“Yes, sure,” I replied. We walked deeper into the library as he banged his Swiss black and red backpack against every corner, table and pole. I could see and feel studious faces raised from their books, stare at us in curiosity and disdain for our disruption.
“This looks like a quiet place, let’s go somewhere else.” We left the library and started walking towards a packed food court.
“Are… are you hungry? Do you want something to eat?” He stuttered, but I politely declined. “Oh no, it is too noisy here. We can’t sit here. Too loud. Too many people.”
“Yeah.” I didn’t know how to respond so I just continued to follow him. He mumbled a good bit so it took me a little longer to process what he was saying than it would normally take. We approached a quiet room, what I could only assume was a faculty and staff dining hall. At the entrance to the dining hall we were stopped, but Dr. Arnon had a word with the dining room attendant and we were let in.
“Can I get you anything?” He still hadn’t made eye contact with me and I was feeling a bit awkward about it.
“No, I’m okay. I just ate,” I responded.
He dropped his backpack on a seat and walked away. I sat across from his chosen seat and waited for him. I must have looked like a crazy person because I started to giggle to myself. How did he just leave his book bag with a total stranger? What if I was less than moral and stole something from his book bag? Would I be able to get away with leaving my book bag just sitting there? In a country where everyone gets their bags searched before entering most buildings, I find it funny that people think it relatively safe to leave their belongings unattended or attended by someone they really don’t know.
Subject: Meeting Wednesday 10 am
Let’s meet at the library at the university at 11 am on Wednesday.
I assumed he meant the University of Haifa, but were we meeting at 11 or 10 a.m.? A part of me felt that he might have done this intentionally. Maybe he just never wanted to meet with me to begin with. I couldn’t help but feel as if it was deliberate. As if I had been set up to fail or waste my time waiting for someone who would just conveniently tell me that whatever time I was there to meet him was wrong. Do I get there by 10 or 11? I was supposed to leave and go up to the university with Dareer, since she needed to get a copy of her transcript. Dareer and I agreed the night before, when I was too careless to realize there were two different meeting times, that I had to be there by 11. It was already too late to change plans on her since we had already missed the bus we needed to take if we wanted to make it by 10.
As much as I hated it and worried someone would overhear me, I called him. Dialing his number, I wondered what his voice sounded like. I was nervous, and I think it showed in the crackling of my voice. I wanted to hang up, not talk to him at all, crawl into my bed and forget why I even came here, forget about my research, forget about it all. A phone call should not cause this much anxiety, but there I was, makeup on,
million. When Israel was created the Russians and Polish planted all the trees, oaks and trees that need a lot of water with no concern for water resources. Fifty years ago the population was 60,000 Jews and 150,000 Arabs in the 80s we had 3 million people with a surplus but from the 70s on the surplus was due to water pumps…”
I have heard rumours and people talking about books that say that when Jews came to the Holy Land they planted trees and wanted to make it green, but does that mean that in attempt to make it green, the country, in the long run, just became dry? Ironic, at best. What was a mcm? If he had taken a breath in between his eating, lip-smacking and talking I would ask, but he kept on speaking and I kept on trying to keep up.
“One of the measure in the urban sector is people pay for desalination and make food more costly. Energy alone can add three shekels on the price of food. There are longer periods between rain and not just the amount of rain but how it is distributed timeline wise.” He took a break; the pause I had been waiting for to ask another question and attempt to redirect the conversation.
Dear Dr. Arnon
By Hebatullah Issa
Dear Dr. Arnon:
How are you? I hope this email finds you well. I received your email address from the colleagues at your organization. I was hoping you could spare some of your time to speak with me about my thesis concerning the water shortage in Israel/Palestine and its effects on people’s lives. I would really appreciate your time and look forward to speaking with you.
“There are claims in the West Bank that the rivers have not dried up due to climate change, but that the rivers are being rerouted to serve Israeli citizens.”
“There are no rivers in the West Bank, there are streams. Yarkon flow from springs of water aquifer. Only few springs in the West Bank have flowed. The bigger is the Uja spring that is 8-9 cubic meters. We see no trend of climate change. North has reduced rain, there is land in 30-40 years unvegetated with not a lot of trees…” He went on speaking and I went on writing, but I was confused. I didn’t realise until I got home to my grandmother’s house and looked it up that Yarkon was the Uja, but if Yarkon is a river then isn’t Uja a river too? Was there another Uja stream? I searched for hours looking for a map to try and settle the differences, but I couldn’t find anything. The closest I came to finding a map of the entire Yarkon/Uja River or to see if there was an Uja stream separate from the river he spoke about the map was conveniently cut off before it reached the West Bank. I thought I had been keeping up, but only when I got home to research some of the things he said did I feel so utterly confused. I went into this interview having an idea of the water issues and a decent grasp on geography and I was leaving the interview more confused than I had ever been, unsure of what I had written down, despite writing down his words, word-for-word.
He continued, “I can’t say it is just one factor. There might be a reason. In Uja it is more complicated. You know what an aquifer is?” I nodded my head. “There are layers of an aquifer. Drilling from deeper level doesn’t affect top level and middle is impermeable. Nothing is 100% impermeable. In the long run in the summer the water level is lower because there is no watershed to support it. But winter same amount as spring. We cannot prove it because there is not enough data but we think this is the explanation. There is a shortage for sure in the Uja village with the demographic and unfair allocation, but I don’t think settlements.”
The interview went on and I asked, “How much does the average person know about water issues here?”
“Most Israelis don’t know exact numbers of how much they use. Prices went up and then people were more aware. Agriculture can’t pay desalination plant prices and urban sector doesn’t want to subsidize. Farmer prices went up. Average cost of water went up. Agriculture pays 15 shekels per cubic meter. We can use water three times. We use drinking water to flush toilet. We can take grey water that comes from showers and laundry to use in toilets. It is forbidden to use grey water. The ministry of health is the main obstacle. How to say… I think you say outburst. They fear outburst of disease.”
“Are there health risks with using grey water? Why is it banned?” I attempted to stay with his train of thought.
“Eight million Americans use grey water and there has been only one incident of disease.“
“So how do you avoid that incident?”
“We can make inspectors to check it. I’m not sure it will be much cheaper, but it will be more sustainable than overdrawing rivers. The Jordan River is almost dying, less than 3% gone. Other measures, government should plan to subsidize and encourage people to save water. We can plant our gardens to be more climate adaptive to save water.”
“How much water does the average Israeli use?” I wondered out loud.
“Average user in the urban sector in 2007, 107 mcmــ mostly domestic and municipal. Only domestic 65 mcm, quite low compared to the Western World. Later when I went to check and see what the American water use rates were, four out of ten results to a Google search for “Average American mcm water use” had to do with Israel and didn’t even mention America. Eventually I found out from the Water Information Project that the average American uses 176
I could have sworn my eyes used to be darker. Why am I trying to fool myself? We don’t live in an age of miracles anymore; I’m not going to make it to Tel Aviv in time. I couldn’t even fool myself into attempting to fool myself into positive thinking. I began to fill in my eyeliner; I might as well finish what I started.
My four-year-old cousin walked into my room. He must have woken up early and was looking for someone to keep him company. His big blue eyes stared at me and he asked, “What are you doing?”
“I’m putting on my makeup,” I replied.
“Why?” He is just so curious.
“So I can look pretty.”
“But you’re already pretty, Heba.”
My heart melted as he stood there staring at me with his hands folded behind his back, wearing his Buzz Lightyear pyjamas. I reached over and began to mess up his hair.
“Stop, Heba.” He reached his hands up to my head to push me off as he bit his lower lip. My inability to let go of such a sweet child came over me and I scooped him up into my lap and tickled his tummy, as he laughed and screamed. I didn’t care who woke up from the noise; we were having a moment. I wish everyone saw me the way Almaas did.
But the moment came to an end. I knew I wasn’t going to make it to Tel Aviv in time. The bus up the street that goes to the train station and the main bus terminal comes every twenty minutes. Then the bus ride to the bus terminal takes about forty-five minutes, depending on traffic. If I were the luckiest person in the world, I would have made it to Tel Aviv at 11 a.m., but unless Dr. Arnon’s office was right in front of the bus station, I wouldn’t make it in time. I contemplated sending him an email asking if we could push back the meeting time, but I had a feeling he wouldn’t reply back in time.
So I emailed him asking if we could meet another time. After a week of attempting to coordinate schedules and meeting times, with a few days between of no interaction at all, we figured out when we would meet. Or so I thought.
He came back with a plate of food and put it down on the table. He pulled up his blue and yellow striped sweater to expose his green and grey plaid dress shirt underneath. His hair was messy and he bore a resemblance to my Aunt Yasmeen’s husband, just a lot less fashion coordinated. As Dr. Arnon sat down, with his eyes still looking down, he reached for the bread on his plate and began dipping it into the hummus with his right hand, while with his left hand he checked his phone. He started huffing and puffing, “These people at this conference are crazy. The conference is months away but they want a detailed manuscript of what I am going to talk about. Crazy.” He angrily put down his phone and put the hummus covered pita bread in his mouth.
I smiled awkwardly and didn’t know how to react to his statement. And then the lipsmacking began as he ate with his mouth open, making every molecule of moisture in his mouth to be heard. It was as if we were moving in slow motion, and yet I felt so rushed. Was I just supposed to attempt a serious interview with him as I stared at his food being churned in this mouth? How was I supposed to concentrate on an interview when I was concentrating every muscle in my body to keep myself from sticking my pen in my ear to stab my eardrum and deafen the lip smacking? I grabbed onto my pen really tightly and slid the notebook I had put on the table earlier to take notes, into my lap. Did no one ever teach him to eat with his mouth closed?
“So, why don’t you tell me a little about your education and what your role is at your organization?” I said with an awkward smile, trying to hide my distaste for the situation.
“I got a PhD in Physical Geography and Hydrology with a focus on Water Filtration, a Master’s from the University of Haifa in Physical Geography and a Bachelor of Science in Biology… I’m the Deputy Manager of the Israeli office. I guess I am the water expert in the office. I write position papers on water economy.”
He had yet to look me in the eye, and I kept grabbing my pen furiously, writing for dear life in my notebook in my lap. I wished the lip smacking would stop, but I think it had gotten worse as he began to speak. Although unable to actually look me in the eye, I could see him trying to stretch his reach over the table to see what I was writing. I feel uncomfortable with people trying to read what I’m writing in my notebook, I even feel uncomfortable writing in my notebook when someone is sitting close enough to me to look over and read what I wrote. I’m sure that is just paranoia on my part, but sometimes when I sit close enough to people, I look and see what they had written in their notebooks. So maybe other people do it too?
“Could you give me a brief overview of the water shortage here?” I asked.
“Overall, the water balance per year that comes from the Kineret River and recharged to aquifers is 1.5-1.6-1.8 billion cubic meters that is to be split amongst 10 million people.” I could see this is what he felt the most comfortable talking about because I couldn’t get him to stop talking, but his social inability caused him to mumble his words and talk in scattered bullet points, expressionless. “In 1991-92 all reservoirs were filled and overflow, but in the long run we saw a decline in water levels. The overflow was due to the reuse of water in agriculture in the 80s. Now 75% of sewage water is treated and recycled, or excuse me, reused in agriculturee 350-400 mcm per year. In the 70s and 80s we had 1.6 billion mcm freshwater, now: 500
“We are speaking in Arabic. What are we speaking?” He got defensive and Dareer’s words tapered off into an abyss of unheard frustrations; going from a soft voice to a twisting mumble of a whisper.
“Alright, thank you uncle,” I said.
As Dareer and I turned away, she grabbed my arm and asked, “Are we forgetting Arabic?” By we, I knew she meant Arab-Israelis, Palestinians living in Israel, 1948 Palestinians, ’48 Arabs, whatever and however we are being labelled at the moment, by any given group.
I looked her in the eye and wanted to respond, but the look of shock on her face was disturbed by an inquiring voice, “Heba?”
I went over to shake his hand, “Nice to meet you. Thank you for meeting with me.” Firm handshake, but no eye contact at all. I looked over at Dareer and she mouthed to me that she would talk to me later and said to call her when I was done. I wanted to ask Dr. Arnon how he knew it was me, but I didn’t think it was appropriate. His accent didn’t sound like a stereotypical Israeli accent. It felt a bit muddled, as if he could speak another language other than Hebrew and it somehow affected his Israeli-English accent.
“Do you want to sit down to talk?”
gallons of water per day. It was difficult for me to compare water use from his statistics as I figure mcm mean ‘million cubic meter.’ However, I am not surprised that Americans probably use more water than most of the world’s inhabitants and from my short time in the West Bank; I think that Palestinians use even less water than the average Israeli.
Dr. Arnon seemed rushed; he kept checking his phone to look at the time. So I started to speak more quickly when I asked my next question, “Does drilling wells affect the main water supply in any way or hurt the environment?”
“No!” he yelled. “You can’t!” he yelled again. I could see the other people in the room turn and look at us. Why did he yell? Did he think I was going to pull a drill out of my purse and start drilling for water at will? Why did he get so touchy? Why does everyone get so touchy when it comes to water? I understand it is mandatory to live, but how is being sensitive and yelling going to resolve any unresolved water issues. I immediately sat back in my seat, as if to try and take a step back from him. I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. His voice came down to a normal volume, although I don’t think he realized he yelled at me and he said calmly, “You can’t. It has to be researched and you have to check the permeability of the land... I only have a few more minutes.”
“Ok, just one more question. Can water talks help the reconciliation of communities?”
“Settlements use water like there is no problem. We have a seven-year drought. As for claims made that the water is being redirected to the Negev Desert, I don’t know. I’d like to see the studies,” he said.
Wait, did I even mention the Negev Desert? Where did that come from?
“Air pollution is a big problem and more. The Eastern Aquifer, 97% is discharged to the settlements, but it should be 95% going to the Palestinians. We have to separate hydrology from the political question. Palestinians don’t do enough. They have to treat the water. They don’t reuse water. Farmers and shepherds do illegal connections to pipes to use water and waters doesn’t get to places it should. I don’t blame them. No one is taking control and everyone is blaming each other. You have the right to say you need more water, but you have to show you do the best to utilize your sources. Palestine, the West Bank is the Wild West and under occupation. For many years settlements treat sewage.”
My trip to the Holy Land, Palestine, Israel, was coming to a close. I had only a few days left before I went back to America, and this was the first statement that I felt offended by. I know he didn’t mean it to be offensive and I can’t quite put my finger on what exactly made it sound so awful to me, but I jumped in my seat a bit and asked him, “One more question, do these farmers even know anything about treating water? Are there classes to teach them about treating sewage water? How much does it cost to treat water?” I realised I asked more than one question, but I was calm and smiled. I tried extra hard not to sound defensive, but in my head I kept thinking how can we expect people to treat water when they don’t have water to treat? Or if they don’t know how to treat it? I’m sure treating water is not cheap and these people he was talking about barely feed their kids and many don’t have college educations. If no one teaches you about treating water, how can you be blamed for not treating your water? It’s like being set up to fail.
This time I felt he was taken aback by my response. I could hear in his voice that maybe even he didn’t realize that what he said could be seen as offensive. Maybe he didn’t even think that statement through. His facial expression looked less confident, as he said, “I’m sure if there were education and classes that more people would treat their sewage water. Right now many of them don’t know that they can treat it or how to treat it. People are afraid that treated water is not as healthy. If the treatment plan is used properly, there are no health problems. Savings on water and fertilizer in treatment influence. If done properly there is no problem. There is always a risk, but risk is minimal.”
It was the softest his voice had ever been through out the interview. I felt a tinge of upsetting acid in my stomach that after I asked the questions about treating sewage water he only said “people,” he didn’t say “Palestinians.” I felt like when placing blame or stating an accusation it was ok to label them/me/us as Palestinians, but when realizing that said accusation wasn’t entirely true or thought out, we don’t get the label, the proper retraction. But a part of me wondered if it was better to be labelled as ‘people’ instead of ‘Palestinian.’ Maybe ‘people’ is more humanizing than ‘Palestinian?’ And that thought made me even sadder and for some inexplicable reason, I felt gipped.
He stood up and started to put his book bag on. I stood up smiling through the mental anguish, and thanked him for his time. We exchanged a firm handshake and he quickly walked out of the room, leaving his tray of food on the table. I slowly gathered my things. I was moving slower than usual, I was trying to process all that had happened. As I was about to walk out of the room an employee stopped me and spoke to me in Hebrew. From his hand gestures I think he was trying to tell me something about putting away the tray Dr. Arnon had left, although I could be sure. I just stared at him and said, “I’m sorry, I don’t understand.” He walked away and so did I.
barely squeezed into my black skirt and bright pink shirtــ an outfit that used to be quite loose on me, but with my grandmother’s demand to make all food as salty and as fatty as possible, it was tight, a source of anxiety and rejection. I felt rejected by my own clothes, inanimate objects, I couldn’t bear to listen to Dr. Arnon snub me. But I held on the line as the phone rang and rang and rang. I almost felt relieved that he wasn’t picking up, but then he picked up and my heart dropped.
“Hello,” he said coldly.
“Um hello, is this Dr. Arnon?” I could scold myself for not sounding confident enough. No wonder no one takes me seriously.
“Yes,” he said. Still cold.
“This is Heba, how are you?” There was a silence, he didn’t respond. “Hello, Dr. Arnon, are you there?”
“I just wanted to know are we still meeting at 11?” I was so unsure about whether or not 11 was even the correct time to mention.
“Okay, I will see you then.”
“Bye,” his voice faded off and he hung up.
I thought I would have felt more anxious, more rejected, but instead I realized he was probably just as awkward as I was. Maybe he was insecure in his English skills in the same way I was insecure about… everything. Maybe he didn’t like phone conversations. Maybe he was nervous about meeting me. Maybe, maybe it will be okay.
I stood at the entrance of the library at the University of Haifa with my cousin Dareer. Dareer started talking in Arabic to the man sitting at the security desk, “Do you know a Dr. Arnon? She is supposed to meet him,” Dareer said.
“No, I don’t. Are you supposed to meet him at the ______?” he said in Arabic as he inserted a word in Hebrew.
“I think he just said at the entrance of the library,” Dareer responded as I observed.
“Yes, at the entrance,” I interjected. “Is there another entrance? I just want to make sure I’m in the right place.”
“There’s only one entrance. If he said _____ then he will probably be waiting _____ or _____,” again inserting words in Hebrew that I didn’t understand.
“Sorry uncle,” Dareer said softly. “She only speaks Arabic, she doesn’t speak Hebrew.”
Thank you for your time, Heba
I always wonder what people are doing when they get emails and why they answer them when they do? Do they check their emails frequently during the day but put off answering until it is a convenient time? Do they only check their email once? Do they thoroughly read through the emails before responding? Do they have their emails sent to their smartphones? Are smartphones as popular in Israel as they are in America? I remember when I first got a smartphone, I thought it would be so convenient to have my emails sent to my phoneــ I could keep in touch in more ways than one in just a press of a button. It turned out to be a great cause of anxietyــ everyone wanting an answer from me right away. I suppose I’m no better; I too suffer from the ‘Google Effect,’ I don’t like waiting for answers either. I need information instantly. But I wonder if everyone feels the stress of emails like I do. Does anyone else feel their sanity stretched thin by a world in need of instant answers? I wondered what Dr. Arnon was doing when he received my email. Did he even get it? I never really trust the internet and I feel the compulsive need to check my “Sent” folder to see if it actually went through and then I read the email over at least twenty times to make sure I worded everything as best I could. Even if the email is just a sentence long, I have to read it over and over again to make sure I said everything right. Does Dr. Arnon do the same thing? Does he read his emails over and over again? Was Dr. Arnon ignoring my email? Was he busy?
I waited two weeks and got no response from him. I was starting to get worried; he was integral to my research, to my understanding of the water crisis, of what I had seen in the West Bank. I emailed him and his organization a few more times; I was worried I was being annoying, but didn’t know what else to do. I considered looking up the phone number to his organization and calling their office, but I was worried that my family would overhear the conversation, overhear his voice and ask me if I was speaking to a man. God forbid I spoke to a man about academic research. God forbid I even knew men exist. I always feel very self-conscious interacting with the opposite sex in front of my family. I always worry that any of my body movements or facial expressions will be interpreted as my flirting with them. God forbid I ever flirted with a man. I even worry when I spend what is considered “too much time” on the internet, or if I type too quickly; my family becomes nosey and want to know who I am talking to and what we are talking about. I’m not even sure I’m allowed to speak to men; I just avoid having to be in that situation when I am with family. But I finally received an email response and could put phone call worries to a minor rest.
I was preoccupied with other projects. Can we meet tomorrow at 11 am in TA.
TA, what’s TA? I thought about it for a few minutes… TA? TA?... oh Tel Aviv. I later asked my cousin Dareer, a recent law graduate of the University of Haifa, if she had ever seen anyone refer to Tel Aviv as TA. She looked at me confused, shook her head and said, “no.”
Dr. Arnon must have sent the email after I had gone to bed because when I work up the next morning the email was in my inbox. I had sat in front of my aunt’s laptop all day for two weeks waiting for that email and received it only when I walked away.
Yes, I woke up relatively early, 8 a.m., but it wasn’t enough time for me to get to Tel Aviv. My aunt Fadwa had told me there is an express train that goes from Haifa to Tel Aviv, but I’m slow at getting ready and Fadwa wasn’t around to drive me to the train station. She has an exhausting life of her own and I did not want to burden her.
I knew that if I went to Tel Aviv I had to get dressed up and wear my makeup. I’ve been to interviews and gone into shops without my makeup on, and I have noticed that people treat me differently when I’m done up. If I go out without makeup people are not as nice to me, if they’re nice at all. I asked my mother once when I was younger why she insisted on wearing makeup before leaving the house. She told me I would understand when I got older. I got older and I understood.
I slowly and quietly left the laptop on the coffee table in the living room of my grandmother’s apartment, snuck around the foldout couch where my aunt Yasmeen and cousin Almaas were sleeping, opened the balcony door, and walked across my grandmother’s balcony and across the overpass that bridges my Uncle Burhan’s apartment and my grandmother’s. I tiptoed into my uncle’s apartment, as to not wake him, not that I think he would ever wake before 3 p.m., and into my room, adjacent to Burhan’s room.
I closed the door behind me, but I didn’t pull hard enough, so it opened up just a bit. I slept in the missile safe room. Every apartment in the building had a missile safe room, and the doors were much heavier and more difficult to lock than doors to the other bedrooms in the apartment. I didn’t get the missile safe room because I was special or anything of the sort; it just happens that the missile proof room is smaller, and considering my uncle is 6’3’’ and pushing 500 lbs, he understandably occupies the bigger room.
I grabbed my makeup bag off my bedside table. I can make it. If I push myself to rush, I can make it. Then I put my makeup bag back downــ no, no, no. It is way too tiny of a time crunch. I once again picked up my makeup bag, pulled my mirror out and stood it up on the bed. I sat down on the floor at eye-level with the mirror. Maybe just maybe in the land of the holy, I can somehow miraculously make it to Tel Aviv. I stared at myself in the mirror while I instinctually reached for my eyeliner pen. I began to line my eyes with the first eyeliner pencil, one step in the multi-step process it takes to line my eyes to perfection. I outlined the shape of my eyes leaving a little hint of skin in between my lashes and my liner. I was about to reach for the next step, the eyeliner liquid pen, to fill in the space left between the liner and the lashes when I inched closer to the mirror, really looking at the colour of my eyes.