Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Status Quo - Returning Home we are Greeted with the hope of Change in the West Bank

On our last day in the West Bank we were invited by Joseph’s friend Omar to go to the village in Hebron that we had been looking for the other day that had notable attacks by settlers. He suggested that we first stop by his home.

Driving up to his home he pointed out the cars parked everywhere leading up to the end of his street where there stood a looming portion of the wall and a small check point for Palestinians who work on the other side to walk though. Because of the check point he and his neighbors get a lot of traffic through there, but that the kind that's good for business.

Omar showed us all the businesses that used to be open up and down the street, describing the place as having been a fairly bustling neighborhood. Besides the painfully obvious fact that the wall jutting in through the little neighborhood didn’t really give off a lingering vibe, I asked why the businesses had closed down, since so many Palestinians march through there on their way to work (mostly very low income jobs on the other side). He explained to me that the visa’s for these Palestinians working in Israel had a daily time limit. That they have to use to get through the check point, go to work and get back across by 7pm, otherwise they violate the visa that allows them to travel to Jerusalem.

With guns and towers, visas and curfews, living next to a check point is, well, difficult.

Next we were off to At-Tuwani, an 1000-year-old village south of Hebron reportedly having major problems with the nearby settlement : Basically an ongoing series gruesome attempts by nearby the Settlers to drive these people off their land, beginning around the time I was born.

We arrived and were greeted by extreme poverty, like many things here, conditions that beg the question, "why?".

We walked into the “village” a little ways and were welcomed by Sean with the Christian Peacemaker Team. This international team had been at first temporally and now permanently dispatched to support this village. (I urge everyone to read more about what they are up to) It was very very hot out so they offered us water and we all sat down to have a chat in the shade for a moment.

Sean explained to us that the village was made up of families that had been here for generations upon generations, that they were and still are farmers who work the land to sustain themselves. However since the Ma'on settlement arrived in the early 80s things went from good to worse for these people.

Like in Hebron, the Settlers here want these people out. That’s why the Peacemakers had been called in there. Apparently after a string of attacks on school children with rocks and as well as consistent attacks on the shepherds, as well as some of the villagers being shot by settlers from trees, this village and the others in the region who were under attack finally got organized, and asked this non-profit group to work with them, for the most part as international escorts.

NOTE: Settlers were issued (and still carry) Uzi and M-16 machine guns for "self-defense." They also are (defending the land that even the Israeli government officially deemed Palestinian, yet encouraged to defend it with these weapons and their own escorts (like body guards paid for by the Israeli government, hows that for taxation without representation?)

NOTE ALSO: The initial support of the settlements, the co
nsistent coddling of these settlements and the acceleration of their development in the past few years ALL clearly violate The Fourth Geneva Convention (Article 49). Again, I urge you to read more about the acceleration of this kind of sanctioned vigilantism and its RECENT acceleration. (read more from

I asked Sean a little about what life was like for these people and he explained that these people are living with out running water or electricity, which they have been trying to get from the Israeli government who has denied these request violating The Universal Declaration of Human Rights as determined by the UN, drafted, ironically as a reaction to the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazi's during WWII.

The Israeli Government’s excuse for denying these people access to water and power? That the people didn't want it. Which, as Sean put it “is absurd", especially since there have been repeated well poisonings, by, you guessed it the neighboring settlers, who not only have their water pumping in but had their entire town subsidized by the government.

We walked out far into the land to see the shepherds at work. The landscape was stunning. Along the way Sean showed us where another town had been run out by the violence against them. We saw the shepherds who were mostly herding goats along in the valley and up higher on the mountain. I couldn’t help but ask, what were the goats grazing on? As it turns out, not much. There hasn’t been enough rain, which combined with the loss of farming land that has been poisoned by the settlers it has been hard for these simple villagers to maintain their long tradition of peacefully working the land.

So what are the villagers doing to survive? Well, they are applying for permits to be allowed to work low paying jobs the Israeli side of town. Check mate.

This is the last entry of this blog from oversees but I would like to say right now, that it feels to us that this journey is just beginning. On this trip the world of the conflict was opened up for me to see, and we began to understand in a way that I have struggled to show here though text and pictures alone. Even so, I hope that this blog has helped you to begin to ask questions about this conflict and that the the film itself will be able to show you what we have seen in a way words and pictures cannot.

One question I asked nearly everyone it met, both on camera and off, was are things getting better, or are they getting worse? Everyone had a different answer. I guess it depends on how you define progress. Or perhaps which of your freedoms you personally value most, whether your concern is for violence and curfew on the streets or the economic strangle hold over your country.

But there is no doubt in my mind that the settlements in the west bank are unjustifiable and that if their actions are allowed to continue (whether we admit that they are supported by the Israeli government in action or inaction) that the entire international community is to blame for not doing something to stop it.

On returning home, I became anxious over how to voice my opinion on the conflict after having seen it first hand and the feeling I have left with for the absolute need for an end to the oppression of the West Bank.

Luckily, as we sat waiting for our plane in Amman, we were welcomed home by a new voice of hope, with a well timed statement from President Obama. Following meetings at the White House with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Obama released a statement saying that he has made clear that in talks with Netanyahu last week that "I was very clear...about the need to stop settlements, to make sure we are stopping the building of outposts."

Video of Obama on the advancement of peace and security in the Middle East, calling for a two state solution.

So we will continue to blog about the signs of hope for this region as well as out progress on the film as we work to support justice in "what many observers believe is a pivotal time in the Middle East peace process."

I hope that all of you who have followed this blog so far have found it enlightening, and that our journey into the conflict has intrigued you to continue to seek the truth about this conflict, in part I hope by supporting our completion of this film, because seeing is believing.

To support Corner Store please join our mailing list (or join us on Facebook) and consider a small donation to this project through Pay Pal of through the San Francisco Film Society. (or by check)

Saturday, May 30, 2009

off the beaten path

This morning we woke up to our usual routine, the kids got ready for school and left one at a time and we did a lengthy interview with Joseph over some Arabic Coffee (see last blog entry). In our interview Joesph mentioned a certain refugee camp near Hebron and off we went. Hebron, is a densely populated city south of Bethlehem known for its figs, limestone and glassblowing is also know for the intense friction between the local Palestinians and Israeli settlers and the continued violence between the two.

We grabbed a service (its like bigger than a cab and smaller than a bus) to Hebron, where we met a Muslim woman coming back from Bethlehem from school. I asked her where she was going, and she told me she lived in Hebron with her husband and children but was studying Microbiology and that the college nearer to her did not have the classes she needed. We asked her about the refugee camp and she told us more about it. She wanted to know if we had a guide or an interpreter with us, and seemed to suggest that we should. We didn't.

On arriving in Hebron, it was about 10-15 seconds after stepping out of the service, that we met the first of our many local guides. Mohammed was a kid of about 16 who asked us where we were headed, and after some miscommunications back and forth in neither real English or Arabic, he asked if were were going to see the mosque of Abraham. Since we knew the Mosque was through the old city, and since he offered to show us, and since Hebron is VERY DENSELY POPULATED, we agreed, and he and his friends took us through the center of Hebron and into the old city.

Now, I knew a little about the settlers from Bethlehem but the settlers in Hebron were not off on a hill slowly im
posing themselves, but rather they were right on top of us, quite literally. Going deeper and deeper into the old city, the shops began to change in look from mid 20th century to mid 16th century and the wide open street turned into something that looked and felt more like a tunnel. The fabric hanging from building to building to keep out the sun turned into chain link keeping out garbage and stones and unfortunately not (from what I have read, and after what I have been told today) water and bleach.
What was going on here? On our way in we met a man running a little textile shop, who spoke English (with a rad cockney accent,) who filled us in a bit. I asked him what the chain link was about and he told us that the settlers were above them and that the shop keepers themselves had installed the chain link to keep the garbage off their heads. Apparently the settlers in there will stop at nothing to run the people of Hebron out of the city and return it to the Jewish control (as in return it as it was 4000 years ago under Abraham). After a quick interview, and an Arabic coffee with our new friend we were off to the Mosque, even though our first guides had long ago become bored and disappeared.

In order to get to the mosque we had to go through two check points over about 200 ft of space run by the Israeli boarder control (not sure what "border" this was supposed to be) where we were told quite explicitly to not shoot any stills or video. So, that's what we were told, and that's all I'll say for now.

On our way back we stopped by our friends shop again, and he acted as a lesion for our third guide who we would "buy a CD from" in exchange for access to his roof in order to see the settlement and the Israeli border patrol, and then would bring us t
o a woman at the Christian Peace Maker team.

As this our third guide lead up up a long stair case, we both wondered
if perhaps, we were being lead into a trap. But the plan went off without a hitch, we "bought the CD" got our footage and were brought to a woman named Donna who we sat down with and chatted about the situation in Hebron. We sat there with her getting advice on covering refugee camps and decided that we would visit the one in Bethlehem tomorrow. Sitting there with her there was a strange feeling that we had reached then end of our winding journey.

So we went back to Bethlehem.

Friday, May 29, 2009

At Home (in Bethlehem)

Yesterday we went to check out downtown Bethlehem, the old city. On manger square, there is both the very old Church of the Nativity (see “Jesus”) and the very new Peace Center (a former Israeli police station) recently changed. We had some Arabic Coffee with a man selling it in the square, who was able to communicate clearly and emphatically that tourism was well, not booming here in Bethlehem. A shame since we must have shot over 200 photos of the textured city.

NOTE: We are drinking a lot of Arabic Coffee, which is served like espresso and has Cardamon in it. Please go out and try it, it is delicious, as well as Blu, which is the Red Bull here. Its good, and it seems as though younger people here drink it, however once we found out where it is made, it has not felt as kosh to drink...

Back in the US, when we began telling people that we were going to Palestine, we were greeted with a mix of reactions, which ranged from concern to incredulity. Being here now, we can attest that Bethlehem would make just as good a tourist destination (if not better in its less prepackaged delivery) than other ancient cities in the EU. However, from what we are hearing, it sounds as though the images shown to the US and the EU have been an effective deterrent for tourism, excepting Xmas day (Jesus was born here).

It is interesting to notice too, how ones eyes become more and more accustomed to the things they sees, slowly changing exotic sights and sounds into background. However this morning, just as the look and texture of Joseph’s home is becoming more natural, we accompanied Joseph and his wife to the market and were on sensory overload once more. Everywhere we turned was something new, fascinating and visually exotic. It was a filmmaker’s wet dream.

Later we went to behold another site that will not be escaping our minds anytime soon. About 5 minutes taxi from Joseph's house is a portion of the wall which has been being built around the west bank starting in 2002. Built by Isreal to separate the Palestinians from the Isrealis, it actually has not only trapped most Palestinians on one side, but since it wavers from the 1949 "Green Line," it has about 27,520 Palestinians (8.5%) stuck on the Israeli side. Standing next to it was an incredible experience, and its height made it difficult in terms of cinematography, but simultaniously is such a specticle that it begs to be captured. We worked slowly though the sun setting, because even as an American one could sense the psychologically dominating feeling that emanated from the height of the cold concreate, the barbed wire, and of course the towers staffed with Israeli guards.

We went home (which is what we call Josephs house now) and promptly fell aspleep, exhausted from the experiences of the day. It is the first full night of sleep we have had since we left San Francisco 6 days ago.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


We arrived at Joseph's home yesterday afternoon and we’re amazed by the view. His home, which is on a hill (the whole area is very mountainous), overlooks a large portion of Bethlehem. We can see from there much of the new construction of the area, which includes some of the rebuilding of Palestine especially after the First Intifada in 1987 and the acts of retaliation which was destructive to the area physically and destroyed the area economically. Much of this rebuilding is being done by the Palestinian National Authority with monetary help from countries in Europe as well as places like Dubai.

Off a little further in the distance, but not that much, we can see the new Settlement. Not to be crude about it looks a little like a blatant Imperial structure out out of a George Lucas film. It's amazing that you can see the land war going on here in Bethlehem in looking at this hillside. A land war where one side is, well, better financed.

Last night we spent some quality time with the family and the extended family. Although it is common for friends and family to stop by the home for meals, or just anytime, this was somewhat of a special night, on Joseph’s return. The kids Elias, Haneen and Ala are all very warm and have made us feel very included, and everyone is warming up to the camera as well. It is heartwarming to see Joseph with his kids and his life is taking on new meaning for us each day.

If fact, we are on content overload. There is so much here that looks, sounds and feels so different, and every question that we ask is met with a somewhat complicated answer. Things here are not straightforward for a people being pulled and pushed by so many forces, and for so many years. The people are just trying to live their life as best they can. They build despite the fact they don't know how long it will be before what they have worked for is upset again by the conflicts of the larger powers and their interests.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

...and on to the west bank...

Good Morning - 05.26.09 7am

We are on the roof of some coffee shop hanging out and doing some shooting, soon we will embark on wards toward the West Bank: 

To do this we must go from Amman to the Allenby Bridge/King Hussein Bridge (one name for Israel, and one side for Jordan, and if you know your history you can guess which one is which) It is 57 kilometers west of Amman and is the one bridge that does not issue visas.

I wanted to see how long that would take by using trusty Google Maps, but, "We could not calculate directions between Amman, Jordan and Bethlehem, Israel."  Perhaps, this is because it is the "road less traveled" or rather, the "road less traveled by Google target demographic" because apparently The Allenby Bridge can get quite busy, especially in the summer months where hundreds of Palestinians wait hours in 110 degree desert heat to visit their families still residing in the West Bank.

At any rate, the Allenby Bridge or King Hussein Bridge  that crosses the river Jordan and is the closest entry point to Amman. There are two other entry points, but they are both much further away, Aqaba/Eilat(about 4 hours from Amman and then 5 hours back on the other side) and The Sheikh Hussein Bridge (not to be confused with the King Hussein Bridge) which opened in 1999 and is about 2 (fairly costly) hours away, and apparently funded by the Japanese (Sumitomo Construction Co. Ltd). ANYWAY!

So, Joesph can travel from Jordan to the west bank over the Allenby Bridge, but what about us? We will be separated into a different line from Joseph for internationals and Israelis (which will be significantly faster that the one for Palestinians) and will be aggressively questioned as to our reasons for traveling this way.  We have been informed that if we are coming through this bridge the Israeli authorities will want to know where we are going to which we are meant to say Jerusalem. Since we are spending less than a day in Amman, the next question they will be asking us is: Why didn't you fly into Tel Aviv?

This will be the first of many check points we will encounter on our trip, as we travel with a Palestinian in occupied Palestine:  "By September 2008 there were 699 closure obstacles in the West Bank– approximately 130 of these have been added after the Annapolis Conference began in November 2007." source

If we get though, we are instructed not to get our passport stamped, but rather a piece of paper, in case in the future we want to travel to other middle eastern couturiers like Bahrain, Iran, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Saudia Arabia, Sudan, Syria or Yemen. Even on exit we should be careful to get avoid the getting a stamp at the border because even a Jordian Stamp at the Allenby Bridge (or in the case of exiting) the King Hussein Bridge will indicate us having been in Isreal, and will keep us out of all of these other countries.

But according to the most recent blog I have read, we may not have this option. (recent blog I read)

Perhaps the US government will be nice enough to issue us some new ones, for a price?

Amman, JO - May 24. 2009

Writing from Amman - 10:00pm Jordanian Time

We have just arrived in Amman Jordan. Jordan, for those of you that don't know, is where they shot Indiana Jones, so thats good. From what I have read, Jordan is a country that has been caught in the middle (or positioned itself on the fence, depending on how you feel about the Hasemite Kingdom now led by King Abdulluah II) of the conflicts of the middle east. 

Despite the formal peace treaty with Isreal, signed in 1994, judging from the response to that act by King Abdulluah as well as the fact that many of the people who reside in Jordan have moved here from the West Bank and Gaza, and that the "people of Jordan feel intrinsically connected to the plight of the West Bank and Gaza". (Rossi, 2008) 

It just so happens to be Independence Day in Jordan (Jordan gained its independence from the UK in 1946) ! I can hear the fire works going off right now!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

JFK --> Amman?

We are writing this from JFK.... 9:33 east coast time...

How Does One Get to Bethlehem - Bethlehem is in the West Bank, and, well there are no civilian airports within the West Bank (or Fed Exs) so... the closest international airport to Bethlehem is  Ben Gurion International in Televive (TLV), (its about a one hour drive from Bethlahem) and it is certainly the most obvious choice as far as flights go, but since we will be traveling with Joseph, this is not an option.

As a "citizen" of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) "Palestine",  Joseph cannot fly though Ben Gurion airport, but must instead fly to neighboring Jordan into Amman's Queen Alia International Airport  and then take buses and taxis from there to Bethlehem. 

BUT WE WILL CROSS THAT BRIDGE WHEN WE GET TO IT~ for now we are off to Amman! We board in 10 minutes! See you in Amman!