Sometimes it takes people from around the world to let you know what's happening 60 kilometers away from your home. Tonight they are on my balcony. The candle flames are struggling against the wind from the fan, schnitzels are brought in from the kitchen and a song by Johnny Cash is being played on the guitar. There's someone from South Africa, someone from France, someone from Sweden, someone from California and even someone from the exotic Aland islands.
In a way, though, they are all from Nablus.
I've visited Nablus during the happy-go-lucky peace-process Nineties. It is a pretty city nestled dramatically between two steep mountains, renowned for its sweets, its serpentine market and its unique community of Samaritans.
Since the start of the second Intifada Israelis are not allowed to visit Nablus or any other Major Palestinian city legally. The exception is the heart of Hebron, which was completely overtaken by 600 Israeli settlers and is therefore treated by the government as a de-facto Israeli neighborhood. It is in Hebron that I met the South African member of the party, one of the kindest and most inspiring people I've ever met, as well as other volunteers working with the Jerusalem based International Solidarity Movement. A friendship was formed, a beautiful, normal friendship.
At the same time, it is also an important friendship. The media doesn't tell me what's happening in Nablus, and I need to know because being Israeli, I carry responsibility for the situation there. My guests tell of nightly incursions by the army. There's firing every night, they say. They tell of entire families taken hostage by the I.D.F. as buildings are occupied to make sniper positions. They tell of teenagers held blindfolded in cages at checkpoints, of houses demolished without a warrant, of a bomb that exploded 150 meters from their residence.
I paid for that bomb with my tax money. I pay for the occupation of Nablus, so I need to know these things, and Palestinians can't come and tell me about it. They can't travel to Israel nor even move freely between their towns. The volunteers came to Tal-Aviv to relax, visit my home and color up their diets, but also to share. They came following 5 weeks in hell without a trace of hatred towards me as an Israeli or the Hebrew-speaking city I live in. I'm grateful to them for seeing the complexities and staying sincere, gentle and attentive also when confronted with criticism, doubt and the common Israeli point of view by me and my friends.
I've another thing to be grateful for: They introduced me to the gorgeousness of Imogen Heap's music.
The lyrics are very secondary in this unique live feat of overdubbing, but listen to them and you'll find that they can be nearly as moving as the music, especially on a night like this. "leave all our hopelessnesses aside," she sings, "Just for a little while / Tears stop right here / I know we all had a bumpy ride / I'm secretly on your side."