Today was a tough day. I’m now writing in my hotel room, the luxurious Movenpick in Ramallah, while the rest of the group is at a concert and then dinner in a private home. I am quite tired. The days are packed with activities and emotions. And I must confess that while in Nablus, a dry town, we behaved a bit like college kids, a small group of us gathering to share a glass of whisky and crack jokes to release the tension. The call to early morning prayers made last night definitely too short.
Plus it is a very weird feeling to be so close to Jerusalem but not there at a Seder, to think of all the people around the world saying next year in Jerusalem and not to be joining them other than in thought. I wish we could stop listing injustices, counting bodies, destroyed houses, analysing old stones and just start again. Why can’t the Palestinians understand what it meant for Jews persecuted from one place to another over the centuries to keep repeating “next year in Jerusalem”? Why can’t the Jews who celebrate freedom so beautifully grant it to the Palestinians? Forgive me for these naive ramblings but come and see for yourself and I defy you to think otherwise.
This morning we left Nablus at 9.00 am to go to Bir Zeit university to teach workshops. As usual we left in plenty of time in case there was problem at a checkpoint. Bit Zeit is a beautiful campus and once again we received a very warm welcome. Although it is a secular university, most of the girls wore head scarves and were completely covered up. They form the majority of the student body because they work harder than the boys we were told.
I did two sessions on translation, telling them how I had become a translator and my job promoting French books to UK publishers. They were quite surprised to learn that only 3% of all books published in the UK were translations. We discussed writing in English rather than Arabic. One girl said that she felt freer in English, another said that it was giving in to the dominant culture and wrong. They were for the most part lively, engaged and spoke very good English. They were particularly keen to hear what I could advise for their translation exam. Hebrew was only mentioned once by one student who said that of course, if she translated an Israeli book, she would not make any change and would be faithful to the original. I wish we could have explored this a bit more but I had been advised to stay away from the topic and wasn’t sure I wanted to go into a discussion on “normalisation”.
During the light lunch that followed, I was talking to a linguistics professor and we came to talk about Arabic, Hebrew (which he held in quite low esteem) and Yiddish. I ended up telling him I was Jewish which he told me with a smile he had guessed from my reaction to what he had said. He went on to explain to me how he had grasped the difference between Jews and Israelis when studying in the US and that they were really trying to teach that to the students. Interestingly he also told me that the reason so many of them spoke with an American accent was that their parents had emigrated to the US but sent them back to Palestine when they turned into teenagers. This would be unheard and impossible to understand to Jews who have always moved on without looking back.
Again it seems to me that whatever some people may think or hope for the Israelis are not going to leave and neither are the Palestinians. But what we saw in the afternoon cannot be the solution at all.
After a quick visit of the church in Bethlehem, we were given a tour of the Wall by a Lutheran priest. Basically the barrier is slowly strangling Bethlehem making sure it won’t extend beyond its 8 square kilometres. The Wall is built gradually as close as possible to the houses. The main road into the city has been cut off to create an enclave for the settlers around Rachel’s tomb. There is hardly any greenery inside the city. But there is plenty of space between the Wall and the settlements so they can extend. It’s ugly, nasty and cruel. Yet shocked as I was, I was equally shocked to heare the Israelis added to the long list of people who had invaded Palestine, like the Crusaders, as if there had never been Jews here before, making me wonder what religion Jesus was in that case…
After the depressing tour we were taken to an uplifting arts college founded to give hope back to Palestinian kids, a beautiful brand new building sponsored by a number of protestant churches in the US and Germany. The idea is that the students will first come to express their anger and then channel it into something positive, learning a craft or becoming artists. This is to remind them that the sky is the limit, not the wall.