Stretchy ice cream, now this is a first. My mother-in-law, a powerful but warm matriarch, who has somehow managed to raise eight kids (nine if you count me) to meet any traditional measure of success, asks what I think of the booza. I love it, I offer in response—this or some other form of generic but truthful praise. I’ve probably said it a hundred times by now and am cycling through all the variations.

Palestine? Love it.

Silwad? Love it.

Ramallah? Wow, so impressive there’s a big city here. Love it.

Summer is a time when my in-laws, like other Palestinian-Americans living in diaspora, (or at least those who are lucky enough to have the money and retained citizenship) make their annual pilgrimage to their homeland. Taking advantage of the seasonal dip in the nine to five, factory pace of American life they recharge themselves through connection to their land and one another.

Stuffed in the back seat of my father-in-law’s rental car, we set off on a journey back to their remote, hillside town. Like a ship embarking on the high seas in the dead of night, we soon find ourselves on a path untouched by artificial light. Up to this point, I can imagine only a handful of truly dark, night skies offhand, and coincidentally they’ve usually been found in places that don’t have cellphone service.

The winding path leading up the hillside slides up and down the scale of paved, from dirt road on one end to the actual asphalt we’ve grown accustomed to on the exceptional other. Not being able to get a sense visually, the only way I know our place on the spectrum is by how wildly the dark outline of my ponytail dances in the reflection of the rearview mirror.

As a kid, my baby boomer dad would always buy Neapolitan ice cream. The carefully-segregated mixture of chocolate, vanilla and strawberry was an economical way to ensure enough options to please everyone in our house. The “classic,” traditional booza mix looks kind of like this, albeit with the addition of yellows (pineapple and lemon flavors) and a mint green-colored, pistachio flavor, a glorious replacement for vanilla. But it isn’t just the colors or flavors that distinguish it from its distant cousin we commonly know as ice cream.

After several minutes of complying with the demanding to and fro of the rising-mountain terrain and pushing our rental to the brink of exhaustion, several shadows emerge from the bushes forcing a sudden stop. I have seen enough tv dramas and murder porn to feed my wild imagination. I shift to the right to gather visual evidence through the windshield of what I believe could be the end. A carjacking, kidnapping, monsters—the possibilities are as bleak as my American TV drama-raised mind can project. My heart ramps up to what it mistakes for an impromptu hundred-yard dash. This might be a good option, I think.

Three teenage soldiers surround our car. Their collectively small stature initially disguises their apparent authority.  As they halt our passage, a lifetime of confrontations with unwitting policemen, just waiting to be disarmed with charm, whisper in my ear. My father-in-law, whose motto is Just Keep Going(!), locates and flicks on the dome light of the car, bringing their Jeep and military-issue uniforms, both a fresh but muted olive green, into view. Sitting face-to-face with hostile soldiers, it dawns on me for the first time in my overall privileged experience that friendly disarmament isn’t an option.



I have no idea what they are saying. Arabic or Hebrew, I haven’t availed myself of the opportunity to learn either way. My Spanish is LDFJLKAFJALKJ too if we’re being honest.

Poised as ever, my mother-in-law locks eyes with me and calmly requests my passport. My father-in-law, unphased as always, asks what the problem is. Apparently, Occupation Forces want to see our papers before letting us continue to our family home located deep inside the West Bank, in what I was told is the sovereign Palestinian Territory. We hurriedly gather our documents and hand over our American passports to the soldiers.

We wait.

Amer Snobar was sixteen, seventeen, or eighteen years old (depending on your source) when he was killed during an interaction with soldiers on a dark, country hillside somewhere in the middle of the West Bank. Few details are known, and the ones that are have been disputed, particularly by pro-military propaganda websites who chock up nearly any state-involved killing to Pallywood (a claim used to discredit unflattering incidents involving the military or Occupation as “fake news”). What is known is that he was un-accused of a crime, unarmed, and now dead.

Early military reports say he tripped and fell when he tried to run away from soldiers. They said he accidentally hit his head on a rock. Medical examiners disagreed. The lone eyewitness, who is apparently still too afraid to be named, said the boys were approached by soldiers after one of their cars broke down. The eyewitness was able to escape on foot, disguising himself in the dense foliage that grew along the desolate roadside. Looking out, he says he saw a group of soldiers choke and ultimately beat his friend to death. No one has ever been charged.

His fourteen-year-old little brother says he misses his best friend.

As the tense minutes dredge on, I feel each individual second, one-by-one, adding another drop in the already-full bucket that is my nervous stomach. Fear already filled to the brim, it overflows its usual barrier and floods my insides. Terror overcomes my body. After having the time to mentally explore every possible outcome—detention, jail, dare I say death, the soldiers return to the car with our papers and orders to go straight home.

As abruptly as the encounter began, it ends, at least officially. I am sure when I am dead and the fluid remnants of my life are drained from my body, they will find the waterline from this great flood imprinted on my insides.

Today, there are exactly two traditional ice cream shops in the City of Ramallah. They are locked in a decades-long battle, competing for hearts, minds, and of course, stomachs of the Palestinian people. When asked by journalists why people like traditional booza, and the stretchy, tactile experience that distinguishes it from what we Westerners know of ice cream, Hassan Rukab, owner of the older of the two shops, the eponymous Rukab’s Ice Cream Parlor, offered simply that “stretchiness means flexibility.” He laughed with what I imagine to be a round, kind face, partially camouflaged by a short, once-black beard, now overcome with the grey splotches of time. “Which is good.”

Of course, not everyone thinks the fantastically flexible booza is good. One young critic of the traditional ice cream, nineteen-year-old Mahmoud Shahin, complained that trying to eat the endlessly stretchy ice cream felt like a struggle, like he was fighting with it.

Perhaps, if given time, he will change his mind. Perhaps, so will I.

Katherine Shehadeh

Katherine is a writer, attorney, and mom of two (!!), who resides with her family in Miami, Florida. Her recent writing has been published in Prometheus Dreaming, The Avenue and others.

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