More September Events!

Friday, Sept. 22:
Palestine Writes Literature Festival Live-Streamed Session
From 12:30 pm CT to end of day
Some of you may have heard of the spectacular Palestine Writes Literature Festival being held this coming weekend at Penn State University. 
While this is primarily an in-person event, there will be livestreaming of the Friday opening session. You must register for that here. The livestream begins at registration, with the camera walking around the space and talking with people before the festival begins. There will be live translation to Arabic during the official opening sessions, including opening remarks, spoken word, first plenary, and more.

Also, you may be interested to know that the Festival has been subjected to a shameless and intense campaign by pro-Israel groups seeking to shut it down; you can read about that here.

Saturday, September 23:
Palestine Partners at the Northside Festival
1-5 pm 
Warner Park, 2920 N Sherman Ave Madison WI 53704
Palestine Partners will be tabling at the Northside Festival.  Come and purchase beautiful crafts from Women in Hebron and delicious Aida brand Palestinian olive oil from Playgrounds for Palestine.
Festival information here. Hope to see you there!

Cat Cafe to De-Stress Residents Opens in Gaza Strip

Owner hopes playing with felines will offer therapy to those scarred from the strip’s devastating wars and other hardships

Mehr Jan, American Muslim Today, Aug 21, 2023

Following the popularity of the global cat cafe trend, a cat cafe has opened up in the besieged Gaza Strip, allowing visitors to enjoy their beverages while hanging out and playing with cats. 

The Meow Cafe is run by 52-year-old Naema Mabed, who created the unique spot as a way for residents to escape the pressures of living in Gaza. 

She hopes visitors will be able to enjoy spending time with the cats while getting a chance to escape the territory’s troubles. 

“I have spent my life raising cats, and they’re a source of joy and quiet, a release of pressures,” Mabed told a , as cats roamed around her. 

Describing the feline interaction as a “global anti-depressant,” she encourages guests to take their drinks straight to the pet and play corner and hang out for as long as they want. Guests are able to interact with the 10 cats living there. 

Visitors have been reported to appreciate the ambiance, with some suggesting it does bring some sense of comfort, especially to those who don’t have pets at home. 

“The feeling, honestly, is that you just come to feel the psychological comfort of the cats. Everything is beautiful” said 23-year-old Eman Omar. 

In one survey of pet owners, it was determined that of participants stated that pets positively affected their mental health. 

While experts suggest felines do play a strong role in , psychologist Bahzad al-Akhras feels Mabed’s initiative is a haven for places like Gaza, offering therapy to those scarred from the strip’s devastating wars and other hardships 

“Any place that provides humans a kind of interaction with animals has a positive psychological impact,” al-Akhras said.


Upcoming Events: August 29 — October 16, 2023

Tuesday, August 29, 7 pm CT
Reparations and the Palestinian Right of Return as Teshuvah (Repentence) for the Nakba: An online talk by Peter Beinart

Organizers suggest you may want to read this article by Beinart in Jewish Currents before the talk.

Details and registration here. Part of a series sponsored by Reconstructionists Expanding the Conversation on Israel-Palestine.

Saturday, September 16, 7 pm CT
Sep 16: Bright Stars of Bethlehem’s Virtual Fundraising Gala

Monday, October 16, 12 noon – 1:05 pm
Arab Women’s Revolutionary Art: Between Singularities and Multitudes
Ingraham 206, UW-Madison

Profesor Nevine El Nossery will discuss her latest book in which she explores the ways women in the contemporary Middle East and North Africa have re-imagined revolutionary discourses through creativity and collective action as a means of resistance. More information here.

Searching for Saboun Nabulsi

The olive oil soap that connects Palestinian-Americans like me to home. For the diaspora community, this commodity has become a love letter, written in sun and air and earth.

The author’s mother holding a bar of Saboun Nabulsi. (Photo courtesy of the author)


In every small Middle Eastern store or international grocery we walk into at home in the San Francisco Bay Area or anywhere across the country, my mother and I search for Saboun Nabulsi. We weave through narrow aisles packed with cans of fava beans and jars of pickled eggplant, past the giant plastic tubs brimming with olives, the bags of pita bread spilling from the bottom shelves. If we are lucky, we find the most treasured import: the saboun (soap), wrapped in waxy white paper stamped with the fading red camel, blue barcode, the bright Arabic script that stretches across each side of the rough cube, always a tiny bit askew. We are careful shoppers, but for Saboun Nabulsi, we will pay almost any price.  

In the West Bank city of Nablus, a man who learned from his father, who learned from his father, mixes virgin olive oil pressed from local olive trees with water and an alkalizing sodium lye compound. He stirs it with a wooden paddle in a massive stainless-steel vat. Days later he and his team pour the thick boiling liquid into a large wooden frame spanning the factory floor. The mixture sets, and the men step across soap to mark a grid of lines across the top. They bend at the waist, cutting along the lines with a long wooden stick fitted with a sharp blade. They squat on the surface with embossing hammers, swiftly stamping the top of each cube, like xylophone players performing in a concert. They stand on stools to stack the soap in circular hollow towers so the air can circulate around each bar. The soap hardens and cures for weeks until being packaged, sent away.

Since the 10th Century, zaitoun — olive — has been transformed into these creamy bricks of castile soap. For the diaspora community, this commodity becomes a love letter, written in sun and air and earth, enveloped in history and ritual and resilience, traveling to us across great distances.

In my shower in California, I scrub the soap against a rough white cotton washcloth and move the towel across every limb, every birthmark, every scar. I have never set foot in the Palestinian territories in my 36 years, but the land and its people — my people — anoint my skin daily. Like eating my mother’s zaatar manoushe (flatbread) or knafeh Nabulsi (a cheese and phyllo dessert), this ritual physically connects my body with my roots. My mother has used Saboun Nabulsi since she was a child growing up in Damascus after her family fled Nablus in 1948. This bar of soap was their shampoo, their stain remover, their laundry detergent. She and her siblings would shred the soap into paper-thin shavings and place them into the small stainless-steel basin of their hand-wringer washing machine.

The suds are now her memories, seeping into my skin.

My mother has not returned to her ancestral home since 1967. I close my eyes and imagine her as a girl, 17 years old, sleeping on the bottom bunk at her boarding school in Ramallah waking to the thrum of engines. It is Monday, the beginning of final exams week, just days before her high school graduation. Outside, lines of yellow buses wait like convoys to take them all away. The Six-Day War has begun.

Inside a cotton pillowcase, she places her passport, pajamas, underwear, a change of clothes, slippers, a notepad. You don’t take much when you think you will one day return, she will tell me decades later. She takes the bus that heads north toward her grandparent’s house in Tulkarm, where her mother was staying to attend her graduation. They wait in the house, trying to decipher radio announcements over the static while their bodies rattle with each explosion cracking in the distance. After two days, soldiers arrive and herd them like livestock into maroon pick-up trucks. The trucks eventually stop in the middle of nowhere and dump them all on the side of the road. They walk for hours. They don’t eat for days. Dead bodies start to appear in the margins of the fields. Everywhere, stones stained in sweat and blood. They sleep in the damp soil under olive trees, using the tree limbs as pillows.

I see those same trees in the iconic 2005 image of the Palestinian woman in a bright pink cardigan embracing an olive tree — an image now embossed in our minds like a family photo. Two soldiers look down at her as she wraps her arms around the tree limbs, her eyes closed, her mouth open in a wail. She looks like she is losing a loved one. She is. Since 1967, Time reported in 2019, more than 800,000 olive trees in the West Bank have been uprooted, damaged, cut. From August 2020 to August 2021, more than 9,300 trees were destroyed in the West Bank, and Palestinians are being denied access to the groves they have cultivated for generations, the groves that form the basis of their economy, their livelihood, their cultural memory. Around 90 percent of the Palestinian olive harvest is used to make olive oil, with the rest used for table olives, pickles and soap.  

Palestinian Mahfoza Oude, 60, cries as she hugs one of her olive trees in the West BankPalestinian Mahfoza Oude, 60, cries as she hugs one of her olive trees in the West Bank village of Salem, 27 November 2005. Mahfoza and other villagers lost dozens of their olive trees after they were chopped down by Israeli settlers from the nearby Elon Morei settlement. (JAAFAR ASHTIYEH/AFP via Getty Images)

“If the Olive Trees knew the hands that planted them,” the late Palestinian national poet Mahmoud Darwish famously said, “their oil would become tears.” I stand under hot water after scrolling through more devastation, after absorbing news of another massacre, another explosion, another picture of a weeping family wrapping the body of their child in a white cotton sheet and carrying them to be buried. I clean the tears on my face with the tears of my people as the soap becomes smaller every day.  

My mother is 73 now. A wispy cloud of short white hair frames her angular face, her fair skin still smooth and tight except for the lines indenting the margins of her smile. If friends or strangers ask how her skin still looks so good “for her age,” they inevitably end up getting a history lesson as she talks about Saboun Nabulsi and proudly explains she is bint al Nakba, a daughter of the catastrophe. When each bar of soap dissolves to a sliver, she collects each fragment, places them into the cut-off foot of a pair of old pantyhose, and ties it shut. She will lather with this pebbled lump until nothing remains.  

In the late 19th century, almost 40 soap factories were in production in Nablus. After natural disasters, including a massive earthquake in the early 20th century, and multiple military incursions into the historic quarter, only two factories remain today.  

The dream of traveling with my mother to her homeland feels more implausible with every passing year, not only because of her age, but because I’m afraid. What if we are detained on arrival due to the absurd difficulty of entering the region? What if we encounter more heartache than my mother can hold in her body? For now, I will continue using Saboun Nabulsi as this ancient tradition perseveres. Under the water, with the soap in hand, the only barrier between me and our Palestinian home is the miles that separate us — and my skin.

Israel probes legality of US giving artifact to Palestinians

Heritage Minister Eliyahu, a religious ultranationalist now in charge of the Israel Antiquities Authority, denies the existence of a Palestinian people.

A 2,700-year-old ivory incense spoon, displayed at the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, Jan. 19, 2023. (AP Photo/ Maya Alleruzzo)

Ilan Ben Zion, Associated Press, February 3, 2023

BETHLEHEM, West Bank (AP) — An ivory spoon dating back 2,700 years that was recently repatriated to the Palestinian Authority from the United States has sparked a dispute with Israel’s new far-right government over the cultural heritage in the occupied West Bank.

The clash brings into focus the political sensitivities surrounding archaeology in the Middle East, where Israelis and Palestinians each use ancient artifacts to support their claims over the land.

Israel’s ultranationalist heritage minister has ordered officials to examine the legality of the U.S. government’s historic repatriation of the artifact to the Palestinians earlier this month, and is calling for annexing archaeology in the occupied West Bank.

The artifact — a cosmetic spoon made of ivory and believed to have been plundered from a site in the West Bank — was seized in late 2021 by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office as part of a deal with the New York billionaire hedge fund manager Michael Steinhardt.

It was one of 180 artifacts illegally looted and purchased by Steinhardt that he surrendered as part of an agreement to avoid prosecution.

American officials handed an artifact over to the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities on Jan. 5 in what the U.S. State Department’s Office of Palestinian Affairs said was “the first event of such repatriation” by the U.S. to the Palestinians.

Dozens of Steinhardt’s surrendered artifacts have already been repatriated to Italy, Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey, Jordan, Libya and Israel. This spoon was the first and only item ever to be repatriated to the Palestinians.

The repatriation coincided with the first weeks of Israel’s new government, which is composed of ultranationalists who see the West Bank as the biblical heartland of the Jewish people and inextricably linked to the state of Israel.

Heritage Minister Amihai Eliyahu’s office said last week that the legality of the repatriation “is being examined by the archaeology staff officer with the legal counsel, which will examine all aspects of the matter, including the Oslo Accords that the U.S. has signed.”

The case underscores how archaeology and cultural heritage are intertwined with the competing claims of the Israelis and Palestinians in the decades-long conflict.

“Any artifact that we know that it comes out illegally from Palestine, we have the right to have it back,” said Jihad Yassin, director general of excavations and museums in the Palestinian Tourism and Antiquities Ministry. “Each artifact says a story from the history of this land.”

The ministry is part of the Palestinian Authority, the government established as part of the Oslo Accords in the 1990s that exercises limited autonomy in parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Those agreements between Israel and the Palestinians were supposed to include coordination on a raft of issues, including archaeology and cultural heritage.

But the agreements have largely unraveled. Yassin said that the archaeology committee has not met in around two decades, and that there is virtually zero coordination between Israel and the Palestinians concerning antiquities theft prevention in the West Bank.

“We try to do our best to protect these archaeological sites, but we face difficulties,” he said.

Yassin said that around 60% of the West Bank’s archaeological sites are in territory under complete Israeli military control, and that his ministry’s theft prevention workers “manage to control in a high percentage the looting” in areas under Palestinian Authority control.

Nonetheless, many of the illicit artifacts that have made their way to Israel’s legal antiquities market were looted from the West Bank, he said.

According to court documents, Steinhardt bought the ivory cosmetic spoon in 2003 from Israeli antiquities dealer Gil Chaya for $6,000. The artifact had no provenance — paperwork detailing where it came from and how it had entered the dealer’s inventory — but Chaya said the object was from the West Bank town of El-Koum, which is under Palestinian Authority control.

Another artifact believed to have been looted from the same town, a “Red Carnelian Sun Fish amulet (that) dates to circa 600 B.C.E.,” remains missing, according to the DA’s office. Steinhardt has yet to locate the item, but if it is found, it will be repatriated to the Palestinians, the office said.

American authorities returned 28 objects to Israel last year, not including three that were seized in place at the Israel Museum of Jerusalem. Seven others meant to be returned to Israel have yet to be found. Several of the items returned to Israel are believed to have been looted from the West Bank.

The Israel Antiquities Authority declined comment on the artifact’s repatriation to the Palestinians.

Heritage Minister Eliyahu, a religious ultranationalist in Netanyahu’s government now in charge of the country’s Antiquities Authority, denies the existence of a Palestinian people.

Since taking office, he has accused the Palestinian Authority of committing “national terrorism” and “erasing heritage” at an archaeological site in a Palestinian-controlled area near the West Bank city of Nablus.

It remains unclear what impact, if any, a review by the ministry’s legal counsel could have. It appears unlikely Israel could confiscate the artifact from the Palestinians, but a legal opinion against the move could potentially complicate future repatriations.

Earlier this week, Eliyahu said he would be giving the Israel Antiquities Authority full control over archaeological sites, cultural heritage and theft prevention throughout the West Bank — a move that critics say would in effect apply Israeli law over occupied territory in breach of international law.

Currently, archaeological excavations and antiquities in the West Bank are managed by the Civil Administration’s archaeology staff officer, which is part of the Defense Ministry. Israel has not formally annexed the West Bank, and the territory is treated as occupied and is governed under military law.

“All heritage on both sides of the green line will earn full protection, at an international and scientific standard,” Eliyahu wrote in a Facebook post on Sunday. He said the state of Israel would “act in a uniform and professional manner from the (Mediterranean) sea to the Jordan.”

Alon Arad, director of Israeli cultural heritage non-governmental organization Emek Shaveh, said that putting the Israel Antiquities Authority in charge of archaeology in the occupied territory was “activating Israeli law in the West Bank, which means annexation.”

Eliyahu’s office declined repeated interview requests.

Yassin said that for the time being, the artifact will remain at the ministry, where it will be studied by one of its archaeologists. Then, he said, it will be displayed at one of the West Bank’s museums.

“It’s not the only one,” Yassin said. “It is the beginning.”

December 10, 2022
Cookie and Crafts Sale for Dar Al Kalima University Scholarships

9:00 AM – 12:00 Noon
Memorial United Church of Christ
5705 Lacy Rd, Fitchburg

This will be the 18th year of selling crafts and cookies to support a full-year scholarship to a student at Dar Al Kalima University of Arts and Culture in Bethlehem. We sell hand-made crafts made by the congregation, and Christmas cookies by the pound, too!

For more info contact Nancy Baumgardner at 608-320-0977.

Gaza’s olive harvest from farm to table

Widely regarded as the most blessed time of the year, Palestinian families in Gaza wait all year for the olive harvest season.

A Boy in the Shahin Family Helps His Family Pick Olives During the Olive Harvest Season in Gaza, October 2022. (Photo: Mohammed Salem)

Tareq S. Hajjaj, Mondoweiss, October 28, 2022

The Shahin family sits happily in a circle in their home, located in the Shuja’iyya neighborhood east of Gaza City. The house is warm and lively, and the smell of the meal inside the oven fills the whole room. Everyone can barely contain their excitement at tasting the season’s new olive oil. On the menu is musakhan, a traditional Palestinian dish utilizing the freshly harvested olive oil to make a layered dish of taboon bread, onions cooked in copious olive oil and sumac, and often topped with chicken.

Widely regarded as the most blessed time of the year, Palestinian families in Gaza wait all year for the olive harvest season. Starting in October, families prepare harvest tools, mats, plastic rolls, high ladders, and pails, venturing out in the early morning to visit their lands, finally able to pick the olives after an entire year tending to the trees. 

The Shahin family picking olives (Photo: Mohammed Salem)

Everyone in the Shahin family participates in the harvest, considered the most important season of the year. They spend weeks on end together, enjoying the olives, and the resulting fresh and thick green oil, as an accompaniment to their meals. “When I dip the first piece of bread into the oil we made, I feel all the effort we put into harvesting melting away,” Amr Shahin, 13, says from his family farm.

He is part of a group of teenagers participating in the harvest. As they continue to pick up olives from the ground, Hassan, 12, points his finger to his cousin Mahmoud, a year older.

“Take Mahmoud for instance,” says Hassan. “If he doesn’t have olive oil for a week, he will die!” They all snicker, coming down from their ladders to participate in the interview.

The Shahin family harvest their olive trees in Gaza, October 2022 (Photo: Mohammed Salem)

The olives go through a short process to be ready for consumption, either as pickled olives or as fresh-pressed oil. The family all joins together under the tree to carry out a designated task within the division of labor necessary for olive picking. 

Picking as a family tradition

The Shahin family owns eleven acres of land, home to three hundred olive trees. They work daily, from afternoon to sunset, taking advantage of the presence of the young boys after they get off from school to climb up the tall ladders and pick the olives from the top of the trees.

Their mothers wait for them to get back from school. They have their lunch at home quickly, then get to work. Mothers sit under the tree while the boys are up on the ladders, picking the olives and letting them fall down amid their mothers and sisters, who pick it up and separate the olives, dividing the green and black olives into separate bags. After harvesting, the olives are taken home in plastic bags. The family sells a few bags to their neighbors when they get back home.

The Shahin family harvest their olive trees in Gaza, October 2022 (Photo: Mohammed Salem)

The fastest way to prepare the olives for eating is to smash them with the flat side of a rock, without breaking the pits. Then the olives are mixed with salt and red pepper, and stored in containers for a week. After the curing period, the olives are ready.

And when the family judges the quantity it harvests to be enough, they send it over for pressing. 

Olives into oil

 Extracting the oil from the olives is a long process, entailing taking the olives through several stages in the ancient olive press factories in the Gaza Strip. 

Kishko olive press, al-Shuja’iyya, Gaza, October 2022 (Photo: Mohammed Salem)

Located among the farms east of al-Shuja’iyya, the Kishko Olive Press receives hundreds of people, who bring olives from their land in plump bags.

“This year the olive harvest is good, and when trees hold an extra amount of olives, the oil extracted becomes less than usual,” Salah Kishko, the owner of the press, tells Mondoweiss

According to Kishko, this year a gallon of olive oil — containing sixteen liters — would require over 150 kg worth of olives. During the previous season, it would only require 120 kg. The amount varies each year, says Kishko, depending on the season’s prevailing climate. The amount of olives that his press goes through daily numbers over three hundred tons, which explains the good season. 

Processing olives at the Kishko olive press in al-Shuja’iyya, Gaza, October 2022 (Photo: Mohammed Salem)

The first step of this process is dumping the olives into a steam machine, in which the olives are moved through a tiny steel conveyor belt to be cleaned as the steam drags the tree leaves and other impurities.

First stage of olive pressing at the Kishko olive press in al-Shuja’iyya, Gaza, October 2022 (Photo: Mohammed Salem)

The olives are cleaned and washed by water, and then transferred to another machine for mashing. The olives then are pressed, turning the olive into wet mush.

Washing olives at the Kishko olive press in al-Shuja’iyya, Gaza, October 2022 (Photo: Mohammed Salem)

This renders the green olives soft and ready for oil extraction. At the end of the machine, two young boys received the olive paste mixed with the pits on a canvas, who transfer it to the pressure machine.

Dozens of burlap sacks loaded with the smashed olives are lined up between the jaws of the press. The pressing continues for over an hour, during which time the pure oil leaks into a metal basin and then into a filter tube. When the pressing ends, the cores remain inside the ceramic circles, while the pure oil goes to purification.

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“You Can Be the Last Leaf” by Maya Abu Al-Hayyat

Maya Abu Al-Hayyat directs the Palestine Writing Workshop on the West Bank. She’ll read poems & be in conversation with poet Deema Shehabi.

    A Virtual Book Celebration!
    October 29, 2022, 1 PM CT
    Benefit for the Palestine Writing Workshop, Tickets $10
    RSVP and share!

Maya Abu Al-Hayyat is a Palestinian writer, storyteller, and mother based in occupied East Jerusalem. Each day she passes through Israeli checkpoints, like the infamous Qalandia checkpoint, to direct the Palestine Writing Workshop, one of MECA’s partner organizations. Maya and her team at the Palestine Writing Workshop have published award-winning Arabic children’s books and led hundreds of interactive workshops from Nablus to Silwan to Gaza for children, youth, librarians and parents on reading aloud, creative writing, and storytelling. Her work is grounded in the belief that art and literature can change lives and aims to improve Palestinian children’s literacy and also encourage their imaginations. She is a gifted storyteller who captures the attention of children of all ages (and adults too!). Maya also runs writing courses for former prisoners, helping them transform trauma into art.

She has published four collections of poems, four novels, and numerous children’s stories, including The Blue Pool of Questions. She contributed to and wrote a foreword for A Bird Is Not a Stone: An Anthology of Contemporary Palestinian Poetry, and she is an editor of The Book of Ramallah. Her work has appeared in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Cordite Poetry Review, The Guardian, and Literary Hub. Please join us to learn more about Maya’s work and life in Palestine!

Deema K. Shehabi is the author of Thirteen Departures From the Moon and co-editor with Beau Beausoleil of Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here, for which she received the Northern California Book Award’s NCBR Recognition Award. She co-authored Diaspo/Renga with Marilyn Hacker and won the 2018 Nazim Hikmet poetry competition. Her work has also appeared in Literary Imagination, the Kenyon Review, Literary Hub, Poetry London, and Crab Orchard, and has been translated into French, Farsi, and Arabic; she has been nominated for the Pushcart prize several times.

Cosponsored by Middle East Children’s Alliance and Sacramento Bethlehem Sister City. Info:, 510-548-0542.

PRAISE FOR “You Can Be The Last Leaf”

“The Palestinian poet’s U.S. debut gathers two decades of her intimate testimony about private life in a public war zone, where ‘those who win by killing fewer children / are losers.’”—New York Times

“Al-Hayyat’s latest devastating and courageous collection captures the precarious everyday lives of Palestinians with enormous empathy and glistening clarity . . . The vivid translations by Fady Joudah will jostle readers into discomfort and pin Al-Hayyat’s stunning voice into their ears.”—Booklist

“Abu Al-Hayyat explores the broader political and geographic aspects of Palestinian life under colonial rule while at the same time interweaving the quotidian aspects of life and loss in such settings. Within these frictions of exterior trauma and private contemplations, large constraints and small freedoms, these poems soar.”—Chicago Review of Books