachers to our meeting.
As I walked into the lobby, I noticed two teenaged girls and one boy sitting on the sofa. They looked “hip” and for a moment I thought they were guests. But as soon as we made eye contact, Rania knew who I was and I knew which of the girls she was. We filled the lobby with squeals of joy, loud enough so many of the other women came running in to see what was going on. Anni asked Rania and her friend Mirna and Mirna’s brother if they would mind her taping their conversation with us. They were thrilled to feel so important.
We sat around and asked the girls hundreds of questions. When we asked how have they dealt with curfews and checkpoints and incursions, we were surprised to find out that, until they were 14, they did not understand that they were living under occupation or what exactly it meant. Their parents hid as much of it as they could. For Rania’s parents, it was easier to shield the truth, because Rania has sisters. The only male is her father. Her grandparents live in East Jerusalem. But for Mirna, being shielded was not so simple. She had brothers, and uncles, and a father and grandfather in her home. She told us of one night when, as they all were sleeping, Israeli soldiers broke into their home and pulled them all out of bed and forced them into the street. They then made all of the males sit on the floor with their hands on top of their heads. They stayed that way until morning when soldiers arrested her brother, father, uncles and grandfather. The soldiers gave no explanation. Her mother and grandmother could get no answers. Finally, three days later, her grandfather and father returned home. Her uncles and brothers were kept for another week before they returned. None of them ever knew why he had been arrested and detained.
The girls told us how their school, a Christian private school, supported programs that brought together Christian and Muslim teens. They told us they were hoping that one day they might have Israeli friends. Then they asked us about our lives in America. Our jaws dropped when Rania said, “I want you to call Oprah Winfrey when you go home. We watch her here all the time. She talks about people from all over the world, but we never see anything about us, about the Palestinians, on her show. Ask her why.” And when we returned home, Judy sent off a note to the Oprah Winfrey show with Rania’s question, and we are still awaiting a reply.
When it was time for the girls to leave, I met Rania’s father. He invited me and my husband to return and stay at their home. As his car pulled away with Rania and her friends, two taxis pulled up to the hotel to take us to a photo exhibit at the cultural center in Betunia, a suburb of Jerusalem.
We were happily welcomed at the Betunia center. The room was filled with photos of the construction of the Wall in the town and the destruction of homes and olive groves. As well, the story of the men and children killed during demonstrations or during incursions by the Israeli army into Betunia lined several of the walls of the center. Some of the English-speaking residents walked around with us and explained how each of the children had been killed. It was quite sad. We also saw a video about the town and it’s resistance to the Wall.
We attended an exhibit in the nearby Ramallah suburb of Betunia, where we saw video and photos of the history of the human toll caused by the Occupation and the construction of The Wall.
Before we left Betunia, some of the town’s leaders walked us down to the construction site of the Wall, explaining how many acres of Betunia land the Wall was grabbing. Originally owning 16,000 dunams of land, the residents of Betunia were being left with only 4,000 dunams. Once again, the Wall was violating the Green Line.
Where there was once fertile ground, there is now this barren scene of empty land that will soon be the site of the Wall.
We returned to the Retno to pick up the signs that were now dry and reboarded the taxi vans and headed for A-Ram, the site of our first demonstration. We would be joining Palestinian woman and Israeli female peace activists in a silent vigil at the Wall, each woman holding an individual sign. People were taking pictures of us throughout the vigil. How surprised we were to find ourselves on the front page of the Sunday edition of one of the major Arab newspapers the next day, standing in vigil in front of the Wall. Though we couldn’t read a word of the article, we were told that we were thanked for supporting the Palestinian women.
Dressed in white and carrying black signs representing the voices of the Palestinian people, we stood at the all-woman’s silent vigil in A-Ram.
As we rode back from the vigil, Huwaida told me that the men of the Biddu Men’s Society were having a celebration barbeque that evening in honor of Mohammed’s release, and that they had asked that I attend…as an act of respect to me for being Huwaida’s mother-in-law. I was very flattered, but did not think I could bear going through the Qalandia checkpoint one more time. As well, the BBQ was called for 8pm and the checkpoint closed at 10pm, and I was worried we would not be able to get into Ramallah for the night. But Huwaida implored me to go, and I didn’t want to insult the men. I truly appreciated their invite. So I asked if the other women could come as well. And the answer was, “Of course.” It is always that way with the Palestinian hospitality. So Stacey, Carol, Hedy, Judy, Joya, Huwaida, and I trekked through the Qalandia checkpoint and got a van to take us to the barbecue in Biddu.
As soon as I saw the faces on our hosts and hostesses, I was happy we had come. The men knew that we had to leave to get through the checkpoint before it closed, so in order to get the fire going quickly, they lit a blow torch and used it to light the coals. The meal was scrumptious, the conversation insightful, and the warmth around the table beat the heat of the blow torch.
Later in the evening, some of us attended a celebration BBQ in Biddu at the home of the head of the Biddu Men’s Society, in honor of Mohammed’s release from jail.
When it was time for us to leave, Mohammed, who’d just gotten out of jail, insisted on escorting us back to Ramallah. When we got to the checkpoint, he opened the van door and, to our astonishment, headed toward the border guard. We were so nervous he would get re-arrested, as he looked to be arguing with the guard. We each were silently willing him back into the van with us. When finally he returned, he explained that he had been trying to persuade the guard to allow him and our Palestinian van driver to take us all the way to our hotel, as he wanted to save us the task of having to get out, walk across the checkpoint and find another van to take us to the Retno. We thanked him for his efforts but scolded him for being so foolish as to anger the guard. We hugged and kissed Mohammed goodnight, thanking him again and again for his bravery and courage, and we crossed the checkpoint. We could feel his protective eyes watching us as he waited for us to be safely on our way.
It had been another long day and so we all went directly to sleep.