Tag Archives: Friendship

Music and Friendship at Salem: Sunita, Yasmin and the Harp

Dear Friends and supporters,

Below is a story told by Sunita Staneslow on the new friendship and the start of musical cooperation between her, an Israeli harpist, and Yasmin (Ikhlas) Jebara, a young Palestinian poet and graduate student living under Occupation in the village of Salem near Nablus. In the shorter run, the connection between Sunita and Yasmin began at the Music Center in Salem, a center we have helped develop ever since the idea hatched in the mind of its founder (and current director) Jubeir Ishtayya a couple of years ago .

In the longer run, the story of Sunita and Yasmin is deeply connected with the story of our relationships with Yasmin and her family since the murder of her father almost eight years ago. This story and its dramatic twists of pain and hope, suffering and joy, despair and perseverance, and above all — friendship — is told below, after Sunita’s account, by Erella, as translated by our fellow activist Tal Haran.

Ehud Krinis, Villages Group

———————————-

The Story of Yasmin’s Harp,

Sunita Staneslow, 28th April 2012

I first met Yasmin last autumn when I visited the Salem Music Program with my harp to explore the possibility of a workshop with a visiting jazz harpist. Our guest harpist at the First Israeli Harp Festival, Park Stickney, wanted to work with Palestinian musicians during his trip. A seminar was organized for the Music Center several weeks later. It was then that Yasmin told me that she would like to learn to play the harp. She fell in love with the sound. “It sounds like water—like the sound of the sea!”

Harps can be expensive; there are no harps in Palestine (that I know of) and no teachers nearby. But, the seed was planted for Yasmin’s wish.

Park Stickney is one of the worlds’ most innovative harpists and he divides his time between New York City and Switzerland. Park is also brilliant at improvising and his workshop at the Salem Music Center started with a jam session between Park and the instructors. Park later told me that it was the best way for musicians to introduce themselves and find a common ‘language’. Yasmin was the primary translator for the class, and Park taught the kids to play a jazz tune. It was amazing to see the kids learn a classic American jazz tune using their voices, oud, violins, drums, and keyboards.

Park Stickney played on my large classical harp and we gave Yasmin a chance to sit behind the harp and glide her fingers up and down the strings. Yasmin reminded me that she would love to learn to play the harp. I told her that I would help her get a harp and teach her, not knowing how we would ever find the money to buy her a harp.

My husband, Fred Schlomka was certain that if we tapped into our mailing lists and sent out a request for contributions, we really could buy a harp for Yasmin. I am a professional harpist and tour in North America several times a year, and am part of the international harp community. Fred, through his company, Green Olive Tours, has contacts around the world of people interested in helping to bring peace and justice to the Middle East. We sent out a request with a beautiful photo of Yasmin at the harp. At first, money came in from harpists, friends and family in amounts of$15-100. The Colorado Harp Society pooled money and sent a check for $300. But, it was a couple from England who were so taken with Yasmin’s photo that they sent 11,000 shekels to buy the harp immediately. In total, over 40 people contributed towards Yasmin’s dream to learn the harp and welcomed Yasmin into the international harp family.

On Saturday, the 28th of April, I drove from Kfar Saba to meet with Ehud and other members of the Villages Group, and present Yasmin with her harp. The harp is made of wood, has 34 strings and is similar to the style of a Celtic folk harp. Several hundred years ago, there was a tradition in Ireland of blind harp players that travelled across Ireland on horseback to perform to the wealthy landlords. The most celebrated of these blind harp players was Turlough O’Carolan. Many of his beautiful melodies have become standards in the harp repertoire.

In the harp tradition, we have this connection between making beautiful music and being blind, although the modern harp is designed for those who can see the patterns made by the different colored strings. It isn’t like piano, where you feel the pattern of the notes between the different size and shape of the keys. So, for Yasmin, I glued beautiful stickers in the shape of jewels to mark the different colored strings.

There is another complication with the harp. Each string can be more than one tone, and there are levers that shorten the strings by half a step in order to change keys. Small bands were placed on the levers so Yasmin could feel the difference between them.

Our first lesson was spent learning how to make sense of how the harp is organized. Yasmin learned how to tune the harp, how to move the semi-tone levers and learn all the names of the strings. I was impressed with how quickly she understood. Her first assignment is to explore the harp and compose a short piece. She wants to play music that sounds like the sea in the key of C!

It takes me about an hour to drive from my home near Tel Aviv to Yasmin’s house in Salem. I cross through a checkpoint from Israel to the Palestinian Territories and drive alone on a road that most Israelis would never dream of driving on without an armored car. But, it would be impossible for Yasmin to get a permit from the Israeli army to take lessons in my home, so that is not an option. This is an exciting opportunity for me to ‘cross the veil’ into Palestine and develop a friendship with an amazing young woman.

I plan to teach Yasmin every other week. Together, we will work on melodies develop our own arrangements. I will teach Yasmin any melody she loves from my international repertoire, and she will teach me melodies from her tradition. This will be a musical journey that we will explore together and learn from each other. The harp is not a Middle Eastern instrument and the word for a harp in Arabic is either an adaptation of the English harp (harb) or Hebrew Nevel (nebel). Yasmin may be the first Palestinian to have a harp, and certainly the first one who is blind.

We spoke of dreams for the future when Yasmin can teach other Palestinian students to play the harp, perhaps even in the Barenboim Center in Ramallah. Someone asked her if she ever imagined that she would really get a harp. Yasmin gave us a big smile and said, “I am a very optimistic person.”

Yasmin is interested in connecting with blind harp players around the world. She may travel to the USA in September and I will try and arrange meetings for her with other harp players. Her musical journey has begun!

Sunita Staneslow

http://www.sunitaharp.com
Tel: +972-(0)54-212-5159
Fax: +972-(0)9-777-0020
USA fax: 800-809-7913

Yasmin

Erella Dunayevsky (translated by Tal Haran)

I have been sitting for hours staring at the empty computer screen.

Walking the paths of this story is like pursuing a single trail that splits into many, each splitting again, like blood vessels. I know I mustn’t venture into this maze because my reader might get lost inside, and I also know that if I don’t, the blood of this story will not reach the heart of its readers.

Mid-morning. August. Hot.

Uri and I walk along a bumpy road. Holes yawn at us in spots where the asphalt is worn out and are filled with gravel and dirt and glass shards of bottles that someone may have hurled in anger.
This, more or less, is how most roads look in Salem village, 2004.

We’ve been walking the roads of this village for two years now, visiting homes and getting to know a growing number of the villagers. Every week the number of our friends grows in direct proportion to the number of victims of the Occupation’s violent hand. Every week sees more villagers who have heard of us, and get used to our presence simply because we show up, again and again – every week, almost.

Mid-morning. Saturday. October 2nd, 2004. Hot.

Uri and I climb a bumpy road. We are on our way to pay a condolence visit to the Jbara family. Abed, native of this village, our old friend, accompanies us.
Sael Jbara was murdered five days ago. He was murdered while crossing a smooth road, free of potholes. It, too, is bumpy, though. A road that discriminates. An apartheid road, as local jargon would have it.
Sael drove a cab that hardly sustained his family at times of closures and barriers. (Salem drivers could deliver their passengers only up to the many checkpoints closing in on the village and preventing their passage even to Nablus and the neighboring villages, let alone other regions in the West Bank).
Five days earlier, Sael drove passengers to Beit Furiq checkpoint, hoping that perhaps this time they would be allowed through to Beit Hassan, a village sprawled south of Salem beyond the apartheid road. The soldiers at the checkpoint would not let him through. Sael was determined to bring his passengers home and put some bread on his own family table. Like all the indigenous inhabitants of this area who know the lay of the land as closely as they know their mother, Sael found a dirt track bypassing the checkpoint. Three meters of an asphalt road separated Sael and his passengers from the rest of this ancient dirt track leading to Dajjan Valley and Beit Hassan. The road has not only been paved upon the village farm lands, it is also a road that only ‘the lords of the land’ are allowed to use. Experience has taught Sael that if the soldiers catch him, they would force him back to the village (with or without getting beaten, depending on the soldier), or detain him for interrogation.
Sael took the risk and didn’t know that a settler from Itamar would take his life.
While crossing the road, Sael was shot in his heart, point blank.

The world of his wife and six children blacked out. The world of his two blind children was doubly darkened, for their daddy had promised to do everything to brighten their eyes and souls.

Saturday. Mid-morning. Hot.

Uri and I drag ourselves with Abed along the village’s bumpy road, the one with the torn asphalt, going to pay a condolence visit to the Jbara family.
Luckily my identity does not include nationality, religion, state and other characteristics normally expressing one’s identity. (One had better not confuse identity with its manifestations). I am thus exempt of guilt feelings and shame for one of my own nation having perpetrated this murder. My heart is free to meet the full power of pain over the loss of life, free to look directly at the poisonous fruit of blind souls who seek their remedy in ideologies of hatred and pettiness, free to feel the paralyzing pain of helplessness.
As I make room for this difficult encounter and pray that they themselves will not regard me as one who has come to apologize for her fellow nationals, we arrive at the bereaved home.
Vines shade the mourning area in the yard. A few people are now seated inside. None of them is familiar to us.
We are invited to sit down. We gingerly accept the invitation.
I sit in a chair next to Yasmin, Uri sits next to Mohammad.
The eyes of the seeing see the eyes of the blind.
Yasmin sits upright, her head slightly bowed. Her face is soft and lovely. And I, next to her, take a long look at her. I see that her blind eyes see a lot.
Some years later, I will be writing to her: “… Dear Yasmin, I know that your vision is deep and focused. Much more precise than many people whose eyes see but are in fact totally blind. The ability to see starts with the heart…”
But now we are in the mourning tent.

Mohammad, his body larger than his twelve-years of age would indicate, sits withdrawn. Uri speaks with him in Arabic.

“My name is Erella” I say to Yasmin, in Arabic as well.
“My name is Yasmin” she answers me in English.
“I am with you in your pain” I continue in English.
“I will not be able to go on living”, she answers. “Father was everything to me”. Silence.
“Hope, too”, she adds.
I place my hand on hers and say that this is how one feels at first. That it’s natural. It’s permitted. When my father died I was nine-years old and I thought life was over forever. Somehow I even wanted it to be so.
“When was that?” she asks, wishing to know me by touching my face.
“A long time ago”, I answer, directing her hand.
“How old are you?” she asks, sailing along my face somewhat hesitantly.
“Fifty-seven”.
“Your voice is young and your skin smooth, I thought you are twenty.”
“And you?” I asked.
“I’m seventeen. I have another year until I graduate high school. But now I don’t know what will happen.”
I hugged her. I whispered to her that after mourning, one can choose to live again. That life wants us to live it.

Nearly six years later, when we leaf back through the pages of this first meeting, Yasmin will remind me that I told her also that in order to live she should be independent and free, and that a higher education will be of great help to her. She will remind me that a week later we came to visit once more and I brought her a jasmine plant. I told her to plant it in her garden, so it would remind her of life.
She suggests I open my story as follows:
“Ten days after the mourning, a child of love was born named Yasmin. She was born of the Jasmine planted in her garden and blooming to this day”.

Since that condolence visit, the Jbara family entered our circle of friends.
Yasmin graduated high school and matriculated.
That year we helped her and Mohammad fulfill their father’s dream – bring them into Israel for a medical examination by a senior eye expert.
It was easy to set up the medical examination but hard to obtain their permits to enter Israel, for after their father was murdered, the children and their mother were black-listed, entry-prevented. This is the status assigned a Palestinian injured by a soldier or settler, and all of his family relations down to the tenth generation of descendants – even if the injury is lethal.
Anticipation was great, hearts trembled. On a rainy winter day Yasmin and Mohammad, escorted by Muna, their mother, made their way to Tel Hashomer Hospital. Uri and Edna drove them, supporting, escorting them.
The doctor examined them. Slowly, thoroughly. Finally, he gave his verdict, delicately, painfully: “They will never see”.
Heavy-hearted Mohammad and Yasmin were cheered a bit when Uri and Edna took them to the beach. It was their first time ever to see the sea. Or rather hear its roar, taste it, feel its water.
Salty sea drops blown by a strong winter wind dripped over the wounds of their heart and gave them a moment of respite.
They would return to this sea. At a more southerly beach, in the summer, in days that were not yet born.

In the meantime, another summer.
It’s hot.

Again we drag ourselves along the bumpy road to the Jbara home. This time we tell them the State has brought the murderer to trial. An exceptional event in the life of the nation. For a moment it seems justice might be done. David, present at the court sessions, learns all the details and updates the family.
Muna is taken up with her mourning and raising her children. She is grateful to David for what he is doing.
It is important for the family that the murderer be punished for what he had done. Not that any of them – neither old nor young – numb their pain with thoughts of vengeance. And still, the thought of such murderers behind bars could instill a measure of physical and emotional security. After all, the family knows that their occupier is a progressive democratic state run by law as other nations in this world, even enlightened occupiers.
In this summer of 2005 the verdict has been issued at the murderer’s trial: manslaughter. But the judge sent the defendant home until the sentence is issued. The State prosecutor poses no objection. The defendant does what he had been enabled to do – he runs away. No state institution – not a living soul – really takes the trouble to look for him. The seal is set.

Sael was murdered yet again. Once by Yehoshua Elitzur, a German convert to Judaism from Itamar settlement, and again by the justice system of the State of Israel.

The family mourns again. We stay with their pain, contain it, and together with them lick again the seething wounds of helplessness.
At this time, Yasmin is getting ready for her first year at university.
She spent her first ten years of school at a special school for the blind in Ramallah. Her last two years of high school have been successfully accomplished at the normal high school in her village.
But university is an altogether different matter.

In spite of her full fluency in Braille, in spite of her talent and the stable part of her personality that enables her to recover time and again, Yasmin is anxious before starting off her academic studies. A small tape recorder which we give her for the lectures she will be attending helps a bit to assuage her fears. But this does not begin to meet the needs for independent movement. This has not been taught at the special school for the blind.
For two long years Yasmin grapples with her need to be escorted on her daily journey from Salem to Nablus and back, and in the large university campus itself. She learns to transform the shackles of constant debt to her helpers into the liberating state of gratitude.
When Yasmin learns, at the beginning of her first semester, that most of the professors mail their lectures to the students electronically, we engage in finding a special computer for her with a particular program for the visually impaired.
As always, this time, too, we have gambled. The challenge is met by a Jewish Israeli citizen who donates money to buy the computer.

Saturday, early summer 2006. It’s hot.

After walking up the bumpy road, full of potholes, we gather at the Jbara home – Noa and her partner Ehud, who look to the professional aspect of the computer; Qassem, computer-store owner from Nablus, where the computer was purchased. He has never before been in Salem, four minutes ride from his shop; Fadi, the blind installment technician (Palestinian citizen of Israel from Sha’ab village in the Galilee); Yasmin and her family and ourselves, of course.
We all crowd into the small living room to celebrate another phase in Yasmin’s coping with her boundaries.
Silence fills the room. Some of the people deliver a few modest and celebratory words on this occasion. So does Yasmin. Then silence wraps us again.

A Palestinian from Nablus, Jews from Israel, a Palestinian from Israel (arriving on the bumpy road, without the potholes, receiving a special permit to enter through the military checkpoint), visit a Palestinian home in Salem. They all sit in one room from which the curtain has momentarily been lifted. For a borrowed moment they witness the order of Creation as nakedly self-evident as when it was eternally born – serving each other with the measure of love needed to heal pain. Love manifesting itself in various modes of one identity – a human at the shrine of the deity.
Muna serves heaps of stuffed vine leaves. We eat, laugh, weep, chat, take leave. Each of us goes home, having to cross the army checkpoint again on our way out (no other possibility when the order of things loses its obviousness).

Mohammad, who, until now, has attended a special school for the blind in Jenin, is transferred to a similar school in Bethlehem. Yasmin is finishing her sophomore year at Al Najah, and is moving to Nablus to live at a special hostel for blind students, going home on weekends. Muna cannot resist the pressures of her family and neighbors and the computer, waiting for Yasmin at home, becomes everyone’s business and is in a state of disrepair. Our attempts to convince Muna to move the computer to the hostel are resisted, We don’t understand the reason for this. Nor do we understand why Yasmin, who usually knows how to hold her ground, does not veto this. But we do realize there are things beyond our comprehension.
Perhaps these are social, family or neighborhood codes unfamiliar to us. Whenever I touch the thin line separating that which is in my hands from that which isn’t, I am deeply saddened. It’s an existential sadness that opens its arms to me, and I surrender to it until the pain eases.
It happens this time, too…

Muna is a woman of valour. A brave navigator in stormy seas. Sometimes in a tsunami. Only occasionally, here and there, are the skies are partly cloudy or clear.
As the family now has no breadwinner, Muna makes good use of her wisdom and the special knowledge that the impoverished use in order not to drown. With the meager funds that the Palestinian Authority allots bereaved families, and the meager help of her extended family, she somehow navigates the ship. Her nights unravel her worry. How will she ensure the future of her children – Suhad, the eldest, not yet done with her technology studies at Nablus’ Hajawi College; Yasmin still faces another three years, almost, until she completes her B.A. in English; Sharif, already seventeen, does not want to continue his schooling and has been looking for work – so far in vain; Mohammad has yet another three years until matriculation. Then he plans to go to the university in order to acquire a profession he can qualify for with his blindness; Beautiful Assala, just twelve, already knows she will be a lawyer when she grows up; Yahya, the youngest, is still a long way from maturity and independence.

In July 2007 the family wins its civil suit, pressed against the State by an attorney. The State of Israel pays them damages which can never be enough to hide the naked obscenity, but still provide Muna some relief.

The family breathes more freely now. It shows in Suhad’s shy smile, completing her studies; in the walls of the home, freshly painted by Sharif; in Mohammad’s daring to return home and begin, for the first time ever, a year of normal high school; in Asala, an outstanding student, and in Yahya who now enters adolescence.
In the meantime, without any emotional privileges, Yasmin ripens into young womanhood. Along with her ripen her poems.
A love crisis slashes her spirit in late summer 2009. Yasmin recites for us a poem born of this crisis. (As always, since childhood, writing, her openness and her ability to share help her rise all the stronger from the pitfalls on her way).

“In our silent, narrow street
I followed his footsteps…

In a dark and cloudy mood
Moon, sun, stars
Look so bright,
Confidence… courage… Oh fear
Not even a teardrop in heaven’s eyes
Only a spark of hope so close
That even escape will not defeat”…

——————————————–

January 2010. Cold. Rainy.

Danny, Ehud and I navigate the bumpy, potholed road, now muddy too, trying not to trip. We walk to Yasmin’s house, to give her a private party of our own, celebrating her graduation as a Bachelor of Arts in English.

In honor of the occasion, Yasmin writes:

“Have you ever felt
What it is like to be a person
Soon graduating,
Standing at the university gates,
Facing the threshold of one’s life?
People coming to congratulate me
Light within me a spark of hope.
Like a king who has won a kingdom
I am a woman loved by her fate…”

A few weeks later Yasmin calls us, profoundly depressed. No school. No Nablus. No hostel. No friends. Yasmin is home again. This secure nest no longer fits her size. Yasmin wants to break out, spread her wings and take off – away from the arms of her mother and little village. She wants independence, she wants to own herself. But she has no mobility skills and no job. Muna is resourceful and tries to use this time to enable Yasmin more independence in performing household chores – cooking, laundry, cleaning… Yasmin cooperates but, at the same time, sinks into a deep black pit.

Ehud suggests we mobilize our friends abroad, especially in England, to call her on the phone and keep her busy conversing and exercising her English, and especially to give her a sense of contact with the ‘world out there’.
Dear Nancy from faraway Edinburgh takes charge. With so much attention and empathy she keeps calling. At first because we asked her to. Then, because Yasmin’s personality fascinates her, invites her to love. What a gift Yasmin is. If only she could trust her strength, rely on the beauty of her garden.
“Jasmine blooms in winter”, I remind her in our frequent support calls and visits.
Nancy has managed to arouse the interest of her friends in Yasmin’s story. They have transformed their obvious empathy into donations for purchasing a new computer for Yasmin (laptop, this time), including a modern program for the blind. The computer that was out of order will now be repaired, and will serve Mohammad in his next year of studies, his matriculation time. (Our many attempts to revive the computer with Tel Avivian knowhow were futile. Recently the solution was found in Nablus. Masters of improvisation).

On a Thursday in February, 2010, as on every normal Thursday (if there is such a thing) we are in the South Hebron Hills. While our friends from Umm Al Kheir show us the ruined fence in their farmland (the tracks of its destroyer lead to Carmel, the nearby Jewish settlement), my cell phone rings. It is Nancy from Edinburgh calling. She joyously tells me Yasmin has been summoned for a work interview in Ramallah, by an NGO called “Stars of Hope”. My spirit cannot share her joy. One part of it is still caught in the broken fragment of that ruined fence, and the other part is twice-shocked – first, realizing that news of Yasmin reaches me via Edinburgh, and second – wondering how anyone in “Eastern Palestine” even knows of some Yasmin in Salem village looking for work. This is the “gamble” that has reached some haven and has been picked up.

The story of Yasmin, which we have made public by email several months earlier in an attempt to help her in her despair, has reached the Ramallah NGO through one of its workers whom Ehud met at one of the Jewish-Palestinian conferences we attend occasionally. At her request, Ehud added her address to the list of our contacts.

Between winter and spring, in March 2010, Yasmin begins her training in the Palestinian society for the advancement of disabled Palestinian women – “Stars of Hope”.

She goes to live in Ramallah, is nearly independent and is earning her own livelihood for the first time in her life. Yasmin’s joy soars and is blessedly gathered into the lap of a soft, embracing heaven. Then her rage crashes against a tight, parched ground in a painful emergency landing. She is fired after one month.

Her insult is as deep as the bleeding pain of her ripening understanding of the existence of elements that interfere with her fate, which she has no way of directing or affecting.
She is home again, restoring the debris of her life. The school for the blind in Ramallah has notified her that she will not be appointed teacher in the coming school year. Yasmin realizes she must expand her employment opportunities, and decides to proceed with her graduate studies in English, specializing in translation.
This will happen only in October, and in the meantime – a long and exhausting summer lies ahead.

Summer 2010. Hot. Humid.

I climb up the bumpy potholed road to the Jbara home.
Between tea and stuffed vine leaves (that Muna prepares, knowing I like them), Yasmin sows an idea as old as our acquaintance: “I would so much love to visit you at your home”, she says.

Typing her family data on my keyboard, a slight shadow creeps into my mind. I try to ignore it but it grows insistent until there is no escaping it. I feel it hammering in my head: “They will not be issued permits”, “they will not be struck off the black list”, “there’s no chance”, “Occupation never changes”. Then I hear my heart: “No doubt they’ve been taken off the black list”, “even brutality has its limits”, “it’s been six years”, “after all, perhaps the regime is building trust by making mobility lighter”. And again the hammers strike, again the heart speaks. Hammers… heart… The mail to Buma (our ‘permit’ friend) is on its way. Two weeks go by. Buma calls. The answer has arrived. No permits. All this family’s children are ‘prevented’ (denied entry into Israel-proper) by the Shabak secret police, formally known as the General Security Services.

No hammers, no heart-voice. Only the blunt ache of helplessness spreads throughout my body and what remains of my sane mind. Nothing has changed. Nothing changes. Six years are like the forty-three years of Occupation. My heart goes crazy, my mind leaps out of itself. I cry.
In my mind’s eye I already see myself arriving at Salem this weekend, on the bad road without the potholes, how I’ll climb on foot to their home on the bad road with the potholes, and tell them, face to face, that they have no permit to be free.
Buma suggests suspending the answer. He has filed an appeal, requesting permits once again for the family in spite of their being blacklisted. “You know how it is”, he says. “This whole business is arbitrary. Perhaps the second request will be treated with a different arbitrariness”. And indeed a different arbitrariness is applied.

“Thank you for the right to freedom that loses its freedom by being granted, let alone granted by the mean insolence of arbitrariness that leaves not the slightest doubt who is just and who evil…” my soul wants to cry out. I transform the outcry into a wish: “I wish for you, the blind, that one day,” I say in my heart, “your eyes will open to see”… my soul, tamed to transform, relents, tired but grateful for this wish that has transformed a raging fire into the light that enables me to tell what is in my hands from what isn’t. Freedom itself is embodied in this aching acknowledgement. Freedom that can neither be granted nor robbed, for freedom of the heart can never be dependent on anything. When I do the deeds that bring me in the way of blunted hearts and other damages of blindness,
I do them of my own free will. I use my fullest freedom when I choose to come in touch with the realms of suffering of the other one, and to be a true healer. After all, I could choose not to be present on such occasions.

Summer. August. Hot. Humid.

The Jbara family walks the narrow paths of Kibbutz Shoval. Danny, Ehud and I lead them to our home.
In a little while we’ll drive to the beach. Zikim beach. They will be sitting in the waves that lick the shore, abandon their bodies to the water’s warm caress, taste salt, laugh with their whole being as they’ve never done before, at the thrill of a first encounter.

Only Yasmin and Mohammad will remember that their first was five years ago, in winter after a medical examination. The rest will have no memory. The first time on the beach that is no further from their home than it is from mine. We will look at them lovingly. Our souls will laugh and cry, and so will theirs, when the sun will set into a hazy horizon, patient and soft, reminding us of the order of Creation, self-evident.

Erella Dunayevsky, Villages Group, May 2012. translated by Tal Haran.

Word and Picture Diary: South Hebron Hills Weekly Visit, April 5 2012

As we do every week, last Thursday April 5 2012 we went to visit several Palestinian localities in the South Hebron Hills, with whom we have been in contact for some years now. Two members of our little group – Hamed and Erella – just got back that day from a Britain tour as representatives of the Villages Group. So this week’s small visitor team consisted of Ehud and Danny.

We began with a short visit to the preschool (nursery school) in the Bedouin village of Umm al-Kheir. This preschool, opened nearly a year ago, is located in an old building with several rooms renovated with the aid of UNRWA, close to the Saraya of Umm al-Kheir (a term that during the Ottoman Empire days designated a government structure). Two local teachers run the preschool with about twenty children, and receive their salary through the Villages Group. The preschool has undergone a significant change lately – one teacher is now in charge of the younger children (two-three year olds) in the room used as the ‘bustan’ (pre-preschool), while her colleague is in charge of the older children (four-six years old), in the other room that serves as ‘rauda’, preschool.

From the hill where the Umm al Kheir preschool is located, the young children can see the present and future prospects arranged for them by the Israeli Occupation regime. Heavy equipment is busy developing and expanding the new neighborhood at the nearby Jewish settlement Karmel (Carmel) – a development doubtlessly paid for by the Israeli and American taxpayer. Together with an additional neighborhood planned to emerge soon, the settlement will eventually surround the dwellings in this part of Umm al Kheir from three directions (north, west and south).

This stranglehold is an integral part of the Occupation’s policy. The “Civil Administration”, that regime’s arm supposedly entrusted with providing services to Palestinians, has issued demolition orders on nearly all structures belonging to the Bedouin families living in this part of Umm Al Kheir – including outhouses, sheds etc. Many of these orders have already been carried out. We have written extensively here, both about Umm Al Kheir’s demolitions and about the vicious, discriminatory and fraudulent nature of the “Civil Administration” itself. Well-known literary translator and humanist Ilana Hammerman wrote a feature article about Umm Al Kheir and Karmel, with interviews of both Bedouin and settlers. The article was published a few months ago in Ha’aretz.

From the relatively new preschool at Umm al Kheir, we drove down the road and dirt track winding into the Judean desert for a short visit to the oldest operating preschool in the area. This preschool opened its doors about six years ago, at the Bedouin locality of Hashem al Daraj.

About 30 children crowd into the rickety one-room structure of this preschool together with their teacher, Huda, a native of Umm al Kheir who lives at Hasham al Daraj. Huda has been devotedly running the preschool since its founding, determined to overcome its harsh physical conditions. We first became acquainted with this preschool over two years ago . Since that first visit we took it upon ourselves to raise funds that would ensure Huda of a regular, decent salary, compared to the irregularly-paid pittance she had earned until then. We also connected Huda and her preschool with volunteers from the MachsomWatch organization. They have been coming to the preschool ever since. Jointly with Huda and the artist Eid from Umm al Kheir, The MachsomWatch volunteers hold an arts and creativity workshop for the preschool children every two weeks. Danny’s gesture in the picture show our reluctance to leave Huda’s place where we were so warmly greeted by the children – as we needed to fit visits to other localities into our tight schedule.

In the picture above, the children of Huda’s preschool look out towards the new and much larger building that UNRWA has been erecting for them nearby. Although it is already in an advanced stage of construction, completion is delayed. It is unlikely that the children and their teacher would move in before the end of the summer vacation, when the next school year opens. Much of the credit for the recent progress in constructing pre-school facilities at the region’s Bedouin localities goes to Hamed.

After visiting Huda’s preschool at Hasham Al Daraj, we left the Bedouin part of the South Hebron Hills (the eastern-most part of the region), and headed towards the small cave-dweller hamlet of Tuba. Jewish settlements Maon and Havat Maon had disconnected Tuba years ago from the road to nearby Yatta town. Nowadays access to Tuba is only possible via a much longer roundabout dirt track that leaves the Bedouin area and winds its way over the rocky hills. As we climbed this track in Danny’s jeep, the magnificent sight of the cave-dwelling hamlet area, locally called ‘massafer Yatta’/ ‘massfarat Yatta’ (Yatta’s hinterland) came into view.

After several drought years, the current winter has been relatively wet and the short spring that is about to end has yielded especially beautiful wild-flower expanses and a healthy growth of crops in the small fields scattered along the central track of the cave region. See previous posts describing the general conditions in this region and its hardships.

Tuba is a typical cave-dwellers’ hamlet – in its small population that hardly exceeds a few dozen, the affiliation of its families to larger clans whose life-center is Yatta, the main town of the South Hebron Hills, and in the ongoing, perpetual threat of the Israeli Occupation rule and its agents – soldiers and settlers – over the inhabitants’ lifestyle. Talk of the day in Tuba was the wandering tank that startled the residents out of their night sleep as it lost its way among the wadis of the region, designated by the Occupation authorities as military maneuver zone.

Life in the cave-dwellers area has many typical characteristics. Here we describe two of them: First, the custom of parents and brothers to build toys for the little children by recycling various objects. On our current visit, our camera caught the toy that Ali Awad of Tuba built for his young son, Ism’ail.

Residents of the cave dwelling region, Tuba among them, had lived without electricity or any refrigeration until recently. The local goat-milk cheese is known for its high salinity, a means of preservation for a lengthy period of time without refrigeration. On our visit, we saw blocks of this traditional salty cheese placed to dry near the solar plates installed in Tuba two years ago by the Israeli-Palestinian team of COMET-ME.

COMET-ME is our sister organization. In 2008, renewable-energy experts among Villages Group activists started installing stand-alone solar and wind electricity generators in South Hebron hills communities. A year later, the initiative began to operate independently as COMET-ME, and quickly attained worldwide recognition and support.

Among other benefits, the renewable power units installed by COMET-ME enable residents to increase production and improve the preservation of their dairy products. Unfortunately, the “Civil Administration” has recently threatened to demolish many renewable power installations placed by COMET-ME. About the international struggle now taking place against this travesty, see the organization’s website.

At the end of our Tuba visit, we returned from the caves dwellers area to the Bedouin part and to Umm al Kheir. Unlike the local rural population that has evolved its cave-dwelling lifestyle for centuries, the Bedouins of the region are originally tent-dwellers and do not live in caves. In view of the consistent house demolition policy applied in the part of Umm al Kheir nearest to the Jewish settlement Karmel, a large number of the local residents are forced to continue living in tents. Among others, we visited the tent of the family elder, Hajj Shueib (photographed alongside his youngest daughter Rana and Ehud).

Later we also visited widow Miyaser, whose straw and stones house has been recently demolished by official thugs of our time. Some of you, especially those who support the Villages Group in Durham, Britain, have already had the opportunity to help Miyaser and her seven children by purchasing her embroidery work (in the photograph, Khulud, Miyaser’s daughter, displays her mother’s new embroidery).

Additional pictures from our visit can be viewed by clicking on the thumbnails below.

Erella and Hamed, Villages Group Organizers, on a UK tour.

Hamed Qawasmeh (Palestinian) and Erella Dunayevsky (Israeli) are have just started a joint two-week tour of the UK. They will speak at the venues and on the dates below.

Erella and Hamed represent ” The Villages Group” – a group encouraging cooperation between Palestinians in the Occupied Territories and Israelis, working jointly on local, small-scale programs and projects involving personal cooperation.

It is our hope that this kind of small steps form nuclei from which a new reality in Israel-Palestine will eventually grow. On the personal level, we are weaving a lasting net of friendship and cooperation between Palestinian and Israeli individuals. For more about the Group’s vision, see here.

Here is a list of talk dates, times and locations:

London: Tuesday 20 March, 7pm
Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church, 235 Shaftesbury Avenue, London WC2H 8EP (Hamed only)

Canterbury: Wednesday 21 March, 7.30pm
Dominican Priory, St Peters Lane, Canterbury, Kent CT2 8BD
Organised by the East Kent Justice for Palestinians Group (Hamed only)

London (South): Thursday 22 March, 7pm
The Community Hall, Peabody Estate, Strath Terrace, off St John’s Hill
Clapham SW11 1UZ (very close to Clapham Junction Station)

London (North): Friday 23 March, 7.30pm
Finfuture, 225-229 Seven Sisters Road, Finsbury Park, London N4.

Bath: Monday 26 March, 7.30pm
Bath Quaker Meeting House, York Street, Bath BA1 1NG

Barnstaple, North Devon: Tuesday 27 March, 7pm
The Castle Centre, 25 Castle street, Barnstaple, North Devon, EX31 1DR.

Dunbar, East Lothian: Thursday 29 March, 2.30pm, Stenton Bowling Club, Stenton, Dunbar, East Lothian, Scotland, EH42 1TE. Organised by the Stenton Palestine Group

Edinburgh: Thursday 29 March, 7pm
Edinburgh Quaker Meeting House, 7 Victoria Terrace, Edinburgh, EH1 2JL

Glasgow: Saturday, 31 March, 3.30pm
Renfield St. Stephens Church, 260 Bath Street, Glasgow, G2 4JP

Hexham: Sunday, 1 April, 3:00 pm
Allendale Quaker Meeting, Wooley Burnfoot , Allendale, Hexham NE47 9NE

Durham: Monday, 2 April, 7.30 pm. For further information call Shlomit at 0191 3864320

We hope to meet all our of old friends as well as many new ones.

Erella and Hamed, Villages Group

Hebrew Lessons at the Learning and Creativity Center in Susiya

Guest Post – Yael Arbel

“You must come to see Susiya.”

In all truth, I am fascinated by the stories I hear about Susya. I have not been there since the cold, muddy winter of 2002, when we trekked with Ta’ayush activists to bring blankets for those living there, only to be detained by the army. I don’t think I even got to see them at the end of that march. [editor comment: that particular march did reach its destination, see here]

“People in Susiya really want to study Hebrew. I think it’s a fitting task for you.”

Yes, I’ll come to look at it.

But only to look, I cautioned myself. I have no time to travel repeatedly from Tel Aviv to Susiya. I have children and a demanding, endless work, and the trip is so long . . . . Well, maybe I can come just once a month to consult them? So I came, and by visit’s end I was explaining that it’s impossible to learn a language with less than a weekly lesson, and so I promised to come again next week. In short, I fell in love with the community.

First, I got to know the renovated tent that became the “Learning and Creativity Center.” The day I visited, physicians and nurses from the Palestinian Health Organization were using the tent to receive patients. Next week, Inbal and I taught there a large, mixed group of boys and girls, young men and women, and adult men (but not adult women). At another corner, an artist taught some residents to crochet old plastic bags. Two months later, I saw the results of his teaching: artistic, colorful creations of embroidery, beautiful and practical.


As time went on, I got to know the Susiya children – those generous, loving hosts of my daughter, who ran with her all over the place, jumping over rocks and winding among the farm animals. To concentrate on my teacher’s role, I stopped bringing her, but the kids kept asking about her, when will she come again. We ate with the kids, danced, played, and attempted to speak Hebrew. They chased a family of geese.

Then I got to know the men, those who had learned Hebrew through work in Israel. Today, very few get to leave Susiya for work, and there are no opportunities to practice their Hebrew. The women know just a few words, and they are fearful of making mistakes. They speak to me in Arabic, hoping I will understand. Each visit I understand a little more.

Inbal and I take a practical approach to teaching Hebrew. Conversation, familiarity with the Alphabet, practical words and Hebrew/Arabic cognates. The boys were immediately drawn to Inbal, recognizing in her the Israeli incarnation of Pippi Longstockings. Meanwhile, I have been teaching a group of girls of various ages, who have shown extraordinary linguistic talents. And I teach the young children as well – writing and playing with letters and words.

I am used to teaching students who already know Hebrew, who are looking for change, for play, for breaking the routine. I am used to teaching kids who live in far greater comfort than Susiya’s kids can ever imagine. Jewish kids, who live in Tel Aviv and study at the Democratic School.

Susiya is entirely different. The students have no pencils. At times, they must leave to do something else more important. The girls may have to watch a young brother or prepare dinner. Other times, they all go out to look at the Settlers amassing on the hills overlooking Susiya. Their mothers don’t attend my lessons; at most they look on from the side. I am waiting for them to accept my invitation to join. But those who come are eager to learn. They want to write in a notebook, to have a dictation, to memorize; they want an authoritative teacher. I am far from authoritative. Our democratic teaching methods strike them as not serious. But they don’t want us to leave. “Just one more sentence,” begs Wuffa. While we pack our bags, Sara and Islam are still seating and reading the pages we left behind. Kusai understands almost everything we say. See, in spite of everything, Hebrew is being taught here!

Premiere of a Film Documenting Relationships between Israelis and the People of Palestinian Susiya

Tuesday, September 28th, brought us great satisfaction. On that day, we and many of our friends in Susiya had the pleasure of attending the world premiere of the film “The Human Turbine” at the Haifa International Film Festival.

Over a period of two years from 2008 to 2010, a film crew headed by director Danny Verete and producer Yehuda Bitton documented the evolving ties between the people of Susiya and the Israelis who visit them regularly activists in the Villages Group and the Comet-ME NGOs. The resulting hour-long film follows the various projects made possible by the cooperation between the locals and the Israelis, projects that include the production of sun- and wind-generated electricity for the Susiya families, plans for aid to local students and for professional training for young women, school transportation for the Susiya children, help and consultation in expanding water wells, and more.

The film was well received and viewers described it as deeply moving. Particularly effective is the film’s close attention to personal aspects of the work being done in Susiya. The filmmakers understood that the success of the projects described above is tied inexorably to the personal relations that have developed over the past several years between local residents and the Israelis.

We were fortunate to be able to invite almost twenty of our Susiya friends to join us for the premiere in Haifa—in spite of a general closure which totally prevented Palestinians from crossing the checkpoints to Israel for 10 days during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. This was made possible by an invitation from the filmmakers and by our friend Buma Inbar, who obtained the special crossing permits. Following a lunch at the Haifa beach, we took in the panoramic view from atop Mount Carmel, and then watched the film together with our family members, the filmmakers, and other friends and guests.

At the final event of the Haifa Film Festival, the film “The Human Turbines” received an award on behalf of the Other Israel Film Festival in New York. As the Jury of this competition stated: “The film provides a rare glimpse in a world where humanity, compassion and cooperation provide hope for a different life in the complicated reality of the Middle East.” The film “The Human Turbine” is expected to be shown soon on Israeli TV’s Channel 8 and in other venues. We will keep you informed regarding opportunities to view the film, and we also hope to be able to send copies of the film, especially to our friends abroad.

Ehud Krinis (on the left in the beach picture, top right)

UPDATE: The film will be screened at the Jerusalem Cinematheque on Saturday night October 30, at 7:30 PM. Also, copies are available for purchase; please email cara@ruthfilms.com.

Songs by Ikhlas-Yasmin Jebara from Salem: Part II

This continues the previous post, showing for the first time songs by our friend Ikhlas.

The picture above was taken a few weeks ago, when Ikhlas visited the Mediterranean Sea for the second time in her life. The sea is only 47km from her home (measured via Google Maps), but the Occupation regime – especially its prisonlike nature during the past decade – prevents most West Bank Palestinians from visiting it. Both of Ikhlas’ beach visits were initiated by the Villages Group. On the first time, Ikhlas and her brother Mohammed were taken to Tel Aviv to meet an Israeli eye specialist, who unfortunately confirmed that their blindness is incurable.

The second time came about after repeated appeals to military authorities, to allow the Jebara family a visit to Israel in order to breath some fresh air of freedom. The family was automatically blacklisted by the Shin Bet after the father Sa’el was murdered by a settler in fall 2004.

The cruelty of the Occupation regime is perhaps most directly illustrated via this story. The settler, a German convert with troubled history, was nonetheless given – like most settlers – an M16 automatic assault rifle by the military for his “self defense”. He then used it to murder an innocent civilian, who happened to be Ikhlas’ dad, in broad daylight. The lengthy legal proceedings end with his conviction of manslaughter. But the judge inexplicably allows the murderer a home leave before his sentence is set. He disappears without a trace, and to this day no one has found him (has anyone even looked for him?). If you find this hard to believe, here’s an account from the Israeli mainstream news site Ynet.

Meanwhile, the victim’s family having lost its father and provider without recourse to justice, is automatically labeled as a “security threat” because now they have a reason to revenge! Therefore, they are placed under even tighter confinement than other Occupied Palestinians.

This year Villages Group activists petitioned the authorities, arguing that 6 years after the murder perhaps the victims should be allowed a one-time reprieve from their punishment, due to their good behavior, and be allowed to visit their friends in Israel. The plea was rejected. Knowing how mindless and arbitrary the Occupation system is, the activists did not give up and submitted the exact same petition again. This time it was accepted. The Jebara family was treated to a day of fun, visiting the homes of their Villages Group friends for the first time ever, and seeing the Mediterranean Sea – second time for Ikhlas and Mohammed, first time ever for their siblings.

This fall, Ikhlas will begin her M.A. studies in English literature at the Nablus University.

———————————

It is perhaps appropriate that unlike the personal tone of Ikhlas’ first offering of songs posted last week, the songs below carry a more political message.

Ikhlas will be happy to communicate with any of the readers. Being in touch with people from faraway places does a great deal to alleviate the depression and suffocation of living under the Occupation regime. Ikhlas’s email address is ikhlas_soh@hotmail.com.

—————————

Believe me we can not dare

Believe me we can not dare
to say that occupation is something that we can not bear
But even if we said it
they will our bodies like pieces of cloth tear
Not by human butchers
rather it has become the machine butcher’s career
Be silent my friend
and do not say whether it is cruel or fair
Because if you said this
you will be thrown in fire

—————————

If you tried to turn your face

If you tried to turn your face
In a moment you will be in the hospital as a critical case
Occupation is willing to chase
Every person who is from the Arabic race
And the steps of history trace
Occupation has no conscience

when it the bodies of Gazan children dismember
in the last December
I am torn by pain when I remember

the bodies of children trampled under the feet
of an unworthy Israeli soldier member

Dying words on their tomb door
saying war is every where

On the heads of the poor
Palestinian life will become sore
You will live in pain more and more
Let it be forever let it be forever

When will facts chant?
When will Justice on her feet stand?
When will we together
in the face of cruelty stand?
When will we our rights defend?
When will we like a bomb explode?
When will we our rights defend ?
Or shall we wait for someone to rescue us?

—————————

Do you know

Do you know what your life is like?
Your life is a play
if you wonder I will say
what role in this life I play

a good person I may be
as a fruitful tree
slave people I can free
if they appreciate they will agree

a source of evil I contribute to life
by carrying my sharp sword and knife
I can steal a husband from his wife
And deprive a person of his life

To me you can describe
What type you want your self to ascribe
No matter you are from this or that tribe
But what really matters is you are mature and ripe

Songs by Ikhlas (“Yasmin”) Jebara from Salem – Part I

Our friend Ikhlas Jebara from Salem near Nablus, had been mentioned here before under her nickname “Yasmin”. Her father Sa’el was murdered in 2004 by a settler as he was performing his daily work as a van driver (the settler was convicted but escaped justice).

Ever since then, we have been in touch with Muna, the widow, and her children. Ikhlas, the second of six Jebara children, is blind from birth and has last year graduated college with an English literature major. She also writes poetry in English.

Following is a first sampling of her poems; a second group will be posted later. Feel free to contact Ikhlas directly at ikhlas_soh@hotmail.com.

——————————

To say or not to say

I wonder whether to say or not to say
To be enthusiastic
to revolve
or to obey
For God or for people to pray
Or like a refugee without home to stay
Or like a child in the streets to play
Or to pass through a narrow or wide way
Or our hopes for future to delay
Or to sit under the red x-ray
Here we are my friend
with no decision
Whether to be or not to be
we do not know
Whether to say or not to say

————————–
In our narrow street

In our calm narrow street
I followed the traces of his feet
I heard the echo of hope
when she said you should meet
you should meet
Darkness bitterness of days you should defeat

My tongue had also said no blame no blame
Forget the past and live for your dream
For hope in your eyes would gleam

No one but echo answered me
No he is not free
With him we can not be
Until the masters of the fates agree

In a dark cloudy atmosphere
Moon, sun, stars seem to be very clear
Safety… bravery… oh grasped fear
In the eyes of the sky there is no tear
Just the glimmer of hope that is so near
From them you can not flee

I bitterly answered ‘what do you claim?’
She laughed and said I will achieve my aim
Until the end of my game
I trust myself and I do not feel shame

Hope -she is so strong and stout
And she is able my fears to wipe out
She laughed with her echo-voice so loud
One day in the hands of you will be found

———————————-
Gift for those whose parents are lost

Here on that street my dad died
Death attacked him from an unknown side
What did his death for us hide ?
Grief and pain did for us decide
His death the hearts of our family did divide
Loss and departure were emphasized
While happiness at that moment seized

Here on that street my father drove
On the same street he was shot
By a settler who was provoked
From an innocent person his revenge he got

From an unknown origin he is derived
Responsible that in my family’s life

grief, pain and anger reside
But there are people of his religion who have tried
For us a new beginning to provide
They really appreciate the size of grief in our hearts

Monday in the afternoon was the opening of our wound
And it caused the broken hearts of our catastrophe to moan
At that moment the stagnant grief in our souls was grown
We lived in darkness with no fraction of dawn
A black tragedy for me was drawn
Like a nic in the neck… it is in the heart a wound

————————–
To be a graduate

Have you ever felt like a person who will graduate
Who is standing on the edge of the university and life’s gate
People are coming to say ‘we congratulate’
They within me a glimmer of hope create
I am like a king who won the state
I am a person who is loved by fate
For this day I am willing to wait

All love from my heart is sent
To my parents my sisters my brothers my doctors and friends

For you I say ‘happy new year’
I wish we will the dress of happiness wear
No matter how the last days were
The principles of a new life in this modest party we declare
The black papers of our last tragedies in our lives we will tear
The bitterness of days we no longer bear
We in the eyes of future stare
Happiness and hope we can see there

But we also notice some sort of fear
I hope that peace is near
for those whom to me are so dear
You are to me my jewels
In the siege of my heart you fell
I rang my tongue’s bell
good words for you to tell
Let us together say grief farewell
grief farewell grief farewell

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