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Stories from the Holy Land

I’ve lived in the Holy Land for the last seven months. This is my last week in Bethlehem before I head to India for a month, so I’ve been taking care of business. My apartment is nearly packed up: a pile of donations, a pile to leave with friends and a pile to take with me.

Just a few days ago, I went to the Jordanian Consular office in Ramallah to get a visa for my upcoming trip. After traveling two hours to get there, it was closed.
I made a new friend, a guy who also needed a visa and was equally disappointed to find the office locked.

The policeman guarding the embassy immediately sauntered over to chat with us, gun slung over his torso like a shield.

Click here to read the rest of “Stories from the Holy Land” by Cat Rabenstine for Mondoweiss.

Soldiers in Sarra


On one winter night, Israeli soldiers came to our village with dogs.  They began searching for something but we didn’t know what.

They reached our house at 2:30 in the morning.  They jumped over the gate, then they knocked on the door loudly.  We were not sleeping because we had heard bombs in the village.

My father opened the door and the soldiers told us to sit in one of the rooms downstairs.  Some of the soldiers watched us and others searched the house.  They asked about my brother’s room and checked it carefully.  My little brother, only seven years old, was shivering from the cold.  The soldiers didn’t find anything.

The next day, we were told that they arrested 18 boys.

A few days later, the boys were released.  We were told that all of this was only a training activity for the soldiers.

Innocents’ Rights


In May 2003, the Israeli occupation forces imposed a curfew on my village.  The curfew continued for several days, they didn’t allow us to go anywhere.  There was a food shortage, people needed essential things like bread, vegetables and milk for the children.

While this was happening, the schools where my sons and daughter attended were still open in a village nearby.  I decided to take them to school, a huge risk because of the curfew.

The Israeli tanks stopped opposite to our house because it was closest to the area that wasn’t under curfew and siege.  When the tanks went away, I took my sons and daughter to school.

They had a typical school day, as they had experienced before the siege.  At the end of the day we bought some food, and began walking home.

When we approached our neighborhood, it was imperative for us to go through wheat fields instead of going through the street that leads to our house. We walked into the field, but the Israeli soldiers saw us from their tanks.

They turned their machine guns toward us.  We felt so scared and frightened, we didn’t know what to do.

I didn’t have time to think.  I asked my children to lie on the ground under the wheat spikes.  We began to crawl while the bullets were going over our heads.  We were calling out to God to bless our lives.  Despite the scorching sun, we continued crawling until we reached the edge of a lemon and orange orchard.

We remained there for about two hours.  We were very tired and hungry and had only oranges to eat.  We finally heard the tanks leaving our neighborhood to return to the nearby Israeli settlement.  We quickly began to run out of the field.

We ran to our village and when we reached the main street, I found my husband and the Red Cross waiting there.  They all thought that they wouldn’t find us alive because witnesses told them that a woman with three children were stuck in the gun fire.

For us as Palestinians, this danger is a daily routine.  All of us hold our lives in our hands, not knowing what destiny awaits.

A 10-minute inspection added four months to education


In one semester during my study at the university in the West Bank, I had three consecutive exams.  On the first exam day as I was going to the university, I faced a very hard army checkpoint.

It was very crowded and the people were waiting in very long line.  People had to pass one-by-one, and I knew it would take me a long time to pass. That meant I’d may be late to the exam.

So, I tried to avoid the checkpoint by walking through the mountains.  I was caught by Israeli soldiers and I explained to them that I have a final exam but they did not care. They didn’t let me return home and they forced me back to the crowd, so again I had to wait for my turn to pass.

I reached the university too late and missed the exam.  The same thing happened on the way back home. I waited to pass for a long time and I reached home late. I didn’t have enough time to study for the exam the next day.

As a result of all this, I had to register the two courses again and delay my graduation for 4 months just because of a ten minute inspection.

I was disappointed and got angry, although I knew that others had suffered much more than me. Some have lost their lives because of checkpoints that prevented them from arriving at hospitals in time. Many women have been forced to give birth at the checkpoints.   They are the most difficult tragedy for us.

Photography exhibit of Nablus by kids

“I like it because it tells people outside of Palestine that we are good people,” said 14 year old Mujahid who took part in making the movie. “It helps to show that we are not terrorists.”

Read the entire article here at Haaretz.

An architectural tour of the Old City in Nablus


Amjad is a mechanical engineering student at An Najah University.  This is the first solo video project for Amjad, who is hoping to combine his engineering work with his interests in the media and the environment.  He plans to continue his education after a few years of work.

2 sq km + 28,000 people = Balata Refugee Camp

My friend Ayyash took me on a tour of Balata Camp, the refugee camp where he lives only minutes from downtown Nablus.

Here, in 2 square kilometers, live 28,000 people, said Ayyash.

He said that the unemployment rate is 70%.  Those who are employed, often work in shops inside the camp.  Most of the refugees are educated, finishing high school and college, but very few move out because of the cost of relocating.

Only when public officials visit to see the conditions of the camp are the streets cleaned.  We walked through tiny alleys that left no room for people to pass eachother.

Settlements surrounding Balata Camp.

All the homes are connected and there’s no room to build out, only up.

Kids playing soccer.

More info about Balata Camp:
Behind the Walls of Balata Camp

Kids play violent video games in Nablus, West Bank


Haya is studying journalism at An Najah University in Nablus, West Bank. In January 2011, she will begin her M.A. in Filmmaking at Goldsmiths, University of London.

Here is her latest video from Nablus.

Nablus: 3 months in 3 minutes

Warm, gooey kunafeh, an expansive new university campus and a vibrant Old City.

Freedom rally in Nablus, 9/29/10

When I hear the cadence of a drum squad, my heart skips a beat remembering my days in marching band at Dallastown High School. I loved marching through the parking lot to the football field to the beat of the school’s cadence.

Today, while walking through downtown Nablus, I heard the enticing sound of drums coming from the main square. I quickly changed my afternoon plans and hastened to the square, where I found myself in the midst of a Freedom Rally. Everyone was holding signs protesting Palestinian imprisonment in Israeli jails.

Children from many different schools were marching around the square in their uniforms. Mothers held framed photographs of their imprisoned sons. Music played and a stage hosted a few speakers. Downtown Nablus was packed like figs in a basket and the place was thumping with energy.

As I weaseled my way through the crowd to capture videos, I noticed something different about the subjects of my photos. Usually people give me strange looks when I ask to make a video of them. Sometimes they ask, “why?” Today, the women holding Palestinian flags and photographs of their sons looked me in the eye and nodded, as if to say what many in Nablus have said before, “Take this photo and show it to everyone you know.”

Please watch the video clips from the rally in Nablus today.