That’s how our guide, Yahav Zohar, described the difference between Jewish and Palestinian quality of life in Jerusalem. Zohar, a member of the Israeli Committee Against Housing Demolitions (ICAHD), led us on a tour of the modern parts of the city, focusing on contrasting conditions in the Palestinian neighborhoods and the illegal Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem. But that description — where the sidewalk ends — applies to so much I have seen this week.
First, since I was away from the computer for a couple of days, let me back up and tell you a bit about our experience in a remote village outside the town of Sabastia, where we stayed overnight with a family, picked olives, and visited with some village residents. The village is remote enough that it is not bothered by illegal settlers; in fact, it is a calm, quiet, close-knit community of farmers. The man who invited us into his home, 28-year-old Khadir Khadir, seems to be the most well-off farmer in the village, with a three-story home that accommodates his wife and their three children, his brother and sister-in-law and their daughter, as well as his parents. There are several sheep. too; they have their own quarters on the lower level.
A member of the Palestine Fair Trade cooperative of olive farmers, Khadir owns 1,000 olive trees and a few hundred almond trees, in addition to the sheep and some chickens. He works hard around the village, sometimes volunteering to help the older farmers with arduous tasks, and sometimes accepting paying jobs. Joining the cooperative was a smart move for him financially, too. (More about Palestine Fair Trade on another day.) Khadir recently renovated a large living-room where the entire clan can gather when it is too cool to linger in the stone courtyard of the house.
The courtyard is typical of the Arab-style house, as are large patios and open-air spaces on the upper levels. Palestinian homes grow as the family grows, with a son typically building a story on his parents’ home when he has his own family, and so on. Sometimes aunts, uncles, and cousins are included in the mix, if need be. While we only spent one night and part of the next day with Khadir and his extended family, it seemed that they genuinely enjoyed the communal aspects of this traditional way of life. In the U.S., we often complain — sometimes jokingly, sometimes not — about having to spend time with our parents or in-laws. But Khadir’s family seemed joyful together. The children were always present and received much attention. True, Khadir has done well for himself and his family; they seem to have enough and then some, and that extra margin of security, no matter how small, certainly makes a difference in family dynamics. Their circumstances are better than many Palestinians. Still, I have witnessed a great love of family everywhere we have gone this week, and wonderfully affectionate scenes between parents and children.
We also experienced the wonderful hospitality of several other villagers, who invited us into their homes and served us the traditional small cups of sweet tea with fresh mint leaves. Every home we visited had a ready supply of extra chairs (usually plastic) and small wooden or plastic tables for resting beverages and the ever-present cigarettes and ashtrays.
So things aren’t all bad “where the sidewalk ends,” as you’ll see in these photos.
I will save my report on our tour with Yahav Zohar from ICAHD for tomorrow. His talk was full of information and it deserves more energy than I have at this late hour!
Salaam from Beit Sahour, where Milada at the Arab Women’s Union guest house, El Beit, is taking care of us like we are family! We love Milada!