Tuesday, 28 December 2004

No Joy in Jericho

So the craziness that is my life continues...

This entry comes to you from a little Internet cafe in what is without a doubt the maddest, most fascinating, incredible and most jaw-dropping place I have ever step foot in...Palestine.

In all of my travels, in all of the places I have seen and the people I have met, in all the things I have done, I have never experienced anything quite like the Middle East.

This is truly a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants visit; I have no idea what is going to happen from one moment to the next. Danger is ever present, things are out of control and unpredictable.

Palestine is an insane place of checkpoints, conflict, persecution, anger, religion, poverty and some of the friendliest people I have met. I doubt whether there is anywhere like this on the planet.

I arrived in the Middle East two weeks ago. I flew from London, with an 8 hour break in Budapest, which gave me a chance to explore the city, and arrived in Tel Aviv in the early hours of Thursday morning.

After leaving the airport I grabbed a 'sherut' - a local minibus - and headed to the Fascial hostel in Jerusalem, where I slept for about eight hours, before making my way to Jericho in Palestine.

I am here with a large group of international volunteers to learn more about Palestine, and the conflict, and to help the local farmers and let the Palestinian people know that they are not alone.

These past weeks have proved to be interesting and educational. I'm having problems in my private life at the moment which has made being here difficult but nonetheless when the pain has eased and I remember this visit, I will look back with wonder.

After spending so many months in Belarus, a country most people have never heard of, it's interesting to be in a part of the world that continues to dominate TV news shows and the front pages of newspapers all over the world.

Myself and the volunteers have divided our time between helping the local farmers in their fields, gathering fruit and vegetables, and visiting places of interest in Palestine.

Today we returned from the Dead Sea where we spent a few hours floating on the water, covering ourselves in mud and getting salt in our eyes. A few days ago I returned from Ramallah where I had a chance to visit the resting place of Yasser Arafat.

Later we had a meeting with Saab Erekat, a well known Palestinian negotiator. He was an interesting and an intelligent man and I hung on his every word.

On Christmas Eve we headed to Bethlehem where I was lucky enough to be able to enter the Church of the Nativity. We had tickets for the midnight mass. As much as I hate to say this, I didn't stay for the service. I headed back to my hotel before midnight.

That may be something I regret in years to come. I was in the Church of the Nativity, in Bethlehem, on Christmas Eve, and I didn't stay for the service? But I had other things on my mind (the problems I mentioned earlier) and it was difficult for me to think of or do anything else.

I did get the chance to visit the spot where Christ was apparently born. However, as I have serious doubts about Christ and who he was or whether he actually existed at all, I can't say that I was particularly moved or affected by the experience.

I think the highlight of these two weeks has been simply meeting and getting to know the Palestinian people. They are a very brave, warm, humble and friendly people. They are suffering a great deal, yet they still manage to smile, even when all hope seems lost.

Before I came here, I knew a little about the Israel / Palestine conflict. What I have discovered during these past weeks has shocked me. My disgust towards Israel - and as ever America - increases daily.

The persecution of the Palestinian people is a crime and one that the world continues to overlook. The West takes an interest when suicide bombers blow themselves up in Israel, yet these bombs are a response to Israel's crimes and occupation.

Call these young men and women terrorists, but also realise that Israel is a terrorist state and one that murders people every day. In just the past few days alone around twenty Palestinians have been murdered by Israeli soldiers.

But this is not just about the death count. This is about the daily persecution and harassment of the Palestinian people; from the humiliating checkpoints they have to pass through every day, to the massive wall that is being built around Jerusalem.

A few days ago I visited refugee camps in Bethlehem and Jericho. I met some wonderful kids living there. They showed me around the remains of a house which had been demolished by the Israeli army.

It was heartbreaking to be shown around this house as the children described, in broken English, and in a matter of fact way, how Israeli soldiers had come in the dead of night and ordered the family to leave before lobbing grenades into the house.

No child should ever have to see this or tell a story like that. And yet this is a story that will be repeated until the dream of a Palestinian state is finally realised.

Indeed, being here in Palestine has been an education for me. I leave with a head full of memories and a heart full of emotions.

Certain events replay themselves over in my mind, like working in a farm in the early hours of a sunny morning and hearing the echo of distant gunfire as the Israeli army practised in the surrounding hills.

Or walking through a checkpoint late at night, guns aimed at me, as Israeli soldiers barked orders at me and I tried desperately to understand what they were saying.

Or driving a tractor for the first time. Or touching a camel. Or being treated like a celebrity by friendly and curious children.

Despite my inner pain, which has dominated my every waking moment, these have been a wonderful two weeks and I will miss these people and will return to Palestine again.

Tomorrow I leave Jericho and head to Jerusalem where I will enter Damascus gate and explore the Old City.

Then at 6am on Thursday I head to Tel Aviv for a flight that will take me to London via Budapest (where I have a gruelling 8 hour wait for my connection). I must then catch a bus that will take me to my Mother's house where I will arrive at 7am on Friday morning.

I spend three days with my Mother before returning to London and then catching a flight to Poland on the 5th of January. From Poland I travel to Minsk in Belarus for what will be my eleventh visit.

But before I do any of that, I must bring this entry to an end. I would like to say goodbye to all of the wonderful people I have met here, especially all of the Palestinian volunteers, and to Andrew, Tim, Karen, Miki, Meg, Martina, Hisham, Kristina and Hasan.

This is an Englishman, in Jericho, wishing you peace...

From the memory box of a Professional Englishman.

No comments:

About Me

My photo
London, ENGLAND, United Kingdom
This is me. Read a few entries and they will tell you more about me than I can fit into these few paragraphs. Many of these entries started their lives as mass emails. That was before I discovered blogs. Thanks for stopping by and thanks for visiting my blog and reading about my life. Both a work in progress.