Palestinian Hospitality

I already planned to post the piece below tonight, but now I see how timely and important it is to share in light of the attack in Tel Aviv earlier this evening upon Israeli Jews by Palestinians from Hebron. I hope this story serves as a reminder not all Arabs are terrorists--the majority are not.  I also hope to identify there are extensive forms of horrific oppression pushing Palestinians to act toward such grievous ends as witnessed tonight in Tel Aviv.  Yet, at the same time I do not mean to imply it justifies their actions. 

As an outsider I do not believe it is appropriate for me to assume or say what is the avenue to a just peace with equal rights for everyone living in Israel and Palestine.  What I can offer are the stories I witness and share the words that give me hope, like the following bold prayer, and pray they breathe life and renewal upon the whole situation.  I invite you to join me.

"May our enemy become our friend, O God, that we may share earth's goodness.  May our enemy become our friend, O God, that our children may meet and marry.  May our enemy become our friend, O God, that we may remember our shared birth in you.  May we grow in grace, may we grow in gratitude, may we grow in wisdom, that our enemy become our friend." - John Philip Newell

Palestinian hospitality is one of the finest arts I have come to know.  It is extravagant without being flashy, it is exquisite in its sincerity, it is a wonder in its consistency, and it is an incredibly humbling, magnificent gift to be a recipient of.

In reflection, following writing the post, "Ramadan", I realize I gave you a lovely sampling of Palestinian hospitality, but you really deserve to experience the full banquet.  In order to so, I will share with you more in depth about my stay with the family in Hebron, mentioned in "Ramadan".  I will give the family members different names for the sake of their privacy.

In order for you to understand the extent to which Palestinians offer hospitality, you must know my connection to the family.  It is very distant.  The father of the family, who I will call Imad, is friends with a man whose sister-in-law (I believe) is related to a friend of a friend of mine in Atlanta.

After two weeks of partaking in one welcome after another by Palestinian organizations and families I have picked up on a thread of consistency, a welcome ritual, as it were.  My welcome by this family will give you a good idea of how it goes.  

Generally, when you arrive you will be brought juice, Palestinian coffee (strong, amazing, and heavily laden with cardamom), or black tea with a sprig or two of fresh mint or sage.  They may also have some sweet things, nuts, or crackers out.  This particular afternoon we just had a popular orange drink—something like a cross between orange juice and orange soda.  The juice was brought out by the mother of the family, who I will call Maya, who served it to Imad, my friend Issa, and I, who were all cooling from the 95-degree heat under the refreshing shade of the pine trees surrounding their courtyard.  The space was entirely made of marble; Imad and his brother own a marble factory.  The sandy-colored marble walls enclosing the marble patio were lined by low marble vegetable beds growing spearmint, peppermint, strawberries, sage, basil, a creeping tomato, a few kids of squash, and even a baby lemon tree.  When I went to rub the basil with my fingers to gather the scent Maya shook her head and showed me instead to gently wave my hand through the leaves, like you would water.  It worked wondrously well and then also prevented soiling of the leaves!  Noted.  After we finished drinking our juice Maya gathered the glasses, excused herself, softly saying, "Ahlan wasahlan" (you are welcome), which I quickly noticed she did almost every time she entered or exited the room.  As the evening wore on she gradually desisted from saying it and then I knew we had gotten more familiar with each other.  That made my heart smile.  

If you are staying for a length of time as a guest, the meal will come next.  Rather than lingering and chatting, as you might, we went directly upstairs to eat. I think this was because Ramadan was beginning very early the next morning, which meant a few, if not all the women, would be up cooking and those had been sleeping would wake up at 3:30 a.m. to eat before sunrise.  Imad invited Issa to join us.  Though Issa refused at first, Imad insisted implying it is the culture.  Out of politeness Issa accepted.  The four of us and the oldest son had dinner together.  Imad and Maya have five children in total, two sons and three daughters, but the other children did not join us.  I am not sure if the daughters were not hungry yet, still cooking, or iif it was not culturally appropriate for them to join us at this point.  I noticed similar dynamics in the other homes where I ate the past two weeks, too, women were always the last to eat (unless they were guests) and often did so in another part of the room or house.  Our meal was served on one enormous circular metal platter filled with yellow rice, layered with toasted slivered almonds, and topped with succulent roasted chicken.  Maya heaped rice and chicken onto my plate.  We were each also given two bowls of side dishes, one with something that looked like a thick spinach soup and another with diced boiled potatoes in a rich chicken broth.  I watched the others to learn that I was to scoop each of these onto my plate to mix with the other items throughout the course of my meal, according to my liking.  As we reached our fullness, either indicated by a clean plate or, as I did, by saying, halas "finished", because I could not fit anymore into my stomach, we left the table and took turns washing our hands.  We were then ushered into the living room.

I was met by a lovely, inviting space, (the nicest I had been so far) with a plush five-piece set of high-backed, hunter green couches and chairs.  The coffee table in the center was set with an overflowing bowl of fruit: hearty bananas, nectarines, thin cucumbers, apples, and apricots.  Maya put a few of each kind on plates and set one before Imad, Issa, and me.  I was also given a knife and an extra plate for my skins and pits.  Then she brought out coffee.  Issa and Imad continued to do the majority of the talking, well, primarily Imad.  He does not speak much English so the two of them had been speaking in Arabic during most of our time together.  I am a talker and equal opportunist, but in this case I was perfectly content staying silent.  Certainly I wanted to honor my host, but moreover I was trying to use every ounce of energy I had to stay awake and not throw up from the headache and heat exhaustion I had been almost completely consumed by the last two days.  

When Issa was at last able to excuse himself he informed me in a passing whisper that I was now going to spend time with the women of the house.  So, I was guided into another room where the three daughters reemerged and were joined by Maya, as well.  We sat upstairs briefly then all went back down to the blessedly breezy patio where Imad and the younger son also where.  Then the older son came through the courtyard door this time with his wife, a radiant, delightful woman.  We sat around trying to communicate as best we could--the children graciously translating for me to their parents as they were able (they all learned English in school from a young age) and Imad using his savvy translation app.

I noticed the oldest daughter slip inside and then return minutes later bearing a tray of piping hot mint tea!  Yes, there is always more!  And more, and more, and more.  Remember the word halas, "enough", it will serve you very well in Palestine.  It is respectful and highly recommended to always accept the first tea, coffee, or food, even if you do not finish it.  You are then welcome to refuse if they offer again, which they often will especially if you finish what you have been given.  If you visit here, you will never go hungry. 

Nabi Saleh_May 28, 2016-141.jpg

You will likely also never go thirsty, however, this is a privilege that comes with being a guest. Water is extremely sacred here because it is very limited and thus outrageously expensive.  It should be noted the West Bank of Palestine is saturated with water resources.  However, they are mostly in what has now been designated as Area C, which is land the State of Israel has claimed complete authority over and so it requires Palestinians to pay Israel, their military occupier, for water that in fact comes from their own land.  Additionally, water is often cut off from Palestinians in the summer as a form of collective punishment.  Due to this, you will notice giant black or silver water tanks on Palestinians' roofs holding 10s of gallons of water.  These reserves are the easiest distinguishing factor between Palestinian and settler/colonizer homes (Israeli Jews who are living in the West Bank, illegally, according to international law); settlers have no need for tanks because they receive a constant flow of piped water, and at about 1/3 the price Palestinians pay.  This is skimming the surface of the issue.  I plan to do a more thorough post on this in the near future.  For now, if you would like to read more on this matter you can find it in a post I wrote from my previous travels to the region in 2013.

And this fascinating article from 2014.

As you can see, the large building on the left with Hebrew writing has no water tanks, while all the houses to the right have silver or black tanks.

As you can see, the large building on the left with Hebrew writing has no water tanks, while all the houses to the right have silver or black tanks.

Back to the story at hand.  I sipped my tea until I received an unexpected invitation to see the apartment of the daughter-in-law and oldest son.  It was just a short walk away, up the same staircase to Imad and Maya's apartment, but to the left at the top of the stairs instead of right--a very typical housing set up for Palestinian families.  Everyone stays close to each other; and I have come to see the positive impact it has on the community.  Family unity strengthens their Palestinian identity and provides resilience and strength in the face of persistent persecution.  I was then invited to stay the night in their apartment instead of the parents', which was a very generous offer.  What it amounted to was sleeping in their queen-sized bed and hot shower all to myself.  I happily agreed, as well as to their offer to go directly to bed. That was a surprise gift!  On other occasions you might expect to be offered to smoke nargila (hookah), chat, or drink more coffee or tea.  However, with the commencement of Ramadan, dark and early, the next morning I imagine they were inclined to get started on cooking, praying or sleeping, too!

This scenario is just one example of similar experiences I have been graced to have almost daily while in Palestine and you will surely receive as well if you come.  Which, I highly recommend.  It now only seems fitting to close by extending to you the phrase I have heard more than any other here, "You are welcome."  Yes, you are welcome.  And, they mean it.