Category Archives: Summer 2011

Having panicked around easter time this year that I wouldnt have any exciting adventures planned for the summer, I said yes to everything that came my way….

As a result I am travelling first to Denmark, to present my post graduate research at the 3rd EMES International Research Conference on Social Enterprise at Roskilde University, and then to Jerusalem to work with the IPCC on an urban resilience design studio. I am blogging to keep track of it all, and build a body of material from which to draw at a later date. The idea is to reflect lucidly, and avoid the inevitable preference for facts that happens when you ‘write up’…

So here goes!

New BD Blog post up…

My latest contribution to BD’s online content can be found here

Sam

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Summer Travels 2011…(21) – Tel Aviv. Just waiting.

So I’m in Tel Aviv. And I’ve been walking. And writing. In the wake of the attacks near Eilat, things have escalated. Israel bombed the Palestinian-controlled Gaza, from which it believes the attacks originated, within hours of the shootings on the bus near the Egyptian border. There have been further incidents, including the shooting of Egyptian border police by Israeli forces, and rocket attacks of the city of Be’er Sheva, where I was headed just a few days ago.

Tel Aviv still exists in its bubble, but with its own tensions. Protestors camp out on Rothschild Boulevard, despite some calls that civil protest should abate in the wake of the terror attacks in the south in order that the country may pull together. However, the homeless and debt-ridden persist. As one tour-guide put it, “they’re looking for peace now, they’re so tired…after all the free performances, late into the night, from celebrities looking to support them, they just want to sleep!”. Its a different world here from that which exists, also on the glistening shores of the Mediterranean, just a few tens of kilometers further south.

So here’s a photograph of what I wrote when I walked, and a video…the tension is getting to me, and becoming harder to escape.

On a cheerier note, this film is about to come out, and shows in glorious aerial detail many of the places I have visited…

I’m off to try and lift my mood. Checked into a private room for tonight, at some expense…I cant go on without sleep. Especially with the anticipation of Ben Gurion airport’s notoriously stringent security checks tomorrow before I fly out. In a nod to the archi-tourist inside me, I hope to head for a Mario Botta designed synagogue at the Tel Aviv University campus tomorrow, hopefully to be reminded that beautiful places and spaces can lift the soul…

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Summer Travels 2011…(20) – Time to come home…

So, despite having just posted, I have this piece of breaking news…just heard the tragic news related in this article

I was planning to head to Eilat today, potentially on this bus. So something tells me it is time to come home. I’ve changed my flight to the 22nd, the earliest available, and I’m looking forward to relaxing in relative safety of Tel Aviv until then. In part, my decision has been informed by the facts of history that say Israel rarely leaves attacks like this unpunished. My plan had been to head to Eilat and on to Sinai, before returning to the city to go to Petra in Jordan. It seems unwise at best given today’s events, and I am growing incredibly weary of the tensions of travelling here…

So. I’m safe. But getting the **** out.

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Summer Travels 2011…(19) – The North (1)

So I have just returned to Jerusalem from a week-long jaunt to the north of Israel. I passed through Haifa, Akko, Nazareth, the Golan Heights and Tiberias on my way, learning that even heading to where Israeli’s go to seek some rest and relaxation, you are never far from tension…

First stop Haifa. Having fought my way out of bed early in the morning to get to Tel Aviv in time to meet the Falafel Bus (a backpacker bus pass I’d purchased to meet people whilst travelling solo), I was taken by the driver Ishay to Caeserea. The ruins here sit in front of the backdrop of one of Israel’s power stations, making for an interesting beachscape, if a somewhat frustratingly tourist-orientated heritage site.

Caeserea and the nearby power station

The ruins at Caeserea...like a lot of things here, fenced in and insensitively used.

Ishay is from Giloh, an Israeli settlement near Bethlehem in the West Bank. I have my own views on this, but wanted dearly to hear his. He couldn’t, or wouldn’t speak much English to me. I was also the only one on the bus that day (and later, it turned out, for the whole of my intended trip). Arriving in Haifa, brooding with angry disappointment at having had my money taken from me in return for an underwhelming and expensive ‘experience’, I decided to cancel my further travel on the Falafel Bus, preferring instead to return to my usual mode of travel via public transport and backpacker hostels.

In Haifa, I was lucky enough to be meeting up with Sarah’s family, and had been invited for the traditional Friday night Shabbat dinner. Having waited in the Ba’Hai Gardens overlooking the port city (please google these for another interesting religion claiming part of the Holy Land), I was whisked away by Sarah’s parents to the beach for a much needed dip in the Mediterranean. Here’s today’s video…

Ba'Hai Gardens in Haifa

Yoav, Maish and Sylvia (Sarah's cousin, father and mother, respectively) on the beach in Haifa

I didn’t end up meeting Itay, as I mention in the video. Instead, I ended up accepting Sarah’s family’s generous offer of a second night in the gynecology clinic, and then moving on to the northerly Arab town of Akko, taking advantage of my freedom from the Falafel Bus itinerary…here’s another video…

Efraim, Sarah’s uncle, is a doctor, and her cousins are students…both social groups are affected by the extraordinarily high cost of living in Israel, alongside other causes such as debates surrounding how bets to deliver things such as healthcare and education. I was invited to join them in attending a rally, similar to many that are happening across Israel at this time, calling for the govenrnment to address concerns about ‘social justice’…

Protest in Haifa. The Placards read "Arabs and Jews together will not fight anymore"

Protests in Haifa

Newspaper report about the protests in Haifa...

On the next day, as I headed to Akko, I decided to try and learn something about the British Mandate period of occupation on the Holy Land…’Haifa’s Museum of Clandestine Immigration’ had some interesting material on Jewish ‘terrorism’ between 1945 and 1948, when the Yishuv (the term used in Hebrew referring to the body of Jewish residents in Palestine before the establishment of the State of Israel) was fighting to establish Israel as a state…

Haifa's Museum of Clandestine Immigration has a submarine...

I was thoughtful as I reached Akko……which lasted until El Classico kicked off (Real Madrid vs Barcelona). Spanish football is really popular here, especially Barca. Arabs feel affinity with the Catalan cause, and its not uncommon to find bus drivers adorning the interiors of their vehicles with flags and portraits of their favorite players. Here’ a taste of Akko, Nargileh and all, which I share with Anya, who turns out to have worked for (and been equally frustrated with) the IPCC…

The next day I went on a trip with Walid, the slightly unhinged owner of the hostel i was staying in in Akko, to the Golan Heights, a contested piece of ground in northern Israel, where many Israeli’s vacation in the summer months. We drive along the borders with Lebanon and Syria, and visited the holy town of Tsfat, previously mixed, but now almost entirely Jewish. The old mosque is an art gallery…

Anyway, I’ll continue with some stuff from my trip to the North when I next can, for now, Im off out in Jerusalem…

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Summer Travels 2011…(18) – Final Crit…

Its a mixed bag as we walk back from the bus stop after the final crit…I have the tang of tear gas in my eyes as it wafts on the breeze from an incident just outside the Old City, and the usual euphoric weariness that accompanies the passing of hours post-crit…

But it seemed to go OK. We gave a good account of ourselves, mostly through Marcelo, with whom I’ve been working this past week. From an urban planners point of view on ‘urban management’, we presented an analysis of existing land legal structure (i.e. ownership), and ‘urban tools’ for development, which included methods such as ‘saleable development rights’ for empowering individual landowners to negotiate with developers and the municipality. For me, its been an interesting exercise in meta-design – we didnt actually design anything beyond a road layout – and one that I hope will inform the way any masterplan is carried out on the ground. Ive always believed that designers dont pay enough attention to the way these things actually affect the built reality of places, and so despite the frustration, I’m glad we took the time to try to communicate some of it.

However, our ‘presentation’ was pushed to the periphery of proceedings this evening, scheduled for the final half hour before sundown – and therefore, before the breaking of today’s Ramadan fast. Considering the fact that the majority of our jury was muslim, and that designers don’t know how to keep to time, it was no surprise that we began late, and that we were cut off by the canon from the old city signalling time to eat…our audience evaporated as the traditional feast was brought out, and despite some attempts to resume later, we suffered from a greatly diminished attendance.

Tucking in to the Ramadan feast...

The ‘cool group’ – having this evening acquired the moniker “new romantics” – faced tough criticism from the predominantly planning-savvy jury, and their work seemed to be misunderstood. I thought it had some real value myself – and my problem with these people has always been the exclusivity of their operations within the wider design team rather than anything based on their design methodology. The videos will certainly make some interesting watching when I upload them…

Romatics crit...

The ‘hardcore urbanists’ faced similar problems of communication, with a number of local architects and planners on the jury expressing their opinion that whilst the project was an ‘interesting research’, it simply “will not work here in this context”. “This is not the netherlands”, said one jury member.

'Hardcore Urbanists' crit...

The general feeling – although I put a lot of it down to politeness – was that IPCC are pleased with the output of the study, its diversity of focus particularly, but disappointed that we couldn’t bring it together under one body of work. I’ve said this all along, and so it is with some satisfaction that I hear my thoughts echoed – although ultimately with frustration and disappointment. They seem to expect us to work at this this week…but my sentiment – as I suspect is shared by the majority here – is that IPCC have another thing coming.

Marcelo presenting our work on urban management strategy. We pinned up outside 'for a change of scene'...

..and continued after the Ramadan feast, in the dark, to a greatly reduced audience...

Just off out, either to a bar in West Jerusalem, or for some beers on my rooftop, and then tomorrow to Masada and the Dead Sea…looking forward to it very very much!

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Summer Travels 2011…(17) – Going to the Wall…

Just as an addition to yesterday’s post, I’ve been playing with moviemaker to stitch this video together…

Yesterdays post can be found here

Sam

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Summer Travels 2011…(16) – The Knesset and avoiding work again…

First of all, I think this blog is in danger of becoming a vent for me and my enduring frustration with this workshop I’m on, so I’m going to try my hardest to limit any negative outbursts. Save for this – if this was a job, I’d have quit, and I don’t know why I am still here. Something about reputation maybe, something about not being used to being a ‘quitter’…but at the end of the day, I just want to be on my way…

So to make my days bearable, as I mentioned previously, I’ve been trying to do something interesting every day. Yesterday, this was a trip over to West Jerusalem for the early tour at the Knesset – the Israeli parliament. It was interesting to learn from my guide Hanna (phelgm the ‘H’ and you’ll get the pronunciation right…) that Israel doesn’t actually have a constitution…interesting, given the state’s often-toted claim to ‘legality’. Rather, all its laws are tied back to the Declaration of Independence in 1948, and the things written in it. The ongoing 63-year old debate about a constitution is basically held back by the argument of whether Israel should be a religious state (i.e. Jewish), or a secular state. Having been here a while now, its difficult to see this arguement ever being resolved. Teh attention is often on Palestine and the barriers facing it in becoming a legitimate state – but with no constitution, even my limited knowledge of international law makes me question legality here also…

Take a look at the following video, especially the subtitles, and you’ll get an idea of the severely pro-israeli spiel levelled at me on the tour…things like “Israel, Masada shall never fall again” (Bill Clinton), and “Children of Israel, America is, always, by your side” (George W Bush). Most worryingly, from a face I do not recognise, “There will never be a Palestinian state”…

In other news, on my walk to work today I saw a LOT of police and soldiers…its Friday, the muslim ‘day off’ and teh policemen we asked said that there’s usually trouble on this day during Ramadan. Police and soldiers sit on corners and sidewalks where you wouldn’t normally find them…

This is coupled with a number of jews walking around with their private armed body guards – just like I saw in Hebron, but until now not seen here in Jerusalem…

I tried to walk to the wall today also…you can see it in this video…as I’ve been looking at it for the last few days. I was stopped a good way from the top of a nearby hill (which had a park on top for which I was headed), and when I asked if I could go to the park, I was given the simple answer “you cant”. Asking for a reason, I was again simply told “you cant”.

Anyway, looks like I might be able to get a lift back to the old city, so I’d better go. Hopefully tomorrow will be a better day….

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Summer Travels 2011 (15) – Ramadan begins…

Following the roar of the canon, a deathly silence falls over the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem as the fast is broken on the second day of Ramadan. The usually bustling area of Damascus Gate is for the most part empty, whilst those that are here have mouths full from picnic feasts in the streets and on shop counters. If you hang around long enough, you’ll be invited to join them in their grateful celebration. After an hour or so, children take to the streets and firecrackers echo around the buildings of the Old City; the furore of daily life returns and will last until the Ramadan canon roars again at 4am, this time to signal the beginning of the next day’s fast. Many Muslims here simply translate their day to night in order to cope with Jerusalem’s oppressive heat and the religious duty not to partake of food or water during daylight hours.

The Palestinian Sanduqa family is by tradition responsible for firing the Ramadan cannon from the cemetery on Salah-Al-Din Street since the tradition began during Ottoman rule in the early 20th century. Recently, an Israeli mayor of Jerusalem allowed the recommencement of the firing, some say in an attempt to assuage the political heat resulting from the continuation of Municipality-ordered demolition of Palestinian homes in areas such as Silwan, near to the Old City, and Sheikh Jarrah. Personally, the explosion at 4am this morning to signal the beginning of the first day’s fast had me reaching for my mobile and its speed-dial to the British Consulate, such was my proximity to the canons home here in East Jerusalem…

Jerusalem's Ramadan Canon...

Another dull day at the office…I’m just waiting for the end on Sunday. But I did post a parcel home with some bottle of Taybeh and some Somak spices in…

The 'office' at the end of the road - a difficult journey to work in a difficult place with difficult people...(please consider this a generalization based on my exhausted patience...there are some pretty cool people too)

In the meantime, for those of you wondering about the history of Jerusalem as a contested city, liberal Israeli organisation B’Tselem has a useful page here.

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Summer Travels 2011…(14) – Tunneling under the city…

In a bid to ward off frustration at the office, I’ve started trying to do one interesting thing each day. Today I went to the City of David, to the south of Jerusalem’s Old City…this is often considered as the original inhabited city of the area. On the way, I passed s Star of David made from Re-Bar is perhaps a fitting symbol for the struggle being fought here….

Star of David made from re-bar adorns a shop frontage as we pass from the Christian quarter into the Jewish quarter of the Old City

The City of David is a contentious area right now, as it sits next to the ‘slum’ of Silwan, a primarily Palestinian neighbourhood. Israel is accused of ‘land-grabbing’ by claiming parts of this neighbourhood for ‘archaeological importance’, evicting Palestinians and then bringing in Jews to live in the renovated homes. Its growing importance as a tourist site, with the associated income generated, only adds to the bad feeling surrounding this issue…

Silwan on the facing hill, an outpost of the City of David at the bottom right

But it is a pretty interesting tourist site… the excavations themselves look like something off a Diploma architecture students drawing board (or CAD screen), and the Hezekiah Tunnel is a pretty exciting experience…
The tunnel was dug underneath the City of David in Jerusalem, and is mentioned in the bible (2 Kings 20:20)
Leading from the Gihon Spring to the Pool of Siloam, it was designed as an aqueduct to provide Jerusalem with water during an impending siege by the Assyrians. The curving tunnel is 533 m long, and by using a 30 cm (0.6‰) gradient altitude difference between each end, conveyed water along its length from the spring to the pool. According to an inscription, the tunnel was excavated by two teams, one starting at each end of the tunnel and then meeting in the middle. This achievement in itself in almost incomprehensible when you’re walking in the tunnel – the difficult feat of making two teams digging from opposite ends meet far underground is now understood to have been accomplished by directing the two teams from above using sounds generated by hammering on the solid karst through which the tunnelers were digging.

The excavation chamber...

And we had a good splash when we got out…

Splash.

And then I went to the office and produced some layouts for the work we’ve been doing. This is the limit of my capacity currently…I feel no ownership of anything the ‘studio’ has produced in its varied and seemingly incongruous ways, and therefore feel like I can only throw myself at publishing work.

It is, however, the first day of Ramadan…where muslims do not eat or drink during daylight hours, for the entire month. Because of the heat here, many muslims have simply re-orientated their day, sleeping during the worst heat, and then conducting daily business after they have broken fast in the evening. Unfortunately for me, this means that my peaceful new home is no surrounded by a bustling neighbourhood right when I need to sleep (including fireworks). Ah well, I should consider it a dose of culture I guess!

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Summer Travels 2011…(13) – When Plans Don’t Work, Jericho and Jerusalem

So this weekend has been a bit of a mishmash…I’d originally intended to travel to Sebastiya, near Nablus, and then on to Jenin and back to Ramallah for a party at the Taybeh Brewery (West Bank Christian Palestinians…)…but none of that happened due to various divergencies of planning, so I took the opportunity to chill at the new flat, and make some excursions closer to home.

Saturday saw me venture to the Museum On The Seam here in Jerusalem. Straddeling the Green Line (border between Israel and Jordan before the 1967 war), the bombed out former Arab villa now serves as a major Israeli contemporary art institution, exhibiting work that deals with reality of the socio-political situation here in this part of the Middle East. My personal opinion was that there was a lot of wank, but also some interesting pieces, particularly those that looked beyond the immediate situation and related to the wider world as well as to the particulars or the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Museum on the Seam - blast damage from its role as a border crossing between Israel and Jordan

Some of the work in the Museum of the Seam

After taking some time to relax, and think about where I want to travel after this workshop is over, I headed to Jericho with Marcelo. This 10,000 year old city is proported to be the worlds oldest continually inhabited city, although the ‘ruins’ leave a lot to be desired – the city has been sacked and rebuilt so many times that very little remains of the original fabric. None the less, it still made an interesting change from Jersualem, not least because of the heat! Jericho was about ten degrees hotter that Jerusalem, sitting at about 44centigrade today. It was also incredibly dry – at one point I thought the hot desert wind blowing in as we waited for our Service Taxi back to Jerusalem was causing a skin to form on my eyeballs….

We approached Jericho via Al’Eizariya, home to an Al-Quds (Arabic for ‘The Holy’, the name given to Jerusalem by Palestinians) University campus and site of recent contentious house demolitions by Israel. Al’Eizariya is also holds a strange legal status, being one of the suburbs of Jerusalem as an Occupied City. The Israeli Occupation has confiscated large amounts of land, for both a settlement and for the construction of bizarrely planned route of the Separation Barrier, which has created an enclave around the suburb, to which Israel controls routes in and out despite it being technically in the West Bank and under Palestinian Authority control. The activism of the university students manifests itself on any vertical surface available, whilst homes look cautiously over the Wall into the West Bank, fearful of demolition teams issuing from the city behind…

It doesn’t cost much to get to Jericho…about £4, but you certainly get your money’s worth if to equate it to altitude traveled…Jericho, near the Dead Sea, is one of the lowest points on Earth. Indeed we passed a layby on the highway claiming to be exactly equitable to to neighbouring Mediterranean, less than 100 miles away.

After the underwhelming Old City ruins at Tal-Es-Sultan, we headed to the Monastery of the Quarantil, on the Mount Of Temptation – built to mark the spot where Jesus is said to have fasted for 40days and 40nights before resisting temptation by the Devil. The stunning cable car ride was only topped by the Monastery itself, perched on the cliff face 200 or 300m up.

Monstery of the Quarantil

View over Jericho from the Monastery of the Quarantil

After sheltering from the heat – which had become almost unbearable by this time – we headed back into town and gorged ourselves on barbequed meats, pitta and hummus in a friendly Jericho restaurant before finding ourselves a Service Taxi back to Jerusalem. It was at this point- with the scorching desert breeze cooking my eyeballs – that I was reminded of the sporadic way public transport works in this country. Service’s don’t leave until they are full and we were waiting what seemed like an age, attempting conversation on broken english and pidgin arabic, before we were finally allowed to set off…

Stuffing my face in Jericho...

Back, and after a refreshing shower, I felt like exploring Jerusalem on foot as the sun set. I’ve been reading Amos Oz’s ‘In The Land Of Israel’, which I bought from a Palestinian book shop in Bethlehem. Its opening paragraph reads like this:

In the Geulah quarter of Jerusalem, on Rabbi Meier Street, imprinted on one of tehmetal sewer covers is the English inscription “City of Westminster” – a reminder of the British Mandate in Palestine, The grocery store that was here forty years ago is still here. A new man sits there and studies Scriptures. It is after the High Holy Days: in Geulah, in Achvah, in Kerem Avraham, and in Mekor Baruch, the tatters of the flimsy booths built for the Feat of Tabernacles are still visible in the yards. Thei rgreenery has faded and turned grey. There is a chill in the air. From porch to proch, teh entire width of the alleyways, stretch laundry lines with white and coloured clothes: these are the eternal morning blossoms of teh neighbourhood in which I grew up. The Kings of Israel Street, which was once Heulah Street, throbs with pious Jews in black garb, bearded, bespectacled, chattering in Yiddish, tumultuous, in a hurry, scented with the heavy aroma of Eastern Eurpoean Ashkenazi cooking. An ultraorthodox woman, young, very pretty, pushes a twon-baby carriage full of plastic net shopping bags with bread, vegetables, canned goods, fish wrapped in newspaper, bottles of wine, cooking oil, soft drinks. Her hair is modestly covered but her fingers are richly adorned with rings. She stops to chat with another woman in one of teh courtyards in a mixture of Yiddish, Hebrew and English…a Brooklyn accent in a figure from Lodz or Krakow

Oz was writing in 1993, and whilst I was disappointed to find Rabbi Meier Street now devoid of a sewer-related connection to my own heritage, I found the rest of the neighborhood pretty much as Oz described – a leafy, friendly-sounding (and gridded, I have to say, with regard to recent events on the Studio) neighbourhood, echoing with the sounds of families nearing the end of Shabbat (its Saturday today, and this highly Jewish are is pretty much shut down as families celebrate and spend time with each other): young couples walk dogs or push prams, whilst older parents use the use the cool of the evening to exercise their offspring after a day of family torture. Adolescent young men and pretty girls take to the streets, heading for the post-Shabbat get-together at freinds’ houses or down-town bars. Occasionally, a Yeshiva school can be seen, copies of the Torah strewn before the more studious. Until now, I have not felt empathy like this for a people, using the chance they have been granted to live the life they want to lead, free from oppression and persecution that has haunted the Jews for thousands of years. I’d like to know, however, how aware these happy families are, in their safe, green neighbourhood, of the things we have seen on the other side of the city and Separation Barrier. The video below is of my wanderings…

(VIDEO…coming soon)

With my wanderings complete, I sit weary at my laptop, hoping to get all this down before it escapes my memory, and looking towards the closing weeks of the studio with something resembling apathy…with any luck, something exciting will happen.

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Sam

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