Sunday, November 30, 2008

An interesting article my friend sent me ...
Apparently this was originally printed in Forbes Magazine but has since been removed:

Obama and Ahmadinejad
Amir Taheri 10.26.08, 1:33 PM ET

Is Barack Obama the "Promised Warrior" coming to help the Hidden Imam of Shiite Muslims conquer the world ???

The question has made the rounds in Iran since last month, when a pro-government Web site published a Hadith (or tradition) from a Shiite text of the 17th century. The tradition comes from Bahar al-Anvar (meaning Oceans of Light) by Mullah Majlisi, a magnum opus in 132 volumes and the basis of modern Shiite Islam.

According to the tradition, Imam Ali Ibn Abi-Talib (The Prophet's cousin and son-in-law) prophesied that at the End of Times and just before the return of the Mahdi, the Ultimate Saviour, a "tall black man will assume the reins of government in the West." Commanding "the strongest army on earth," the new ruler in the West will carry "a clear sign" from the third imam, whose name was Hussein Ibn Ali.

The tradition concludes: "Shiites should have no doubt that he is with us.

"In a curious coincidence Obama's first and second names, Barack Hussein, mean "the blessing of Hussein" in Arabic and Persian.

His family name, Obama, written in the Persian alphabet, reads O Ba Ma, which means "he is with us," the magic formula in Majlisi's tradition.

Mystical reasons aside, the Khomeinist establishment sees Obama's rise as another sign of the West's decline and the triumph of Islam.

Obama's promise to seek unconditional talks with the Islamic Republic is cited as a sign that the U.S. is ready to admit defeat. Obama's position could mean abandoning three resolutions passed by the United Nations Security Council setting conditions that Iran should meet to avoid sanctions.

Seeking unconditional talks with the Khomeinists also means an admission of moral equivalence between the U.S. and the Islamic Republic. It would imply an end to the description by the U.S. of the regime as a "systematic violator of human rights."

Obama has abandoned claims by all U.S. administrations in the past 30 years that Iran is "a state sponsor of terrorism." Instead, he uses the term "violent groups" to describe Iran-financed outfits such as Hamas and Hezbollah.

Obama has also promised to attend a summit of the Organization of the Islamic Conference within the first 100 days of his presidency.Such a move would please the mullahs, who have always demanded that Islam be treated differently, and that Muslim nations act as a bloc in dealings with Infidel nations.

Obama's election would boost President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's chances of winning a second term next June. Ahmadinejad's entourage claim that his "steadfastness in resisting the American Great Satan" was a factor in helping Obama defeat "hardliners" such as Hillary Clinton and, later, it hopes, John McCain.

"President Ahmadinejad has taught Americans a lesson," says Hassan Abbasi, a "strategic adviser" to the Iranian president.

"This is why they are now choosing someone who understands Iran 's power." The Iranian leader's entourage also point out that Obama copied his campaign slogan "Yes, We Can" from Ahmadinejad's "We Can," used four years ago.

A number of Khomeinist officials have indicated their preference for Obama over McCain, who is regarded as an "enemy of Islam." A Foreign Ministry spokesman says Iran does not wish to dictate the choice of the Americans but finds Obama "a better choice for everyone." Ali Larijani, Speaker of the Islamic Majlis, Iran 's ersatz parliament, has gone further by saying the Islamic Republic "prefers to see Barack Obama in the White House" next year.

Tehran 's penchant for Obama, reflected in the official media, increased when the Illinois senator chose Joseph Biden as his vice-presidential running mate. Biden was an early supporter of the Khomeinist revolution in 1978-1979 and, for the past 30 years, has been a consistent advocate of recognizing the Islamic Republic as a regional power.

He has close ties with Khomeinist lobbyists in the U.S. and has always voted against sanctions on Iran .

Ahmadinejad has described the U.S. as a "sunset" (ofuli) power as opposed to Islam, which he says is a "sunrise" (toluee) power.

Last summer, he inaugurated an international conference called World Without America--attended by anti-Americans from all over the world, including the U.S.

Seen from Tehran , Obama's election would demoralize the U.S. armed forces by casting doubt on their victories in Iraq and Afghanistan , if not actually transforming them into defeat.

American retreat from the Middle East under Obama would enable the Islamic Republic to pursue hegemony of the region.

Tehran is especially interested in dominating Iraq , thus consolidating a new position that extends its power to the Mediterranean through Syria and Lebanon .

During the World Without America conference, several speakers speculated that Obama would show "understanding of Muslim grievances" with regard to Palestine .

Ahmadinejad hopes to persuade a future President Obama to adopt the "Iranian solution for Palestine ," which aims at creating a single state in which Jews would quickly become a minority.

Judging by anecdotal evidence and the buzz among Iranian bloggers, while the ruling Khomeinists favor Obama, the mass of Iranians regard (and dislike) the Democrat candidate as an appeaser of the mullahs. Iran , along with Israel , is the only country in the Middle East where the United States remains popular. An Obama presidency, perceived as friendly to the oppressive regime in Tehran , may change that.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

A man went to a barbershop to have his hair cut and his beard trimmed ... 
Barber began to work ... 
They began to have a good conversation ... 
They talked about many things and various subjects ... 
When they eventually touched on the subject of Allah, the barber said: 

“I don’t believe that Allah exists”

“Why do you say that?” asked the customer ... 

“Well, you just have to go out in the street to realise that Allah doesn’t exist. 
Tell me, if Allah exists, would there be so many sick people ??? 
Would there be abandoned children ??? 
If Allah existed, there would be neither suffering nor pain ... 
I can’t imagine a loving Allah who would allow all of these things”

The customer thought for a moment, but didn’t respond because he didn’t want to start an argument ... 

The barber finished his job and the customer left the shop ... 
Just after he left the barbers shop he saw a man in the street with 
Dirty hair 
And an untrimmed beard 
He looked dirty and unkempt ...

The customer turned back and entered the barbershop again and he said to the barber: 

“You know what ??? Barbers do not exist”

“How can you say that ???” asked the surprised barber ...

“I am here, and I am a barber ... And I just worked on you” 

“No!” the customer exclaimed ... 

“Barbers don’t exist because if they did, there would be no people with dirty long hair and untrimmed beards like that man outside” ... 

“Ah, but barbers do exist ... What happens is, people do not come to me” ...

“Exactly” affirmed the customer ... 
“That’s the point" ... 
"Allah, too, does exist" ... 
"What happens, is, people don’t go to Him" ... 
"And do not look for Him" ... 
"That’s why there’s so much pain and suffering in the world” ...

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Jean Jacques Rosseau ...

A good man is one 
Who makes a woman submit to his will ...

A good woman is one 
Who makes a man will what she wants to submit to ...

"Be quick in the forgiveness from your Lord, and pardon (all) men - for Allah loves those who do good."
[Surah ali Imran; 3:133-134]

And Allah loves us to have hearts that are ready to forgive.

The Prophet (SAW) once asked his companions:

"Do you know what will cause you to have high walled palaces in Paradise (as a symbol of great reward) and will cause you to be raised by God?"

When they replied in the negative, he said,

"To be forgiving and to control yourself in the face of provocation, to give justice to the person who was unfair and unjust to you, to give to someone even though he did not give to you when you were in need and to keep connection with someone who may not have reciprocated your concern."

Similarly the Prophet (SAW) said that:

"The best of people are those who are slow to get angry and quick to forgive. On the other hand the worst of people are those, he said who get angry quickly but are slow to forgive".

The characteristic that makes a person most likely to forgive is the purity of his or her heart. Apologies must be accepted,

The Prophet (SAW) said that:

"Whoever apologises to his brother and that apology is not accepted, then the person who refuses to accept the apology bears the sin of one who takes the property of another unjustly."

"But indeed if any shows patience and forgives that would truly be an exercise of courageous will and resolution in the conduct of affairs."
[surah 42:43]

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Hikam Of Ibn Ata'llah ...

The Real is not veiled
It is you that are veiled from seeing Him ...

If there was anything veiling Him
What veiled Him would cover Him ...

If he was covered
His existence would be contained ...

If something contains something else
It overpowers it ...

But He is the Conqueror 
Overcoming His slaves ...

The Hikam Of Ibn Ata'llah ...

When He opens a way for you 
And makes Himself known to you
Then do not worry about your lack of deeds ...

He only opened the way for you
Because He desired to make Himself known to you ...

Do you not see 
That while He grants gnosis of Himself to you
You have only deeds to offer Him ???

What He brings you ...
What you bring Him ...

What a difference there is between them ...

Who is man ???

The reflection of the Eternal Light ...

What is the world ???
A wave on the Everlasting Sea ...

How could the reflection be cut off from the Light ???

How could the wave be separate from the Sea ???

Know that this reflection and this wave are that very Light and Sea ...

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

French Proverb ...

That day is lost ...
On which one has not laughed ...

Love is the reward of Love 

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Khaqani Shirwani ...

The bird that sings pain's song
Is love

The messenger skilled in the language of the unseen world
Is love

It is love that speaks to you ...

Calling you beyond the limits of this created realm ...

That which frees you from your tiny self
Also is love

Some Words Of Wisdom ...

The wise man first thinks and then speaks ...
And a fool speaks and then thinks ...

-Imam Ali (ra)

There are many trees, not all of them bear fruits ...
There are many fruits, not all of them are edible ...
Many, too, are the kinds of knowledge ... 
Yet not all of them are of value to man ...

-Prophet Isa (as)

Do not hate what you don't know ... 
For the greater part of knowledge consists of what you don't know ...

- Imam Ali (ra)

The heart is the source of wisdom ... 
With the ears its channel ...

- Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)

Allah Has treasures beneath the Throne ...
The keys whereof are the tongues of poets ...

- Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)

The things are destructive in life:
Anger, Greed and Self Esteem ...

- Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)

Hafez ...

O Allah 
Forgive the quarrel of Seventy-two rites 
And religions
Not having known truth
They have followed
The path of illusion

I had the opportunity to speak to a very dear friend of mine today, who told me about their experience at a naturopathic clinic in Old town, Washington DC ... 
Not just any regular naturopathic clinic, this one had a zen touch to it ... 
With the use of meditation and breathing excercises, it takes the patient through a spiritual journey, that allows them to discover in the hollow depths of themsleves ... Allowing the individual to understand, that the problem they seek to find help for, is actually from within ... The same place, where the cure is waiting as well ... 
And so while listening to my friend, I remembered this poem by Rumi that I had read:

For ages you have come and gone
Courting this delusion

For ages you have run from the pain
and forfeited the ecstacy

So come, return to the root of the root
Of your your own soul

Although you appear in earthly form
Your essence is pure Conciousness

You are the fearless guardian
Of Divine Light

So come, return to the root of the root
Of you own soul

When you lose all sense of self
The bonds of a thousand chains will vanish

Lose yourself completely
Return to the root of the root
Of your own soul

You descended from Adam, by the Word of God
But you turned your sight
To the empty show of this world

Alas, how can you be satisfied with so little ???

So come, return to the root of the root
Of your own soul

Why are you so enchanted by this world
When a mine of gold lies within you ???

Open your eyes and come 

Return to the root of the root
Of your own soul

You were born from the rays of God's Majesty
When the stars were in their perfect place

How long will you suffer from the blows
Of a nonexistent hand ???

So come, return to the root of the root
Of your own soul

You are a ruby encased in granite
How long will you deceive Us with this outer show ???

O friend, We can see the truth in your eyes

So come, return to the root of the root
Of your own soul

After one moment with that glorious Friend
You became loving, radiant, and ecstatic

Your eyes were sweet and full of fire

Come, return to the root of the root
Of your own soul

Shams-e Tabriz, the King of the Tavern
Has handed you an eternal cup

And God in all His glory is pouring the wine

So come  

Return to the root of the root
Of your own soul

- Rumi

I went to the naturopathic clinic yesterday ... 
And this is what the sign beside the doctors office door read:

God cures every disease
And doctors collect all the fees :)

Peace and Blessings,
Jafar Alam

Monday, November 17, 2008

Rumi ...

One fingertip hides the moon 
The whole world may be hidden from view
By a single point

Rumi ...

Are you fleeing from Love because of a single humiliation ???
What do you know of Love except the name ???

Love has a hundred forms of pride and disdain ...
And is gained by a hundred means of persuasion ...

Since Love is loyal, it purchases one who is loyal ...
It has no interest in a disloyal companion ...

The human being resembles a tree ...
Its root is a covenant with God ...

That root must be cherished with all one's might ...
A weak covenant is a rotten root, without grace or fruit ...

Though the boughs and leaves of the date palm are green ...
Greenness brings no benefit if the root is corrupt ...

If a branch is without green leaves, yet has a good root ...
A hundred leaves will put forth their hands in the end ...

Friday, November 14, 2008

Qur'an 3:185 ...

The wordly life is nothing ...
But the comfort of illusion ...

In refutation to the accusations made towards A'isha (ra), the Prophet (SAW) wife ...

Umar said that A'isha was undoubtedly chaste and pure ... 
And that she had been slandered ... 

When asked how he knew, he replied:

O Messenger of Allah, once you were praying .... 
You stopped and explained that Archangel Gabriel had come and informed you that there was some dirt in your slippers ... 
If there were some impurity in A'isha, God certainly would have informed you ...

His every call was a breath of life for their souls ... 
A breath that could revive old, rotten bones ...

Imam Busiri says:

Were his value and greatness to be demonstrated by miracles ...
The bones that have rotted away were revived by calling his name ...

We are not composed only of our minds ... 

God has endowed us with many faculties ...
Each of which needs satisfaction ... 

So while feeding our minds with the Divine signs in the universe ... 
We seek to cleanse our hearts of sin ... 

We live a balanced life in awareness of Divine supervision ...
And continuously seek His forgiveness ... 

In this way, we eventually conquer our desire for forbidden things ... 
And through prayer, ask God to enable us to do good deeds ...

There are many paths leading to the Straight Path 
As the number of breaths drawn in creation ... 

Whoever strives for His cause is guided, by God 
To one of the paths and is save from going astray ... 

Whoever is guided to His Straight Path, by God 
Lives a balanced life ... 

They neither exceed the limits in their human needs and activities 
Or in their worship and other religious observances ... 

Such balance is the sign of true guidance ...

Ibn Ata'illah ...

With the first Allahu akbar 
They put the world and all of its inhabitants behind them

With the second Allahu akbar 
They forget the hereafter

With the third Allahu akbar 
They cast the very thought of anything other than God out of their heart

With the fourth Allahu akbar 
They forget even themselves

Ibn Ata'illah ...

Do not let the delay of what you are fervently praying for 
Discourage you
Dishearten you
For He has guaranteed you the answer 
In what He chooses for you
Not in what you choose for yourself

And when He wills 
Not when you do

Ibn Ata'illah ...

Nothing benefits the heart more than a spiritual seclusion ...
Whereby it enters the domain of true reflections ...

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Prophet Muhammas (SAW) ...

Two friends are likened to a pair of hands ... 
One of which washes the other ...

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Mystery Of The Ka'ba ...

Likened to the believer's heart which he orbits constantly ...
Veiled from its interior ... 
The mystery continues to draw us like bees to nectar ...

Tariq ibn Suwayd ...

I used to suffer from an illness 
And took alcohol as a remedy ... 

When alcohol was banned 
I asked God's Messenger whether I could continue using this remedy ... 

He told me: 

No, for it is not a remedy ... Rather, it is the disease itself ... 

Scientists now agree that even a single drop of alcohol is harmful to one's physical and spiritual health ...

(Excerpt from "The Messenger of God: Muhammad" pg. 66 The Essential of Prophethood)

Almost nothing of this world has come unveiled or pure ...
But the words of the Messenger preserve their purity undefiled ...
And still wait to be understood fully ...

The death of God's Messenger touched Fatima so deeply that she gave voice to her grief in the following verses:

What else does the one 
Who has smelt the soil of Muhammad's tomb 
Need ???

Does one really need the smell of anything else ???

I have been struck by such misfortune 
That if they had fallen upon days
They would have changed into nights

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Change will not come if we wait for some other person 
Or some other time ...

We are the ones we've been waiting for ...

We are the change that we seek ...

Pearls Of Wisdom From Fethullah Gulen ...

People usually view others through the mirror of their spirit and see them like themselves because of the stain and dirt on that mirror. Therefore, their judgement of others is completely wrong and unfair. Although such sinful ones with a foul spirit see others at loss, it is they who are really at a loss.

Those who do not increase in dedication to worship of God as they grow older, are really unfortunate because they are making a loss at a time when they could be making a profit. If those ones understood this, they would weep for what they find amusing today.

A women's inner depth, chastity, and dignity elevate her higher than angels and cause her to resemble an unmatched diamond. A disreputable woman is a false coin, an undignified woman is a puppet to be ridiculed. In the destructive atmosphere of such women, it is possible to find neither a healthy home nor a sound generation.

The happiest and most fortunate people are those who are always intoxicated with the ardent desire for the worlds beyond. Those who confine themselves within the narrow and suffocating limits of their bodily existence are really in prison, even though they may be living in palaces.

Love is one of the most subtle blessings that the Most Merciful One has bestowed upon humanity. It exists in everyone as a seed. This seed germinates under favourable circumstances and, growing like a tree, blossoms into a flower, and finally ripens, like a fruit, to unite the beginning with the end.

The true life is the one lived at the spiritual level. Those whose hearts are alive, conquering the past and the future, cannot be contained by time. Such people are never excessively distressed by sorrows of the past or anxieties of the future. Those who cannot experience full existence in their hearts, and thus lead banal, shallow lives, are always gloomy and inclined to hoplessness. They consider the past a horrifying grave, and the future an endless well. It is torment if they die, and it is torment if they survive.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Pablo Neruda ...

Here I came to the very edge
Where nothing at all needs saying ...
Everything is absorbed through weather and the sea
And the moon swam back
Its rays all silvered ...

And time and again the darkness would be broken
By the crash of a wave ...

And every day on the balcony of the sea
Wings open 
Fire is born
And everything is blue again like morning ...

Pablo Neruda ...

And it was at that age 
Poetry arrived in search of me 

I don't know 
I don't know where it came from
From winter or a river

I don't know how or when
No they were not voices 
They were not words
Nor silence

But from a street I was summoned
From the branches of night
Abruptly from the others
Among violent fires
Or returning alone
There I was without a face
And it touched me

I did not know what to say 
My mouth had no way with names
My eyes were blind
And something started in my soul
Fever or forgotten wings
And I made my own way
Deciphering that fire
And I wrote the first faint line

Without substance 
Pure nonsense
Pure wisdom
Of someone who knows nothing

And suddenly I saw the heavens unfastened
And open
Palpitating plantations
Shadow perforated
Riddled with arrows 
Fire and flowers
The winding night 
The universe

And I 
Infinitesimal being
Drunk with the great starry void
Image of mystery
Felt myself a pure part of the abyss

I wheeled with the stars
My heart broke loose on the wind

I Do Not Love You Except Because I Love You ... By Pablo Neruda ...

I do not love you except because I love you

I go from loving to not loving you
From waiting to not waiting for you
My heart moves from cold to fire

I love you only because it's you the one I love

I hate you deeply ... And hating you
Bend to you ... And the measure of my changing love for you
Is that I do not see you but love you blindly

Maybe January light will consume
My heart with its cruel ray 
Stealing my key to true calm 

In this part of the story I am the one who dies 
The only one 
And I will die of love because I love you

Because I love you

In fire and blood

Palestine's People Never Say Goodbye ... Suheir Hammad

Suheir Hammad writing from Occupied Jerusalem,
Live from Palestine, 26 July 2004

25 July 2004 — "Palestine is a land of fare-the-wells", says Attallah. This is true. Palestine's people never say goodbye. How can they? One cannot say goodbye to friends, family and land, because these things are with us always. And when strangers come to her, with an open heart and an open mind, they become her family as well. So we gather to say "Travel safe. See you soon. The best days are ahead," to our dear Rafael, who leaves for France on the 24th. We stay up all night. The muezzin's call finds us awake. The first light of dawn, and we are still sitting. Yazen, Peter, Wael, Maysoon, Rafael and I. We are a motley crew. Between us - Christian, Muslim, Jew. Buddhist, Nature Lover, Goddess Devotee. French, Swedish, Polish, Palestinian. Town and country. Ramallah raised, Ramallah living, Ramallah passing through.

At some point, each of us passes out for a while, except Yazen. Here is a truth I have found. No matter how light hearted and cool Palestinian men are, underneath is a storm of emotion. The stories are so well hidden, so acutely masked, once a brother starts opening up, you can't sleep. Over and over, whether through drinks or curfew, the stories are slowly shared. And they are always beyond imagination. The layers of frustration and oppression are so tightly packed, one would think them cloth instead of armor.

Once we are sure the stores are open, Yazen and I take a cab to buy fuul, humous and falafel. We bring the meal back to our friends. Drink tea and eat bread. Wael and Yazen head off to their parents' home, in a town outside of Ramallah. Many of the men who live in Ramallah "go home" on Fridays to eat lunch with their families. The rest of us try to sleep. We get in two hours or so when Attallah, Moeen and Ayman call to say they are at the pool. Huh? I'll drown sleeping. But they are waiting, and it is Rafael's last day, and we always have fun once we leave the house. The pool is full of kids and it is late afternoon before we show up. We swim and chill. And get hungry.

We fold into Ayman's pickup truck to get to the Plaza Restaurant, rightly famous for it's grill. I am hungry and sun tired. The lemonade is bracing and the salads fresh. I eat more meat than I have in years, and everything is delicious. We all begin to look at Rafael every ten minutes and say, "Well, Rafael...we'll miss you". His eyes are brimming. Our hearts are full. Our appetites finally sated. And sleep is threatening a mutiny on my ship.

Both Rafael and Maysoon have to head to Jerusalem. It is late, and Qalandia checkpoint has been in drama all day long. It has been closed two or three times. There is formidable traffic. The army is thick. Moeen drops them off before the checkpoint. It's not like you can just drive up. We are usually dropped off five minutes of walking away. Further away more often now. The traffic is crazy in every direction and people are rushing to make it through before the army shuts the station down. Children sleepy, parents exhausted. The old complain they are too old for this.

Maysoon notices an odd formation of soldiers. In a row. Guns drawn. Rafael is walking towards them. There are no street lights on. He thinks he's walking towards an empty van. She pulls him closer to her, and shots are fired. Yes. The soldiers shot into the crowd. No warning fire. No megaphone. Live bullets into a crowd of hundreds. It is so dark, my friends see the sparks fly out of the guns. They keep walking, slowly. Surely. Maysoon figures they won't shoot in the direction of other soldiers, and she is right. They breeze through the checkpoint. No questions asked by either side. Once through, an Israeli soldier asks her where she's from, in English. "Can you believe he wanted to have a normal conversation with me?"

I am in Ramallah when she calls. Peter is sketching and I am painting. The first time she calls, she is in shock. We are all in shock. Rafael was inches away from dying. He wonders what he would have done if it had been Maysoon shot. We all thank God they left a few minutes sooner than later. The second time she calls, she is in front of Damascus Gate, bugging. I listen to her. Tell her I love her. I wish I could be there to hold her, instead I say, "Place your hands on the stones of the walled city. Give them all of this pain and fear. They have lived through much before this. Absorbed much more than this. Give this night up to them. Then lay your back against stones. Ask them to fortify you. To keep your head up and your back straight. They got you. I got you"

As sleepy as I'd been earlier, I am now awake. Peter and I discuss life, painting, music and of course, heart. We listen to Stevie Wonder, John Coltrane and Um Kolthom. When sleep comes, I am ready.

I wake up early, the sun shining into my face. I call Hamdi for a ride to Qalandia. I will be meeting Maysoon and Bassima at Damascus Gate so we can all ride to Dheisheh together. I will also see Rafael hours before he has to be at the airport. This is my first checkpoint crossing alone on this trip. There is still evidence of the previous night's violence. Bullet ridden blockades, stones loosed from earth. Garbage. Weariness. The sun spares no mercy, and the actual checkpoint area is packed with people. It is nearly 2:00 PM. The army has divided the crowd into men and women. There are many more men, and so they get the larger section, with a tin roof for shade. Most of the women have their hair covered in hijab, and their hands full with children and bags. There is no order. There is no system. If you do not push your way to the soldier, you will be cut in line by entire villages.

The soldier yells in her guttural Arabic, "Go back! Move back, girls! Girls, move!" Most of the women are old enough to be her mother, and more than a few, her grandmother. She is using a hand held metal detector to go through bags of grape leaves, olives, children's clothes, wallets. I open my back pack and she waves her dammed wand over it. Then she slides it over my stomach. I'm so surprised, so violated, my mouth drops open. There was no need for it at all. Maysoon says, "Couldn't she see how flat your stomach is?" It was power. Simple and plain. Yes, folks have strapped explosives on under shirts. But that's wasn't what she was looking for. She was looking to break me. To break us. I place my right hand over my womb and say a prayer for my body and her soul.

I make my way to the vans that drive to Jerusalem. I get into one with a family of father, mother, grandmother, two children and an infant. Two teenage girls get in after me, and finally, an older man. Our driver is a handsome young man, with a bright smile and rosy cheeks. We pay our three and a half shekels each. We are not far from Bit Henena when we get to a group of soldiers. They wave some vans and buses through, they point ours to the side. A young soldier opens up the door. "Permits!" he yells into the car. We all have our IDs ready. He blindly scans the passengers and then his eyes fall on my passport. "Give it," he says. He calls a partner over, and they tell the driver to park the car to the side. They close the door and take my passport with them.

Ten minutes later they return. How can I know it's ten minutes? Time does not exist in this madness. Another soldier brings back my passport, and then asks for the permits of the men in the car. The driver has to hand his in as well, along with the paperwork for his car. "They're gonna write down who is going where. They were going to let us through until they saw your passport." He is not mean, nor is he angry. I apologize profusely. "This is just the way they are," he sighs. Still, I sit with my fellow passengers for twenty minutes (this I counted) in the van. If the baby had started crying, if the grandmother had cursed the second I'd gotten into the car, if the girls had started hissing at me, if the driver had been in a bad mood....I think of all the ways Grace blessed the situation. It could have truly been hell on wheels. As it was, it was bad enough. Powerlessness.

I believe the permits taken from the men, and my own passport, were recorded into some kind of database so the IDF can track where folks travel to and from. I believe now more than ever they do not want Americans and other nationals witnessing what is happening here. We are supposed to be afraid to move from one town to another. We are supposed to be blind to the continuing and accelerated construction of The Wall. And we absolutely must not see Palestinians as human beings. Never that.

When we finally make it to the new drop off point, further away from the Damascus Gate, I apologize to the driver once again. He graciously smiles and waves my sorry away. "This is our life."

I had called Maysoon half way through the ordeal, and she had in turn called the Consulate. I'd spoken to her again once the permits had been given back. We are relieved to see each other. I haven't seen Bassima since her cousin's sudden and tragic death, and we embrace outside of the Gate. Even with all of the ritual and communal grieving that is nearly an industry in Palestinian society, it still hasn't hit her. And Rafael... we have a collective hug and share one last silent promise.

A cab ride to the Bethlehem checkpoint. We look for our friend, he who vultures the trash dump for his food. We do not see him. Maysoon and Bassima walk through one way, I go the slightly longer route. They are granted access by the soldiers and I am waved over. Maysoon sits not too far away, waiting. I'm often held up, picked on, flirted with, challenged, harassed, when I go through these checkpoints. It has been odd, no rhyme or reason, and this time, finally, Maysoon is a witness.

There are four soldiers sitting in a small makeshift office. They are all men, and by the look of them, none of them are of European descent. One of them, red eyed and chubby, says something in Hebrew, pointing to my hair. My hair is not pulled back this time, which is rare. It is wild and thick, curly and frizzy. Not a look I'd want on the cover of Vogue, but hey, it's me. He repeats himself and looks me in the eye. Maybe he thinks I'm a Moroccan Jew, which many Palestinians in Jerusalem do (God, do they). Maybe he thinks we're related. He is not happy I'm not responding to his gorilla-like subtlety.

The soldier holding my passport asks me if I speak Arabic. In Arabic. He does not have a hint of Hebrew on his tongue when he speaks in my father's. I play dumb. "I speak English. I'm from America." "But your name, Suheir (said perfectly, beautifully even), you must speak Arabic." I say nothing. The air becomes thick between us. A third soldier starts to chime in, in Hebrew. I ask over and over, "Is there a problem? Is there a problem with my visa? What is the problem?" They're bored and I'm entertainment. Finally, a senior soldier tells them to stop playing around and let me go. I am handed the passport without a word. Or a glance. I meet Maysoon a few feet away.

On the other side of the checkpoint we see the three boys we see each time we pass. They sell gum and chocolate. Last time we'd gone through, we promised to buy from them the next time. They remembered. Thank God I had change, cause they would have truly cursed us out this time. I buy some gum, give each some change. They descend on Bassima, whom they've never seen before. Then Maysoon says, "Suheir, it's our boy." And there he is, our beautiful Jesus of the trash. We shake hands. These boys are his relatives and neighbor. Rami is his name. I'd carried with me a track suit given to my by my aunt the morning I left Amman. She'd wanted to make sure it got into the hands of someone who really needed it. I place it in Rami's hands. He is a growing boy, and it will not last him a season, but for now, it is new and it fits. He blushes.

We walk to the cabs. There are always some Palestinian drivers sitting under trees, smoking and drinking tea. We walk by these. We are told they collaborate with the Occupiers, and there is no reason to believe this to be a lie. The soldiers do not let others sit there. And these men are usually vulgar in look and language. Our chosen driver takes us to Dheisheh and we eat a home cooked meal of chicken and rice before our writing workshop with the same young men we worked with a few days earlier begins. The young men who carried their friend Kefah's dying body out of the line of fire. They have brought with them two other boys. Maybe we are doing something right, Maysoon and I think. May Masri meets us at Ibdaa, to document the progress of the boys' work.

The young men are anxious to start. They are all at varying degrees of literacy and confidence in imagination. We go over the assignments they'd done at home. To speak in the voice of an object in their homes. A tea cup. A tooth brush. A TV. A computer. A chair. The process is long and distracted. We eventually get to the whole purpose of the exercise. "As writers, as people, we can never truly speak in the voice of another. If we practice writing about what a lifeless object would tell us about it's life, maybe we can attempt to speak in the voices of others. Your mothers know you and love you, but they don't know your heart, your thoughts, right?"

The getting through is slow. One of the boys I haven't worked with before says, "Of course I can write in my mother's voice." "What about the soldiers? The Israelis? You see them everyday. Your lives are completely related. Do you think he knows what you feel. Would he shoot at you if he could speak in your voice? Tell your story?" The going gets a little easier. "Do you think you know what that soldier who killed Kefah was thinking when he did it? How he has felt afterwards? I'm not telling you to be friends. I'm not telling you to justify it. I just want you to acknowledge you know as little about them as they know about you." The going is gone. They get it.

We give them more writing to do. We offer them soda and juice. The juice, by the way, is always sugar water. Maybe forty percent juice. There is a lot of fresh juice available in the market areas, but in grocery stores and sandwich shops it is usually this syrup that passes for natural goodness. One of the boys, Moseb, has been frustrated because his Arabic grammar is allegedly worse than my own. They other boys make fun of his penmanship, and pretty much anything he writes. Out of the corner of my eye I see him throw a crushed up piece of paper out the window. I'm livid.

"What! You think your country is a garbage dump? You want the Israelis to treat you better and this is what you do to the little we've managed to hold onto?" He is surprised at how upset I am. A deer in headlights. "Maysoon, I'm sorry, but I gotta take him to go get that paper. Yallah, let's go." We make our way down four flights of stairs and out to the parking lot. We both look for the paper, but do not find it. It must be on top of one of the tall sheds used for storage. I don't want him to break his neck looking for it, but my point has yet to be made.

Three me come out of the building dedicated to economic initiatives, which is parallel to Ibdaa. They begin to yell at Moseb for trying to climb the sheds. "What's going on? What are you doing, boy?" I take a deep breath. I have no idea how they're gonna take me disciplining one of their own. "He thinks Palestine is here for him to use as a waste basket. When the foreigners come here, they think we're naturally dirty people. Then they're taken to Tel Aviv, where everything is clean and new. He has to find the paper he threw out the window." The oldest of the men extends his hand.

"All respect, sister. All respects. Wallah, I try to teach them, but they don't believe me. They get used to living like this, and nothing I can say helps. You came all the way from America to help us teach him a lesson." To his credit, Mosab is not resentful of all this authoritative pressure. I'd already caught him smoking a cigarette while he was entering the workshop. I took it from him, smoked the rest in front of him, and told him he better not bring another lit one into the building. And now this. The paper wasn't on the roof of the first shack. He had to climb onto a higher one. Please God, steady him. He found it. The men playfully slap him on the back. We carry it all the way back upstairs and dump it ceremoniously into the trash can. Moseb's homework assuagement is an essay entitled, "Palestine Is Not My Trash Dump"

The rides home are long. Maysoon hears from Raphael on her mobile. He was made to take his clothes off at the airport, and detained for two hours. Interrogated. It is surreal for him. Weeks between Tel Aviv and Ramallah, and shot at and stripped in twenty four hours. Tell the world about this, Raphael. Tell them. We hear from him again when he's put on a bus, alone, and taken to his plane. We bid him well one last time. Until the next time.

We are driven to Bethlehem. Wait for fifteen minutes for a cab to drive us to Jerusalem. Ride. Wait another fifteen minutes for a van to take us to Qalandia. The driver has to stop and fill the van with gas. We get to Qalandia and Bassima gets off to go to her town, the three of us remaining go through to the other side. The apparatus of The Wall is all around us. I wonder what it will look like once it is completed. How much more sky will it swallow?

At Qalandia, the traffic to get out is so bad, there is no way everyone will do so before the checkpoint is shut down for the night. Still, people wait. We do as well, for Hamdi to pick us up. We collapse into the car. Drop off May. Maysoon and I eat a meal at Ziryab, fatigue and hunger battling within us both. Yazen joins us for part of our meal. We talk to our sweet waiter, Mohammad, who works everyday but Friday, when he goes home to Tulkaram to see his family. Once home, I fall asleep on the couch while Maysoon works on the computer.

Amari Camp in the morning. This time we are joined by Rhonda, from Ohio by way of Sin Jil. I love Rhonda, not only because she is Marwan's sister, but because she has worked to take Palestinian American kids to hospitals and camps while they were here for the Al Bireh Convention. She tells us Israeli Army helicopters use the headstones as target practice. We pass out foam paper and place mats, along with yet more beads and foam stickers, glue, foam animals, stars, fish, boats, suns, trees. The children are going to place their dreams of what the camp will look like once they and their families are allowed to return to their original villages. That is all you here, "When we go home."

The workshop is loud and the kids ornery. We're pretty tired as well. But the art is beautiful. They all want their names on their pieces. They hang them up in the room. Sing for us. Fight amongst themselves. After a long hour and a half, we begin to wrap up, and walk to the other rooms to see the children we didn't work with today. There is also a group of Europeans who have some to the camp to meet the children and the staff. We talk to them about today's workshop and previous ones. There is a kind Franciscan woman with a huge wooden cross around her neck. She is older and sprightly, with white hair and a wide smile.

Khalil is asking for me, Maysoon says. Khalil is the boy who'd ripped up his Polaroid project last week. He hit, cursed and interrupted. But today he isn't in our class, and now he is looking for me. Khalil was born with a healthy upper body, but below the waist, his legs and feet are useless, tiny appendages. He is ten years old, and brown as earth. Someone has painted his face, and the circle on his nose makes him look like a lion to me. Majestic.

Khalil's wheelchair is thrown together and ill-fitting beyond discomfort. He goes up and down stairs by using the strength of his arms. We walk into a classroom of girls who are going to sing for us. One of the girls wants him out. "Why?' "I don't like him," she answers. "I hate her," he responds. Turns out they always hit each other. "Who starts?" "I do," Khalil responds. Well, we're still gonna here the songs.

Maysoon, Rhonda and I are about to call Rhonda's dad to pick us up when we here a commotion. The first few minutes, we figure it to be the kids getting ready to go home. Anxious, loud. Then we hear screams, and see children running away from the main door, children running towards it. "The Jews! The Jews!" We can't believe it. What would the army be doing here, at the UN girl's school at lunch time? Yet, there they are, at the door. One boy says he peeked through the gate before the staff closed it. "Their guns were out, and soooo big, ya Allah!" How many are there? We can't tell. Maysoon can see seven or eight from where she is. The soldiers are looking for a man from the camp who is in hiding. They will enter the school, no matter who is at the door. "Where are the Europeans now? We need witness," Maysoon and I tell each other.

Amazingly, Shaher has just taken the group out of the school, so they can visit people's homes in the camp. But, thankfully, they are right around the corner. They see it for themselves. The children are terrified. It is chaos in the courtyard. The teachers shout at them to get into the playground. The older boys want to go see the confrontation. We screech at them to help us get the younger kids into the playground with us. We are dazed. The fear is right here, I can touch it. Shaher is at the door, more confident in speaking to the soldiers because of the European contingent. "If they hadn't been there, I'd have run inside as well," he jokes. May, maybe seven years old, with a long braid and pale skin is shaking. Is she paler now than she was ten minutes ago? There are children all around us, all in their own worlds of terror. "They are terrorized," Maysoon says. This is terrorism.

Khalil, out of his chair, waddles over to me. He rests his head on my lap. I caress his hair. He says nothing, just sits there. The army is still at the entrance. I ask him how many brothers and sisters he has. I ask him where he wants to travel to. "Amman," he quickly responds, "I want to get an operation so I can walk. I want to walk." The chaos is all around us, and we sit in the shade, on stairs in the courtyard. He wants to run.

After nearly half an hour and several life times, the army retreats from the school and enters the camp's homes. The children are lined up and groups of them go home together, under as much guidance as the staff can muster. Rafat, who is blind, has to wait for someone to take him home. Mohammad and Hosam are taken by a teacher and an aide. Hind sits with us in the teachers' room as soon as all the other children have left. We hear an explosion. Then we hear gun shots. The children are still just outside of the school's back door.

One of the older girls who has stayed in the room with us says, "Good, we will die martyrs. What is better than that?' "Living," I tell her. "Living is better than that." She eyes me. "What life? This is life?"