A schoolbag named desire

With thumb held high and a broad smile, the school bus driver welcomes Tamer who proudly carries his little schoolbag on his back. He takes the seat right behind the driver so as to be able to peep over his shoulder towards the road. Watching this is one of those little rituals every day which keep Mary and me in a better mood than the situation otherwise would allow. Wearing her chequered school uniform, Jara too takes the school bus but unlike Tamer she is not always in her best mood. Her bag is stuffed with books and she curves her back to carry the burden. 

An American Visit to Bethlehem

The other day a group of American university students visited Bethlehem University in Bethlehem of the nativity fame in the Palestinian Territories. They discussed with their Palestinian peer a number of issues, including mutual perceptions or misperceptions, the stand of the American Administrations on the Arab-Israeli conflict, the situation in Iraq and the upcoming presidential elections in Palestine. After the formal discussions were over, the American and Palestinian students intermingled, exchanged e-mail addresses and promised to keep on with their discussions. 

Flags in Palestine

“I suddenly remember that some twenty years ago, in the 1980s, the Israelis forbade the Palestinians to even color the Palestinian flag, let alone to hoist it in the streets. The flag was considered a danger to public order. During the first Intifada Israeli soldiers forced Palestinian citizens to paint over Palestinian flags that covered the walls of the streets. Mary still remembers those days very well. Painters sometimes circumvented the prohibition by showing a Palestinian salad containing the colors of the flag: black and green in the olives, red in the tomatoes, and white in the cheese. Or women’s embroidery containing those colors.” Toine van Teeffelen reports from Bethlehem. 

The Mountain Shakes

We all cannot sleep, this Friday early morning. Mary, Jara and I sit around the TV to watch the latest news about Arafat. The best news on offer is the announcement that he is not yet dead but in coma, a “reversible coma,” it is said later on. Palestinian spokespersons in Ramallah and Paris were yesterday contradicting each other. I am reminded of the repeated complaints, at a recent conference, by young Palestinian media students about the presence of multiple spokespersons at the PNA. Jara solemnly announces that she hopes that “our leader will not die.” Toine van Teeffelen writes about the feeling in the streets of Bethlehem. 

Prisoner Stories: Majdi Hasan Mousa

Aysheh’s youngest son, Majdi, the only one among her children to graduate from college, is in Israeli prison. In April of this year, he graduated from Bethlehem University with a degree in physical therapy. When he was arrested, he was looking for steady work while taking odd jobs as a masseur for $10 a sitting. For four years, he has been engaged to a young woman from Aida Refugee Camp. Being unmarried, he was the main support for his aged parents. Israeli soldiers broke into the back of the family compound to pick Majdi up in the early hours of the morning a few months ago. 

Journey for Justice diaries: Bethlehem and Anata

Four days ago, it was one month since I arrived in Palestine and it will be one year in total when it comes time to leave. Inshallah means, roughly, “God Willing.” Always I say inshallah when I say one year. Inshallah because one year is a long time. Inshallah because the longest visa I can get is three months. Inshallah because you never know in this land. I’m an international, an American, and I arrived one month and four days ago. That was one month and four days, though, and that’s not what this is about. Journey for Justice started yesterday, and it’s going to go for eight days. 

Wings of Freedom

Palestinian singer Ammar looks an introvert person. On the Lebanese Future station, where he is a finalist in the Idol-like competition “Superstar”, he sings his almost classical Arab songs in a beautiful melodramatic voice. He remains serious while he laughs. Surrounded by glitter and fashionable show presentators and a screaming teenager audience, he looks out of place. Asked by a jury member why he is so reserved and sad, he replies that he cannot sing gaily when his people in Palestine face so many difficulties, and he mentions the people dying at checkpoints. Art is resistance for him. Toine van Teeffelen reports from occupied Bethlehem. 

One Morning in Palestine

It was 2am Thursday morning, when I went to sleep, After following the news as usual, I was having a very tough migraine. I have experienced these tough migraines for a while because of the stress I have working as a journalist. I keep the walky-talky next to my head when I go to sleep, so that I can hear anyone calling me with urgent news, even while I’m having this migraine and at this time in the morning. I fell asleep, before someone began shouting on the walky-talky at 6am, and I jumped from bed to answer. His voice was deeply sad, and he was hardly able to talk, and he said “Fadi… Fadi… Ten Palestinians were just killed in Beat Hanoun village”. 

View on the Sea

Mary is called by a student from Gaza who since three years is unable to complete his final year at Bethlehem University due to the impossibility to travel out of Gaza. Her heart beat leaps after hearing the familiar voice of the student she knew so well. He tells her: “But we are better off than you, at least we have the sea here!” In Bethlehem the American actor Richard Gere watches some performances from Suzy’s students who had made some good drama plays based on their recently published Intifada diaries. Gere also visits a group of young children making drawings of the sea. The teacher tells Gere that the sand and the shells stuck on the drawings are really from the sea at Tel Aviv, a sea which the children cannot visit. 


What might happen to those taxi drivers and travelers is at present a subject of much storytelling in Bethlehem. Mary heard from a cousin that her brother in law, a taxi driver, was beaten up by soldiers. Another of her cousins studies at Birzeit University and has to take the Wadi Nar road every now and then to visit family back in Bethlehem. A weekend ago she even didn’t dare to try to take that road. Apparently soldiers had erected a large tent next to it where those who were caught sneaking through the hills were brought together and sometimes beaten up. All were people who for their daily duties had to travel from one Palestinian town to another.