With Ruth in Damascus

Posted by: on Jul 31, 2009 | 3 Comments

Crossed the border from Jordan with ease, relative to last time. Turns out, having a visa makes it much easier. The city is as beautiful as ever, and it’s great to explore it with someone else.

Searching for Saffron

Searching for Saffron

Story time

Story time

Dinner at Leila's

Dinner at Leila’s

Ruth's ewok costume

Ruth’s ewok costume

Pistachio delight

Pistachio delight

On Research

Posted by: on Jul 25, 2009 | No Comments

Today marks the end of the research portion of my trip, and the beginning of a small vacation with Ruth. As such, I thought it suitable to write some thoughts on my progress so far.

Over the last three weeks I conducted ten interviews, meeting with representatives from B’Tselem, Souktel, Ma’an News Agency, The Center for Peace and Economic Cooperation, Birthright Unplugged, Waze, a conscientious objector, and various activists. I gave a talk to the Decolonizing Architecture collective in Bethlehem, gathering critical feedback on my research direction. I assisted briefly with the Voices Beyond Walls youth video project, and learned how children too are affected by the Occupation.

I rode the bus from Ramallah to Jerusalem nearly every day, subject to the same dehumanizing experience at the Qalandia checkpoint as the Palestinian population. Last week, an old woman noticed me speaking english, and upon learning that I am an American (although I haven’t been telling people that I am jewish), reiterated the importance of bring the story of their suffering to my country. During the long wait in the screening line, she said again and again that we must resist, in our hearts if not with our bodies.

I learned more about the non-technical coping mechanisms that already exist. The status of checkpoints can be relatively easily ascertained by asking taxi drivers, or by calling people who pass through them daily. The prior existence of this literal social network, and the understandable reluctance of the population to submit information that might be misused, could severely limit the utility of a mobile checkpoint reporting tool.

Other tools I had considered, a transit map and bus tracker, also have functional non-technical systems already in place. While as a tourist, I don’t know the detailed routes of the service taxi network, the men who congregate at the bus stations all do, and will tell you where to go even without much Arabic language skill. As there isn’t a defined schedule, buses simply depart when full, a full transit tracker isn’t entirely applicable. Aside from tourists, of whom there are very few, this system would duplicate the already present network, with little added functionality.

I heard again and again from Israelis that the reality of the occupation isn’t widely known by the populace, either due to a lack of information, or more likely, the pervasive dehumanization of the other side. How to tackle this issue is probably outside the scope of what I can achieve in the next year. Maybe the most valuable contribution I can make to the process is to enable some sort of empathy on both sides. Both traumatized populations are in dire need of understanding and discourse. This sounds more like a job for art and literature than science and engineering.

How exactly to do this is left as an exercise to the reader…

In Tel Aviv

Posted by: on Jul 24, 2009 | No Comments

Went to this bustling metropolis to do an interview, and drop Hannah off at the airport. After days after day of politics, we relaxed on the glorious beach. I refrained from mentioning the fact that Gaza and Beirut were only 50 miles on either side. Had a nice meal overlooking the sea in old Jaffa, and then went to our hostel for an evening in sauna-like conditions. Remind me not to come to this part of the world in the summer.

Surfer dude

Surfer dude

Scooter Cat

Scooter Cat

The Bottom of the World

Posted by: on Jul 22, 2009 | No Comments

Tooled around Bethlehem, saw the very rock on which Jesus was born. I find it hard to believe that a pregnant woman trudged to the top of a hill to give birth, but I guess it would have been cooler in the church. Good thing it was there.

I made Hannah ride a camel at a truck stop, which was hilarious or humiliating, depending on your point of view. Went to the Dead Sea at night, which was only slightly less oppressively hot than it would have been during the day. Floating in the fetid water under the stars was pretty magical, until it was time to rinse off the bromine stew. On our way back, we were stopped by a friendly soldier who reminded us that we were on the road to Ramallah. I was inclined to ask in mock horror, “oh no, are there Arabs there?” But that would have blown our cover. We promised we would be careful, and traveled on into the night.

Jerusalem Graffiti

Posted by: on Jul 20, 2009 | No Comments

Met a young conscientious objector at the Nocturno Cafe, which is graced with some excellent graffiti.

Googly-eyes Ghandi

Googly-eyes Ghandi

Shomer fucking Shabbos

Shomer fucking Shabbos

No legs, no problems

No legs, no problems