Tag Archives: Israel

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…(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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Summer Travels 2011…(8) – Hebron

I skipped off work on the last day of last week (the weekend is Friday / Saturday here, incorporating both the Muslim and Jewish holy days), and headed to Hebron, a small city in the southern part of the West Bank, initially to join two of the ‘cool group’, again at a conference. However, by the time I had headed into the office, become frustrated, left, caught the bus and arrived in Hebron, they had already departed, and I was left with a day to myself.

 
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Having no plan, I wandered towards the Old City, hoping to explore the Souk and talk to some people….Hebron has a particularly vivid history in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and strikingly is the only major urban centre where Jewish settlers reside right in the city centre, on top of and within Palestinian residences. Unsurprisingly, this makes it one of the most likely places for clashes to erupt. Whilst the Wikipedia entry for the city is worth a look to understand this particular context, especially the importance of the city for Palestinians, economically, historically and socially, the neatest summary might perhaps be expressed as this:

Hebron is undoubtedly an occupied city. Israeli organization B’Tselem states that there have been “grave violations” of Palestinian human rights in Hebron because of the “presence of the settlers within the city. It is divided into two parts – H1, which contains around 120,000 Palestinians, and In H2, where more than 500 Jewish settlers live among 30,000 Palestinians, the Palestinian populations’ movements are heavily restricted which Israel argues is due to terrorist attacks. For instance, the Palestinians are not allowed to use the Shuhada Street, the principal thoroughfare, which was renovated thanks to fundings by the United States. Estimates put the number of troops – to protect these settlers – at between 2000 and 4000.  As a result of these restrictions, about half the shops in H2 have gone out of business since 1994, in spite of UN efforts to pay shopkeepers to stay in business. Palestinians cannot approach near where the settlers live without special permits from the Israeli Defense Force.

In these photos, you can see the Jewish settlement (the newer building) on top of the Palestinian building. Note that the lower stories are empty; their doors have been welded shut by Israeli soldiers.

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This image also shows the particular way that settlement is carried out in Hebron; the newer looking extensions are all Israeli additions on confiscated buildings. Settlers, aware of the risks they face in such blatant transgression, employ private armed security.

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The Settlers in the sky routinely throw their rubbish onto the Palestinian society below, to which the Palestinians have raised metal guards in protection. Sometimes, the situation escalates, with sewage, stones and even Molotov cocktails being thrown down to the streets amidst market trading.

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The image above shows the guarded concrete barrier that forms part of the distinction between H1 and H2. My photography is monitored by a bored soldier. Indeed, the soldiers don’t want you taking photos of their base, which sits in the heart of the neighbourhood. “It OK to photograph me”, he says, “but don’t look at the base”. The base sits next to the white cylinders under my prop’s straw hat, and is visible from the ground within the Israeli controlled part of town.

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Palestine has some recognisable features of a different country…like its own phone network.

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The Christian Peacemaker Team (CPT) are ‘getting in the way’ in Hebron – I’ll add videos that elaborate, but they feel their role, as Christians, in the midst of a conflict is to help those oppressed by it. They puruse an agenda of observation and Palestinian community advocacy within Hebron; Paulette was giving a tour when I stumbled across her group, and kindly allowed me to join. This proved an invaluable grounding in the city…

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(437) Sahid showed me to his roof, right on the division between occupied buildings and those the Palestinian  market traders are still allowed to use. Particularly he showed me the bullet-holes in his water-tank, the victim of further Israeli pressure on Palestinians to move well away from the settlements (571).

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The Ibrahimi mosque is the second-most important site for Muslims and Jews in the Holy Land, and is partitioned to accommodate both, with separate check points for each, and an armed guard to keep the peace. I made this illuminating video as I passed back out of the Jewish side of the mosque – as a tourist, I was in a unique position, being able to pass between the separate areas.

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What is astonishing is the age of these soldiers. Many are younger than me; hello-kitty watched and M16s make for an unsettling combination in an area so prone to outbreaks of violence…

Checkpoints are arbitrarily enforced; these young arab men were made to remove everything from their pockets, whilst I was beconed freely through the metal detector without having to remove even my bag. (VIDEO…coming soon). You are never far from the military….

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But the soldiers here want to talk to me as much as the Palestinians do. I get the impression that in this apparent international backwater, people are keen to tell you their story. They are aware of the press they get in the world beyond; the Palestinians desperate to illustrate their oppression, and the soldiers sometimes critical of their own involvement….Hebron has certainly been an interesting chance to talk to both sides.

(VIDEO…coming soon)

But while one child plays with a soldier on duty, another told me that the same soldier hit him.

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The terminology in the Israeli-controlled parts of town is different…and characterizes the selective reading of history of which both sides are guilty.

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Israel’s selective application of planning procedures is eident here; this was fenced off as an ‘archeological site’, until a settlement was deemed necessary…

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The border between H1 and H2 is economically dead, due to Israeli restrictions on movement ‘for safety resaons’. And watchtowers sits on the tops of every neighbouring hill . Even ‘tourist sites’ are not immune; the tombs of Jesse and Ruth, mortal visitors to the garden of Eden, site quarantined by the uncompromising architecture of a settlement atop one of the neighbouring hills. The entrance is through an Israeli military camp (VIDEO…coming soon).

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I got talking to Abed, who sold me some things and dressed my in a Kafir whilst telling me Hebron’s stories over many cups of Arabic coffee. He showed me the old Souk, from which traders were ejected after Israeli’s settled on its upper stories; a school at the end of this street was closed, only to be replaced by an Israeli one, whilst the Souk itself is now a rubbish dump for the settlement.

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There was a festival on – celebrating the 15th anniversary of international aid for the the rehabilitation of Hebron’s Old City…a touching celebration of thanks, featuring transformation of public space into an outdoor photogallery, showing the results of a competition for a defining image of rehabilitation, and an eclectic brass-band playing to hundreds gathered in the audience.

(VIDEO…coming soon)

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Returned to Damascus Gate, (VIDEO…coming soon) the logistical hub of the old city, and met up with Dorota for a dinner of vegetables and chicken, before heading out to a Ziggy Marley concert…interestingly near Mt Zion.

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I’ll update this post with videos as soon as I can find a good enough connection. But I’ll post to say that I have.

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