Nablus
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Nablus, the city, opens up and welcomes me into its crowdedness, fascinating chaos, noices and friendly shouting. The old part of the city welcomes me into long narrow streets with small shops and markets overflowing with fruits, vegetables, sweets, shoes, clothes and all kinds of small objects, with people greating me in english and sales- men shouting "bortan telate shekel kilo!" (oranges, tree shekel a kilo!) and "fraule chamse shekel!" (strawberry five shekels!) Cars are beeping, forcing their way through crowds of people, dirty cats are sneaking around looking for food, children are running around, playing with whatever they find in the streets, women covered up in long black dresses are carrying small children on their arms. I walk around in Nablus, overwhelmed by its life, the sensory experience of being here.
When walking in the streets I am made very aware of my own presence as someone different and and unfamiliar; all the starring eyes, heads that turn, all the attention I get; the children screaming "How are you! What's your name!" (often the only thing they know in english), men saying "welcome! welcome!" I am an object of strangeness, something to gaze at. I draw their curiousity and they demand my attention. Then they willingly open up, welcoming me into their lives, sharing their experiences, thoughts and jokes with me, sharing food and tea and laughter. They are curious to know my thoughts, especially of Palestine and Nablus, curious to learn about my ideas and about my way of life. Also curious to know what the outside world, like the people in Norway, is thinking of them and of the situation for Palestinians. Then they express gratitude that I'm here, that I care about them and their situation. They express envie of all the things I can do, the places I can go to, the easiness with which I travel to Al Quds, Haifa and Egypt. They express a multitude of different feelings; related to the human, social and political condition to which they are exposed, which they endure, sometimes with indifference, with patience, with frustration or hopelessness. I notice the grief they often carry, over loved ones lost in the 2nd intifada, close friends or family shot or arrested by Israeli soldiers. Waiting for a friend, son or father to return from prison..
There are endless stories of suffering, oppression and brutality endured by the civilian population here. I listen to the stories they tell me from the 2nd Intifada and the invasion of Nablus in 2002, 2006 and in 2007 and of the consequences they had on the lives of the people here. I am contemplating the utopian idea of nonviolent resistance to the oppression and occupation. The people I talk to here seem doubthful that nonviolent resistance will create a difference for the people suffering under occupation and oppression. They express hopelessness and frustration and the unwillingness to fight. They want a peaceful deal which gives them more rights and self-determination. Like the man, Adel, who asked me: "When will our human rights be respected? When will we be ragarded as worthy our right to self-determination and a Palestinian State? When can we start to reconcile the damage and suffering endured by our people for so long? How can we speak about the truth of the situation here to those who are powerful in the world today? How can we make the powerful listen to us?"
There are indeed a lot of difficult questions for the Palestinian people to answer, for the international community to answer as well as for international visitors like me, who represent the outside world (there are not many of us here in Nablus) and who are regarded as sources of how the outside world sees Palestine.
Norwegians are popular in Nablus, we have a good reputation of being supportive of the Palestinian people and their struggle for liberation and peace with justice. This, despite the failure of the Oslo accords. Coming here, I am challenged as a citizen of one of the most peaceful countries in the world. I am challenged in my views of how to fight for freedom and justice. So I talk to people about freedom and justice, I ask them how they think related to these concepts, related to living under occupation and experiencing structural and direct violence, enduring the always-present threat of invasion, arrests and violence. I document the responses I get in my research.
Answering questions about the concepts of freedom and justice is not easy. Considering for example the question of how often they think about these consepts. Some tell me "every day", some tell me "never". However, through our conversation it is often evident that these concepts, or rather the longing for whatever these concepts signify, are underlying themes, determening their lives in a profound way. Thus only mentioning the word 'freedom' or 'justice' seem to open up into an emotional space of deep human longing. It is interesting to explore the different emotions, thoughts and ideas associatied with only one word.
My interviewees here in Nablus lack fundamental freedoms and most of them express a sense of injustice over a multitude of losses, such as the loss of their land.

However present and important these concepts are though, my everyday encounters with the people here are often far from dominated by talks of freedom and justice. They are often related to small everyday issues; problems and pleasures that are important parts of peoples lives. I am struck by the incredible sense of joy that many of the people here have. I admire their positive spirit and friendliness in dealing with other people and with foreigners like me.
Sometimes they welcome me into their homes, "ahalam wasahalan" (welcome) and "salam alikom" (peace upon you). Sometimes I am invited home to families who only speak arabic. And so they talk to me in arabic and I pretend to understand, nodding my head, uttering some fraces of "kif halek" (how are you?), "ana min Norwege" (I am from Norway), "heloctur!" (very nice!) and "alhamdulillah!" (thank God!) wherever seem suitable. And when answering their questions by saying something in english, they pretent to understand me, smiling and nodding, saying something in arabic and then we laugh together. I like this form of communication, it's not only about being polite; we are actively using our imagination when communicating with each other; I try to understand what they are possible saying by using my imagination, and they imagine what I am trying to tell them. We help each other by using our hands, drawing figures in the air.

Though, being an international, people who speak english are eager to tell me their stories, hopeful that I might convey their stories to an international audience. Or they tell me their stories simply so that we can get know each other better.
My good friend A. tells me that during the Israeli invasion in 2003 he was volunteering with the ambulance. One time he saw his best friend being shot by a soldier in the middle of the street. He ran to him and tried to rescue him, but he died in his arms. He tells me about wathcing his friend die and the feeling of helplessness; there was nothing he could do to help him. Like 50 % of the male population of Nablus, A. has been to prison, where he was isolated in a tiny room for two weeks, without any clue of was going to happen to him, always fearing that they would kill him. He was 16 years old at the time and as with many others, the reason for his arrest was dubious. After they arrested him, they blindfolded him, brought him with them in their jeep and started kicking and hitting him. Suddenly he began laughing. He had no control over the release of feelings. Laughter was the only desperate response to the pain and abuse. Since then, situations of pain and dread were met with the same desperate laughter, like the craziness of a mad man.
A man from Balata refugee camp tells me that two of his brothers are martyrs, killed by Israeli soldiers during the 2nd Intifada. They participated in a group of violent resisters, and when the Israelis invaded the refugee camp, they fought back. Thus they were killed while fighting and now they are regarded as heroes in the neigbourhood. His other two brothers are spending many years in prison, only guilty of being brothers to the fighters. When sitting in his modest living room, next to his mother, looking at the posters of the two martyrs on the walls, listening to their story of struggle, loss and grief, I am forced to contemplate this kind of desperate fighting against a powerful military regime, the desperate acts of violent resistance and the absence of intellectual and sensible reasoning about achieving peace by peaceful means. I am sitting face to face with these people, they are telling me about their experiences and I am forced to see the situation from their point of view, a physical and highly emotional point of view.

Talking to the adults, listening to their stories, discussing their questions; all this is very interesting and sometimes a little exhausting. The children here ask questions too, but simpler ones. They are curious about me, they want to know my name, where I'm from, to touch my hair. They stare at me like I'm some strange creature. But they are usually joyful, they carry the lightness of youth, the openness of the young mind.
The refugee girls (7 - 10 years old) that I teach at the UNRWA school in Al Ayn refugee camp, are very happy and enthusiastic participants in my classes. Their eagerness to learn is increadible. When I ask questions, they all want to answer, jumping up and down, flicking their fingers saying "me!", "me!". I am overwhelmed by their enthusiasm. I try to let them all answer, I want them all to have the chance to express themselves. I try to encourrage their imagination. We look at visual images and talk about what we see, the more incredible and fanciful, the better… Or we talk about words, associations, making up stories. The children have a lot of imagination, but needs to be encourraged. Naturally they are lacking the stimuli availiable to for example Norwegian children. My own childhood was hugely dominatied by big amounts of books, stories and artworks that surrounded me.
I enjoy teaching the children here, I enjoy their enthusiasm and devotion, the fact that they try so hard and that they are the most happy and charming little people I have ever met, despite difficult circumstances; growing up in one of the many refugee camps in the West Bank, amidst poverty, social struggles, conflict and unrest.
The joy I experience in the classroom and among the Palestinian people in Nablus in general, is sharply contrasting to the surrounding condition here; the precence of military bases and checkpoints, the invasion of Israeli military at night, the sound of shootings and soundbombs. Also the F16s flying over Nablus almost every day remind us of the sombre reality of the situaton.
Living in Nablus, in the West Bank, surrounded by Israeli militarism, makes me reflect upon the concept of security and the ways in which it perpetuates destruction, division and a 'culture of fear'. The concern with security is counterproductive and opposes the very peace and order it is supposed to create. The Separation Wall is an obvious example of this. Constructed with the idea of creating security for Israeli citizens, it has come to signify the apartheid system which divides the society between 'us', the good who needs to be protected from 'the others'; the bad and evil, the 'terrorists', the 'unhuman'. Thus the militaristic, fear-based approach to security is promoted through an enormous propaganda- machinery in Israeli and Western media.
When security comes to mean the execution of military power, it not only creates insecurity for the victims of this military violence, but it provokes instability and insecurity for the larger community as well as for the whole region. The tyrrany of militarism with its glorification of violence and aggression no doubt leads to a less secure world. The use of military power with its inherent structural violence, used by the powerful to dominate and control the weak, is indeed preventing peace and justice in the world today.

The house of stone and shadows

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Sleeping in Nablus, in the house of stone and shadows, and every night at 4.30 waking up by the call for prayer; this beautiful singing voice echoing over the city.
In that yonder condition, between sleep and awake, I am half listening to the praying voice, its sacred sound fills the air, fills me, enters into my dreaming mind and lingers.
As I walk through the empty and dark rooms, the sound still echoing through the house and through my body, I am present in a strange and surreal world.

Demonstration on Prisoners Day, April 17th, Nablus

On the 17th of April, Palestinians in Nablus were marking Prisoners Day by gathering in the city center to demonstrate against the 8,400 Palestinians detained in Israeli prisons and detention centers without charges or trial. They were demonstrationg against the arrests, torture and ill-treatment of Palestinian detainees including children under the age of 18.
Many mothers and daughters of prisoners were holding pictures of their sons or fathers and speaking out against the unjust treatment of their family members, calling for their release.
'Addaneer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association' reports that in 2008, almost 4,960 Palestinians were arrested by the Israeli Occupying Forces during 10,200 raids across the West Bank and Gaza Strip. They also report on the common use of torture and ill-treatment of the prisoners during arrest, interrogation and detention. They report on severe violations of human rights including the UN Convention against torture.

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