blog refined not quite an article

Thursday, August 26, 2010\

Dedication: For Justice, for Yossi, for Dov, for Basma, for David, for Farar, and of course, for Linda.

Living and Working in the West Bank of Palestine

This is an article describing and analyzing my research beginning in 2005, culminating with four months of living and working in the Occupied Territories known as the West Bank, Palestine. I am a reform Jew; raised Conservative; my parents were both presidents of Beth Israel Synagogue in Camden, New Jersey; I served two terms as president of my synagogue, Rodeph Shalom in Rome, Georgia; and I am a Professor of Psychology at Berry College in Mt. Berry, Ga., USA.


Figure 1 Me at the Orient Restaurant in Beit Sahour 

How do I get your attention when you have so many other legitimate needs demanding your time and resources? One response might be to take the advice of Michael Corleone in Mario Puzo’s, The Godfather. “Keep your friends close. Keep your enemies closer.” If you are a nonMuslim: there are 1.57 billion Muslims in the world If you are Muslim, Israel has one of the most powerful armed forces in the world with a high probability of possessing nuclear weapons.  

Truth. What we think is true can be our worst enemy and even a sign of insanity (because it keeps us from changing). One evening the family was watching some truth: an Al Jezera film clip from the Israeli attack on Gaza in 1970. At first it seemed to me that dredging up “old news” was only stirring the waters of hatred, and then I realized a true of ours as U.S. TV routinely show 1960’s Civil Rights marchers attacked by water cannon, police dogs or hung by robed Klan’s men.  The truth I grew up with was that Israel was “a land without people for a people without a land,” a phrase coined by William Blackstone, a Christian Restorationist clergyman, in 1843.  My truth changed after five weeks in the West Bank and Israel in the summer of 2007 Israel was the villain. It became more balanced after four months in the West Bank as I learned new information, e.g., Jordan allowed no universities whereas Israel allowed seven. I saw 4,000 fired rockets and I stood in the bomb shelters in the Israeli city of Siderot. Israel has been attacked five times since 1948. Truths I heard: All Americans are from the United States. Zionists, Israelis and Jews are all the same. All Arabs are Muslims. Men are entitled to more rights than women. Going to prison is bad, openness is good. Corruption is shameful. All Terrorists are Arab.

Figure 2 . At one of the many (every 15 seconds apart) of bomb shelters in Siderot

you have 15 seconds

Figure 3.  Some of the four thousand rockets fired into Siderot

Here’s an interesting cultural difference. What does this mean in the USA? Is it positive or negative?

Figure 4. OK! Maybe, not?

Where I was. I visited, worked or lived: In the Occupied Territories of Beit Sahour, a suburb of Bethlehem, East Jerusalem, West Jerusalem, Jericho, and Ramallah from January to May 2010 on a Berry College Sabbatical and Rotary University Teaching Grant. In fact as a result of an emergency dental procedure in the compact space of just 90 minutes I traveled thousands of years in the flash of 90 minutes – from the modern city of West Jerusalem, through the narrow (15 foot wide), 30 foot high walled streets of the Old City to the west Bank of Palestine’s Beit Sahour which looked like the early 1900’s USA: There was a Bedouin woman grazing her goats and sheep outside my bedroom window.

West Bank demographics. The gross national income (GNI) is $1,230. The GNI of the USA’s $44,710, Rome, GA’s $32,000, and the World at $7,448. There are 2.4 million people with 95% being Muslim.  Beit Sahour has a population of 12,367; is 80% Christian and 20% Muslim.

Figure 5 Beit Sahour is a suburb of Behlehem


My activities.

  1. Gave two parenting workshops
  2. Helped create life skills center for Moderately Intellectually Disabled (MOID) adults (Al Malatha)
  3. Worked with West (Israeli) Jerusalem YMCA nursery schools to help with socialization of a three year old
  4. Consulted at the Al Zachra Medical Center, an East (Arab) Jerusalem Pediatric clinic with Autistic children with language delays
  5. Helped write the curriculum, lectured and created Internship program for the first Master’s Degree in Special Education at Hebron and Ber Zeit Universities


Figure 6 Explaining the differences between Intellectual and Learning disabilities in Ramallah

  1. Helped create a Birth-to-Six Diagnostic and Treatment Center for Developmentally Disabled Children
  2. Worked with three families and their children:

a) A four-year-old with Autism. Abdula is a four year old girl who lost language at about a year and a half. She is extremely solitary and demands a high degree of order and consistency (must walk on a certain part of the side walk to a certain distance). We have been using Applied Behavior Analysis yoking words for going for a walk, swinging and snacks. After two weeks of restricting “extras” we are still waiting for a breakthrough. She said “Duda (ant)” to her brother the other day so following the principle of “take what the client gives you” we’re surrounding her with: a jar of ants, pictures to color, clay to make. This coming week the Mom and I will meet with Abdula’s speech therapist to see what more language intensive services she might need. The prospects are bleak for two reasons: we have not been able to elicit language; and there are few if any services available.

b) Two families have with Moderately Intellectually Disabled (MOID) adult off spring. We created multistep step task analyses for: putting on pants; doing laundry, taking plate from table, getting up from toilet, and using a quiet voice. We are using real power and leverage: favorite foods, having dessert, swinging, going for a walk, a drive or watching TV. Further, we worked on getting rid of the puzzles and beads and replacing them with magazines appropriate to young adults (fashion magazines, make up, sports and muscle magazines).We used traditional behavior modification principles: Focus on tomorrow not yesterday (Boker la ams). Accept approximations of terminal goal then demand more. Say it once. Do what’s best for them in the long term. Take care of yourself and your marriage. Everyone must be part of team and consistent. These are not the first parents experiencing guilt, ignorance, exhaustion, and misplaced sympathy; unknowingly handicapping their grown off spring by treating them like children;  and by the absence of rules, standards or consequences thereby creating young adults resist training and responsibility. Here’s an example: one day last week one of the Dads spent (wasted?) four hours trying to get their son up the steps to the second floor for dinner including manually moving his legs up the first few steps. We were in the process of setting up a many-step task analysis when I suggested we all go upstairs for dinner and leave him alone. They were so concerned if they didn’t get him upstairs he would starve. I asked for their forbearance and it was reluctantly given. We began dinner. Ten minutes later on his own he came up the steps and joined us. “Bravo Farah” rang out!! What else can he do if we don’t do for him!! Another issue was sibling rivalry acted out by some pretty strong punching and elbowing. Because of Fana’s hitting (her brother, nephew, and care giver) we worked on the principle of “it’s easier to teach an incompatible behavior than extinguish an existing and highly reinforcing behavior.” We created several levels of intervention: reinforcing her whenever she exhibited natural affection; when she hits reinforcing stoking others; stroking her teddy bear; at the highest  level of intervention: “the silent treatment.” After Fana hit a six year old grandchild; unfortunately and fortunately, the family had a chance to try “the silent treatment”. They reported it was powerful and effective.

  1. Served as a School Psychologist at a Center for Emotionally Disturbed children: 1) teaching the staff to administer and interpret developmental assessments and 2) recommending a Behavior Modification strategy known as a “token economy” wherein the teacher would print “money” and give it to the students contingent on their appropriate behavior. Further, he could use the amount of money each student earned to teach math: analyzing data and creating graphs for each student and each class.
  2. Served as Psychologist (setting up task analyses and doing group therapy (sociodrama) using The Giving Tree, The Good Uncle Farhan and Little Red Riding Hood) for the 30 clients at the Al Basma Vocational Training Centers for MOID adults.

Figure 7 and Figure 8.

Law. The Municipality of Beit Sahour made a Christian owned businessman place the walls of his establishment four meters from the road but allowed a Muslim builder to construct his only one meter from the road. Governance: According to Viktoria Wagner’s (2000) analysis of the Palestinian Judiciary while there is serious external threat to the Palestinian desire for autonomy and national sovereignty that equally there is much work to be done internally namely a functioning judiciary, and a security/police force which serves the rule of law. It seems family and tribe trump democracy, with no recourse through the courts. I was told “in so many words” by neighbors that “money and resources are misdirected from the needs of everyday Palestinians to individuals in power or their loyalists.”

One-way and stop-signs are routinely ignored. Speed limits are enforced only by staying just slightly below the axle-breaking speed of cement humps in the roads. The primary method of communication is “standing on the car horn.” My host stay father summed the traffic situation perfectly: “We should be living 200 years ago riding camels and donkeys.”

Personal safety. At no time traveling, working or living in the West Bank did I ever feel unsafe. Here is an example. I spent several hours at the Greek Orthodox Church of the Nativity – in one place I saw, smelled and heard more different expressions of cultures: dress, music, and language than in my entire life. At no time did I feel fearful of the Arabs. Contrarily, at check points and walking behind heavily armed settler teens and geriatrics in the German Quarter of Jerusalem at night some trepidation was present.


Religion. Islamic law…husband kills adulterous wife, 5 months; wife kills adulterous husband, 20 years. I continually heard stories about the friction between the Muslim and Christian communities; being awakened at dawn every day by loud speakers on five minareted mosques chanting the Call to Prayer. This Call will loudly echo four more times during the day.

The tension between the Muslim and Christian communities is putting additional pressure on the Orthodox Christians. The military occupation stranglehold of commerce and education is loss of continuity between older generation’s steadfastness (samud) and the younger generation’s desire for identity and individuation (similar of the Hmong discussed in Mary Pipher’s (2002) The Middle of Everywhere.

Education.  The Government school in which my neighbor’s eldest grandson attends 11th grade has little or no access to computers, in fact, his computer teacher uses the blackboard. Sections of the Koran are regularly studied even in Math classes. Even in some private schools the science labs meet only one time a month. The town of Beit Sahour has over 12,000 inhabitants and no library. Jean Piaget would cry if he saw this equation on the chalk board of a kindergarten classroom in Beit Jala: 000000=00+00+00

Special education. Unlike the United States, there is no public law requiring school systems to offer educational opportunities or rights for handicapped children to even attend school. There are next to zero services for the disabled in the Bethlehem area. The Bethlehem Arab Society for Rehabilitation is professional with a well trained but highly overworked, staff. The only “public” opportunities I saw were for some speech and language, and few self-contained classes for intellectually disabled children within which autistic children were placed as well. The only systematic services focused on the Moderately Intellectually Disabled from 14 to 35. There were some excellent private programs but most were underfunded with poorly trained staff and an unrecognizable curriculum. Many looked good on paper (for external donors) but failed to deliver on their promises. 

The top special education category is Moderate Intellectual Disabilities, next is Vision with 5% and Hearing also with 5%: these rates are amazing considering in the U.S. the incidence is about one-tenth of a percent! How can the difference for Vision and Hearing be 50 fold? The answer, intermarriage! Given the choice of marrying a first cousin or another male from outside the family; the cousin “gets the nod.” Why? Intermarriage keeps the money in the family and the family can trust the cousin! As dismal as this sounds, there is hope.

Last year, the Islamic leaders made a remarkable decision. Before they would sign off on a marriage document, the prenuptial couple was obliged to have a blood test. From a political perspective, this totalitarian religious power can make really good things happen quickly for the population. Consider the value if the religious leaders could be persuaded to also make obligatory, banning marriages between first cousins! Employing such preventative approach would eliminate so much suffering.

Attitude toward handicaps. 

In one incident showing a pre 1930’s USA diagnosis a Master’s level special education teacher called a Down’s child a Mongolian idiot.

During an eight or so hour field trip to a public amusement park filled with teenagers (mostly male) neither saw nor heard one disparaging remark or gesture toward the 30 or so Al Basma adult Moderately Intellectually Disabled clients. Our clients’ handicaps included very obvious physical and verbal disabilities: walking and running awkwardly and haltingly, yelling, stuttering and taking much longer getting in and out of the crowded bumper cars.

A Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is an OK diagnosis because something was done “to” you; but disabilities intrinsic to the individual such as physical handicaps or Moderate Intellectual Disabilities (MOID) are to be hidden because it is a black mark on the family’s honor, genetic strength and pedigree which could affect marriage ability. Similar problems exist in the world of Orthodox Jewry as seen in Naomi Regan’s Sotah.

Health. Typical medical treatment in the West Bank for any ailment is—pain killers; for a tooth ache extraction. 

Food. I remember the 12 different salads at the Tent Restaurant, Shabbat in Jerusalem at the Seligman’s and last but not least, my host stay mother’s dishes: quartered spiced chicken cooked in an airtight: (door is covered with wet clay) Zarb, spinach pastry, egg plant soup, stewed tomatoes and garlic, a whole cabbage soaked in brine for 10 days, and finally homemade Slivovitz based Arak made from grains and anise seed. My upper lip then nose and lower lip were completely numb in the first 25 seconds!

Culture.  The collectivist culture in Palestine has many wonderful qualities, for instance: The old and very young live with their family; pita bread made on glowing embers; long conversations; gardens and home cooked meals; manual labor; wisdom of the elderly, breast feeding and board games with their families.

Arabs have the notion of Common land owned collectively or by one person, but over which other people have certain traditional rights, such as to allow their livestock to graze upon it, to collect firewood, or to cut turf for fuel. This notion tends to conflict with the Western idea of marking off and fencing in “my land.” The issue can be seen just across the valley north of Beit Sahour in the Israeli settlement called Har Homa. As of 2008, there were approximately 4,000 families in Har Homa. The neighborhood has 12 kindergartens, 6 day care centers, 2 elementary schools, 3 medical clinics, and 3 shopping centers. While sitting in the “Biblical” Shepherd’s Field, the acoustics were so perfect I could hear the disconcerting and intrusive hammering and drilling as if they were a few feet away. When one adds to the many “calls to prayer” from the mosques the Christian- Arab-Palestinian ears must have been ringing.

Who’s the dinosaur? A comment was made to me by the Palestinian Arab principal of Yesua, Yesua while standing on the school’s roof surrounded by multiple solar panels connected to their water tanks. “Here,” he said wryly, “everyone uses the sun. In Texas, they use oil.

The conflict between the two cultures centers on this difference of cultural traditions . It is true from a Western perspective that the land was unoccupied and undeveloped prior to the current construction; it is also true that both Jewish and Arab landholders (80%) were compensated for the land. Yet, this huge settlement is a microcosm of a large part of the Palestinian anger with Israel. My family host father was telling of his childhood. He said he would spend afternoons playing and hunting in the heavily forested hillside of Jabal Abu Ghneim. His concept of common ownership conflicts with the legal Western concept of specific owners. In the first photo you see Har Homa today, and in the second, the view and the memory of the father of my host family. Since Palestinians are barred from entering this walled area, you can see why they might be upset and angry. These emotions without a healthy outlet can produce apathy. Thus, the section on culture is connected to the section of the military occupation and dedevelopment.


Figure 9.  NOW

Figure 10. then

Other differences include etiquette, political power and bravery. The Western concept of polite conversation allows for one person to talk while the other remains silent. In the Arab world conversation includes interrupting and yelling. There is a selective (when in the West) concept of waiting in line either with respect to a group of people or a group of cars.
 I heard many stories of money and resources being misdirected from the needs of everyday Palestinians to individuals in power or their loyalists.  In “our culture” going to jail (an Israeli “college”!) is a shameful event. But in others jail time is a mark of manhood critical to joining the leadership of the culture. There is the Tacitus Roman idea that “he who fights and runs away lives to fight another day”. This can be contrasted with the Emiliano Zapata’s concept of, “better to die on your feet than to live on your knees” and the Israeli, Meir Feinstein’s “it is better to die with a weapon in hand than to live with hands raised.”

The Military Occupation’s dedevelopment:  Travel in or out of Palestinian is controlled by the Israeli military requiring passes which often take weeks (or denied). Travel within Palestine can be blocked for 15 minutes or two hours. The unpredictability negatively affects education and commerce.

I spent a day on a field trip with my Al Basma Center from Bethlehem through Ubeidya and Eizariya to Jericho and back. We had to pass through two (going and coming) Israeli military check points (the Arabs call them “containers” manned by uniformed, heavily armed Israeli soldiers.  These check points are within the West Bank. They are not border check points; therefore, those living (or as they would say, “Imprisoned”) in the West Bank call it a military occupation.

Here’s a photo I took of the “booming” Hebron Market. You may ask, “why the cyclone fencing above the street”. And, “what is in the bulge”? The answer is the fencing was put up by the Arab merchants. Why, to keep all the garbage being thrown on the market store fronts by the Zionist “settlers” living above.

Figure 11. Hebron Market, 2007


Many vocational and educational institutions rely primarily on the tourist trade of the largess of “friends.”  The outcome of this model is an unpredictable cash flow with all the corollary ramifications, e.g. having to go to a donor on the spot literally waiting for her to take money from her purse.

Daily, I walked past neglected and half empty olive orchards filled with debris. I saw empty palatial stone villas with the owner’s copper sulfate blue tarp-covered cars still in the driveway. The homes were owned by Christians who chose to abandon rather than sell their houses to Muslims. I worked with agencies whose primary source of income was focused on the unpredictable tourist trade. I saw huge swathes of the best land walled off by some of the Churches.

Who is the enemy? In this Middle Eastern womb tensions between the Abrahamic three faiths and the two nations struggle inside her. There are extremists on both sides constantly blaming the other side with broadsides and barrages of generalizations: all the Jews…all the Arabs. There is a two-thirds silent majority trying to live their day-to-day lives and a one-sixth doing what they can do to make their society stronger. It is the one-sixth fanatics of both populations which are keeping the peace process from moving forward toward justice for both nations. I believe there are totalitarian Arab regimes in the greater Middle East and the American Israeli lobby here in the USA who are keeping the Israeli-Palestinian pot boiling for their own benefits and fears. Both Israel and Palestine are victims of the repeated tactic of fueling animosity among indigenous peoples by purposely favoring one over the other to provoke fear or envy weakening them both as was seen in India by Britain-Muslim and Hindu; and with the Hutu and Tutsi in Rwanda by Belgium.


Israel. In many ways Israel has been a good neighbor: opening her medical centers and allowing the development of universities to name a few. Further, I am not saying Israel has no reason to be wary. Quoting Lew (2003, p 49) “Israel was attacked first, in 1948, 1967, 1973 and in each of the recent Intifadas. They want acknowledgement that they only took the lands from which they were attacked during these conflicts, and offered to return them on one and only one condition-the acknowledgement of their right to exist. And they want acknowledgement that there are many in the Palestinian camp who truly wish to destroy them, who have used the language of peace as a ploy to buy time until they have the capacity to liquidate Israel and the Jews once and for all. They want acknowledgement that they have suffered immensely from terrorism, that a people who lost six million innocents scarcely 70 years ago should not have had to endure the murder of its innocent men, women and children so soon again. And they want acknowledgement that in spite of all this, they stood at Camp David prepared to offer the Palestinians everything they claimed to have wanted – full statehood, a capital in East Jerusalem – and the response of the Palestinians was the second Intifada, a murderous campaign of terror and suicide bombings.”  

Palestine. Neither Fatah nor Hamas always have the People’s best interests at heart. The Palestinians would like the world to acknowledge that they lived in the land now called Israel for centuries that they planted olive trees, shepherded flocks, and raised families there for hundreds of years. They would like the world to acknowledge that when they look up from their villages, their trees and their flowers, their fields and their flocks, they see the horrific, uninvited monolith of western culture-immense apartment complexes, shopping centers and industrial plants on the once-bare and rocky hills where the voice of God could be heard and where Muhammad ascended to heaven. And they would like the world to acknowledge that it was essentially a European problem that was plopped into their laps at the end of the last Great War, not of their own making. And they would like the world to acknowledge that there has always been a kind of arrogance attached to this problem, that it was as if the United States and England told them: Here are the Jews, get used to them. And they would like the world to acknowledge that it has been a great indignity, not to mention a significant hardship, to have been an occupied people for so long, to have to submit to strip searches on the way to work, and intimidation on the way to the grocery store, and the constant humiliation of being subject – a humiliation rendered nearly bottomless when Israel, with the benefit of the considerable intellectual and economic resources of world Jewry, made the desert bloom, in a way that had never been able to do. And they would like the world to acknowledge that there are those in Israel who are determined never to grant them independence, who have used language of peace as a ploy to fill the West Bank with settlement after settlement until the facts on the ground are such that an independent Palestinian state on the West Bank is an impossibility. They would like the world to acknowledge that there is no such thing as a gentle occupation -that occupation corrodes the humanity of the occupier and makes the occupied vulnerable to brutality.”

Rabbi Alan Lew, 2003 in This is Real and You are Completely Unprepared.  


Published in: on September 1, 2010 at 7:40 pm  Comments (1)  

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  1. “in the West Bank of Palestine” – I think you should use “Living and Working in the Palestinian Authority (West Bank)”.

    1. As of now and when you were there, there is no country or state called Palestine. So until a state is declared it is still the Palestinian Authority (West Bank).

    2. The term “West Bank” was “invented” by the Jordanians in 1949 when they annexed (illegally) this territory thus calling it the West Bank of Jordan with Jordan as we know it today being the East Bank. The “Banks” are of the Jordan River. So there is really no West Bank of Palestine nor geographically can there be.

    “Israel was a land without people for a people without a land”. The expression is “a land without a People for a People without a land”. The letter “a” appears before the word “People” (capital P) since the word refers to “Nation” and not population. In the 1800’s the region was under Ottoman rule and the was no “Nation” living on the land. The population there was made up of tribes, clans, and nomads. The Jews were and are a nation (common history/heritage, common religion, common language being Hebrew, common connection to the Land of Israel) for over 3000 years. For sure in the 1800’s there was no Palestinian Nation.

    Why do you write “Israel was a villain”? Perhaps ” Israel was portrayed as a villain”

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