Montage: Tent of Nations

I am presenting some photos from a recent outing to a hilltop near Bethlehem, the Nassar farm near the Palestinian village of Nahalin in Area C (Israel controlled) of the West Bank. While I talked to the farm family about their Tent of Nations project and the threats to their land and livelihood since 1991, I did not talk to their neighbours the Israeli [illegal] settlers, nor to the Israeli military or police. Because this is not balanced journalism, I am simply making a photo montage.

Here are two photos of rocks. The square rock is a concrete block that is a portable road block; Israeli officials use them to set up impromptu checkpoints, for example. This rock joins dumped rocks and dirt that prevent access to, or from, the farm road, which used to join the road to Bethlehem. The second rock is a natural rock bearing the family’s motto, which expresses the wish for peace with their Israeli settler neighbours. Rock mottoes nearby are in other languages because the farm has several projects on the go with support from volunteers around the world.


Here is a dog house. The Nassars say they have received a demolition order to tear down the dog house because they did not have a building permit. For a dog house. Their farm is in Area C, controlled by Israel. For generations the family lived in caves on this land; they need a permit to expand a cave. And yes, they say,  authorities come regularly to check their land for non-permit building. The second picture is a pillar celebrating all religions, inside the family’s cave. Meanwhile the settlers in the five surrounding settlements build and build; the settlements are on surrounding hills but too distant for my camera phone to capture. But I try: see photos three (road into farm) and four (distant settlement).

Here is a tank on a truck. I failed to ask the farmer if the truck held water or chemicals or petrol. But I saw this truck tank while we were being shown the water cisterns. Water cisterns do not make interesting photos. The family use rain-gathered water because their water supply has been cut off. The second photo shows solar panels on the roof of their current house. The family use their own electricity because their connection to the grid has been cut.

Here is a fig tree and an almond tree. In 2002, the Nassars say, Israelis uprooted 250 olive trees; in 2014, Israelis destroyed in one night hundreds of fruit trees. The family have received no compensation for this loss but have replanted. If they did not replant, they explain, the land would be confiscated. Usage of the land is a proof of ownership.

This Christian Palestinian farm family explain that they have the deeds to the property dating back to their grandfather’s purchase, and receipts for taxes that they have paid to three different administrations: Ottoman, British Mandate and Jordanian. They would like to register their land with Israel but their claim to the property has been held up in court since 1991, despite a Supreme Court ruling in their favour in 2007 giving permission for them to register their land.

Here are Amal Nassar, her brother Dahel Nassar and their mother Meladeh Nassar, with some guy who does not appear to be one of the many international farm volunteers. The Nassars are determined to keep alive their father’s dream by staying on the property. See how they smile in the face of ongoing harrassment from their settler neighbours and Israeli authorities. No photo can show the mountainous size of their dignity and spirit.

 

 

 

 

 

Banff Centre

The Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity sits above the Bow River and the town of Banff. Started in the 1930s as a project to give people in the arts some paid work, it is now a lively institution that houses retreats, workshops, concerts, a library, theatres and art galleries. I am here for the Summer Writers Retreat. With temperatures hovering around 14 degrees C it doesn’t feel very summery. While I thought my stay here would be rather monastic, I meet daily with some of the 18 other writers here, either at the cafeteria meals or at workshops. But mostly we work, emerging from our rooms looking slightly dazed.

One arrives and registers at the Professional Development Centre.

 

 

 

 

Our rooms are in Lloyd Hall:

Lloyd hallDSC_2917

The library and the bar are in this lovely building:

photo: D. Martens

What do you do at the retreat? This question is very similar to What do you do all day? Writers write, which does not make for interesting conversation. What we do at the retreat: Write. And edit and revise and research and write some more. Attend group sessions with the mentors in the afternoon, if one wishes. Some of the craft topics we’ve discussed: what is the difference between a story collection, a linked collection and a novel? How do you create or maintain tension in your fiction? What is a novella? Does an image tell a story? Are agents worth their fee? Persevere. Write some more. And if that doesn’t work, go for a walk to think while looking at the beautiful scenery — just watch out for bears.

photo: D. Martens
Mentors Lori Hahnel and Lee Kvern

 

Wherever I turn, a mountain in shifting light:

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Improbable

The summer in East Jerusalem is hot and dry. Windows left open, surfaces in the apartment are coated in dust. Yet as I slowly go about daily activities, I see these little beauties blooming. For me they are like bits of joy caught in one’s peripheral vision. And just as I am illiterate in this country of Hebrew and Arabic, I do not know the names of  these flowers — except the bougainvillea and poppies. Identifying comments welcome.

DSC_0981DSC_0962DSC_0419DSC_0495DSC_0983DSC_0978

Hebrew Words for Gaza

By Taken from CIA World Factbook website on 15 August. - Gaza Strip from CIA factbook, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=591

This Is Not an Ulpanbased in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, offers Hebrew and Arabic lessons of a different sort than I’ve experienced. The classroom lessons are thematic and sometimes take place as excursions — you go to a cafe to speak the language of cafes. They are committed to engaging with our surroundings. For example, at the beginner level, Eat Ivrit combines cooking and food culture with learning Hebrew. Advanced Hebrew learners can take Human Rights in a Conflicted Society. I approve, and subscribe to their newsletter in the ever optimistic hope that a course will fit my level and schedule. The newsletters are lessons in themselves, such as this one on the situation in Gaza, which offers first a brief explanation of the situation in Gaza now, and second, and this is great, pertinent vocabulary.

With their permission, here is an excerpt from the May 2, 2018 newsletter from This Is Not an Ulpan:

What’s Going On in Gaza?

The March of Return began on March 30th and by the end of the first day, 15 Gazans had been killed and 1,416 wounded. Since March 30th, over 40 Gazans have been killed via sniper fire from Israeli Defense Forces. Not a single Israeli has wounded nor has a single rocket been fired from Gaza.

Left-wing protests have been raising the question of whether or not it is moral to shoot at Gazan protesters: The March of Return is not an act of war, the protesters are not militants nor have they killed or injured a single Israeli soldier, so why does it appear that the IDF is shooting to kill?

Some Background Info

Currently the Gaza Strip is in a state of despair. There is only enough electricity to last a few hours, limited food and clean water supplies, many children without living parents. Due to the Israeli fear that Hamas will continue to smuggle in rockets and weapons, there is blockade on trade and economic opportunities, resulting in an unemployment rate of 63%. In the past, Hamas has misappropriated funding from the UN and other organisations to build tunnels into Israel and develop is military capabilities, giving legitimacy to Israeli fears. The March of Return marks one of the first civilian-led protests from Palestinian-Gazans meant to be nonviolent. It is of popular opinion that as Israel continues to use force against Palestinian protests, tensions will rise and lead the IDF and Hamas into another violent conflict.

Words To Know

Tsalaf – Sniper – צלף

The majority of Gazans have been killed by sniper fire from the IDF located a distance from the fence. Those killed by sniper fire include two reporters who were wearing press jackets, several minors and a man on crutches.

גדר – Gader – Fence

The wall separating Israel and Gaza. The IDF claims that people are being shot because they are a threat to the stability of the fence or are attempting to jump the fence and infiltrate. Tactics employed by Gazans choosing to engage with the IDF and fence include tire burning, Molotov cocktails and most recently a kites with a fire bombs flown over the wall.

Mafgin – Demonstrator – מפגין

All Gazans participating in the March of Return think of themselves as demonstrators against the terrible and inhumane conditions of Gaza as well as the desire to return to their previous homes. 70% of Gazans identify as refugees from the 1948 war, meaning either they or their grandparents were removed from their homes.

מחבל – Mehabel – Terrorist

The Israeli media has been quick to label the Gazans who have been killed by the IDF terrorists, often linking them directly with Hamas.

פרספקטיבה – Perspektiva – Perspective

There are multiple perspectives on The March of Return. In a simplification, Gazans see the protest as a fundamental right to return and humanitarian health issue. Many Israelis see this as a serious security issue and will do everything everything in their power to protect the State of Israel and themselves.

Copyright © *2018 This Is Not An Ulpan*, All rights reserved.

Story Fun from Terrible Minds

An easy one. I’m giving you ten random titles chosen from various random generators about ye olde internet — pick one, let that be the title of your new story. Any genre will do, list at the bottom of the post. Length: ~1000 words Due by: Friday, March 2nd, 2018 Post at your online space, link…

via Flash Fiction Challenge: Choose A Title And Go — terribleminds: chuck wendig

Translating Ticho House

photo: Debra Martens
Beit Ticho

Ticho House gets a full page in the beginner’s Hebrew textbook, a text dense with such vocabulary as paintings, books, gardens, and mountains. The first time I “read” the text, I understood that Mark Twain and Claude Monet had both lived in this amazing 19th century house, and that it was at one point owned by a man called Avraham Ticho and his daughter Anna. When I am trying to understand something in another language, I bring to the text the knowledge that I have, much as I imagine archeologists do when faced with a handprint on an ancient clay wall. In my case, Canadian heritage houses are occupied by writers — think of Pierre Berton House and Al Purdy House. So why not Mark Twain shacking up with Claude Monet? Six months later, in a rereading of the text, I learned that a comparison was being made — other houses owned by famous people (Twain, Monet) are museums, too, just like Ticho House. But how did I draw from “Dr and Anna Ticho” that this was his daughter rather than his wife? No idea.

Ticho House is now a museum and cultural centre because artist Anna Ticho (1894-1980) bequeathed it to the state, or the Israel Museum, on her death. In addition to the exhibition on the Ticho collections, it holds temporary exhibitions.

photo: Debra Martens
Ticho House,
museum collection

Ophthamologist Avraham Ticho (1883-1960) bought the house in 1924, opening his clinic on the ground floor. Dr Ticho worked as an eye specialist before and after the First World War (during which he served in the Austrian army), curing patients both rich and poor. In 1913, through schools, he focused on preventing trachoma.

photo: Debra Martens
Anna Ticho gallery

Anna studied art in Vienna before coming to Jerusalem in 1912. Only after WWI, however, did she start drawing and painting her surroundings.

Dr Ticho collected Hanukkah lamps, the oldest of which dates from the 1400s. According to the text in the museum in Ticho House, the lamps came from all over, from Europe to Russia and Afghanistan. It goes on to say that he hung the lamps on the walls around his desk; today a few lamps from the collection are on display behind glass. Some are in the Israel museum. A Hebrew teacher said that some of the collection was stolen in the 1990s and never recovered — but how do I know I understood her correctly? The museum exhibition makes no mention of any theft or loss of lamps.

Ticho House no longer looks like an early 20th Century home. It was renovated; a slideshow reveals how the rooms were gutted. The renovation exposed the ceiling upstairs, in what is now a restaurant: Anna’s Italian Cafe. A sunny busy room. And it is thanks to this restaurant that a friend met me and led me to Ticho House, a friend who not only has a better sense of direction than I do but who didn’t seem to mind that I licked my fingers while exclaiming that the food was delicious. Which it was.

Shock

Jerusalem
The Polis Institute

For the month of July, I hit my head against the hard wall of the Hebrew alphabet and language, in an intensive course at the Polis Institute. This is the first time that I’ve learned an alphabet to learn a language, but not the first time I tried to learn Hebrew. I should say two alphabets, since handwritten letters are shaped differently from printed ones.
Shock one: it is harder to learn a language that uses an alphabet different from the Roman or Latin alphabet because suddenly you are illiterate.
My first attempts at reading in Hebrew went something like this: the fish-hook is a “t”, the crown is also a “t”, the snout is a “b”, the thing that looks like a chair is “l” and the snail-shell is “p” or “f.” By the end of July, I could silently spell out each word (grade one level?). Now there are at least three words that I recognize on sight: what, wine and chocolate.

Schools for learning Hebrew are called Ulpan; they are designed to quickly immerse new arrivals in the language and culture of Israel. Until its 19th century revival, Hebrew was restricted to a sacred use, and then it was modernized for use by Israelis in the mid-20th century.
Shock two: religion comes to class.
Some of the students in my class are literate in the Hebrew alphabet because they have learned biblical Hebrew. Many of the students are Christians, here to learn the language of the Old Testament. In class, the language is inseparable from religion: for the days of the week, we learn about the Sabbath, and discuss what we do on this day. We sing a Sabbath song. Reading a text about a museum, we learn the difference between Menorahs and Chanukahs. I begin a list in my notebook titled Religious Vocabulary, with holy days and relevant nouns.
In one month and ten chapters, we learn to count in feminine and masculine, to tell the time, to buy dates and figs. We learn to ask where the wine is from, to respond to apartment rental ads, to discuss whether we’d want to live on a kibbutz and where we’d like to go in Israel. At no time in the course do we learn about mandatory military service for Israelis.

text book

Hebrew is taught without explanation in any other language, through the use of pictures, songs, and mime. The teacher holds up a black and white line drawing, cartoon style, of a group of people of all ages and sizes looking very happy, waving, some open mouthed, some smiling. Everyone else has nodded at this illustration of the word we are learning. To save time, for once the teacher allows me to guess. I hazard: choir? Band? No, no. Into my ear comes the whisper: family.
Shock three: culture shock. I’d heard about families large enough to make their own sports team, but because I was stuck in my Canadian perspective of family = 2.5 (unhappy) persons, I could not see what I was looking at.

There were other situations that I misunderstood. For example, I thought that this situation: (teacher picks up cell phone, blahblahblahSMS, teacher clicks on it, SMSblahblahblahblah) meant there was a word for SMS messages; the word the teacher was demonstrating turned out to be get.

Shock four: the decline in my language acquisition faculties. The youthful in the class hear a word once, maybe twice, and remember it. I hear it and five minutes later ask, Mah zé (what that?). Or, reading right to left, and bearing in mind that vowels are not marked and the curvy last letter is silent — the hut with chimney and crooked walking stick: מה זה. There should be a special word for the humiliation of a bookish person becoming illiterate and an articulate person becoming inarticulate. As for being unable to memorize long lists of words daily, there is already a word for that: aging.

Inside the Polis

Then there is the question of relevance. Often the teacher asks each student the same question in turn. Such as: Do you go to the disco on Friday night? What do you want to be? I answer that I don’t dance, and I want to be who I am. What is your favourite song to sing? “100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall” is the only song that comes to mind – not exactly appropriate given the religious component above. I say I don’t sing.
After 20 hours of classes (one week), and a persistent headache (is there a physiological reason to develop headache while learning a new language?), I wondered why I was doing this. In Kenya I studied Swahili, in Austria German. In both cases my belief that learning the language would give me insight into the culture was proven true. This time, the difficulty of my task made me doubt the necessity of memorizing long lists of vocabulary

For this month of humiliation and headache, there was a reward. It came not from the teacher but through the hours of homework. The word for salt is melach: מלח. This refers to both table salt and to bodies-of-water salt — the Dead Sea is actually called Sea the Salt: ימ המלח. In one of the homework exercises we are asked to choose from two words (sugar, salt) to fill in two blanks in a sentence that reads something like: In good family life, blank is better than blank. My mind strayed to the bins of candy in the markets here. Sugar is better than salt?
The week that I filled in these blanks, three Palestinians were shot during demonstrations over the installation of metal detectors at the entrances to the mosque complex in the old city, where two Israeli soldiers were killed the week before. During the escalating tensions in Jerusalem, I read a homework text that forced me to look up a word that looks like salt-what, or melach-mah: מלחמה. It means: war. Sugar is indeed better than salt.

Shokolad. Chocolate. שוקולד  My favourite is bittersweet.