We are just back from 11 fascinating days in Palestine – that is, the ‘West Bank’ and East Jerusalem. Now, I’ve resolved to reduce flying for the obvious ecological reasons but this invitation to speak at an International community psychology conference at Birzeit University near Ramallah was something I thought important to agree to. Palestinian universities are isolated and live under the continuing Israeli military occupation. It is difficult for West Bank residents to travel and here was a Masters programme in community psychology celebrating its first 4 years. Various International speakers were invited – there were people from South Africa, Puerto Rico, Belgium and Norway, the country that funded the development of the programme and us (Carolyn, Amna who is half Libyan, and me).
Welcome to Isra’el
We flew from Manchester via London to Tel Aviv on British Airways. To go to Palestine you have to go through Israeli border control. We were somewhat anxious as to how we’d be processed given we were heading to the the occupied territories (more on definitions later). We were behind Amna in the queue, the only person in the several long queues for passport control who was wearing a hijab. She was taken off for interview, something we all expected. We were asked where we were going and were open about this. Other than being asked how we’d get there, “because it is dangerous” (it isn’t), we were processed quickly by a pleasant enough young woman. However the person behind us in the queue noted that we’d taken significantly longer than most to go through. After collecting luggage (that’s the English word) and clearing customs we located our taxi driver. We explained the situation and sat down for what was likely to be a long wait. Amna was held for two and a half hours, but not interrogated all that time. The taxi driver, a very pleasant Jerusalem based Palestinian was used to this and reassured Amna using my phone. Eventually she came through, they’d been civil although I’m sure that is a ploy that would quickly change if the circumstances (in their view) warranted it.
Now that title is a little misleading. So far as I’m concerned, Israel is an illegitimate and racist state, established as a result of British incompetence and negligence in the face of the terrorism of Zionist groups like Menachem Begin’s Irgun. Palestine is the name of all the territory West from the Jordan valley to the Levantine coast. The refugees from the 1948 Nakba (catastrophe) and those Arabs who still live within the 1948 borders are Palestinians. However, we were travelling into the area known as the West Bank, i.e. East of the 1948 Green Line, Israel’s internationally recognised border. The Oslo accords gave the Palestinian National Authority limited government there. [See this site for maps and history of Israeli expansion – like the USA and the ‘Indian frontier’] I had expected a border check, but no the driver was allowed to travel freely. Driving along the motorway we suddenly turned off down an unlit road and then passed through areas with Arabic shop and street signs. It was less than an hour to Ramallah. We later learned that the trunk roads go into the West Bank for the settler-colonists to use. Palestinians can currently use them most of the time (there are check points so they can be choked off at any time). The unlit roads were the Palestinian roads with maximum permitted width. Later I’ll explain the controls on entering the first colony (1948 Israel) from the West Bank.
After arrival at the hotel we went for a walk into the town centre of Ramallah. All very new to us although it seemed similar to other middle income countries. There were Palestinian flags and posters commemorating the Nakba (the anniversary of the dispossession of the Palestinians) along with the establishment of the State of Israel was in a few days time). It was about 8 in the evening and still quite busy, but it felt comfortable. My only point of comparison for an Arab country was Morocco some 30 years ago where we found the constant hassle from locals off putting – there was none of this here (and almost none at all the whole trip).
The next day we explored Ramallah and went to the old city (not much there), the Mahmoud Darwish museum (Palestine’s ‘national poet’) and tried to find a Crusader church (which turned out to be a ruin) and two women’s craftwork projects (closed as it was Friday). Ramallah originally mainly Christian but now is pretty mixed. Looking for one of the centres we met a 17 year old lad who was more than happy to show us around – he has a US passport (having been born there) – his parents came back after Oslo, a story we heard more than once. He pointed out the colonizer settlements on the hill overlooking his suburb saying he thought it was only a matter of time before they were in the city itself.
After an unsatisfactory ‘international cuisine’ lunch (a lot of this indifferent fare in Ramallah, presumably to cater for the international visitors mostly working for the proliferating NGOs) we had a nice Palestinian evening meal of mezze and I tried the Palestinian beer Taybeh – not really beer of course – it’s a lager, but of the ilk not at all bad.
Villagers under pressure and a refugee camp.
The following day the hotel told us we had taxi waiting to take us to the University for a workshop. A bit bemused but well we are guests so off we went – maybe it was a workshop for us to attend, or maybe we were expected to perform – (I’d twice run instant workshops in Latin America in similar circumstances – and in Spanish too so I’m prepared for anything really – well not a performance in Arabic which remains a mystery other than a few civilities). Half way to Bir Zeit the driver’s mobile phone rang – the hotel had confused us with the South Africans who were running a photo-voice session. So we asked the driver what he’d charge to take us for the day visiting villages and the like around Ramallah.
So off we set for villages to the north of Ramallah. Another closed women’s project and then a visit to Deir Ghassaneh where the Bargouti family (with many notable people in Palestine’s cultural and political life) come from. The old houses with their climactically appropriate design (domes that keep warmth in in winter and cool the building in summer) were being restored and we also saw a primary care clinic. As ever people were very pleased to see us: tourists are few and they are keen to show what life is like, to present an accurate and positive picture of the Palestinians and their culture.
We then went on to where the road has been closed off, preventing travel between adjacent villages – not the separation wall at this point, just a pile of rubble blocking the road. We saw gray material dumped on agricultural land – industrial waste we were told. We continued to Bil’In. This is one of many places where colonizer settlements have been built, contrary to international law (you don’t transfer your population to occupied territory) behind the 12 ft separation wall. First though the land was enclosed by a fence. It is nothing more than theft. The land belongs to the villagers who have farmed it for centuries and the Israeli State simply fences it off and gives it to the colonists. In this case though there had been a successful struggle, all the more impressive for being organised by the country people themselves, involving weekly Friday protests (which continue with international and Israeli dissident participation too), and legal process. As a result the fence was moved back a few hundred metres and the Palestinians are again cultivating the land – we ate some ‘liberation lettuce’. But there is constant harassment.
The film Five Broken Cameras was made about this village’s struggle (do watch it here). The driver (who is from there) tried to get us a copy but wasn’t able to find one. He then took us to his house “to use the toilet”. In fact he’d phoned ahead and there was a meal waiting (flat bread rebaked with a mix of olive oil, onions an sumac, with chicken – which of course we vegetarians ate – and then fruit). This was just one instance of the hospitality and helpfulness we received – people going well beyond reasonable expectations.
From there we went to Jalazone refugee camp where we met people from the social and welfare centre. Like all the camps thousands live in a small area. Initially just tents and then UN built single story houses, the camps resemble Latin American shanty towns sharing the vertical construction, precarity (some are subject to earth tremors) and basic but poor infrastructure. The UN relief agency, UNRWA has all but pulled out now and nobody had anything positive to say about the Palestinian Authority (known for corruption but also strapped for cash). The camps have an uncomfortable role too in that the Palestinians rightly insist on the Right to Return, so there seems to be a reluctance to do a lot – this being shared by the neighbouring countries where there are also camps. One consequence is that as ‘temporary’ structures, buildings are generally left unpainted – a depressing gray concrete.
Jalazone is right next to a big Israeli colony-settlement. The school are overcrowded and settlers/army have shot into them. Finally permission has been granted to upgrade the girls’ school, but as it faces the settlers’ colony it is not permitted to have windows on that side – apparently not to protect the children but the (armed and protected settlers).
Over the 11 days we visited several camps, all rather different as will be discussed.
We also visited the mausoleum of Yasser Arafat – slightly confused at first as he was referred to as Abu Ammar – (father of Ammar in the Middle Eastern Arab tradition).
The Sunday we took a ‘servicee’ or minibus to Nablus the largest city in the North of the West Bank. As we passed varying landscapes of olive groves, citrus orchards, cereal fields and more barren land I reviewed my pictures and decided to check how much space I had on my camera card – whoops I’ve just formatted the card, losing the first two days including the liberation lettuce – thanks Amna for this photo (above).
On arrival in Nablus we are approached by an (authorised tourist) guide, and agree for him to show us some aspects of the city. First to Jacob’s Well a Greek Orthodox, or was it Catholic (these sects baffle me) church built over the well allegedly sunk by Jacob (Alan Bennet’s ‘smooth man’) and also the site of an encounter that in my scriptural ignorance I hadn’t heard of between “Jesus (Christ our Lord” – as the Muslim guide put it) and the Samaritan woman. The fairly recent church is most notable as the site of the killing (hacking to death and then attempt to burn the body in the church) of the priest by Israeli settlers in one of their incursions. The point is important – Palestinians are not just Muslim – the Christians are also opposed to the Zionist colonial project.
Just down the road was Balata refugee camp – larger than the Ramallah one, clearly much more militant with a history of many ‘martyrs’, celebrated via posters ‘photoshopped’ to add in heavy duty weaponry. We saw the sites of shootings by the Israelis, houses that had been hit by missiles and an example of a house completely demolished because a militant had lived there. The guide didn’t really give us a sense of how the residents organized themselves or what grass roots community projects there were although there were some in evidence. There was some hostility from youths – they see Israelies coming in, and are perhaps not very knowledgeable about the outside world so they didn’t seem to recognise Arabic speaking, hijab wearing Amna as friend either. Our guide managed the situation but did little to explain the real situation – he was unusual in not finding out anything about us, so was not good at either tailoring his (scripted) explanations to our interests nor representing us to others.
From there we took a taxi to the Samaritans’ village on Mount Gerezim (in their view the site of the original Temple and that bad parent Abraham’s attempted infanticide, not Jerusalem / Al Quds). There are some 700 of these people in Palestine – split fairly equally between Nablus and the Israeli 1948 state. They are regarded as Palestinians but represent a for in Judaism going back millennia – they recognise what the Christians call the Pentateuch and the Jews the – the first five books of the bible, but not the later stories and traditions, so are doctrinally estranged (as they were in New testament times) from the Jews. They now live very comfortable lives in substantial houses and apartments, travel freely across the green line, working variously for The Israeli government, Palestinian authority and other employers. We saw their sacrificial area – basically a series of big barbecues where annually they sacrifice and eat animals, inviting anyone in to join the party.
The village overlooks the city and there is also a good (panoramic) view of colonists’ hilltop settlements, refugee camps and Arab towns.
From there we resisted more explanations from our guide and explored the old city ourselves, eating a falafel lunch and then Nablus’s speciality kanafeh) a very tasty cheese-filled, syrupy sweet cooked in enormous circular trays.
Nablus turns out to be a great centre for shopping – for the Palestinians who come there from the smaller local towns and from Ramallah to take advantage of the lower prices. It has had terrible Israeli repression but at present seemed to be pretty buoyant.
We met the South Africans at the hotel – some of them we knew of and their work has impressed. They had been delayed 4 hours at the crossing from Jordan – they had difficulty partly no doubt because some have Muslim names. One consequence of knowing something in advance of the Israeli ‘security’ is that we didn’t take computers so this is all being written up on return to England.
I won’t write a lot about the conference – it was a good one with high quality work from the mainly Palestinian presenters. We presented on our approach to critical community psychology and also joined the closing symposium on day three where I presented on Liberation Psychology and analectics while Carolyn spoke on stewardship as a value.
The Palestinian papers together gave us a further insights into the mechanisms of repression used by the occupying power, and something of the resilience and collective solidarity of the Palestinian people (but see the discussion on narratives of resistance later). The South Africans had run a photo-voice workshop with some of the graduating masters students and this was presented both via displays and in a session – it again gave a further and personal angle to the situation of daily life in the face of arbitrary harassment, dispossession and military domination.
An atheist in Jerusalem
After the conference we’d arranged to stay 5 days in Jerusalem, both to see this city and to explore other areas.
The university had again very efficiently arranged our transport with another Jerusalem Palestinian taxi driver. The Ramallah-Jerusalem road goes through the notorious Qualandia checkpoint. We were struck by the young conscript soldiers with their enormous sub-machine guns – decidedly scary. We just had to hand our passports over via the driver, and as internationals we were waved through. Palestinians from the West bank can’t cross into Jerusalem – despite East Jerusalem being East of the former green line – their territory by international consensus. We’d met Jerusalem resident students at the conference who study at Birzeit and have this daily assault to their dignity – one told about the arbitrary habit of soldiers making her switch from queue to queue (they have to pass through as pedestrians). In fact the Jerusalem taxis have the right to cross the border without checks but if any Palestinian is found to have crossed this way it means automatic imprisonment for the driver.
The Jerusalem hotel near the Damascus gate was like the Royal Court in Ramallah run by Christian Palestinians. It was an old building with antique furniture and beautifully embroidered bedspreads on the 2 big double beds in our room, and a restaurant in the front garden under a vine.
We set off to explore the old city, just through the nearby Damascus gate. It really is an amazing place with miles and miles of narrow streets, many of the stepped. There are few vehicles – just handcarts which whizz down the hills with an old tyre dragging as the brake, mini tractors pulling trailers and the odd motorbike or cycle going up and down the steps! Much is covered by awnings or converging upper stories – at least in the extensive shopping areas.
Divided into quarters (neighbourhoods), we went first through part of what these days is called the Arab quarter (but historically they were pretty mixed, see the mix of churches and mosques) – takeaway falafel sandwich eaten with the backlava from a sweet centre where we sat down (good to have an Arabic speaker with us to negotiate such things – a group of girls seemingly fascinated by Amna’s combination of pale skin and hijab) and then via the Christian quarter. Cathy, once a Roman Catholic, now as she says liberated, was with us that day before returning to Scotland and she was interested in seeing the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Carolyn and she went in while Amna and I waited on the steps outside (I can only take so much mass credulity). The place is built where the Roman St Helena, mother of archaeology, decided the tomb of JC must be,and the via dolorosa with its ‘stations of the cross’ (sounds like a bad day on the London suburban railway) ends there. Curious sensation sitting there among the pilgrims while the call to prayer sounded out from the adjacent mosque, and indeed Palestine is notable for its history of co-existence between the different faiths – the skylines with church towers and crosses, and minarets with crescents, is an icon of the country. After checking Carolyn for Velux windows – but thankfully no conversion made – we went off along the edge of the Jewish quarter to the corner of the temple mount / Haram as-Sharif where the two important mosques, Al Aqsa and Dome of the Rock are. Amna could go in but not us non-muslims (until Sunday).
We then went back a different way – it was Thursday and the settlers were hurrying towards their quarter in their black suits and assortment of ridiculous hats. They irritated me with an arrogant way of marching through this Arab city as if they own the place (which I suppose they do). Formerly the Jewish quarter was inhabited by a different people – Mediterranean and Eastern Jews – these Ashkenazi settlers from Europe and the US have no lineage with this place, as you can see from their facial features but are the most likely the descendants of converts as critical Israeli scholar Shlomo Sand explains in his Invention of the Jewish People.
From there we went back for a rest prior to eating mezze again at a pleasant restaurant near the hotel. Unfortunately Palestine keeps the tradition of smoking tobaccos from giant water pipes – to me, people look quite ridiculous puffing away for hours, destroying their health (they are particularly damaging due to the huge quantity of smoke imbibed at a session) and polluting the room with clouds of smoke – it makes you appreciate the smoking ban.
The next day was Friday – the poor place has a run of three holy days for the 3 monotheistic religions on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The Muslims in the joint British/South African party went to pray at the Al Aqsa and Carolyn and I explored the old city some more. We went to the Garden Tomb garden, a more likely site for the famous open tomb than the Holy Sepulchre Church, and we saw the skull like cliff that may be Golgotha. The joint is run by English (very English) people (I’d forgotten about the style of the Anglicans) and bushy eyebrows appeared to be de rigeur. We earwigged a lecture to some Brazilians with successive translation and at the point where “In England, Brazil and Israel we worship a living Lord” I couldn’t help correcting – “Palestine”.
I then went on the ‘political tour’ organised by ‘Alternative Tour Group’.
Land grabs in Jerusalem.
Our group consisted of me, a group of Norwegians and 2 United Statesians. the guide was a PLO activist or official. We went to see the settlements from inside – they are a bit like Milton Keynes – all very nice, landscaped, and enormous. From there we surveyed the separation wall and the Sh’Faht refugee camp and Arab districts on the other side. These settlements, enormous in all their enormity are within East Jerusalem, in other words within the occupied territories. The settlers are of two kinds – religious fanatics, mostly it is said from New York, and economic migrants attracted by the 5 year tax break and 25% cost of housing in comparison to first colony 1948 Israel. So there is no doubt at all that this is the official state policy.
So what’s going on?
Palestinians in East Jerusalem are residents but not citizens. If they leave, for example to live with someone they marry from the West Bank, then they lose residence. Children apply for residence at 16 and have to have an umblemished school record – given the overcrowding and lack of places this can be impossible. So the Palestinians are aliens in their own city.
40% of East Jerusalem has been confiscated for military use and for colonial settlement.
A modern and efficient tram line now connects West Jerusalem (formerly Arab areas) with the settlement colonies of East Jerusalem.
New highways bypass Arab districts allowing direct transit to the colonizers’ settlements.
Three Arab towns and the refugee camp are now behind the wall – people can only enter and leave with Israeli i.d. which not all have.
The week before our visit 5 more settler colonies were announced by the Israeli State.
Palestinians pay the same taxes as Israelis but receive a much lower level of public services – very noticeable in the level of environmental amenity, road surfaces, and so on.
How to tell an Israeli from an Arab building? Israelis have single water tanks, Arabs double ones. Why? Because the Palestinians can’t count on reliability of water supply. In the West Bank the settlers use per capita 5 times the water that the Palestinians do.
Sh’Faht camp is the only one in Jerusalem and the only one established post 1967. The people there were mostly ‘cleansed’ from the Mughrabi district of the old city to make way for the Wailing Wall Plaza.
Before Oslo there were 190,000 colonist settlers in east Jerusalem. Now there are 600,000.
Israel’s impunity is a direct result of US support, itself subject to the lobby from both Zionist groups and the fundamentalist Christian right in that know-nothing country.
There are 5 Palestinian towns, art of East Jerusalem that have been redefined as outside Jerusalem, i.e. in the West Bank. Conversely unbuilt areas have been brought into the city for development.
Palestinians whether in Jerusalem or the West Bank have to apply for building permits to build or even extend their houses. These permits rarely come, and processing can take several years.
80% of the so called ‘security barrier’ – the separation wall – goes between Palestinian communities. Why? Israel wants no return to the 1967 borders. They are altering the demographic composition of East Jerusalem to make it a fait accompli that there is a Jewish majority. They want to keep the city and make it Jewish. Maybe some of them want to demolish the 2 ancient mosques of Haram as-Sharif and build a new temple?
And then we went to Sheikh Jarrah. This neighbourhood was where many displaced people from West Jerusalem went after the Nakba. Now (religious fanatic) settlers are moving in. One family came back to find their (‘unpermitted’) extension boarded up an the furniture thrown out. After a few days there were settlers in there – gangs of noisy, abusive young UnitedStatesians who ocupy in relays. Some people have been thrown out by these armed thugs – one woman in her 70s camped outside her house for a year in protest, and there are regular protests supported by internationals and Israelis in solidarity with the Palestinian cause. And in other stolen houses the families of these armed fanatics live – what a sick way to bring up your children.
That evening as we sat on the rooftop of a restaurant in the old city we saw some youngsters waving the Palestinian flag from the Damascus gate, before the inevitable sirens went off and they ran for it. Resistance goes on in all sorts of ways.
We got the bus on Saturday for Bethlehem. It is just South of Jerusalem. The road skirts the city walls passing close to Silwan where further dispossessions are going on, passing more colonies and then going through the checkpoint.
We walked to ‘Manger Square’ (!) up Pope Paul VI Street. Another busy Arab town going about its business. Closer to the centre were more tourist-orientated shops selling stunning handicrafts. Business was poor since the majority of tours come in from Israel and don’t pass through here – heading for the ‘sights’ for the credulous. The taxi drivers told us the same story. We picked up a few bits of pieces including 2 chess sets – we do play, rather badly, mostly on long winter evenings (there’s nothing on t.v. after all) but these sets came with no guarantee they’d improve our game.
We went into the Church of the Nativity – an ancient fortified church, not exactly beautiful, but with some interesting mosaics. Its run by the Orthodox lot but the Franciscans have an adjoining more modern church and cloister. In the crypt the credulous gather to queue and kiss a metal star, allegedly at the point where the manger sat. All very unlikely I’d say.
And then along milk grotto road for some olive wood carvings, including the requisite little donkey for granddaughter.
We then engaged a taxi driver to go to a centre at one of the refugee camps (no room at the inn here either). This is the Ibdaa centre at Deheishe camp. We walked around with the driver for a bit – a very different feel from the Nablus camp: pictures of ‘martyrs’ but without nearly so much military iconography, and a generally friendlier feel (of course these impressions are first ones, not necessarily reliable as comparisons). The centre was impressive, the person who welcomed us studying psychology and social work. The emphasis was on sporting and other cultural activity for young people and in addition to an impressive performance on the field, in basketball in particular) there was evidence of very constructive work on building positive identities.
The taxi driver was keen to show us another camp and centre, the Alrowwad (Pioneers for Life) centre at Aida camp. This was to prove a real gem. The way into the camp ran along part of the ubiquitous separation wall. We passed graffiti, some of it by internationals including Banksy, murals depicting the villages people came from in West Palestine and a factory destroyed by Israeli missile strike.
The centre director (Dr Abdelfattah Abusrour), like people in all the places where we turned up unannounced, was happy to talk to us, giving us some 20 minutes and an account of the development of the theatre projects in the camp. He was very clear that a peaceful approach to identity and self respect was essential and was critical of the kind of martyr iconography we saw in other places, but “everyone is a hero”. He noted that there was a lack of individual narratives of identity and being, since the Palestinian struggle has focussed on collective narratives. “We don’t have the luxury of despair.” Their concept is that of “Beautiful Non-Violent resistance”, against the ugliness of occupation and a variety of theatre methods are used with young people. They have toured the West Bank and also internationally. He made an interesting comment, that 99% of Palestinians have never handled a gun – and his project is part of wider efforts to present an understanding of the Palestinian people that is not reduced to the caricature of ‘terrorist’. One thing they arrange is an outdoor film festival where the fils are projected on the separation wall itself. And all this in the context of repeated incursions by the military with 2 participants killed last year, along with 50 arrests and various injuries. As he said “we are continually being pressed to be content with the least worst” – this is a way of trying to move beyond that recovering Palestinian history, cultural innovation and religious tolerance.
Hebron and Jericho – life with the settlers
For Sunday we’d arranged another taxi to take us to Hebron and Jericho.
First we went to the village of Beit Ummar and its Centre for Freedom and Justice. The military stopped us, inspected passports and had a good hard look at us (me especially without my glasses before letting us through into the village.
This was another village under extreme pressure from no less than 5 colonial settlements. They resist this in a variety of ways, from a media project to weekly demonstrations supported by Israeli activists and internationals. Of great importance is support to enable farmers to continue cultivating their lands, so maintaining their claim. This can be challenging as land nearby can now require a long journey to access it. They have a greenhouse project to extend growing into the cold winter, and settlers have demolished greenhouses with the usual impunity. New olive trees (that take a long time to crop) have been planted and again settlers and their backers the Israeli army (so called defence force) have uprooted them. Children have been run over by settlers, it seems deliberately and with no response from the authorities. We liked the people at the centre, as ever happy to drop what they were doing to share their reality and work with unannounced visitors.
From there we went on to Hebron the main city of the South of the West Bank. Like Nablus it was busy and vibrant but as we walked through the old city to the Ibrahim mosque the streets got quieter and the number of closed premises increased. Here the settlers have taken over flats above the shops. Netting over the narrow street catches most of the refuse they throw down. I was hit by a gob of chewing gum that went down my shirt, but nappies lie on the netting, unretrievable and urine and other fluids are thrown down from time to time by these army protected, armed fanatics.
We went through a turnstile to the mosque. A site for Jews and Muslims it is supposed to be where Ibrahim/Abraham is buried along with lucky Isaac, and various other wives and patriarchs. There are mock up tombs in the building venerated by both faiths. Part of the building has been commandeered by the Israelis and now operates as a synagogue. The explanatory leaflet talks of the ‘liberation’ of Hebron in 1967 and complains that they don’t have access to the rest of the building on more than 10 days in the year. We heard on the other side that on these days they take over the whole building. On one level it’s a silly squabble over religion, but on another a colonial situation where the conqueror imposes its will, subjugating the conquered in various ways. The call to prayer is frequently blocked and we picked up a detailed statistical report on human rights violations by the settlers and (more by) the army. Again the same picture of evictions of Palestinians from their houses which are then taken over by settler colonists. Ariel Sharon did the same with a house in the Jerusalem old city.
Hebron was the only place where we had any kind of hassle from people trying to sell us things, and then only a handful of young men with purses and bracelets for sale – they walked with us along the route to the mosque but could hardly be called pushy. Some children were picking mulberries and tried to sell us some – not really a way to carry them, already squashy but Carolyn gave them 5 shekels (about a pound).
Our taxi driver took us (and treated us) to ‘King of Falafel’ which was very good in Hebron and then we then set off for a flying visit to Jericho.
The route went nearly back to Jerusalem before veering East through the desert with Bedouin camps, the odd camel and herd of sheep and Nabi Musa, a jewel of a little mosque up on a hilltop – as the name suggests this is held to be the burial place of Musa / Moses. Jericho is just north of the Dead Sea, the lowest city on earth, well below sea level and distinctly hot. We didn’t do much in the city other than get a feel for its sprawl, very different from the towns further West, other than visit the very ‘tumbled down’ walls (site of a legendary early ethnic clearance – Joshua) and via cable car up to the site of a monastery built on a cliff face – welcome fresh orange juice. We also passed another refugee camp, not short of space for once and a colonial Kibbutz. The whole Jordan valley is still administered by Israel, being an area 3. Palestinians can’t even visit the Dead Sea.
Last day in Jerusalem
Our last day was very much a catching up on things we’d not yet seen. We got up quite early to visit Haram As-Sharif / Tempel Mount. Non Muslims can only visit at certain times and entry is via the Western (wailing) Wall with the usual security checks (going innto the Western Wall Plaza and then again going into the Haram). The Jewish policeman at the entrance to the Muslim area wanted to know if we were Christian or Muslim – neither we said – he didn’t understand so I said “atheist” – maybe I should have said Buddhist. The wall is unimpressive – and the plaza where there was the ethnic clearance mentioned above is unnecessary – it allows you to see the barbaric new building of the Jewish quarter though (no permit bureaucracy here it seems).
The Haram As-SHarif is enormous with two mosques, the ordinary looking Al Aqsa and the enormous and stunning Dome of the Rock. Sadly we couldn’t go into either but we saw the mosaics on the outside and in the gazebo like annexe to the Dome where apparently there used to be a chain that went up to heaven: one lives and learns. There are extensive gardens and a minbah (pulpit, which of course we rather disrespectfully called the ‘minibar’) installed by the Kurdish leader Saladin when he took Al Quds / Jerusalem back from the Crusaders.
From there we went back to the hotel for a rest and then to the Mount of Olives. We made the mistake of getting a taxi to the Church of All Nations which is at the bottom what is said to be the site of Gethsemanie, so we then had the climb to the top. Good views of the old city and then a climb down lots of steps, seemingly hardly used and a cooling drink – not our usual mint and lemon but in my case grapefruit juice.
After that we met up with Amna for some serious people watching on Al Wad street before dinner at the hotel with live Palestinian music from a dulcimer-like instrument and drum.
Our last morning was used to visit the Palestine Heritage Museum. This has its origins in a school for children orphaned by the Zionist massacre and clearing of Deir Yassin, a village to the West of Jerusalem. Terrorist and later Likud Prime Minister Menachem Begin whose gang was responsible has a Boulevard in West Jerusalem named after him. The museum is an offshoot of it and it has a good collection on Palestinian traditions, especially home and farm artefacts and textiles, as well as an exhibition on the clearance and destruction of Palestinian villages.
We then got taken by our original driver to the airport, passing the remains of Palestinian homes, wrecked military vehicles (a reminder of the 6-day war) and lush agricultural land in West Palestine, 1948 Israel.
On arrival at Lydda airport (renamed Lod and then Ben Gurion by the Israelis) the minivan was stopped, Amna had to get out and yellow stickers were put on her case and passport for more attention later. The soldier expressed puzzlement as to why we should be travelling together. At the security check my bags were identified for further scrutiny – they were interested in the 2 plates we bought in Hebron, and did some kind of chemicals test on them. Amna’s luggage was gone through in detail – twice. Her jar of Zatar, Palestinian thyme, seemed to create the most consternation and she had to put it in the hold. She was then taken off for a strip search. It is sheer humiliation of course.
Other than a slight and uncharacteristic tantrum on my part against people using their mobile phones while we taxied inn, after two announcements that they should remain switched off, the journey back was uneventful. I think nearly 2 weeks of outrage and care in dealing with authority was pent up – not that I usually use these hydraulic metaphors to explain behaviour.
I’m glad we went and were able to show some kind of solidarity with Palestine, but I doubt I’ll go again. We were able to spend almost nothing directly on the Israeli economy, except for an exorbitant snack at Tel Aviv airport each way – take sandwiches!
Sand, S Invention of the Jewish People
Barghouti, M I Saw Ramallah
Amiry, S Sharon and My Mother-in-Law
Irving, S Palestine (travel guide)
Said, E Out of Place
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