Tuesday, June 27, 2006


On Friday, I'm going to Haifa.

A city where everyone gets along, a coastal jewel, a holy place, one of the most beautiful cities in the world, Haifa has become a symbol for me. At home, a surprising number of people of all faiths ask me if I have been to Haifa, tell me to go to Haifa, and ask me if it's as beautiful as they've heard. After Friday, I'll be able to answer their questions.

Why aren't I feeling more excited?

Maybe I'm having mixed feelings because of stories I've heard about Haifa from Palestinians I've met. More than anyone else, they've told me how beautiful the city is, how much they would like me to see it, and how much they would like to see it themselves. Some families have also told me that they used to live in Haifa. They used to wake up in the mornings knowing they could walk down to the sea. But that was many years ago. While the state of Israel was being founded, an armed and organized Jewish gang called the Haganah, attacked Haifa in an effort to secure the city for themselves and drive out the Palestinian population. Many, many Palestinians left their homes before the city was taken and many others were forced to leave afterwards. They became refugees and they still cannot go home.

I know that Haifa is not just a beautiful place, but also a place where terrible things happened. There are many places in the world like that, perhaps nearly every beautiful place as has a dark history. But this one seems different to me because this time the terrible things happened to my friends.

Haifa's history hangs over me, but I don't think that's why I am feeling uncomfortable going. I think I'm feeling uncomfortable because my friends can't go with me. Haifa is in Israel proper, on the Northern coast, far outside of the West Bank. To visit Haifa, my Palestinian friends would have to obtain a permit from the Israeli government. The process is daunting and my friends would almost certainly be denied. I was actually supposed to visit Haifa last summer, but the 6th graders at the Ramallah Friends School whom I was supposed to accompany applied for permits over and over and over again and were denied each time.

My friends tell me how much they would like to go to the sea, to see it again or for the first time. How is it that I can go see the sea and Palestinians who used to have homes in Haifa or the surrounding areas cannot go and may never be able to?

On Friday, I'll go to Haifa. I'll see the Baha'i temple. I'll look out at the sea. I hope that I really will see a city where everyone gets along. I hope it will be even more beautiful than what I have dreamed. But I know I will wish that I could share Haifa with the people who I've come to count among my closest friends.

What would happen if I tried to take my friends with me? What if we, foreigners who can go to Haifa and Palestinians who cannot, were to walk to the checkpoint together and ask why some of us can go to Haifa and others cannot? What if we asked when the Holy Land's holy places - Jerusalem, Hebron, Bethlehem, and Haifa - will be free, open to everyone, owned by all, places of peace? Could we convince the soldiers to ignore their orders and let all of us through? It seems like an impossible hope.

The truth is, we can guess what might happen if we were to go to the checkpoint together, because similar demonstrations have been tried to before. If we were to go to the checkpoint, just my friends and I, my friends would sent home or be arrested and I would be powerless to get them out of jail. If we were to have a demonstration, like Palestinians and internationals have had here in Bethlehem before, it's likely we would disorient the soldiers but eventually they would shoot tear gas, threaten us all with arrest, and possible do worse. Traveling together to Haifa does indeed seem to be impossible.

Nonetheless, I still hope and dream that some day we will walk together into a brighter future for everyone and visit Haifa together.

1 comment:

Halla said...

You have to see Haifa!! That is where my heart is. My homeland. go to the arab quarters it all around the Bahai temple, which you have to also go and see (you can't miss it!) Its a hilly city so be prepared to do allot of walking as well. about a 1/2 hour away is Nazareth, another must see and has a big chunk of my heart as well. Those are the 2 cities, that I most definitly hang in whenever I go to Israel.

But you are right, Haifa is a great example of how both sides can co-exist, but don't be fooled, Palestinians are always the minority, they are not equal they just have more rights than the Palestinians in the occupied territories