Sunday, 13 June 2010


Guilt has consumed me before, but the feeling had long disappeared. It returned when I was finally released from the border crossing at Jenin and into Afula, a city before Nazareth. Guilt isn't looking at Palestinian workers crossing the border from Israel with paint all over their hands and clothes, scanning their id cards and their fingerprints before being allowed re-entry into their own territory by the occupier. After all, this is Israel, the state that is allowed leeway in anything and everything. No. Guilt is entering Israel, or the thought of being able to enter Israel, to see the greenery, the safety, and taste the ocean. Guilt is walking the cobblestone streets of old cities that were ethnically cleansed and substituted with museums and art galleries for the amusement of Israelis who pretend that everything is okay and foreigners that have never heard of the Palestinian territories.

Israel and the Palestinian Territories (the title of the Lonely Planet tour book clutched in the hands of tourists) is tiny, the size of New Jersey tiny. It is easy to get from one city to another in under two hours. So one weekend, my friend and I set off to Haifa, with stops in Akka, and Tel-Aviv-Jaffa. The cities I just named are part of what some refer to as Palestine '48. The Palestinians living within these territories are called "Arabs of '48" or more realistically "Israeli Arabs". These cities are also the setting of many stories and two of them (Jaffa and Haifa) were one of Palestine's most important cities before the Nakba.

We arrived late thanks to the border guards who like to keep two Canadian females at the border until it closes just because they stupidly entered via Jenin. After missing the bus to Haifa, we climbed a cab driven by a male who seemed to be of Ethiopian origin. He barely spoke English and had no idea where he was going. I managed to negotiate a price with him however, a skill I seem to have acquired since Cairo.
Arab market
"Shlonak?" he yells into the cell phone. Iraqi Jew. "Inta btihki Arabee? Inta Iraqi?"* "Ah ah! Lesh ma goolti?"** "Fakartak bas btihki Yibree!"*** He asks us where we're from. We lie. "Lebanon." "Where in Lebanon?" I give him a slight truth, religious affiliation. "Saida." "I love Lebanon. Are you even allowed in this country?" "We're Canadians, so yes. You're not allowed in Lebanon." He starts talking about Lebanon, ignoring my comment. "How long have you been here?" I ask him. "Since the time of my grandfather's grandfather." That explains why he has so many Arab friends but not how he ever set foot in Lebanon.
We avoid being tourists because I hate it, but we have conversations with them, and we eavesdrop on the others. Luckily, we're staying in the Arab district of Haifa, so hospitality was prevalent. We even got invited to a restaurant that specializes in home cooking in the city of Ein Hod, but we never bothered to call. For a city that's never faced curfew it's pretty dead, except for "Habibi Kedah" blasting from the stereo of a passing car.
Haifa from the Baha'i gardens
Baha'i gardens
Unfortunately the Shrine of Bab was under restoration and was covered (see middle)
The Baha'i archives building

As usual, we explored Haifa on foot. Haifa has a lot stairs. Even their metro goes uphill and downhill and although you may wonder why a metro only makes four stops, once you've climbed over 1,000 stairs then you'll know.
If stealing Palestinian culture wasn't enough, Israel is stealing designs from the UAE. I mean, doesn't this look like Burj Al-Arab?

The never ending stairs of Haifa
Carmelit, Haifa's metro

We met a few locals. I think it's important to get the perspective of Arab Israeli's. At a book shop, I start talking to the employee. Turns out he's a professor at Haifa University. He tells me about how the Arabs, professors and students, are mistreated at the university. I buy his book on the history of the Middle East and tell him to get it translated into English ASAP. His thesis was about the French and English influence in Egypt. I like him already.

*You speak Arabic? You're Iraqi aren't you?
**Yes yes, why didn't you say you speak Arabic before?
***I thought you only spoke Hebrew.


  1. I know that feeling of guilt all too well. It also occurs when you've told Palestinians that have never stepped foot on their land that you've been to Palestine.

    I just stumbled upon your blog via tumblr. Keep up the good blogging.

  2. Just to clarify - the photo of the building captioned "Baha'i Court" in reality is the Baha'i Archives Building which houses relics of the founders of the Baha'i Faith. There is no such thing as the "Baha'i Court".

  3. Thanks for the clarification Phil, I was suspicious the gardens guide was feeding people false information because he didn't seem to know anything.
    @Daniela: yes, guilt comes in the form of that too. Thanks for reading, glad you tumbled on it :)

  4. dana i love your blogs and i wish i had your bravery. keep blogging, seeing, doing, living!

  5. Normally the guides at the Baha'i gardens are very knowledgeable and wouldn't mislead people. Your photos are stunning, and I gather you were impressed by the beauty of the Baha'i properties on Mt. Carmel.