Category Archives: Israel/Palestine

Easing Two Country’s Tension with a Song!

Between the summer of 2009 and early 2010 Egypt and Lebanon made many headlines. Tensions were high starting in the summer of 2009 when Hezbollah members were arrested and tried in Egypt for supposed spying and terrorist attacks plotting on resorts often frequented by Israelis.

The tensions kept rising and in early 2010, at the height of the blockade on Gaza, stone-throwing demonstrators made their way to the Egyptian embassy in Beirut to voice their anger against claims that Egypt began to build a deep metal wall along its border. Reports claimed that when it is finished the wall will be 10-11km long and will extend 18 metres below the surface.

It is worth mentioning that after the Egyptian Revolution earlier this year, the Rafah Crossing Border has been reopened after pressure was placed on the interim military government in Egypt by the Egyptian people.

As art is often used to defuse emotional tension and create peace in it’s own way, this song was released in the summer of 2010. I have loved listening to this song during my stay here in Lebanon.

The song is between an Egyptian woman and a Lebanese man. They both are singing about cultural and historical monuments and places in their respective countries and at the end they both confess their love and appreciation to each other and the country’s they both come from.

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Working out = Our life is so much more fun!

This past Sunday after a 2 days of a good amount of going out and partying Beiruti-style, I was able to miraculously wake up at 7:00 a.m. and get myself to Martyr Square for to meet up with a group of folks to go hiking in the south, in Hasbaya.

On our way on the bus we stopped to take a look at Qala’at ash-Shqif Castle/Beaufort Castle, which is a historical castle from the 12th century that was used by Israelis and Hezbollah for military lookout over the past decades. There are now federal plans to renovate it and open it to the public.

Qala'at ash-Shqif Castle/Beaufort Castle is a historical castle from the 12th century that was used by Israelis and Hezbollah for military lookout

We started our  6-hour hike by walking through the narrow alleys and streets of Hasbaya, a predominantly Druze town in the South of Lebanon. Older and more traditional Druze men, often referred to as the ‘Uqqal (the Knowledgable Initiates) wear baggy black pants that are tight at the ankles.

Druze man in traditional clothing in Hasbaya

The trail overlooked large portions of the UNIFIL line (also referred to as the Blue Line), beautiful mountainous scenery and large amounts of crops and trees of all sorts of seasonal fruits. Our guide helped us pick at trees along the way to try the different seasonal fruits that were all over the trail.

Views of South Lebanon from Hasbaya

After completing our 6-hour hike we stopped at a local Restaurant/Bar in Hasbaya where we all had little snacks and refreshments after the long hike. Shortly after everyone enjoyed a short rest Nadine, the hike organizer, and Wael, the hike guide, started a small Debke party with quick lessons. I’m in love with the Debke and wish I knew all the steps better, but I’m determined to keep taking advantage of joining in on the fun anytime Debke breaks out in my presence.

Quick Debke Lesson after 10km hike

If I had to pick the highlight of the day it must have been our very last stop. We stopped in Kfar Kila‘s Fatima Gate, a border town to check out the border between Lebanon and Israel. Before getting there I didn’t really have an idea of what the border town would look like. Never in my dreams though did I imagine it to be what I saw. The border is essentially a fence with a space the size of a one-way road sandwiched by another fence on the other side. On the Lebanese side, the municipality has completely renovated the border town and built a fun and cool promenade along the fence that is decorated with various exercise machines. When I asked Nadine why that particular theme for a border town, she said “We are trying to show that we are having a great time over here on this side. We can easily see Israeli settlements from right here, which saddens us. But we’re sending a message: Life is great on this side!”

Kathy showing her active skills at the border

One of my co-workers at Al Majmoua is from  Kfar Kila and he told me that the historical urban legend on why the gate is called the Fatima is gate is because one day long ago a young woman was walking home and she was attacked by a snake. She immediately started yelling for her sister, Fatima, who quickly came to help her sister and was able to kill the snake and save here sister. No one knows how true this is, but the gate is named after a strong local woman who saved her sister.

Lebanese Southern Nature

Welcome to Jezzine! A beautiful mountainous town in the South of Lebanon and where my dear friend and Lebanese guide, Edy, is from.

Last weekend we came over for the weekend with Edy’s friends, Joe and Marc, and it was wonderful. We spent Saturday evening at the local bar, Coin Rouge, and woke up the next morning to beautifully sunny day.

Gardening in Jezzine

Edy’s mother needed some help in the garden so we all jumped in to help.It was one of the first times I have gardened in a long time and I really loved it. Working with one’s hands is such a rewarding feeling. I have always thought about participating in WWOOF, but the idea of gardening all the time always scared and held me back. But now that I have given it a try – I’d love to get more into gardening and learning more about it.

This weekend Edy and I returned to Jezzine to a much needed getaway from the city. When we arrived late last night, we decided to go for a hike in the morning. We both were interested in visiting Sur (one of the very few places in Lebanon with an accessible and clean public beach) but due to the planned  The Return To Palestine March we decided that it was best to stay in Jezzine, because security was going to be really tight.

In the morning, Edy drove us about 2-3 miles away from his family’s home up the mountains. We parked the car and started hiking. The geographical diversity that one can find in Lebanon is fascinating. The mountains, the sea, the cedars, etc. We started hiking and  it was very different from the hikes I have been on in the U.S. or Europe – there were no trails, we came across shepherds with their flocks of sheep, and the grass was so high at some points it reached my waist. However, the most shocking and unique part of this hike was coming across empty shells (as in explosive shells). Jezzine was a witness to a lot of the violence during the 1982 Lebanon War because of its strategic geographical location in proximity to the Israeli border.

Old explosive shell on the hike in Jezzine

The hike was wonderful and I had never seen Za’atar before the drying and mixing process. Edy made me taste it straight from the ground and we started to pick some in a small bag he had.

Edy picking Za'atar

I would love to go back and hike in those mountains. I’m looking forward to continuing to explore this country’s amazing geography.

In Lebanese Nature

Tales from Israel: Bus journey from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem

(I wrote this on the bus)

My mother and I are sitting on the very last row on the bus (the last two available seats next to each other). Next to me is a Palestinian man, who has multiple mobile phones and literally seems to have not stopped talking on them since we got on the bus, and next to him a group of the most annoying and obnoxious Israeli teenagers (2 boys at the end of our row, and a boy and girl on the seat in front of them). The annoying group of kids are loud; one of them is playing the music on his phone and people all the way in the front of the bus could hear it. I just turned to him for the second time to ask him to turn down the music.
Two rows in front of us there are two Russian-looking girls, light skin, pointy features, dark black hair and striking green eyes. The girl next to the window has her shoulder-length hair in a ponytail with sunglasses fashionably resting on her head holding her bangs back. You can’t miss the shiny silver eyebrow piercing she has. The one in the aisle seat is wearing a white bandanna over her short black wavy hair. They look young; maybe in their early 20’s.
At one point, the girl with the white bandanna leaned over towards her friend and it seemed like she was examining the the pendant dangling on her chest. The look in her eyes made me think they weren’t just friends; it was more than an approving or complimenting friend’s look. And to my surprise, half a second later, my suspicion was confirmed by a loving, yet subtle lover’s peck on the mouth. It was so natural, yet so out of place!
What was about to come was what shocked me the most! The annoying teenagers caught a glimpse of that innocent kiss and quickly started tormenting the young couple. One of the boys shouted out: Lesbians?!?! They started making kissing noises and calling them names (all in Hebrew, but I could detect the tone). And then they started calling the girl “white bandanna” hoping that their annoyance would pay off and she would turn around and say something. I was shocked, saddened, and above all happy for the young couple for being courageous about showing their love to one another!

Walking the streets of Jerusalem you cannot escape the magnificent Dome of the Rock

Tales from the Holy Land: The Welcome

Step to the side, Miss:

I arrive at the airport at a little past 6pm on Thursday evening. In my backpack, I have a folder stuffed with letters – a support letter from Google stating my position at Google and why I was visiting. Along with that, my friend at the State Department sent me an official state department-issued letter for American of Arab origin. Although many told me to be too worried about entering the country, I definitely had the feeling that it wasn’t going to be a piece of cake, but I kept telling myself that if anything it’s going to be great story in retrospect (as my friend Tim would say). Ok, so back to Thursday evening – I get to the immigration line, I confidently walk up to the Foreigners line, and hand over my passport to the young-looking immigration officer. And this is the conversation that went on:

 

Me: Hi
Officer: Hello. Passport please.
(I hand her the passport open to the personal details page)
Officer: What’s your name?
Me: Hebatallah Gamal (dying to tell her that it is right in front of her)
Officer: Where were you born?
Me: (again thinking – it’s freakin’ right there) Cairo, Egypt.
Officer: Why are you in Israel?
Me: Business.
Officer: Where do you work?
Me: I work for Google.
Officer: in Israel?
Me: No, in California, but I’m here to visit the Tel Aviv office for some meetings.
Officer: Do you have a letter or something?
Me: Yes, sure. There you go.
Officer: Can you please wait here (and she walks off out of the booth with my passport)

I then get asked to step to the side, where I was escorted to waiting room with a TV, vending machine and handful of other foreigners, who looked like they have been waiting for a while. I immediately open my laptop and try to go online in hopes of catching anyone from the Tel Aviv office online, but who was I kidding I was sure no one would be online – it was Thursday evening (the equavilant of our Friday in the US – end of the week). Of course, internet wasn’t working and my laptop was being slow. Ten minutes later I was asked to come into an office, where another officer lady asked me to sit down at a desk across from her and her big black computer monitor. She then started asking me the exact same series of questions the first officer asked. I answered politely and was again asked to go wait in that room. Another 20 minutes later or so, a nice looking man came into the waiting room and gave a young group of 3 (2 young guys and a girl) their passports back and wished them a nice time. He then returned less than 5 minutes later and asked me to follow him. He then brought me into yet another office and started asking me the same questions, although he was a bit more detailed and definitely tried to ask me “tricky” questions, like: What do you do for Google?What’s your title? Little does he know that my freaking title at Google is a mouth-full and a little hard to forget :) What I thought was extremely funny is that at one point he said: You are not a trouble maker, are you? I don’t think you are who we’re looking for, but we have to do this to be sure!

So, I never felt more dangerous in my life, but like I said in the beginning – a story worth telling at the end.