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Saturday, October 22, 2011

Breakfast, a demonstration, and Armageddon

Friday evening


I am catching up on world news, trying to catch up on local news. The triple murders, and the prison release, merit only a brief mention in the English language newspapers. I would like to know more, still hope to have the chance to discuss things with Said and Sihan, and also with Lilli, when she returns on Sunday. For her perspective as a Jew, but also as a very broadminded person, obviously, as she is working at the gallery, and certainly supports Arab rights.

What I do see, in the international news, is mention of the crazy preacher who predicted the Apocalypse to occur some months ago `. He has now recalculated it to occur – TODAY! This is particularly interesting to me because here in Umm el Fahem, I am only a short distance from the town of Bar Megiddo, known in Hebrew as …..you guessed it, Armageddon! I had been thinking already it might be interesting to go there, described by my Lonely Planet guidebook as a popular attraction for doomsday watchers as well as the just plain curious. And a woman I met yesterday who lives there says that it’s a very interesting archeological site. So if I rush out right now, maybe I can make it before midnight. I’ve still got a few hours. But wait, if he was calculating American time, I’ve got about 10 hours.

Yesterday evening did not pan out as planned, a not unusual state of affairs. There was a group of high school students fulfilling their 200 hour community service commitment, by working on a photography project with the artist whose photos are currently on exhibit here. .The group uses the same large meeting room that we have been using. So apparent.ly we couldn’t meet. But we had met a few days back in the office so Layla could cover the front desk.
And, as I’ve said before, there are other rooms available too. Then, more disappointingly,, Jamal didn’t come to pick me up at 4pm. I know he has my phone number, and I had his wife’s cell #, too, but didn’t feel like pursuing. it. I think his hours of community service to the gallery may be over, too. I do hope I get to see him, and his family, again. I believe that he registered his children in the art classes here after I mentioned it last week. So perhaps I will see them tomorrow.

This morning, Said picked us up, as planned, and brought us to his house for breakfast. He was wearing a t shirt and crocs! Certainly more informal than his daily attire at the gallery. (not that he dresses terribly formally, no jacket and tie, but no t shirt and crocs, either. Sihan had no head scarf on. Women often don’t wear them at home. But their daughter Rawan and Rawan’s friend were wearing them.

First it was just Sihan, Suzi, and myself eating breakfast, which Said cooked, a Friday family tradition. Rawan, her older sister, (who is in dental school in Jordan, and comes home every weekend) and Bashir were still asleep. Her sister wore no head scarf,and I don’t know if she does when she goes out. What an amazing breakfast – some kind of delicious omelet, and then one after another of something I didn’t catch the name of, but was basically a whole pita covered in different kinds of ingredients ( they ranged from cheese and onions to tomatoes to a wonderful herb called zatar, which I later looked up on line. drenched in olive oil.) The oil was “”new” they said, and so had a different taste, kind of spicy, which surprised me. We also dipped plain pita in the oil, in hummus, in tahini. ,Zatar, as I read, is an herb blend that varies in composition. Traditionally, it contains wild thyme. But the thyme is threatened, and has been put on the endangered list by the Israeli government. There is a fine for picking it. Some use regular thyme, but it is not the same, according to Said. Some Israeli Arabs consider it an affront that they are not allowed to pick it, according to Wikipedia. Other ingredients can include oregano, sesame seeds, caraway seeds, and sumac berries.

Said kept cooking these wonderful concoctions, starting with half cooked pita, and cooking them in an electric appliance that looked somewhat like a Dutch oven. And Sihan kept cutting them in quarters with a pizza cutter, and plying us with more and more until they finally believed that we couldn’t eat any more! Meanwhile, the woman who cleans their house was there, and, after she had done a lot of dusting, she came to join us at the table. She said, as Sihan translated, that she likes being there on Friday because she gets to eat so much delicious food.

I can’t remember what prompted it, but somehow, halvah got mentioned, and Said climbed up to one of the upper cabinets and took down two large containers, with two kinds of halvah. I had almost purchased one in the local store a few days ago, until I realized I didn’t have enough cash, and hadn’t brought my credit card.

I wasn’t sure how similar halvah would be here to the kind one gets at home. Recipes I’ve seen for it vary quite widely. But I was pleased to discover it was quite similar, and managed to eat several pieces despite all I’d already had. And, I was even more delighted to find out that the Halvah factory belongs to someone in their family, and they will take us for a visit!

We never did get to the olive preserving process. Perhaps next week.


Last night, we’d heard noises, chanting, coming from outside the gallery. When we went out to the roof deck to look, we could see people marching in the street parallel to ours, and hear them chanting some slogans. They marched down, toward the junction with the main road. Some time later, they came back up, on our street. We didn’t know if this was connected to the violence, the returned prisoner, or what. We weren’t particularly worried, thinking that if it was anything of concern Said would surely call us.

This morning, at breakfast, we learned that it had indeed been a protest against the violence, and that a much bigger demonstration, including women, would happen today, at about noon.

Suzi and I were both interested in going, and found out that Rawan was planning to go, with her friend, and we could accompany her.

I still remained puzzled about against whom they were protesting. The murders, obviously, were a terrible thing. But what they were asking of the police, and why the municipal government was protesting the police, was a mystery to me. Finally, after many questions, I began to understand. The police are federal. As Rawan explained it, the police don’t do anything to protect the people.

I asked how she thought the police could have prevented or helped in the situation of the murders. Rawan mentioned the idea of checking people’s homes for arms. I questioned whether people would really appreciate having police come into their homes. She thought, maybe just periodically, once or twice a year.

Basically, I think people are protesting against the lack of the Israeli government to recognize their needs, police, health, education, all kinds of services. The Arab population is, after all, 20% of the Israeli population, and they clearly do not get the services they should.



We soon set off, Rawan and her friend, Suzi, myself, uphill toward one of the larger mosques, where people were congregating for the march. There were women, old and young, and quite a few children, and we soon found and joined the large group marching through the streets. I saw men only at the very beginning of the march, and believe that there was a separate group of men marching from another direction>

I have to say I hadn’t thought this through very well, guess I was envisioning e watching the demonstration, not marching in it. I have never been a marcher, even when there is a cause I strongly support, just don’t like the group mentality, the chanting, etc. But there was no chance of our “just watching”. Rawan took me, and her friend took Suzi, literally in hand, pulling us forward faster than the pace of the group. They wanted to get towards the front, where it would be more interesting, And, they clearly took very seriously their mission of being responsible for us. Mostly the concern was about our getting lost, not any other worries. . Rawan mentioned, at one point, thatshe thought people would be very appreciative of us, as foreigners, joining in and supporting their cause. And here I was, not even sure I was understanding the cause, and also getting hotter and more out of breath by the moment. I wondered how these women, many in long coats and head scarves, managed in the heat. I often wonder this, not only during the march, but my concern was amplified here.

Rawan said that she had been worried about the demonstration last night. But she thought this one would be different, because women were marching too, and that would provide a different kind of atmosphere. I would guess that she’s right. This, I heard later from Suzi, was the first demonstration that Rawan had participated in, the first time she had felt strongly enough about protesting. She is, after all, not quite 18.

When it became clear that the march was going to continue on a lot longer, and have many more ups and downs through the winding streets, I told Rawan to head me back in the direction of the gallery, and we soon came to the road it’s on, and the march went on, uphill, and I headed down toward home, not far.

I am not sorry I participated: it was quite a remarkable experience, certainly an insight into Israeli Arab society that I hadn’t anticipated having. Surrounded by women, of many ages, shouting slogans that I couldn’t understand, in the familiar cadence of political chants around the world.

Oh, by the way, I noticed a photographer, along the way, taking a picture of me. So maybe I’ll make tomorrow’s local news. Unless, that is, Armeggedon occurs tonight.

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