Sunday, 15 July 2012

The End

... and so the time has come. To say goodbye to Palestine and to this blog.

It's difficult knowing what to say. Impossible to sum up the past two years in one entry. Suffice to say coming here has been the best decision I've ever made and the the time I spent here a gift.

I don't know what's in store for Palestine or the ever meandering Peace Process. What the future holds for the people who touched me, the children who became mine or, eventually, their children.

I leave it much the same as I found it. Despairing on the verge of hope and full of a life that is teetering on the edge of collapse.

For everyone who has followed these stories, thank you. I wanted to show a side of Palestine that we don't often get to see. The humanity of it, the beauty of it and its relentless grip on life.

It is way beyond me to do it the justice it deserves, but I feel lucky to have been given the chance to give it a go.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Chapter 123 Yaffa

It was in Yaffa that it hit home. Yaffa, that last bastion of Arabness; a remaining pocket of cultural survival.

Yaffa, bride of the sea.

A stunning coastline. Yet generic, potentially belonging anywhere. It made me quiet, drawing closer within myself.

Well tended parks and synthetic bridges supported teenage feet, their owners yelling out to each other in Hebrew and laughing. Alongside expensive, modern looking villas with barbeques on the terraces we strolled. Bland, contemporary architecture housing the rich who ‘summer’.

The ocean, the same ocean that crashes with intention onto the shores of Beirut, flowed under the piers. A boulevard of burger places and trendy restaurants framed the dark skinned fisherman who sat weaving nets on the wooden walkways.

The panorama of condos pushed me further into myself. And the more mono syllabic I became.

Finally my companion became frustrated and demanded an explanation to my sullenness.

I turned to him, exasperated yet mute.

Gesturing with my hands yet unable to fill them with words. Lump in throat, I swiped angrily at the unexpected tears that had begun streaming down my face. Then buried my face in my hands... it came pouring out.

“It’s gone. They’ve taken it. They’ve taken all of it. This is the most beautiful part, here on the sea – here where the wind blows. Where are we here? Where are we? Nowhere? Living in shacks and poverty in the city’s underbelly? Pushed underneath the rug of this picture perfection?”

Where was our history? Where was the proof of our existence here?

Gone. As if it had never been.

This same ocean that embraced me only a few miles north of where I stood, rejected me there and was no longer mine. The ocean that involves humiliating checkpoints and long hours of waiting to visit; an ocean that many born to it can only dream of its touch.

This blog was always meant to be about Palestine.

Not my feelings about it; which are wholly insignificant in the face of its reality.

I wanted this blog to be something that showed a new and unexplored side of Palestine. I stayed away from the politics or describing the same images the world has seen a million times. I wanted to paint a new picture. Show an equally important side, tragically neglected.

But it was in Yaffa that it hit home for me. And it hurt.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Chapter 120 He played the oud

As his fingers rippled across the strings, all watching were transported to a candle lit night wrapped in a balmy breeze.

The notes floated away, each tripping over the previous as it caught up with it.

He looked up from the instrument towards the door of his dirty little old city workshop, distant contentment in his eyes. The grind of life slid off their shoulders, defeated in the face of the peaceful strength of his music.

“I was working as a nurse in Saudi Arabia when I finally gave in to the desire to come back to my country and pursue this, what had always been a hobby and latent talent for me.”

A beautiful old oud, fallen into disuse and disrepair, was the start. “Nobody could fix it and I decided I would do it, one way or another. Over time, I learned all the tricks and secrets to making ouds.”

Now his ouds sell for up to 5000 shekels (approximately €1,000).

A good oud takes up to three months to make and the better the type of wood, the more expensive it will be. A slow, painstaking process of sanding, conditioning, shaping and tuning creates the instrument that produces such stunningly emotive music.

His hand slid over the curve of the rosewood oud. “They are like my children, I love all of them.”

Wood is sourced from woods such as ebony, mahogany and rosewood. They are first dried and cut into strips. The wood is then soaked and softened, it is cut into strips and placed on this heating mechanism to create the bend needed for the curved base of the oud

The skeleton the curved pieces of wood are placed upon to build the rounded base of the instrument

Making a base

A completed base, ready to removed from the skeleton and have a sound board attached

A oud with a sound board, yet to be strung

Ready for varnishing and finishing

Completed ouds

He plays - he forgets where he is

Ali Hassenin can be contacted via mobile on ‎00972599876567 or by email at

Monday, 4 June 2012

Chapter 119 The hike to end all hikes

Nablus to Taybeh:

Approximately 45 km over two days. Let me see if I remember  the series of villages we went through.

Nablus to Awarta

Through the mountains from Awarta to Aqraba. In a huge stroke of luck we ran across a guide whose knowledge of the mountains trails saved us a good few hours in lost wanderings.

Aqraba to a Dora - a street lined with houses where the kindly shop keeper shook his head in astonishment as he let us refill our water bottles.

'But why do you want to walk all this way? You know there's a bus yes?'

We left Dora and started the long walk down the mountains and down down down to Ain Samia. A place of wonder with full springs where our 14 hour first day walk would surely culminate with us cooling our feet in the clear water.

Unfortunately the spring had dried up the week before (what're you gonna do?) and we collapsed on a flat topped hill and set up camp before day two.

An uneventful night, barring an ambush by Israeli IDF soldiers who had seen our fire from the road. They took our passports and we all stood around awkwardly while they seemingly struggled to find any sort of justification for their intrusion. 

The next day we walked back up a mountain to Kafr Kana and crossed over to the other side and down to Taybeh.

I'm not going to wax lyrical about the landscape as I've done that many a time but there are, as always, pictures :)