food / travel

Couchsurfing In Palestine, Part 3: Death At The Door

Palestinian children playing in Jenin
Palestinian children playing in Jenin
Alex Correa

This is the third and final installment of a three-part series "Couchsurfing In Palestine." Read Part 1: Keeping Secrets and Part 2: Where Are You From?


I meet Saber in a cafeteria in central Jenin, just after noon. He welcomes me with a vigorous hug, the kind that people give to friends they haven't seen in years. Saber is one of Thawra's best friends, with a similar rebel spirit. With his tight shirt and short shorts, he says he feels like a stranger in his own town. But he also walks with the self-confidence of somebody who doesn't care about criticism.

That influence, visible in his clothing as well as in his attitude, comes mostly from Europe, which he visited very recently. Saber is one of the few Palestinians who is allowed to visit the Old Continent. After studying performing arts for four years at Jenin's Freedom Theater, he found small jobs on short films in Holland, where he lived for five months. His olive skin and short but dark hair made him stand out as an obvious stranger in the streets of Amsterdam. But at the same time, his lifestyle makes him a misfit in the town he was born. Saber secretly fears he'll never fit anywhere.

The Freedom Theater sits at the heart of Jenin's refugee camp. It was inaugurated in 2006, on the ruins on the Stone Theater, a similar project that was destroyed by a bomb during the Second Intifada, in 2002. The theater is now one of Palestine's main cultural initiative. Its goal is to ease culture back into local community life and to promote pacific and artistic resistance. On a shoestring budget, they create original productions and classic adaptations â€" of Animal Farm and Alice in Wonderland, for example â€" to the Palestinian context.

In 2008, the Freedom Theater company came to São Paulo to promote the movie Arna's Children. For Habeeb al-Raee, one of the company's actors, it was first visit to Brazil and indeed one of the first times he left Palestine. When I tell him I'm Brazilian, his eyes start to shine. He wants to move to Rio de Janeiro at the end of 2016 to be reunited with a Brazilian girl he met three months ago in Jenin. He talks about caipirinhas and feijoada, a Brazilian bean dish, with the passion of an exiled Brazilian. His eyes, and mine, fill with tears.

The previous night, the Freedom Theater held a gathering to show off the theater to the refugee camp community. It wasn't the first such event, and it won't be the last. Everybody knows the Freedom Theater is there, but the population sees art and culture in general with disdain. For teenagers especially, it's difficult to get support from their parents when they want to go to acting school. In one of their video campaigns, a child says his brother had wanted to become an actor, "but decided it'd be a lot more honorable to become a war martyr."

Twenty kilometers on a donkey's back

Saber asks me if I've got somewhere to sleep tonight. I tell him no, not yet, and so he immediately offers me to stay at his. The house he lives in with his brother and two nephews, in the ancient part of Jenin, is still under construction. They're doing everything by themselves.

Among the few pictures that decorate the house, there's one that's more than a meter high. It's a portrait of Saber's father, killed in 2002 as he was coming back home with breakfast. The town was under rigid Israeli command at the time, and doctors and ambulances were banned from rescuing Palestinians. The first aid instructions on the phone weren't enough to save his life.

The decoration in Saber's room is rustic, divided between wood and concrete. Tacked onto the ceiling is a Brazilian flag. Saber has never been there himself, but is a connoisseur of Brazilian cinema, dreams of visiting Rio and wants to learn Portuguese and Spanish soon. He tells me that it's difficult for Palestinian actors to find a role other than as a terrorist or refugee. "That's not the sort of career I want. If I speak other languages, I could pass for a Latino and play in different sorts of films," he says.

We meet again in the evening at the home of Mustafa, a childhood friend of Saber's. He lives in a big house, on one of Jenin's mountains, and the silence of his backyard makes me forget for one moment what's happening down there.

There aren't many ways to have fun in the town. Jenin being mostly Muslim and not at all cosmopolitan, finding alcohol in the shops is impossible. The possible alternatives are to travel four or five kilometers until the next Christian city, where you can buy beer and wine, or to turn to the local drug dealer for a little hash, the most popular drug in Palestine.

For hours, Mustafa and Saber tell me about their lives and the conflicts affecting their country. Mustafa is particularly entertaining and has a real talent for storytelling. Not being allowed to leave Palestine, he made it his mission to visit every corner of his country. For one of his latest journeys, he had wanted to travel 140 kilometers â€" from the north to the south â€" on a donkey's back, but the animal gave up after 20 kilometers. Last year he finally crossed into Israel, albeit with no authorization (and no donkey) to see the sea for the first time, at 31.

Even today, the army's vigilance in Jenin is constant. At the beginning of the previous decade, the city was one of those that trained the most human bombs in Palestine. As a consequence, Israeli was merciless in its treatment of the area. On Mustafa's street, just a few hundred meters from his house, there's a wasteland that used to be a bomber's home.

"Someone will die today"

Nights in Palestine are usually calm and unremarkable. One can almost always hear the cicadas in the distance. It's already late in the night when we reach Saber's house, and we find stones and broken glass on the ground that wasn't there before. Further ahead, a group of cars and motorbikes seems to be waiting for us. Inevitably, I start to be anxious.

When we finally reach the congregation, they disperse towards the city center without paying any attention to us. As I struggle to grasp exactly what's happened, Mustafa and Saber understand in the blink of an eye: An Israeli war tank had driven by and some inhabitants, by convention, had followed it and thrown stones at it.

My hosts talk about it with nostalgia in their voice â€" and not worry, as I was expecting â€" remembering the times when they used to do the same, when they were teenagers, seeing Israeli tanks more as a circus attraction than a lethal weapon. Although throwing stones at an Israeli soldier can lead to execution, the authorities generally ignore attacks on tanks. When the soldiers decided that the party was over, they shot in the air, dispersing the gathering. The population's counter-attack, more a form of protest than of prevention, is still part of the Palestinian protocol.

The laughs eventually die down. It's difficult to know exactly when a happy memory of your childhood will turn into a traumatic recollection, especially in a country at war. "Someone will die today," Saber says in a strangely light tone, as if to hide the real meaning of what he's conveying. Mustafa drops us next to Saber's home and gets off the car to hug us. Palestinians are very affectionate.

Not two minutes later, as Saber unlocks the front door, we hear three shots. They seem to have been fired rather far away, but close enough. I make a clumsy remark. So clumsy, in fact, that I can't remember it. Probably a bad joke to hide my discomfort, though I'm not good at that. "It's ok. We're home now," Saber says.

We don't talk about it anymore for the rest of the night. But I can't stop thinking about it. The shots sounded calculated, as if they'd hit the intended target. Not like a mass slaughter, more like a planned assassination.

As we drink our breakfast tea, I ask my hosts about it. Saber's reply is short, delivered in a serious tone that doesn't sound like him. "We don't talk about these things. It's happened so often, to so many people, that we prefer to forget about it."

This is Worldcrunch"s international collection of essays, both original pieces written in English and others translated from the world's best writers in any language. The name for this collection, Rue Amelot, is a nod to the humble address in eastern Paris we call home. Send ideas and suggestions at

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7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.

But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

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