July 22, 2010

West Bank village Wadi Fukin [Valley of Thorns]

Tamar Gridinger scans Wadi Fukin's farms and reservoirs;
Israel's policies and actions are crowding them out.

I spent a disturbing spring day with a delightful guide and some creative justice seekers when my namesake, Tamar, invited me to her Judean Hills neighborhood 15-minute's drive southwest of Jerusalem.

This "other" Tamar coaches Israeli Arab and Jewish educators on teaching democracy and peace, civic education, and conflict resolution. (The work is a project of The Adam Institute, a nonprofit organization.) Chanan, my cousin's wonderful husband, is an elementary school principal whose staff works with Tamar, and he decided that she and I shared more than a name, and made the match.

Tamar, who was born on a kibbutz, lives with her family in Tzur Hadassah [Hebrew: Rock of Hadassah], a Jerusalem settlement community of about 5,000 Jewish residents that hugs the 1949 Jordanian-Israeli armistice "Green Line" inside Israel. In recent years, Tamar and other Tzur Hadassah residents have captured wide attention with their neighborly response to the Palestinian village, Wadi Fukin [Aramaic: Valley of Thorns], population 1,200. Founded in the 16th century, the village sits on the Green Line. While the communities are one-quarter hour's drive apart as the crow flies, the actual time clocked depends on who is going where. 

We drove along the main road from Tamar's home toward Wadi Fukin, delighting in the clean air and wide panoramas of hills and valleys. We paused to walk around a hilltop above a brown and green checkerboard of fields and reservoirs that collect rain waters. 

Centuries-old reservoirs collect, then release
their waters through ground-level channels. 

Below, in the terraced fields of organic fruits and vegetables, farmers direct the flow of water, plot by plot. Their ancient irrigation methods? A canal-like system of levees.

The villagers and their allies (from Tzur Hadassah and Friends of the Earth Middle East, an Israeli-Palestinian-Jordanian environmental organization) claim that backed up sewage from the higher ground haredi (ultra-Orthodox) settlement Beitar Illit is contaminating nearby streams and rivers. Construction and development of this settlement has placed the eleven natural springs in danger of drying up — posing an existential threat to Wadi Fukin farmers.

Sewage overflowing Beitar Illit’s treatment system
 pours into Wadi Fuqin via this brown pipe (foreground).

We returned to Tamar's car, and continued along the main road, then turned onto a narrow stone-filled West Bank dirt road toward Wadi Fukin. Making our way through narrow streets and small squares, we arrived at her friends' home. (Tamar cannot reciprocate the hospitality unless they obtain a special permit to cross the Green Line via a two-hour zig-zag journey past the Bethlehem checkpoint and along bypass roads.)

Tamar and her friends updated each other on
   developments in and around the village. 

Mohammed (people call him Abu Mazen) is a farmer; he spoke with Tamar in Arabic, and with me in Hebrew, which he learned working in Israel till the Second Intifada. His wife teaches kindergarten in a United Nations refugee camp; she doesn't speak Hebrew, and I don't speak Arabic so we spoke in English, which she learned in the camp.

When the grandchildren arrived with their parents from Ramallah to spend the weekend, our ponderous discussions came to an abrupt and welcome halt. (The children's college educated father is a regional sales manager for a biomedical company.)

Click the photo to see the wall calendar for
2010 and 1431, corresponding to the Islamic year. 

And so ended for that day our discussions on restricted movement, the West Bank Separation Wall, and settler sprawl, all negatively impacting quality of life, threatening nature preservation, and destroying Wadi Fukin. 

July 12, 2010

Cat(ting) around Tel Aviv

Laundromat residents (Achad Ha-am Street)

They laze around much, saving energy for essential tasks — chiefly, foraging for food. (In some tucked-away spots, at consistent times, neat people leave neat piles of dry edibles, a pile per cat). Other feline tasks include ducking traffic (human and machine), seeking shelter from prey, weather, and other irritants, and keeping good company.

Posing while napping
(aerial view of building rear, Angel Street)

"These creatures can teach us how to get along."
— South Tel Aviv resident (Wolfson Street)

Idling with cabbies who wait for their fares
(Shenkein Street)

"No hour of life is wasted that is spent in a saddle."
— Winston Churchill (Balfour Street)

"Mish-mish [Hebrew: apricot] is missing.
Cash reward to the finder." (Balfour Street)

July 04, 2010

America, the Beautiful: Separating church and state, not students

Janet (in red) and Brian (in stripes) join fellow
parents at a public elementary school
ceremony honoring their children

When I count the myriad blessings of being an American, I picture my friends Janet and Brian and their children participating in what is normal here yet not in every country. Here in the USA, in each state and county, one public education system serves citizens, new immigrants, asylum seekers, and visitors.

In the photo, my friends, who are Christian, are sitting behind a Jewish dad (identified by his skull cap) and in front of a Muslim mom and dad (identified by her head scarf). And, who knows how many deities (or none) the hundreds of other parents and special guests in that cafeteria-turned-auditorium worship? It's worth knowing because differences are interesting, and exploring them provides curriculum content no less critical than traditional subjects.

Despite our democratic principles and best efforts, on this Independence Day, let's —
  • Work to increase funding for public education
  • Advocate training of administrators and educators to celebrate differences
  • Urge expanding educational opportunities, and delivering them to all students. 
Happy birthday, America.

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