A Hot Idea in the Cold Air

cropped-mi_bethlehem_coffee1.jpgA person becomes an idea as soon as they disappear into the ground; I mean down the escalator of the DC Metro, in this case. If I could get out of my own head long enough, I might be able to see myself as an idea too — getting smaller and smaller as I stroll into the darkness of a cold January night on Capitol Hill, letting go of a moment in faith there will be at least one more like it. Let go. The boiling-point of a hug is low. The gesture sublimated into the air and joined the fog pouring from me. I imagined I was one of those suspiciously conical ‘hills’ in Belize, seeping ghosts from a doorway long-overgrown with vines — temple? Gradually, I am absorbing that something happened Saturday — exactly one year after I visited the site of Christ’s baptism.

The cold wind tried to drink me with every pass, sipping the flush from my still-blushing cheeks. Something caught my attention on the sidewalk by the Library of Congress… I should have been less surprised when I saw it: a finjaan, turned lip-down on the sidewalk. The walls between my realities are Capitol Citythinning, as I grow accustomed to allowing myself to pass through them. I was not noticeably shocked. Another pedestrian waddled past without acknowledging my perplexed pause. Those tiny cups are everywhere, in Palestine and Jordan, because the rituals in which they play a part are ubiquitous. There was at least one dirty finjaan (or perhaps “finjaantyn”, 2) on my desk at Wi’am at any given time, a halo of Arabic coffee grounds nestled in the bottom. They were common in Bethlehem, usually bore the same designs in either red or green, and it was normal to see the shards of muddled conversations, perhaps even fumbled mediations, lying on the ground in the form of broken finjaneen (multiple, tiny coffee cups). Yet I had not seen one since Jericho, a year ago on the exact same date: the Orthodox Epiphany. I was a little surprised.

Of course I wanted to touch it! Immediately, I picked it up in my bare hands and flipped it, looking for the tell-tale rings and streaks. It was clean. I was baffled. In fact, I was a little bit sad to see that the finjaan was laying empty on the ground forgotten — as if it had never been used. Bonds forged over coffee can change lives. Insha’allah. I started to walk away with the cold, tiny cup clutched in my left-hand. My veins felt strangely warmed, which I wrote-off as having more to do with where I had just been than where I was going. Then again, where I had just been was exactly where I wanted to be going: to coffee. With someone. The finjaan heated quickly, and soon felt almost as if it had just been filled. Glancing down, I startled. It’s creamy bottom seemed etched with the remains of coffee. Tower

Then I was in Bethlehem again, on the patio at the Wi’am Center staring at the West Bank Separation Barrier. There was no one there with me but I realized, by the scorch marks still on the guard turret, that three of them were with me — with me in Jericho, drinking that last finjaan a year ago! The power of coffee opened a link to the last day of work I never had, the day we went down to the Jordan River instead of into the office. The wind was also blowing in the West Bank, yet slightly faster, wetter, but (mercifully) less cold: filling me with the scent of growing sage and mint. The coffee tray sat on the picnic table beside the herb garden, epitome of hospitality. The pot at its center was hot to the touch. I ran to the door of the center but it was locked. From whence came that hot java, I’ll never know.

CRACK. A stone hit the scuffed pane of the turret. When the stones hit the turret, we used to evacuate before the soldiers retaliated. My colleagues were not eager to be tear-gassed. The protests, as much as the detentions, inhered my PTSD; it was never a severe case …but mild infections sometimes go unnamed longer. In Bethlehem, I absorbed every impact without so much as a chip but the reverberations were inescapable — they haunted me upon return, made me angry and sullen last spring, demanded I undergo therapy. I learned to stop turning the strain inward, in good time.

They battered it down to the wire...

They battered it down to the wire…

That awful November it was Israel that bombed Gaza, the US which blocked Palestinian Statehood in the UN security council, and shabaab in the West Bank who made the protests blazing hot, really and figuratively — during all of that, I went to work to write grants and reports. That was my statement. Hollowed, I returned to the snows of Michigan with no more fuel to push myself out of bed each day: a wraith. Mission accomplished: I lasted. I was done. six months passed in D.C. and I decided to return to an old dream — to this dream: to write creatively! To finally do all the ‘bad writing’ that my perfectionism would not allow. In a sense, I evacuated from the new sense of purpose I was given in Bethlehem and all of what I had learned about myself before ‘Operation Pillar of Cloud’. I spent the Autumn reacclimating instead of preparing for the next battle. Now, I’m kicking myself because I wasted time: I’ll never be happy in the shadows, now. The writer I would have been will never exist and I am at peace with that because… …because I evolved. Peace & Justice work became part of me and broke me from my cycles of dysfunction. Saturday, the coffee brought me back to crisis again — in the best way.

Rhinoceros crushes annexation wall

Sometimes I wish I were just a little bit bigger…

Alone, I stepped closer to that wall. The crack of another stone erupted, faintly, from the next turret. I looked again at the tray of finjaaneen. Once, in a moment of creative clarity, I sat next to Adnan drinking coffee on the bench and imagined that all the tiny finjaan in Bethlehem floated to ‘our’ section of the separation barrier and, like a swarm of locusts, pelted the wall by the thousands. Each finjaan bit a chunk of concrete out of the wall until the section was obliterated. I had imagined raising my arms in the air like Moses, cleaving the wall with a plague of quaint coffee cups. Yet I knew, as the frostiness left my breath at last, that the ‘medicine-touch’ rarely works in such a way. I poured myself a cup of rich, cardamom laced Arabic coffee and savored it to the last drop.

A Hebraic voice ripped the air. A teenager met eyes with me from his perch in the tower. Pouring another cup, I raised it in honor of him and said “someday, my cousin, your blindness will pass. What should work, by the name of God, will work but what should not be will eventually be laid to waste: one cup at a time.” Shaking a little, I sauntered to the base of the wall with my full cup of coffee and stood there while the Israeli soldier yelled, sipping my coffee and ignoring the boy quite intentionally. He calmed, after a while, and the sound of stones faded even further into the distance. Taking the empty cup in my right hand, I dug it hard into the graffiti stained concrete. Though it was solid to the touch of my finger, with the finjaan I could scoop a piece of the wall as if it were all made of ice-cream. One chunk fell from my cup and, shocked, I exclaimed: “You really can destroy Apartheid with coffee! Praise Jesus!”

The cup went frigid again: I stared at the awkwardly nude figures in front of the Library, a stone’s throw from the US Capitol Building. I could still feel the coffee in me but it was American coffee. Just a half hour before, I had enjoyed some coffee in the capitol hill area, though not alone. “Praise Jesus,” I said with a contented sigh, “you really can destroy PTSD with coffee — but not just any coffee…”

I have more to say but this particular piece is done. There is a danger in saying too much. Sometimes, something or someone needs to disappear for a period of time to be recovered fully later. Insha’allah: God brings me closer every day. I’ve decided to keep my ideas and let people be whomever they need to be. If I am mindful of myself, perhaps I will be invited to linger… to catch the same sentiments as they condense again…

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Coarse Draft

I am stumbling back into the practice of writing. A request to write letters to the New York times just went out on one of the listservs I still follow from my work e-mail account. The prospect is daunting to me both because of the seriousness of that request and the shiploads of emotional baggage attached to the topic. I decided that the best thing I could possibly do is just write SOMETHING — just ANYTHING — that I can come back to on Monday…

Dear New York Times Staff,

I trust you are receiving many letters from well-intentioned progressives about an article referencing Palestinian ‘incitement’ in Palestinian Authority schools, as well as letters from Israel sympathizers congratulating your publication on running the piece. I spent eighteen months in the West Bank, though I confess to having only a basic grasp of Arabic and no contact with Palestinian Authority curricula. In Bethlehem, many of the schools are parochial and still others are UN run schools in refugee camps – communities forcefully evicted by violence decades ago. It is going to become obvious that my experience of Israeli racism and cruelty far exceeds the resentments I encountered among Palestinians (with whom I lived and had many opportunities to examine). Your piece reflects a major challenge in US media, which is overcoming the problem of proportion.

When the conflict occurred in Gaza in November of 2012, over 160 people of Palestinian heritage died during just those eight days as compared to 6 precious souls lost in Israel. Shortly after that episode concluded, 60 people were rumored to have disappeared into heaven-knows-what-dungeon just in the Bethlehem area where I was living (as compared to zero Israelis) and a boy was shot in Hebron. These occurrences are not unusual. I lived constantly with Palestinians who have lost their ancestral lands, have restricted movement, make their living in a captive economy, and seem to receive nothing but disrespect from a United States media that barely acknowledges they are living in an occupied country – a state recognized by the UN (even if it was only as a non-member) that same November. They still welcomed me. Conversely, my few brushes with Israeli culture have convinced me that they need to wrestle with the same demons we did in the 1960s and South Africa, likewise, in the 1980s. Their policies are in violation of international law, courts, and resolutions but, more importantly, are just as conniving and unfair as the tactics employed in this country during the 19th century to displace Native Americans.

Many of us doubt those samples actually are from the Palestinian Authority curriculum and the PA, itself, denies the accusations. I wouldn’t be shocked if those pages came from a Hamas curriculum, nor appalled because they are under such vicious siege. The PA is certainly flawed but they are also in a terrible position, too. My tendency is to believe that the pro-settlement movement in Israel is responsible for bringing such hateful material into the light in order to do inciting of their own — and they do plenty of it. Recent explorations of academic boycott by the American Studies Association and the Modern Language Association show that there are a growing number of educated people who can see the lack or proportion and understand why it is necessary to embrace nonviolent tactics to curb Israeli racism and oppression…

 

…I need some water… I’m venting…

 

This is going to be a tough process for me; I wonder if I should say anything about getting stopped and frisked by Jerusalem PD of if that is going to make me look petty.

 

Thoughts?

Pentagon City Mall: a draft

Mall anticsThe black ones were from the ‘Payless Shoes’ store near the Tenley Town Metro station, purchased just as August began. I threw my pair of white tennis shoes into the garbage, right there, and walked away in the same pair of black walking-shoes I wore into the Pentagon City Mall — now heavily scuffed and crusted with road salt. I looked at the mall map for a puzzled minute, then rode the escalator to a ‘Walking Company’ ~ some kind of shoe store I had never heard of before. I’m from the ‘stix’ of Michigan… via occupied Bethlehem. Pentagon City Mall might be more exotic to me than some of my contemporaries.

I might as well start with the shoes, if I am showing the passage of time. I am trying to write this with a minimum amount of second-guessing and I chose shoes as my metaphor — the cross-trainers from Ireland were the shoes that walked three continents. The white shoes from Plainwell represent the period of more crippling disarray between the bombardment of Gaza — while I was still in the West Bank — and the US Campaign to End the Occupation Conference that help start me on the road to greater peace-of-mind without completely losing a grip on justice. Lately, I’ve been making even more allowances for myself since I know that my most volatile outrage, however just or rooted in hard facts, cannot inhere lasting peace; the way of wi’am (and salaam, by extension) must be patient and creative — and kinder than I was a year ago, after steeling myself for the final flight from Tel Aviv. The mall can be too much like an airport, perhaps, but I felt more comfortable in my skin as I interacted with the shoe-clerk — as I noticed myself functioning normally. She was there to help: size my feet, make suggestions, bring me nice shoes. “Well, I like the brown ones — in brown, actually. Thank you so much…”

The brown shoes were all I needed: a fresh start. I could put them on and flee the strangeness of shopping malls. Yet there was something else I knew I needed from Pentagon City: therapeutic reconnaissance. I am emerging from an uncertain incubation period, of sorts, since I decided that my future lies more in libraries and classrooms than at the negotiating table — I wanted nothing less than to be a mediator like my ex-supervisor (Zoughbi Zoughbi). I wanted to feel about myself the way that I feel about him. Supportive friends are helping me see that I have gifts of my own. Of course, this journal needs to cease being an outlet for self-administered therapy. There was a story taking place: a missionary on a domestic assignment descended into a mall food-court to transcend his reverse culture-shock —and tinge of PTSD?— by immersion. He (I) unsheathed a lined-notebook and began journaling… in pen, on a table in the mall food-court. I dared myself to soak it all in without dilution, sans critiques about materialism or augmented reminiscences about open-air markets.

As the hard-drive in my skull de-fragments, day by day, the paradox becomes more clear: all of the pieces I need to succeed, except for the hours of practice soon to come, have always been with me. There is continuity. Simultaneously, there is an irreversible discontinuity: I’ll never walk through the mall like I did as a teenager. So many adept attributes have fled me forever and I’ll always be stitched together rather than fully integrated — always a little bit absent-minded, always unable to fully digest the absurdities. I have lived in fear of the day I learned I would never be normal again…

But this is good! I can sense the absurdity. Though I have struggled desperately with a confluence of disappointments, those mental fractures healed by the Grace of The Divine and became my antennae — like a broken foot that aches when storms approach. My tolerance is rising rather than the mall’s ludicrousness diminishing.

—after I had finished sketching some thoughts, I decided to take a walk around the entire building. I wish I had all night to talk about it: the whole experience was surreal. The Mall is the closest I may ever get to absinthe — it’s like my first time in a haunted house or like walking into the Garden of Gethsemane and whispering “Jesus cried & bled here”. It’s so much weirder than most of you can know simply because you are accustomed. All the wonders of the ocean are a mystery to fish.

Ciao, friends.

Epilogue: Fixing the Window Shutter

Star Street light

Star Street at night during Christmas…

One Thursday night I went to a Diyar Consortium violin & piano recital with Rajaee. Afterwards we took a walk through old Bethlehem along the Star Street. The unique uncanniness of being in Bethlehem so close to Christmas silently washed over me as my friend and I joked about how cold our noses were and tried to whistle familiar Christmas melodies. We ate ice-cream and walked home giddy.

The next night I was out with Dawid, my Swedish friend, at a hole-in-the-wall place a block from our office. We eventually ordered some pitiful excuses for entrees and continued talking about everything forbidden in polite conversation: religion, politics, culture, and language (though the last is not so taboo). I hardly remember the walk home because the whole episode ran so seamlessly together. I think it was while I was eating my “chicken pie” (which didn’t look like the photograph in the ad) that I lamented my lack of discipline at Arabic. The Swede was not quite dismissive of my worries but he encouraged me to keep studying, positing that I was still better off than the majority of Americans just by starting to learn two additional languages. “Plus,” he said, “English is very useful.” Our conversation took a more prophetic turn when I started talking about graduate school. “You know, when a person begins to travel they usually keep traveling…”

Sun over Bethlehem

The next morning, a Saturday, I awoke late. I had not studied the night before and I had an Arabic lesson at 2pm. Still, I busied myself with doing the dishes and preparing the laundry. The sun was high and bright so I decided to open some windows to allow fresh air into the apartment. Some windows have a rolling shutter, metal shutter that can be drawn into a wooden chamber on the inside, above the sliding window panes. The assemblage is quite clever, though at that point I did not fully appreciate how much. As I raised the largest shutter to open the window, I gave a brief thought to how mundane that is. I funneled some of my more exotic or bold encounters into this blog but this simple chore was basically the same as opening my thick, blue curtains in Michigan and for the same reason: to catch the Sunbeams that fall all across the world we share.

I managed, though, to get the shutter stuck in the raised position, which would be an issue later when the Sun pass over the horizon and I needed insulation. The fix was quick: I opened the wooden box and un-wedged the part that was stuck, unfurling it again. Again, I raised it but this time it became stuck half-way raised. I thought it needed some physical persuasion to I gave it a strong tug.

Mistake.

Something came loose. The shade unfurled again, blocking the sun. At that point, I thought about giving-up and waiting until later. Still, I reopened the box and looked inside. I diagnosed the problem immediately: the belt (cord, whatever) is supposed to wrap around the spool that draws the shutter upward into a roll, then down past a pulley and up again to another spool that takes the slack. All the slack had gone into the lower spool when a knot came undone on the upper. Thinking Yellow bedroom curtainsI was smart, I retied the knot and shut the box. I pulled on the cord. Nothing: there was no length of belt going around the spool so, therefore, no belt to withdraw from said spool, turning it in such a way that it would lift the shutter. I learned all of this by taking apart the box on another window so I could finally understand what I was doing. For the sake of time, here in the blog, I will not mention how long it took me to do that.

While I was fixing this shutter, I had the idea for this epilogue. Modernity has many advantages but we have lost the value of fixing things as a practice. As we became more task and product oriented, we allowed the process of repair to leave our schedules. From an instrumental perspective, that would be fine but, from an intuitive perspective, this is a disaster. Previous generations spent significant time making and repairing their own practical contraptions. If ‘necessity is the mother of invention’, maintenance is her sister.

I picked my attitude carefully. I could have chosen to berate myself for ‘wasting time’ that I could have been studying but I decided I would rather embrace the experience and draw metaphors from it. On the deepest level, my blogging life has always been about repair or maintenance. This is the medium where I learned to write with ease and also the place I could go to air my grievances and get attention, for better or worse. At the ripening age of twenty-six, I struggle with the notion of wasted time. That Saturday, I decided that repair is never wasted time if we take the time to do it well. Often, it is failing to maintain that leads to the need for radical over-hauls. I should not chastise myself so quickly for taking time to heal from misfortune. Nor anyone…

On a less profound level, I did not mind tinkering with the shutter. The solution was as simple as first rolling the shutter into the box by hand and only THEN tying the knot, so that when the heavy shutter unfurled it also rolled a length of belt around the spool. That extra belt is what raises and lowers the shutter later. I got some dirt on my hands and remembered my grandfather, who traveled the world as a business man until around the time I was born. For all of the time I knew him, he liked to fix old houses and rent them for income. He was a hands-on landlord.

I used to repair things with him.

I had time to compose an Arabic text for my lesson, a quite successful lesson. At the end, my tutor and I drank the tiny cups of strong coffee that I have come to love. There is a world of small memories, details from here and elsewhere in the world, waiting to be unlocked when I quit trying to encompass everything about life and peace in 1,101 words.

If this blog takes a strange turn toward the Avant Gard, consider that part of its life-cycle. There is never just one exile nor one reversal. Meanwhile, Sunlight streams through the open third-story window of an apartment in Bethlehem, Palestine two days before Christmas.

 

Sunset: black & white

…and now, sunset approaches.

Always Burning: 2

Prayer Vigil

Watch for the Smoke…

Always watching...

Always watching…

The evacuation began when the crack of the first stone hitting concrete sent shock-waves through our coffee cups. We were all sitting

down-stairs, together. Wa’el ran up the stairs to street-level in a flash, to check, and burst into the foyer again within seconds saying  “yulla, yulla… let’s go before the gas…”. We re-stuffed our bags and scrambled up the stairs and through the gate, showing our kefiahs to the protestors but hiding our faces from the tower guards. Wa’el, Drew, and I stopped

several times to glance over our shoulders—I felt like Lot’s wife: a pillar of

salt, transfixed. Any moment, noxious projectiles would rain down on the masked youths. Wa’el offered to give us something to drink, which in the spirit of Palestinian hospitality meant we were going to his house to hang-out indefinitely. He asked if we wanted to light the hookah, too…

* * *

I do not look for physical signs from God often. Some read extra amounts of Divine intention into happenings, especially around Jerusalem. I went to القدس الشرقي to show my solidarity with Gaza at the Dominican Church by the Garden Tomb. We lit candles and held vigil on International Children’s Day. The service was attended by Christian leaders from across the city, faces to match the names on the Kairos Palestine document. The atmosphere carried the unmistakable essence of reverence and urgency comingling, for God and humanity respectively. When the Lutheran minister prayed in English for the children in Gaza, my swelling emotions cascaded in droplets down my face tears. How had the world over-looked the source of this suffering? Hot droplets began to fall on my hand, jolting my eyes open. I tried to remain stoic but I could not resist glancing around the room at all the melting candles, to see if anyone else had flinched. Who can resist a funny moment in such difficult times? I searched nervously for another fast melting candle. Each person’s candle produced a neat trail of excess, except for one: mine. My candle was no brighter but it seemed to burn hotter, erupting with blobs of molten wax that stung my shaking hand.

* * *

We smoked. Every time I passed the hose away to Wa’el, laying sideways on an easy-chair, or Drew, looking pensively into space next to me, the heaviness slowly rose and engulfed me. The viscous sense of resignation stuck to my joints, immobilizing my body.  So, I breathed in the fire again. My rage quenched, I consecrated my lungs with every breath until the hollow spaces hummed with the sense of swimming, running, lifting, and punching but I never moved – fire never moves, it only spreads…

* * *

This summer, a new friend was staying in the second-floor apartment across the court-yard, above a capable young woman who has worked here for over two years. My friend commented that her downstairs neighbor seemed to be consistently annoyed with her. Why? I told her we are cruel to ourselves, sometimes, in our self-centeredness: it was not her fault nor about her. Our neighbor’s job in the difficult West Bank context, staying present with people, puts a heavy weight on one’s chest. Four months later, I know that I was right in ways I did not understand. I had never stayed for more than three months at a time, myself. When our new Wi’am volunteer arrived, I noticed myself becoming irritable with him, employing smoldering passive-aggressive tactics to put distance between us. I believe I am much more moody and much less capable than my experienced neighbor, too, yet when I finally became close enough with my ‘victim’ to confess he asked me:

“what makes you believe you are bad at your job?”

“I do everything I am asked; you’re right,” I replied, “Of course, the occupation remains…” Two possibilities dawned on me. One, that I finally feel part of what keeps my neighbor burning and, two, that people could see me like I see her: intense and dedicated.

* * *

The anxiety floated out of me on clouds, in jets of fragrant smoke cascading in reverse. The nicotine built upon the foundation we had poured in cups of pitch-tint Arabic coffee. This colloid of stimulants buoyed me; it retrieved my sense of reality from the tar-toned depths of my affected reservoirs. We also drank tea. Substances carry a shock as powerful as moving a thousand miles or can keep us moving at a snail’s pace for so long that we forget we are moving, can hardly sleep when their medicine is removed…

* * *

More than a week before, at Dar Eneidwa, the Swede and I saw a film about the Hungarian Revolution. It had a Hollywood-quality storyline and love-story that made me miss romance in my life, yet so many resonant snapshots of Soviet occupation. In one scene, Hungarians take the streets in Budapest and light torches when the authorities cut the electricity; I felt the upwelling of a burgeoning nation, just as I had in Manger Square a year before. I felt the surge of excitement when the students revolt and cut the hammer and sickle from the middle of their flag, just as I felt in March during Land Day when a young man scaled  the apartheid wall and planted the Palestinian on top. Yet I know I was oblivious to the shelling of Budapest, when the Soviets retaliate unexpectedly and place their iron fist of occupation back on the Hungarian people. I didn’t feel, deeply enough, what that meant. Gazans do – doubly. At the end of the film, the Olympic water polo player is separated from his lover by the conflict, he going to Australia to win Gold and she to a prison interrogation room. I drank too much at the reception and indulged in loneliness the rest of the night.

* * *

Addictions threaten to ensnare me as surely as they promise to free me, like a net that saves me from falling but tangles around my limbs. I have not had my moment of final triumph against them, neither substance nor behavior nor, worst of all, the attitudes of my heart. Following Gaza coverage late into the night, riding high on a magic carpet of outrage, I felt as if I had finally lost myself completely, by the next morning, until that burst of stimulants reanimated me on Wa’el’s back patio. A dozen pieces of quick-light coal later, my co-worker offered to reload the pipe.

“No; I really want to but ‘no’ because I will stay here all day and smoke.”
We have to leave and continue with our lives, after a while, nursing our fading buzz as the smoke clears…

A message at the tower's bottom.

Last week’s coat of paint is this week’s canvas for resistance.

Always Burning: 1

“There is always something burning,” I said. Drew wondered if the ominous nebula percolating between the buildings could be from the demonstration. When we saw a masked figure wheeling a dumpster toward the flashpoint, some neighbors had suggested an alternative route from the check-point.
“Something is always burning? Oh, you mean literally,” he said, as we sauntered down the deserted side-street, “I thought you were being poetic.”
“Yes, figuratively too. It would make a good poem title, if I ever remembered to write poetry…”
Then, a sensation like the sting of a thousand onions being shredded by power saws overwhelmed our eyes. I tried to laugh as the burn spread to my mouth and up my nose but, even at that distance, the fall-out from the tear-gas was miserable. We thumbed a ride to the next corner.
“They brew their gas stronger than anyone else would yet it won’t hurt enough to make people forget: over a hundred Palestinians murdered in less than a week.”
I harkened to the sound of stones striking against the concrete Wall and guard-tower in the distance.

* * *

I had lost the will. A month ago, in the wake of my last newsletter, I shied from reflecting at all. In distant Yanoun, near Nablus, I finally found just enough silence to feel the vacuum which had opened inside of me. Without any sense of what had drained from my soul, nor how, nor why, I

dreamteam - EAPPI

Members of EAPPI stationed in Yanoun, Bethlehem, and Yatta look out over the Jordan Valley.

was unnerved to my core and yet uncannily touched by the simple beauty of owls calling to each other from centuries-old olive trees. I felt I could be whole again but there were no guarantees.

Then Gaza was attacked. Yanoun evaporated and I ignited. Twitter became my life-line for everything important, everything that mattered to my heart, as I selected a generous roster of journalists to follow, foraging for articles to read and repost at regular intervals into the night. Solidarity makes me a wraith: why should I have the right to rest? It is difficult to tell myself “I need quiet” when the voices shouting from my depths say “the world must know!” With all of my fuel lines plugged in (tea, music, media) I hovered for hours, then burrowed into my bed as if it were the chrysalis that turns edgy missionaries into peace-gurus. I awake as myself, every day.

Meanwhile, my better sense is objecting to the cycle of push and crash. The signs were there long before the trip to Yanoun, the retreat in Jericho, or the day picking olives in Beit Jala. The first signs may have been my trembling hands, eating a sandwich with lady IOF soldiers who thought I was going to Haifa. Arguably, the writing was on the wall one winter day in Grand Rapids Michigan when I started lecturing my soapy dishes about divestment. I needed this Calling but I will be forced to examine my deficits again when the steam that fills my core cools, condenses, and runs away.

* * *

“Flatten their neighborhoods,” they said,

“as the United States did

twice in Japan, with no pause for mercy.”

They quoted from the book of Exodus

to Gazans without exits.

Whether ‘Pillar of Cloud’

or ‘Pillar of Fire’, Israel invoked

that column of permanent taint

and destruction that spread

over Nagasaki in Hiroshima’s wake.

That pillar of cloud seared

the fabric of our human heritage,

as it toppled institutions, buildings,

ravaging flesh and the very genes within but

especially our vision, our solutions— our

minds. Enthralled with quickening violence,

these politicians tapped the poisonous tree

to scare citizens more than rebels

but they called it a “Pillar of Defense”,

and made the Torah a shield of lead,

when their empire rained

fire upon the trapped people of Gaza.

* * *

They battered it down to the wire…

The technique must be key, though I make sure never to be around. One morning, a huge bite was missing from the charred base of the guard-tower by the big gate in the annexation wall. The heaps of smoking trash and tires had already been swept away by municipal workers in small earth-movers but the asphalt remained stained black and the air still smelled of gas and gas: kerosene from below and mace from above. All of the US tax money, poured-out solid and gray, becomes brittle when exposed to fire. The youth will first come in waves, running forward with kefiahs over their faces to cast a barrage of stones. Each stone whispers something just before it hits the fiberglass shield: “we are David and you are Goliath. We are the rightful inhabitants and you are the monstrous, foreign invader.” The soldiers have nothing but their orders: their society handed them cocktail after cocktail of pride and cowardice throughout childhood. When the stones fly they follow procedure, shooting rocket-propelled tear-gas. The stinking nebula is designed to push back and quell the indigenous voices but instead it provides cover as more masked protestors come forward with accelerants and pre-lit dumpsters. After a while, they dissipate to let the purifying flames take their toll. Then, another wave comes with old pipes and batters the foot of the tower down to the rebar. They cannot quite punch a hole, yet.

Israeli government applies cosmetic fixes to systemic problems.

Call Ahava: we need some illegal cosmetics for this illegal wall!

Within 24 hours of the ceasefire agreement, Israel laid the cosmetic foundations. They installed new barricades that slowed traffic and painted the burn marks with a bluish gray the color of sleeping Western skies in the early morning: backs turned to the sunrise. Yet the latticework of rebar remained exposed in the tower’s deepening scar, almost invisible for being that same, dull blue.

* * *

To be continued…