Rawabi, city of the future: Palestinian nation-building in Zone A

 

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Traveling around Israel and the Palestinian Territories of the West Bank, it is easy to become cynical, sad, and sometimes even angry. We met an Israeli settler from a Binyamin vineyard in the West Bank who believes in maintaining the occupation for 50 more years; we met representatives from ‘Breaking the Silence’ and B’tselem; we met the Palestinian Christian mayor of Beit Sahour near Bethlehem (an educated and well-spirited man who will soon leave for the USA like so many Palestinians); and we heard the Imam of Al-Aqsa mosque deny the irrefutable and ancient link of the Jews to the same site- the Temple Mount – the very site he was standing on.

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So why this picture, why this place? This amphitheater is in Rawabi, the first Palestinian planned city in Zone A of the West Bank. 250 families already live here, interest comes from all corners of the Palestinian Territories and diaspora, as well as from young interns from universities like ours.

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The Rawabi representatives we met did not accuse, they did not lament, they did not cast blame. They are grateful for Israel’s help in supplying them with necessary resources, and they are grateful for the support of many young Israelis. They did not talk about what they cannot do, but showed us what they can – solar panels on houses, a soon to be soccer stadium, an outdoor shopping mall, a center for high-tech start-ups, a Church for Christians and a mosque for Muslims.

These people had charisma, ambition, love for their people, and an undeniable level of craziness in devotion to a project far greater than themselves.

In other words – they have the same drive and the same ingredients of many Diaspora Jews who returned here since the 1880s to build Israel for their people…

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Darom Adom – The Red South

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When you run into the endless fields of Darom Adom in the northwestern Negev, the last thing you will want to do is take photos. It’s one of those places you can’t quite capture, where taking your camera out of your pocket is close to a betrayal of nature. But of course that doesn’t stop us members of generation digital, and so I did take photos. Many of them.

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Darom Adom occurs only for a few weeks each year, between the end of January and the beginning of February, when the poppy-like Anemones bloom (try saying anemones in front of the mirror: An-e-mo-nes, ANEMONES, A N E M O N E S). Finjan, a Tel-Aviv based travel grouped named for the synonymous Arab coffee filters, took me on this adventure. We left from Tel Aviv’s Savidor central train station at 6:30 AM on a warm Friday morning. The early hour’s dark sky was brightened by freshly brewed coffee and platters of cookies. Thanks, guys!

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The Western Negev itself is not a desert as I imagined. It looks far more than the hilly, greeny-yellow landscapes of Provence in France, including the thin but tall trees, the rows of hedges, the rows of orange trees and other plants. As we got out of the bus to see the anemones, though, that all changed.

It seemed like time slowed down; I felt calm, relaxed and happy at the sight before me. No, there weren’t “just flowers.” There was a snake of stands selling olive oil (I bought a bottle), strawberries (I bought a box), and oranges (my friend dragged me away). There was a beautiful donkey who looked very well taken care of. There were speakers blasting Hebrew folk songs. And there were professional photographers roaming around all around us.

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I can’t be sure how long I strolled through those endless fields, but for lunch afterwards, we went to a small family-run Tunisian restaurant. They served Tunisian falafel, Tunisian vegetable stir-fry, Tunisian chicken… all in large steaming hot silver pots for sharing.

To conclude the day we got off on a pretty hill home to a playground, a picknick area, water fountains, and public bathrooms. The problem? This hill, with all its amenities, served the single purpose of being a tourists’ viewpoint of Gaza. Standing only 800m away from the most densely populated place on Earth, I felt uneasy, even nauseous at the paradox of it all: Here we were, drinking our freshly brewed coffee, staring at Gaza like tourists stare at the lion cage in the zoo. We were told that the electric generator 200 m to our right is frequently hit by Hamas rockets. It is the same electric generator that delivers electricity to Gaza. We were told that the IDF patrols the area and that it was a complete no-go zone during the Gaza war. We were told that local farmers can hear Hamas digging tunnels underneath their villages at night.

We were told that “the Red South” has a bitter-sweet double meaning. Yes, the anemones of late winter tinge the South red. But the blood that is spilled in this area year in year out, across national and religious lines, can also color the landscape red.

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One Day in May

 

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Y’know that one day in May when you wake up early because sun rays tickle your nose? When you ditch your jacket, head outside down Boston’s Commonwealth Avenue and stroll below the cherry trees? When you wake up your BBQ from its 8-month hibernation period? When you head down to the Charles Esplanade to cautiously dip your toes in the water?

Well, Friday, February 12th (also known as yesterday), was that day in Tel Aviv. I got home “late” from a night out, or “early” depending on how you see it. The sun was rising and so I made an impromptu detour to the beach. The sun’s early rays glistened on the boats in the harbor, a streetsweeper began his morning shift on Frishman beach, a dogwalker yawned and gave me a lazy smile. It was 7:30 AM. You could already sense it would be a warm day. I went home and collapsed on my bed…but managed to get up, shower, get dressed, leave the house by 1 PM “a few” hours later 😉

thumb_IMG_0209_1024.jpgEn route to the beach I made a pit-stop at the Brew Shop on Gordon street. I had never been inside before but was intrigued: rumour has it they sell Cold Brew Coffee here, something I miss about Boston (besides Pavement Coffeehouse of course, my quasi living room). Gemma from Manchester, a happy barista in her mid-twenties, told me about the Ethiopian and Kenyan beans they use and poured me two Coldbrew shots from beautiful glass bottles. She also invited me to a coffee roasting and tasting workshop on Sunday evening: see you there!

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thumb_IMG_0238_1024.jpgAnd so I wandered towards the beach, Cold Brew in hand. I had spicy shakshuka with my feet in the fine sand. I skyped my mum and my dog Beau. I joined a few guys who juggled a football in the air. Mostly, I took it all in – a mum cradling her young son; a surfer running into the sea; a sailboat spinning over (I’ve been there); a few French friends joking about Paris winters.

When I left the beach, the same time that the sun fell into the ocean just before 6PM, I saw a young man in a green sweater and a green bowtie dancing wildly. Why is this noteworthy? Because his VIP audience member was an old lady with big, white curls, and a gentle face. She sat in one of those red wheelchair scooters and she watched the dancer as happily as can be. Many stopped to watch the man dance, but just as many were simply moved by this old lady’s joy. Only in Tel Aviv!

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