Friday, December 31, 2010


Stealing Elections

Couldn't happen here in the West, right? Remember Ohio, Bush, Diebold and the exit poll discrepancies?

George Carlin

Excuse the swearing, but this is how it is, folks:

Snow Storm

Excellent time-lapse video of 32" of snow falling in 20 hours:

Terrorism in Europe

Take a guess at the percentage of terror attacks perpetrated by Muslims? And does the answer, in this Europol report equate to what you're hearing on the television? If not, why not?

Here's Chomsky, defining terrorism:

Not For Distribution

When you come across a document like this, which is clearly designed to persuade global public opinion to believe a certain world-view, and you see that it is clearly labelled 'not for distribution', you have to wonder what the motives are.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Palestinian People

Palestinian Perfume

Palestinian Pizza

Climate Change?

The jury is in, and in this report over 700 scientists worldwide disagree that global warming is a) man-made or b) proven. This number is 13 times the amount of scientists who signed the original UN IPCC Report of 2007.

It has been looking for some while as if this was a cleverly engineered (excuse pun) political exercise in order to bring in a raft of internationally-binding agreements which probably have much more to do with peak oil than with climate change. That is not to say, however, that we are not rapidly destroying our environment - we are - but just that the solutions to that problem are much more complex than slapping a few extras taxes on everything we do. The latter option would, of course, continue to enrich a minority whilst restricting freedoms of the majority.

Rare Earth Elements

As well as the race to get our grubby hands on the last of the planet's easily available oil and gas reserves, a little talked about subject is REEs. As you will see from this document, they are vital to the new high-tech industries, but the USA has none of them. China and India hold the vast majority of the world's reserves, and so are both in very strong positions for the future. (page 9).

To be borne in mind next time we hear anti-Chinese rhetoric being ramped up. From page 7:

'Many scientific organizations have concluded that certain rare earth metals are critical to U.S.
national security and becoming increasingly more important in defense applications.' (11)

Indentured Servitude

I've been blogging a lot about financial issues, mainly because I feel it's extremely important that the little guy - that's you and me - tries to understand what is being done at the top of the global food chain. Unless we understand it, we are deemed to become victims of it. Here, ex-Wall St trader, Max Keiser, gives an hour-long interview which really does spell out exactly where we are today. I really hope a lot of people can find an hour to listen to it:

Be The Change... want to see in the world.

I've been writing articles for this magazine for over a decade now, and they're a great organisation:

(those are my vegetables in the wheelbarrow!)

Inside Job

We saw this film in Toulouse yesterday, and would highly recommend it. It explains what has happened in the financial markets in clear, unambiguous terms:

Tony Benn

A good short interview with a rare individual who speaks calmly about today's situation in relation to history:

Sunday, December 26, 2010

JPMorgan Chase

The above explanation is like an antidote to being called a conspiracy theorist, and only time will tell who is right on this. Either everything is fine, and we're just in a normal double-dip recession and you just need to forego your pension and library and tighten your belts.....or the whole fiat currency system has finally reached the end of the line as far as confidence goes. As 'fiat' means 'confidence' anyway, you can tell which camp I'm in!

Please watch these two videos, twice or three times if necessary, and go and do some research afterwards on the terms used in them. You'll have to excuse the infantile behaviour of the presenters, but the message is deadly serious, and they're advising you to own some physical assets, like gold, silver, copper, land, or any other commodity that has some worth. There is inside information here, and I believe we are going to see a lot of financial turbulence in 2011. Don't say you haven't been warned!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Home Again


History repeats itself:

Translation? Get some land and grow some food :)


Friday, December 24, 2010

Israeli Soldiers Speak Out

Hillary Clinton

Lovely lady, almost as nice as Hubbie.

Note the flag:

Truth Will Out


I'm sorry, I had to laugh out loud when I read the first sentence of this article:

Selling the Family Silver (again)

Got £2bn?

Understanding Afghanistan

To understand what is going on in Afghanistan, you have to go back a long way. It's about the usual, however, corruption, energy and geopolitics:

Thursday, December 23, 2010


Incredibly honest interview about the organised campaign to incite hate against Muslims:

Charlie Chaplin!

Excellent Video!

Brooksley Born

This lady is one of the very few heroines around: tried to tell it like it is years ago, but was ostracised and effectively silenced. If you want to know how deep the rot goes, read this interview:

Wednesday, December 22, 2010



The truth about Somalia:!

Energy in China

75% of China's electricity comes from coal...

Jim Rogers

First piece of advice from this popular billionaire, buy silver...

Weather Modification

I love it when people think 'it could never happen here'....

The pesky Chinese are up to it, and especially see the final paragraph...

...ring any bells, people in UK??

Monsanto (2)

Bill Gates is NOT one of the good guys:


More Good News!

I was in Bil'in on this day - those guys were firing at me!!

-that's not the good news, this is:

Latest News about Palestine

Wonderful news!

there seems to be some snowball effect going on (excuse the pun!)

US Funding for Israel

The Plot Thickens...

Cui bono?


This speech by Gerald Kaufman is nearly two years old, but more relevant today than ever:!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

My Students in Nablus: I'll miss you!


This always makes me emotional, but I believe we will prevail. Hope and faith is what we need:

Webster Tarpley

This American is an expert historian, who can put all of what is happening into perspective. He's a bit nationalist for my liking, but nevertheless has written some excellent books, including 'Obama, the Manchurian Candidate'. He's more often right than wrong:

A Definition of Terrorism ($711bn)

Sunday, December 19, 2010


I'll be back, in about a week, for anyone interested!

Festive Greetings.

Thank You!

Well my trip to Palestine is complete, but like most good journeys I'm hoping this is the beginning of something, rather than the end. I went because I wanted to see (and record) what I witnessed, and I hope I did so faithfully and without hyperbole or exaggeration. I tried to be honest, and I tried to avoid, as much as I could, the convoluted complexities that are the political situation in that over-heated part of the world.

I'd like to thank the readers of this blog, who have got back to me in various ways. From the stats section of the blog, I could see that it was read in 27 different countries around the globe, admittedly sometimes only once, but often several times, and sometimes regularly. Readers in countries as diverse as Russia, China, Argentine, Croatia, New-Zealand, Tonga, Tanzania, as well as faithful UK and France. Thank you.

As I mentioned before, I think blogging is the perfect antidote to the relentless propaganda we're faced with on the television screens or in print, day after day, week after week. I feel very hopeful for the future, as I feel people are starting to raise their heads above the parapet to look around. It turns out that the reality you saw through your TV screens was not the world as it really is: the latter is a much more diverse, rich, fascinating and wonderful place, and I for one have always enjoyed moving around in it.

What does sadden me, however, is how little people care in general for their environment, and how easily they can be swayed and seduced by an appeal to the ego, but I do feel this is changing. I hope so. Many of the current troubles around the world, as mentioned before, are resource wars, with the better-armed factions arming other factions against local factions. We owe it to ourselves as members of the human race, to try to understand this, and to deal with it. We need to be aware of the pressing energy issues which the Governments are trying, ineptly, to deal with, but which in fact concern us all.

In short, we all need to take responsibility for our own lives, and in doing so see what we are doing to our lovely planet. One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter, and the latter might well be trying to defend his ancestral home-lands from some huge multi-national corporation that is trying, literally, to suck the energy out from under his feet. We need to translate this back into how we lead our own lives: is rampant consumerism the way to go? Won't it end up affecting you, somehow, some time down the road?

Do you really believe that 'you're worth it', when others are not?

Cult of Celebrity

It started as soon as I arrived at Tel Aviv: the capitalist consumerism that has become Christmas. Boy, I'd certainly missed that constant ramming-down-your-throat and in-your-face aspect of the modern-day world. Not.

As I looked up at 20 metre-high hoardings, advertising some scintillating scent for the woman you love, or tripped over 2m-high piles of snickers, toblerone and M&Ms that have become latter-day symbols of the festive season, I reflected upon the first person to have achieved his own celebrity status.

Instead of focussing over the centuries on general traits in the human spirit, and how to improve it, or on over-arching philosophical meanderings on what it means to be human, for just over 2000 years now we've been idolising and deifying one person: the original celebrity. Followed by loyal fans at the time, and recorded accurately in Python's 'The Life of Brian', these were the beginnings of what has today become the X-Factor. This was the robe HE wore, these were the teachings HE taught, this was the water HE drank. Whistle forward a few years and you get me in tears over Donny Osmond, and a few decades more and you have Susan Boyle, David Beckham and Byonce making an unholy trinity.

This is true across the religious spectrum, of course, and we have seen where it has led us: fighting over what Paul Theroux was surprised to discover were tiny little countries, fighting over our own view of history and of who did what to whom. Fighting over dry, dusty hill-tops that afford the very opposite of a peaceful home environment, surrounded as they are by barbed wire and fences.

The relentless flight home: did I want an instant coffee? A silicone sandwich? A cuddly bear? A plastic watch-strap? Upon arrival at Luton, did I want that last-minute Yuletide litre of Scotch? A phone-card perhaps? Ten minutes on the internet for £1? Or maybe a snow shovel?

The best part of Christmas 2010, so far, has been watching the 1951 version of Dickens' Christmas Carol, with Alastair Sim as Scrooge. As a young man he gives up working for his generous and benevolent employer to pledge allegiance to a far more business-like man, played by Dixon of Dock Green, Jack Hawkins. The latter's words of welcome to the young Scrooge, played here by George Cole, rang out of the 78-inch flat-screen and into the living room: 'He who controls the cash box, controls the world'.

Touche! I can add nothing more.


Heat. Dust. Hawkers. Machine guns. Soldiers. Worn steps. Religious paraphernalia. Roadworks. Dyed hair. Painted fingernails. Cafe latte. Hebrew signs. Lack of space.

On my way in to Palestine, I had deliberately avoided going to visit the sacred sights that this city has to offer. And on my way out I did the same. Out of a certain bloody-mindedness, of course, but also because I am not a person who adheres to a specific religion, and I do not enjoy lining up with thousands of other people to pay an extortionate price to see a piece of wall that may or may not have been part of human history.

I left Nablus at 0730, with the sun shining once more, and the few birds twittering in the few trees. A bus to Ramallah, and one last excellent falafel sandwich and strong coffee. Then it was on the bus to the checkpoint, where the local Palestinians had to all troupe off with their variously-coloured pieces of paper to be checked by a bored member of the Israeli Army. Foreigners like me were 'allowed' to stay on the bus, and my passport was not checked.

Many times over the last seven weeks I have reflected on the sheer lunacy of so-called 'security' measures put in place with alarming and increasingly stringent regularity, across the globe. I could so easily have been someone who wanted to cause damage to any number of people, but I was allowed to stroll through to Jerusalem, whilst the Palestinians were 'the chosen people', (Yes, I'm using the term provocatively) being singled out, checked, interrogated and often turned back.

Incidentally, I heard recently that the building that housed the Palestinian Records Office in Ramallah had been blown up with an Israeli strike on the city during the previous Intifada. This has caused untold but perhaps not unintentional havoc, as to be able to move about between various section of what is their own land, the Palestinians now have to show various pieces of coloured cards, depending on where they were born, their jobs, their ages, their backgrounds. It is very, very difficult for someone who lives in Nablus to obtain the correct piece of paper that allows them to enter Jerusalem, and even if it were possible, young men under 50 are not allowed.

Does this remind you of any other period in recent European history?

And in any case, it is all futile. Once we had passed the high concrete wall and entered Jerusalem, the sight that greets you is as I described above: chaotic. Anyone with any evil intent doesn't have to be under 50 years of age, and has ample opportunity to do untold damage in that unhappy city: there are messy roadworks, skips, crowds, bus stations, etc.

The Old City is tiny, crowded and divided into different quarters. I entered at Damascus Gate, into the Arab quarter, to be greeted by the now-familiar sights and sounds of Palestine. A frustrating 20-minute struggle later, and I was in the Jewish quarter, then another five minutes later in the Armenian quarter, as I sought the Post Office. What could and should be celebrated as an historic melting-pot of tolerance is now just an insecure, paranoid city full of disgruntled and miserable residents, all trying to make money out of the overweight tourists who still flock and gawp and clog up the narrow streets.

I was looking for the Post Office as I had to send a parcel home: no, not some curio of sentimental significance that I had found on my travels, but anything and everything to do with my six-week teaching experience in Nablus. On my third attempt I eventually found the Main Post Office, and dutifully took my number and waited in line (!). I packed up a parcel that contained my notes, calling cards, arabic-lesson material, e-mail addresses, Project Hope T-shirts, camera memory card, hand-woven bracelet from Bil'in, etc. Basically anything to show that I had been in the West Bank.

The whole process took forever, with the monosyllabic, bored and impolite counter staff barking words at me. It cost me nearly 50 shekels, and the parcel weighed in at under 2kg. It crossed my mind, as it so often does, how much money someone, somewhere, is making out of these global security measures. The parcel was eventually accepted and started its long and arduous journey towards France. It will be interesting to see whether it arrives, or whether it is blown up.

All I had to do now was get through Airport Security, so I headed for Tel Aviv airport. Easier said than done, but five buses later and I was finally outside the defunct and derelict Terminal 1. A not-so-subtle message to that famously low-cost airline was given by the choice of Tel Aviv Terminals: 3 for the posh airlines, 1 for the bucket-and-spade brigade. I was, of course, part of the latter. At one stage I had the whole terminal to myself, as I entered through a wrong door into a part that is under construction. I went to the toilets, filled my water bottle and looked around, all completely alone in a massive departure hall. Lapse of security, remind me to tell someone...

Eventually I found the right place, recognisable by the length of the queues waiting to get their stories and bags checked. I had been warned by other volunteers not to tell the truth, as this would compromise Project Hope's ability to continue to function without hassle, and I certainly didn't want to make life any harder for people who are doing such a good job.

Nor did I want to lie, however. This is the thin edge of some wedge or other, where we all agree to go along with orders and instructions from above, rather than striking out and saying 'No, this is wrong'. I still had not decided whether to tell the truth and let the airport staff deal with it (and me) or whether to play their silly little game and invent a story. I shuffled slowly forward, watching the people at the counter having to unravel everything they owned. There were tired kids running around, the inevitable machine guns, and lots of fixed stares of bored people.

Finally my fifteen minutes of fame arrived, and I still hadn't decided what story to tell. I was asked some preliminary questions by a young woman, and I told her the truth: that I did not have family here, that I had come 'to look around' and that I was interested in agriculture. She raised her eye-brows when I said I had been here for six weeks, and went to speak to a colleague. My small 8kg piece of hand-luggage was scanned for tweezers, and I walked beside it, ready for the interrogation. But it never came: I was told by the man who took my bag off of the conveyor belt, that I could proceed to check-in. All around me were people opening up their bags and spilling the contents all over the counters, and here was I 'allowed' to proceed, without further ado, to check-in.

Such is the nature of a security state, that you still don't believe you've 'got away with it', and I was expecting a hand on the shoulder, or a voice 'Excuse me Madam, this way', but no, I was able to proceed to the nearly-empty Departure hall and to go through Passport Control in lines of one person: me. How utterly bizarre. I'm assuming the colleague of the girl decided I needed special treatment or rather more likely, that they took one look at me and decided I was not a threat. What clearer example can you have of being judged by your appearance? I was always taught not to judge a book by its cover, but here that rule is turned on its head and reinforced with violence: always judge a person by the colour of their skin, their age, their passport. This is the road to tyranny, and I pity all those millions of people who have fallen for that lie the world over.

I wasted 50 shekels on the parcel home...

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Alternative Information Centre

This is a great organisation which publishes a bulletin on the situation here, giving the facts on the ground. They are part-funded by the Basque Government, the Irish Government, and the Catalan Government, amongst others.

Together with the recent recognition of Palestine by several economically-important countries, I'm feeling quite hopeful that criticism of Israel's Government's brutal treatment of Palestinians will not for much longer be labelled as anti-semitism. It is nothing of the sort, it is about standing up against arrogance, cruelty and dishonesty, and I think more and more people are waking up to this fact.

Geo-engineering (2)

Ha! Gotcha! BBC this morning are priming everyone for the release of what I've been banging on about for about 5 years now. Weather modification! Next Thursday on the World Service, they'll finally break the news that we're interfering with the weather, using scientific experiments, including blocking the sun using chemicals to bring about cold spells/heavy rains/etc.

As usual, it's all been there on the internet, and I posted something in November about it. It has been a secret project for a long time, as the Governments were worried about public back-lash, as well they might.

It is clear that we are experiencing a planet which is heating up, but the jury is still out with me as to whether it's man-made (AGW) or as part of Solar Cycle 24, which we are in the middle of right now. Looking at the information regarding the latter is quite persuasive.

And those stripes in the sky, that everyone kept telling me were contrails (with a sigh and a shake of the head)? They're either silver iodide, sulphur dioxide or other imitations of naturally-occuring elements (in volcano eruptions, for example) used to try to reduce or modify the heat from the sun.

Catherine Austin Fitts

One of the most intelligent people I've read, with a great blog and bags of integrity. Here's an interesting podcast for anyone trying to get their head around the financial problems of the moment:

Listen carefully, it's what the financial elite are up to!

(scroll down and click on play under the picture of Catherine, to listen.)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


Give Peace A Chance

The Road To Jericho

Free Water!

Breaking The Silence

Israeli soldiers against the Occupation:

CIA Links To Afghanistan Heroin

Imagine My Surprise.

Robert Fisk

and here is some 'old' news, posted because I'm sick of the lies still peddled by the BBC, about 'rebels', 'insurgents', 'terrorists', etc. For some very strange reason, most Brits still find it inconceivable that we would do anything dishonourable on the battlefield. How quaint.

The Children of Shatila

Culture in Nablus

It has been stimulating for me to be able to attend a diverse selection of events in the brief six weeks I've been here. Project Hope has organised films, speakers, presentations and round-the-table discussions, tours of the Old City and social events.

This week we had three such events: a Professor from the University to talk about the current situation, a music evening held in the local Episcopal Church as part of the Baroque Music Festival, and last night, at the Theatre in the University, a play about the French author Jean Genet.

It was a modern piece performed for the first time, by a French troupe of three people. They read out and enacted parts of the author's many books. Genet was invited, late in his life, to Lebanon, and whilst there witnessed the massacre of Palestinians in a Refugee Camp named 'Shatila'. He documented what he saw, and is well-loved here because of it. After the play, I was impressed by the number of local people who asked questions, knew of the writer's works and life, and exhibited a genuine appreciation of both his work and the troupe for coming to Nablus to perform it.

Next week at the French Cultural Centre there is a film on, called 'Children of Shatila', but unfortunately I shall miss it, as I leave on Friday. Maybe it's available on-line? I'll look for it.

All of these activities have been free, needing an invitation only. In an ideal world I think events such as these where you educate, empower and broaden the horizons of people should all be free, but I won't hold my breath waiting for that to happen.

The Director of Project Hope is involved in many of these activities, and has fingers in many pies. He told me this morning that in Islam, there is the act of 'zakat', which is where richer people distribute some of their wealth to poorer members of society in the form of charities, donations, associations, etc. I'm assuming that is why all of these events were free.

There is however, as mentioned before, a real culture of volunteering to do things just for the pleasure of getting involved in something, and not for financial gain. Some of the PH local volunteers had taken the French troupe under their wings, and found them everything they needed during their stay here. Such are life-long friendships made.

Incidentally, I have noticed that on many street corners there are drinking water machines offering free water. Now that's what I call civilized...

Value and Worth

This is a great video to try to get your head round!

Are people starting to understand the difference? What can you trade in the future?

('fiat' currency = currency everyone has 'faith' in).It's not backed by anything.

Crash JPMorgan, Buy Silver

Become a silver vigilante, and re-claim your money from the banks!

We've got ours, have you got yours?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

John Pilger...

...comes up trumps again, proving himself to be one of the very, very few investigative journalists left:

Project Hope 14.12.10

Well this is the last week of lessons here in Nablus with the wonderful Project Hope! If there is anyone reading this who is thinking of coming to volunteer here, I would highly recommend this NGO. Whether you can teach English, French, German, Spanish, Art, Photography, Music or anything else: they will find willing students for you.

Over the last few weeks we've been putting together a structured English Language Course which will begin in January 2011 (insh'allah!). The Teachers and Students will be working from the Oxford University Press textbooks 'New Headway', and I'm sure it will be a huge success: I've rarely met more enthusiastic students.

Other new ideas for the New Year include an internet cafe, including blog classes, with 'women only' times. This will be the only venue in Nablus to offer such a facility, and I think it's very forward-thinking of Project Hope. They also help people with form-filling, with applications, to try to find grants or jobs. It really is a multi-faceted organisation.

Last week I braved a torrential downpour to head out by taxi to one of the Refugee Camps to give a lesson in a Community Centre. They were playing table-tennis when I arrived, and I cannot tell you how grateful they were that I had made the effort for them. We had a wonderful lesson, followed by an invite into the Coordinator's room for a cup of juice and biscuit, and a translation of the papers from Arabic into English for me. These are all young people, mostly boys/men, but they are polite, respectful and keenly interested in the outside world.

This morning it was back to the large Islamic School for a lesson with the English Teachers of the school. We talked about the Palestinian diaspora, and apparently there are 5 million Palestinians here in Palestine, with another 5 million in other countries, mostly Jordan and Lebanon. This began in 1947, creating political refugees, continued in 1967, and remains the case to this day: displaced persons moving or being forcibly moved from their homelands, who then eventually settle elsewhere and have families. The original 'temporary' solution drags on for years, and people get on with their lives (I have found them to be remarkably resilient, but then you'd have to be). The problem then becomes compounded as the children are born in the new land, and grow up there, knowing nothing of the homes of their parents.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Intifada Nablus

Some of my friends, trying to 'shake-off' (Arabic translation of 'Intifada') the Israeli armoured cars in the city, 2008:

To this day, night-time raids are carried out by Israeli 'security' forces, often dragging people out of their homes and arresting them without charge.

Well-Prepared French Photographer

Tear Gas


International Human Rights Day

Yesterday a group of us from Project Hope traveled by minibus to a village west of Ramallah, called 'Bil'in', to join a group of locals and internationals in protesting Israel's continuing division of Palestine into smaller and smaller segments.

I wasn't aware until we got there that it was a significant day, and I was very pleased to be partaking in this action on a day which should celebrate human rights everywhere, but which unfortunately more often goes to highlight the inequalities and injustices between different groups of people.

We joined a group of people from the International Solidarity Movement (I.S.M.), of which Rachel Corrie was a member, before she was killed in Gaza. My brother traveled with some members of this group on the convoy to Gaza from UK, and their ethos is non-violent direct action. Also there was another group called 'Anarchists against the Wall', and I'd say about 20 different nationalities were represented, including Israelis themselves, Germans, Dutch, Danish, Brits, French, and many more, plus, of course the locals, including young children.

After mid-day prayers the locals gathered their flags and were led out of the village by a truck with loud-speakers on. We all followed, including a sizeable number of International Media groups. A few of the crowd were interviewed, and asked where they were from and why they were here. It was, of course, a completely peaceful demonstration.

As we got nearer to the 'security fence', which in itself was way inside (i.e. on Palestinian land) the already-built wall, we were fired upon by the small group of Israeli soldiers who were themselves on 'our' side of the fence. This was crazy: not only had the Israeli Government built an 8m-high concrete wall cutting Palestine in half (see previous entry re The Wall), but they were also incrementally seizing additional hills, on or around which they were building Israel-only roads, all protected by 'security fences'.

One of the roads out of this particular village had been completely cut off (you can see from the photo I'll put up after this posting) and the soldiers were therefore able to claim that the land this side of the fence was a 'closed military zone' (their words). You can see the thin line of Israeli soldiers on the old road, and these were the ones firing tear-gas at us. We were not able to get within 500m of the 'fence', which protected a road for use only by Israelis.

We were all gassed, and it's terrible stuff: nerve gas which enters your nose, throat and eyes, and renders you immobilised due to the inability to breathe or see, for up to ten minutes, depending on the strength used. They were firing them at us as if they were party-poppers, obviously not in a restrained manner, and not only when they felt threatened. As a result, we were not able to get anywhere near the fence - which was obviously the intention.

Three of our group, however, instead of drawing back when fired upon, pushed forward, which with hindsight was a good move: the nearer they got to the Israeli soldiers, the less likely they were to shoot, as the gas would affect them as well as us. Good thinking boys, and Bravo! By the time the other three of us had recovered fully enough to see again, our friends were right up next to the soldiers, talking to them. What happened next we only found out about later: as our friends were asking to see written proof in English that this was a 'closed military zone', one soldier surged forward and grabbed one of our friends, dragging him off. He was bundled back to one of their vehicles, which you can see are the other side of the fence.

There are military tactics that are used in situations like this, and divide and rule is one of the more obvious. Our remaining friends were so shocked by what had happened that they didn't know what to do: none of us had anticipated this, and we hadn't got a 'Plan B'. So they withdrew, met up with us again, and told us the story.

We were not able to contact our arrested friend on his mobile, and no-one else knew what the military would do with him. There were experienced protesters there, and we spoke to a Lawyer, but they said the Army could do any number of things: let him go again, take him to Ramallah, Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, or even deport him. We understood that the fact that he had been arrested meant that they could label him a 'security threat' and do what they wanted with him. We were very glum.

The end of the story is almost surreal: we waited in the small village for over an hour, watching everyone else leave as they had to get to various places before the buses stopped running, especially the Israeli activists, who were racing against the Friday clock. We finally decided that despite our guilt, it wouldn't help for us to get stranded in this tiny village, when we didn't know what our friend would do or where he would be. We finally jumped in a mini-bus, which started pulling out of town.......when out of the front windscreen we spotted our friend, coming around the corner.

He seemed dazed and a bit lost, so we yelled to the driver to stop, and he spotted us and jumped on. We were really, really relieved to see him. He told us the story: the soldiers were very young, had treated him very well, trying even to make friends with him and saying he should come to Haifa with them and go to a nightclub. One of them said he wanted to visit Germany (our friend is German), and they wanted to know his name, see his passport, and give him a health check.

Our friend said he got the impression that the young soldiers were brain-washed, saying that they had to build this wall because all of the Palestinians want to kill them. Personally I have seen and heard enough Islamophobia over the last decade to know that this is what people very easily believe. It seems sometimes even too much effort to think beyond the deliberately hyped-up news headlines, which of course can so easily be used to justify all sorts of atrocities. Dehumanise your 'enemy' and your public will accept anything, it seems to me.

Anyway he was held for a couple of hours, during which time he thought he was going to be deported, when suddenly they let him go, and he walked back towards the by-now deserted village. Re-united, we all got the bus to Ramallah and once there felt the overwhelming desire to seek out a Hotel which sold cold beers: only the second time alcohol has passed my lips in six weeks. We toasted the good health of our friend.

Finally back in Nablus, the twist to the story is one which should make us all sit up and think about what it means to accept, condone and support the constant wars, violence and militarisation that has unfortunately been escalating of late: our friend opened up his Facebook page and there was a message from one of the Israeli soldiers, wanting to be friends..

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Time, Space, Energy

Peter Kropotkin

As we're witnessing the moral and financial bankruptcy of the West, it seems to me we need to start thinking seriously about alternative forms of organising society. I've been a fan of Kropotkin for years, and although he was writing when the world was a more agrarian place, much of what he says rings so true.

For example, at the beginning of the 20th century, he stated that 'it is Government that represses our natural tendency for cooperation'. This could explain the apparent paradox that when you visit communities who are far removed from their governments, and very often poor, you will witness the most extraordinary generosity. Mutual aid...

I'd recommend his book 'Fields, Factories and Workshops' too.

Stephen Hawking et al

There is a lively debate amongst scientists about whether time is speeding up...

This is a fascinating subject, and for a while now I've also been interested in the question of time and space and energy. There is a theory that says all energy is related, and that what we think we know and see is just a hologram. This can sometimes be a comforting theory, especially when confronted with the activities of the human race.

I'm now convinced that time is speeding up, especially as I have been here for 5 weeks, and haven't written half of what I intended to write. I have sheets of paper strewn all over my desk, with notes for the blog.

But no matter (excuse the pun), I have only one more week here in Palestine. I take comfort from Stephen Hawking's assumption that if the universe is constantly expanding, that means that back in the past we were all living on top of each other. This means that distance, physical and psychological, can be reduced to nothing, which also brings comfort when thinking of leaving people you have grown very fond of.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Helen Thomas

that speech:

Stieg Larsson

I recently read the Millennium trilogy by this Swedish author, where he writes of corruption all the way to the top, Nazi activities, human-trafficking and hacking, to name a few subjects covered in his books. He died suddenly and unexpectedly, after delivering the manuscripts, but before they were published. Films have been made of the books, and I've seen two of them in Leicester Square, in Swedish with English sub-titles.

In a fascinating real-life twist, where truth mirrors fiction, computer hackers have been showing their displeasure at the pressure that is being brought to bear on anything to do with Wikileaks, in a blatant and obvious attempt to muzzle the site.

Of course, I'm sure his arrest is just a coincidence. Wouldn't surprise me if he 'met with an accident' though. Truth is stranger than fiction at the moment.

Interested in Global Finances?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


We went to see the Wall today, up close. It is 8 metres high, is built on the wrong side of the Internationally-agreed Green Line, on Palestinian land. It cuts fields in half, prevents farmers from getting to their crops, and dehumanises people using a tactic of collective guilt. The size and imposing nature of the Wall is an obvious act of cowardice, by a rich and arrogant power against innocent people.

When we got back to Nablus we went to see a film at the French Cultural Centre, and it was about another small village which was due to be cut in half by the proposed route of what the Israeli Govenment call a 'security fence'. This film is about the struggle by the people of that village: Budrus.

Monty Python Got It Right!

The Wall

The Wall

Recognition for Palestine

Argentina and Brasil have recognised Palestine.

New Askar Refugee Camp

I have been given a few classes in a Community Centre in 'New' Askar Refugee Camp. I went there yesterday with my local volunteer, and it's just on the edge on town, a ten-minute taxi-drive.

The ubiquitous group of young men hanging around inside turned out to be the coordinators of the centre, and they were very welcoming. We were shown to a room with two young girls in. Free English lessons are advertised at the Centre, and anyone is welcome. Lessons can therefore vary in numbers, levels, ages and abilities. Today it was two young girls, 13 and 14, who are supposed to be learning English at school, but whom I quickly ascertained were complete beginners when it came to speaking.

No matter: we pressed ahead with the lesson, with me asking my local volunteer to only translate into Arabic if absolutely necessary. I firmly believe it is possible to teach a new language to someone without resorting to their native tongue, in fact I am convinced that doing so distracts from their concentration and ability to absorb new sounds and meanings. It also dilutes the attention of the class, as they switch between what I am saying in a foreign tongue, to the local who speaks in a language soothingly familiar. To learn a language you have to be willing to put yourself into uncomfortable places, to make mistakes, to say things that sound bizarre, to try, literally, to get your tongue around new syllables. An hour later the girls could say the English words for various parts of the body. I'm sure they will go far with this information.

'New' Askar was set up in 1950, on '209 dunums of land' according to Wikipedia. I don't know what surface area a 'dunum' represents, but the camp sprawls over the side of a hill. It was expanded in 1960 (no progress there then...) and the population is approximately 31,000. Food rations are distributed to about 2100 families. The Israeli Defence Force (IDF) still make regular incursions into the camp, mainly to interrogate people they suspect of anti-Israeli activities.


We have finally had two doses of rain, neither of which were prolonged or enough, but it has damped down the dust a bit.

This morning, whilst on the balcony drinking my coffee, I watched two birds enjoying a bath in the water that had collected on top of a water tank. I've seen these birds flitting around quite a lot: they have black heads and wings, grey bodies and yellow under-bellies. I have never seen one in Europe, and it is a pleasure to watch them.

Apart from the hummingbird mentioned previously, a few egrets pecking around in the paint-polluted water of the stream, and a single woodpecker spotted in the walnut tree one morning, the birds are thin on the ground here. Still no news on the insects, and I suspect the dearth of them has something to do with the quantity of chemicals used in various agricultural and manufacturing processes, let alone any that might have been used during the fighting (white phosphorous, for example, was used recently, and it is deadly).

Quite apart from the human aspect of the unfolding tragedy that is going on here, I miss watching, hearing and enjoying the microscopic life that normally goes on at ground level, of which the majority of us are oblivious. The ants and the flies and the wasps and the beetles are normally going about their daily business, oblivious in their turn of our inability to understand the importance of their work, but here it is strangely silent.

Maybe the rains, when they come, will spring this dry dusty landscape into life again, and I hope to see this before I leave in ten days. The rain has certainly freshened things up a bit, and the locals are pleased.

News from Europe is of thick, unprecedented snow, and I thought you might like to hear a poem I penned when I was a young girl, which for some reason stays with me:

'It snowed today,
but the world wasn't white,
as some poets say.
The world was still green,
green and grey,
but at least it snowed today.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Where Does Money Come From?

Here's an excellent simplified explanation of how money is produced, and if you think it comes from the Mint, think again and watch this film!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Friday, December 3, 2010

A Local Family

I had a lovely day out today. I was asked by the Project Hope office when I arrived whether I'd mind tutoring a young 17-year old lad with his English studies, as he'd become a bit blocked. I was told that the father had been in prison for 12 years, and had been on hunger strike, and I mentioned them in an earlier post. I gladly accepted.

Well I've now been tutoring M for just over three weeks, and I've become very fond of him and his family. His mother is a social worker who works with women, speaks good English and is very kind. They have four children, the eldest is studying to become an Electrician, the next, a girl, is studying to become an Accountant, and then there is my student, still at school, and finally the 15-year old, also still at school.

I was invited to spend the day with them today, as they are very grateful for my visits: I go to their home three times a week, and we sit on the sofa in the front room and go over what he has learnt at school, but perhaps in a different context and certainly with more individual attention. His mother told me today that she is amazed by the improvement in his English, and that his Aunt had noticed it too. I think it was a matter of confidence, and certainly regular practice helps, with someone who doesn't speak a word of Arabic.

They picked me up in their old car, battered twice by my student, who was trying to teach himself to drive without any lessons (!), and we went to their flat. There we sat and chatted, putting my student's English into a more normal context, and then we sat down to a lovely meal. I've found it's quite normal here to have people join the meal almost unexpectedly, but everyone just moves up, another plate is produced, and we all eat a bit less. Makes me laugh when I think of the fuss and bother we go to for dinner parties back home!

After the meal we had the traditional strong black coffee, this time with cardomon, although it's sometimes cooked with cinnamon or just natural. I've bought myself a small coffee-pot, such as they use here to cook coffee in, and I hope I can get it past 'security' at Tel Aviv. Then we jumped in the car again, and I was driven to the house they've been building outside of Nablus, where the parents hope to move to soon. They've been building it for seven years, and it's nearly finished, and has a wonderful setting. 'Place in the Sun' eat your heart out: the views from on top of this hill looking back towards the city were stunning, the hillside being peppered with olive trees.

Around the house they had also planted several trees: orange, clementine, lemon, vine, apricot, peach, and 'jaffa', which is not an orange, but a fruit I have never tasted before: it was the texture of an apple but with an amazingly indescribable taste. I was offered lemons straight from the tree, for my sore throat, and had one squeezed into my tea. The only pity was the lack of rain: whilst Western Europe suffers in minus temperatures and under a blanket of snow, here the problem is lack of water.

It hasn't rained, to speak of, in six months, and many of the trees had either died or were feeble. The mother said to me, rather ominously, that if we run out of water there will be war. Already a quick look at the UN aerial map of the Wall tells you that Israel has commandeered many of the lakes and rivers, cutting into Palestinian land and around the water courses, in contravention of International Law. Add to this a severe drought and frustrated people, and you have a powder keg of dangerous proportions.

We didn't dwell on this, however, and the emphasis was on a relaxed day out with the family: they laugh and kid around a lot, especially the younger boy, who has taken it upon himself to teach me Arabic. He pointed to everything, telling me the word in Arabic, which I dutifully repeated. We went up onto the roof, which was flat, as they tend to be in these parts, and took in the view as the sun was setting. Then we sat in the twilight and drank our tea,afterwards slowly packing up and coming home. I like the generosity and simple humanity of this family, and I wish them well.

Hammam, Nablus

Hammam, Old City, Nablus

I might have said Project Hope doesn't have jolly-ups, but the other evening we were all invited for an evening out at the local steam baths. We contributed 10 shekels each (2GBP) and this included a meal, music and an interesting location. At the entrance to the baths, down an old stone alley and under an arch, there was a sign which read that the site had been built in 1225.

Inside there was a central pool with fountain, surrounded by many 'narguila's', which I believe translates as 'water-pipes', where you smoke tobacco through a container of water and a pipe. Around the sides of the room, and raised on a stone plinth, were banks of comfortable seating, with deep cushions and blankets. Towards the front there were several tables and a stage.

It was still in use as a Turkish Bath, and it was amusing to see men wandering in and out of a small side arch, dressed in only a towel, but we had taken it over for the evening as the Director of Project Hope knows the owner (of course, it's a small town!) and it's certainly an excellent venue for what he had in mind: the International volunteers kicked the night off by playing guitar, an Englishman first, then a Scot, then an Irishman with his mandolin-type instrument.

Then came the locals, with their poem reading, in Arabic and English, and here the locals got quite emotional as the contents were about the history and people of Palestine, followed by some traditional music and singing, by a professional player and one of our local volunteers on the mike. The locals were all clapping and started dancing, getting quite animated. There were only 3 Palestinian women there, I noticed, two of whom wore traditional dress (covered up) and one of whom wasn't - the wife of our American PH worker.

After an hour or so of music, the food was brought in and put around the pool, together with piles of fresh flat-breads. Tea, coffee and soft drinks were available, and we tucked in. We wound our way home a while later, through the deserted streets of the ancient city of Nablus, remarking that the locals were so trusting that the shops often leave their wares outside all night, with one particular place having rows of dresses and children's' clothes hanging up. It was a wonderful evening, and a glimpse into another culture, convivial and communal.


Airport Body Scanners

Here some prominent scientists air their serious concerns about the x-rays given out by these machines.

From page 3: 'there is good reason to believe that these scanners will increase the risk of cancer to children...'

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Sen. Bernie Sanders

No, not of KFC fame, but an excellent speech given in the US Senate this week, by an Independent Senator. Well worth ten minutes of your time:

Dumping the Dollar

First Saddam Hussein declared, just before the invasion of Iraq, that he was going to sell oil in a currency other than the dollar. We all know what happened next. Then Iran opened an oil bourse, to sell their oil in a currency other than the dollar. You've seen the ramping up of the rhetoric there too.

This week's news is that Russia and China are now going to trade with each a currency other than the dollar.

Interesting times, indeed.

John Pilger (2)

Another dose of truth from one of my heroes! From August this year, but covers all bases and tells it like it is.

...and The Baker

The Coffee Grinder

The Falafel Maker

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


degrees here yesterday.


I'm really enjoying the teaching, and it helps that everyone wants to learn. I've ended up teaching 8 hours a week at the biggest school in Nablus, two hours with the teachers, and six hours with three classes of young boys, aged from 10-13.

The Headmaster and the Principal sat in on the teachers' lesson last week, and we went through some idioms. He was at a disadvantage immediately, as the other teachers are fluent, and his English is patchy, but he was filled with good humour, and laughed when he didn't know the answer. Today we went over phrasal verbs, and they guessed them all!

This is one of the plum jobs in Nablus, and these teachers are le creme de la creme, achieving more than 90% in their University exams. We chat about all sorts, and I'm impressed by their breadth of knowledge of the language. Many of them have two passports, Palestinian and Jordanian, and they can travel, whereas many other locals cannot. With the children I've been going over the present continuous this week, moving on to the simple past next week. They're lively but nice boys: 35 to a class.

Other lessons include a new one, three times a week at one of the Refugee camps, 'New Askar', which I'll be starting on Saturday afternoon. I still travel out to Tulkarm during the day on a Saturday, to a Community Centre, and there are the two lessons a week at the local Womens' Centre. Finally there's my 'private' student, three times a week where I go to his home, and try to make English into more of a living language, rather than the dry texts he has in his school books. His mother is a Social Worker, and the family are very nice. I've been invited to the country with them on Friday.

The Milkman cometh...

Early in the mornings, when Nablus is just waking up, there is a man who tours the streets, shouting something monosyllabic in Arabic. I often heard him, and wondered what he was saying.

I found out the other day: a man and his donkey come round the streets, the animal laden with baskets full of fresh milk. Presumably he rides in from the surrounding hills, and the milk must be either donkey or goat's milk, as I haven't seen any cows. The man is poorly dressed, but the donkey is in good condition, and he manages to sell all of his milk in this area, which is one of the more affluent areas of the city.

On a trip to Jericho a few weeks ago, I spotted some Bedhouin encampments, and was impressed by their spartan living conditions: ripped black and off-white canvases, stretched over bendy poles, in the manner of yurts. There were a couple of water tanks, presumably a modern consession to desert living, but otherwise they were living with even less than what I consider to be the bare essentials. There were herds of sheep, and the occasional goat, but no grass.

I was struck again by the drastic simplicity of their lives, and how they seemed from another age. Which of course they are.

Project Hope 1.12.10

The ethic of Project Hope is a good one: bring free language lessons to those that most need it and cannot afford it, here in Palestine, by welcoming volunteers from all over the world who are willing to spend some of their time in this fascinating part of the world.

I found out recently that it's the biggest NGO (Non-Governmental Organisation) in Nablus, and was the only one to remain functioning during the Intifada. Unlike a lot of NGO's, or UN Offices, there are no fancy cars, no flashy expense accounts and no jolly-ups. What I was expecting before I came has turned out to be true 'on the ground' as it were, and I think they are doing a great job.

They do not affiliate with either political party here, and try to stay focussed on the objective of bringing the outside world here whilst at the same time giving the children of Palestine contact with the wider world. There is a 'blog club' for children, getting young kids here (who like kids everywhere are computer literate) in contact with kids elsewhere, in schools and youth clubs.

There are art classes, where the work done in the classroom is transferred to large wall murals and playgrounds, and there are drama and music classes. One teacher who used to work for Project Hope has found a paying job in the town, and now works 6 hours a week and is able to support himself on that. He's also trying to get a music school going.

Recently PH received a donation of some brand-new computers. This was a very generous gift on the part of someone, but in fact there were already enough computers, so they have been set-up in one of the classrooms, awaiting extra students who will use them. That's one of the things I've been surprised about: the internet access and mobile telephone prevalence: everyone is 'connected', and everyone is on Facebook!

Like so many organisations, however, they're feeling the pinch financially, and the Director said he'd rather have had the money to pay wages than the computers: there are four local paid staff, who co-ordinate everything. The local Authority, however, are always mindful of being accused of encouraging or harbouring undesirables, so cash donations are frowned upon. As a consequence Project Hope, like so many other grass-roots organisations, struggles on from month to month.

There is a book wish-list, on Amazon, for books that they'd like to receive and which get put in the Library. Self-appointed Librarian: yours truly, and I've very much enjoyed sorting through all of the books, pamphlets and leaflets, sorting the teaching material from the Palestinian information, the latter making grim reading with titles covering the gamut of information about life under occupation. Some shocking photographs in those booklets. Whole forests must have been cut down to write these voluminous tomes on torture, the wall, prison, water shortages, agriculture, etc. 60 years on...

The teaching books, however, are very welcome: they now have quite a well-stocked library with the classic titles that every TEFL teacher uses as a bible. There are books on teaching languages to children, ideas for games, songs, stories, creative writing, etc. There is quite a large section on French, language and literature, and with the French Cultural Centre next-door, it has been a real boon to speak French. Some of the local volunteers have decided to focus on French as opposed to English as their second language, so I can happily chat to both sides. One local volunteer is learning Hebrew. When I made a polite request as to why, he told me he had been in prison 9 times and thought it about time he learnt what he was being accused of.

Anyway, after one particularly interesting conversation with the Director, we at Le Guerrat have come up with a project proposal: to have a pre-Palestine training week for Internatioanl volunteers at our house, to include a briefing on Project Hope, the situation here, things they should think about, plus TEFL training, lesson plans and teacher role-play. I think Le Guerrat lends itself to such a course, and although logistically and financially it may be problematic, the Director and I thought that it would be useful for the volunteers to have a good idea of what is expected of them before they arrive. That way they could hopefully arrive in Nablus ready to teach, and with less culture shock. I was surpised to find out, during the interviews I've been conducting, that for many this is their first experience of an Islamic culture, and some volunteers are as young as 20.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


Special Drawing Rights....coming to a country near you, very soon!


So, we learn this morning that North Korea has minerals...

...which means of course that what Wiki are releasing could damage diplomacy everywhere! I've worked for the British Foreign Office, in the bowels of the Embassy in Paris, and I know some of the secrets we'd like to keep secret. I had to sign the Official Secrets Act four times, and was cleared up to Top Secret. Did you know, for example, that there's a huge incinerator underneath the Embassy, where documents are burned? I know, because it was part of my duties to burn documents, and we had to come in wearing old clothes.

But it's mostly 'boring' old colonial territorial disputes, about which Old Power gets what, and everyone keeps quiet about it 'in the name of National Security'. This is probably what started me on the road to cynicism, and I was one of the few people to resign, as working for the FCO was a gravy train, and no-one likes to upset the apple-cart, if you'll excuse the mixed metaphores.

So that lovely Hilary Clinton is strutting the world stage saying how awful this all is, and we should all be concerned. See above. Very trustworthy lady, especially if you fancy looking into the Clintons' past and the Mena controversy...

Monday, November 29, 2010


First Matt Simmons...

Now another death of a witness:

If you haven't read 'Confessions of an Economic Hit-man', by John Perkins, I recommend it. Here he talks about his motivations...


"Last night I slept the sleep of the saved" is allegedly a quote by that British National 'Treasure' Churchill. It was attributed to him when he finally heard that the US were going to join the war effort. Mind you, he also said "History will be kind to me, as I'm going to write it", going to prove once again that you cannot believe everything you read.

However, listening to the World Service last night, as I fell asleep, I thought to myself that finally the truth is coming out, as all the frantic attempts by the US Administration to muzzle Wikileaks, and to malign the founder's character, had failed, and pouring out of their interior memos and e-mails came truths about the various conflicts and wars they are involved in around the world. We are no better, of course, and I sincerely believe that as more pressure gets put on people who have held secrets they shouldn't have for too long, we will start to learn the cold, hard reality of what is really going on, internationally. Use of the terms 'security' and 'terrorist' will become obvious to even the most patriotic as excuses for much darker realities.

The wars and invasions occurring at the moment are mostly resource wars: that is to say, the country of choice has something that we want or need, whether it is oil in Iraq, minerals or heroin in Afghanistan, coltan and other minerals in the Congo, oil in the Niger Delta, oil off Haiti, oil in Darfur and oil plus a strategic location as with Yemen. Even the most tightly shut eyes of those who just want to live quietly will be prized open, as the heat gets nearer and nearer to home. We will only start to sit up and notice when our lights start going out, and our financial lives are affected. Shame on us.

The issue is still, and has been for a few decades, energy. There is not enough fossil-fuel based energy to maintain the exponential curve of energy use that our modern-day industrial civilisation requires, and we are willing to have a second scramble for Africa, and everywhere else, in order to try to satiate our unquenchable thirst. But as the Tesla-inspired 'free-energy' is not yet available (at least to the majority, even if its secrets are kept for the few) we are obliged to continue our plunder of this small planet for its scarce natural resources. Resources that were laid down over millennia, and which are being gobbled up in just over 100 years.

Sunday, November 28, 2010


All of the Internationals got together last week for a meal, provided by our sole American volunteer. She obtained a turkey and all the trimmings, and a vegetarian option was also provided. Another volunteer went to the Samaritan village a way from here and provided some red wine from Bethlehem. For many of us, it was the first alcohol that had passed our lips since we had arrived.

I'm not sure of the history of this festival, not being too interested in hyped-up opportunities for mass-consumerism, but one of our two German volunteers quipped, in good humour 'so, we're celebrating genocide now, are we?'. My limited knowledge of the history of the creation of the USA stretches far enough to know that the territorial rights of the original inhabitants were not exactly respected. Same can be said for the Aborigines in Australia, who are now also living in 'reserves' (read camps) and to a certain extent the Mauris in New Zealand. I've just finished reading a book about the first arrival of British convicts in what is now called Sydney, on how the locals tried to stop the colonisation of the riversides, where they had hunted and gathered for millennia, to no avail.

The most memorable quote of the evening has to go to the other German, however. Going round the table, we all had to give thanks to something or someone. Quite a few poignant, funny or sad comments, until we got to Jonas who said: "I give thanks to gravity, without which we wouldn't all be sitting here".


My parents are incredible! They are 80 and 84 years old, and yesterday went out in minus 2 temperatures to a Craft Fair, where they set up a stall selling their hand-made crafts. Since retirement 20 years ago, they've been cutting, shaping, planing, varnishing, stitching, recycling, and sowing so many original and sturdy crafts, that they have become mini-celebrities in the area.

Schools telephone them when they're having Xmas Fayres, Community Centres know them, and they even set up their stall in old people's homes sometimes! They are both hard-working, honest, salt-of-the-earth types, and they have an incredible set of skills between them. Oh, and in their spare time they make bread (my Dad was a baker), cakes, quiches, jams...

I've often thought that the way we were brought up set us up for life, and my brother and I have had varied and interesting lives full of energy and originality. I applaud my parents.

Oh, and if you want a Ted for Christmas, let me know...

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Freedom Theatre, Jenin

Yesterday was our day off, and a group of us wanted to visit Jenin and try to get to see the Theatre that had been mentioned in the film we saw the other night (Anya's Children, see Project Hope entry of 22.11.10).

We took a service taxi from Nablus, and wound north through the dry countryside in an hour's journey to Jenin. It being a Friday, everything was closed, with the odd exception. We had three local volunteers with us, and one of them knew a good falafel joint: we headed straight there. These falafels were oblong, as opposed to round, and outside we saw the man making them: a slightly bigger version of the machine I bought in the Souk, and he managed to squeeze onions into the middle of the chick-pea mix. They were very good.

There were no road-blocks, as such, but there was an Israeli Army armoured personnel carrier (APC) at the bottom of a new road, leading to a settlement behind a high barbed-wire wall. The soldiers were relaxed, laughing with a girl who sat in the APC front seat, but they still wore full battle fatigues and carried machine guns. The roads to the new settlements are always manned by the Israeli Army, as they are so controversial and not at all welcome - especially as they are viewed as illegal internationally, they have commandeered strategic hills, are taking local water and of course land farmed by locals for centuries. There is a lot of local resentment, and a feeling that Israel wants to divide what is left of Palestine, or the West Bank, up into cantons where you cannot cross from one area to another.

With full bellies we headed into the town itself, to try to find the refugee camp and the theatre. There were hundreds of kids, and they followed us everywhere, shouting 'how are you?' 'what is your name?'. We got to the refugee camp, which was again like an extension of the town itself, being as it was a warren of tiny streets and alleys, with two-storey buildings in grey concrete. The walls were full of graffitti, and we got a local to translate: often it was the names of martyrs, that is to say locals who were killed in the fighting.

It felt strange to be walking along these streets, under the hot sun, where just a few years earlier tanks had rolled, homes were crushed and many people were killed. It took a while for us to realise that every wall was pock-marked by bullet holes, not just the occasional one or two. The now-familiar posters flapping in the breeze of the locals who died in the conflict. We didn't feel too comfortable, a big group of Westerners coming to stare, so we didn't stay long and headed for the theatre.

Once there we were pleasantly surprised, as in the film, Arna's Children, the Theatre had been completely destroyed by shells: I suppose it was seen as a terrorist strong-hold. It had been completely re-built on a different site, and was much larger than I had anticipated. We then had a stroke of luck, as at that moment an International volunteer strolled around the corner. He wasn't expecting to see us at all, as we had come without any arrangements. But he was hospitality itself, and invited us in and made us all a coffee.

He had been here (to Palestine) several times before, funding himself by being a carpenter back home in Wales. He then gave us a talk about the progress of the Theatre since the events in the film, and we were thrilled to hear that they had received International recognition, funding and had actually toured Austria and Germany with one of their productions, selling out all tickets within 40 days, which is amazing.

The son of Arna, a Jewish Film Director, is still very much involved with the Theatre, and they are putting on a production of 'Alice in Wonderland' soon. They had done a production of Orwell's 'Animal Farm', which was pretty poignant. I recommend this book to everyone, along with '1984' and Huxley's 'Brave New World'.

After a tour of the Theatre we watched three short film clips, giving us an idea of what they do and why they are here. They were very powerful films, one of them being 'Fragments of Palestine'. There are no psychologists or psychotherapists here in Jenin, and the Theatre is the only way the children here can be creative and express themselves, and sometimes their frustrations and troubled past. The students themselves were talking to camera, and were eloquent and intelligent, if sad.

Here's the link, for anyone interested:

Friday, November 26, 2010

Win-Win for Israel

Either you agree to 90-day freeze on settlements (except East Jerusalem) and we give you lots of money and military equipment, or you carry on with settlements and get more land:

What I want to know is, what have they got over Obama?

Corruption at FIFA...

...imagine my shock.

Dollar up...

...on talk of war on the Korean Peninsula.

Desperate measures indeed.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Sovereign Debt Crises

Well, we were warned about the money lenders, weren't we? Something in the Bible, and quite a few publications since. If you listen to the BBC you'd think these sovereign debt crises were a sudden turn of events and that some naughty countries borrowed too much and they now have to tighten their belts in order to pay back what they owe. Oh yes, and pensions and hospitals and schools and social services are too pricy to be maintained.

I'm sorry, I don't see it like that. Some of my friends laugh at my avid interest in reading blogs, but this is where some of the best minds in the business write, be it economic, political, ecological or other, and I've been following what they've been saying and warning about for years.

Goldman Sachs had a huge part to play in the downfall of Greece, similar amounts of collusion and bribery went into money-laundering and creating an economic boom-to-bust situation in Ireland, soon to be followed by Portugal, Spain, and maybe Italy. Ireland's economy went through the roof without it producing anything new. It is being sold to us as a simple parallel to an individual or family over-stretching themselves, but if you followed the sub-prime mortgage crisis in the US (the so-called 'foreclosure-gate') you'll have some idea of the depth and breadth of the corruption in the banking sector.

The UK also has severe financial problems, but bizarrely has been offered a secret bail-out by someone who presumably doesn't want to see Sterling fail. A very odd entry in Hansard (the official record of events in both Houses of Parliament) given by Baron James of Blackheath, speaks of the offer of a sum of money to be given to the Crown by a shadowy organisation that he called ' Foundation X'. You really couldn't make this stuff up! Have a look:,_Baron_James_of_Blackheath

(see 1538, although earlier part of speech is also interesting, about coming food crisis)

If you scroll down on the Wiki page , you will see the entry 'Foundation X', and then see that after his speech in the House of Lords, the meeting he spoke of was denied by the UK Treasury.

Still think this is all a cock-up, or is it a criminal conspiracy?

Nablus Chamber of Commerce and Industry

Last night a talk was arranged by Project Hope by the Head of the Nablus CCI. He gave us a slide presentation with some local statistics, mixed with some photographs. Less than 2% of businesses employed more than 10 people!

In what could be perceived as a dry presentation, the figures were actually terribly revealing, and we could see at a glance what a difference the Intifada/blockade of the West Bank made to the economy of the area. Even now, when the blockade is partially lifted, there are still road-blocks and checks, and many, many restrictions on moving goods around Palestine, let alone export problems.

He mentioned the difficulties of getting your lorry-load of goods to the Ports, and then having the constraint of no Palestinian export representative at the Port, so having to provide all of the necessary documentation to the Israeli Authorities, which includes papers on security, destinations, etc, and entails complete un-loading and re-loading of the goods onto pallets of a certain size.

Add to this problem one of the restrictions on imports - aluminium, for example - plus taxes and levies applied by Israel, and you begin to get a tiny picture of the difficulties of getting this economy on its feet again. He explained that although they sincerely want to start exporting, it is often prohibitively expensive and so they sell to Israel, who then ship the goods out as Israeli. They are working to correct this, he told us, so that at least Palestinian goods, such as olive oil and soap, are labeled as such.

One of their best exports, however, is stone. He was understandably proud of this, and said that it is exported to Europe. Presumably this is a product which is less problematic to transport, as it can pretty easily be cleared by 'security'. One of my main concerns, however, is that this is exactly the wrong sort of export as it is totally unsustainable - I had already noticed on my trips to Tulkarem the huge quarries, with large amounts of machinery. The surrounding area was covered in a fine white powdery dust, and the lorries were plying back and forth. The saddest sight of all, for me, was to see the Palestinians earnestly trying to improve their local economy by literally blasting and removing their only asset: the hills and the land around Nablus.

It no doubt brings in a few shekels, and no doubt there is a demand because it is reasonably priced, but once these hills are gone, what next? The West Bank is small enough already, without this geological suicide.

3.7% Pay Rise for EU staff...

For 45,000 EU staff, back-dated to 2009.


We watched the documentary 'Rachel' a couple of nights ago, about the young American Peace Activist who was killed in Gaza.

She volunteered to be part of a group called 'ISM': the International Solidarity Movement'. This group focuses on areas of the world where injustice is occurring and tries to stop it by using peaceful means of non-cooperation. They were present in Gaza when the wall was being constructed on the 'border' and the land on the Gazan side of the wall was being razed by two bulldozers and one tank. The activists stood in front of the homes that were being demolished, holding up banners and speaking through megaphones, asking the drivers of these vehicles to stop doing what they were doing.

At one stage the driver of one of the bulldozers opened his window, and clearly frustrated shouted "Go away, this is not your war. This is my war". Due to modern technology we now have the ability to have these sorts of exchanges on video and a lot of photographic evidence of what is happening. 100s of Gazan homes were demolished to prove the 'no man's land' between the wall and the town. The activists often stayed, slept and ate in these homes with the local people, which gave the latter a tiny sense that the world cared a little.

All to no avail, however, as the homes were crushed, along with established farmland, water tanks on rooves were systematically shot, and many died from random shootings into the houses. I think most people have heard of the outcome of this documentary: Rachel died under one of the bulldozers, as she tried to stop it. The documentary interviewed her friends, the Gazan locals and the Israeli Defence Force (IDF).

For me the most poignant moment in the film was when one of her friends, who obviously cared for Rachel, said the saddest thing was that this film had been made because an American died: it would not have been made if, and when a Palestinian died.

It's War!

There are eight women living in a flat provided by Project Hope. There is an age-range of between 20-60. There are the usual communal problems of washing-up, emptying the bins, making noises, leaving lights on, etc.

How depressing that eight grown people who are here to focus on very difficult and emotionally charged issues cannot even manage to live together for a few brief months without tensions rising and disputes.

But then again, I think this is the nub of the problem: individualism and ego versus community and sharing. Big or small, it starts in the same way, with little issues which are not nipped in the bud by rationality and maturity.

North Korea

Let's get the truth clear here: South Korea were carrying out military exercises using live arms into disputed territorial waters. The 'line' which has been drawn by South Korea is not accepted by North Korea, and South Korea were firing missiles onto this 'line' in the sea.

I think most countries would see this as provocation, and North Korea fired back, into the disputed waters. South Korea fired back into North Korean territory, i.e. land, and North Korea retaliated by firing back. The USA has now sent a warship to the area, which of course raises the political tensions even higher.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


An interesting up-date including some revealing PDF files...

Hummus not Hummers

The Arms Fayre for Children

You're worth it...

John Pilger

One of the most respected investigative journalists in the profession, here is an hour-long video about Palestine, by John Pilger:

Monday, November 22, 2010

Project Hope, Palestine

Well the Eid holidays are finally over, and it's back to work on a Sunday morning at Project Hope. We usually have a meeting first thing, to discuss the timetables, organisation and structure of the week, followed by any questions arising. I'm very impressed with the professionalism and dedication of the Office staff, who are never too busy to give us a smile and a kind word.

There are about 8-10 English teachers here at the moment, with some of them doubling up as Spanish teachers, Art teachers and Music teachers, depending on individual specialities. We work all over Nablus, and sometimes outside: for example we work in two of the three Refugee Camps just on the outskirts of the city, at the local Orphanage, at at least two Women's Centres, at the Project Hope office itself, and some of us take trips to other towns outside of Nablus to give lessons - for example I go to Tulkarm, which is 30 minutes away by local service taxi.

I've been 'interviewing' the various volunteers, both local and international, and have really enjoyed talking to everyone, one-to-one, and asking a set of ten rather banal questions, but getting some very interesting answers. I'll probably compile a summary of these interviews later on, but for the moment the heartening thing for me is to hear other people who are either idealists, Utopians or revolutionaries, most with a fervent desire to try to solve the injustices and inequalities that we see all around us. It is refreshing to be able to sit on a balcony and talk with like-minded people about their backgrounds, their philosophies and their hopes for the future.

The Director of Project Hope keeps us stimulated too, with talks, films and debates on the issue, and I'm often reminded of one of John Pilger's books 'Palestine is still the issue'. One of the French volunteers I interviewed said she thought that this is the issue everybody needs to solve, and if we can solve this, we can solve any conflict.

Last night we were shown a film entitled 'Anya's Children' about a Jewish woman who started out supporting the expansion of Israel, and then was horrified by how history was turning out, and eventually built a Theatre in the small town of Jenin, north of here in the West Bank. It was built in the middle of the refugee camp, and all the locals helped. Her son, a filmmaker, filmed all of it, starting from the construction, when his elderly mother was already diagnosed with terminal cancer. She was obviously a formidable woman, even in old age, but what came through in the film was the humanity of all people involved: the Jewish lady and her son, who spoke Arabic, the locals in the camp, and the children.

Then the political situation worsened, and the camp was invaded by Israeli tanks, and this was all captured on film, from 'behind enemy lines' as it were. I do not know the reason for the invasion, and I'm trying very hard in my posts to just tell things as they are on the ground, trying to stay as objective as possible. The tanks came into the camp, however, and destroyed 300 homes, and many locals were killed, including some of the children who had attended the Theatre. As the film spanned 7 years, there was footage of them as kids, then their funerals. The film did not end on an up-beat note.

After the film, most of the volunteers got together for a tea, and talked about it. We all felt rather deflated, and ineffectual, and we have only seen a film, let alone been around when fighting was taking place. Nablus here has been under siege several times, and some of our local volunteers have seen terrible violence and death. We were wondering how we would feel if it happened to us: indeed, one of the most poignant responses I had from a local when I asked him what message he wanted to send to the world was "put yourself in our shoes".

Anyway today was another day of teaching, and I went out to one of the Refugee camps for the first time, as an 'Assistant' to Dan, our resident Art graduate. It wasn't what I was expecting at all, less like a military grid-style camp, but more like an impoverished village, with narrow streets and shops, schools, community centres, etc. We went to a large UN school in the camp, and Dan gave an Art class whilst I sat with some of the girls and helped them. It was a wonderful experience, and the girls were very friendly, the teachers too.

All of us International volunteers are deeply touched by the respect and gratitude we receive from local people, and we are humbled by it. Their generosity is incredible, and the kids smiles and laughter are wonderful. Today I was walking past a car, and the driver leant out and said 'Welcome to Palestine', and there is a tailor's shop near the school, where all of the tailors look up every time I pass and shout 'Good Morning!'

I had a lesson with my 17-year old student today, who was tired as school had started up again after the holidays. He told me he was getting very good grades at school, but that he hated it! He said he wants to travel...

Finally this evening there was a trilingual talk given in the French Cultural Centre: a French lady, who is writing a research paper, spoke in paragraphs which were simultaneously translated into Arabic and English by the School Director and one of the French teachers here who speaks fluent English. The subject was again very interesting, on the phenomenon of walls being constructed all over the world, trying to explore the political, economic and psychological reasons for this. It was stimulating, especially the questions session at the end, as quite a few local people had attended. As one of my interviewees said, to live here is to be political, and certainly you couldn't do what so many people do in the West: order another caffe latte and pretend everything is OK!