National Lampoon's Palestinian Vacation
June 24, 2008 2:56 PM   Subscribe

Alright, Mefites, what did you do on your summer vacation? "Hit the pool a lot." "Sweated like hell." "Got through a lot of summer reading." ... "Went overseas and built a playground for children in a land not my own."

Metafilter's own Baby_Balrog, was awarded a fellowship from the Fund for Theological Education to build a playground for Bethlehem children in collaboration with Playgrounds for Palestine, and has been spending his summer doing exactly that, which has included getting EMT training from the Red Crescent. In his most recent entry in a blog definitely worth reading, he passes along video of him running from 2-chlorobenzalmalononitrile released to break up a march centered around a local border controversy.

(And, although it has nothing to do with the above, the guy has a good set of pipes.)
posted by WCityMike (16 comments total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: Poster's Request -- loup

That is an absolutely beautiful (and scary) way to spend a summer. Admiration blossoms and takes hold!
posted by batmonkey at 3:03 PM on June 24, 2008

balrog emailed me once to ask where i was playing, and then showed up just to meet me. i spent several hours with him at a meetup and enjoyed every minute. he is a talented musician, an entertaining raconteur, a compassionate young man living out his convictions - balrog is an all-round class act.
posted by quonsar at 3:14 PM on June 24, 2008 [2 favorites]

I'm glad to see you decided to post this to the blue, WCityMike. It's an engaging, well written blog.
posted by dersins at 3:17 PM on June 24, 2008

By the way, it was posted to projects because I remember thinking how great it was that he was doing this when I saw it. Y'all should really actually read that section of the site.

Thanks for pointing this out on the blue.
posted by sleepy pete at 3:34 PM on June 24, 2008

His missionary playground position is truly admirable.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:42 PM on June 24, 2008

I started checking out his blog yesterday after reading a terrific comment he made here about his experiences there.
posted by blasdelf at 4:02 PM on June 24, 2008

Good egg, GOOD EGG!
posted by Divine_Wino at 4:23 PM on June 24, 2008

Rock on. I was not happy with the MeTa outcome for this.
posted by nevercalm at 4:27 PM on June 24, 2008

Good on him. Score one for actions speaking louder than words (though his words are pretty great too).
posted by brain cloud at 6:05 PM on June 24, 2008

balrog is an all-round class act.

Stop it, Quonsar; people like disagreeing with you.
posted by davejay at 6:07 PM on June 24, 2008

Stop it, Quonsar; people like disagreeing with you.

And yet, when he says something like that, people sit up and notice because he's normally not that guy saying those things.
posted by FritoKAL at 6:36 PM on June 24, 2008

What quonsar does - often through sarcasm - is puncture windbags' windbags. When he's sincere it immediately shines through and yes, it is worth listening.

Beyond extending my admiration and respect to Nathan (Baby_Balrog), I would recommend actually following (RSS) his blog. He writes a mean word, and it will be interesting to follow future developments.

So long and good luck, Nathan!
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 6:59 PM on June 24, 2008

Thanks for posting this.
posted by yhbc at 7:08 PM on June 24, 2008

Bravo Baby_Balrog. Be safe.
posted by Cranberry at 10:20 PM on June 24, 2008

Heeey. :D How cool.

This project really developed out of my desire to do something to support Susan Abulhawa and her Playgrounds for Palestine - the organization is incredible and she is a courageous person.

Originally I was going to build the playground near the wall in Bethlehem, actually in Bet Jala - but the area recently got leveled and they started bringing in more settlement units so we decided to change locations (no point building something only to have it get bulldozed to make room for settlements).

It's really kind of amazing - the Israeli courts use an ancient law regarding "unused" land - if it lies vacant for a certain period they can, apparently, build on it. So now you see all these different NGOs (and there are many in the WB) scrambling around to "use" anything that might look vacant or abandoned. My friend goes to play kickball / bingo every Friday near an old school structure that is next to a settlement to prevent the bulldozers from claiming it.

There is a school complex that is being threatened by wall construction just north of Jenin (which is about as far north as you can go in the West Bank) and so people are up there trying to use the land. I decided to move the playground up there because there are a number of local contractors to choose from and the area is quite impoverished generally - with the wall cutting off access to 90% of their heritage farmland.

The West Bank is really small - it's difficult to imagine how small it really is until you drive across it in an afternoon... the "facts on the ground" - the settlements, roads, walls, barricades and checkpoints make it incredibly difficult to get around. Israel wants the world to look at the West Bank and think "Israelis live there." But in their rush to grab every possible hilltop they've left out so much of the infrastructure - for example, the settlements don't have proper sewage systems at all - they just drain directly into the valleys and create these disgusting rivers of sewage that flow right into Palestinian towns. It makes everyone here sick. And most of the settlers don't even really understand that they live in illegal land - they are, themselves, immigrants and they take private highways to and from their homes into Israel. Only a small percentage of them are violent religious extremists.

One of the most fascinating lessons I've learned is how brutally racist the U.S. media is regarding the Palestinians.

So far, every single Palestinian I've met has gone out of their way to do me some small kindness - most often feeding me but also offering me a place to stay or a ride somewhere - the cab drivers oftentimes won't even accept my money. They're just glad to see another international here - someone from outside this prison who can testify to the brutality of the occupation. Also - the culture here in Beit Sahour is so incredibly peaceful - most Palestinians have never held a gun - vs. the Israelis who all serve in the army and train with weapons regularly. Sometimes I think the sight of the weapons the soldiers carry is just as traumatic to the Palestinians as the threats from the soldiers themselves.

And they do threaten you. They want the people here to give up - to leave. Israel needs the West Bank - they need the water and the orchards, the land. They want to own it - but they can't afford to own the people. They can't let the Palestinians vote or have citizenship (this would cause Israel to have an Arab majority - I know, unheard of in a Middle Eastern country) - so they maintain this occupation. They'll probably maintain the occupation until all the Palestinians are dead or have fled. Then they'll have the West Bank. And that's why people call it ethnic cleansing. It's not too strong a term - it's exactly what is happening. I suppose it's a much more organized, legalistic form of ethnic cleansing, but they want these people (my friends) out of here. Out of their homes. And their primary weapons are the apartheid wall, the building restrictions, the settlements, the checkpoints and the curfews. (And also American Evangelical Christians and their Republican cohorts.) It's truly noxious.

Anyway - I'm rocking some pretty nasty gastroenteritis right now so I'm going to head down to the pharmacy and take another nap - but thanks for the note and please wish me luck - think positive thoughts in my direction. :)
posted by Baby_Balrog at 1:12 AM on June 25, 2008 [19 favorites]

Awesome post, cool to see people getting out and doing something to make the world a better place for everyone. Keep up the good work and stay safe BB. Look forward to keeping up with your blog.
posted by allkindsoftime at 1:33 AM on June 25, 2008

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