Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year!

Being a part of Christmas in Bethlehem this year has been fascinating. The holiday season here is much different from home, and honestly, it didn't quite feel like Christmas for me, even though I'm in the Christmassy-est place on the planet! There was so much to see and do here this past week, but unfortunately, I've had the flu since Christmas day, so I've spent most of my vacation asleep. Luckily though, we still have Armenian Christmas and Orthodox Christmas to celebrate, which are both in January, so I'm expecting to be healthy for rounds 2 and 3 of celebration! I'll definitely be filling you in on my interesting Christmas experiences once I'm feeling up to par.

I hope that you have a wonderful time celebrating the New Year!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas in Bethlehem

Thank you so much for supporting me on this journey! Without your love, prayers, and support, I would absolutely not be here. Know that I'm thinking of you this Christmas.

Being in Bethlehem during the Christmas season has been both awe-inspiring and incredibly upsetting.
Here are some images that are present in or reflective of Bethlehem this Christmas. 

Apartheid Wall Grafiti
photo by Ryan Rodrick Beiler

Bethlehem Checkpoint

Star Street

Desmond Tutu Quote

Manger Square/The Church of the Nativity

If Mary & Joseph had wanted to come to Bethlehem today...

Christmas Tree in Nativity Square

Peace Graffiti

Christmas in Nativity Square

Santa vs. Israeli Soldiers

Santa at the Wall

The Manger in front of the Watchtower

Right in front of the Bethlehem Checkpoint

 I hope that you have a very Merry Christmas, and a totally restful break from work/school/normal life.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Human Rights March

On December 9th, I went to the annual Human Rights March in Tel Aviv. I could try to tell you all about what it was like to march alongside thousands of Israelis who were there in support of different human rights groups. I could try to express the hope that I felt after meeting Israelis who were not completely hateful toward Palestinians. I could try to explain the different groups that were marching. But instead of trying to tell you, I'd like to just show you.

(Look at the watermark in the bottom corner for info about where the image came from - all images not watermarked are from, unless otherwise noted.)

One of my few photos from the march.
From left to right: Eitan Bronstein (director of
Zochrot), Ryan, Rachelle, Me, Sarah - all MCC staff.

Me holding a sign with a photo of a Palestinian refugee.
Originially, these photos of refugees were printed at human size and installed in the remains of their villages, which are now in Israel. Photo by

Palestinian Arabs marching for equality - these are Palestinians who live in Israel and/or have a Jerusalem ID, as most Palestinians who live in the West Bank or Gaza are not allowed into Israel and therefore are unable to protest.

African immigrants (especially Ethiopian Jews) are often treated unfairly and even allegedly denied citizenship based on their race.

Trauré, an immigrant from Cote d'Ivoire, holds a sign saying "Refugees are not criminals" in front of the municipality building.

In what was definitely the most shocking display for us Americans:
Young Jewish protestors parodied far-right activists by dressing as Klu Klux Klan members holding signs reading "Kahane was right," and "Kill the (non-Jews) in order to save Israel."

The Zochrot signs that we were carrying were too large for just one person, so we paired up and each took a side. My sign-carrying partner (who we'll just call "L") was an Israeli Jew who was born and raised in Tel Aviv. She was so helpful in translating the Hebrew signs, and sharing a little bit of her experience with me. When we walked past these two boys, one blindfolded and tied up and the other with chains around his wrist, we had a very interesting conversation. I literally wrote it down right after it happened so that I could share it with you:

L: "You know, these guys did this same thing at a protest a few months ago and got arrested for it."
Me: "What? Why? They're being completely non-violent. They're not doing anything wrong."
L: "Their message hit too close to home. It was the truth, so the soldiers arrested them."
Me: "But... you can't just arrest someone. You have to have a legitimate reason!"
L: "What do you think this is, a democratic state? You can't just go around saying whatever you want. We're not in America, Meredith, we're in Israel. We don't have freedom of speech like you do. They say we do, but it is a lie."

"It is a lie."

Those words haunted me for quite some time after leaving the protest. I mean, I knew some things were a lie. Well, maybe not a lie, but an omission of the truth. No one ever talks about the Palestinians who lived in the land before 1948. No one talks about the families who were ripped out of their homes and are now refugees. No one talks about the children who saw their parents murdered. No one talks about the injustice, or the permanent damage that has been done to millions. But those aren't lies, they're just... the absence of the truth. But if, as L said, "freedom of speech" here is a lie, well then that's something else entirely.

Something to think about when I've had a little bit more sleep.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

One More Death *Warning: Graphic Photos*

When blogging, I do my best to stay out of the politics of the situation here as much as I possibly can. Getting on my soap box and preaching politics does nothing but divide people, especially because I am no expert. I try to stick to what I know, which usually means writing about my first hand experiences here. But today, right now, I have to speak out.

I came back from Tel Aviv yesterday feeling so optimistic. Marching alongside Israelis gave me hope. "Things are getting better," I thought, "look at all of these people who are working for human rights." I was there with a group that advocates for the rights of Palestinians, and despite some dirty looks and some heated conversations, I felt like the majority of the people marching would include Palestinians in their list of "all people" who deserve human rights. But today, my optimism so quickly turned to despair as I heard about another Palestinian man who has been killed.

I need to share this story with you. Please realize that this isn't just about one person dying. This isn't just about today's one death. This is about people being senselessly killed for decades. This is about genocide. This is about the deliberate slaughtering of an entire group of human beings. And this is about our collective decision to ignore it, to pretend that one group of people has the right to destroy another, to fund a nation that is killing civilians because we think it is in our political best interest.


Mustafa Tamimi was a 28 year old young man who was protesting the route of the Apartheid Wall. The wall is planned to be built on land that belongs to the people of Nabi Saleh, a small village near Ramallah. He was attending a non-violent demonstration that takes place every Friday, and began throwing stones at an armored Israeli military vehicle (which is done as a symbol, not to injure anyone or destroy any property - as a golf-ball sized stone obviously isn't going to damage the heavily armored jeep in any way). A soldier then opened the door to the jeep, and shot Mustafa in the face with a tear gas canister. The soldier was between ten and thirty feet away.

Just in case you know nothing about tear gas (I didn't, before I came here), a canister is intended to be shot into the air above a violent crowd from about 100 feet away. It is never, NEVER intended to be shot directly at people, because it's known to be deadly, and it is NEVER intended to be used on one person. Its purpose is to sedate an angry mob.

The impact blew off half of Tamimi's face, and when his friends and family cried out in horror, Israeli soliders laughed and said, "So?" (Mondoweiss)

Here is what happened:

This is Mustafa as he was being shot.
The red circle to the right is the gun, and the circle to the left is the canister.

This is immediately after being hit with the canister.

Palestinians rushing to his aid.

Immediately after being hit.

Friends Comforting Each Other

Here is a video of the aftermath.

Mustafa was rushed to the hospital, and died less than 24 hours later.
The pain of his death will be felt by his family and village for years to come.
The damage done by losing a child, a brother, a friend, will never be erased.

Rest in peace, dear child.
May your life's story be a light in this dark corner of the world.

Friday, December 9, 2011

We Teach Life

Today, I was at the Human Rights March in Tel Aviv. Such an incredibly powerful experience. I will definitely be posting about it in the near future. Not only do I need a little bit of time to process everything, but I also  need to wait for all of the photos start to roll in. There were so many talented photographers there. I would much rather wait for them to upload their (undoubtedly wonderful) photos, rather than use my subpar ones.

So until then, you should spend the next 4 minutes and 39 seconds watching a spoken word poem by Rafeef Ziadah, a Palestinian activist who is currently a PhD candidate at York University in Toronto, Canada. This video made the rounds on my Palestinian friends' facebook walls when it was first recorded last month, and I think that it is really powerful. Rafeef's experience is definitely worth hearing. Take a listen, and then let me know what you think!

‎"So I give them UN resolutions and statistics, and we condemn and we deplore and we reject, and these are not two equal sides: occupier and occupied. And a hundred dead. Two hundred dead. A THOUSAND DEAD. And between that war crime and massacre, I vent out words and smile, not exotic. Smile, not terrorist. And I recount. I recount. A hundred dead. Two hundred dead. A THOUSAND DEAD. Is anyone out there? Will anyone listen?"

Sunday, November 27, 2011

My First-Hand Experience with the Palestinian Medical System

I know, I know, I haven't posted in about two weeks. I promise I have a legitimate excuse.

I was dying.

Ok, slight exaggeration. More like I thought  I was dying. I guess there's a bit of a difference.

So let's set the scene, shall we?
I had just gotten back from a wonderful weekend in Tel Aviv. Monday was a happy, plain, normal work day. Then Tuesday was Palestinian Independence Day, and even though the name is incredibly deceiving, all of the schools and offices were closed in the West Bank. I had plans to go into Jerusalem with a friend, but she called that morning to say that she wasn't feeling well and would have to cancel. I, of course, was a little bummed, but it turned out to be the best thing that could have happened.

I decided to stay in and rest; take a lazy day doing some laundry, catching up on cleaning, and working on grad school applications. Around noonish, I started to not feel so great. Like, really  not so great. I was pretty sure that someone was taking a butcher knife to my abdomen; I had this awful, stabbing pain. Then I started to run a high fever.

"Oh my gosh,"  I thought to myself, "Sharp stabbing pain. High fever. I have appendicitis! They're going to need to remove my appendix. This is bad. I am so not a third-world-emergency-surgery kind of girl."

So what did I decide to do? Wait it out (translation: ignore it). I kept reading that if you have appendicitis, you should go to the hospital right away, because your appendix usually bursts about 24 hours after the symptoms start, and then the pain magnifies by a thousand percent. "Perfect!" I think, "if the pain gets way more intense after 24 hours, then I'll know that my appendix burst and that I actually do have appendicitis. But if it doesn't get more intense, then either I have the Chuck Norris of appendices, or it's something other than appendicitis. I'll just wait, and this way, I can avoid going to the hospital for nothing."

I should put a note in here that I really  hate hospitals. They're always cold, and they always smell funny. I hate being poked and prodded. I hate being asked stupid questions about "on a scale of one to ten." I hate that 99% of the time, the doctor says "go home, drink lots of fluids, and get some rest." I can make that diagnosis on my own, thankyouverymuch. I get flashbacks to when I was 10 years old and in the hospital for a week and a half with Pancreatitis. It's always just miserable.

This process of waiting worked really well up until about 3am. I woke up, got sick, and then tried to walk to my kitchen for some water. Well, on the way, I got light headed and dizzy, and broke out in a cold sweat. I was pretty sure that this was the end. I would pass out while trying to get water, fall onto my tile floor, and either crack my head open or freeze to death (there's a little electric heater in my bedroom, which keeps the temperature up in the 60s, but in my kitchen in the middle of the night, it's probably more around 45 degrees, but that's a whole different story). I made it back to my room, collapsed on my bed, and prayed for a swift death.

And then as soon as I could move again, I caved and called one of the other MCC service workers to take me to the hospital. At 3:15 in the morning. I definitely have the world's most fantastic coworkers!

So we head to a little private hospital in Beit Jala, the village where I live. I am the only patient in the entire emergency room, and am immediately wheeled back (oh  yeah, I got a wheelchair... so embarrassing) into the only room. A doctor and nurse, both men, come into the room and start speaking to me in Arabic. My coworker (who is Canadian, but fairly fluent in Arabic) explains that I don't speak much Arabic, but am having sharp pain and we are worried that it is appendicitis. The doctor and nurse just kind of stare at me and then ask me where I'm from, then they talk to each other in Arabic, and then the nurse starts giggling, and they leave. I was totally confused, and a little frustrated. I was in pain! I just wanted them to fix me and let me leave, but at this point, no one has touched me, done a single test, or asked me a single medical question.

My coworker, also a female, eavesdrops and explains to me that the nurse is giggling because he is embarrassed that his English is poor, and because I am a single Western woman, they are hesitant to touch me. They don't often see Westerners, especially not women (I assume that this is because if Westerners get sick, they usually go to hospitals in Israel, not in the West Bank). The culture here dictates that it is highly inappropriate (and very disrespectful) for men to touch women, and even though my doctor was a trained medical professional, it was obviously still difficult for him to overcome this deeply ingrained cultural rule.

Before long, they come back in, take some blood to run some tests, and give me an IV and some medication. My nurse put in the most painless IV that I've ever had, and I've had a few. I didn't feel anything, not even a sticking sensation! I was thrilled by his obvious IV inserting/blood drawing skills. After about five minutes, I realize that they had just given me medicine, but they didn't have any of my medical records, and they had never asked me if I have any allergies... which I do! So we called in the nurse to try to figure out what kind of medicine they gave me, but he didn't know, so he went to ask the doctor. They couldn't figure out how to translate it, but they'd never heard of the drugs I'm allergic to, and assured me they gave me something different.

We got the tests back, and the doctor said that it was not appendicitis (hurray!), but that it also wasn't viral, which meant it probably won't just go away on it's own (not hurray). So he told me to come back in for an ultrasound and some more blood tests in the morning, handed me a prescription for a drug, and gave me permission to leave.

Being me, I never went back in for the tests, but I did get the prescription filled, googled it, and found out that it is used to treat "acute abdominal bacterial infections." Gross. I took the meds. They started to make me feel better. After 6 days in bed, my fever finally broke and I was able to go back to work!

The bright side of this whole experience was that without any sort of medical insurance, my hospital stay, blood tests, IV, and medication all amounted to 100NIS, which is around $28. That just blew my mind. Also, I was in and out of the hospital in under 2 hours, which I think is an all time record for me!

Usually, people only have wonderful things to say about the hospitals here in the Middle East. Despite the fact that I was a little frustrated by the cultural differences, I'm so grateful that I am in a place where emergency care is available to those who need it - there are so many places in the world where it's not. And the fact that I can go to a pharmacy and get medication? Such an incredible blessing.

So this is my excuse for not posting in the last two weeks. I hope it's sufficient. With the Christmas season in Bethlehem fast approaching, I'm sure that I'll have many more exciting stories to share leading up to December 25th.

Stay safe, and stay healthy! 

Monday, November 14, 2011

Adventures in Tel Aviv

While I absolutely love living in Palestine, there are times when I think that my heart is just going to break from all of the pain and devastation here. The weekends are my prime time to mentally escape, to detox from my emotionally devastating weeks. Sometimes I do this by sleeping all day. Sometimes I watch mindless American TV shows for hours on end. Sometimes I just sit and breathe. None of these have been working too well for me lately, and this last week I felt like I was at a breaking point.

I haven't had a completely-break-down-and-sob-for-eight-hours episode yet, and while I know that it's coming eventually, I'd like to postpone it for as long as possible. Being here is devastating. It's hard. Most times I step outside my house and just feel this weight on my heart. It's difficult to live with. So often, I feel like I'm barely holding my head above this pool of emotions, and one tiny thing is all that it will take to push me under.

This past week was an especially difficult one. Working with a humanitarian organization means that I have the opportunity to meet incredible people, but it also means that I sometimes see the absolute worst side of this occupation - the ways in which it devastates families and ruins lives. Day in and day out, I deal with the human component, and it's often tragic.

Last week, I was invited to go to Tel Aviv with two other international volunteers, and I debated back and forth for a while. I mean, I really wanted to go, but it didn't seem fair that when I got overwhelmed with the situation here in Palestine, I could just leave. None of the people that I live or work with have that option.

After talking about it, a friend reminded me that I don't have the same support network here as the average Palestinian. I don't have deep family roots, and that is a huge part of how people endure life here. Plus, I am not only trying to emotionally deal with the occupation and it's effects on me (and it's much deeper effects on the people around me), but I also have the added stress of living in a completely foreign culture and trying to speak a completely new language. While it still felt like a bit of a cop out, I decided to take a mini-vacation to Tel Aviv.

Since I went on an adventure, I decided to document it for you guys, so that you could feel like you took a mini-vacation too! In the West Bank, I don't take many pictures. I live there, so walking around with my camera out like a tourist is super weird and embarrassing. Luckily though, I had no such qualms about being a mega-tourist in Tel Aviv, where no one knew me and I'd never see anyone again. Therefore, I have plenty of pictures to share!


When we left the West Bank, it was around 50 degrees, but when the bus doors opened in Tel Aviv, this incredibly glorious 75 degree air swept in! I almost died of happiness. We dropped our things off at the guesthouse where we were staying, and then we visited the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. Totally awesome. I highly recommend it.

Next, we hit the BEACH! We started out walking down the majorly huge and commercial Tel Aviv boardwalk, but eventually it turns into the old port town of Jaffa (you know, where Jonah got swallowed by the whale).

Although I was dressed for winter,
 I was ecstatic to have been magically transported to this summer-time wonderland!
Tel Aviv at Sunset
Fishing boats in Jaffa's port.
Old Town Jaffa
WHALE fountain!
Tribute to the whole Jonah thing.
Fishermen on the Wharf in Jaffa

Sunset in Jaffa

When we got to the end of the Jaffa port, we started walking around Old Town Jaffa, which is more inland. By that time it was dusk, and I took some pictures of the buildings.

The next day, we decided to go back to the beach. Palestine is land locked and water is scarce, so being at the beach feels like heaven.

Clock Tower in Old Town Jaffa 

There were so many of these tiny fishing boats dotting the water. It was basically the most beautiful thing ever.

Me and my two darling mamas for the weekend.
Souher (next to me) is Egyptian, but has lived in Canada for the last 45 years. She is at the Bethlehem Bible College teaching for a year, and has taken many of her students under her wing. She is so incredibly sweet and caring, and she also speaks Arabic fluently which means that she can connect with people much more easily than most other Western volunteers.

Mary (across the table) is from England. She and her husband run the BBC Guest House. They came to Palestine after living in India for five years. They're on their second year here, and will be leaving to return to England permanently in March. Mary is adorable and says things like "jolly good" and "oh bugger!" and "right-o" that make me giggle.

My last view of the ocean before heading back home.
After an incredible weekend in the sunshine, I felt refreshed and renewed and ready to get back to work in the West Bank. Having two days without soldiers everywhere, and without having to look at that heartbreaking Wall had left me feeling almost giddy. We caught the bus back to the checkpoint, and of course, this is the beautiful sight that greets me when I walk back into the West Bank: fires in the refugee camp.

My vacation is officially over.

Welcome Home.