20 August 2007

Teaching Under Apartheid in Palestine

When I first decided to go to Palestine to teach kids English and yoga my main concerns were managing the kids’ behavior, assessing their needs and maintaining their interest. After all, those are the most challenging issues I face everyday in my classroom in Philadelphia. In the US I rarely get through an entire unit and to actually teach without a behavior related incident interrupting class is a very rare event. I quickly found it to be quite the opposite in Tel Rumeida which left me feeling like a fish out of water in the beginning.

I arrived in Palestine on a Tuesday, attended nonviolent resistance training about Tel Rumeida on Wednesday which was extremely intimidating yet necessary and helpful. I hung out in Jerusalem on Thursday and headed to Tel Rumeida on Friday to observe Katie’s art class and to meet some of the kids I would be teaching as well as the person who would help me translate in the classroom. The kids were very well behaved for Katie. They seemed to be very motivated and enjoyed her lesson. This was a good sign. The translator, a local university student named Ibrahim, helped more than I expected. I began to worry that language was going to be a larger barrier than I was used to at home since my Arabic was limited at the time to only basic greetings. At home I can speak my students’ language enough to translate on my own.

Ibrahim helped organize the classes of which each consisted of 10-15 kids. One class for girls under the age of 12, one for girls over 12 years and one for boy up to 12 years. Their levels varied in reading and writing but they were all around the emergent or beginner level in listening and speaking, therefore this is where I decided to focus my lessons. As any experienced teacher knows it can take several weeks sometimes months to get into a groove, so I didn’t want to waste anytime as I was only going to be teaching English 3 days a week, an hour each session, for a total of 4-weeks. As for the yoga, this would be 1 day a week for an hour. I knew that would be a brand new experience for the kids so I was also a little worried about how they would perceive me and the concept of yoga overall. Sometimes in very religious communities, such as Tel Rumeida, people view yoga as taboo or voodoo. I knew that I would need to be sensitive to their cultural and religious beliefs.

English Lessons

We started classes immediately the following day. I was a bit nervous because not only did I want them to like me and enjoy the classes but I also wanted them to learn to speak English. We started out with simple questions and responses such as “What is your name?” “My name is Roba.” And “How old are you?” “I am 8 years old.” I need to mention that they all came to class fully prepared to learn with pencils and notebooks and of course enthusiasm and an intense interest in learning English. A stark contrast to the kids I teach in the US who rarely come to class prepared. I was kind of shocked when one student forgot her notebook and Ibrahim told her to go home and get it and not to forget next time or she will not be allowed to come to class. He mentioned that it is unacceptable to come to school unprepared in Palestine. Unfortunately being unprepared is more of the norm where I teach.

After assessing their levels I needed to create an entire unit as this was my own project and a curriculum was not being provided. I was a bit worried because I had never really taught without the aid of a curriculum but welcomed the freedom to be as creative as I wanted. I had brought along a few of my own materials which included workbooks for photocopying, phonics readers, music language CDs, and a book for lesson planning ideas. I then relied on the Internet and fellow teaching friends at home for other creative ideas. I was also able to pick up other materials in Hebron and Ramallah, for less than half the price it would have cost in the US. Sometimes it was difficult because I could not find enough manipulatives relative to the lessons so I needed to improvise more often than not. Also, I typically teach up to the 4th grade at home, or up to 11 years old, and in Tel Rumeida I had high school students mixed into the classes. I took advantage of the situation by having the older students assist the younger ones.

Once I got a better feel for how comfortable they were speaking, and everyone seemed to enjoy the opportunity to speak as most children do, I decided to create a base goal for the lessons. The goal was to be able to communicate with internationals basically in case of an emergency. The majority of the lessons consisted of building vocabulary such as settlers, settlement, throw and rocks as well as directional prepositions, how to give directions and follow commands, how to describe things and people and how to read a map of their own community. I was told that this was the first time they ever saw a map of Tel Rumeida. Amazing! I felt a little sad and uneasy teaching for this purpose in the beginning but the lessons needed to reflect upon their personal experiences, and unfortunately this was their reality. Of course, we did find time to escape and talk about other things such as their homes and families.

I ended up not being so concerned about their level of interest in learning because they were always so eager and enthusiastic and participated even when I thought the lesson was not going as well as I as wanted or if the content was a bit difficult. I even gave them homework assignments which most of them did with such enthusiasm and pride that I brought most of their work back with me to show my students here at home. Perhaps I’ll be able to set a spark in students’ motivation here. I really think that my students here can learn something from the kids in Tel Rumeida.

Even some of the international volunteers would report back to me that the kids would approach them and ask them the questions I was asking during our lessons such as “Where are you from?” and then explain the proper way to respond. The most amusing incident I recall hearing about followed a lesson on commands. I taught the kids things like stand up, sit down, touch your toes for use in our yoga lessons. After the lesson they approached the internationals sitting at their posts and yelled to them to stand up and sit down. The internationals were amused and played along. I would also fill in the internationals on what I was teaching and how they could help. Everyone did their best to reinforce the lessons. It was really a community effort.

Yoga classes

Yoga classes were held for one hour, one day a week. I have to admit that the yoga classes were the most enjoyable for both me and the kids. My worries about their perceptions of yoga were quickly diminished after the first class. Not only was it a great way for them to learn English and exercise but it was a great way for all of us to bond. Even the boys enjoyed it! The older girls focused more on holding positions and proper positioning while the younger ones allowed themselves to be silly and fall where their bodies took them. I taught them how to relieve stress through breathing exercises which I hope they practice in the future. We sang songs to help them remember series of positions like sun salutations which the little ones thoroughly enjoyed belting out at the top of their lungs! They were so flexible and willing to try any position. It was nice to see them smiling and full of energy!

It was also especially nice to see the older girls exercising and having fun. In Tel Rumeida you do not see girls outside. They spend most of their time inside their own homes, visiting friends in their homes or within the confines of the grounds of their family’s home. They rarely get to run around and exercise. Some of the girls were aware of stretching exercises that they said they learned from television and gym class at school. Yoga though was new to them and they initially associated it with meditation. They seemed really eager to learn more once they experienced it. I always felt on top of the world after a yoga session with them.


The most impressive thing besides being able to actually teach and not have to constantly be interrupted for discipline problems was that the younger girls would line up outside the community center where classes were held at least 30 minutes early! When I asked why they did this they said it was because they wanted to be first in line! I was astonished! I wanted to cry, of course tears of joy! At home I have to drag the kids from the hallway into my classroom. In Palestine, kids live under occupation in extreme poverty and yet they are so motivated to learn. They came to class prepared with pencils and notebooks unlike kids in my school in the US. Their parents and the community in general stress the importance of education and show much respect towards teachers. I would occasionally be approached on the street by mothers welcoming and thanking me for teaching their children. I rarely receive expressions of thanks in the US. I rarely receive respect from parents and students. I didn’t want to leave Tel Rumeida. I fell in love with the kids and with being treated with respect.

Most of the kids were just beginning to understand me on their own without Abraham’s help at the end. I hope that they keep practicing. They begin learning English now in the first grade but they do not typically have a native English speaking teacher to teach them, so most considered this a great opportunity to take advantage of. If anyone reading this is considering teaching kids in Palestine, especially in Tel Rumeida, I must say please do it! You won’t regret it. The experience, the place, the people and most importantly the kids will capture your heart and change your life forever, in the most positive way. I say this because this is exactly what happened to me and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

I will return one day, insh’allah!

16 August 2007

Hebron: Israeli Military Shuts Down Palestinian Business in Old City Market

The article that follows my write up was taken from the ISM website. I picked this because I know the shop owner, Abu Hatim.

One day in mid-July I decided to shadow some of the people working with the Christian Peacemakers Team(CPT). I wanted to see how they handle situations, deal with problems, and to get their perspective on the situation as most of them have spent more than just a few months in Hebron and most were over the age of 50. Indeed I found them all to be quite inspiring. Some were former school teachers and nurses, most were parents whose children are grown now, and some were married to wonderful spouses that encouraged them to continue helping Palestinians. (If you would like more information on CPT and what they do please check out link on this page in the right-hand column.)

On this particular day of shadowing CPT we sat watch outside of Abu Hatim's shop because at that time he had just re-opened it and was being threatened by the soldiers that they were going to shut him down. The shops along this particular area of the old city were shut down for quite some time due to the location being directly behind the settlement, even though Palestinians had their businesses there for many, many years before the settlement existed. Abu Hatim invited us in for tea, something that is very common in Palestine and something that I miss greatly. Such hospitality is lacking here in the U.S.

There was not much for sale in his store. Some items consisted of plastic kitchen ware, candy, and garbage bags. Tall kitchen garbage bags to be exact. I mention this because these types of bags were very difficult to find in Hebron. I wanted to buy the entire roll and was willing to pay whatever he wanted. He gave them to me. He did not charge me. I didn't know how to accept but he would not let me refuse so I purchased some other items that I didn't need which came to maybe 10 shekels or $2.50 USD. Imagine that kind of generosity in times of extreme poverty and occupation. It's really unimaginable to me even though it did happened. He was just very appreciative that we were looking after him, but really he did much more for me.

I had a feeling that something like this in the article below would eventually happen to him. It really makes me sad and it really depicts the injustices that happen on a daily basis every day in Hebron as well as throughout all of Palestine.

Hebron: Israeli Military Shuts Down Palestinian Business in Old City Market
August 12th, 2007 | Posted in Reports, Hebron Region, Photos

Hebron – 10/8/2007

Early on the morning of the 9th of August inside Hebron’s old ministry square, Abu Hatim Jaudat Hasula’s hardware store was locked up and welded shut by the Israeli occupation forces. The 64-year-old shopkeeper had dared to defy both the Israeli occupation forces’ illegitimate threats and the appeasing surrender of other local shop-owners that had many other Palestinians shut down business and leave the area.

The occupation forces turned up with the proper papers but without any warning. Within 30 minutes, they closed up the shop, still filled with Abu Hatim’s belongings and goods, and then welded the hinges, thus leaving the large metal gates bolted up. Until further orders are produced, the army has declared that the shop will be locked down for two months.

The Israeli occupation forces justified their decision to close down these shops by claiming that they were trying to prevent Palestinians from blowing holes in the backs of their shops and entering a nearby rabbinical school. Neither 64 year old Abu Hatim nor his fellow shopkeepers have ever attempted to do anything even remotely related to this mentioned security threat.

In the past few weeks, many Human Rights Workers (HRWs) have spent the mornings in the old city market to support the local shop-owners in opening for business.

Every single day the occupation forces try to make Abu Hatim close his shop by phoning him and then by showing up at the shop. Yet until this morning the soldiers’ legal papers had been missing. Several shops have already closed including the 4 neighboring shops on Abu Hatim’s side of the market.

HRWs and the Christian Peacemaker Teams had been cooperating in order to support Abu Hatim’s shop and thus a large group of internationals were present soon after the rumors of the military action spread through Hebron.

Around 9:30 am, the soldiers began to leave the area, having successfully welded shut all 5 of the old shops on one side of the market, including Abu Hatim’s hardware store.

With the soldiers pulling out one Swedish HRW commented on the morning’s military action: “It’s typical to see the few real attempts to fight the occupation end in paper work and threats. The army knows how this will kill the little business that still is left in the old city and pacify the Palestinians.”

Leaving the market one of the military APCs turned around revealing a newly sprayed political statement on the side of the jeep to the entire market. Rumors have suggested that either HRWs or TIPH are responsible for the ‘Free Palestine’ graffiti on the army vehicle.

Abu Hatim has lost his only source of income, first and foremost directly by having his shop welded shut, but also because he will lose the subsidy the PA gives to business owners in economically unstable areas.

Day by day, business diminishes in the old city, among other places in the old market opposite Shuhada Street. Watching the progress of the Israeli occupation forces, one easily sees a similar future to the old city market as the one Shuhada Street is facing now, completely deserted and almost exclusively open to Israeli settlers.

09 August 2007

Just let the fire burn

*I'm still waiting for my journal to arrive via the postal service. For now I've decided to blog about stories that happened as I remember them. I may edit later when I recieve my journal.

One evening around 9:30pm in mid-July we received a phone call from a Palestinian coordinator that an occupied (by soldiers) home in the old city of Hebron was on fire. I think there were at least 12-15 of us staying in the apartment at the time and all of us decided to go check it out. For some reason we were split up. Some of the people arrived at the fire first to find black smoke billowing out of the building. Eventually we all met up and some people decided to return to the apartment while 5 of us decided to stay and wait for the fire brigade, I was one of the 5 who decided to wait.

We arrived at the building via a street coming down to Shuhada St behind the Quortoba School (the one that was recently set on fire, hmmmm a pattern?). We then walked down Shuhada Street a short way and waited in front of the building. Between this building which the soldiers use as a military post and the building across the street in which a Palestinian family lives as well as the Christian Peacemakers Team (CPT) is a barrier set up by the military in order to stop the flow of traffic from Shuhada Street to the old city. The barrier consists of a metal fence approximately 12 feet high, razor wire and a concrete barrier.

Eventually the soldiers approached us to see what we were doing and to try to tell us that we are not allowed to stand there. We were allowed to be there however. We told them we were waiting for the fire brigade to come and put out the fire. The police arrived next and all claimed not to speak English, except for one who sounded like he had a Russian accent and his English was very poor. He requested that we designate one person as a spokesperson, so we appointed a Swedish man who happens to be a firefighter. The conversation basically consisted of the police officer telling us to leave, that it was suspected that a Palestinian started the fire, then that there really wasn't a fire! Yes, nothing ever makes sense in Palestine.

Next a few settlers decided to join in. They insisted that they saw the 5 of us internationals come from the old city, break through the barrier and throw something in the building to set it on fire. It was then I became aware of my super hero capabilities to jump 12 ft fences and razor wire in a single bound! Oh yes, and to set a fire that didn't exist. Amazing! Theatre of the absurd!
(This is a view from inside the old city; the building that was burning is the one on the right.)

Eventually an American police officer arrived. Nice! An American, typical attitude of the police here. Actually he was a bit more diplomatic. He said that he had to file a report for arson based on what the settlers said but that he is aware of the absurdity, well, he didn't use that word but that is the gist of it. So, he took our passports and another officer took them over to the police vehicle to copy down the numbers. It must have been around 10:30pm by this time. Smoke was still pouring out of the building, that was not on fire, that we started:-)

A young settler boy approached the police vehicle and leaned on it to get a glimpse of our passports. I intervened and requested that he be removed. The police officers told him to go away. Thank you very much! After about 20 minutes we had our passports in hand and were told to leave the nonexistant burning fire. We left.

The owner of the building had to take matters in his own hands unfortunately. The fire brigade never showed up. The building is still occupied by the soldiers who eventually secured the building by permanently sealing the side door shut.

Just another day in Palestine.

07 August 2007

Hebron Settlers Removed

From the NY Times this evening.

Settler violence was increasing while I was there so I am not surprised by all the violence in removing them. I'm still at a loss for words when it comes to settlers illegally occupying Palestinian homes. All I can do is pray for peace.
Here is also a video of live footage from Al Jazeera of the action today.">
I wish I was still there.

Arriving In Hebron

I spent a couple of days in Ramallah to attend the nonviolent resistence ISM training which more than prepared me for life in the Tel Rumeida (TR) section of Hebron. Actually, the training scared the heck out of me. Worst case scenarios were given and they certainly appeared to be the worse. I had roughly one day after training to make my way down to Jerusalem where I took in some of the sites in the old city before I headed to TR the following day. I didn't intend to do ISM work while there, only teaching the kids, but later would find that it was impossible not to help out in other ways due to my conscience.

From Jerusalem I took a service taxi with Katie and Mary. The ride takes just about an hour. We had to switch services in the middle of a highways just outside of Jerusalem because it could not pass through the checkpoint. The road system is quite strange due to divisions between Israel and Palestine. I never did quite figure it out in regards to this point. Once we switched we headed directly for Hebron. The terrain is quite beautiful.

Rolling hills covered with rock gardens and catus. It reminded me of the high desert in eastern Oregon and Washington states. Every so often you can see a small village with just a few houses that look as though they will fall over at any minute. The closer we got to Hebron the more trash we saw, evidence of extreme poverty.

Once we arrived in Hebron I had a nervous feeling. This was it! I'm here to stay. We passed through the checkpoint dividing H1 from H2. H1 is a Palestinian only section of Hebron. H2 is where the Tel Rumeida settlement is. I can't even remember at this point if they asked for ID but regardless if they did this time, there would be many, many more times in which they would. We exited through the metal detectors and looked out onto Shuhada Street (street of martyrs).

It was like a ghost town. All of the oxidized bluish-green doors closed up. Once the heart and soul of Hebron but now a heavily armed guarded area completely shutdown. It was hard to imagine at that moment how things once appeared. Immediately we turned right to begin our walk up the very steep hill on Tel Rumeida Street.

The Palestinians are forced to walk up and down these extremely steep hills on a daily basis. Palestinians in TR are not allowed to drive cars. However, the settlers can. If someone was handicapped and could not walk I am not sure what they would do. Most likely they would be confined to a life at home. Even I had trouble walking down the hills. I was always in fear that I would slip and fall. Most likely a psychological block because others, especially Palestinian women, could walk down in high heels! But, they have had years of practice. One positive thing I can say about the hills is that they helped maintain my leg strength for running (which I couldn't do at all in TR).

At the top of the hill we passed another checkpoint with armed soldiers stationed at both sides of the street. Directly across from us where the road dead ends sat two ISMers keeping watch over the soldiers. Up the hill to the left sat the TR settlement. The soldiers here are basically useless and their job seemed to be to harrass Palestinians instead of providing protection to anyone. Eventually I would see them day after day playing around with each other, pointing guns as a game at women and children who walked by, stopping young Palestinian men to ask them to lift their shirts and trouser cuffs as though they were equipped with bombs.

Across from the settlement is a Palestinian home. We were told that we are not allowed to walk up that direction passed a certain point. Even the Palestinian's family members are not allowed to enter the family's home that way. Instead they must walk all the way around the back. About a 15 minute extra walk. Just the beginning of the absurd things I would hear about and witness with my own eyes.

Off in other direction was the international apartment. Atop the apartment was a roof with the most incredible view of Hebron as well as the areas we would patrol.

Across the street was the community center where I would begin teaching my classes.

06 August 2007

Injustices in Hebron

This is a copy of a report from ISM in Hebron. I cried when I read it. I cried not only because of the disturbing nature of the report but because it occurred at the school where a lot of my students attend during the normal school year as well as the place where the summer camp I worked for took place. (I have yet to write about the summer camp, but trust me, it is coming soon!) Regardless, it appears that Hebron is getting worse. I knew things were getting progressively more violent when I left last Thursday. I am not surprised as there is never a good explanation or reason for anything that occurs there. This report is life as normal for the Palestinians. This report is depressing and is why I went to Palestine in the first place and it is why I now sit here and cry and feel horrible about leaving so soon. I just hope that others who read this will try to help as much as possible, if only just by spreading the word around that would be enough.

August 6, 2007 12:20pm

At 12:20pm international human right workers received a call from a local Palestinian coordinator that a section of Quartaba Girls School had been set on fire by Israeli settlers.Quartaba girls school is located directly across from Beit Hadassah settlement.

When internationals arrived Palestinian residents were present as well as an Israeli policeman.They found that the back screen door, which is a metal frame, had been peeled up. This was how the Israeli settlers managed to enter the school without being seen.

The settlers had placed the metal frame of a bed on top of a table and set fire to it, along with pictures of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. The burning effigy was placed directly in front of a metal door that the children and teachers use to enter the school.

The fire had been burning for about 10 minutes before nearby Palestinian residents came with buckets of water and managed to put the fire out and keep it from spreading.

The internationals documented the scene and were told by the Palestinians that an electricity wire had been cut above the fire. It was apparent that this fire was started by adult settlers as the act was quite methodical and symbolic in the way it was laid out, with the pictures (of the Dome of the Rock), and the way they broke into the school. They also managed to commit the act undetected by Palestinians which no settler child could accomplish, and leads one to suspect that the act must have been planned and coordinated.

Israeli soldiers also later came to survey the scene, and at one point actually said that, for all they knew, it could have been Palestinians who had started the fire. They said that their was no solid evidence that it was Israeli settlers who had started the fire. This was obviously completely wrong, and offensive, since no Muslim would burn pictures of the Dome of the Rock or set fire to a Palestinian girls school. The only people who had motive to start the fire are Israeli settlers, who have in the past frequently attacked the schoolgirls and the school itself.

After ten more minutes the door to the school was opened and the windows inside were opened in order to release the smoke trapped inside the school.

Except for smoke damage, which was quiet extensive, there appeared to be no more damage to the school except for the cut electricity cable which will have to be repaired.

05 August 2007

First Arrival

When I first arrived in Palestine I headed directly from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem to my final resting destination in Ramallah. The scenery from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is very similar to that of driving in southern California around the LA area or even in Las Vegas. The houses are stucco with red terra cotta roofs. The highways are wide and smoothly paved. I thought for a moment that I was in America not Israel. When I requested to be dropped off at the Damascus Gate the driver stopped short on the highway, pointed over to the right and said to me to hurry and leave. He just took my money, threw my backpack on the ground and took off. You see, not many jewish drivers will venture near the Damascus Gate. It is part of the muslim quarter. It is not as nice and new of an area as most of Israel. Still it was where I needed and wanted to be.

From there the scenery to Ramallah was quite different. Once you pass through the Qalandia checkpoint things get a bit rough.

The roads are bumpy and sometimes not paved. The service was crowded with 7 passengers, all Palestinian except myself. It was obvious that I was an outsider however I was treated with much respect. We had to wind through smaller streets that pass through neighborhoods with Palestinian children playing in the streets as well as donkeys towing carts with many supplies for their owners. It was obvious that the people were living in poverty. Buildings had missing windows with graffitti on the walls and trash all over the streets. This did not remind me of America, well not as a whole anyway. This was the beginning of a true Palestinian experience.

Finally I arrived in Ramallah which is considered to be one of the more modern cities in Palestine. It is the acting capital and a lot of money is being pumped into new construction all throughout the area. Christians and muslim palestinians inhabit this city along with many internationals. It is quite a contrast from the ultra-conservative muslim city of Hebron where I was living during most my stay in Palestine. In Ramallah it is common to see women sans hijab as well as wearing short sleeved tops. This is not so in Hebron, of which I will write much more later.

The money being given to Ramallah for development is rumored to be invested there in order to create more of a divison amongst Palestinians. Those living in the north in cities like Jenin and Nablus as well as those in the south such as Hebron do not necessarily receive as much funding. Therefore, many Palestinians living near Ramallah tend to be content, as content as one can be under occupation because the entire country is still occupied despite new construction and development. However, those in the north and south still face more economical hardships as well as internal and external problems. Those same problems just seem to be masked in Ramallah for the moment. At least that is the feeling I had while there.

I really didn't spend a lot of time there, but I did get to check out the wadi and have some coffee at the Americanized Starbucks offshoot, Stars & Bucks.

Here you can sit and watch the people walk around shopping and the cars fight traffic around the circle in the menara. The hustle and bustle of Ramallah from the cafe for just a moment made me feel like I was at home, but just for a brief moment. Here it was difficult to really understand what life under occupation was going to be like. For that brief moment, it seemed as though there really weren't any of problems that I had read about in the news. At least they were not apparent on the suface. Everyone was smiling, shopping and enjoying their nargila as well as their cappucinos. Life was moving on. That is one thing I've noticed in Palestine. The people are strong and adapt to situations of hardship better than most Americans I know, including myself.

It was only a very short time later that I was exposed to the true hardships and realities of life under occupation.

04 August 2007


I am safe in the U.S. now so I will be able to update this blog very soon. My return was uneventful. The Israeli security people only seemed interested in my trip to Egypt in 2003. For some reason they questioned me for about 5 minutes about why I went there, who I visited including questions about visiting families who live there. The security girl, who was maybe 20 years old, also asked about a stamp from Morocco and again the same line of questioning. After I went on to have my luggage searched but they really only removed 3/4 of the items. They didn't look at my photos or videos or even question why I was in Israel. I am thankful for that because I really, really, really want to return much sooner than later, insh'allah.