Thirty three year old Ayaash manages the Yasmeen Hotel in the heart of the old city of Nablus. He tells us the lower part of the building is five hundred years old while the upper story was built about 20 years ago minus the planned third story which was interrupted by the second Intifada. Ayaash was wearing a turquoise shirt that complimented his long hair pulled back in a pony tail. He recognized me from previous visits and we reintroduced ourselves.It turned out he is from Balata and is a close friend of Ibtisam, the director of the Women’s Programme Center, and Eman, another volunteer who looks after our needs. Eman bought us ice cream the other day after an outdoor session with the girls at school sketching out the mural with pencil. It was particularly hot. Anyway, we cannot walk two steps without someone offering us a meal, a drink, a home visit, directions, or whatever we might need. Last night two young girls brought nuts, candy and salted chickpeas to our table as we sipped the heavenly lime and pistachio drink in the park. Families spend a lot of time hanging out together in Palestine and we are always invited to join them.
I ask Ayaash about the upcoming UN vote. “Nothing will change, ” he said.
These events are like an injection. Clashes and quiet, clashes and quiet, nothing changes and the occupation will remain. My father told me to have hope that things will change, and that’s probably what I will tell my children. But nothing will.” Then he repeats a sentiment I hear from Palestinians all the time and everywhere. “You know, this is not about religion. I have Muslim friends, Christian friends and Jewish friends. I am friends with Israeli peace activists and have been in actions with them. But nothing will change because most Israelis think this land belongs to them. They don’t want to share the land. THey keep taking more and more. That is what is not changing.” Ayaash is not going anywhere. His family has lived in Nablus since the Nakba, and in the holy land itself for generations upon generations. Palestinians belong to the land. The UN vote means almost nothing to them. While the event is hyped up in the West, most people here are waiting for it to pass and hoping it does not bring with it too much violence.
After we finish our meal at the Yasmeen, we take a taxi to Sebastia, a site of many layers of antiquities. Dara and I walk amidst the surrounding olive groves. We gaze at the massive stones from Biblical, Roman and Byzantine eras and identify the ruins from the map that was given to us by a man who manages a restaurant on the top of a hill that overlooks the Roman Basilica. Boys are playing ball among the columns while two local soccer teams vie for goals. The vistas from the top of the hill are magnificent. We can’t help but notice how deeply connected the people are to the land. We return to the open air restaurant where several families are enjoying the afternoon. An elder gentlemen boasts to us about his daughters who are sharing a hooka. One is a journalist, the other a psychologist, and a third is a dentist. All are wearing the traditional hijab. Their children are playing around them and they engage us in conversation. The grandfather says, “Nablus is the third oldest city in the world. Jericho is the first, Damascus the second, Nablus the third, Jerusalem the fourth and the fifth is somewhere in Yemen.” The men to our right who serve us juice and coffee show us coins they have collected from the Roman and Byzantine periods. People know the history and stories that belong to this place.They work the land and safeguard holy places. One of the women offers us fresh dates recently picked from the tree which are hard and not yet softened into the dates people usually buy and eat. The rocky and terraced hills turn pink and purple in the sunset and we are happy to sit among these kind and generous people. We don’t talk politics, but it is clear that Palestinians belong to this land, love this land and show us the same hospitality and grace that they shower upon the land. Whether the UN votes yes or no, whether the US vetoes or not, the Palestinians belong to the land.
If only we as a community could see and understand the indigenous spirit they bring
Blog written by Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb