Monday, February 18, 2008

Tel Aviv, Israel

Back in Tel Aviv after a great time in Jerusalem. I fly to Blighty tomorrow so tempus fugit and I will have to write most of my Israel post from the UK. My notes have reached 6 pages and, unless I want my last moments of my trip in a webcafe I will have to relate only a small part of my time here in this post.

The little anecdote I will now post comes from a fun day out in Hebron. The Occupied Territories are one of the most screwed up places I have seen and it was there that I had myself a little adventure. In Hebron I acquired the trendy lefty equivalenbt of an Olympic Medal: I got detained by the IDF. Let me explain.

Shabat in Jerusalem is interesting for 10 minutes then the empty streets get boring. Therefore I made my way to East Jerusalem and got into a minibus for Hebron. I was off to see the mother of all settler vs Palestinian flashpoints.

Getting there was quite quick as the checkpoints are one way only. Me and my Quebecquoise travel buddy made our way to the market in order to go to the Tomb of the Patriarch. She was semi reluctant to come but I coaxed her and she decided to join me. Her decision was to prove very useful to me later on.

The souq in Hebron is similar to most Arab souqs around a tourist spot. It is quite normal until you look up. What you see is mesh. Mesh and debris.

The mesh is there as the settlers near the Tomb of Abraham like nothing more than to tip their garbage and hurl bricks at the Arab shopkeepers below who try and eke out a living out of the dwindling number of tourists coming here. One othe other side of the row of houses live some of the most crazy bastards ever. These wankers are the epitomy of settler wrongness.

Rarely on my trip have I met people and detested them. The banality of life ensures that when you see someone they are often semi normal. You might know they are cunts of the first order but the shortness of your encounter won't be dramatic enough to make the leap from intelectual distaste to emotional loathing. Not so the settlers of Herbon.

In a way I think I have been contaminated by what emanates form the highly protected colony next to the Tomb of Abraham; hatred. Hate is all these people have. They hate the Arabs for existing and they make sure everyone knows it. They throw bricks and march through the Arab areas singing racist songs, all of them armed and ringed by soldiers. They teach their children to hate and spit at those that live there who aren't Jewish enough. They even hate the hundreds of conscripts keeping them alive.

Israel is a modern democratic state and they should do what such entities do with nutters like the settlers. This would be to evict them, try the leaders for countless assaults and place their children in care for willful endangerment. What Israel has done is put loads of soldiers so that these wankstains can keep hating and make life even more misrable for the Palestinians of Hebron.

A part of me wonders what would happen if these crazy arseholes got their wish. Would they be happy if, by some monstrous act, an ethnic cleansing of Hebron would leave them and their ilk all alone in the city? Will they suddenly get on with normal lives or would they find it dificult to spend a day without hate?.

We walked under the chicken-wire obscenity for a while and then, after several checkpoints, we finally got to the Tomb of Abraham. I knew that we couldn't enter on the Jewish side because of Shabat but I doubt I would have wanted to mingle with these cunts anyway. Hence we removed our shoes, my companion covered her hair and we entered the supposed resting place of the guy acknowledge and revered equally by all 3 of the local faiths. A point of theological unity that has to be divided physically as the Jews and Muslims cannot be in the same room together in Herbon.

Abraham is known for the truly scary nation that God is a bit of bastard. God decided to play with him a bit and told him to kill his son. At the last moment God stays the hand of the poor Abraham and tells him he was just fucking around.

Less funny and more horrid is the recent bloodletting of the Ibrahim Mosque. No God stayed the hand of Baruch Goldstein in 1994 when he walked into the mosque and slaughtered 29 muslim worshippers and injured hundreds of others with his gun. It was enraged Palestinians who stopped the massacre by beating to Baruch to death, not God. The settlers have built a memorial to this psycho as if to prove just how fucking vile they are.

After the visit we went back to the market and bought a few trinkets from the shopkeepers living there. That being done we were invited for the traditional Arab tea and long chat. We were quite clear that we thought the settles were insane dickheads and this led to an invitation to a rooftop to get a look at where these people live. We went up, had a look and I took a few piccies. That's were it all started to go wrong.

We then went into a room under the rooftop for tea, ciggies and a funy face comptetion with the kids of the guy who owned the house. As we walked out we were confornted by an IDF patrol from the next rooftop (the one we were on was one of the few not "requisitioned" byTsahal). They shouted and pointed their guns and told me to stay put. I asked them why and they responded by asking me why I was taking pictures of one of the worlds' most infamous settlements.

This was not new to me as the IDF in the Territories seem to require their soldiers to ask really stupid questions. My favorite being the idiots who asked me "Why are you travelling with these people?" on a fucking Sherut of all things. I thought this was a standard case of stating the bleeding obvious to guntoting teenagers but they had different ideas.

They surrounded us and spent 10 minutes shouting, pointing weapons and radioing. After that they informed me that I was nicked. I asked why but they didn't respond. I said that if I was being detained I wanted to talk to my consulate asap. They radioed some more and told me I could do that when they handed me over to the police. I followed them with some apprehension but no real fear. As a backup I told my mate (in French) to contact the British consulate if I hadn't reappeared within the hour. I had now been lifted by the soldiers of Zion.

The soldiers then led me down a house they control and I ended up right in the heart of the settlements. I then spent half an hour being glared at and insulted (this is a presumption as I don't speak Hebrew) by passing settlers. I also annoyed the solders by pestering them for a precise charge for my detainment. To be fair they relaxed a bit and tried to be chummy and even cracked the odd joke. I wasn't in the mood and told them that armed people holding strangers at gunoint are never funny so they could stop trying.

I knew that they had to be careful with me. I am not a Palestinian and if an unbruised Brit is what they take that is what they have to hand back. In addition a couple of guys from some NGO that monitors abuse walked by and said they would check up on me at the local nick (a bad place to be by local accounts). I killed time by taking in the sun and watching the crazy people telling their sprogs that I was yet another person to be hated. Suddenly, I heard the magic word "consulate" amongst the Hebrew and I was turned lose. I then had to walk through the settlement with beardy crazies looking at me.

I was someone astonished at the speed of my release and also somewhat bemused that, for all this bollocks about taking pictures of "sensitive" stuff they hadn't even looked at my camera. When I finally made it back to the Arab area it was all made clear to me.

While I was being sarky to the squaddies my companion had decide not to wait for an hour and got busy. She is the perfect travelling buddy as she is hippyish enough to go with the flow yet switched on enough to know what to do when things go wrong. She immediately call the British consul and they got to work. However, this was not the only step taken to help me.

The Palestinians we met tracked down some women for another NGO that sends elderly Christian ladies to get in the way of the IDF. These formidable and brave women know the ropes and they made a few phone calls of their own. Finally the impromptu "Save Arabin from spending a few hours being bored in a police sation" committe was fortunate to intercept the UN.

As luck would have it a Yank delegatiojn from the UN was passing by and the Palestinians made sure the many females working for my release would get to inform these diplomats of my fate. Therefore, despite all the many abuses they live and witness, the Palestinians of the souq and their NGO pals thrust my Montral friend in the path of the UN to explain that some guy she knew had been nicked by the IDF.

I was told of this upon my return amidst handshakes, ciggies and cups of tea. A part of me feels sorry for the soldiers. They had only taken up post in the past 2 days and I supect they were being zealous. I wonder what they felt when, 15 minutes after they took me down from the rooftops, various people started to call their CO. However the part of me that feels sorry for me is dwarfed by the part that says "fuck them". If they don't want pictures taken of military outposts in the Occupied Territories then they shouldn't bloody build them.

This farcical episode of my life will proably be recalled with great gravitas in a pub especially if silly lefty women are in earshot but there is one thing that is truly worth noting. That thing is the fact that Palestinians had been worried for me. This is truly amazing.

Let's be quite clear. I was never in serious danger of anything. I had done nothing wrong and I have the immunity that white people from rich nations have. I got a small taste of Palestinian life but I only licked the icing. I didn't experience the violence, disposessions and humiliations that they endure. The men and women of the souq knew this. They knew that I would have a fun story to tell over beers , that I could tell my tale of my time in the hands of the IDF; a time where I was confident of my wellbeing. Yet they still cared.

That's what is worth writing about. These people are ruled harshly by a foreign military power so that some fundamentalist crazies can stay there in the hope all the Arabs will leave if they hate enough. Shops closures or property seizures for trivial reasons and curfews are frequent for the Palestinians who commit the crime of existing near a religious shrine. They are reminded daily that Israel will protect even the worst amongst their citizen at their expense. Yet they cared for a passing stranger whose birth has given him the protection they so desperately need. I feel as if a person with broken legs had crawled over to me to put a band-aid on a graze I got.

I don't want to build up this post as some sort of tale of personal enlightentmet or a metaphor for an incredibly complex conflict. All will do is tell you what I saw on both sides of a row of houses crested with razor wirte.

On one side I saw kindness for strangers, empathy for dissimilar human beings and an astounding capacity to find a place amongst personal suffering to worry about the comfort of others. On the other side I saw hate and stupidity. That is what I saw one sunny afternoon in Hebron.

Take care,



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Wednesday, February 27, 2008 6:34:00 AM  
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