Bearing Witness

Tour of my favourite Middle Eastern cities

To finish my time in the Middle East I decided to do a tour of my favourite cities, starting in Beirut and going through Damascus, Jerusalem and finally back to Nablus to say goodbye to the many wonderful people I meet while I was there.

Beirut made the list for different reasons than the rest of the cities, where as the other cities on the tour where there because of their dramatic histories and difference from anything I had seen before – Beirut made for it’s similarities to my home town Sydney. Great bars, good restaurants, fantastic climate and fine women. I spent five days in total in Beirut and only did the tourist thing on the fist day – Jitta Grotto and the cable  car. The other four days where spent relaxing during day and parting at night. I even got to play a short set on the last night in a bar in Hamra, I had befriend the DJ there through our mutual love of hip hop. He mainly play house, but told me if I got there early enough on my last night, ie before to many people turned up, he would bring in some hip hop and we could play back to back. As I only new some of the music he brought and was playing on CD decks for only the second time my mixes where a bit ruff – but it was great fun.

I then return to Damascus for a couple of days, I walked the souqs, visited the Hammam and ate fantastic ice cream covered in nuts – mmm nuts. I also need to make a correction to my last post on Damascus, apparently it is not the oldest constantly inhabited city in the world – Jericho in the West Bank holds that honor. But none the less Damascus is still my favourite city in the Middle East, wondrous.

Next stop was Jerusalem where I spent most of time in the old city. I returned to  Dome of the rock, had diner at Papa Andres with it’s superb s of the old city and took a day trip to the Dead Sea, Jericho and Masada – the only day I got my camera out the whole ten days of the tour. I also visited Yad Vashem the Holocaust Museum, which has a comprehensive history of the Holocaust and moving tribute to it’s victims. I also went to the Museum on the Seam – an art gallery on the green line that used to divide Jerusalem before th six day war in 1967. It is run by a group called coexistence, however there where no paintings by Palestinian artists, perhaps that’s what Israeli’s think coexistence is – complete domination.

However my time in Jerusalem was soured by being assaulted by undercover Israel Police, my only crime was wearing a Palestinian  koufeya. They approached me saying something in Hebrew, the only word I understood was Fatah as they pointed to my koufeya. They then surrounded me and one of the five guys tried to put his hands into my pocket. As they had failed to show me any ID at this stage I though I was been mugged and resisted. They then pinned me up against a wall – slamming my head  into the wall in the process. They then showed me thier police ID quickly and when I stated I had not seen it properly I was told I had and the guy who had me pinned against the wall drove his forearm further into my throat. After being thoroughly search and my passport checked. I was told “next time I wanted a souvenir to buy a fucking t-shirt”, when I responded by telling him “buying a  koufeya was not a crime”, he open his jacket showing me his pistol and placed his hand on it and stated “it is to me”. I Don’t know how Palestinians live with this brutality and worse on daily basis.

Then finally back to Nablus, which while the city it’s self was not my favourite city in the Middle East, it was where I made the most friends and had some of the most rewarding experiences of my life. It was great to catch up with my friends and have familiar faces around again, as much of the last month had been spent travailing by myself. I will miss Nablus the most out of all the places I visited on this trip and insharlla I will return one day to celebrate an independent Palestinian state, so long over due.

View of the Dead Sea From Masada

View of the Dead Sea From Masada

Just floating around

Just floating around

Sunset over the ruins at Jericho

Sunset over the ruins at Jericho

February 4, 2009 Posted by | My Travels | , , , | Leave a comment

Lebanon

I have just spent just over a week  in Lebanon and it has been great ! I started my time there in Tripoli after cutting cross county from Crac Des Chevaliers in Syria.

Tripoli was cool, although my knee was playing up, so I spent the first day smoking akila, drinking tea and reading. On the second day I explored the Souqs which are considered the best in Lebanon, and I would agree. There are four main Souqs, the Souq al-Sayyaghinand or the Gold  Souq, the Souq al-Attarinor the Medieval Souq and Souq al-Haraj and Souq an-Nahhassinor or the Brass Souqs. I then visited the Citadel of Raymond De Saint-Gilles, which was originally a Crusader fortress. The most impressive part of the Citadel was the imposing entrance with it’s moat and three gateways – one Crusader- AD 11oo, one Mamluk – AD 1280 and one Ottoman – AD 1516. Apart from the entrances the other  feature of the Citadel is the spectacular view of Tripoli it gives you, as it is set on the hill above Tripoli’s old town. I then ventured into the new part of town – Tripoli like much of Lebanon, has a split personality. The newer part of town is very prosperous and resembles a very western and modern city, however the old part is definitely less prosperous and has buildings, such as the Citadel, which date back to AD 1100.

 From there I went down south to stay with a friends family near Nabitia. I had a fantastic time exploring the south, with my tour guide Mattie. I saw Tyre and it’s ancient ruins, both Roman and Byzantine and Sidon’s and it’s wonderfully well preserved 13th century Crusader Sea Castle. However the highlight of my time in the south, as it was in Nablus, was the people I meet and who welcome me into their home so warmly. I would like to thank Mattie my tour guide and friend and his family for a wonderful three days.

I then head north to Beirut and visited Jitta grotto the most amazing caves I have ever seen and rode the cable car to the hills above Beirut. Before spending several days just soaking up the atmosphere of Beirut, which is one cool city. I mainly hung out in Hamra district with it’s many cool bars, great restaurants and fine women.

Sunset over Tripoli

Sunset over Tripoli

Downtown Nebitia

Downtown Nabitia

Sea Castle at Sidon

Sea Castle at Sidon

Roman ruins at Tyre

Roman ruins at Tyre

February 4, 2009 Posted by | My Travels | , , , , | Leave a comment

Syria

Well I have just finish a week in Syria which is definitely the road less traveled, however after my time there I can’t figure out why. Historic sites, wonderful cities and great people.

I started the week in Damascus and it was without a doubt the best city I have seen on this trip and possibly ever. It is the oldest constantly inhabited city in the world and I now know why. I spent three days there and could have easily spent longer. Checking out the many palaces, Mosques, Hammams and the wonderfully restored Souqs. With every turn down the narrow streets of the old town is another wondrous site – truly one of the worlds great cities.

Next stop was Aleppo which has the most amazing Souqs I have ever seen. The partially covered network of bustling passageways extends well over several hectares, the only problem is finding your way out. Aleppo also has a citadel that was, mainly, constructed during the reign of the Ottoman empire and a great Mosque constructed during the Umayyad period. I also had the best Hammam [Turkish bath] I have have ever had at the Hammam Yalbougha an-Nasry – highly recommended.

My last stop on my Syrian adventure was Crac des Chevaliers – author Paul Theroux described it as “the epitome of the dream castle of childhood fantasies” and TE Lawrence simple called it ” the finest castle in the world” and I am in total agreement with both. It’s amazing and wonderfully preserved by the climate of the area.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Syria, however the highlight of my time there came when I heard that a cease fire had come into effect in Gaza, at last, and the atrocities that Israel had committed there for the last three weeks had ended. Now all that remains is for the atrocities to be investigated and the war criminals to be brought to justice, insharlla. Not to mention the “small” matter of a viable state and the right to self determination for the Palestinian people, so long over due.

The Umayyad Mosque - Damascus

The Umayyad Mosque - Damascus

Statue of Saladin outside the citadel in Damascus

Statue of Saladin outside the citadel in Damascus

Citadel in Aleppo

Citadel in Aleppo

Crac des Chevaliers

Crac des Chevaliers

January 19, 2009 Posted by | My Travels | , , , | Leave a comment

Jordan

I am now in Amman, after traveling through Wadi Rum and Petra. Wadi Rum was spectacular, I spent the night in a Bedouin camp after doing a four wheel drive tour of the main sites including Lawrence house, the superb red sand dunes on the slopes of Jebel Umm Ulaydiyya and several rock bridges. Petra was truly aware inspiring. You enter through the  Siq, which is not a canyon but rather one block that has been ripped apart by tectonic force. Just as you start to think there’s no end to the Siq, you catch a breath taking view of the Al-Khazneh [the Treasury] which like all of Petra is carved out of the sandstone. From there I walk down the Streets of Facades, past the theatre and the Royal Tombs. Then I headed, to what I found the most impressive feature of Petra, Al-Deir[the Monastery] which is accessed by hiking up long rock-cut staircase – well worth the effort. I also hiked up to the High Place of Sacrifice which provides stunning view of the site and surrounding desert. Amazing ! however I was brought back to earth each night by the horrific footage streaming out of the Gaza Strip, devastating ! In Amman I took things a little slower I had several good meals with nice wine and checkout both art galleries, as well as seeing the Citadel and Roman Theater. The art galleries where the highlight, the Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts had a great modern exibition called “Together” and the Darat-al-Funun had a moving installation about Al-Nakba. I would like to leave leave you with one of the quotes from the installation that demonstrates the connection Palestinians have with there homeland “I never went back to my village, ever. I am afraid that I might lose my sight especially now that it is becoming weaker and I can barley see what is in front of me. I wish I could go back even if I could not see it with my own eyes. I could still feel it and would see it with my heart and mind”.

My first view of the Treasury from the siq

My first view of the Treasury from the siq

The Monestry

The Monestry

Wadi Rum

Wadi Rum

January 11, 2009 Posted by | My Travels | , , , | Leave a comment

Sinai

Well I have left Nablus and have just finished two weeks traveling through the Sinai. I spent the first few days laying on the beach at Ras-A-Satan recovering from my mild “occupation” caused depression. However this was rudely interrupted by the Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip – to quote a friend “how do they get away with this shit” ! After Ras-A-Satan I headed for Dahab, where I did several day trips into the desert, including  climbing Mt Sinai  and doing a tour of Colored and White Canyons. I also snorkeled at the Blue Hole and went quad biking. The highlight was watching the sunset from the top of Mt Sinai [see below], but a close second was the hot showers that I took twice a day – much nicer than the cup and bucket routine in Nablus. It’s the little things in Life :]

Ras-A-Satan

Ras-A-Satan

Colored Canyon

Colored Canyon

Sunset on top of Mt Sinai

Sunset on top of Mt Sinai

January 11, 2009 Posted by | My Travels | , , , , | 1 Comment

Separation wall art @ Kilandia checkpoint

On my way back to Nablus I stopped off at the checkpoint at Kilandia to checkout some of the art on the separation wall there. Here are some photos.

When will the world realise that the real terrorists are on the other side off the wall

When will the world realise that the real terrorists are on the other side off the wall ?

Inshallah

Inshallah

If only it was that easy

If only it was that easy

the longest occupation in modern history and counting !

The longest occupation in modern history and counting !

A Banksy that has seen better days

A Banksy that has seen better days

December 12, 2008 Posted by | My Travels | , , | 1 Comment

More Tel Aviv street art

While in Tel Aviv for a night out I stumbled past a house covered in art, check out some of the photos below or check the website @ www.ramimeiri.com. The street art, again, was the highlight of my time in Tel Aviv – it’s just such a surreal place. It’s only 45 minutes from Nablus as the crow fly’s, but feels like a world away.

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December 12, 2008 Posted by | My Travels | , | Leave a comment

Haifa

Haifa is built on Mt Carmel which does not make it very easy to walk around, as my carves can attest to.  Apart from this I did get the distinct feeling while I was there that Haifa did not like me. For starters it rained the whole day, meaning the Baha’i gardens where closed [however they looked amazing, from what I could see from the locked gates], the Haifa Art Gallery was also closed – for no apparent reason – and the Tikotin Museum of Japanese Art only had one exhibition open to the public – with two of it’s three exhibition halls closed. However the  Ursula Malbin Sculpture Garden was cool.

View of the Baha'i Gardens from the locked gates

View of the Baha'i Gardens from the locked gates

Ursula Malbin Sculpture Gardens

Ursula Malbin Sculpture Gardens

December 12, 2008 Posted by | My Travels | | Leave a comment

Akko

Few of the worlds cities are as timeless as Akko, a stoned walled fortress by the sea. After enjoying a long and varied history under Alexander the Great, the Egyptians and the Romans, Akko came to prominence as the Crusader city of Acre. During the Jewish immigration of the 1930’s, Akko was a hotbed of Arab hostility, and in the end the  Jews left Old Akko to the Arabs and set about developing a  new city outside the historic walls. Leaving  Old Akko virtually untouched for thousands of years, magnificent !

Inside the Citadel

Inside the Citadel

Templar Crusander Tunnel.

Templar Crusander Tunnel.

Al-Jazzar Mosque and post Eid celabrations

Al-Jazzar Mosque and post Eid celabrations

December 12, 2008 Posted by | My Travels | | Leave a comment

Rosh Hanikra

Rosh Hanikra is right on the Lebanese boarder and has a series of wondrous sea caves. The sea caves  were originally carved by nature, but enlarge by the British for a railway during the second world war. The caves are spectacular, however if your short on cash you can walk down to the caves and avoid paying 42NIS for the cable car. Which I have not checked with the Guinness book of records, but has to be close to the shortest cable car in the world.

The coast line of northern Israel or the occupied lands of '48

The coast line of northern Israel or the occupied lands of '48

The worlds shortest cable car

The worlds shortest cable car

The sea caves

The sea caves

The Lebanese boarder

The Lebanese boarder

December 12, 2008 Posted by | My Travels | | Leave a comment