Bearing Witness

Seperation Wall

I have Just returned from Bethlehem, where my main objective was to checkout some the art work on the Separation Wall. It is claimed by the Israeli Government that the wall is being built for security reasons, however if that was the case it would be being built on the Green Line. The term Green Line refers to the 1949 Armistice lines established between Israel and its neighbours Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria – after the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. This is not the case, with the wall being built far into the West Bank to include often illegal Jewish settlements – redefining the boarders to even further limit Palestinian movement. The Palestinians have about the same population as Israel, but are limited to around 10% of the land. In many instances the wall comes right up the edge of Palestinian city’s cutting the local residents off from their farm land just outside the city. Not to mention separating family members and friends who now have to travel for hours, if your lucky enough to obtain the relevant permit, to stay in contact with some one who used to live down the street. It has been stated by some Israeli officials in unguarded moments that the plan behind the wall is to take as much land as possible with as few Arabs as possible – a land grab plain and simple. The other effect of the wall is to further limit Palestinian movement, with the aim of making life so difficult for the residents of the West Bank that they decide to leave – transfer by stealth, which is a commonly occurring theme in Israeli policy in the occupied territories.

This is the case of a Palestinian I shared a service taxi with today, he is a Doctor who lives in Rammalla and has to travel to Bethlehem every day for work – a trip that used to take 40 minutes before the wall, checkpoints and road detours [most of which has been put in place during the so called peace process]. The same trip now takes three hours at best, today taking four hours due to being detained at a Israeli Defence Force [IDF] checkpoint, while my passport and the other passengers Israeli issued ID cards where being verified – not sure how IDF soldiers verified them as they had several cigarettes and joked to them self’s while the passports and ID cards where sitting unopened on the ground, where they stayed until they where hand back to our driver. It makes you wonder weather these checkpoints, just like the wall, are as the Israeli’s clam there for security or weather there real purpose is just to further inconvenience the Palestinians already forced to endure the longest occupation in modern history and all that comes with it.

I likened the situation to apartheid in South Africa in the 80’s in a discussion with Hakim the director of Project Hope, only to be told that it was worse, as Black South Africans never had any where near the same limitations placed on their movement as Palestinians do living in the occupied territories. Which is of course true,  so why then is the oppression of Palestinians less offensive to the world ? 

  

At least this depicts a fair fight - which is definitely not the case in the occupied territories.

At least this depicts a fair fight - which is definitely not the case in the occupied territories.

 

The Palestinian and the cat, both pinning for freedom.

The Palestinian and the cat, both pinning for freedom.

 

I thought this was appropriate as the US gives Israel between $2 to $3 billion in aid a year.

I thought this was appropriate as the US gives Israel between $2 to $3 billion in aid a year.

 

Kennedy's famous comparison between himself and a jam donut.

Kennedy's famous comparison between himself and a jam donut.

 

Does any one have a Rhino for sale ?

Does anyone have a Rhino for sale ?

 

The only Banksy I could find, always wonderfully playful with the most controversial.

The only Banksy I could find, always wonderfully playful with the most controversial.

 

Nothing lasts forever - inshallah.
Nothing lasts forever – inshallah.

 

November 29, 2008 Posted by | My Thoughts, My Travels | , , , , , | Leave a comment

West Bank Map 2007

02

* This Map was produced by the United Nation Office for Humanitarin Affairs [OCHA] 7 June 2007.

November 27, 2008 Posted by | Media, My Travels | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jerusalem

I have just arrived back in Nablus after spending the last two days in Jerusalem. It was, and I know I am bordering on over use of this word to describe my trip so far, incredible. I spent the first day doing the tourist thing – camera constantly out taking photos at every opportunity, almost every time I turned the corner there was another sight of something that warranted a photo. From holy sites, to amazing souqs, to ancient arch ways. After finding some where to stay, I headed for Jaffa Gate to take the Ramparts walk, along the way I saw the tower of David.
 
The Ramparts Walk takes you from Jaffa Gate to Lions Gate via New, Damascus and Herod’s Gates – along the top of the walls of the Old City – I highly recommend taking it if your ever in Jerusalem, it provides great views of the new and old cities and helps you get your bearings.
 
I then toured the holy sights, staring at the Western [Wailing] Wall. The only remnant of Judaism’s holiest shrine, the “Wailing” moniker stems from Jewish sorrow over the destruction of the temple Herod built in 20 BC by the Romans.
 
From There I headed to the Temple Mount, know locally as Haram ash-Sharif. The massive stone platform was built over the biblical Mt Moriah, the site of Solomon’s first and Herod’s second temples. it is also the site where Abraham was instructedby God to sacrifice his son Isaac in a test of his faith. For Muslim, the Temple mount is revered for it’s association with Mohammed’s mystical night journey [isra], in which the Prophet dreamed of flying to heaven from the mount to take his place alongside Allah – all this combined means that the site holds special significance to Jews, Muslims and Christians. I know from first hand experience that the Temple Mount is heavily revered by all Palestinian’s [Christian or Muslim], as I am yet to enter a house in Palestine that does not have a photo or a painting on the wall of the Temple Mount. The highlight of the Temple Mount for me was the Dome of the Rock, which was completed in 691 AD. It has, as most of you I’m sure would know, a large gold dome – which is amazing. Unfortunately as a Non-Muslim I was not allowed to enter the Dome of the Rock, however just walking around it was incredible – that word again – as it glistened in the day light. The Dome of the Rock also has the most amazing tiling covering most of the structure.
 
Then, even as a lapsed Christian, I had to go a see the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The site where Christians believe Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected. The original Byzantine structure was extensively rebuilt by the Crusaders and it has numerous magnificent alters – although as I could not afford a walking tour and most of the writing was in another language I am not sure of their significance. Incredible though it’s not everyday you get to visit the holiest sites of the worlds three main religions.
 
I then toured the Armenian Quarter as I had not passed it in my tour of the holy sites. It was the quietest of the four quarter and I did not explore it to much as by that stage my legs where starting to give way. My favourite was the Muslim Quarter, as to me it felt the most authentic with traditional souqs and a real character, some parts of the Jewish Quarter almost seemed brand new.
  
After going back to my hostel for a shower and a rest, I headed out again for some dinner. I went to Papa Andrea’s, which has a rooftop section and provides great views of the Old City. the food was great, not to mention the fact I could drink. During dinner one of the waiters who was not that busy due to the lack of customers on the night started to play a traditional Arab drum, he was phenomenal, and after complementing him on his abilities we started talking and the next thing I know where drinking Arak and he is trying try to teach me how to play the drum. an amazing end to an INCREDIBLE ! day.
 
The next morning after waking up a little the worst for ware, after way to much Arak. I headed out for breakfast, in the Christian Quarter, as I figured I might find my traditional breakfast of bacon and eggs – which I did. I also was fortunate enough to get a another friendlywaiter who I began talking to after he admonished the leader of a walking tour, who in his opinion was revising history in accordance with her own political views. I would like to leave with you with a statement he made about the occupation. He summed it up simply and beautifully “it’s not just a military occupation, it’s tax’s, it’s movement and infrastructure. They can try a crush the people but never the idea that this is our home”
 
 * The dates and facts in this post are taken from Lonely Planet – Middle East.
  

Damascus Gate

Damascus Gate

 

Tower of David

Tower of David

   

Ramparts Walk

Ramparts Walk

   

The Wailing Wall

The Wailing Wall

   

Dome of the Rock

Dome of the Rock

    

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

November 21, 2008 Posted by | My Travels | | Leave a comment

The Story of Yanoun

I have just returned from Yanoun village, where I have spent the last two days, and I would like to tell their horrific story.

Yanoun is one of the smallest villages in the Palestinian occupied territories, but it is remarkable that it is still a village at all. For over ten years, extremist settlers based at illegal outposts supported by the Israeli settlement of Itamar have been persistently harassing the villagers. Using means including violence and the destruction of infrastructure. The aim of the settlers is transfer by stealth, settlers gaining control of the villagers land by scaring the farmers away.

Tonight Yanoun farmer’s and their families will go to sleep, again, under bright spotlights directed at them from the outposts set on the hilltops above – barely 400 meters from their homes. Since 1996 residents have been beaten up; their sheep mutilated; their crops destroyed; their wells poisoned; their land seized and their lives threatened. While one settler has even shoot a farmer while he plowed his field, killing him.

The situation became so bad that in October 2002 the last six families in the village left in fear of their lives. The week before settlers had come down to the village heavily armed and with dogs and beat up men in front of their children and stated that they did not want to see anyone here next week. One villager who had lived in Yanoun for seven generations stated that “death would be easier than leaving, but the welfare of the children was at stake. One of my sons would cry and hold me in fear and I had to get up at night and take his hand just to go to the bathroom. No can except living like this” – Khamal sobin

However the following week Israeli Peace group Ta’ ayush came to  the villagers aid establishing a constant presence in the village in order to enable the villagers to return home. Which they did little by little, some taking up to two years before they felt safe enough to return. Upon their return many villagers found their homes ransacked, windows smashed and everything inside either stolen or broken.

since then life has improved slightly in the village, mainly due to the international presence which is now supplied by the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel [EAPPI]. I was there as part of my work with Project Hope who provide a presence during the hand over period between one group of EAPPI volunteers and the next. While I still heard stories of settlers destroying 200 year old olive trees, urinating in the village wells and beating up villagers who stray to far from the village. At least they no longer live in fear of their lives. It’s just a shame that their security has to be insured by an international presence, not the Israeli Defence Force – who under international law are charged with their protection, but rarely live up to these obligations.

* The information in this post was gathered from residents of Yanoun and a book on Yanoun called “Living with Settlers” by Thomas Mandal.

One of the several outpost on the hilltops above Yanoun.

One of the several outpost on the hilltops above Yanoun.

 

Upper Yanoun

Upper Yanoun

 

The view from Yanoun - down the Jordan Valley

The view from Yanoun - down the Jordan Valley

November 18, 2008 Posted by | My Thoughts, My Travels | , , , , | Leave a comment

Photostory: Nablus’ Old City

The souk during a bustling day in Nablus' Old City.

The souk during a bustling day in Nablus

The West Bank city of Nablus has historically boasted itself as the commercial and business center of Palestine. The West Bank’s largest city, it dates back some 4,500 years. However, Nablus’ economy, cultural heritage, and population have come under attack during the past four years of Israeli violence. Its Old City walls have acquired a new layer of history in the political graffiti and martyr posters honoring the scores of mostly young men from Nablus who have committed suicide bombings or, far more frequently, were killed by Israeli violence.

A wall in the center of the Old City, covered in political graffiti and martyrs' posters

A wall in the center of the Old City, covered in political graffiti and martyrs

Of its population of around 332,000, the Nablus district has seen 365 deaths during the first four years of the current intifada as a result of Israeli violence, and scores more have been imprisoned. Nablus has also seen the worst of Israeli closures. The Palestine Red Crescent Society has recorded that Nablus was subjected to 4,804 hours of curfew between June 2002 and September 2004. Israeli forces control all movement to and from Nablus through Huwwara checkpoint, which is one of the most notorious checkpoints in the occupied territories.

The combined factors of closure, movement restrictions, and violence have decimated Nablus’ economy. According to the UN, “Municipal revenues from the vegetable market, for example, dropped 90 percent since 2000 — from NIS [New Israeli Shekel] 5.19 million to NIS 509,290.” The city’s famed soap industry has been particularly hard hit. While there was once as many as 80 soap factories manufacturing in Nablus, there are only three fully operating today.

Towers of cut soap air out before they are boxed for shipping

Towers of cut soap air out before they are boxed for shipping

Not only has the development of Nablus’ economy been hindered by Israel’s movement restrictions and intensified violence during the last four years, but Nablus’ children have been hard-hit as well. Lack of access to food as a result of curfew and economic hardship has resulted in malnutrition among children, and the education process has been disrupted by curfew and violence. Teachers report that since the intifada, children are having a harder time concentrating in class. A Save the Children study found that “children live in a near constant state of fear. Their reference points for normal life have changed; they know the language of violence at a very young age,” and as a result exhibit the psychological symptoms of increased aggression and stubbornness, shortened attention spans, bedwetting, and nightmares.
A stately building in Nablus' old city

A stately building in Nablus

Despite all that it has suffered in the past four years, the impressive Old City of Nablus still clings on to any remaining magnificence it can. But visitors to Nablus will immediately notice the silenced faces of those pictured in the martyr posters, and the bullet holes in the buildings. And unsurprisingly for a city under siege, its sites of antiquity are not being properly preserved and maintained. Garbage is littered over the remains of a city long forgotten; its ancient arches now sprouting vegetation and its former majesty now dwarfed by the nearby houses.
The last four years of voilence and repeated Israeli incursions have tarnished the Old City's elegance

The last four years of voilence and repeated Israeli incursions have tarnished the Old City

Both Nablus’ historical heritage, preserved in its irreplaceable structures, and its future, found in the city’s children, are threatened by politics beyond their control. Like how the damage done to its architecture cannot be erased, Nablus’ children are experiencing potentially irreversible developmental problems because of Israel action in the suffering city. As the Old City of Nablus’ historic sites are being consumed by violence, the city’s future remains in question as the next generation lives in the limbo, uncertainty, and instability that come with protracted conflict.
  
* This article was taken from the Electronic Intifada  and writen by Maureen Clare Murphy. www.electronicintifada.net  

November 15, 2008 Posted by | Media, My Travels | | Leave a comment

Palestinian Hip Hop

I have just returned from a hip hop gig in Nablus, put on by Sabreen Organisation– who specialise in artistic development. There were three performers from England, Denmark and Germany, all of Palestinian heritage. Plus some locals who participated in sabreen’s workshops at Old Askar refugee camp. Even though there was only about 40-50 people there, the atmosphere was great with everyone dancing and cheering the whole night. It was cool to see a scene in its infancy. I also spoke to the organizer who is keen for me to run music production workshops at Old Askar for the local mc’s. Which would be incredible as I thought I would not be able to work in the refugee camp’s as computer access is non-existent.
  
I also have my first music class on Saturday with the “Bridge to world” program and on Sunday I am running another music class for the local staff and volunteers of Project Hope, in the hope that when I leave they can take over the music program. My English class at the Youth Progressive Union is also coming along quite well, mainly due to my amazing translator Anas. I have been preparing classes in grammar and vocabulary, the areas the students requested. However most of the time in class I feel very much like Anas’s assistant, as he’s understanding of English is far greater than mine – even though it is he’s second language.
  
Tomorrow I have an easy day and I am going to treat myself to a Turkish bath and a massage, looking forward to it. As showers over here consist of boiled water and a bucket due to the water restrictions. I am also planning a trip to Jerusalem next week, leaving Thursday and returning on Friday, as my schedule is filling up fast and I need to make the most of my free time while I still have some.
    
The t-shirt says it all

The t-shirt says it all

November 14, 2008 Posted by | My Thoughts, My Travels | , , | Leave a comment

Yasser Arafat memorial rally – Ramallah

Today I attended a memorial rally for Yasser Arafat, it was an amazing experience. It was like being a part of history, as it was held in the Fatah compound in Ramallah. A place I have seen time and time again on TV, the same place where he was basicly held captive for several months by the Israeli Defence Force [IDF], the same place his body was returned to after his death in France and the same place where he gave countless speech’s to the international media about the plight of his people.

I travel to Ramallah on a bus provide by Fatah’s youth organisation, with a local volunteer from Project Hope. The bus left from the university in Nablus at around 9.00am and we arrived in Ramallah just after 12.00pm. A trip that Jaffa, the local Project Hope volunteer, informed me took 45 minutes before the check points and road detours where put in place by the Israeli’s. There where three check points, two of which we could drive through and where only a minor inconvenience. Plus one at Huwarra where we had to get out and walk through. I was through within five minutes with my international passport, however the locals had to line up in what looked remarkably like a cattle corral for over an hour to be search and questioned one at a time by the IDF. This plus the road detours, which have been put in place to divert Palestinian traffic away from, often ilegal the Jewish settlements, added around two hours to our trip. A trip many Palestinian take on a daily basis.  

By the time we arrived the rally had already started. The crowd was massive, ten’s of thousands of incredibly passionate people, all cheering and waving flags at the mere mention of Yasser Arafat’s name. It was great to see, as Yasser is one of my hero’s. A man who dedicated his life to his people and has come to embody their struggle for self-determination, a struggle that unfortunately continues to this day.

Yasser Arafat memorial rally

Yasser Arafat memorial rally

November 13, 2008 Posted by | My Thoughts, My Travels | , | Leave a comment

Olive harvest & Palestinian hospitality

Today I participated in the annual olive harvest with other international volunteers from Project Hope . It was a small grove in town and the trees where relatively young, only 20 years old. The grove was planted during the first intifada as Palestinians where in lock down for most of it and could not access their farm lands, let alone get food transported in. So all manner of fruit and vegetables where planted in town to sustain the population. The harvest only took five hours and every couple of hours we where brought tea, coffee and tasty treats. After the harvest we where taken on a tour of the city including the outlying villages, then feed an amazing meal, the food just keep coming. After dinner we where invited back on Sunday for a traditional Palestinian dinner, the family was incredibly grateful, as where we by the end of the day.

I also heard stories about Project Hope bringing food and medicen to the Nablus population at the peak of the first intifada. As mentioned above, Nablus was in lock down and Project Hope staff and volunteers risked their own lives to deliver live saving medicine and essential foods to the locals. Often playing a cat a mouse game with the Israeli military to get to sections of the town where the  heaviest fighting was occurring. I also discovered that Nablus is the second oldest constantly inhabited city in the world, no wonder it has an historic feel to it, and that before the Zionist movement started Samaritans – a branch of Judaism – Christians and Muslim all coexisted happily in the city. With the Grandmother of the family we pick olives for, a Muslim lady, telling me they even celebrated each others religious holidays.

Tomorrow I am assisting with my first “Bridge to the World” {BTTW] class, where young Palestinians are taught how to set up and maintain their own blog’s. The aim of the program is to help the participants feel less isolated from the rest of the world, while helping to raise awareness of the occupation and it’s impacts on Palestinian life. I also have a meeting with a local youth center about setting up my own English class. The arts coordinator is currently on leave so the music program my take a little longer than expected to set up, but atleast I will be kept busy in the mean time with BTTW and English. I am unable to put into words how amazing this experience has been so far and I sure it will only get better as I start to deliver my own classes.

 

Olive harvest

Olive harvest

Palestinian hospitality

Palestinian hospitality

Sunset over Nablus

Sunset over Nablus

 * Photo’s courtesy of Sadie – a British volunteer here to teach digital photography.

November 9, 2008 Posted by | My Thoughts, My Travels | , , | Leave a comment

My first day in Nablus

Well I have arrived in Nablus and could not believe the difference from Tel Aviv. I flew for 24 hours half way around the world to arrive in Tel Aviv, a city that was very much like Sydney. Then yesterday I drove for two hours to arrive in Nablus a city that is completely different. The people, the landscape and the culture all which bear no resemblance to Tel Aviv.

After I got over the initial culture shock and the realisation of how bad my language skills are, I have settle in quite well. The local staff are amazingly positive and incredibly Patient with my limit arabic skills, not to mention my very thick Australian accent. The international volunteers have also welcomed me warmly and been very supportive. While the few locals I have meet that are not connected to Project Hope have been very friendly and welcoming. The city it self is a wondrous place, especially the Old City which has amazing markets and a really historic feel.

I have also hit the ground running, work wise, going through my induction today and tomorrow I am assisting another international volunteer to teach English. Then on Friday I am helping with the olive harvest, which I am really excited about, as I am keen to experience traditional Palestinian life and the lady who owns the olive grove is going to cook for the volunteers a traditional Palestinian dinner as a way of showing her gratitude. Then hopefully next week I can organise my schedule for my music classes.

The city of Nablus has only two entrances/exits, both check points manned by the Israeli military. In addition to this the city is also in circled by Israeli military out posts and watch towers on the hills above, as Nablus is situated in a valley. The residents of Nablus are only allowed to travel to certain parts of the West Bank with permits issued by the Israeli’s, not to mention Gaza and East Jerusalem which are generally completely of limits to West Bank Palestinians. These permits which more often than not are only granted after a lengthy and arduous process, if at all, are still no guarantee of access. As even when granted these permit holders can still be turned around at the check points on the whim of the soldiers manning them. This travel permit system has resulted in many Palestinian families being seperated from one another. Reconstruction also requires permits from the Israeli’s, which are also near impossible to obtain, meaning that many buildings that are destroy during incursions by the Israeli millitary are unable to be rebuilt. Incursions are a daily occurrence in the West Bank, especially in the refugee camps, these incursions are rarely reported in the western media.  The water supply, which is also controlled by the Israeli’s, is in sort supply and on my first day the water had run out by the time I arrive. This is due mainly to the fact that 80% of the West Bank’s water is diverted to Jewish settlements, even though the settlers only account for around 10% of the population. With most of these limitation on Palestinian life coming into effect during the so called “Peace Process”. With this in mind is it little wonder Yasser Arafat walked out of the Camp David peace talks. As he was not offered, as was widely reported, East Jerusalem as the capital and 90% of the West Bank and Gaza. What was on the table at Camp David was 10 enclaves similar to Nablus today and no part of Jerusalem. In addition to this the Israeli’s would still control the boarders, the population register, the water and the airspace – not to mention keeping most the fertile farming land in the West Bank. Far from the viable state the Palestinians desire and deserve. But even with all this the Palestinian people, mostly, still manage to maintain a happy and friendly disposition. Even joking about the generosity of Israel, “we asked for one state and they offered us ten”. 

Well time to get off my soap box and get some rest.

Nablus

Nablus

November 5, 2008 Posted by | My Thoughts, My Travels | , | Leave a comment

Tel Aviv Street Art & Jaffa

While the Tel Aviv Art Museum was great, and it was. I must say that the best art I have come across in Tel Aviv I have found on the street. Here is a sample of what I have found wandering around.

 I also got the chance to visit Jaffa, as I was able to register my travels with the Embassy on-line. Jaffa is an old commercial port which is literally as old as Noah or at least his son Japheth who founded the town nearly 4000 years ago. It has been restored and preserved as an outdoor museum, it also gives you great views of Tel Aviv from HaPisgah Gardens. Here are some photo’s of Jaffa and it’s views of Tel Aviv.

 

Then I finished my time in Tel Aviv by watching the sun set over the Mediterranean.

P.S. Had a great night last night drinking with some one I meet on the plane, however on last night’s example the night life of Tel Aviv is not all it’s cracked up to be, however it was a Monday night and with Moodyman playing here on the 14th November, I’m up for giving it another chance.

November 3, 2008 Posted by | My Travels | , , | Leave a comment