13 October 2017
George and Najwa Saadeh meet with the leadership of St. Joseph High School.
(photo: Nadim Asfour)
In the current edition of ONE, journalist Diane Handal writes of how families are finding Love as a Healing Balm in Palestine. Here, she gives additional impressions from her trip.
The conveyer belt went round and round at baggage claim in Tel Aviv and I prayed. We had been delayed in New York two hours and I feared my luggage had missed the connection. Then, I saw the little green tag on the black bag that said, “Bella and Lola’s Nana!”
I jumped into a taxi and said, “Jerusalem please!”
This is Jerusalem from the taxi window:
Israeli flags on every street...lots of cranes...beautiful stone walls...newly paved roads...new apartments high on the hilltops...modern street lamps...cyprus, elm, and pine trees...Mc Donald’s...men wearing long beards with side curls emergent from their temples, big black round hats, white fringes hanging on either side of black pants, long black coats...cell phones pressed to ears...women wearing wigs, hairnets and head scarfs.
At Damascus Gate, there were several white police vans, and a strong presence of Israeli policemen. All wore sunglasses, steel gray uniforms, black flak jackets, and they carried assault rifles.
I had arrived at this ancient gateway to the old city of Jerusalem with its crowded bazaar and the holiest sites for Jews, Muslims, and Christians — unaware that it had become quite dangerous with a surge in knifing incidents.
I hired another taxi at the gate and argued over the price with the driver in my halting Arabic. The driver wanted to take me all around to enter Bethlehem to avoid the checkpoint. I knew that was prohibitive, cost-wise, so declined. The driver was not happy.
Finally, I agreed to pay $25 just to get to Checkpoint #300, where no one asked to see my passport and I walked through the long tunnel dragging my suitcase and computer bag. I walked up and down hills and still could not find the Jacir Palace Hotel. Finally, I paid another taxi $5 and it was just around the corner.
It was a very long journey. I was exhausted. The first room I was taken to had dirty rugs, a broken phone, and no hot water. I moved twice more with much of the same issues and finally, gave up.
Dinner was sparkling water and biscuits I bought at a nearby market.
Back at the hotel, I took a lukewarm shower and passed out for a few hours. I went down for breakfast and had two fried eggs, Arabic bread, and coffee. The chef and I began talking and he asked my family name. He then told his boss — and every morning, two fried eggs appeared at my table.
George Saadeh is picking me up about 9:30am in the lobby. He sounded very nice on the phone.
The next day, I was inside the “open prison.” I felt the sense of gates closing behind me from the minute I walked through the checkpoint to the other side of the “separation wall” into the streets of Bethlehem.
A heavy weight descended upon me and I thought this was just a touch of what the Palestinians live with every single day.
The sun was shining and the houses and apartment buildings on the hill were all beige, broken by only a few green trees and some black water tanks in the distance.
Water is scarce here and there are many cisterns as the Palestinians are dependent on the Israelis for water. They receive only 17% of the water supply while the Israelis receive 83%, under the Oslo Accords. The settlements have 24–hour water access and that includes water for swimming pools.
Cars were speeding past me and going round and round through the city.
I went to change money in a tiny dark closet of a store and then, walked across the street to Abu Alees, my favorite shawarma place near my family’s home off Orient Street. The wrap was fresh, the chicken tender, the tomato, cucumber, and parsley salad fresh, and the hot sauce burned in my mouth. I was in heaven.
Later, I walked up the street toward town to buy some cherries and oranges and the owner gave me a discount and smiled. I asked for teen (figs), but he said they were not in season. The Palestinians are kind people.
For three shekels, less than $1, I took a “service” (a taxi that picks up people along the way) back to my hotel.
My friend Wajdi Zoughby — who is an IT genius — greeted me with a hug at the hotel.
He is married now and just had his second child, a little girl named Marion. His son Khuder is two and named after his father, George, who died a few years ago. I often think of the opportunities Wajdi could have had on the other side of this Wall.
Yesterday, I met George Saadeh and spent the day with him at the Greek Orthodox School where he is principal. He is a good man who is very smart, very kind, and works hard to see change in a community under occupation.
His daughter Christine was just 12 when she was killed in an Israeli raid. The family was on their way to the market. Hundreds of bullets shattered the windshield and windows. Christine was shot in the head and neck and died. Nine bullets struck her father George. His eldest daughter Marion was shot in the leg; his wife’s body was laden with shrapnel.
He is a strong man despite this pain and suffering no parent should endure and he has held onto his faith throughout a very difficult journey.
George, Najwa, his wife, and I went to St. Joseph’s convent. The sisters there taught Najwa and her daughters at the St. Joseph School. They have been a tremendous support for Najwa, particularly Soeur George.
And, Soeur George knew my grandmother Jameleh. She met her when we visited Bethlehem and stayed at the convent. I was 10 years old at the time. She was 21 and had just entered the novitiate.
We went to the Church of the Nativity later, which is being renovated. A huge crane sat on the roof of the church, the only one I saw in Bethlehem.
Najwa, George, the photographer Nadim, and I went to dinner at a café next to the church.
After dinner, I interviewed Najwa. My heart broke for her, for them. But their strong faith and their journey toward forgiveness through their fervent belief in peace and reconciliation have given them the tools to survive.
God bless them.
10 February 2017
Sisters Hanne, Gina and Brygida prepare lunch. (photo: Tamara Abdul Hadi)
In the current edition of ONE, Journalist Diane Handal writes about how the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary are Welcoming the Stranger in Jordan. Here, she adds some additional impressions of the country and its people.
The pink light was rising on the horizon above the hill filled with beige buildings crowded together with a street light sparkling here and there. This is the city of Amman.
Two minarets stood guard in the distance to a huge mosque, named after King Abdullah, capped with a blue roof that looks like a children’s toy that spins. It is a memorial by the late King Hussein to his grandfather and the only mosque in Amman that openly welcomes non-Muslims.
The city of Amman was waking up and the big blizzard they were bracing for never happened, but the plows were out there in the street. The Jordan Times was blaming the weather reporting for lost revenues.
I arrived yesterday from the Allenby Bridge off the bus and into passport control, greeted by photographs of King Hussein, King Abdullah, and his son HRH Crown Prince Al-Hussein.
My taxi had a big decal on the right side of the windshield of King Hussein. The driver was young and began pressing his foot to the pedal trying to pass the cars in oncoming traffic. I yelled, “LA, LA, LA!” He drove normally from then on.
We passed little villages with stalls of red and white kaffiyehs, clear plastic life preservers for the beach, roasting chickens, the Jordanian flag of black, red, and green. Sheep were grazing on the hills and several makeshift tents appeared with children playing in the muddy street. I thought:poor Jordanians — or perhaps, refugees. A man was selling tomatoes in crates and garbage was strewn on the nearby land.
Pouring rain beat against the windshield outside and the sky went black.
The next day, I met with Sister Antoinette and the Franciscan sisters at the convent. It was evident how much they love their missionary work — these are giving, warm, smart, and selfless women.
I met the Executive Chef from the hotel this morning at breakfast, Thomas Brosnan, who is Irish and I told him my son-in-law was from Galway.
I was telling him how one of his staff almost electrocuted himself poking a knife in the toaster and I told him to stop and went behind the counter to pull the plug out.
I wrote Thomas and asked if it would be possible to give the sisters some breakfast sweets tomorrow and explained the reason I was there.
He said yes immediately, and was putting the pastry chef in charge.
The next morning there were four huge boxes filled with breakfast sweets. The sisters loved them. I sent Thomas a photograph of the sisters at the table.
Tamara, the photographer, and I had lunch in dining room with all the sisters. They take turns each day cooking. It was Sister Hanne’s turn today and we had fresh tabouli with romaine lettuce leaves, tunafish, French fries, pickled eggplant and cake for desert. Delicious!
A young woman came to the convent with a white bag from a pharmacy. It had several pairs of eyeglasses in it. Sister Antoinette said it was for a little girl who is losing her sight and could not afford any.
The sisters told me another little Iraqi boy had lost his hair due to trauma of the war. They said that the illnesses they see are mounting in both children and their parents. It makes sense considering what these families have been through and continue to go through.
I walked with Sister Hanne to meet with an Iraqi family. She not only was jay walking, but walking in the street despite the lawless driving, using her cell while talking to me all the way.
At the Iraqi family’s home, their youngest son had symptoms similar to autism and Sister Hanne hugged him and stroked his head, truly loving this child. It brought tears to my eyes.
I left Amman and flew on Royal Jordanian to Istanbul. The flight was packed with elderly people who had just come from the Haj in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, and I don’t think they had taken a shower for days. The coughing was also widespread.
Near me was a lovely Jordanian family with two small daughters. We all covered our faces with Kleenex and prayed that we would not get sick.
18 July 2016
Tags: Refugees Jordan
The neighborhoods surrounding the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station host large migrant populations.
Note: Earlier this year, writer Diane Handal visited Israel to report on what migrants endure to reach this Promised Land. What follows are some random impressions of her journey as a traveler herself, experiencing anew the sights and sounds of a land she knows well.
I boarded the flight to Tel Aviv in a plane filled with men wearing tall black hats and sporting beards, women in wigs and kerchiefs — many of them carrying babies — with toddlers running in front and older ones trailing behind.
Everyone was speaking Hebrew except for a group of older women tourists from Oregon on their way to visit the Holy Land.
We arrived in Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport and after being grilled at immigration, I picked up my baggage and boarded a shuttle to Jerusalem.
The settlements had grown so much from my last visit here, making my heart sink. The scars of the recent uprising and killings lay like a dark blanket over its residents. Hotels have been shuttered as the pilgrims had stopped coming and now there is an uneasy quiet in the streets and a definite police presence.
I walked in through the New Gate and rang the bell of Sami el-Yousef, my dear friend and CNEWA’s regional director for Palestine and Israel. He gave me a warm welcoming hug. I had come home again to the place I love and where I feel I belong. I am 100 percent Palestinian, with my entire family from Bethlehem.
The following day, I met the Rev. David Neuhaus, who is collaborating with CNEWA to help Hebrew-speaking migrants.
I walked with him to Our Lady Woman of Valor Pastoral Center. The children came running up to him, hugging him. The women who worked there were bowing and bending their heads to his hand in a traditional gesture of blessing. He grabbed one child and flipped her upside down! She laughed. My heart stopped.
Lots of hula-hoops were spinning in the playground. Inside the tent, children were drawing with magic markers, their finished work hanging on a clothesline. Snacks and juice were being served and as the clock struck 4 pm, Father David pushed them all inside the tent to maintain quiet as the synagogue began services next door.
Soon, I met two single mothers from the Philippines who are raising their children in Israel and use the center for after school activities.
And then there was Faith. She is ten years old, and is taking care of her five-year-old brother who has Down Syndrome. He doesn’t talk, she says. (But he does communicate; he screams.) Their mother cleans houses. Faith is just precious.
I drove with Father David the next day to southern Tel Aviv and saw houses of corrugated metal roofs and siding to shield its residents from this nasty cold weather. They buildings are “graced” by an old bus station where big green buses are constantly coming and going.
We were in the slums where most of the migrants lived.
A small shopping area below encircled this “Central Bus Station.” On the right side was a Kingdom of Pork Factory store.
Graffiti was scribbled on the stone walls of a cement block house with concrete bricks inserted into what were once windows. A dirt lot next door was full of pigeons.
We went to Rehovat for Mass with Father David and Tony, a seminarian, who reminds me so much of my brothers. He said when he told his mother he was going into the seminary, she cried for a month!
Rehovat is a small town about 12 miles south of Tel Aviv. At last report, in 2014, the population numbered about 129,000 people.
Off one of the main streets, we walked into an alley. A small room overflowed with some 50 worshipers, mainly Filipinos, with some international students in the mix, all coming for Mass.
A Filipino woman was playing a portable organ and the words to the songs were displayed on a screen to the right of the altar.
Everyone was so happy to see Father David, who said the Mass. As before, there were people constantly bowing their heads to his hand.
I left Jerusalem, on my way to the Allenby Bridge crossing to Amman, Jordan.
On the way, I passed Ma’ale Adumim, an enormous settlement on the West Bank with beautiful paved roads and tall modern street lamps. Its population in 2015 was around 40,000.
Soon they will have company. The number of migrants is only expected to grow.
According to The Jordan Times, Israel’s defense ministry recently approved plans to build 153 new settler units in the occupied West Bank.
Read more about Surviving Without a Country in the Promised Land in the Summer 2016 edition of ONE.
7 May 2014
Children play by the edge of the garbage dump near their refuge in Bechouat. (photo: Tamara Hadi)
Diane Handal visited Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley last fall and wrote about some of the work being done to help refugees there in the spring edition of ONE. Below, she offers some personal details from her visit.
On the drive to Bekaa, church steeples dotted the landscape and gold domes sparkled in the sun with matching minarets. Racy billboards of a scantily dressed woman wearing a hijab and fishnet stockings with high black boots advertised some French beauty product.
Lebanese soldiers stood guard at checkpoints holding AK-47’s every 10 miles or so — not bothering to check anyone, just waving cars on.
Passing the Sunni community, big posters of Rafic Hariri, former prime minister of Lebanon, appeared. Several miles later was a Shiite area. Hassan Nasrullah’s gray bearded face, wire glasses, and black turban boasted of Hezbollah’s presence to everyone passing. One poster had Nasrullah standing with the Syrian president, Bashar al Assad.
Posters of soldiers with machine guns and martyrs who had died in Syria draped the median, with Hezbollah flags on each side of the road.
Men walked with black and white checked keffiyehs (a kind of headdress) around their necks, a symbol of the revolution. Women were dressed from head to toe in black, a show of mourning.
They are getting ready for Ashura this week. It is the Shiite anniversary marking the martyrdom of Hussein, the grandson of the prophet.
The mountains shelter pretty little villages and farms, which extend outward to the roads. The Bekaa Valley is truly beautiful. But all is not as lovely and simple as it seems.
In Bekaa, photographer Tamara Hadi and I were the guests of Sister Giselle, Sister Micheline and Sister Rita at the convent in the vicinity of Deir el Ahmar. The area is filled with farms that grow hashish and the money made from this enterprise is enormous. The cartels come in from as far away as Colombia and a great deal of money changes hands. The mansions in this otherwise modest Christian area are self-explanatory.
I celebrated the Divine Liturgy at a Maronite church near Deir el Ahmar with Sisters Micheline and Rita. The villagers were elderly and dressed in dark grays and black. One woman wore an old-fashioned lace veil on her head. The liturgy was rich with song.
We stopped later — at my request — to find some milk for our tea and cocoa. Sister Micheline drove to the home of a family she knew had fresh cow’s milk. The family’s three children attend the nun’s school. Tobacco leaves hung in the garden, drying next to the clothes.
When we arrived back at the convent, Sister Giselle boiled the milk and it was delicious! The sisters were excited, as they never have real milk for their coffee — only powdered.
Sister Micheline is the founder and director of a fabulous school in the Deir el Ahmar area — and she’s one remarkable woman. At the present, there are over 200 Syrian refugee students attending school in the morning. The afternoon program is for the Lebanese children to do homework and, for some, remedial work. She was inspiring in her energy, her drive, her determination and her faith. She began with nothing and is now a legend in the region. People flock to her door daily and, sadly, she has to turn many away as the resources are limited.
But I had a sobering and very sad three days interviewing the Syrian refugees in Bekaa Valley.
Many had came over the border from Homs, Aleppo and other cities with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Now, they are living in tents, dependent on the kindness of strangers.
One mother with whom I spoke kept smiling as she told me that at night she feared the big rats that entered their two small rooms as the family slept on the floor.
I was truly shaken the first day. I had a hard time doing my job. It was all surreal and I felt nausea creeping over me.
But fortunately, for these refugees, Sister Micheline and CNEWA together are helping them as much as possible with blankets, food, mattresses and jackets for the winter season.
In the two videos below, Diane Handal discusses more of what she saw and experienced in Lebanon. You can read more about how Sister Micheline and others are changing lives in the Bekaa Valley, check out Syria, Shepherds and Sheep in the spring edition of ONE. And to support Syrian refugees in Lebanon, visit our Emergency: Syria page.
4 October 2011
Tags: Lebanon Refugees Syrian Civil War Sisters ONE magazine
Yesterday, veteran journalist Diane Handal described for us her return to Beirut after five years. She visited the city recently to report on CNEWA’s work with innovative microcredit program – a program she details in the September issue of ONE magazine. Today, she writes of her travels to a town north of Beirut called Amchit, where she met a remarkable man who was one beneficiary of the microcredit program.
Anis Hoayek repairs a broken chair in his weaving shop outside Byblos.
(photo: Dalia Khamissy)
His name is Anis. He is 48 years old, the father of two children.
One some days, he works three jobs. During the day, he is a supervisor in a mattress factory; nights and weekends, he works caning furniture in a tiny shop next to his home. On some nights, he fills in as a disc jockey.
Anis is driven, not just to make a living for his family, but also to give his son and daughter the private school education he never had. Public schools, I am told, are not an option in Lebanon.
Anis had polio when he was just a year old. Because of the polio, Anis was 12 years old when he started school. In fourth grade, the teacher told him he didn’t belong in her classroom but should be in a special school for the handicapped.
At the time, Anis was at the top of his class and exempt from taking exams. He told me he dreamed about becoming a professor. Those dreams were shattered.
Today, his right arm and left leg are both paralyzed. His left foot is twisted to the side and yet he struggles to walk on crutches, not giving in to the wheelchair that sits behind him.
I was in awe of this man. He had an incredibly optimistic attitude about life; he had goals and he was definitely not complaining. He was focused on his work; caning in his tiny shop that neighbors helped to build was what he loved.
Anis had dreams too, of expanding his workshop one day, buying more tools, and “hiring other handicapped people like me,” he said.
He perseveres despite a recent operation to remove his spleen and yet another to fix the crooked fingers in his left hand, the only good one he has.
I wonder what Anis’s life would have been like if he had the opportunity to finish school, go to college. I wonder if he would have been that professor he dreamed of becoming.
I think about my own life and how much I have and how often I forget.
That afternoon, returning to the city, I pass the Four Seasons Hotel, built by Prince Al-Waleed bin Tala, the Saudi businessman. It stands across from multimillion-dollar boats in the harbor.
I hear from friends that business at the hotel is slow. I think it is perhaps because of the “Arab Spring,” the revolutions sweeping across the region, touching so many of Lebanon’s neighbors. But they say not even the Gulf customers are coming.
The former Holiday Inn, a massive gray building, backing up against the Phoenicia InterContinental Hotel is still standing but riddled with huge holes, which have turned to orange rust. Green plants sprout through the balconies and what once were windows.
It sits as a testament to the bitter memories and dark shadows of Lebanon’s civil war that began in 1975 and lasted 15 years.
I stop and look up at this building and its scars of war and my mind wanders back to Anis. He too stands firm, refusing to give in to the dark shadows and bitter memories of his past, fighting every single step of the way for survival with grace and with courage.
Read more about Anis and his work here.
3 October 2011
Tags: Lebanon Beirut Micro Credit Program
Veteran journalist Diane Handal returned to Lebanon recently to report on CNEWA’s work with an innovative microcredit program, which is offering assistance to some of the neediest people in the country. You can read her account in the September issue of ONE. She also sent us these impressions of what it’s like to be revisiting Beirut.
Aerial view of Beirut, Lebanon taken in September 2010.
After five years, I have returned to Beirut. While there are many more cranes rising in the downtown area, not much else seems changed.
I am here to meet with several beneficiaries of CNEWA-Pontifical Mission’s microcredit program in Lebanon and hear their stories.
The streets are still a mass of broken cement and one has to look down so as not to break a leg. The sidewalks are high and sometimes disappear without notice.
Lebanon is one of the few countries left in the Middle East that is not in the midst of a revolution. Nevertheless, it bears scars from many wars, particularly the civil war that lasted 15 years. What’s more, I am told that the situation between the Sunnis and Shiites is heating up once again.
The weather is hot and humid; the sea is blue; and, despite the absence of a government, Beirut carries on.
I walk along the Corniche and a pale pink line dots the horizon as the sun slips into the sea.
The Lebanese are power walking, passing stately palm trees on their left.
Fishermen line up by the Mediterranean; their eight-foot poles rest on the metal railing. They smoke and chat with one another, waiting.
New black street lamps stand guard along the way.
Men and boys in bathing suits are swimming in the polluted water below and lie on the jagged rocks sunning themselves.
I shudder when I see a Starbucks across the street below the American University of Beirut (AUB) campus, where my favorite Lebanese sweet shop once stood. The BMWs, Range Rovers, and Mercedes are parked in front, their owners sipping mocha lattes and espresso checking their blackberries or talking on their cells. I might as well be in L.A. or New York!
The Corniche is awash with young parents and their little children. Two teenage boys – car doors open, bass-heavy music blaring – are checking out the girls. Cars whiz by and the obsessive horn honking never ends. Chic women in their designer sunglasses and workout clothes pass those from the Gulf, covered in the black abbey, niqaab (face veil) included.
A few blocks away, I hear the call to prayer coming from the minaret next to the mosque. The chanting mixes with the soothing sound of the waves breaking against the rocks.
A boy on roller blades speeds past the walkers; a toddler on a bicycle does a semi-circle twist and almost crashes into me. A mother kisses her curly black-haired baby and cuddles her in her arms.
A young boy rides toward me on a bicycle selling sesame bread that looks like a Frisbee with a hole. A grandfather passes me sharing the flat bread with his grandson.
Further down, a merchant is selling charcoal roasted corn on the cob and people crowd. Some noisy motorboats roar across the choppy sea in the distance.
The next morning, I travel north to a town called Amchit, about two kilometers (1.2 miles) north of the ancient city of Byblos. It was there that I met a truly extraordinary man.
Tomorrow: A Man Named Anis
Tags: Lebanon Beirut