so, Hamed says… I have some friends here from the UK, one is an artist and she has offered to do a mural on the wall of the new nursery school in Khashem al Darraj, they would like some help, know anyone?
That was how we got involved, as in all things Palestine, people make friends in the most unusual circumstances and so myself, Nick, an ISM volunteer from the UK, and Chris, an HIRC volunteer friend of Hamed’s from Denmark, all offered to help out paint the school, together with the artist Tania and her husband Ed, both also from the UK.
Hamed drove us out to the South Hebron Hills to the village for a site visit, we made notes and planned some simple outlines for the mural and organised the paints and brushes.
Then, 2 days later, we found ourselves moving our belongings into the school’s soft carpeted play room to stay over for the duration of the project, we came laden down with bread, fruit, tea and plenty of water to keep us going, as the school location was very remote, with no nearby shops.
Myself and Tania having artistic ability drew some children’s characters free-hand onto the white washed walls and the men were asked to paint in the colour blocked backgrounds and some outlines. We worked until around 9pm then stopped for some supper, bread and humus and tea, before we cleared up our work area to prepare for the early arrival of the children at the school in the morning and went to bed.
The next morning, I got up at dawn and went outside to witness the amazing sky in the South Hebron Hills, I made some tea and woke the others, and we had our breakfast sitting on the tiny children’s chairs in the hallway.
We went outside to start work again and it was not long before the children started arriving, some seemed afraid of us, the older kids ignored us and headed straight for the playground equipment, the slides and swings and roundabouts, gradually as more and more people passed by on the road, we were asked who we were and what we were doing there, as our work was still not obvious at that stage, one car of local men seemed concerned to check we were not settlers and with our limited Arabic, we assured them that we were not.
Madam Huda the school teacher arrived around 8am and we introduced ourselves, she was very friendly and happy to see us and all the children instantly seemed more secure with her around to reassure them.
She rung the school bell and the children ran obediently inside, where I watched them line up and do early morning exercises and their morning prayers, before going inside the classroom for their lessons.
We got back to work, painting and drawing the murals on the walls, the sun heated up and we tried to organise our work so that we worked on the side of the wall that was most in the shade in the morning and then change over as the sun moved later in the day. The 5 of us quickly found a pattern of working that was compatible, the less artistic of the group filled in backgrounds after the ones who were more comfortable drawing, sketched out the details.
The theme of the mural was ”Imagination Is Powerful” and the murals depicted children’s dreams for themselves, so we had a little girl dreaming of being a Doctor, or a housewife with a beautiful little house and children or even as a Manager, or a scientist.
Then the next mural was a young boy, dreaming of a bedouin lifestyle complete with camel train and a luxury Bedouin tent!
This was where our limited knowledge of all things Bedouin became apparent, as we progressed with the work, we attracted much attention and local visitors, and one day, some Bedouin men looked on, rather perplexed as they studied the paintings…. they spoke amongst themselves in Arabic and we realised we had made an error, we asked him to explain and they pointed out that not only do Bedouin tents have a pointed roof cover, not flat as we had drawn, but also that camel riders sit behind the camels hump, not in front!
This caused much laughter and the bedouin men seemed really amused at our embarrassment, but I asked him to help us out and sketch the correct shape for the tent, which he did with good humour.
The rest of the work progressed without too much difficulty, until we had to invite the children to hand print around the petals of the flowers we had painted in the garden/nature mural, this was more difficult than we expected as we struggled to relax the children and explain what we would like them to do!
Gradually it came together though, helped by Madam Huda, and her patience.
there is so much to say, and it is so hard to focus and bring things into shape here, I haven’t had a regular internet access, it’s been on and off and I have also had a bit of a bug the last few days, I lost my voice (much to the amusement of many), so, I just haven’t been able to sit down and write.
My MP3 has been my savior, I have had a couple of songs on repeat almost constantly, Strawberry Letter 23 and Where the Wild Roses Grow, I just play them back to back, they relax me.
Another thing, I feel like people from my past have been around me, lol, dead people, have felt close to me. Maybe that is just because I am away from my regular crowd?
I dunno….. lol, random anyway
First the practicals, today is moving day, again! I have been at Hamed’s place about 8 days, and I am moving to the factory in Idna village tomorrow, for a week at least.
I am ready to start cutting some new samples, even though we don’t have the machinery yet, the grant money from the British Council has been transferred to our group, but the PA are ”investigating” the funds before releasing them!
It is insane here, not our kind of insanity, nothing here is ‘our kind’, everything is a special kind of Occupied Palestine insanity, which defies any logic.
Nothing I have ever experienced can be applied here, even the plodding bureaucracy of Vietnam 6 years ago, pales into mere formality compared to the stupid pointless painful hoops people are required to jump through, just to get through the day here, nothing makes sense (meaning, our Western value of what is ‘sense‘) what can be the rule in the morning can be irrelevant by the evening, you simply cannot apply our values and morality and judgements onto the daily lives of the Palestinians under occupation, if you did, you would go crazy.
Basically, it is a case of tear up the rule book and learn to play the Occupation Game.
That is why in the first two weeks here I was so exhausted mentally, the inequality and oppression people here live under is sickening and to our sense of right and wrong, completely unjust and indefensible, yet, it exists. That is how it is here. You cannot question it.
Today, we drove from a Bedouin ‘refugee’ community living in abject poverty, literally scratching in the dirt, and just across the road, were the sleek modern buildings that housed the illegal settler’s chicken farms, long low white buildings with electricity, air conditioning and an imported labour force from Thailand…. no scratching in the dirt for these Kosher chickens.
The farm buildings are overlooked on the hill by the community of (mostly) foreign Zionist colonists, who the whole world, (apart from Israel), agrees are illegal occupiers here on the land.
Yet, there they are, in their houses with red tiled roofs and their solar panels and swimming pools…. oblivious to what the whole world thinks of them.
You see them, you see their high barbed wires fences and the signposts in Hebrew, you can glimpse what looks like a community lodge building at the entrance to the gated and fenced in developments, mirror tinted glass windows keeping insiders invisible and you wonder at the mentality of the people behind the glass?
How do they see the poor Bedouin across the road? Their neighbours just outside, do they see them as neighbours, or as vermin, to be exterminated and eradicated?
They certainly don’t allow them employment in their chicken farms, and would rather import labour from overseas than employ local Arabs, so as to deprive them of income in the vicinity.
The electricity pylons between the settlements and the chicken farm buildings stretch defiantly overhead, bypassing the mean low shacks of the Bedouin, the settler’s vast water tower store stands like a beacon of spite, it gets flushed out once a year, the old water drained onto the ground rather than diverted to those who could use it.
So, you see them, sometimes waiting for their buses, (Israeli buses only they and other foreigners can use, no Arabs allowed), with their pale freckled skin, we, internationals, we see them, but they don’t see what is around them, I don’t think they can do, they must close their eyes to it, or else… or else what?
They don’t care?
They are so filled with hate and religious righteousness that they have no concern for anyone who isn’t them?
The ‘”Chosen ones’’?
Just a night ago, Israeli ‘military’ (which gives them a gravitas and a dignity they simply don’t deserve) entered a local house in the Old City, via the roof, at 2am, and blindfolded and zip tied the hands of a young man, before abducting him; his mother, hysterical, pushed a soldier on the steps of her home, and was also arrested and taken away, but not before collapsing in the street.
They were held overnight, bail was collected amongst friends and supporters and they were released, the mother is charged with assaulting a soldier (who entered her home at 2am via the roof, what was wrong with knocking on the door?) So, far, no charges have been made against the son.
It was filmed and put onto You Tube, I watched the calm surrender of the young man as he was led away, hands tied, and blindfolded, and I wondered at his mentality?
How many men his age could walk away like that, without hitting out, going crazy at these foreign kids with big guns who had abseiled into his house at 2am, terrorising his family?
Why was he so calm?
Our rules don’t apply here, remember?
Because he knows the rules of the Occupation Game, every move he makes could be used against him, could increase his chances of disappearing for months, years upon end, no need to charge him with anything, nothing his family can do. They are just Palestinians.
I have seen these kids with big guns close up, their pimply faces, and slightly mad eyes, (…or the ones with the sad eyes, those ones I still hold out hope for) and see nothing special in these kids to the teenagers we see in our local shopping malls, or town centers, (pissed up at weekends, still too young for the over 21 club nights).
Except here, these kids have power, and big weapons and no one can stop them, they can push people around, enter houses at 2am via the rooftops, because?
-our rules don’t apply…..
They are the Chosen Ones.
God gave them this land, they say.
Yeah, it was in his book and everything.
These spotty pale kids, (or sometimes slim dark skinned African kids) are the ones who were the bullied and the underdogs in another existence, another lifetime, so now go around bullying others, demanding papers for no reason other than to assert their authority and harass and oppress others.
I followed a very young troop around one morning for a couple of hours, watching the kid in charge embarrass himself as he repeatedly got lost in the old City, his ‘troop’ of 6 following on his heels into blind alleys, and having to bluster their way back out again. His oversize hat giving him a comedy clown soldier appearance, his face, boyish and pale underneath trying hard not to look like he cared when we gazed at him with pity and ridicule on our faces. He was just a boy.
If he had pushed in front of me or been as abrupt in a crowd at home in the UK, I would have verbally slapped him down, here, where -our rules don’t apply- I would have got arrested for it, by him and his big stupid hat !
I must admit I taunted and joked at him as we followed his crazy route through the ruins of the old City, asking him if he was lost? Looking for Israel perhaps?
He only slightly bit back once or twice, pretending he was above it, despite his youth, but you could tell his pissed off troop thought he was making them look like twats.
He dragged their sorry asses right up to the border of H1, where their ‘authority’, ends.
It should of course have ended in 1996 as agreed in the Oslo Accords, but then what is 15 years eh?
And all the time, stopping Palestinian men aged 17-21, and ID’ing them, just for the hell of it. Holding them, at the side of the road, surrounded by armed soldiers, staring them down, as they radioed in their ID’s. Humiliating them, and they all took it calmly, I have seen more indignation on a 159 bus back home when an inspector gets on and asks for Oyster cards… because, our rules don’t apply, these guys just expect to be ID’d in the street, delayed and hassled and spoken to rudely and abruptly by these asshole kids with guns, they know that giving these guys a response is what they want, just give them a reason to arrest anyone and they will, it would make their day.
So, they don’t react, they don’t laugh in their faces, or tell them to go Fuck themselves, or even seem surprised, they just fish out their battered green ID cards and hand them over, and lean back and smoke and expect a long wait.
While the kids with the guns play at being soldiers.
Is your home warm and safe?
Do you have easy access to water and electricity?
Imagine for a minute, if you came back home tomorrow and this was all that was left?
This is the tragic reality for the Bedouin community of Umm Al Khair.
They moved on from their original home in the Arad area, in the aftermath of the 1948 Nabka, they are recognized registered refugees with UNRWA and are considered one of the most at risk communities in the region.
This is due to the fact that the community resides on land that the Israeli occupation wants to use to expand the illegal settlement of Karmail.
Only a fence separates the hilltop 21st century settlements, with all their modern facilities, and the tents and makeshift shelters of the 125 Bedouin families of Umm Al Khair, in the dusty valley below.
The settlers have even stretched their electricity supply, over to their vast air conditioned chicken factory, bypassing the homes of the Bedouin. The 2 large modern buildings are just beside the road, staffed by immigrant Thai labour, so as not to provide employment for the local Arab population.
Demolition orders have been carried out on Bedouin structures here in 2006, 2008, and again in 2011, in an effort to displace the community.
5 dwellings were rebuilt with legal advice to move the footprint of the shelter at least 30 meters away from the original site, hence invalidating the standing demolition orders.
Funding from an anonymous international donor made the structural work possible to rebuild, however, only the basic shells were funded, none of the shelters are weatherproof and in the harsh conditions of the South Hebron Hills, this is now urgently required to make these dwellings suitable for the winter.
A fantastic group of volunteers have offered their labour to come and live in the camp for a week, and refit the 5 dwellings with the necessary windows and doors to make them livable for the families.
But, what is now urgently required is the funds to buy the hardware, window frames and the doors.
This has been quoted at 27500 shekels….
we have the labour force on hand and can get to work in 2 weeks time, what we need is help in funding the materials, if you can, please help…
Contact and Donations
Donors in the UK can contribute to the Villages Group via the British Shalom-Salaam Trust by cheque or credit card.
Gift Aiding your donation will add 28% to its value.
If you prefer to make a bank transfer, please email email@example.com
In the US, donate via the Center for Emerging Futures – a 501(c)3 non-profit.Under “Program Designation” choose the “Middle East Project”. Below that, mark “On Behalf Of”, and add “For the The Villages Group” in the text line.
Please also send an email to one of the addresses below notifying us of the donation.
For more information on how you can join or help, contact:
Ehud Krinis – firstname.lastname@example.org
Hamed Qawasme – email@example.com
Erella Dunayevsky – firstname.lastname@example.org
Assaf Oron (webmaster) – email@example.com
Arab donors please get in touch for Arab Bank details.
I met a French lady here who needs some help on a fantastic project she is working on, she is from Paris Est University and together with Oxford Brookes University in UK, they are doing a study on how to help renew the Hebronite sense of community that is being systematically fractured by the illegal occupation here.
She, Barbara, explained to me that by the occupying army disrupting the everyday way of life of the Arab inhabitants of Hebron, it is also another way of dismantling the Palestinian resilience to the Occupation.
The wall and the occupation of space impact Palestinian life through the destruction of the spatial and social environment.
The confiscation of land, the destruction of visual perspective, the closure of enclaves, the denial of privacy, the disregard of landscape, and the systematic control of Palestinian places of memories and social meaning can be described as acts of symbolic and spectacular violence.
Conversely, Palestinians through their will to stay on the land have strengthened their notion of ‘Sumud‘, their resilience and steadfastness.
The project will contribute to a more holistic understanding of the research areas of home and place attachment, hardship, symbolic violence, coping strategies and adaptability. Through monitoring the interaction between social and environmental impacts of occupation, it highlights the potential for architectural and social interaction towards conflict transformation.
Hebron is one of the oldest cities in the world, dating back 5500 years.
Throughout the centuries, the Roman, Byzantine, Persian, Mamluk and Ottoman Empires have left a wealth of heritage; which is currently under threat by the encroaching occupation and the illegal settlers who wish to erase all but the Jewish history of Hebron.
Hebron Protocol Outline
The agreement called for:
- An IDF withdrawal from 80% of Hebron within ten days. (….more than 12 years later, they are still here)
- By March 7 Israel would begin the first phase of withdrawal from rural areas in the West Bank.
- Eight months after the first stage, Israel would carry out the second phase of the withdrawal.
- The third phase was to have been completed before mid-1998. In this phase Israel would withdraw from the remaining parts of the West Bank apart from “settlements and military locations.”
H1 is administered by the Palestinian Authority and contains 120,000 Palestinians. More than 150 000 Palestinians live in Hebron, 120 000 in H1 under Palestinian control and 30 000 in H2 , the Old City, under Israeli Military control
The Building Sumud Project aims to strengthen the understanding of the occupation of space and resilience attitudes through a multidisciplinary perspective and methodology.
This aim consists of three strands:
- a better practical conceptualization in order to translate research into empowering strategies
- a creative conceptualization linking research and design projects and artistic initiatives
- the development of interdisciplinary and action-research-led cooperation
Barbara tells me the French volunteers from their University have been funded (as French students do not have to pay for their higher education) but the British students have not raised funds and as they have to pay for their University, they cannot also self fund this project.
To make things more difficult, the French have now upgraded the security level here which means the French students are not permitted to come at the moment, (they should be arriving next month) so the university professor is struggling with the bureaucracy to try and get permission to continue the project and allow the students to visit.
Barbara and her colleague here are upset that the ground work they have laid may not be completed now, it is very distressing to begin a project working directly with the Palestinians and then not be able to follow through and losing the trust and damaging the relationships that have been made.
It is a valuable project and they asked me if perhaps I could find anyone in the UK who might help raise funds for the British students to come over, they need about £5000 for the 3 British students for the 1-2 month project here.
If any of you reading this think you may be able to help, please get in touch
Today, which also happened to be my birthday, myself and 3 other London ISMers took a ‘service’ shared taxi, up the road from the flat in Ramallah, to the village of Ni’Lin, just on the edge of the Green Line, where the apartheid wall has been trying to extend for the last 4 years, into the land belonging to the Palestinian villages it cuts through.
There were already 4 people sat waiting for the taxi to be filled to go off to the village of Ni’Lin, about 30-40 minutes drive away. I sat next to an older lady with her daughter, the old lady and I complained, in Arabic, to each other, about men smoking, then I told them it was my birthday and I got some congratulations from them.
We arrived at the village not long after 12pm, and saw almost straight away the younger brother of the organizing committee for the Village demonstrations who was waiting for us. He took us round to his brother, who asked us to wait under the Olive trees whilst the men gathered for Friday prayers.
We sat outside on the rocky ground, under the shade of the trees, groups of men were lounging around, under other trees or listening to the leader as he said the prayers and talked to the village.
As we kept a polite distance, it began to drag on, and I heard children’s laughter and women talking not far off, so I wandered away to the trees just behind where we were, a few family groups of women and small kids were picking olives, so I walked over and said Maharba and Salaam.
A young woman, 19, was olive picking in the sun, with perfectly made up eyes, offered me some sweet sugary fruit juice, her English was good so we chatted as I helped her pick. Very soon other women came across to see who I was, including the toothless old grandmother, who when the granddaughter said ‘this is Dona from England’, she said, in Arabic, -You gave our land to the Jews!
She was laughing as she said it, but I put my hand on my chest and said, no not me, I came here to help, I am sorry.
All the women were short, and even with my trainers on, I was a good 5” taller, so I said I could reach the tall branches and help, so they laughed. A few more women came over, but then quickly went back to their work.
As I picked, the young women I was talking to moved over to another tree and I was alone, picking and throwing the fruits on the tarp on the ground, when suddenly a big twig nearly landed on me, I looked around, thinking the branches must be getting disturbed, then a little later, some rather hard olives came flying straight at me too…. I looked around confused, no one was there, then I heard giggling from above my head, I shaded my eyes and looked up to see 2 little imps hiding in the high branches they had been there all along and had been pelting me with twigs and olives! They giggled and said excitedly -hallo hallo, they were about 6 years old and cheeky little scruff monsters.
Later, when they came down the tree, I took a picture of them with their cousins and brothers and sisters, the boy in the blue top is the main culprit!
I asked the young woman what she would like to say to my friends who ask me in England, – ‘so, what about Palestine?’
She said, politely, we want to thank you, for asking, for coming here. I said no, that is not an important message you don’t need to thank us. She seemed confused and disagreed, but said, ‘ok, then I ask them to please not forget us, please don’t let our land be taken from us, if your governments can help, and ask the Jews (her words) to stop and leave our land alone, we will be happy, we don’t want fighting, we just want to live on our land’.
yesterday was intense.
Before I came here, even though I had been warned I would feel overwhelmed, I didn’t expect it to happen to me on Day 1 of training!
The Palestinian trainers here are amazing, there is no need to exaggerate or embroider the possibilities of what we could expect, as the reality is stranger than fiction. Every role play or example was taken from a previous real volunteers experience and it was so so much to take in.
They speak simply and with infinite humour at the situation, and their fortitude impresses and moves me hugely.
In the morning, after breakfast, we did very similar subjects to what we covered in London training, only it was different, as we were now here, on the ground.
In fact, 2 of the volunteers I met at my London training turned up, none of us knew the others were coming this week as we were advised not to share that info, we had all come the same route via Jordan too!
So, I knew 2 people already. The others, were a very mixed bunch! 2 Italians, (Italy has become more involved with Pal Solidarity since the publicity surrounding Vittorio) a couple of Americans and myself and the other 2 Brits. We were joined later by 2 more women who had already spent some time here.
One was an American lady who had just got out of house arrest in Tel Aviv. Her experience and story was very valuable to us, as she lived one of the biggest fears here, being arrested and taken to jail.
She spent 48 hours in jail, instead of the legal 24, because she was arrested on a Friday and the courts weren’t open until Sunday at midnight.
The afternoons training was when my brain was really fried. We covered legal, and the trainer, a Palestinian man, had spent 7 years under various types of imprisonment. He was intense, the role plays he did were scary and realistic, I felt flustered and helpless and overwhelmed.
The injustice and inequality of the system here is mind blowing, yet they (Israel) get away with it, because no one is really aware or cares.
A Palestinian is considered of age to be arrested and tried as an adult at 13.
For Israelis (and foreigners) it is 18 before they are treated as adults by the legal system.
And yet they wonder why people are so unhappy and want to throw rocks at them?
There is a whole legal system here, that is only applicable to Palestinians.
Another for Israelis, and another again for Foreigners. Because they blocked the Palestinian workforce from access to Israel to work, they had to bring in foreigners to do the manual labour, so a new set of laws were made for them.
By 9pm, I was in bed, my head exploding.
By 1am, I was awake not knowing what to do with myself, full of questions and no answers.
Overwhelmed and wishing I could cry, or something, frustrated at being able to do, nothing.
Eventually, I fell back to sleep.
Now, for day 2.
Today was the first day of training in Ramallah… words fail me to even begin to tell how it was.
My brain is fried, I have drunk so much coffee and heard so much stuff, met new people, I can’t process it all yet.
What do I know from today?
I know I was right to come and it again reinforced my pov that the handicrafts are where I should focus. The activist stuff blows my fuses, I don’t know how I will cope, guess we shall find out, but being here, is so far far out of my usual comfort zone, yet it feels the right place to be right now.
I know this is one part of the journey that many people will be curious about, I certainly was both worried and excited about it, so it is worth blogging as an adventure experience all of it’s own!
The taxi driver I had recruited from the night before, turned up outside my hotel an hour early, and the lobby informed me he was waiting. So, I checked out of the hotel at just before 12pm. I had intended to leave earlier, but due to a sleepless night (down to excitment), I fell back asleep after my early morning alarm went off, so didn’t actually get out of bed till 9.30am.
I did a full repack of my bag, this time using the rolling method and I can say I am now a convert. I have heard it recommended before, but never bothered to do it, however it does work, saves space and stops creasing, I shall be a roller from now on.
Once in the taxi, there was a moment of debate about which border crossing I really wanted, apparently they are more used to foreigners using the more distant crossing in the North. I had to reconfirm, via an English speaking friend of the driver, on his mobile, that I did indeed want the King Hussein/ Allenby Bridge crossing, only 57 kms away from Amman.
One that was settled, I asked the driver, in Arabic, to stop somewhere for some ‘mai’ (water), he was delighted that I spoke Arabic to him and another new friendship was formed. He told me he was learning English and so for the rest of the trip he spoke to me in English, and I to him in Arabic, it was fun.
I must say I have used more Arabic in the last 2 days than in the last 2 years! It is an excellent work out and I really enjoy it, and am surprised at how much conversation I can have, the people always really appreciate and encourage it, you become their instant new best friend! Using the Arabic place names, Al Quds for Jerusalem, Al Khalil for Hebron etc always brings a raised eyebrow and a smile to their faces too.
The drive was roughly an hour, the traffic wasn’t too bad at all, and the driver told me there was a more scenic route but he knew some short cuts! We went through some stark landscapes, rocky dry wastelands, that I said I found beautiful - to which the driver exclaimed in disbelief!
The most interesting part of the drive was through the Dead Sea area and Salt. Your ears start to pop as the pressure from the lowest point on earth gets to you. It reminded me, in a way, of some more rural areas of Vietnam, the ramshackle road side shops and dirty truck and car repair garages, the garbage strewn roadsides and the poverty and evident hard living. I saw what looked like some encampments at the sides of the roads, I haven’t seen anything that poor since India, true shanty towns, but I could only see the makeshift lean to’s, no people around, the odd goat though.
The driver and I had established a friendship by then, we discussed the various costs of living, in Amman, Dubai and London, and he was traumatised on behalf of UK smokers. He asked me about the hashish laws in the UK, I explained as best I could, not being an expert, and he said it was about the same as Jordan, small amounts for personal use being ok, but not for selling, even though he had cusomers who asked him to get them some here.
He was a Palestinian, who had never been to Palestine, but he said his family name was a big name in Al Khalil, (Hebron) and he gave me his card and told me to ask about his family when I am there. I tried to draw him on his feelings about not being allowed to go there, but he seemed not to want to engage on that level.
As we came close to the border, I had been enjoying the drive and the conversation so much I hadn’t been nervous, but when I pulled out my phone and started deleting some old messages etc the nerves rose about what I was doing. I had dreamt the night before that I was refused entry, and I mused on what I would do if that happened?
Then, the Gotye song came on the cd player, we both said we liked it, so he turned it up full blast as we rode onto the borderland, both of us singing out loud, without a care!
I told him it was my birthday on Friday and he burst into Happy Birthday song too, he asked – politely, my age, and guessed, even more politely 35… yeah right, I told him, thank you, I was happy to take that! I was chuffed with myself at being able to joke in Arabic though. He was a rough looking 32.
The road got narrow, a 2 lane road and I started to see signposts to slow down for check points, the cars were single file and driving slower now, I saw my first uniformed armed Police at a corner. Then, he pulled over into what looked like a small bus station, the car stopped at a barrier and he had to hand over his id card. We then continued on down a little driveway to the ‘bus terminal’ where he was then to hand me over. He helped me with my huge bag and with a smile and a handshake he left. The fare had been agreed at 25JD and worth every penny for his company.
My bag was immediately nabbed by a large african looking dude, like the man in Green Mile. He couldn’t speak English and seemed sure I was Arabic, but I put my faith in him being a porter not a thief and dumbly followed him away from where the crowds were all gathered, round through a courtyard to the side of the building. We were joined by 2 dashingly handsome chaps with crisp white uniform shirts, who flirted with me and teased the porter guy in Arabic, they were both around 50 and were seriously ex movie star good looking! I feined a swoon at their handsomeness and got myself more people on my side!
They turned out to be the drivers of the Jett shuttle buses to the Israeli side of the border, 5km across the dry Jordan River.
I mean, really, George Clooney handsome! Perked me up no end!
In the little bus station hall, I had to hand over my passport to a smiley Palestinian guard in a grubby booth, he looked at it, and passed it to his colleague who asked me to pay the 10 JD exit tax to the lady in the opposite booth. Once that was sorted, myself and a gaggle of Japanese were herded back outside to the buses, I saw the VIP buses, where you can get whisked across for the princely sum of $100, but not for me. It turned out my little excersion was to the foreigners exit hall, the waiting hoards in the heat at the entrance where the taxi dropped me, was where the Palestinians were processed.
It was simple so far, and I smiled at my handsome friend as he hulked my huge bag into the rear of the shuttle bus, I was bigger than him, but manly pride took that one!
We were sat on the bus, about 8 of us, and we each paid a small fare for ourselves and our luggage, and after being checked over with mirrors under the bus, for stowaways or bombs, were driven smoothly down the road across the border. I had to laugh at the (not working) coffee machine perched on the faux mahogny side of the bus, like in a limo service!
The chap next to me was Australian passport holder, but Arab, he said -now we require patience!
Again, I saw later on how chatting to strangers is useful here, as he was to help me out when we both got stranded roadside in Jerusalem.
An Israeli armed guard, who looked about 19 with an extremely angry pimpled neck and a very big weapon, got on the bus at one point and examined our passports. He looked embarrassed to be doing so actually. Perhaps he lacked self confidence and people skills, he paled into insignificance compared to the jovial drivers and porters I had seen so far.
We drove to the other side, where our bags disappeared down a metal conveyer belt, and we queued up in the afternoon sun, under a metal awning, being attacked by millions of flies, the first flies I have seen here, do you think that is a biblical metaphor?
I got lucky and joined a fairly quick queue, there were about 30 of us waiting, the 1 guard on duty just gave a quick visual scan of our passports and asked our names and that was about it for me.
There were numerous bored looking Israeli girls and guys slouching around in plain clothes with huge machine guns slung casually over their shoulders, either chatting, or eating, or on their phones, most looked like they hated being there. I didn’t warm to them either to be fair.
Then, inside a sort of aircraft hanger, through the metal detectors, hand bags throught the x ray, and you are through to another hall, bigger than before, with numerous lines, I wasn’t sure where to go, but was pushed forward by some Arab men to the far lane, which said Non Palestinian passports or something. I got in line and observed the 2 border guards, a man and a young blonde woman, I scooted over to the man’s line as I heard the woman speak shrilly to the people in front. There were only about 6 or so queing and it didn’t take long at all. As I rocked up to the desk with a hopeful smile, I said hallo and please could I have a form 17L?
He was also another older man, (obv. my top tip here!) and was very genial and non threatening. He didn’t seem at all phased by this request and shoved a bit of paper through the glass screen for me to fill in my name (and my fathers first name -fuckedifiknow!) and a few other simple basics like on airline forms.
He asked my name, where I was from, where I came from and where I was visiting? I said I was going to Jerusalem, he asked for my hotel name, I told him, and that it was for 1 or 2 nights, then I would travel around. He asked where and did I have friends here? I said I had friends from Egypt and we were all meeting at Eilat as it is my birthday, he seemed delighted at this, checked my birthdate on my passport and said have a happy birthday and welcome. And I was in!
He stamped the slip of paper and handed my passport back. With a huge sigh of relief and I think, with a blooming big relieved smile plastered on me mush, I walked through to the baggage hall, for a long wait. My bag took longer to come through than I did, but it did not appear to have been searched at all when I finally got it. I was half disappointed not to have a more dramatic tale to tell!
Another x ray machine for the bags, then the scrum of another bus station. Taxis were touting but charging extortionate prices, so I joined a small shared bus to Jerusalem, that was where the fun started, as we found on our arrival in the city. The Israeli religious holiday of ‘Sukkit and See’ (ok, I made that name up, but it is something like that) had been called, and half the city of Jerusalem had been closed down. The roads were rammed, roadblocked in the normal sense, no one was moving anywhere.
The frustrated driver eventually said he could go no further and dumped us roadside, god knows where, it was dusty, hot and no where near what looked like a main route or part of town. He said to me wait here and get any taxi….. which proved impossible. I was eventually resuced by a passing employee of a taxi office which was luckily just around the corner, who lugged my case to his office and handed me over to the controllers. I gave my hotel details to them, they conferred with each other, and came back and said to me -” impossible. No way, they couldn’t get through to that part of the city. I had to walk!!!”
You know, I actually thought they were joking!
But, as it transpires, no. They weren’t.
This is where my earlier chat with the Aussie Arab came in useful, as he too had been stranded roadside, he came to try and help me and spoke Arabic to the rather grouchy and gruff taxi controllers, and they agreed to help me. They suggested I find a nearer hotel they could still drive to, and started calling around for me, several calls later they found me one for about $35, by this point, I was grateful for anything and agreed to go to the hotel which was up a steep hill nearby….
…hotel sagas to follow…