Layali & Lifta

The past week or so has been an odd blend of feeling settled, happy, and at home in Palestine and one of loss. But, I suppose that is nothing really new or unique to me in any way here.

I’ve reached that point in Ramallah where I have people that I can call up to go out when I feel like it, direct relationships that are no longer only tied to the person that introduced us, but based on a separate friendship. That is always a nice point to reach when you’re somewhere new. Of course it tends to take a hot minute to happen and then when it does, you find it’s almost time to leave.  Regardless, it is a nice state to spend the last month here in.

So, my days are mostly spent at Qattan and nights in a café with a friend, with every possible day off on an adventure, exploring somewhere new. This week has been an explosion of meeting people who are in love with my accent and the use of ‘g’ for the qaaf.  It’s been pretty amusing. Last weekend was also full of unplanned outings. Nights with new acquaintances in oddly trendy cafes and bars, lots of stories, and on the spot decisions to head to Jerusalem for the afternoon that lead to epic nights. Only in Palestine do you spend 6 hours on a balcony in love with the view of Damascus Gate, order tea and coffee all night, smoke two argeelas, attend a oud concert, and spend hours learning and arguing about the politics of Jerusalem with a restaurant manager, and then go to pay the check and see it go from 150 shekel to 40 shekel, and even after 15 minutes of begging him to let you pay, you know even your generous tip doesn’t come close to covering the value of the evening. I swear I would have spent double the amount I have so far if it wasn’t for the restaurant owners in this country who are simply so overjoyed at the thought of my presence in and curiosity and knowledge of Palestine that they refuse to let me or whoever I’m with to pay a bill. It’s baffling, and I am willing to bet everything I have on it being a unique aspect of our hospitality towards other Palestinians – you can’t charge family that’s visiting. It’s just 3aib.

These layali (nights) in the bubble of Ramallah are also the most distinct juxtaposition to the trips that follow them at the end of the week.

While in Jerusalem Saturday night, Adam and I decided to go to Lifta the next day, but we needed to figure out the best way to get there and we needed a Palestinian taxi driver that we trusted to show us around and wait for us. I asked Yacoub. Yacoub – I am convinced, and with no exaggeration – knows 80% of the Palestinians in the Jerusalem area. It’s insane. Anyways, he, without flinching, gave us a name and number and told us to call him when we got to Jerusalem tomorrow.

Well, Fayiz was ready and waiting when we stepped off the bus from Ramallah and off we went. Adam and I had been under the impression that he was going to drop us off and then come back for us. Turns out, he was ready for a full tour. We got in the car, and got the history lesson of a lifetime. Lifta was the first stop of the day, but to come after was Deir Yasseen, Ein Karim, Al-Malha, Atamon, and Talbiya – the Palestinian villages and communities that stood before today’s vast Jewish West Jerusalem suburbs.

I’m not sure any amount of description, even in my most eloquent of lucky writing moments, can come close to describing what it is like to see Lifta, to see what was built over Deir Yasseen and from the blood of its former residents, or to see the homes of Ein Karim and Atamon as the café nightlife of West Jerusalem. It is a profound thing to see the physical remnants of cleansing and destruction. Do not be deceived by my voice and seeming calm in the videos I took. I was in a bizarre sort of daze all day. Calm is by far the last thing I was feeling.

Luckily, I recorded most of the day, because trying to write the experience is a lost cause for right now…

I’ve put together a sort of video diary of the day. It is nothing fancy, and mostly raw footage. There are 7 parts. Most of them are taken from the car, but #2 – “Lifta” – was not, has an intro, is slightly more edited, and is the best footage since we took it as we walked around the remaining old homes of the town. For you English speakers, this is also the one with the most English narration. If you watch none of the others, this is the one to see:


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