And now for the second installment of my series on the miscellaneous little differences between Israel/Palestine and America.
- Since this is the Middle East, it doesn't really rain. During the summer it never rains. I wonder if the weather channels out here just close up shop when summer arrives; I've had over two months here and not felt a single raindrop. Since water is precious out here, and since Israel is not afraid to collectively punish the Palestinian population for individual crimes, 39 almost every Palestinian rooftop is adorned with large black tanks with reserves of water in the event that Israel decides to turn off the tap. In Palestine the water delivery system is much less modern (and hence less dependable); in East Jerusalem, for example, the water infrastructure dates back nearly a half century to the Jordanian era. Depending on your political sympathies, this could be evidence of either Israeli apartheid or Palestinian laziness, though I haven't the information to make either judgment as of right now.
- Because of the constant sun out here, there is little need for a machine dryer when it comes to laundry. Everybody (in both Israel and Palestine) hangs their clothes out to dry, which has the effect of adding to the rustic charm of the place. Beware high winds, though: my brother's jeans ended up on an opposite rooftop after a forceful gust sent the whole drying rack toppling over.
- It's been awhile since I got my SAT scores, but I'm pretty sure that I didn't find out about them through a major newspaper. Here the results of the big SAT-esque test, called the Tawjihi, are published in Al-Ayyam, the second-largest daily in Palestine. The senior year of high school here is the most intensively difficult—unlike America, where the final year of high school ranges in character from honeymoon to joyride. But with great struggle comes great celebration upon success: my English lessons at Al-Am'ari were interrupted by fireworks the morning that the results were released. I've also been told by a rising Palestinian senior that elective classes simply do not exist and he'd be looking forward to going back to school a lot more if there were girls there—public schools out here are usually sexually segregated. Bummer.
-Does your city feature traffic cops like this guy? I think not. (Fast forward to the end for sentimental slow-motion!)
- If I'm surfing through radio stations back in the States, I will waste no time in skipping over the familiar drone of a pastor reading the Bible. But here in Palestine, the Qur'an is sung, and if done by a skilled vocalist, it is a truly beautiful sound to behold. When the call to prayer is issued through the megaphones bristling from the spire of the local mosque, the echoing song gives the whole moment a profound, lyrical quality that almost makes you want to convert to Islam in that very moment. In America it would be considered intrusive and tacky for a church to broadcast its sermon over a two mile radius with megaphones. But here, it’s not only expected but welcome—to me at least. (It is very possible that these fond feelings of mine only exist because I know I will spend no more than a few months here.) Interestingly enough, in Hebron, Israeli settlers attempt to drown out the call to prayer with patriotic Jewish songs blasted from loudspeakers of their own. It's a darkly comical experience, to say the least.
- Much earlier in my summer I had quoted my Swiss friend making this bold assertion: "There are no homeless people in Palestine." Surprisingly enough, that held up to be true as far as I can see. Throughout the course of my trip the only homeless people I've seen have been in Israel, a country which has a much higher per capita income than the occupied Palestinian territories and is lauded for being the only democracy in the Middle East. In Palestine I have not seen one single person slumped over in the street in a destitute manner that suggests that they have nowhere else to go. This is due to a complex cocktail of factors, but central to this phenomenon, I believe, is the Islamic faith. Islam strongly forbids drug use, which makes it much more difficult to find alcohol and any other illicit substances—which are so instrumental in keeping somebody homeless—around these parts. Also, as I mentioned before, people here are unconditionally generous and giving, no matter how little they have, which has roots in Islamic teachings. Thus, if you happen to see a beggar in Palestine, you can know for certain that this person is a scam artist. If only it were so easy to know in America.
- On a similar note, you won't find any gambling—at least out in the open—in Palestine. In Israel, however, orange booths vending lottery tickets can be counted on to appear once every few blocks. Would I be so presumptive to think that this paragraph and the previous one are related?
- Above is the police department located on Ein Misbah street, just outside of the Minarah. Notice the heavily political nature of the signage, something that you won’t find in the police departments of most other countries. You'll also learn in little time the three major political icons of the West Bank: Mahmoud Abbas, or "Abu Mazen" to the Arab world, the current president of the Palestinian Authority (at left above); Yasser Arafat, the iconic and now deceased Palestinian leader (at right above); and Marwan Barghouti, a man currently jailed by Israel who headed Fatah's armed branch during the Second Intifada and is widely believed to be elected the next Palestinian president—if he's ever released.
- Lastly, back to the question of alcohol: in Palestine, it's either sold in big "international" towns like Ramallah and Bethlehem, or it’s sold in the rare Christian village. Taybeh is the most famous of these Christian villages, seeing as it is home to the only brewery in Palestine. Nablus, a less-visited but much larger city, does not have any alcohol vendors whatsoever. On the other hand, Israel's rules regarding alcohol are as lax as that of any European city: when my brother and I were in Tel Aviv, we cracked open our tall boys and proceeded to drink on the streets.