This is a complilation of the Journal Letters I emailed to several of my friends while I was in Palestine in November, 2004. It is rather long-winded (17,000 words!) but I have found that editing this sort of material makes it lose some immediacy.
New Hishimi Hotel File Diary 41112
Friday 12th November 2004, evening.
Sometimes as I lead a normal life in Bristol I think of myself on my travels and wonder whether it's the same person. But now I have a full sense of reality. I am Stephen from Bristol, but I'm on a high as if on a super sideshow at a fair.
I ate after fasting all day originally unintentionally then to see what it's like. Luckily I was able to lie back on my hotel bed for the last hour, until woken by what I think was the signal that it was dusk. I went back to the Damascus Gate looking for a restaurant but the few were all closed. I was told this was in respect of Yasr Arafat's funeral having been earlier today. Then at the Gate there were dozens of Israeli Army (Israeli Defence Force or IDF) stopping most people from coming in or out of the Old City. Orthodox Jews in their extraordinary outfits were allowed through. The have huge hats, black coats, white stockings and a kiss curl dangling onto their usually pale boyish faces. The women and children hurry along behind their menfolk, looking more ordinary. Some of the men have shiny silver satin suits. Eventually I found a place were I had half chicken roasted with some spicy covering, and pitta bread, and a can of coke. No napkins – I used spare bread which seemed wasteful. This was out in the open, with me wearing only a shirt (on the top half!) – it's cool but not cold. Walking back I bought a chocolate bar from a stalled staffed by four boys of about 10, who I think were laughing at me good-humouredly. As I walked through the tunnel of stalls I wished as I had often in India that I was self-catering. The bright fruit and veg cried out to be bought, cooked and served.
As usual I've had no plans or rather a succession of them. First I was to spend a day, later two, in Jordan. Then it was to be Jerico. Then on impulse Jerusalem, where I had intended to be next Monday. One factor was that travel is difficult on Saturdays, the Jewish Sabbath, so I would not be able to go to Meeting at the Quaker school in Ramallah unless I got here today. And the reason that travel in Jordan went off the front burner was that I learnt that it costs 20 pounds to get into Petra. Plus hotel as I'd been told it was best to spend more time there than a day trip permits.
I left home on Thursday but as I had packed on Wednesday I had little do after getting James and Flossy breakfast and tidying it away. Sometimes I feel I'm turning into a proper little housewife. Flossy was keen that her parents attend a school function at 10, but neither of them could, so I did. I was early and had a chat with a parent who was moving his family to Rhyl in N Wales next day. For the function, an Assembly, we parents and babies sat on tiny chairs as the whole school filed in, only just squeezing into the hall, which I suppose is why they do one year group at a time. Several groups did a small show illustrating their studies – Flossy read a poem. I proudly took a photo tho it will probably be too small, as was her voice. But I admired her aplomb.
Then back onto my bike to call home to load my knapsack into my basket and string my hold-all onto my back, before free wheeling down the hill and to the bus station. I'd found a secret place to park my bike nearby, the grounds of a priory. I'd had permission but no acceptance of responsibility. I had promised that if it was stolen I would not even tell them. The bus journey to the airport was uneventful, far better than my usual method – train. I was rather early for the plane so I had the start of an adventure – trying to find a bus journey that would get me to a town and back in good time. I gave up on that after several false starts, so went to a grotty, expensive Little Chef café for tea and chips. Then I went to the chapel and did some deep thinking / praying. The topic being why am I doing this! I'm not expecting it to be fun. Nor do I expect any reward, here or in heaven (not that I believe in that either). Then my thoughts went back as ever to the topic of God, what is it if anything and what of it is relevant to me. As I was leaving an airport chaplaincy couple came in, both Salvation Army, and seemed pleased when I thanked them for the facility and told them I'd used it often.
The plane was Turkish Airlines. Much like most though not the latest technolgy. The film was utterly awful, Austalian/American. I had an hour in transit in Istanbul – it could have been anywhere. Landed at Amman, Jordan at about 1.30 a.m. local time. It's horrifying how quickly one forgets bad dreams. There was a very long wait for our luggage to appear. Then I asked an airport information person if there was a bus service (having been told taxis were 35 dollars, and having not been able to find anyone to share. My mistake was in accepting his offer to show me. He took control, bought my ticket, then demanded (in the shadows of the empty bus) an overlarge tip. Then a long wait until the bus left. He'd told the driver where to drop me, so I found myself on an urban motorway at about 2.45 a.m. Luckily a taxi turned up and didn’t overcharge me, but he didn’t go all the way and I had to spend 10 anxious minutes locating my hotel. Three bleary eyed staff let me in, had me fill out a large form, then showed my room which I had been told was 35 dollars so I was not surprised to find it very acceptable. I had a hot shower and went to bed. I woke at 8 local time i.e.6 UK time but went back to sleep until nearly 9. It was then that I decided to go straight to Palestine rather than do the sights of Jordan. The breakfast, which I was pleased to find was included, was excellent. A plate of bright ncucumber, toatoes, olives, with several cheeses, bread butter jam and plenty of tea. The bill was 20 dinars.
Then I set off for the bus station. I took a taxi (he quoted 20 dinars i.e very approx 20 pounds), to the border, but I insisted he took me to the bus station. He dropped my by a taxi rank. They all tried to get me to use one of them but I broke away and eventually found a charming policeman who took me back to the taxis! This is now the only route, other than one bus a day. However it was very cheap, 12 dinars for up to four (maybe five) passengers. I shared with two so paid only 4 dinars. He went at a terrifying speed. It was all downhill as we descended from the plateau down into the Jordan valley.
If I kept up this level of detail the missive would run to 20 pages! The border crossing was by far the very worse I have ever experienced. I didn’t time it but it took from about 10 or 1030 until about 3.30. Again and again and again one had to queue. Often on a crush of patient but often angry people. A crazy feature was how our luggage was taken away then there was a terrible scrimmage in a vast hall as their system – a mixture of computers and nasty little Hitlers shouting particularly at elderly Arab women. After the main immigration control one felt one had arrived only to come into this hall where the queue broke down and ended in a brutal crush that lasted 50 minutes. At the head were two very young women in security uniforms who where alternately frightened by the crowd, giggling, or shouting like prison guards.
I nearly got rejected at immigration as I was not able to lie convincingly. My line was that I was coming to see religious sites but I hadn't got an itinerary nor firm hotel bookings. The officer, another pre-university young woman, was very undecided and eventually granted me two weeks instead of the standard three months.
As I left the awful hall (my bag having been dumped near the exit hours before, making the queuing and the computer redundant) a nice Israeli security chap bade me welcome to Israel. He had a nice job, near the airy exit and faced only with travellers relieved to be out of the madhouse. He told me there were two reasons for the crush. 1 Arafat's funeral – several of those to whom I had spoken were trying to get to it. 2. The end of Ramadan is near and many were returning from Mecca.
I must add mention of the very pleasant people I met during this process. One a very beautiful and ostentatiously rich Dutch woman, president of a peace movement, anxious to get to the Funeral. Another a lovely Muslim American family who live half the year in Loisiana the other half in Jerusalem. We had an in depth discussion of Quakerism on the bus to Jerusalem.
When at last on the bus a Fransiscan monk lent me his mobile (mine can send messages here but not voice) and I rang each of the budget hotels in Jerusalem before I found one with a bed. The bus used an Israeli highway to speed into town. No West Bank (Palestinian) citizens were allowed to use it. I headed into the Old City which is down steep steps and through an archway into a town of tunneled streets. A very engaging hotel owner touted me and eventually I gave in, looked at the room, and agreed to take it for 100 shekels (about 14 pounds) a night. Tomorrow I shall make contact with ISM but hope to get to Ramallah on Sunday before being sent out into the country.
There follows two news items.
3 Citizens Killed in GS and WB
Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) killed Thursday three citizens, wounded three and arrested six others in different events in the West Bank (WB) and Gaza Strip (GS), Palestinian medical and security sources said.
>From: "Haifa Ibrahim" <email@example.com> >To: firstname.lastname@example.org >Subject: Statistics >Date: Mon, 8 Nov 2004 12:21:43 +0300 > >circle it around the world >>> > > >Palestinian Human and Material Losses Inflicted by Israel during the > >Intifada (Uprising) > > > >Statistics and numbers documented > >September 28th, 2000 - October 04, 2004 > > > >Total Number of Palestinian deaths : 3747 > >Children: 819 > >Women : 250 > >Men : 2678 > > > > > >Palestinians killed by Jewish settlers 72 > >Palestinians killed as a result of Israeli shelling : 749 > >Deaths as a result of medical prevention at Israeli checkpoints : 115 > >Of them stillbirths (born dead at checkpoints) : 31 > > > >Number of Palestinians extra-judicially assassinated : 524 > >Of them bystanders killed during extra-judicial operations: 216 > > > >Area Distribution of Palestinian deaths > >West Bank (including east Jerusalem) : 1936 > >Gaza Strip: 1811 > > > >Palestinians injured by Israeli forces and settlers : 27484 > >Live ammunition: 7262 > >Rubber/Plastic bullets: 6217 > >Tear gas: 6227 > >Miscellaneous: 7778 > > > >Number of Palestinians permanently disabled or maimed by injuries : 3530 > > > >Educational Statistics : > >School Students killed : 501 Injured : 3377 Detained : 608 > >University Students Killed: 196 Injured : 1245 Detained : 710 > >Teachers killed : > >27 Injured : 54 Detained : 167 > > > >Destruction of Palestinian Property (dunum = 1000 m² ) > >Confiscated land : 224415 > >Razed land: 72951 > >Estimated number of uprooted trees : 1167913 > >Homes demolished : 7440 > > > > > > > > > >Sources: > > > >: Palestinian Ministry of Education and Higher Education > > > >: Applied Research Institute Jerusalem (ARIJ) > > > >: Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS) > > > >: Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) > > > >: Palestine Monitor > > > >
New Hishimi Hotel File Diary 41113.
Saturday 13th November 2004, evening.
After I left the internet café last night I found the souk 'heaving'. All the world was crowding the narrow shop-lined tunnel. I took a wrong turning but soon realized my error. I began to worry about pick-pocketing as the situation was similar to those in India and Mongolia where I had been robbed three times. I reached the quiet of my hotel room with great relief. However to my horror I experienced the symptoms of an imminent migraine attack. More powerful than for many years, the visual manifestations rapidly increased as I fumbled for my pills, already partially blind. I took two and lay on my bed, watching the bright flashing jagged arc steadily expand across my vision. I lay still and waited for the headache to start, but to my amazement and relief though my head throbbed with every heartbeat it did not develop into a pain, and within a couple of hours all was well and I was sitting up in bed reading! I must try to get more of these pills. I obtained them I think in India when unable to get my usual ones (Migril, which is now considered very out of date).
However I did feel muzzy this morning and wanted little breakfast. Just as well because I soon found everywhere shut. Ramadan has ended, so now it's Eide, a three day festival that will mean most places are closed. And the Jewish Sabbath.
I intended to have a quiet day. I went to a few churches including a long stay in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. (Foolishly I keep forgetting to bring my guide book to the internet place so I never have a way of checking names and spellings.) It has a colorful entrance that leads to a large domed area in which there is a small structure that tourists or pilgrims queue to enter. A tall bossy priest harangues the queue, belittling the guides, to make the tourists (in this case some bewildered Japanese) form groups of four, in a neat line, ending at a precise spot. Later when the queue was almost nil I joined. Along with three other independents, i.e. without a guide, the priest was flummoxed, commanding the nearest guide to take responsibility for us. Although the priest shouted in English he clearly didn’t speak it so all was confusion until the guide translated my repeated statement "We're independent!" We then shuffled into the tiny shrine, bent double, and had to back out as there was no room to turn. Despite the priest doing all he could to ruin any sense of devotion or spirituality the tiny shrine did have some power. Far better was elsewhere in the complex. One sees a small staircase leading deep down into a cave hewn out of the rock. In it another smaller cave. Here was peace and an overpowering sense of a Presence. I sat on the clean marble floor and meditated for a while, feeling much as I had in the lovely Hindu temple near the source of the Narmada.
I also visited the stark Lutheran church, splendid in its simplicity, its stained glass windows of modern design. There is a concert there this evening – an all-Bach organ recital which would have been good but was too expensive for me, at 30 NIS (New Israeli Shekels, which I found are 8 to the pound).
However I did pay 20 NIS to spend a couple of useful hours in the Museum of the Tower of David (again possibly mis-named here). It aimed to present the history of Jerusalem and was very well done though I felt that it was biased in favour of proving the city had always been Jewish, despite their having been thrown out several times. For instance a film strongly implied that it was originally built by Jews though elsewhere it was mentioned that it was not Jewish until David conquered it. There was lots of graphic detail of the British Mandate period but gave the impression that the only ones to oppose the Brits were the Arabs. At the exit one saw credits to donors all of whom appeared from their names to be Jewish. Later I was told albeit by an unreliable source that there had been a mosque on the site the museum now occupies.
After a small lunch, a falafel sandwich, I came back to my hotel for a nap but had great difficulty rousing myself. I'm worried by my lack of energy. I slept from 2.30 till 4. Then I went through the Christian Quarter (which is very near my hotel) stopping for a much needed cup of tea, then out by the New Gate and into West Jerusalem to explore it. A different world! Due to regulations and many police the two populations are a world apart except for large groups of tourists streaming from their hotels in the West, across the busy road, which as much as the Old City walls divides the communities. Being Shabbat there were also many Orthodox Jews coming into the Old City for evening prayers. I am still amazed by their garb and haircuts. Some are pleasant, wise-looking older men but most seem to be very young, very puny, pale and pasty, and to me very odd in their huge hats and quaintly cut black outfits. I'd love to have a conversation with some, in fact did greet one or two in the hope of striking up a conversation but to no avail.
Walking round this part of West Jerusalem (off the Jaffa Road) was depressing. The first thing I noticed was the many liquor stores. Then a group of drunks, filthy and surrounded by their litter, one trying to wake another who was stretched out on the ground. Most of the shops were much like any British or European city, including a MacDonalds, though the basic city architecture and layout were better than most UK towns. I believe it was laid out in the thirties. Another feature was the variety of restaurants – the first I noticed was Chinese. Another surprise after being in a Moslem country was the sight of many young women, most frequently alone, dressed in quite sexy clothes. I explored some fascinating alleys and went to an Ethiopian Restaurant for a small meal ?Tibli. – Beef stew with chilli, served on a large round of their horrible bread. It comes damp, cold, rubbery and salty. Ugh. But I've grown not to find it repulsive. One uses it to mop up and pick up the food as one does with a Nan in a Balti. I had a good conversation with an Arab Israeli.
I strolled slowly back to the Old City feeling low as I felt I'd wasted time in not making more effort to converse with orthodox Jews who were now streaming back from their synagogues. I got lost in the lanes in the Christian Quarter, but it's easily done and easily corrected. My hotel is easy to find as it's on the main road (tunnel) from the Damascus Gate to the Jaffa Gate, near where it crosses the Via Delarosa.
Back home I had another nap after failing to find the BBC. My guide book says they broadcast in English at 7 but I couldn’t find it.It's frustrating hearing the news in Hebrew and Arab with frequent mentions of Tony Blair and Jack Straw (and Manchester United).
I was about to continue reading my book (it's about Mary Magdalene. I suppose one could say it's a feminist rejection of the role the (non-Orthodox) church gave her for hundreds of years. However after reading a psalm (84 which is supposed to support environmentalism though I don’t see it as such) the Book fell open at an exciting story in Judges and I was once again utterly horrified by the brutality and its seeming acceptance. The tribes ganging up on one of their number, several tens of thousands slaughtered, towns razed, women and children in their thousands killed, raped and abducted, all with no hint of opprobrium. Why do the Christians retain the Old Testament? Its mores are totally unlike those of Jesus!
P.S. I've had some feedback from yesterday's diary, asking for some detail I thoughtlessly assumed you all knew.
James is my son, 40 plus, a paramedic now emerging as an NHS Manager.
Flossy is my 9 year old grand-daughter. I live with them.
I crossed into Israel/Palestine via the Allenby or King Hussein Bridge. It looks simple on the map! My theory was that if turned back at the border I'd at least be somewhere interesting. At Tel Aviv it would have been straight back to Heathrow.
The bus fare? I'm awfully bad at remembering money amounts. Taxi to bus station 2 Dinars. Sharted taxi to border 4 Dinars. (12 shared by three px) Exit fee from Jordan normally 5 D but zero as we'd been there under 72 hours. Bus across the bridge 2 dinars. Visa for Israel free. Taxi to Jerusalem 20 NIS. (Fare by
Turkish Airlines was 297 pounds inc taxes etc) OK?
New Hishimi Hotel File Diary 41114
Sunday 14 November 2004, evening.
Today a high and a low. The high was Meeting for Worship in Ramallah plus a splendid lunch with Jean Zaru. The low can wait.
I left my hotel at about 8.30 feeling very fit and keen. I soon found the bus for Ramallah (having found it last year) and as there was 10 minutes to wait I sat in the sunshine to eat my breakfast - a sweet loaf that I'd just bought, and some salami from yesterday. I also bought a "Jerusalem Post" so I was able to catch up with the events of Arafat's funeral and international reactions. The bus whizzed through the nearly empty city and we were soon at the great wasteland which is the Carandia (spelling?) checkpoint. A great scrimmage of buses, cars, and taxis, rough ground strewn with lumps of concrete and anti tank emplacements, a camouflaged gun-tower, and the long lines of concrete barriers and metal railing to take the queues. On the other side much the same, with taxi touts yelling to drown each other. Soon one is in one for Ramallah and dashing off through the town with many half built houses and housing projects, superficially as if hit by bombing but the result of an economic boom having been interrupted. In Ramallah I soon found the Friends (i.e. Quakers) Boys High School. The gate was closed. I expected to wait for an hour or so but as luck would have it (or the continued grace of God) an American Quaker, presumably a teacher, passed by and informed me that Meeting was at the Girls High School, a mile or so away. He gave me instructions on how to get there. It's not a simple town and I walked around in something of a circle continually being wrongly directed, but at last found it with still half an hour to spare. There were only four of us. Jean Zaru who amongst her many other Quaker, national (Palestinian) and international roles is Clerk of the Meeting. An American man and a South African woman Emley Mereko who is here on the Ecumenical Accompaniers (EA) programme. They do a three month stint, after training much of which is done at Woodbrooke. (Quakers administer the programme on behalf of the World Council of Churches.) Ministry was mainly on being positively critical of what one reads be it the Bible or the Press. One message was to the effect that our kind of Quaker needs to realize we are an oddity in this world where violence is esteemed and indeed necessary. "The U.S. didn't get its independence by simply asking, nor will the Palestinians get justice by gently requesting it."
After a lively discussion Jean asked us to join her for lunch. She has a lovely home with a fascinating array of books including one by Edward Said ("Peace and Its Discontents") which caught my eye. In it there is a chapter devoted to Jean's brother, Hanna Mikhail, a Quaker and a leading Palestinian patriot, who disappeared, possibly at the hands of the Israelis or their allies the Phalangists. We had great conversation, initially rather careful but eventually with lots of joking and gentle teasing (of the British, of course). A joke obviously from the early C20: "Why does the sun not set on the British Empire?". "Because God cannot trust them in the dark!"
I had been making notes on how to find the Meeting as both times I've tried I've had problems. (Last year it cost me a lot in taxi fares.) However my efforts were redundant. From next week they will be at a meeting house much nearer the Centre. (Directions: From Al Manara (or the Loin Circle) in the centre of Ramallah go west along Main Street two blocks to in a plot with trees, behind a white wall. Main Street is not marked as such but is best identified by a huge Coca-Cola sign.)
I offered to return with Emley to Jerusalem, and she needed to go to her digs to collect some things. The EAs in Ramallah are housed in a fine apartment on the top floor of a building in the grounds of the Boys High School. At the check point we had to open our bags for inspection and as the soldier was polite Emley said some cheerful words of thanks to him.
The low was that I now set out to make contact with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) which is the purpose of my visit. I traipsed around a long time before I found the hotel. There I met a smashing young London-Irishman called John. The news at first was bad. There was no training scheduled as they were between campaigns, and ISM would not let me out in the field without their intensive two-day course. However John and others had a debate and came up with several alternative ideas, which will be explored later this evening and tomorrow. We also devised a strategy for extending my visa as I had only been given 2 weeks.
I also found that sleeping in a dorm at the Faisal Hostel would cost only 25 NIS per night, which is a quarter of what I am paying now. Plus the Faisal has hot showers all day and self catering facilities. So I have booked to move there tomorrow.
I went back to the New Kishimi where I told mine host I was moving out tomorrow. He seemed sad but not surprised. I gather I am his only guest. I mentioned I wanted a shower but the water was never hot – he offered an excuse different from the previous one. So I had a cold shower which tested my willpower to its uttermost, but left me feeling very refreshed.
Faisal Internet Hostel File Diary 41115
Near Damascus Gate
Monday 15 November 2004, evening.
I have to be brief this evening as I am to get up at 4.30 tomorrow.
This morning I packed and crept out of the New Hishimi Hotel unseen (I HAD paid!)
Took my bag to the new place then set off the first aim to get my visa extended. At the Ministry of the Interior I found that I needed to get an appointment. Referred from office to office but they insisted I must telephone them. Long fruitless search for a pay phone or a card to match an nearby phone, then to Orange to get a SIM card to adapt my mobile. All to no avail. Borrowed a phone but found it continually engaged. So back to the offices and by a combination of patience, insistence and charm at last got an appointment – 5th January 2005. This is fine as it means I can leave after my visa expires and flash the appointment slip as an excuse. Mission accomplished. (I had found my way to the office where the phone was answered. Two clerks, one on a private call for the half hour I watched them, the other took two calls but left the phone unanswered most of the time.)
Thence to ICHAD Israeli (or International?) Committee Against House Demolitions. There to offer myself to their international co-ordinator Lucia (tel 972 0525216551. email@example.com.
After an interview and some briefing I set to washing up a stack of dirty coffee cups! In the afternoon I joined the famous Jeff Halpern in a tour of Jerusalem looking at the Wall and the huge Settlements. I saw the wall close up from a place I'd visited a year ago. They put in a small wall first, that agile people can surmount, the after a few months the huge one, 5 metres high. It stretches for many miles. No not stretches as it is very convoluted. The size and visual impact of it I found deeply disturbing. It is so tall, so implacable. With its wide clearance zone on each side such a huge waste of space, a great ugly scar zigzagging across the landscape, city and country, village and olive grove. On the inside great areas are cleared of houses and the infrastructure, roads, water, drains, laid for new 'neighbourhoods as the Israelis term them. All illegal under international law but now so big – cities – and occupied not by zealots but by ordinary unaware working class Israelis so that they are what Jeff Halper calls created facts. Very recently the U S Congress (which we are told is the only body the Sharon Government respects) has decided these are to be regarded as part of Israel, no longer Palestine. Here the wall splits what was a major Palestinian town in East Jerusalem (on the 'back side' of the Mount of Olives) cutting students from schools and their university, and families from their local hospital. It is about 8 miles to the nearest gate in the wall. The point were we went today we also visited last year. Then despite the low wall down the high street it was still lively, with shops and people – school children, women with shopping, business men with briefcases - coming and going, clambering over the wall. This had been the main road to the Allenby Bridge., Bethany and Jordan. I felt deeply moved, shocked, outraged.
What I learnt was that the city of Maale Adummi now stretches on paper from Jerusalem to Jericho. Only part of this is built so far but the land having been zoned as its development all other uses are now illegal under Israeli law so all Palestinian houses however new are under demolition orders. These are enforced in a haphazard manner. We met a man who had been given 3 days, but they had gone to court to have it deferred until after Ramadan. So now he expects them to arrive at any time. Usually they are given 15 minutes to clear the house. The latest insult is to charge them thousands of shekels for the job of demolishing. The alternative is that the owner may demolish it himself. ICAHD has defended many but is short of funds. They also rebuild houses and one has been rebuilt four times. Another was knocked down and rebuilt so often (by ever widening groups of international) that in the end the authorities said they would not demolish it so long as the family don’t live there. So it is now a Peace Centre. We had an Eide meal there this evening. (Linda, the 'we' included Mary Lou Smith Pres of ICAHD USA.)
We shared a taxi back to Jer. And to my new digs. My mentor Jimmy shares the same dorm, he has been there three months. He's a Jew from Chicago. All the other occupants are much younger than I, mostly peace workers, some backpackers. It's a very friendly place, with large communal areas free tea/coffee, BBC World TV, a book exchange and possibly a mobile phone market. But the bunk bed (thank G I have a lower bunk) does not look comfortable, not a patch on the one I've left! (I had made an arithmetic error in my calculation of costs, thought I'd been paying 25 pounds a night but now realize it was 12.50. So I may upgrade to a 40 or even an 80 shekel (10 pound) room.
Tomorrow Jimmy and I are assigned to join a group organized by Rabbis for Justice, to go olive picking. This is to be in an area where settlers have stopped Palestinian farmers from getting in their own crops so teams of volunteers do it for them.
Mary Lou wants me to join a party on Thursday visiting a school her group helps. However I already have 'my' school in India to work with and dare not get sucked in to another similar concern.
So at last I'm to do something useful, I hope.
Faisal Internet Hostel File Diary 41116
Near Damascus Gate
Tuesday 16 November 2004, evening.
I have to be EVEN briefer this evening as I am to get up at 4.30 tomorrow.
AND I waited an hour to use the computer at the new hotel only to find it VERY slow and faulty, so lost 20 minutes agonizing work. So to start again…
I did manage to get up at 0430 despite having an awful night the bed being hard, the room hot, the only cover too thick, and a mosquito that meant I had to keep covered. Even so I got four bites. I'll give it one more try and if the same will upgrade to my own room, another disadvantage of a dorm being the need to try to pack etc in the dark so as not to wake the others.
We found the bus after a worrying search. It was organized by Rabbis for Human Rights. There were three of us internationals, me, the very nice Chicago Jew Jimmy who reminds me of my son, a gentle giant, and a Swede with a long fine face and longer blond hair. All the others, 25 or so, were Israeli Jews though only one a full Rabbi. We drove up to near Nablus a village called Itamar. Here there is a typical situation though one of the most extreme. A Palestinian village, with their olive groves over the hills for maybe a mile or two around. Extremist Settlers establish a settlement on the top of one of their hills. They require the army (IDF) to protect them, and anyway they fire shots towards any villagers who come to tend their groves. Apparently if olive trees are neglected for a few years they wither and die. And there is a law that if neglected for three years they revert to state property and hence no impediment to the settlers. Not that they seem to care much for the law. We were briefed that these Settlers were particularly aggressive and we were not to respond in violence not even verbal. I was told later their leader is notorious and they have murdered more than one local Palestinian; one 'Rabbi' told me even the right wingers say he should be locked up for 100 years. Another claimed he was a friend of Sharon's. We were told that we had local police and army contacts, and that they knew were coming to help pick the olives. However when we arrived the army officer showed us a document stating that the area had just been declared militarily sensitive therefore none of us could enter. There was a standoff for a coupler of hours, us standing around our bus, a couple of dozen Palestinians with all their equipment for harvesting and pruning, and about quarter mile off the Settlers, sometimes shouting at us through a loud hailer. Of course all was in Hebrew or Arabic so I had to keep asking what was happening. At last our negotiators gave in on the promise that tomorrow the locals but not we will be allowed in. But the latter ask that we go as witnesses – they expect to be refused entry, but we are told the army will be there in greater force.
So after a falafel lunch we went off to another less troubled village Jayous were we soon got busy picking olives. As the trees are covered in dust it was a less pleasant task than I'd expected, but we were all cheerful except that true to their stereotype the Jewish people had several startlingly strongly voiced arguments. The local were of course very grateful – we had delicious mint tea on arrival. I passed round sweets and nuts that I'd bought.
We got back around 5.30. I stopped by at the Russian Orthodox Cathedral hoping for some of their lovely music but no go. Then shopping for food for this evening and tomorrow. I'm relying a lot on tinned sardines and local bread. Misha the hotel cat has taken to me i.e. to my sardines.
I realize I've made many errors e.g. calling the street Via dela Rosa (street of the Rose) when it is Via Dolorosa (Street of Tears)! Also I was not quite in the Moslem Quarter but in the market area that lies between it and the Christian Quarter. Now I'm just outside the Damascus Gate (but come back in to this internet place despite the roar of all the youths playing war games!
Linda has pointed out some more errors:
Hey, Stephen, what brilliant news! I'm delighted that you spent the day with ICAHD and that through them, you are able to participate in some helpful activities. Will you be with Rabbis for Human Rights tomorrow - Arik Ashermann? I look forward to your next installment.
Me, again. Just had another look at this and noticed that I forgot to write that ICAHD stands for Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions.
Also, the wall is 8 metres high and in some places another 3 metres will be added on top of that bringing the wall to 11 metres in an attempt to stop youngsters trying to scale it. With all that you're learning about the wall, now you know why it's described as a land-grab apartheid wall.
Palestinians are charged $1200 - $1500 for the demolition of their homes.
All beyond belief, isn't it!
File: Diary 41118
Internet ‘café’, Bethlehmm
Thursday 18 November 2004, 11 a.m. (Includes 17th)
Last night at the Faisal Hostel I took the risk of using their computer to write this diary, starting by saying it be exceptionally brief because… 1. I was very tired, 2. it was pouring with rain outside so I couldn’t get to the good computers. But I wrote quite a lot then as I was on the penultimate step before pressing SEND the machine crashed. I retired, defeated.
Now here am I in Bethlehem in the internet place we used last year when staying at the nearby Bethlehem Star Hotel. It’s a lovely bright morning, the air fresh from the frequent showers. I’ve done all I came for, and more and it’s still only 11.
Yesterday I got up again at 0430 and with a larger party walked to Liberty Park in West Jerusalem to get the bus that is run daily sauf Saturdays by Rabbis for Human Rights (RHR – my abbreviation). This time there were 9 of us internationals, three of whom were freelance journalists. The bus picked up other Jewish people until so full several had to follow in their car. I talked in some depth with a lovely woman called Ruth. She was dressed in normal tasteful clothes but told me she was an Orthoox Jew. I had thought they all wore their distinctive garb. We had a really deep discussion on spirituality and mysticism, and the Bible / Torah and its commentaries. Also a bit about Quakerism.
Remember we had been to Itarmi the previous day and, along with the Palestinian farming families we were to assist, had been stopped by the police and army on the grounds that they were too few in number to protect us all from the settlers, who in that settlement are some of the most notorious, with at least two murders to their reputation. We had been assured (? – several doubted the promises) that today the army would be there in strength. But when we got within a few miles we were stopped by police and army and mainly the State Security service (aka the secret service). Lengthy negotiations started. Did I mention that here they are all utterly addicted to mobile phone (they call them cell phones). All the negotiators talked with their cell to their ears.
I wont try to describe toings and froings, between us, our Jerusalem office, ours and ‘their’ lawyers, police, regional army and secret police. When told we couldn’t proceed many of our party were all for breaking away and insisting on going, especially when news came through that the settlers were attacking the farmers despite the army protection, and that they had set fire to some of the olive trees. One magnificent, beautiful (Ruth’s desription – I am always fascinated when women praise other women’s beauty) young woman was very passionate, argumentative and impetuous. She called for support then rushed away and stopped a taxi demanding to be taken to Itamar. Immediately the police stopped the taxi and fined the driver. If one asks under what law the answer is a cynical laugh. One of our leaders went to argue the case and was fined 500 NIS ‘for crossing the road’. Five of our group had been allowed as observers into the hastily declared Closed Military Zone. And they informed us by cell phone that the villagers were being able to tend their trees. This was a great success as they had been denied access for three (? Some said four) years and legally in this case the land would revert to state ownership which in effect would be to give it to the settlers. So we were told that our presence yesterday and today had been invaluable, even though sadly we were not to witness the outcome. In the English language Israeli liberal newspaper it said that the police arrested 15 of the settlers. This again is a big step forward. People are saying Sharon no longer needs their support.
We then moved on to another village where settlers had been interfering with the olive harvest. Still shepherded by our Secret Policeman, a big, calm, intelligent looking chap (continually chewing gum and with his cell apparently super-glued to his ear) with some evil looking toughs as subordinates, we all set to picking. We were all very jolly and very friendly with the villagers. However, rain had been forecast. It was cold and windy and I hadn’t dressed warmly so I was cold until the leading chap lent me a spare working shirt. There were occasional showers but then a downpour which soaked us all. We tried to shelter under one of the tarpaulins they spread under an olive tree, but we still got soaked. It ended suddenly and the fresh wind soon dried me but I began to feel unwell so when the rain started again I sloped off to the bus, rather surprised to find 8 or so had already stopped work. I was just cold and exhausted from the two very early mornings.
There are many good and interesting happenings on these occasions. Such as stopping in a Palestinian village to buy falafels and hummous. At first, with our Israeli number plates, they think we are Jews (well, in this case we are) but when they hear what we are doing everyone is friendly. Freshly made it is delicious in the fresh air during a break from work. Also there’s lots of interesting conversation and argument though I didn’t take part much as I got apathetic. Earlier in the morning when still fresh I climbed the trees to get the most inaccessible olives, but later I started feeling lazy.
I found a presumably wild tortoise (tho one can hardly imaging a tortoise being wild!)
Back in Jerusalem I took some very bad advice, to take a bus all the way to Damascus Gate. I thought my colleagues were going to but found myself on the pavement alone! I had a problem finding the right bus stop and waited ages in the cold wind with damp clothes (also very muddy – I must have looked awful) People were moaning about having been waiting 30 minutes so eventually I decided to walk rather than to freeze. The wind was behind me and it was an interesting walk, tho each time I asked the way people either didn’t know where the Old City was, or had not heard of the Damascus Gate, or said it was too far, or too dangerous as I’d have to pass the Arab Market. This market turned out to be a gorgeous place, bursting with the most delectable fruit, veg, fish and meat. Most of the customers were Jewish. I bought the ingredients for a stew, and some nice fruit. It turned out the road I was on was the Jaffa Road – ideal. (I always carry a compass when traveling, and knew I had to head east.)
Back at the hotel I had a long slow glass of tea – it is delicious, with mint and no milk. At the Faisal it’s free. Along with the constant hot water in the bathroom the hostel is growing on me. I had devised a way of making the bed more comfortable, by using the duvet to augment the hard mattress, and its cover as my only ‘blanket’. After my stew (the meat was as tough as old boots, but only cost 5 NIS) I wrote what was to be a short diary then lost it all. So I read an old guide to the holy places in Jerusalem and almost wished I was here to visit them.
I felt I deserved a morning off, and one of my aims was to do some shopping in Bethlehem, partly as it’s cheap and partly as it supports the local economy. There is no bus, but a shared taxi. Due to my inexperience I had him drop me at the roadblock that cuts the direct route, the dual highway from Jerusalem to Bethleham. Almost no-one else was taking the long walk to the barrier. When I got there I saw a big sign saying wait here until called, and a group of men. I joined them but realized they were taking about me … Inglesi??? … They asked me what I wanted. To go to Bethlehem. Well, go on then. So I advanced slowly and warily until I got to a bored soldier. Can I go in. A lazy nod. I walked through. Past an area being developed as a bus station then to a street almost empty except for a few taxis. The drivers came out to get my custom. I said I wanted a bus they said there were none but I tend to disbelieve this. I indicated I could walk. Then they said the road was blocked. One kept asking me how much I was prepared to pay and to put him off I said 5 shekels, but he took me up on it. He kept up a combination of friendliness (which one feels is really genuine) and salesmanship. I kept saying I’m not a tourist and I’m not rich. But I let slip I might be interested in staying here, so he persuaded me to let him take me to a place where his brother works. To my surprise it turned out to be a very attractive hostel or guest house attached to (an in, or at least on the edge of) Deheiseh Refugee Camp. They wanted only 60 NIS for an en suite room. Great colourful murals depict scenes of Palestinian resistance. I gather several Euros and Americans live there tho it seemed very underused. The problem is its distance from the centre, and when I asked Nayef if there were buses he said no, but he’d give me a good rate for daily service to and from the Jerusalem bus. I did not commit myself. I have since been told there is a bus, in which case I am very tempted. I shall check it out after this.
I paid Nayef 30 NIS which was I think fair for what he’d done, even tho most of it was at his insistence. He treated me to a coffee in the sort of place I like. Interesting old build, dirty, cluttered, friendly.
Next I started my shopping. First to a dentist as I think I explained my dentist in Bristol had said she’d done two temporary jobs, but was going on maternity leave and would not be able to complete the job for several months. I had a good chat with the stunning receptionist while waiting for the dentist, who I learnt was trained in Russia. I got her to teach me some Arabic phrases. The dentist said there were no temporary fillings, and as I am in no pain or discomfort we decided to do nothing. He wouldn’t accept a fee. Then to the optician, trained at Moorfields, and equipped with a new Japanese machine which examines one’s eyes then prints out the prescription. When he put the examination fitting lenses on me they were spot on. I ordered new reading glasses and new bifocals, 50 pounds the lot!
Thence to get trousers where I had a year before (I’d also bought glasses last year.) And on to the tailors to shorten them. 100 NIS for the 2 pairs of trousers (paid as 20 US dollars) and 14 NIS (less than 2 pounds) for them to be shortened. While waiting I took a stroll and found the Evangelical Lutheran Centre where they were very friendly, another good coffee, and super loos where I changed from my old worn and very muddy trousers to my lovely new ones. Thence to this internet place.
The above has taken about an hour and a half.
Now I will see if there’s a bus to Deheisheh and also confirm that the best route to and from Jerusalem is not the direct road but via Bet Sahour. If that all works out I think I’ll move here, as an adventure and to support the locals. Then I must tell Lucia at ICAHD (… Against House Demolitions) that I’m available for more work. Also I may contact a media centre which I am told needs a volunteer to edit the English pages of their web site. So there’s plenty to do and if nothing else another go at olive picking with RHR. Plus I have yet to do Candia’s errand in connection with her plan to twin her Gloucestershire village with one near Nablus.
Stephen Petter, Bethlehem. 12.30.
File: Diary 41119
Internet ‘café’, via Doloroso (my old favorite)
Friday 19 November 2004, evening
My last session was in Bethlehem, yesterday.
It seems the olive harvesting is nearly over, and with continual rain the hitherto daily workgroups organized by Rabbis for Human Rights seem to have been ceased. There is another group going tomorrow, quite a long distance to the north of the West Bank, near Jenin. However I think I shall try to accomplish one of the errands I was asked to attempt, to a small village near Nablus. I just now asked taxi drivers how much it would be and they quoted 500 shekels – then as I left the group one of them said 200. I am getting rather cross with taxi drivers. They cannot be trusted to tell any semblance of truth.
In Bethlehem yesterday I'd been told there were no buses from Deheisheh Refugee Camp to the centre, but of course there was a frequent service, price one shekel. From this centre (called Cinema – even I can remember that) another bus took me to Beth Jala as I had been told by several that this was a better route to and from Jerusalem than the direct route via the checkpoint on the main road. Another 1 shekel ride. People told me that the Bet Jala exit was also closed and I did not check this as there were no people at all going that way and so I guessed there'd be no buses on the other side. People told me the bus was in a certain direction. Maybe I missed the spot – there were no groups waiting, and I kept thinking I'd find buses round the next corner. At last I was told it would be two kilometers. It was a lovely walk, bracing fresh air and a magnificent view. The road led down to a main highway which I recognized as being the way to Jerusalem. Again I was told there were no buses and started to hitch – something I think is not done here – I've never seen anyone doing it, though the guide book suggests it's OK. The first vehicle to stop was a taxi – he wanted 50 shekels and came down to 40, but I refused. The second was a minibus – 5 shekels! Moreover he terminated right outside my hotel, and assured me this was where they left from. So I was angry that the taxi drivers in the same area had said there was no option.
I had a quiet evening, making a supper of steak and green beans, and reading a rather old fashioned guide to Jerusalem that goes into the historical and religious aspects in great detail. But I got bored so went for a walk, getting a bit lost in a rather frightening part of the Old City.
This morning I felt a need to go back to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, partly to experience again the spiritual power of that subterranean vault I'd 'discovered' down a long staircase, partly because the book had informed me this is (probably wrongly) reputed to be Jesus' tomb from which he was resurrected. No wonder I had felt something. Now, early, I had the place to myself and was able to sit cross legged on the clean marble floor for 20 minutes or so, 'blissing out'. When I went up to the main area I saw a group going into a chapel and asked if I could join them. I sat in the back of the nave of a modern western-Christian chapel for what seemed to be an Episcopalian service. They were an American group ending a pilgrimage. I left just before they started the Eucharist, after a sermon which was quite interesting while he spoke of this location, but then he got very sentimental about his mother's death and how happy we all should be that she was now in glory. However as I went out into the cool air and warm morning sunshine I felt good.
My aim was to report back to Lucia at ICAHD (… Against House Demolitions). When I got to the office it was still closed, with Jimmy sitting patiently outside reading. (He'd got up at the usual 4.30 but thought he'd missed the olive pickers' bus, later to find it had been cancelled). I left him as I wanted a coffee, and to read my Jerusalem Post in comfort. While sitting in the pleasant pedestrianised street, listening to a busker playing good classical music on a violin, I was horrified to see what I assume was a Settler. A fat bellied, unpleasant looking man of about 35 or 40, wearing a wide brimmed hat, and carrying a machine gun! Later I saw others.
I went back to ICHAD but they were still not there so I decided to contact another organization which I had been told wanted a volunteer. This was IMEMC (International or Israeli Middle East Media …). George invited me to come to his office in Bet Sahour which is a small town that adjoins Bethlehem. So once again the problems of travel. I went to where I had thought I had established that a minibus service runs to Bethlehem but there was no sign of it and I was being plagued by taxi drivers who seemed to think me crazy not to believe them. Deeply hurt by my cruel suspicion. Today there was no other service than at cheapest a shared taxi. At last I gave in to this and after 20 minutes we set off, price 16 Shekels which I thought not too bad. I forgot to mention that earlier I had gone to Jaffa Gate to get information about bus services. They were closed but a taxi driver there asked me if I wanted to go to Bethlehem and when I said yes quoted me 500 shekels which quickly came down to 400. I must not go on too much about this so to cut the story short on the way back I found that there is a 15 to 20 minute bus service, the 21, again from just outside my hotel! Price something below 10 shekels (I didn’t check the change I got from 10.) So it has taken me three journeys to find this bus service due to lack of information and lying taxi drivers.
The Jerusalem taxi having dropped me at the barrier at Beth Jala. I walked through and was immediately plagued by taxi drivers who insisted the bus I used yesterday was not running. However, a friendly chap offered me a free lift to Manger Square which was where I wanted to go. In this minibus were an American and two locals, all laughing a lot. It took me a while to work out what was going on. The American kept on saying the smoothy (I thought maybe a cleric in ordinary clothes) was such a good friend. I realized this American was being taken for a ride! By his nervous laughter I imagine he suspected it. When for no apparent reason we to stopped for 10 minutes outside a posh gift shop I made my excuses and scuttled off, to have a nice walk the rest of the way. Nice because I stopped at a small shop for some food and had a pleasant conversation. Also a very pleasant Palestinian Police officer helped me find the bus to Beth Shalour, and the people on that were also friendly.
The job I have with IMEMC is to edit the English pages of their web site. I can do this at their office or at an internet café. I may continue to work for them when I return to Bristol. I met some good people; they share an office with an organization called something like the Centre for Rapprochment. Opposite is a Gereek Orthodox church where I sat while waiting for a taxi back to the roadblock. Again I was not checked, just looked at sourly by a very bored soldier. It takes 10 minutes from where one is dropped by the taxi on one side, to the main road on the other. Here I very soon found the 21 bus.
So now I shall do some work for IMEMC. Then go back to cook myself an evening meal. Tomorrow I think I'll try to get to Talkarn which is near Nablus but with the difficulty in finding buses it might turn out to be quite an expensive trip. The aim is to make contact with a tiny village called Khirbet Jubara on behalf of a friend who is working to twin it with her South Glos village.
File: Diary 41120
Internet ‘café’, Ramallah
Sunday 20 November 2004, after a good lunch
There are now 23 of you receiving this, tho maybe you don’t all read it all. One friend has hinted I’ve been including too much detail, which I suspected, so today I’ll try to be brief.
Yesterday was irksome but a success. I set out to deliver a message to the head of a village about 60 km distant. This is Khirbet Jabara, in the West Bank about 3 km from the Green Line. A Friend, Candia, visited it with the Internatiuonal Solidarity Movement (ISM) in September and subsequently she and a friend decided to try to twin it with Littleton upon Severn, in south Gloustershire. Jabara is now completely surrounded by fencing erected by the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) aka Israeli Occupying Force (IOF). Their economy has been ruined as their electricity and most of their water have been cut off, and no-one can go in or out freely. I was determined to get there by bus if possible. In summary I got there by 2 buses, 2 servises, and 2 short taxi rides at a cost of 48 shekels in 5 hours, which included an hour waiting at checkpoints. I got back using 2 buses and 2 services, costing 26 shekels, in 4 and a half hours, including 1 ¼ hours at checkpoints. My passport was examined 4 or 5 times. At the Jabara checkpoint I was quizzed as toughly as at a border. When asked why I wanted to go there I replied "for friendship". "With THEM?" the soldier asked distainfully.
At Jabara, a tiny village with one small shop and a dozen or so houses, I asked for the name Candia had given me. Part of it was "Ahmed" so I was soon directed to a fairly large house. I knocked and pounded on the door but there was no sign of anyone. I asked a neighbour who bade me wait then called until two women appeared. As best I could I confirmed the name and tried to explain my mission, and left Candia’s letter. Back at the shop a man in effect told me I’d gone to the wrong place, and showed me where to go. There I again explained myself, my mission and then my mistake. This was in their very pleasant patio. I sat on a marble bench and scoffed a tin of sardines and a slice of pitta bread while the lady of the house brought tea for what was by now a group of people, one of whom spoke good English and has email. I obtained the head person’s phone number, address, and the other chap’s email. The man’s name was not as Candia had specified but Awni Abrahim. I’ll send a full report to Candia.
Most of the return trip I was on a bus with a young Palestinian woman, doing an MBA. She invited me to sit with her, which is most unusual, though later she mentioned by way of excuse that I was an old man! She clearly wanted to have a conversation with a foreigner and it was very interesting for both of us. She was 26 and seemed quite proud of herself for never having had a boyfriend. She had no intention of marrying until she’d proved herself in her career.
I had a frustrating but amusing experience when I got back to the Kalandria checkpoint. It was lit only by occasional lamps and vehicles’ headlights, muddy, with rubbish and rubble, so one had a problem stumbling in the dark. As usual I just followed other people and was pleased we were allowed through without delay. Then I realised I’d crossed into Palestine, and had queue for 10 unpleasant minutes to get back into Israel. (Of course in my opinion it’s all Palestine, I should refer to it as the Palestinian controlled area and the Israeli area.)
Today, Sunday, I came to Ramallah for Quaker Meeting, which was held for the first time for 9 years in their old Meeting House, now beautifully refurbished, mainly with money from Philadelphia and Baltimore Quaker Meetings (YMs). It had been damaged by bombing in 1967 and then made desolate by Israeli soldiers in 2002. It’s a handsome, solid structure made of the fine creamy white local stone, with red or ochre streaks. In celebration of the re-opening there were over 30 at Meeting, far more than last week’s four. Many were Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAs) and some had never been to a Quaker meeting before. There was a lot of vocal ministry, some of it pre-conceived, but it was a good well gathered meeting. Afterwards there was some ceremonial tree planting then a large group of us went to a nearby restaurant, Angelo’s, which has an international menu but is inexpensive (though much more than the cost of sardines and pitta!).
I was pleased to meet Jo Jaffray who used to be at Westminster Quaker Meeting, and with whom I went on holiday to Greece, 12 or so years ago. She now spends a lot of her time in Palestine working for the International Women’s Peace Service. (Incidentally the group with which my colleagues at the Faisal Hostel went olive picking yesterday.) We are sitting side by side in this rather super internet place called Café on Line.
I gave a copy of Jennifer’s book about our round the world travels to Jean Zaru, for her and for the school.
Except for the day I told you about when it rained heavily the weather here has been a bit like a cold April in England. Often cloudy, often bright, with occasional showers. But today it is turning very wintery. Still bright but very cold, and a lot of rain is forecast for tomorrow.
Stephen Petter, 21/11/04, 1430.
File: Diary 41123
IBDAA Guest House
Dheisheh Refugee Camp
Tuesday 23 November (I got the date wrong on my last issue, it should have read Sunday 21st, not 20th.)
Today I moved to this Guest House. It’s on the edge of a refugee ‘camp’ run by the UN whose HQ is next door. I haven’t had time to explore but for my evening meal I found a tiny café that specialized in boiled offal. I had a liver sandwich, in pitta bread. It was quite good, a bit bland. Worcester sauce was much in need.
I do not know what IBDAA stands for but it is "For the development of children's skills & international cultural exchange".
Going back in time I spent most of this afternoon doing my editing. This is for an organization called IMEMC (website imemc.org) that publishes news on the web. The main editor/webmaster, George, translates material and puts it up on the website, then later maybe someone like me can download it, correct it, then email it back to George, who may upload it to replace his version.
Prior to that I left the Faisal with some regrets. My reason for coming here is to support the place and find out if it is worth recommending. My departure was delayed almost two hours by the slow start of a Taiwanese woman, Sara, I had agreed to show the way to Bethlehem. In fact there were three of us as a French woman tagged along. Sara is interesting as she is a quite young independent traveler. She is the only one I have met who like Jennifer and I has slept under the stars in Egypt’s Western Desert. She has also spent weeks in Kerela. Like another lone woman traveller we met she is amazingly, rather terrifyingly naïve. Moreover unlike all the activists who form most of the Faisal’s clientele, she knew nothing about the Israel/Palestine situation. The French woman on the other hand was a very experienced campaigner, cheerfully admitting to having been arrested many times for non-violent civil resistance. (As was another young woman, this time English from Leeds, with whom I had a conversation last night.) I was quite pleased to be able to show off my knowledge of the route using the public bus that few seem to know about. By and large buses cost about a tenth the price one might be able to negotiate with a taxi. Sara was first amazed to see an Orthodox Jew, then the Wall, and the ugly towers. In Bethlehem I went off to collect my new glasses. They fitted perfectly. I have never had such a good optician. The two pairs cost 50 pounds. Then Sara wanted me to show her the way to the Church of the Nativity. I enjoy the walk, and as last year the church was almost empty. We spent quite a while in the grotto under the church which is supposed to be Jesus’ birthplace. Then we parted and I checked in here. It is a well built place, I suspect with overseas aid, obviously run as a source of employment for the very depressed area. It has this large computer room with about 20 PCs and is used by local youth as a sort of club where they play computer war games and shout all the time. It hurts my ears. Another problem is the smoking. Of course the youths are boys only, girls are seldom seen doing anything interesting.
Yesterday, Monday, I started my editing work. However I took time off to visit the Dome of the Rock. I lost a lot of time by going when it was closed – it is only open for an hour each weekdayday. Even then, infidels like me cannot go into the Dome notr the Al Aksa mosque. The grounds are quite extensive and a pleasure to stroll around. I photo’d the Lion Gate which is closed until the Messiah comes again. He is to be followed by the chosen few. According to a very bad Moslem guide who attached himself to me, He will reign for two years then will come the End. I hadn’t realized Moslems believe this as do some Christians. Despite the negatives I was able to sit and meditate in peace with a great sense of harmony. The whole mountain (Moriah) is an artificial hill. One belief is that God’s good power penetrates the bad at this point, as if it were the bottom of a chasm. Certainly it has good vibes.
Also yesterday I spent time (waiting for the computer place to open) talking to two shop keepers, one a café (with a good loo) the other a pottery shop where I bought some of the beautiful brightly decorated local stuff.
Because most of my time was spend doing computer work I have very little to tell you. The weather has been horrible. Very cold and windy and with torrential rainfall. The road near my hotel was at least a foot deep, and there was a torrent pouring down the steps of the Damascus Gate like a mountain stream. I told you that much of the way in the Old city was a tunnel. But this is not so, there is a gap and when it rains it streams down to the centre of the very narrow way. All the stalls stay open, their owners busily brushing away the water, and anxiously looking at the level in the huge drains. A delightful effect was that the flagstones were washed clean of their black accretion and shone creamy white with the lovely streaks of colour due to iron – red, ochre and yellow. Back in the hotel I was very cold and rather miserable until I found that my bedroom (dorm) was warm. The floor was heated by the shop below.
I was sad to leave the Faisal for many reasons including that I had become friendly with the two staff. One, Hisham, has had a stroke and is partially disabled but is a very warm chap. Gets lots of hugs from the young women. He was pleased with me as he discovered it was I who cleaned the stove in the shared kitchen. I have never stayed in such a friendly, lively hotel or hostel. I pointed out to the owner (the spitting image of my sister Rosemary’s son Tim) that it has been dropped from the Lonely Planet guidebook. He was quite upset about this. I suspect it is due to Jewish pressure, as it is the meeting point for pro-Palestinian internationals.
Stephen Petter.23/11/04. 5 past 7. and I don’t miss The Archers!
File: Diary 41124
IBDAA Guest House
Dheisheh Refugee Camp
Wednesday 24 November 2004
I had a horrible night. I went to bed fully clothed but later (only about 11) I felt I ought to take off my thick jersey and my trousers. I kept waking up due to the cold – later I took another of the thick blankets from another bed, but it didn’t help much. I developed a headache which at first I surmised was due to the tension of being cold, later I thought it might be because I’d had no tea or coffee all that day, but had had lots of tea each day previously. Also I wondered if the cause was the liver sandwich. The headache lasted well into the morning, and I also felt weak and wobbly.
I was first down and thought of going out to look for tea – how I missed the Faisal’s ever-hot water and box of free tea bags! But the door was still locked. I explored all the cupboards in the large kitchen. It has many fittings but very little equipment – no kettle, no saucepan… Just then the cleaning lady came and immediately offered to make me tea. For a kettle she used a handle-less coffee jug, using the opened lid as a handle. I went and got some food from my room and settled down under her kindly eye to a breakfast of bread and chocolate spread. And tea!
I had decided to go to Wadi Foquim this day, but realized I didn’t have the contact’s phone number in fact had even forgotten his name. I knew it was in my computer mail folder in a message from Linda in which she’d urged me to visit him, but the computer room would not open for an hour or two. I considered deferring my visit till tomorrow, by which time I could perhaps have got his number from Linda by email. But I had begun to feel I’d rather get back to the Faisal on Thursday rather than Friday as planned. So I decided to rely on my memory to get me to his house.
I expected that getting into Wadi Foquim would be like Jubara – closed my the IOC and admissible only after an interrogation. However it was all rather easy. I got the bus into "Cinema" – the commercial centre of Bethlehem. Then found a bus for Kadr, the road block on the route to Wadi F. This bus went past my hotel! At the roadblock I was in no hurry so stopped for another cup of warm tea and a warmer conversation. It was still cold but on the sunny side of the street one’s tensions began to lessen. Then I walked over the piles of dirt and rubble that obviously turns to a rough sea of mud when it rains. As a fit person, wearing fell walking boots, I felt fine, but pitied the old women struggling with their loads, or the younger ones carrying babies, over the rugged wasteland.
On the other side the usual assurances from taxis that there were no buses. I believed them as I thought that like Jubara there would be very little traffic. It was 20 shekels. When I arrived in the centre of Wadi F there was a minibus and I was told it was an hourly service – later I heard it is more frequent. I used it later – 2 shekels.
The taxi drove a short distance along the new highway that cuts the old road, then into the bumpy lane that drops down into the village. It is a lovely steep-sided valley, quite intensively cultivated, with the uncrowded village spaced out on the green floor, around a spot where a spring issues a steady gush of water to form a small river. But the idyllic scene is befouled by the steady advance of a huge settlement – an Israeli new town, that continually expands over the villagers' fields. Yet another new road has recently been carved along another contour closer above the village. In the other direction, downstream, is the accepted border, the Green Line, where another, legal town is also expanding towards Wadi F. The effluent from the settler town has polluted some of the lower fields. (Some readers may not know that it is against international law to build houses and roads within, and move populations into, occupied territory. Pleas, even by the USA, and Resolutions by the United Nations seem to mean nothing to the Israeli government, dominated as it is by right wing, hawkish Zionists.)
However, I was in Wadi Foqim. First problem solved!
The taxi had dropped me outside the new Kindergarten building. According to the notice outside, it was built with funds from World Vision, a charity one sees mentioned often here but I’ve never noticed in Britain. I went in to be greeted by the teachers who I recognized from last year. Then, the place had just been built and the kindergarten was still held in old cramped quarters. Now the larger space looked bright and lively. One of the teachers asked me, "Have you come to see Fahmi?" Second problem solved!
I asked for his phone number. It rang for a long time before being answered. Had I got him out of bed? (It was now about 9.) He answered and seemed delighted but not at all surprised to hear from me. I asked for directions to his house but one of the teachers insisted on taking me the half mile in her ailing banger. However I had her drop me a few hundred yards short of the house so as to enjoy the peaceful lane.
I spent two or three hours with Fahmi. He is a very good tourist guide and before the intifada earned good money. With it he built his very handsome house. It has the space and fittings of a quite expensive house in Britain. However since 2000 he has had very little work. I gather that Linda’s study tours are just about his only contracts nowadays. Like so many able Palestinians he is contemplating leaving the country – for his children’s sake. He told me of the latest outrages. Such as the demolition order recently imposed on the new irrigation system paid for by an EU grant (channeled through World Vision). He was not sure of the cost, but reckoned it to be about 100,000 Euros. The Israeli’s excuse: it was too near their town. (They also charge the village rent for the power lines that cross their town – even though the lines were there first, and the town is built on their stolen land!) As Linda had said, Fahmi is quite depressed by the whole situation. He has applied to emigrate to Canada but failed his English test (reading and listening sections), which surprised me as I thought he spoke well. I offered to take out a subscription to the Guardian Weekly so that he will have something challenging to read, and I urged him to listen to the BBC World Service.
While waiting for the servis (mini-bus) back to Hadr I wrote a piece on the situation. It is intended for those who find it literally impossible to believe the stories of what the Israelis are doing here. Or who believe their actions are no more than justifiable defenses against terrorism. I may find time and energy to add it below.
In the servis and then the bus back into Bethlehem I sat with two of the teachers from Wadi Foquim school. One teaches English, the other Maths. They were quite jolly for Moslem women, and I think rather shocked the old men in the bus, simply by chatting and laughing with me. A typical clash between town and country folks’ attitudes, and between young and old generations.
Back here in Deheisheh I explored the district and found a fairly posh restaurant where I had a salty lentil soup, and bread ‘n hummus. I had a canned drink; they were amused with my request for something not made by Coca-Cola.
I then did some editing for IMEMC. In the late afternoon I decided to do some more exploring for the sake of exercise. The refugee camp is built on a steep hill. Narrow roads lead through it, and many narrow alleys lead to the tightly packed dwellings. Most of these are cheap temporary concrete structures. After nearly 50 years their non-cavity walls are often crumbling, and window frames broken. But many people have been able to build modern houses, some of which have fine views across the valley. There are many tiny shops scattered about, and many children playing in the streets even in this cold weather. The few cars drive too fast, very close to them and other pedestrians. There are lots of stray cats but surprisingly few dogs.
I asked after another of Linda’s contacts, Hassam Arssi, who runs another project here. The staff here at the hostel insisted on assigning two small boys to show me there. Their destination was a barber’s shop. Here everything stopped as everyone joined in deciding what to do. Apparently Hassam was out, but his wife was known to be in. But it would not be proper for me to visit her alone. So another chaperone was assigned to take me. All this to my protests that it didn’t really matter. At her house, down a network of narrow alleys, she was eventually persuaded to appear from a high balcony, while I tried to convey best wishes etc to her for all the world like Romeo, complete with approving audience. The only words of hers I could hear and understand were greetings to Linda!
I did more walkabout, buying some food including a large pack of teabags. The main brand here (as in Egypt) is Lipton’s, apparently English, though again I cannot remember ever seeing them in Britain. When I got back to make a cup of tea I turned on the TV hoping to get BBC World. I chanced upon a channel showing a horrifying tape of someone being tortured. I watched it horror-struck until I turned it off. It troubled me for some time. In the same room there was a chart published in the UK by PRC (www.prc.org.uk).it gave statistics about the expulsion of Palestinians. One figure caught my eye because a so-called educated, liberal Jewish woman told us last year that the Palestinians left their villages in 1948 because they were unnecessarily told to by other Arabs. According to this sheet, Israeli figures show that at only 6 villages out of 531 that were abandoned was this the reason. Most of the others were left because of direct military assault or being expelled by the military (392), or fear of same (87).
I have spent the evening at this computer. It seems all my backup files have been corrupted on my floppy disk.
Tomorrow I shall do some editing then return to the Faisal Hostel in Jerusalem.
Stephen, 9.50 p.m.
Journal, Thur – Sat 25 to 27 November,2004-11-27
Sorry for the long gap – I have been on a course and unable to get to a computer.
On Thursday I had breakfast the Guest house in Deheishah Refugee Camp in Bethlehem (the place is aka ABDAA), as yesterday it was bread and chocolate spread. I’d bought tea but then the gas ran out! The cleaning lady came and between us we managed to change the gas cylinder. However she got into an argument about it with some men who turned up – I suspect they objected to her using a big spanner. She yelled at them and smiled at me like April showers. After my meal I packed and left, leaving a note for the manager saying that if he or she wanted some constructive criticism they could contact me. The place is well built but badly run. I took a servis into town then another to Bet Sahour which is a very pleasant town adjoining Bethlehem. My aim was to see George, the editor of the IMEMC.com newsletter. While waiting I read a booklet on the town by the Municipality. It read as attractive as the appearance, and was full of information about the town’s history, culture, the municipality’s 20-odd staff, and its problems which were all to do with Israeli encroachments into its boundaries. Interestingly during the first day of the course the name Bet Sahour came up in positive contexts three times. It seems to be a town of both cultural and political excellence. On story is about how during the occupation of the town the Israelis said they would confiscate the cows, so they were all hidden. Elsewhere I read that there are many caves in the area. They also had a campaign of refusal to carry Israeli passes, reminiscent of Gandhi’s campaign in South Africa.
With George I had a useful discussion on my continuing role as an editor. We agreed some details of English usage, mainly on whether to use American or British English.
It was a sunny morning and I was in no hurry to return to Jerusalem, so I took another bus further into the country, passing the Shepherd’s Fields, i.e. where the shepherds broke off from washing their socks to go and see the baby Jesus. I stopped off to take some photos of the huge swathe of land that had been cleared for a new Settler (i.e. non-Palestinian) highway. I wonder if there has ever been a country where there are two road systems, for muse by different people solely on the basis of ethnicity.
I shall be putting my photos on my web log – assuming they are not confiscated when I leave.
Back in Jerusalem I had a Kebab sandwich for which he tried to charge me 30 shekels. It was a small, cheap type place. I argued that at most it should be 15 and eventually left thrusting 20 on his hand. Round the corner at a similar place I asked the price – 10 shekels was quoted. I walked through the alleys and market and bought a rather nice present for a friend. I hate haggling – whatever the price we end up with I always feel I have been cheated.
On the way back I called in at the Lutheran centre to use their super loos, surreptitiously.
Then back to my optician friend to retrieve my bag, and onto the bus to Bet Jala. As usual I had to get through a bevy of taxi drivers who assured me there was no bus. I Bet Jala I found I had just missed the bus to Jerusalem, because I had dawdled to take a photo. Seems the have an integrated transport system, which is more than can be said of Bristol! While waiting sitting on a wall in the sun I was approached by a boy of about 12. He seemed highly intelligent. He told me the Israelis had attacked the building opposite, where he lived. He acted out machine gunning. Were you frightened? Yes. He asked me if my parents were dead. For dead he pointed skywards. Then he told me both his were dead. I sympathized. He then demanded a shekel. I took his harsh wording to be due to is good but not excellent English. I refused as gently as I could. He snarled some angry word. I was beginning to be troubled by him, and kept my hand in the pocket nearest to him. Then he sidled up to my bags. I said it was best to keep a short distance. At this he saw he had no chance with me and became very angry and abusive. He walked away cursing in a horrible tone, stopping to turn round and do his machine gun act at me. I realized he was a troubled child. I heard someone calling him from the school. He replied defiantly, refusing to go in. I doubt if he is included in the statistics of hundreds of children killed and injured by the occupation.
(At ABDAA I copied some stats. If time I will include them below.)
It was a swift bus ride into Jerusalem and back to the Faisal Hostel and a warm welcome. After an hour or two having a shower, washing clothes, resting and chatting I decided to walk into West Jerusalem for (yet more) money. I keep drawing just enough to last, and then realizing it’s not enough. I decided to drop in to the ICAHD office and there I was given a job that lasted a couple of hours. Then I was invited to go along to a reception at the Swedish Theological College. As we were early Jimmy (who I have mentioned before – he’s an American Jew working here for several months as an ISM and ICAHD volunteer) went to a pub and had a Guinness each. My first alcohol since coming here. It was delicious! Then to the reception which was for EAs (Ecumenical Accompaniers) to meet Jewish peace and justice groups. There were several EAs who I’d seen last Sunday at Meeting in Ramallah.
On Saturday I was just settling to my breakfast when I saw a group leaving. They included another person with whom I have become friendly, Jon (pron Joon) from Sweden. They told me they were going on the ISM training course. I was a bit miffed I had not been told about it. Had I been rejected? If so, why? I asked the leader, Hisham, and he apologized and said of course I was very welcome. Can you wait 10 minutes while I pack Of course! So I was whisked of to a bus to Kalandya, the checkpoint on the road to Ramallah. We had to walk across the wasteland which I have described previously. This time it was raining buckets, with a strong, cold wind. My umbrella was blown to smithereens. I wished I had bought a proper coat – i.e. the anorak that most people wear. Then I remembered a flimsy plastic emergency raincoat that I have carried in my emergency pack for years.
We needed a servis and I noticed Hisham rejected one with yellow Israeli number plates in fvour of one with the green Palestinian ones. Soon we were at a hotel the north of Ramallah. It was very cold and draughty, and we all had wet clothes. Also it was noisy as people insisted on talking in the background in loud voices. Also almost everyone including most of our party smoked! However besides these minor issues the course was excellent. I learnt an enormous amount. It covered local customs and conventions such as the role of women and how men should behave towards them. The structure of ISM which was quite unlike my pre-suppositions. How to recognize the weapons the IDF use against Internationals, our right and privileges, abuse of our power, the process of arrest and deportation, and many other topics designed to make the International solidarity Movement’s operations focused, disciplined, and non-violent.
Before going earlier than the others to bed I had the luxury of a hot bath. At last I was warm! I had found a classic music station, and I had a good theological book (called Mary Magdalene) so I had a very comfortable evening to myself.
Saturday. Today the course continued with more role plays and discussions including some challenging ones on one’s motivation. When it ended I declined the minibus with the others back to Jerusalem as I knew of this excellent internet place near the centre of Ramallah. The taxi into town was shared by one of the founders of ISM, Neta. Someone said that the checkpoint closes at some time in the evening and others said this was no longer true. I said that if I found it closed I could stay in ah hotel in Ramallah – actually I expect I could have stayed at the EA’s apartment. I said if that happened I would just regard it as another adventure. I told Neta that there was a Quaker Meeting House here, and I would be coming back to it tomorrow, she was delighted and asked where it was so that she could attend. Then she asked me if I’d like to stay the night at her place. So, when I have finished here I shall go to Angelo’s for a meal then go to Neta’s.
Stephen Petter, 27/11/04, 19.25
Journal, Monday, 29th November
In the next room, though a glass wall, there’s a long dull room with a poorly focused TV showing football, many men and one woman, drinking soft drinks, mostly Coke, and smoking hubbly bubblies so that the air chokes me with the heavy, sweet smoke. It’s an expensive Internet place, a Dinar per hour which is about a pound.
I last wrote this journal in the early afternoon of Saturday. I then went to Angelo’s restaurant and had the most delicious fettuccini with chicken and mushroom cream sauce I’d ever had. Washed down with wine. I then found my way to Neta’s house. This was by phoning her on my mobile and giving it to a taxi driver so he could be told in Arabic. However he seemed to get lost and we had to call twice more. He charged me 20 shekels which was a rip-off as it’s only 7 normally anywhere within about a mile of the centre. Anyway, I reached their flat, consisting of four or five large, high, handsome rooms on the first floor, sparsely furnished and in the sort of untidy lived-in state to be expected of a liberated, activist mother with two small children. She’s an Israeli, married to a Palestinian. Her husband soon returned from his work in the government of the Palestine Authority, and we had a great evening of conversation.
Next morning, Sunday, the children awoke at about six and I was not sure whether to regard this as being woken in the night, or normal getting up time, and as I was sleeping in the living room it mattered. Lying in bed I was able to think and to my horror realized that I had been planning to spend Monday night at a hotel in Amman, Jordan, as my plane left on Tuesday. I suddenly realised the plane goes at 4 in the morning of Tuesday, i.e. Monday night.
I spent a few cheerful hours washing up, amusing the baby, or continuing our conversations. Then Neta took the older girl to kindergarten while I continued to hold the baby. Luckily Neta turned up within a minute or so of my noises and faces ceasing to distract her.
We then walked to the Meeting House in the centre of Ramallah, Neta carrying the baby. When we got there only five minutes early we were the only ones there, except for the caretaker who was ladling hymn books onto the central table. (In the three weeks I attended there was no singing except a Scandanavian woman who sang a peace song, n not from a book.
Four others did turn up, two of the Zaru family and two of the Ajlounys, including Joyce, the newly appointed Director of both the Friends Schools. Despite the low numbers there seemed to be plenty of vocal ministry. I was worried that Neta might not find this, her first time at a Quaker meeting satisfactory but on the contrary she seemed much moved , even quite excited, by it.
I then on impulse, feeling bad that I hadn’t found her a house gift, suggested we had lunch at… Angelo’s. She seemed really to enjoy it. She then showed me to the servis for Kalandrya.
I feel so blessed by all this friendship and hospitality. And honoured. Neta is one of the three active founders of ISM.
Back at the Faisal all I wanted to do was rest but I had quite a long list of things needing to be done this evening. Sunday is a normal working day for most Arabs, so I found the P.O. open to send all my sensitive material home, addressed to myself. This is because if the Israelis find anything to suggest I had been supporting the Palestinians they would black-list me, making it difficult to return. I also had to get Jordanian Dinars, sell my cell-phone, buy another bag, etc. I walked and walked doing these jobs and got very tired. My knee started to give in so I went back to the hostel by taxi.
Instead of peace and quiet all was abuzz as there were some house demolitions threatened and the ISM people were planning to go to protest. In fact those who regarded themselves as ‘arrestable’ were planning to chain themselves inside. I was in a quandary as to whether to go, as a non-arrestable, which would mean simply demonstrating, but not taking ?NVDA (Non Voilent Direct Action). My mind was made up for me when news came through that the threat had passed, at least as far a a dawn raid by the IOF was concerned.
People then swung over to party mood and it was decided to go to a pub. We were quite a big crowd in a pub in the Christian Quarter of the Old City. After an hour or so it was agreed to go to a Kareoke pub in not far away but in West Jerusalem. In the past one of the ISMers having the mike after singing his song then called out "Freedom to Palestine" and this resulted in a fight. Anyway we all enjoyed the evening, dancing wildly. I didn’t do a song. Several of the Swedish ISMers did an Abba song to which we all joined in with gusto.
Jon ("Joon") and I got in two minutes after curfew, i.e. 2 mins past 1 a.m. This curfew is just the hostel’s rule. The staff were cross as several of the others were much later.
Monday (today). I got up at a leisurely pace, and after a rather disgusting breakfast (or was it nerves?) I eventually left with a very moving little send-off. Hisham and Mohammed, the two staff, had liked the extra things I’d done, and I contributed several thing to the hostel or to ISM, including my cell-phone (which only works in Israel/Palestine.) Also the crowd I’d been on the course with, especially Jon who if I’d continued here would have been my ‘buddy’. (The buddy system is part of the ISM method.) Also big Jimmy, the Chicago Jew, with whom I’d done a lot, and who’d helped me a lot. Even Alex, the tough British activist, said nice things and gave me her email.)
I won’t go into the tribulations of the border crossing. At least it only took an hour or maybe 1 ½. I’d asked if anyone wanted to share a taxi and I went with a British chap who lives in Amman, a former RAF pilot who is on a contract training the Jordanian Air Force. We agreed on politics but not on regulation of driving, e.g. speed limits.
He took me to the bus station from whence the airport bus departs. I left my bags at a nearby hotel – they suggested they would not need any payment – and trudged off. How to kill 12 hours? I wandered around trying to find a map or a tourist information place. I was cold and a bit depressed. I wasn’t allowed into a big mosque which I had been told had a beautiful ceiling, and no-one seemed to know where any museum etc was. I returned to the bus station to draw some more money and to buy some sort of hat. I was plagued by taxi driveerrs and tour guides. For some reason I gave in to one who said he’d charge only two dinars to take me to the national museum. However on the journey he drove slowly trying to get me to agree to go for a full body massage where, he assured me, there were many Jordanian and Palestinian women. Young women. Only 20 dinars. He seemed very surprised I declined his offer. He then stopped, saying we were at the museum. It clearly was not. He then refused my 2 dinars saying they were faulty which was rubbish. He then got quite cross with me and thank goodness drove off.
However, it was a ‘museum’. In fact I discovered it to be a delightful place. An art foundation in a lovely building set in steeply terraced gardens full of sculptures, other works of art, and interesting plants and herbs. There were several small galleries and artists’ workshops, and a place where one could be brought tea, etc overlooking a courtyard and fountain. Further on there were some impressive ancient ruins. I asked if I could use the library, which I found later is public. This was a warm room with a huge collection of books on art and architecture , a collection of about 5000. I was really happy there, looking at some lovely books, particularly one on Costa Rican ceramics. I had a long conversation with the manager who told me the building had been built during the British mandate, and had been the officers’ club. Lawrence (of Arabia) had written some of the Seven Pillars of Wisdom there.
I had to leave before the normal closing time as a rather swish reception was being held there by the Italian Embassy, which had sponsored the current exhibition (of Japanese calligraphy based on Arabic poetry).
Tipped out into the cold and dark, I went to or rather was almost dragged into a tine poky tea shop by a desperate young owner. I had tea and told him I’d been looking for a hat. He immediately took his off and insisted I wore it. He then asked 2 dinars for it which I was happy to give.
I strode off down the dark street now full of warmth and confidence. Spiritually uplifted by the art and the conversation with the manager, warm from the hot sweet tea, and warmed by my cosy hat.
I asked the way to the bus station several times and people were surprised I didn’t want to get a bus or servis. I felt really good and fit. A shoe cleaner offered his service – he took 20 minutes. Walking on (it’s 3 km) I saw this internet so stopped her.
It’s 8.30 p.m.. I shall go back to the friendly hotel until about midnight, then get the airport bus. My plane isn’t until 4.30. I am due in London around 11 so hope to be in Bristol by about 4.
I hope you have all enjoyed these Journals.
I arrived home in Bristol tired but happy at 3 p.m. on Tuesday. I had a warm welcome and later my son James took me out for a good Indian meal.
Thank you for your messages of support, especially Candia who is helping me claim some of my expenses.
I intend to edit the journal and put it on my web log (sp37.port5.com/myblog) (no 'www') together with photos. However I have a mountain of work so this might not be for a few days.
I wrote a long letter to my M.P. this morning. I hope also to put it on my blog.
Apologies to any who found my missives too much. I intend to delete this list from my email address book after sending this message (though not your individual addresses).
However it seems that some or all of you did not receive the one I sent covering 17th and 18th, Wednesday and Thursday, which were quite interesting days, so I will add it below here. [Note: I did that, but now I have slotted it into its right place – SP]
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