Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Lag time...

Left: me at Heathrow.

I've been keeping a regular diary here, but unfortunately I haven't been uploading it to the web. So, for the next eight days I'll update two days at a time, hopefully that way if anybody is actually reading this they won't be overwhelmed with ten pages of information about emergency medicine...

May 20

Landed at 5:30 am, still sitting in the security holding area at 8:15. Only guy I talked to was a British Arab here on business, said he was held here for six hours the first time he came to Israel. When I first got here there were two guys waiting, both Arabs in their mid 30s. After a while a very frightened looking white kid came in. He's gone now. A family of African immigrants came in with some very cute kids, I think they were Ethiopian immigrants. They stayed a little bit less than an hour. Then a black man with a huge suitcase came in, some police questioned him about it and then he left with them. A British lady also came in, said her husband was going to be in Israel for a long time for something and then told the security lady she didn’t want to have to wait for two hours each time she comes to visit him. I’m almost positive one of the ladies who interviewed (interrogated?) me at the airport is the same one who jumped at me as soon as I got off the plane in 2004. At least this time they didn’t stop the airplane on the tarmac and interrogate me on a dark airstrip with nobody around.

I first went to the customs people after talking to a nice Jewish lawyer, I think his name was Darin, who was visiting friends in Tel Aviv. The customs lady took longer to process me than it took the guy next to her to process three people. Then she told me to wait, then a security guard came and put me in some kind of holding area, where I am as I write this. A thin tall lady with glasses came and took me into a bare office, the only things on the wall were a picture of an Israeli airplane flying over the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount and an Israeli flag. She said she was going to ask me some security questions, which she did, then she told me to go back to the holding area. Just then another woman came, healthier looking, and asked me most of the same questions over. This is the lady whom I’m sure is the same one who questioned me when I first came to Israel in 2004. Then I came back out to the holding area, then the healthier looking lady came and asked me all the same questions again. Then she said she'd go finish the security procedure, then a guy came with an ear piece connected to something on his back and asked me the purpose of my trip. I told him I’m volunteering at a hospital in Hebron, then he left. Now it’s 8:30 am, been here three hours and counting..

Got out at 9:45 from the security holding area. Then walked about 90 feet to get my bags and was stopped again. Three people, one woman and two men walked me to find my bags. We took them to a basically unmarked room, so before going in I insisted they tell me where we were going. They pretended not to speak English (I’m sure they were BSing, every single person I spoke to at Ben-Gurion Airport spoke English perfectly well) so I followed them without an answer. The room was for x-raying and inspecting bags. The three people (one of the men left, and we were joined by another woman in the x-ray room) turned out to be very interested in my shaving cream for some reason. There was a coffee machine in the holding area of the x-ray room, never a good sign. Finally I left after about 15 minutes of bag-finding and 45 minutes of x-raying (two bags and a laptop, the famed Israeli efficiency somehow lacking).

Got a sherut (a shared taxi) to Jerusalem, sat next to a girl and her girlfriend. The girl told me she leads volunteer trips to the Galilee to revamp old Israeli bomb shelters. She grew up in Jerusalem but her mother is from the US or Canada (she kept saying she’s from “North America”, I’m not sure why) so she spoke English perfectly well. She asked what I’m doing in Israel and I told her, she expressed her support and told me I should visit “the great Jewish community in Hebron.” Then she asked me what I think of the conflict, I told her I think it's primarily the fault of the United States at this point. She first told me that she doesn't know a thing about history, agreed that the conflict is the US fault, but dismissed any idea that Israel could ever have peace because, at various points in the conversation, “Israelis have a fire in them”, Egypt's 1971 peace offer was “bullshit” (she straightforwardly stated she hadn’t a clue of anything that had happened in 1971 anywhere, but insisted that the offer she knows nothing about wasn’t serious), and some other nonsense. My favorite point in the conversation was when she said “I don't know about history but I know that's false, because after Israel uprooted Jews from their homes in Gaza, where they'd buried their children, Israel didn't get peace” and then “the Camp David offer was for 98% of Israel[sic!]”, etc. She explained away the occupation by pointing out that “Jewish communities [her euphemism for the Jewish-only colonies in the West Bank, the settlements] have a wall around them and patrols because people want to shoot them, but the Palestinians don't have any of that, they live in complete security.” (Note the sheer lunacy of that statement.) She also explained that “the IDF is an exclusively defensive force: it's called the Israel Defense Force”, and that “Israel would only invaded Lebanon to stop rocket attacks, if our government is honest.” I asked if she thinks that the current scandal-a-week government of Israel is honest, and she said “absolutely not.”

Then some fat American Christian turned to us and started quoting the Bible. I have no patience with these people, who happily march Jews and Arabs into hell in the Middle East so they can meet their Mesiah, they're despicable. I told him I wasn't interested in what the Bible says, but he wouldn’t shut up (the Israeli girl I can at least talk to, but I’m not going to debate Biblical nonsense with some idiot who thinks everything he says is profound because it comes from God Himself). He told me that “Newton didn't invent gravity, he just discovered it, and we just don't understand the spiritual principles that guide the universe” and which will do something in the future, what he never specified. He went on to explain that “there are four branches of the American government”, the State Department being the fourth, and since it's so anti-Israel that has something to do with the American-Israeli decision to co-opt the PLO in the Oslo accords, with Arafat stealing money, etc. I tried to explain that the cooption of the PLO was part of an American-Israeli plan to break the Palestinian national movement and the Intifada, it wasn’t some anti-Israel conspiracy conjured up by Arabists at the State Department, but he just blinked a few times and that information was dispatched to the memory hole. Thankfully at this point that guy got off the sherut. I changed the subject with the girl and we spent the rest of the ride talking about where to drink in Jerusalem.

I got to Hebron without much of a problem. Went to the Palestine Agricultural Relief Committee office where Musa's wife Afaf works. Talked to the director for a while, he helped me remember a lot of the Arabic alphabet, then went to the dentist for Afaf and then to Musa's house.

Musa seems well off; he used to live in the nearby refugee camp (Fawwar) but now has a floor of a house for his family. It’s a little bit bigger than my two-bedroom apartment at the Vintage in San Antonio (but, of course, Musa has five kids). Two of his kids still live here, they're 11 (Suhail) and 13 (Ayham), both adorable boys.