The news on our side of the world is fundamentally grim these days, but at least I can shed some light on people's lives that are fundamentally grimmer.
Sigh. Where oh where to begin? I guess here, because it's the first photo I found from my time there.

This is Hebron in the West Bank.
Hebron is the home of one of Islam's holy sites, the Ibrahimi Mosque.
It also happens to be a Jewish holy site named after Abraham as well.

Because of course Judaism and Islam (and Christianity) are fundamentally linked with Abraham.…
Hebron is a city that in many ways is a really good example of the greater rift between Palestine and Israel.
And you can't say "Jews and Islam," because it's completely inaccurate. There are populations of Palestinian Christians too.

I mean, let's face it: Bethlehem in the West Bank is the site of some pretty important religious moments.
This photo shows downtown Hebron, to the best of my memory. It might be slightly outside the main market area.
I'll do a little diagnosis of what you're looking at, like a forensic breakdown of what just looks like a dusty alley. It is not just a dusty alley.
This narrow street was actually the site of some of the most heavy fighting in Hebron during the Intifada.

This is the Israeli military against local students and children armed with rocks.
*which WAS the IDF against local students*
This is probably right around the corner from the previous pic. The souk area is pretty small.
Can you imagine taking pictures with a camera and not your phone? WHAT BARBARITY.
This is what life is like in downtown Hebron: the old Palestinian homes have been demolished (right side of frame) and new settler homes are built on top of them (new bricks).

They claim historic ownership from the time of Abraham, so it's legit.
And that crow's nest with the Israeli soldiers observe all the comings and goings of both the settlers and the Palestinians.
Crow's Nest = Some Palestinian's House Once.
When you walk into the downtown, you're greeted by this.
WOW! I just found this map, which is great. 1997 didn't have such offerings on the Intarwebs.…
Basically, after the Intifada (see previous mega-thread) Israeli military controlled all of Hebron, which saw some of the fiercest resistance.…
And what eventually ended the Intifada was the Oslo Accords and the beginning of meaningful talks between Israel and Palestine for a real two-state solution.
And lemme tell you, those were some dicey negotiations. Everything hung on those talks. These players did NOT want to sit down together.

That they did is nothing short of the most amazing diplomatic hat trick of all time.

(see: North Korea and Iran today for the worst.)
with the exception, of course, of Despot Barbie and the Fresh Prince of Emoluments opening an embassy in the most hotly contested location on earth, Jerusalem.
Okay, I've eaten dinner, had a beer, and am not blind with rage for the moment. I might be able to continue.
By the time I got there in 1997, the Oslo Accords demanded that Israel relinquish much of Hebron--but not all of it.

This is deep in Palestine. This isn't East Jerusalem, or the outskirts of Israel. The IDF is operating in the downtown of one of the major cities.
And they're protecting the extreme minority--and extremist-- settlers who've taken over the downtown.

This is a photo of the chain link fence that separates the settlers above from the Palestinians below.
The souk in Hebron was dark, hot, dusty, smelled terrible and was oppressive. Soldiers guarded both entrances while the Palestinians set out their produce, wilted veggies, overripe melons on the verge of fermenting, and the flies buzzing around everything.
It wasn't always dark and oppressive; the souks are reliably the center of activity in normal times: spices, clothing, dyes, meats, pastries, coffee, etc.
But these were not those times. It was like visiting bathroom stalls that sold a few different trinkets and whatever they could get through the checkpoints that week.
(I'm re-shooting these photos by the light of my laptop screen so they're not very good.)

Soldiers staring down at you around every major meeting between the settlers and locals. But they're protecting the settlers.
The first time I went to Hebron, it was with our International Studies group, protected by our mighty US and European passports.

We were unhindered, even though it was Shabbat.
On Shabbat, major roads are shut down to locals, despite the fact that their holy days are either Friday or Sunday depending on faith.
So the local, non-settler residents, who already have limited movement and access due to the downtown being a militarized zone, are further impacted by their ability to run errands and shop on the one day a week when their OWN stores aren't closed.
I mean.

The heart of Hebron is the Ibrahimi Mosque, a holy site for all three Abrahamic religions, for obvious reasons. But in 1994 there was a massacre by Baruch Goldstein during the joint holy days of Ramadan and Purim.
And after that -- this is right when the Oslo Accords were in their very tender infancy -- they divided the site completely between locals and pilgrims, and the settlers, under the watchful guard of the IDF.
This is our foreign contingent getting the once-over by the IDF. They were relatively cordial to us, although because our escorts were Palestinian they were a little icy. Regardless, we weren't hassled.
We were so protected by our foreignness, in fact, that our Palestinian guide posed with the IDF, and even took his rifle.
Which speaks volumes:

The soldiers weren't worried about the Palestinian shooting either them or us; they were worried about being seen as benevolent guardians or hostile oppressors.
On the flip side, it was the student's "Fuck You" to the system: he had a moment to flex his muscle, protected by the mighty world observers that visited this holy place with him.

It was jarring, to say the least.
This man knew he was safe with us.

He would NEVER have posed for this picture without being surrounded by a bunch of sympathetic foreigners, who would have immediately called every single international news outlet they could had anything happened.
But had he been with people from Hebron or by himself, he would have been subject to the same treatment that you've seen in many recent viral videos here with police against black men and women.
*Sidebar: the Palestinians and the Indigenous Americans have a great affinity for each other --or they did. In the 70's when Palestinian radicalism was at its height, many scholars studied the history of the Native Americans, because they identified with them.
Their understanding of the plight of Native Americans was so great, in fact, that Yassar Arafat kept a little figure of an indigenous American on his desk.*
Okay. Back to the narrative. Where was I?
Here's a photo of the road to Hebron in 1997. I have no idea if it still looks like this, but I can tell you: that enormous settlement on top of that ridge is still there and probably grew.

And it is deep in the West Bank.
This is bleak; all I know about this photo is that it was on the road to Hebron, and featured demolished properties of pretty rural Palestinians.

Plus a very depressing kid, whose life sucks worse than all of ours.
I just realized that since this photo is 20 years old, that kid is deep into adulthood.

The other option, of course, is that he's not still among the living. Highly possible. Things got much worse after I left.
Me and the Angrier White House Staff: we understand each other.
I've run out of photographs. The rest are in a box in the basement. I might have to send in an archaeological team to find them.

However, my brain is full of stories, facts, and tidbits. My husband is also a font of information.
My recounting of history both #personal and #political seems to have at least piqued his curiosity in twitter: @lars_fox actually liked two (TWO!) of my posts.

Since he's been online since 2012 and has four tweets, that should tell you something. #ComeToUs
[Apparently my plea has not enticed my husband to the twitter fray, which I completely understand.]

I found this photo of my bedroom in Birzeit. Study abroad in the West Bank isn't an extended spa vacay.
We were on two very, very dubious cots (my Swiss roommate and myself). We shared a house with three Palestinian girls and one Japanese exchange student who had been studying Arabic at the college for a year.
She was quiet and very, very studious. Spoke fluent Arabic and little English so we would have a three-way translation between her, our Palestinian roommates, and ourselves (my roomie spoke German and English. I spoke English, making me the typically undereducated American.)
So this story I wrote about it sets the tone of our experience if not the great details.…
Read it while I pretend I can focus on the rest of my life. I'll tell you the wild story of our Japanese roommate.

It will not disappoint.
You guys do your homework and read the story about the West Bank? NO?

You're behind and getting a "C" in class, but whatever.
So the six roommates: three Palestinian girls, three international students. The Japanese woman was serious -- and seriously gifted in Arabic.
She had been there about a year, and I think she was going to stay on for another year.
About a month into our summer studies, there was a vacation break of some kind. I don't remember exactly how long it was, but long enough that our Japanese roommate was going to cross from the West Bank into Jordan and visit the Petra Cliffs.
Pretty reasonable, especially since the actual distance between Amman, Jordan and Ramallah is 42 miles. Not that anything is easy, including short distances.…
But the area is so densely packed with archaeological treasures, as a visitor you'll make a pretty great effort to go see them, regardless of the nuisance factor.

Needless to say, it's not as easy for the Palestinians to travel.
Us short timers, only there for the summer, opted for more local journeys, sometimes into Israel, sometimes to other West Bank cities. Remember, everything is TINY. The distances are really like a drive from one suburb to another.
So 42 miles to Jordan was a lot, is all I'm saying. So our roommate took a bus to Jordan, went to the Petra Cliffs.

Anyway, she was in Jordan, others were all scattered about on our short break. Then the suicide bombing occurred in Jerusalem, at an open air market.

During the relative peace --with some incidents to be sure, but a general calm overall due to the Oslo accords...
...there had been no suicide bombings for 18 months. Which, at that time, was a HUGE amount of time. Before the Accords they were a frequent and terrible reminder of the stakes, but also the rage on both sides.
And every time there was a bombing, there was a military closure.

To be clear, the bombings helped NO ONE. Israeli civilians were killed in horrific ways, and then Palestinian civilians would be oppressed in horrific ways as retribution for the bombings.
So this 18 month period with no bombings allowed for this extremely fragile but very real hopefulness. Both sides were suspicious as hell. But as a result of the Accords, both sides also got a huge number of reasons to stick to the truce.

Security for Israel, for one.
And--for the first time in 70 years-- recognition that the Palestinians existed.

But other than that, the PA (Palestinian Authority, the ruling body of the former PLO) and the Territories got a huge influx of development money, which after decades of privation they needed desperately.
In the short passage of time between the implementation of the Accords and when I arrived, Palestinians were giddy with the possibilities of a real and viable future.

They started building hotels in Gaza. WHICH WAS IMPOSSIBLE TO CONSIDER. There was construction in the towns.
And at Birzeit University, all of the students couldn't believe that most of us were studying the soft sciences or humanities.

Virtually every last Palestinian student was studying engineering in some capacity because they were all going to build their future state.
So this bombing was fundamentally disastrous for Palestinians. Because as soon as it happened, out came the military.
Wow. I found an ancient relic from the time: a CNN article. It looks crazy.…
All the students had to get back to Birzeit before the IDF shut down the borders between various locations.
Even though Jerusalem was only a twenty minute drive with proper ID, it took students hours and hours after the bombing to cross back into the West Bank and then to Ramallah.
We also then had to call home to our families to let them know they were going to start hearing the international news and it was going to be nuts, but that we were okay.

I woke my husband up from a pay phone and a phone card (remember those?) and talked to him for 3 minutes.
Eventually all the students were back, and we returned to school.

Well, the international students did. The Palestinian students all started making their slow way back to the towns they were from; school for them was cancelled.
Because the armored vehicles and the soldiers were setting up checkpoints again.

It started slowly; it had been awhile and there were a little rusty.
So we're on their campus alone: 50 international students and the skeleton crew of our few professors.
(This is really where the story I wrote comes in handy; read it for a sense of how bizarre it was.)

But the American woman who ran the program, who was the world's worst point person and organizer, was completely losing her mind.…
She wondered if we'd heard from our third roommate, the Japanese student who went to Jordan for the weekend.
Which was pretty nuts, because no one had a phone. We barely had warm water.
The refrigerator shocked us every time we opened it.

So, no. We had not heard from her.

Plus our Palestinian roommates who shared an incredibly expensive cell phone between them were gone, back to their home towns in advance of the total military closure.
The organizer filled us in over a few very confusing days, in which we were adjusting to life in a house with no Palestinians, at a school with no Palestinians in the heart of Palestine.
When the Japanese student traveled to Jordan, everything was fine.

But after the bombing the first areas to be closed were the biggest borders, including between Jordan and the West Bank.
So when she got to the border, she was stopped by a very enthusiastic response to stop all flow between Jordan and the West Bank, including this poor student.
She kept contacting the school from the Japanese Embassy, trying to get the Israelis to allow her passage back to the school which she had committed to for a year and more.
I mean, she packed for a couple days. She had a change of clothes and probably little else. Everything she owned was back in Birzeit.

First it was a few days.
Time passed.

We'd see the organizer and ask where she was: still stuck in Amman.
I was there another three+ weeks, but that was it. She never came back.

It was like the dead guy in Yossarian's tent in Catch-22. First we had a roommate, and then she disappeared, leaving everything.
Just gone in a puff of bureaucracy and military shenanigans.
We never saw our Palestinian roommates again either. So we had this apartment to ourselves which was so incredibly weird.
This ends the saga of the "Incredible Case of the Missing International Student."

It doesn't end satisfactorily: Hallmark of living in crazy oppressive situations. But there it is.

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Here's the facts, jacks.

All you shrilly protesting these assault allegations as fake-outs, I know what would solve those problems: an investigation by the @FBI.
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