Sunday, 27 March 2011

Chapter 46 April 16

April 16th is going to be a great day.

It marks the culmination of months of work by a team of people who have invested everything for this day.

It is a day that gives Palestine a moment; a moment to be more than it is allowed to be.

A day that will bring together Palestinians from all over the world to celebrate it.

With a feeling... a unifying thought. That props it up; that acknowledges it; that recognizes it and reminds the world of its potential.

Three venues... Three cities... coming together for one, connected, borderless event.

Most people are aware of TED Talks so I won’t bore you with the details. But you need to get yourselves over to TEDxRamallah to check this out.

Be inspired.

Register now while there are still places.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Chapter 45 Ola's homecoming

Five months ago she was at death’s door. Five months ago we weren’t sure she was going to make it through the week. Five months ago it seemed hopeless; it seemed like she would disappear from this world as we looked on – powerless.

Until we told her story. We told her story, you shared it and within the week the funds had been raised to send her to Italy for life saving surgery.

Ola's tumor was removed but her journey did not end there. The tumor was malignant and she underwent several rounds of chemotherapy.

Ola's back home now. Cured. With her whole life ahead of her.

Ola and her family wanted to thank all those who donated and helped.

They left a note with the Palestine Children's Relief Fund which I've posted below.

The PCRF saves thousands of children like Ola every year. Please support their work.

Every child deserves a chance.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Chapter 44 Thoughts on (with) Gaza

On March 15 Gaza City filled with thousands of people demanding a new way.


Millions of people locked in... Cut off... Slowly starved by an international community that won't look them in the face and hides behind tenuous justifications.

On March 15 they joined the Arab World in voicing their discontent with their leaders. With the leaders of what has become 'the other Palestine' that they are so cut off from.

And the protests continued, driven by their passion. More so than any of the West Bank protests.

First - Hamas hit back. Aggressively beating back the protests and arresting protestors.

Then the air strikes began. Retaliation for rocket attacks by Hamas. The first in a long time.

Not asked for by the people. Not supported by the people.

They know the consequences.

Yesterday's as yet unclaimed bombing in Jerusalem has led to a night of air strikes in Gaza. The official party line is that they are in retaliation for Hamas rocket attacks in the south.

Maan News Agency is reporting an Israeli Minister calling for 'another Cast Lead'.

When asking about the Jerusalem bombing the most common response I get here is along the lines of 'don't we have enough problems?', 'aren't the people here destitute enough without rocking the boat?'.

They do and they are.

They also know nothing they do or say will make any difference. Whatever happens around here - whether they are or are not a part of it - will result in closed check points, searches, arrests and potentially incursions.

And there's nothing they can do about it.

Such is the life of a Palestinian in Palestine.

And nowhere worse than Gaza.

*Photos taken from Maan News Agency

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Chapter 43 Breaking news

Walking through the souq an hour ago it was clear something was going on.

Accompany me down the street was a murmur that became raised voices:

'Tel Aiv'


'Something's happened'


'Jerusalem! An incident in Jerusalem!'

'Shhh... wait for it to come on the news.'


'Next to the Armenian Quarter.'

'Where's that?'

'At the beginning of West Jerusalem.'

'They're saying 25 injured - 3 are critical.'

'Next to the bus station. A bomb.'

'There's gonna be searching.'


As quickly as it started, it all quieted back down.

People went back to selling their wares and going about their day. Immune to anything that could disrupt their hard won post intifada peace.

Through the usual cacophony of vegetable prices and clucking chickens however, every radio and TV in the souq was switched on to the news.


Thursday, 17 March 2011

Chapter 42 The good Samaritans

'Sara, don't you think you've been in Nablus too long if "Amish night out" has become your idea of a good time?'

'They're not Amish - they're Samaritans.'

'I thought Samaritans were Christians.'

'Well you're just ignorant then aren't you.'

~~~flash back to five months earlier~~~

'Aren't Samaritans Christians?' I venture as we pile into our onthevergeofbreakdown green minivan.

They're not.

The Samaritans are an ethnic group who trace their ancestry back to the biblical Israelite tribes. They follow a religion closely related to Judaism but with a different Torah and some key differences.

Over time their numbers have dwindled to the hundreds and they now live split between two villages. One close to Tel Aviv and the other on top Mount Gerizim, Nablus.

Marriage to other religions is prohibited. This has resulted in some issues of the genetic variety. In an effort to combat this, there has been some recent dabbling in mail order brides and the tenuous business of finding women suitable to be a part of their small community.

A work in progress.

But I digress.

As mentioned above, the Samaritans live on top of Mount Gerizim in Nablus in Kiryat Luza.

It would be remiss to miss out the fact that I have only ever heard Kiryat Luza referred to as 'The Samaritan Village' and, were it not for the wonder that is Wikipedia, would have remained blissfully ignorant of the fact that The Samaritan Village does in fact have an actual name which is not just a defining adjective thrown in front of a generic noun.

Again - I digress.

The Samaritan Village was the destination of our onthevergeofbreakdown green minivan on that balmy night.

Why? I hear you ask.

As I have mentioned before - possibly repeatedly - Nablus is dry.

Now I grew up in Dubai in the days when you needed a license to buy alcohol. I've spent weeks at a time in Kuwait where you have to pay ridiculous money for a bottle of bootleg whisky. I have friends who live in Saudi Arabia who have wilder parties than I've attended in London.

Not so in Nablus. Nablus takes dry to a whole new level. It's not that it's illegal. It's that nobody drinks it. There are simply not enough people who want it to merit any kind of supply chain.

Believe me, we have spent six months searching for the mythical secret Nablus bar. There isn't one.

Which is why we've sunk to the level of shamefacedly returning from trips to other cities with bags clinking all the way home.

Ah, but The Samaritan Village.

A 15 minute car ride, one easy peezy check point and a ride in the back of a truck away lies our happy place. A tiny warehouse tucked behind a convenience store with bottles lining the walls where a friendly Samaritan tallies up our orders.

Nothing lights up the eyes of the foreigners like the words 'I'm going to the SV, anybody want anything?'. Last time we went up we returned with two boxes.

I must say I do have fond memories of popping across the street for a bottle of red.

The 'good times' as we often refer to them.

So a quick thank you to our neighbors on the hill.

You are indeed good Samaritans.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Chapter 41 Just another Tuesday

“I was really optimistic about this; it had 150,000 likes on Facebook. I figured at least a thousand would be from Nablus.”

He sighed.

“Come on Ibrahim, let’s go back to the office.”

They trudged off, leaving behind them about 200 flag waving youths. Chanting for unity; calling for change.

“Hey Abbas, Hey Hanniyeh, we want unity!”

“The people want the division to end”

“We are one til we die.”

Ramallah, Bethlehem and Gaza City reported attendances of thousands at the country-wide unity protests. Nablus, despite being the biggest of the main cities, saw much less.

Matching the protestors with their numbers were the spectators. Not a part of the protests but not dismissing them either.

Large groups of older Palestinians skirting around the edges, remembering when they were the organizing forces behind these gatherings.

“How can we know what they’re going to say? They could end up getting us arrested.”

“Everyone knows Hamas and Fatah will never agree. This is a matter for the internal security forces.”

“There’s nobody here. If we’ve got nobody, imagine the other cities. What a waste of time.”

Based on Twitter and various news websites, it seems the rest of the West Bank and Gaza have been swept up in the fervor of this call to re-unify Palestine.

The domino effect of the Arab protests and the Palestine Papers have not lit a fire under Nablus. Its punishment during the second intifada was severe and Fatah’s continued crackdown on Hamas supporters remains a constant threat.

Many are in Palestinian jails simply for being suspected of having Hamas sympathies. Their holding requires neither proof nor an expected date of release.

For the rest of Palestine, March 15 was a day of self expression. A day to call out to their brothers on the opposite side of the country and say 'Hey, I remember you. I think about you. I am with you.'

For Nablus, it was just another Tuesday.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Chapter 40 Shiloh

Our latest hike took us to the biblical city of Shiloh.

It feels like overnight the West Bank became lush. Driving out of Nablus the surrounding hills are now covered with mossy grass and deep greenery.

Little red and yellow flowers poke out of the grass and it's completely lost that feeling of barrenness.

The taxi driver drops us off at a bend in the road and we disembark. After a few minutes of taking in the scenery we see a sign pointing towards a vineyard.

Our walk through mountain and riverbed begins:

Nestled in the mountains and taking tourists by complete surprise was a little pool used by people from nearby settlements. Despite still being quite chilly there were some people swimming and we hovered around for a while.