Monday, June 27, 2011

Men in Nablus

I borrowed a Canon DSLR from my buddy Julia in order to snap some shots of Ibrahim for an article I'm working on. It was such a pleasure to have a decent camera, I felt like I could suddenly speak again! Don't leave home without one. On my way to the shoot I familiarized myself with the camera by grabbing some shots of friends along the way. Regarding the title, you'll notice 'Men' is right. The public realm in general and foreigners snoopin' around with cameras certainly don't play nice with Middle Eastern Women. But to all my women friends, I want a picture of you too!

Here's Ameed at work. He's always bugging me to stop and chat at his sewing shop, and is always mad cos' I'm always busy.

Two Husseins. The one on the left is a santa-clausy character that's always jokin' with me like I'm a local. I went with my friend to his stand once and my friend was like 'that guy insulted you like 100 times!' Whatever. I can't tell. The other Hussein is both a football coach and art teacher in Askar. He speaks arabic CRAZY fast and I'm really stoked when I can understand him.

This sweetie's named Baseem, he's a toothless guy who lurks in a picturesqely hidden coffee shop over the old city, rooms randomly filled with electronics. He knocked his teeth out on a scooter a couple years back so he talks with a funny lisp. Photos of his brother, Basim, pepper the old city, as he was a resistance fighter who was gunned down in his sleep by Israeli forces in 2007. I think I know most of this family and we talk all the time about politics, it's amazing that they'll treat me as a friend considering the US's justifiable rep around here.

Here's his son, Basim, named after his uncle. Baseem's an older fella who only wants 2 kids, which is super strange in Palestine. Cool guy.

After a photoshoot in the old city Ibrahim and I went to Balata, here he is with his brother.

Boy with Kite, Balata Camp

I was shooting Ibrahim for a bike article, but somehow horses got involved. Go figure.

The best shots (obviously!) are the ones I'm using for the article, but there are like 20 good ones, so maybe I'll throw them up here so ya'll can help me decide which ones to use. Good to be back in Nablus, good to have a good camera.
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Friday, June 24, 2011

Days in the Life, Bike touring Nablus to Haifa and the places in between

I had about a week to burn with nothing to do between film projects, so I abandoned my cabin-fever inducing routine of waking at 6 and running, writing for 2 hours, bumming around, then studying Arabic for 3 more. It's incredibly productive use of my time but it makes me antsy and sometimes I run out of inspiration. So I packed up my bike and headed out for a circular 5 day route from Nablus to Haifa and back. The route would cross 3 Israeli checkpoints and take me from the most conservative points of Palestine to the most liberal points of Israel in under 4 hours of biking. The checkpoint guards tell me I'm crazy (as usual), crazy for riding a bike, crazy for sleeping in Nablus, for trusting Arabs. The only crazy thing is how little they know about their neighbors, who would kill you by earnest hospitality a whole lot faster than by any direct attack.

They let me through and I bike up a steep grade past Ariel settlement, stop again at checkpoint #2, more security, had to dis-assemble my bike to get it through a baggage scanner, but my story was more plausible this time: I had just biked to Ariel and was headed back to Tel Aviv because I like biking up mountains. After that it was flying downhill, and I was relaxing in an immaculately-maintained park on a riverside straight out of Munich or Paris by 10:00 am.

I went to Yoav's art opening in a brand-spankin' new hip gallery, white and bauhausy, 3 stories, rooftop dance patio, projected video onto the graffiti'd industrial buildings nearby. 50's ballads and mo-town all night long! Yoav's piece looked great, everyone there serious and beautiful in that academic liberal Jewish way we artists know so well.

The gallery was the brainchild of two people who had died before it could come into being. How did they die? one from cancer, one from a Palestinian Terrorist Attack (acronym pending). Damn. Those moments of connection and clarity really chill you. The artsy folks around me didn't know that the night before I was hanging out in Nablus, learning about yet another extraordinary death or collective punishment or circumstance that wasn't part of my reality from people that saw the gallery-owners death as a form of justified resistance. And I'm sitting here looking at a-political creative objects and a bunch of people having a good weekend night thinking 'how is this stuff even related?'

After a couple days of Tel Aviv I start biking up the coast to Haifa. Yoav decides to come with me, and together we set off on a funny journey punctuated by getting lost, heat, and 3 flat tires in a row. We spent the night on the beach, sleeping in sheets in the sand, listening to the ocean, and set off further north the next day.

I was planning on sleeping on the beach again once I got to Haifa, but called an acquaintance who was out of town, he was nice enough to give me his place for as long as I felt like it! So I plunked down in an old stone building sandwiched between the train line and the sea, typing away in my underwear like I've been here for months. Hilarious. My host Jeremy is really interesting and cool for someone I don't know at all. I met him in Nablus and literally talked with him for 10 minutes. He's an inventor and patent lawyer. Judging from my surroundings he knows how to cook well. One of 3 rooms in the house is taken up by an electrical workshop, there are high-powered magnets lying around everywhere, and books on basic particle physics and electrical engineering. I watched a creepy/obscure David Lynch films and read myself to bed with Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time. Life's good and hilarious.

After Haifa, seeing the Baha'i gardens and hanging out with a cool woman from Salt Lake, I got my bike all outfitted as a perfect MTB tourer (which you can read me geek out about on Saltcycle). It's official now, I have a bike I like, I don't want to leave. Simple as that. The slick tires are comparatively crazy fast and touring's effortless. The Baha'i guys are pretty ideal, I talked for one about religion for a long time, they're basically Secular Humanists with a god fixation. Awesome. They believe in gender equality and compulsory education and interrelation between all people. Sign me up. They also believe in something called Progressive Revelation , which is pretty sensible. It's essentially the notion that all religious teachings throughout history were catered towards the people of that age and what they were capable of working on, in a cultural and social framework that they understand, and so on. So like 'hey bible, you're cool, but a teensy bit sexist...' type of logic going on. As a mythologist I can dig that too.

Crazy descending gardens.

When it was time to leave Haifa I decided it was time to do some serious exploring. Without a map and with a list of village names I set off into the wilderness, and onto some of the best touring roads I've ever discovered.

I was guided primarily by a random paragraph I found on the internet (that I can't find now, go figure) and google maps satellite pictures. I found the connection between a Jewish town and a cool little Muslim village called Ilut by looking at the satelite image and saying to myself 'I bet there's a logging road by that treeline.' After a morning's riding to the end of a random housing development, I dropped off a ledge and pulled my bike through about 20 yards of forest, to where this road emerged:

followed by this one:

and then the town of Ilut! Where the water is gratifyingly cold and the hills steep enough to encourage existentialism in pretty much anyone.

Success. From there I rode what seemed an impossibly long stretch from Nazareth to Nablus, punctuated by an improbably high number of motorcycle-like hairpin curves and the summer sun, scuttling from shade to shade like a spider, resting for half an hour at a time and chatting with various folks on the road.

The whole loop was about 300 kilometers (186 miles) and spanned a whole lot of Israel/Palestine. It was a great use of my sweat, time, and communication skills, and was a huge boost to my personal inspiration. Many times along the way I reveled at my ability to transcend these two cultures who seem incapable of doing so. I'm happy to be back in Nablus, tired and tan, gearing up for a month more, and then a long goodbye.

with that, I leave you with this:

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Saturday, June 11, 2011

Coincidences don't exist.

Fine, sure they do, but they certainly help hone our lives and define what's significant. I was sitting there NOT being productive because of a wicked headache listening to Radiolab, the best show ever and apparently the generative kernel of all things inspirational to me. From this segment I learned the inspiring/heartbreaking/memento mori tale of Emily Gossiaux, a young artist from New York who was mowed down by an 18-wheeler. Emily is in the process of being re-constituted, bit by bit, from an a-sensory state. The above radiolab link is REALLY worth listening to, it floored me.

That, in and of itself, was chilling to me. As a biker, Emily's brush with death has existed in the back of my mind as a possible event for me for at least the last 8 years, whispering when I feel the most fragile. It doesn't help that this week a young lady in Salt Lake was killed in a hit-and-run, as was a bike messenger in Santa Cruz. But what really got me was her picture.

from her website.

I've seen this girl before... In my head. She's exactly what my main character looks like from a writing project I've been shelving and working on for more than a year. From my character notes:

"------ is a girl nearing college age with long dark hair and big curious eyes. Her eyes snap to a dull glaze whenever she thinks it's cooler to not be as intrigued by a given subject of interest. She discovers her alternative leanings rather than beginning with them. She's pretty, tall, and of thin build, but awkward and with a layer of slight chubbiness which causes her to be self-conscious around other girls. Further insecurity is shown in the layer of makeup that surrounds her already naturally striking eyes."

Exact. I didn't mention her eyes, but they're that color. And yeah the makeup thing's wrong, but Emily's older, she's already shed that self-consciousness. So that's creepy in and of itself. Then, a random comment, somewhere, says this girl "looks like another Emily, the Gaza Flotilla girl." Huh. Gaza. Relevant. I follow the link. Suddenly I'm learning about Emily Henochowicz, who lost her eye when bolted with a teargas canister in Qalandia a year or so ago.

They DO look alike. They could be sisters. They're both artists, and... wait... they both go to Cooper Union, and know each other! Spooky. But what's more spooky, and ever more apparent to me, is how mortal we all are. How damageable. These two girls, like so many others, were tragically cracked apart, in very different circumstances, extraordinary and ordinary, militarized occupation and routine traffic accident.

It's important to remember that every incident is a symbol for many others, a systemic whole. I hate that the world underlines and sensationalizes one death or transgression over the other. What happened to bicycle Emily could happen to anyone, and what happened to protest Emily often does happen to Palestinians.

It's actually one of the things that makes the Palestinian-Israeli conflict important to me. It's not MORE important to other things throughout the world, but the relationship of power, political manipulation in the name of self interest, and the prioritizing of oppression for gain over self-determination all can be easily transferred and applied elsewhere in the world in a thousand different contexts.

So when I watch this video, going viral at the moment, of a 19 year old American Jew being beaten and arrested by Israeli military for standing up and eloquently stating why he's against their occupation, I don't think just of him.

I think of every Palestinian who's gone through the same struggle of voicelessness in the face of injustice, and every Syrian who can't say what he believes right now, and American radicals who can't stop the destruction of the environment for wealth, and homeless kids in Tanzania who huff glue all night because they can't sleep otherwise, and then...

Well I guess then my headache comes back. Fuck. I'm gonna go live in a log cabin somewhere. Maybe finish this book. G'night everybody!
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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Free at last... for now.

This situation is insane. The fellow here is my personal friend who would be better set as a lawyer or head of a successful creative firm than being constantly thrown in prison. He is just one example of many. Another great guy and great friend of mine is picked up before every scheduled demonstration and beaten, detained all day, so he cannot participate, even though he doesn't want to!

The internal Palestinian government is an unstable and draconian grudge machine that does nothing but push its people into apathy. The Israeli occupation would gladly label this kind, capable, bright, creative guy a terrorist, and they actively perpetuate the stupid internal politics through every means at their formidable disposal. Fight oppression everywhere, however you can. Read More......

In the press: Bike Palestine!

While I'm still sitting around with my finger in my nose trying to think of a good way to document my crazy experience volunteer guiding bikers through the West Bank, Olivia Snaije (that's her on the left!) got it all together in this nice, leveling piece in Haaretz, aimed at reminding Israel of the humanity and approachability of their oft-demonized neighbors. She also gave me a paragraph-long shout out that makes me sound cooler than I actually am.

Between Warm and Fuzzy, and Dangerous Read More......

Abraham's Path: Walking the Other Face of Palestine

API: Walking the Other Face of Palestine (2011) from One Light Cinema on Vimeo.

I love this video for Abraham's Path.
Firstly, walking across Palestine, and the greater Middle East, is a beautifully simple action and way of investing in the situation that matches the frankness and honestness with which Palestinians accept their visitors. I think the people who would sign up for such an endeavor are hardy and patient, good representatives of their culture, and the people they meet along the way would teach them many things about Palestine.
Secondly, the local organization which Abraham's path works with for logistics and connecting with guides, the Siraj Center, is excellent. Their people are fun and strong and frank and know the landscape politically and geographically through and through. The worked with us on the Bike Palestine trip and were the saving grace to an otherwise hilariously dysfunctional experience.
Thirdly, the filmmaker's a consummate pro, and pulled a light and luster out of the Palestinian spring that I envy. He also had the temerity to get close-up shots with people in the villages and streets, men and women, which speaks legions to his fluency in the culture and ability to communicate with people.

I want to do work like this.

The one criticism I have of this short film is the gloved-approach they take towards one of the main facets of Palestine: the occupation. I've gone along the route they took, by bicycle, and I know for a fact the tourists I was with learned profoundly from the contrast of villager kindness and simplicity and the restrictions and difficulties they face with their militarized neighbors in the settlements. In the film Hebron, a city nearly destroyed by the prison-like conditions the tension between settlers and locals create, is intentionally glossed over as a normal place, when in fact the tomb of Abraham is divisively pivotal to the city's situation: it is because of the tomb that settlers are so fiercely dug in there. It makes sense that Abraham's Path would omit this, as to them Abraham is a symbol of the uniting aspects the 3 religions of the book share. This is their goal: to dwell and uphold the commonalities that make us human as a path towards peace rather than be divided by our differences. But once someone comes to Palestine they learn undeniably that there is an imbalanced power structure to the division, and the conditions are slowly choking off the future of the people here. To omit this reality in pursuing a dialog towards common ground and peace seems confused, or ineffective, or capitulatory, to me.

But everyone who's spent some time thinking about the conflict here already knows this, and since everyone else is constantly imbedded in the negative aspects it's nice to see and beautiful, hopeful film. I just hope they're being hopeful in the name of progress, and not to avoid stepping on powerful toes. Read More......

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Look What You People Have Done

Anti-hate, anti-islamaphobia, anti-racism art in Chicago. A preview of things to come.
There's all kinds of hate in the world, always good to see people talking about it. An excellent video, but I don't think their target audience is going to see it/get it. Personally, though, as a member of the choir they're preaching to, I love it. Thanks Mohammad Bustami for the Link. Read More......

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Refusing to Leave, or Leaving all the time.

An excellent episode of Radiolab talked about cities, their behaviors as organisms (growing, breathing, many units making up a whole, product in, product out) but their weirdly unique characteristic of never dying. Around here, where occupiers and cultures come and go to the tune of 7000, 10000 year histories (Jericho, anyone?), it's clear that where people dig in there heels it takes quite the circumstance to get them to leave. Radiolab gives the amazing example of Centraila, a little podunk town in Pennsylvania that was home to an underground coal fire for years, people factionalizing and bickering and never wanting to leave, the ground under their feet literally burning. People fought tooth and nail to stay there. When asked to explain why they held on so long, experts simply chalk it up to human nature. The primal desire to hold onto what you know, to what's yours.

So of course, when you're Palestinian, and someone says, "hey, leave!" you say "hell no!" And everyone knows what happened from there. A century long push-pull, mostly pushing, of new neighbors greeted with hospitality and co-existence to a tenuous balance under a mutual occupier to armed struggle and aggression and mutual conflict to the ever diminishing tracts of crowded, occupied, and strangled land under a militant, victorious, zealous foreign government. Und so weiter.

The very core of the tragedy, from a sustained humanitarian suffering perspective, is that Palestine was not destroyed quickly. It's currently halfway through an era-long strangulation, which, as the imagery suggests, isn't pretty. Couple that with the spiky, unnatural settlement compounds multiplying all over like torturous barbs, and the land starts to appear as some kind of BDSM victim. Sure, some might find that sort of thing quite cool, but I must remind everyone that a key difference between serial rape and an adventurous relationship are the issues of violence and consent.

Wow. So now kink is a metaphor for Palestine. I'm SO going to hell. Moving beyond that...

In short, the people are primally and inextricably obligated to resist the destruction of their homeland. But like the Radiolab guys mention, cities don't die, they just change hands. I think also of Istanbul, that many-named city, where buildings like the Aya Sophia were once sites of pagan rituals, then roman temples, then churches, then mosques, now 'theological monuments.' We're watching that kind of spatial-cultural takeover happen in real time. Ask an Israeli about their cultural food. Shakshouka? Felafel? Hummus (Hummus wars?)? as Arab as the hijab. Or, my favorite example, the Mid-East floor squeegee/mop:

This humble device is an ingenious method of cleaning floors, and both my Israeli and Palestinian friends have championed it as an invention of their culture, going so far as to suggest we open a business selling them, usually at the same time as deriding this:

as a unilaterally inferior way of cleaning the crap off the floor. As the American in Palestine I'm resigned to a healthy dose of anti-American cultural ribbing, but hey, if you're going to criticize, at least do it with things you don't share with your sworn enemy. But that's just it. These two cultures are and have been more similar than dissimilar, from their food to their hygiene to their religious customs. Remember that throw-away comment on hijabs? It's not like Muslims have a corner on the obscured hair market. Sometimes there's room for cultural mixing, where the two peoples create a hybrid existence that is rich and varied, but when the two are kept in constant inequality, one a militarized occupier and the other a powerless, voiceless prisoner, such possibilities are no more than a nice idea. Until the power balance is shifted Palestinians are just an oppressed people who


Now, as I'm in a retrospective vein, it's with a slightly heavy heart that I turn to where I grew up. I'm from, factually, not arguably, one of the most beautiful places on earth. It's boggling how amazing Sundance is.

This picturesque landscape raised me, trained me, gave me my desires, opinions, prejudices. I had no fear of the forest night, and knew I could walk with friends in the streets unmolested and sleep wherever we wished once night adventures wore down at 3 in the morning. We skied every day. Salt Lake, as well, is an escape from rural Sundance, and also my home. It too has never mistreated me. Yet if you told me I had to live there for the next 10 years I would probably mutiny. I have been traveling all my life and constantly running away from Utah. When I return to the states it is imperative to my plans that I move to Chicago or the Bay Area as soon as possible.

Clearly I'm from a radically different environment. Through the comfort and security afforded me by my privilege I have only the slightest qualms about abandoning my land, primarily because I know I will probably always be able to return. Palestinians, obliteratingly obviously, do not have that privilege. Their land has been threatened for close to a hundred years, and resistance is their existence. Some days I see what's happening in Palestine and I want it to die, everyone packing up and moving to the margins or wherever fate takes them, so that the suffering ends, people can have closure, and have lives concerned with something beyond the conflict.

But in reality I want to see more justice than that.
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Thursday, June 2, 2011

To Jenin: April 16th, 7 years and one day after a revision of my history.

Liberated by the knowledge that I was finished volunteering, adventures and unknowns ahead, I set off to be the trip mechanic on a week long bike tour from Jenin to Hebron, stem to stern of the West Bank and beyond. It started out from a place called Hamdad Tourism Resort, outside of Jenin, a hard-hit city with a conservative reputation that was rocked by the assassination of Juilano Mer Khamis a few weeks earlier. I biked down into a winding valley called Wadi Badan, one of the best stretches of road in Palestine, a beautiful decent with the option to pop into a swimming hole at the end of it. After that a series of rolling hills wore me out, as underestimating distances seems to be my forte here. I left at about 1 pm to make it to Jenin, which conveniently dropped me in the midst of the first decently hot day of the season. It still felt great to be free, all my things with me in my saddlebags, cruising through cute villages like Aqaba and Zebabida, berms and green fields.


Coincidentally running into some young kids from the village who recognized me from Nablus put me in a great mood. We were so happy to see each other, like old friends. I became giddy and lightfooted, reflecting on my life, a wander. I wrote on the roadside:

"Remember the eyes and soft faces of the girls you've fallen in love with, their work, their power. Remember the draw of attraction and the bittersweet, youthful knowledge that there's more love in the world, always more love."

There was a current of immaturity running through that moment, and a simultaneous acknowledgment of it.

What I didn't write is:
Each moment eclipses the last unless you're careful to record it. Contrast that with the audacious knowledge that we all settle down, someday, and that there's always an end.

Because here, in this exceptionally conservative place and moment in the ever-conservative Middle East, love is not a wander, ever. It's a permanence. An awesomely limiting proposition. If I were from here, paradoxically, there's no way I would have ever left my family, my home. Terrifying, but there's incredible strength in that.

I'd been in Palestine three months, and extrapolated forward another three to imagine the cumulative effect. I'd lived a lot in that time, parts had seemed rough, and challenging. But in that same stretch of time many mundane challenges have taxed others in my family in ways more subtle and more impossible to bear. My grandmother and father were dying slowly, and others taking care of them, their lives on hold as they watched the minutes slip away on sickbed duty. My adventures are easy to sustain compared to the chores of my mother, spending 80 of the first 160 days of 2011 at my grandmother's bedside, and she went about those tasks pragmatically enough. It consumes her. I wonder what her life, free, would be. And me, her clever son, has not the strength to be consumed.

A tractor just drove by, all red and green and yellow, the driver a sharp and kind-looking old man with one of those old-fashioned headscarves that I never learned the name of, simpler than a keffeyah and white. Face like an old apple. He looked so cheerful and kind, a version of my father in the Palestinian countryside. This is his land, and as it died, he lived, and did not abandon it.

I condemn myself, but I take the burden of my decision: My life is my own, and for now, I want to be free. I'll make use of that.


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