Nov 14 2004

Published by at 12:00 am under Blogs

March 14, 2004

Luxor, Egypt

I have been invited to participated in a US-Arab media conference scheduled to take place in the southern Egyptian historic city of Luxor. The trip from Amman to Cairo on Egypt Air is an early evening flight but from Cairo to Luxor is flight past midnight. At the Cairo Airport I try to use my Jordanian passport to enter Egypt but the passport control officials refuse. They are a little perplexed when I tell them that I have a US passport which gets an automatic visa. I explain to him that I want to enter an Arab country with my Arab passport. He turns me over to the Security official who immediately rejects my request because I don’t have a prior visa and tells me to use my US passport.

We get into the Movenpick Hotel in Luxor by about 3am. The hotel is built on an Island (Crocodile Island) with rooms in the form of bungalows overlooking the Nile. After a 10 o’clock breakfast I went downtown for some shopping. When we drove by a Coptic Church, I inquired and the taxi driver surprised me by saying that nearly half of Luxor’s 600,000 populations is Christian. Sure enough the names on many shops especially Jewelry shops and doctor’s clinics had names like Girgis, Alber, Hanna, and Botrus.

I bought a pair of shoes from a sweet young woman who had a veil on. I was surprised when she took me to a warehouse (which had Christian signs identifying that the owners were Copts) and we went through various pairs of shoes. What surprised me was the ease in which a veiled woman would agree to be in a warehouse with a strange man.

In the afternoon I took a swim at the hotel pool and in the evening we had a reception and a dinner with the conference participants. After dinner we went out and I had a nice long talk with the managing editor of Saloon. Com. I had always wanted tow rite for this important on line magazine. We had a nice talk and I think I will be writing for him in the future.

March 8, 2004

Jordanian Interior Ministry

It is Monday and therefore there must be a blog entry. As usual our home phone rang late Sunday night. Jonathan was on the line. But instead of agreeing at what early hour to leave for Palestine, he had news for me. He has an appointment at the Jordanian Ministry of Interior. The chief of staff of the minister wants to see him to help with his travel problems. One of Jonathan’s foreign friends had said he would help intercede with Jordanian officials so we can avoid the long trip to the northern Sheik Hussein Bridge. He had spoken to the Jordanian foreign ministry who asked Jonathan to come in and he made a few phone calls that led to this meeting. Jonathan wanted to know if I want to come along so that I too can get my name on the new permission. We were scheduled to be in this man’s office at 9am.

Sure enough we went to see Omar Beek. His office was full even though we were ushered in. We stood up for a few minutes until the guest left. Omar was a bit on edge. Who wouldn’t be when you have ten people around you, three phones ringing non stop and a cell phone chiming in every few minutes. Omar kept on calling everyone sidi (my master) as he took orders to help this or that person with permissions, or someone’s maid’s residency, a delegation of waqf Islamic preachers coming from Palestine while trying to set up meeting for a Turkish delegation from a company called Kenergy coming to Jordan for investments.

We tried to squeeze a few words in but he tried to reassure us that he knew about our problem. Between phone calls he gave Jonathan a white piece of paper without telling him what to do with it. Jonathan looked at me and I told him to write a request to travel via the King Hussein Bridge using our American passports. He did, and we attached copies of our American passports. We overhear Omar tell a person to prepare a multi entry visa for us. We tell him, between phone calls, that we have a visa, all we need is a permission to travel on the King Hussein Bridge using our passports. He claims he understands and says that this his counterpart also understands and the paper will be exactly what we want. He scribbles a few words on the hand written petition and sends it with a messenger and we wait. After a few minutes we realize that others need to have our front row seats so we retire quietly to a different corner of the office. Jonathan recalls how he once came to make the same application and he had to visit 36 different offices over a period of almost an entire work day before getting the coveted official permission. This time we joked that it was only one office.

Sure enough thirty minutes later we have a signed document that says in the name of Jordan’s minister of Interior Samir Habashneh (who that day was in Aqaba) that both of us can enter Jordan using the King Hussein Bridge more than once for three months. Jonathan is happy, clutching the document that will help shave a few hours a week of our travel time. I look at it and note that it reads like a simple letter allowing entry to Jordan on this bridge without specifying our unique case.

We drive in Jonathan’s Mitsubishi Pajero van to the bridge. He parks it at the normal Palestine Garage and I run to get our papers to the passport control so that we can catch the foreigner’s bus before it leaves.

It didn’t take long before we quickly realized that things are not as easy as we had hoped. I step out and leave Jonathan do his lawyerly act with the senior officer whom our papers are turned to. This paper is fine he tells them if you didn’t have an ID card. As a Palestinian with an ID card you must travel via the permits. We know this we tell him but we want to use our American passports because that is easier and faster. He calls his boss in the passports and travel department in Amman. After a long wait he is told to wait some more and that he will be called back. Half an hour later still no answer. We quickly realize this will not be easy so we decide to go the regular way sing our temporary Jordanian passports. But this proves problematic because Jonathan’s Jordanian passport had expired a few days ago. He tries to convince them that it doesn’t matter since he always travels on his US passport which has a valid multi entry visa to Jordan but they are adamant. We have no choice, after two hours and unable to use the Allenby Bridge we retreat, once again defeated and drive up to the northern bridge. All the drive up, Jonathan is upset, I hate this bridge, he keeps saying about the Allenby Bridge. I use the time on the Jordan Valley road to do work. I take care of most of my calls both to Palestine and to Jordan since on this road both cell phones give a strong signal.

As usual our crossing at the Sheikh Hussein bridge is without a hitch. Traveling on the bus crossing from on side to the other, I finally have something to smile about. A traveler who works with the UN notices me and comments on my recent article in the Globe and Mail. “I loved your article and forwarded it to many people,’ he tells me.

February 24, 2004

International Moment

Today was a kind of international day for me. The day started on a bad note.  The taxis from Abdali were very slow to fill up (not too many passengers this time of year). When I got to the Allenby Bridge around 9am I was told I couldn’t cross because I didn’t have my two children with me. They were registered on my Israeli permit and I was not allowed to go back without them. This meant that I had to travel on the northern Sheikh Hussein bridge where I could use my American passport (which I am not allowed to use on the King Hussein bridge that is much closer.

Anyways the 90 minute drive on the Jordan valley allowed me to be in touch both with my office in Amman and with people in Palestine since both my cell phones get good reception up and down the Jordan valley road.

All the way up to the bridge I was on the phone with Zeinab. We have been working very hard on getting a proposal to the European Union for a children’s film festival in Syria. Our partners for this festival in addition to the Syrians is a Paris-based organization Internews Europe. A German guy working for Internews in Brussels is my direct contact. He is on the phone with me working out last minute details to be filled out in the proposal which has to be handed to the European Union office in Damascus the following day by noon or else we do not even qualify to be considered.

Zeinab had arranged with a taxi to take the documents to a contact we have in Damascus to deliver them the following day. We had to fill out a document that Zeinab had to have before 3pm. I used my time in the bus between Israel and Jordan to prepare the answers to the form that we still didn’t fill out. The rest of the trip went well and I got into my office at 2:30 and got on the internet and started to download files, make last minute changes, contact Zeinab in Amman, contact Gerd in Brussels, contact Christine in Paris and then the phone rings and an Israeli journalist from the Jerusalem Post wants to interview me about Hikyat Simsim, the Palestinian-Jordan-Israeli version of Sesame. I give her an interview where I am very honest and candid about the difficulties of talking at peace when tanks are in the streets of Ramallah. Then I think for a moment and I realize that this was a huge international moment. I am in Ramallah, Palestine, I have an Israeli on the phone, a German in Brussels and a French woman in Paris, a Jordanian in Amman with a driver waiting to send the proposal to Damascus Syria so that it can be submitted the following morning to a the European Union offices. What an international moment it was.

September 1

The wall comes to Al Quds University

Filed in Ramallah at 4:05 pm

The trip from Amman today was uneventful. Left early Amman (7:15am) in order to make a scheduled appointment with my boss, Professor Sari Nusseibeh, the president of Al Quds University. On the way, I received a call from Hanan, the personal assistant of Sari saying that we might have to have the meeting in Abu Dis because there is a protest tent out there. Jonathan talked on the road about new ideas he has of setting up some human rights projects in Iraq. He is excited about the possibilities that exist in the north, where he had just spend time, and they seem to be quite open to human rights work. He said that while in the northern Kurdish areas he had heard that there were secret prisons, an issue which he raised in passing during his workshop on the last day, in which he explained the importance of iron clad documented facts before any claims are made.

We got into Jerusalem at 11:30 and I took a taxi to Abu Dis. The trip which normally takes 10 minutes took us about 40 minutes (it also cost 40 shekels). The driver had to make a long round about going on the road to Jericho, up by Male Adumim before turning back into Abu Dis. When we arrived Sari was giving interviews here and there, one to Al Arabiya, another to Rai TV (the reporter was one of our students Qasem who because he is from the Golan Heights, has Israeli ID card which allows him freedom of travel.

Our one hour meeting never materialized. We tried to steal time here and there but probably were able to talk privately for no more than 5 minutes. The bureau chief of ABC TV came to look at the area and talk to Sari. A local mukhtar wanted Sari to spend time with them reminding him of the time Sari’s father used to visit him. A young reporter from the Evening Standard stumbled in on our conversation. Finally it was time to get back.

I got into Jerusalem at about 2pm. Stopped by to see my brother in law Labib, and ten took a local Ford van to the Qalandia check point. The driver and his assistant were constantly looking around themselves to see if there were any police. They told me about there friends whose vans were confiscated for giving a ride to Palestinians from the West Bank. ‘They can’t make you into police?” I asked. They have. We have to check everyone to make sure they have proper ID, they told me. And they did every time someone wanted to get a ride they asked him or her if they had a Jerusalem ID card.

August 31 , 2003

The start of the Blog

I am starting what hopefully will be a daily log. Please visit me daily to see what is going in my life. I try and make as colorful and interesting as possible.

My dad and mom are here from the US. Dad went to Palestine with us for a visit last week, mom is happy seeing her friends and our relatives here in Jordan.

At work we have many new ideas. We want to introduce our idea of an internet radio station to some of Jordan’s universities.

Muneer, our technical guru (who just came back from China after a disastrous visit except for meeting his new wife) will spear head the project.

We are also thinking of e-education in Arabic. Also we want to work with university students to provide them with resource material through a subscription-based web site.

Our magazine Al Maghtas seems to be coming in shape. I talked today with Rania Tadrous about doing a profile with Raed Qaqish, the young active member of parliament who stood up to the Islamists last week in their attempts to criticize the popularity of Jordanian super star winner Diana Karazwn.

January 13, 2004

Israelis wanted to return

I am crossing Allenby Bridge today for one reason. A delegation from the Ford Foundation is coming to visit our Institute in Ramallah. I made the appointment at 3pm to be sure I will make the meeting coming in the same day from Amman. I left very early from home, about 7am, figuring I will be in my Ramallah office at around 11am. If there was no border I could be in Ramallah by 9am.

I reached the Israeli terminal at around 10:30and after waiting for some time at the passport control, an Israeli police woman came out and said that I am not allowed entry? Why, I asked? You have no visa to Israel she says. But I have an American passport and I have an Israeli ID card. Yes, we know you have an ID card she replies but your re-entry visa on the passport has expired. I know it has expired, I reply but your Ministry of Interior has been on strike. And anyways, now it is back, let me in and I will try and get the visa. No you have to go back and go to the Israel embassy in Amman and ask for a visa? That will take a long time, besides I have a meeting today at 2:30

Unable to convince her, I show her my press card. She is not impressed. It is issued by the state of Israel, I say as I point to the Israeli logo. No this doesn’t concern me, she replies.

I try to pull out another rabbit. Wasn’t you that was here when I came last month with the actor Richard Gere. We took a picture together, I remind her. Still unconvinced. She calls on a policeman to escort me back.

I am stuck, without any ideas left, I ask that she give me time to call my lawyer. She agrees. I call my brother’s law office and tell Suni Khoury what happened. He promised to do what he can with the Ministry of Interior.

Nearly two hours later, the Israeli policewoman comes out and says I can come in. She will give me 10 days to get the necessary reentry permit but that I am not allowed to leave unless I have it. But I have to be back in Amman on Thursday, I explain. But she persists, you will not be allowed out without that reentry permit.

I gather my bags quickly and go as fast as I can to Ramallah. I arrive about 1:30pm nearly seven hours after leaving Amman, with enough time for meeting with the delegation from the Ford Foundation.

January 22, 2004

First class to Casablanca

I wake up early to take Salam to work and make a short stop at the office. The server for AmmanNet is down and we look for ideas on how to solve the problem. Zeinab takes me to the airport at 9am. The seats of the Royal Jordanian flight to Casablanca are all full even though we have reservation. The company had overbooked. We have to wait. Suddenly 15 minutes before the scheduled departure they give us our boarding pass. They had decided to give us first class seats.

January 21, 2004

The Germans did the same but were more organized

Again I wake up early. A German colleague, Gerd, is coming to work on a project and needed me to meet him before I travel to Amman. He is staying at the Jerusalem Hotel. Very conveniently located next to the Ministry of Interior where Bishara has to go and get his ID card. We go to the Hotel, Bishara goes to collect his ID. Sure enough by 10am he comes over to the Hotel holding up his ID card. I tell Gerd the story and he goes out to take pictures of the long line outside the Ministry of Interior. He travels with me to Ramallah. Crossing the Qalandia checkpoint to get in and out of Ramallah really moves him. He is clearly angry as he clicks away photos. The Germans were doing the same thing, he tells me but they did it in a much more organized way. I wasn’t sure whether he meant the Nazis or the East German authorities.

January 20,2004

Bishara gets his ID card

My son Bishara came to Palestine on Friday for his winter break. We had to fly him by way of the Lod Airport , because the Jordanians would not allow him to cross since he had arrived into Jordan using the northern Bridge. I promised to help him get an ID card. Today I thought we can repeat the same trick now that I know Issa Abu Ghosh, Jumanat Salymeh and Avi Lekher.  But knowing all these people is useless unless you can get in. I wait and wait for Issa Abu Ghosh to show up but nothing. A few fights break up near by. The Israeli security are unhelpful. Finally Issa shows up, I told him that Jumanat said that my son has to come in person. He promises to help after he talks to Jumanat and he disappears. He later shows up and helps other people but not us. I try to talk to him, but he says he has not talked to Jumanat. Time is running and I have to go to work. I finally decide to leave Bishara waiting with the hope that Issa would let him in.

In the van going to Ramallah, I keep thinking of how I can help Bishara get in. I know the general number for the Ministry but if you call it all you get is an answering machine. The number ends up with 555. So I figure that if you change the last digit you might get a human being. I change the number and after getting a fax on one number and no answer on another, a woman answers. I tell her my story and she seems interested, took my details and promised to help. I call again in 10 minutes and she said she is working on it.

An hour later I am in the office with non stop meetings when I get a call from Bishara. Someone came down and called for Kuttab and he was let in.

Bishara gets his reentry permit, but he also wanted his own ID card. I have to sign that. They tell him to come again the next day, after I sign the paper. So as not to wait, they give him a special card.

January 15, 2004

God Was Listening

I wake up very early in the morning. I dress quickly take my computer with me ( I decided to leave my bag at the apartment since I want to go directly from the Ministry to the bridge. I new I had little chance to make it. I needed to get in, get the necessary visa and travel before 11am so I can make it to Amman in time for my meeting. It really looked impossible.

I got to the Ministry’s building by 7am. Long lines were backed up. I new I couldn’t make it waiting in line. I went to the side door and waited, hoping I could convince someone to get in. I kept on trying with the private security people at the gate, but they had little interest in my story or even thinking of letting me in.

At about 9 a man dresses in civilian clothes came from inside and seemed like he was important. Everyone seems to be calling his name: Issa.  I stuck my head through he metal mesh and tried to tell him what happened to me at the bridge and that I needed to get in order to be able to travel to Amman that day.

When I finished my story, he asked me about my name. I answered him. “Oh yes, I have heard that name before, Ok you can get in,” Issa replies. I am amazed. He must have confused me with my brother Jonathan who has gone twice to the Israeli supreme court just for permission to enter the stupid Ministry of Interior. I run upstairs without even taking a number and quickly return. My number is 340. The present turn was for 220. I will be all day, I say to myself. Every time someone passes, I tell them my story and say that I am in a rush to make it to Jordan that day. No one is helping, not even Ikhlas who I finally locate. They tell me the numbers start going quickly. Sure I say to myself.

Suddenly the head man Avi Leckher whom I had talked to, comes up to me and sends me to window number 2. At first she seems very cold. But when I tell her how nice Issa was in letting me in. She tells me the new director, Avi Lekher the one who send me to her, was responsible for improving the situation. We are busy now because of the backlog but things will get better soon, she promises. I ask for her name, she is Jumanat Salymeh, I ask him for Issa’s last name. She tells me Abu Ghosh. I told her that I am I want to send a letter of thanks mentioning her name Issa and Avi. She smiles and tries her best to help me.

By 11am I walk out with a renewal of my re entry visa. Renewing the visa of my children is not allowed, they have to come themselves.  I head directly for the taxis to the bridge. By 12:30 I am on the Jordanian terminal. But again there is a problem. There is a long line there as well. Oh, God, I made it through the Israeli Ministry of Interior in record time and now I am going to be delayed here?

Suddenly as if God was listening to me, a new line opens up. I notice people moving, and I rush to the new line standing second in line. Within minutes I was done and out on may way to Amman. I am in AmmanNet at 1 pm two hours ahead of my meeting. This was nothing short of a miracle.

January 14, 2004

Impossible Odds

I try to concentrate all day today on how I will get into the Israeli Ministry of Interior, get the needed visa and be able to travel back to Amman in time for another meeting I had planned with Nejla Semmakia from the Open Society Institute at 3pm on Thursday.

I start calling around and I am told that for a few some lawyers my help in getting one inside the dreaded Ministry of Interior. The problem is that the Ministry has just reopened its doors after 3 months of strikes. The nearly impossibility of getting in to that building which serves all 200,000 Palestinians in East Jerusalem is even more difficult because of the strike.

I am given the name of a lawyer who works on such cases. I call him, he apologizes saying that he is away in Nazareth. He does give me a name and a number of a woman working inside the Ministry of Interior. Her name is Ikhlas. I call the number, the phone rings and rings but there is no answer. I keep trying all day. Finally a few minutes before 4 she answers. I tell her my story and she says come in the morning and tell the person at the gate your story and they will let you in without having to wait. Sure, I say to myself.

November 14, 2000, Tuesday

It is 8: 50 a.m. on Tuesday, November 14, and the phone is ringing off the hook. My cell phone reads 6 missed calls. I must have overslept. I was up late the night before working on the script for a documentary about how Palestinian children and adults are trying to cope emotionally with the violence all around them. The last call on my cell phone is from a colleague, Hania. She is waiting for me in my office.

I dress quickly and hurry to the office. I had asked Hania to help with an academic collaboration with a professor from Northern Texas University.

The professor had heard me speak on the American National Public Radio about our special television programs aimed at helping traumatized Palestinian children. He had sent me an email saying that he had never heard of research done on people giving emotional support, especially children, while traumas were actually taking place. Usually the trauma in the US is short lived, and the emotional support takes place


He tells me he wants to cooperate with us in order to publish a study in a major academic journal.

Another missed call has come from my wife, Salam, who is in Jordan and wants to make sure I am okay. She had heard that Israelis were killed near Ramallah the night before and that an retaliation was due to take place.

THE ISSUE of retaliation soon became a major cause of disturbance.

Parents are getting frantic phone calls from schools and nurseries to come and pick up their children because the Israelis are about to start bombing Ramallah. The rumour is that the Israelis have warned the Palestinian Authority to empty their main headquarters and that shelling would start any minute. By 11 a.m., a number of our staff are back to

work, this time with their children running around.

12 a.m. We were scheduled to pay condolences to one of our staff, Ghader, whose father had died. Her family is in Jerusalem and because no one could get to Jerusalem, everyone has to wait until she returned to Ramallah to pay their respects.

On the way, the Voice of Palestine, broadcasting temporarily on local FM stations, quoted head of Palestinian West Bank intelligence Tawfiq Tirawi, who denied that Israel had asked the PA to empty their headquarters.

He insists that he is still in his office and asks people not to accept these rumours.

Debates erupt as to why the schools had quickly dismissed the children.

During our talk, one of those attending gets a call saying that the source of the rumour was the UN, who apparently received a call from an Israeli source. “That explains why UNRWA schools had been the first to dismiss their children,” said one parent.

More debate about the schools. One parent complains that his daughter gets nervous when she sees the photo of Mohammad Dura, the 12-year-old boy who was killed while in his father’s protection.

“Why do they plaster this photo all over schools,” he complains. Back at our educational television station, I am asked by our film editor Nahed to take a look at some of the television spots we were commissioned to produce by UNICEF. The spots tried to reassure children and help them adjust. This spot was simple. It showed a young girl waking up, as usual. Washing, as usual. Packing her sandwich with

labaneh, as usual. And going to school, as usual.

While viewership of local television stations, who depend on advertisement, has sky rocketed, they are on the verge of bankruptcy because of the economic standstill in the Palestinian territories. The official Palestinian radio which was bombed by Israel has apparently received a lot of Arab governmental funding but local stations who are

doing an independent and professional job are literally out of money, many of their staff were injured, and some had their video cameras destroyed by the Israelis.

I suggest writing up an emergency appeal and sending it to donor organizations as well as having it published in a major Arab paper. I spend the next hour working on the proper wording.

6 p.m. I visit the family of a relative who had also died. Again the family has to carry out two wakes, one in Jerusalem and another in Ramallah.

7: 30 p.m. I finally reach Khaled Abu Aker from the Arabic Media Internet Network (AMIN). Internews Network had helped us establish this media site in 1996 and I have since used that as my official email address. Unable to raise any money to keep it going, Khaled says he volunteers to maintain this site, which provides censorship-free

reporting and informs of attacks against the press. The mail server has been down for three days and I am missing my daily dose of emails. Khaled assures me that an alternate server has been set up, he gives me the new details.

9 p.m. My wife calls again, saying she hears the situation will get worse on Wednesday because of the anniversary of the Declaration of  Independence. Will you be able to travel back to Amman on Thursday? I ask her not to worry and decided to go home early.

10: 03 p.m. As I step out of my friend’s house I am asked by a Palestinian policeman for some water.

Noticing large groups of policemen in the streets, I ask him what is going on. “Our officers expect that the police headquarters in Tireh will be shelled tonight,” he tells me. Apparently being out in the streets is the safest place.

My heart starts pounding. I look to the sky to see helicopters but there are none. I decide to race home before becoming an intifada statistic.

11 p.m. A journalist friend of mine calls. Nothing will happen until after the special meeting of the Israeli security cabinet, to be attended by Prime Minister Ehud Barak. 12 p.m. Still quite awake, I work at my computer. The new server produces only that day’s email.

Apparently my article calling for international observers had been published in the LA Times a few days ago. I spend the next forty minutes finalizing the documentary script and go to bed.

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