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:



(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!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Ignore this Topic at your peril...


Although I've been banging on about this for over a decade, it's now going mainstream.


...even the US Military are worried about it. Incidentally, Matt Simmons (author of the book mentioned) was highly critical of the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and died suddenly of a heart attack earlier this year.

Also, did you know that the CEO of BP sold over half of his BP stock before the disaster? And Goldman Sachs also got rid of huge amounts of their BP shares, before the event that is now killing all the life in the Gulf? I'll dig out the references if you like, but it's all there on the internet.

Now, where are the keys to my Hummer??

Friday, November 19, 2010


Good Morning Columbia!!

...and thanks for reading...

14 countries and counting - please share :)


Yesterday I went to Jericho - what a great title for a book! But no, it was just a day-trip out from Nablus. I went to the local service-taxi station, and was pointed towards the correct minibus. What a great idea this shared transport is: they wait until the bus is full (7+ people) and then set off for the destination. If we had these in London or Paris, a lot of congestion could be avoided.

Anyway, I've always loved the hustle and bustle of stations and airports, and have spent many an idle hour, during my back-packing years, just watching the people come and go. Yesterday was no exception, as the Jericho bus did not fill up quickly, as opposed to the Ramallah bus, which leaves pretty frequently. So we waited. I was given pride of place in the front passenger seat, and this afforded wonderful views. After 40 minutes we were off, heading first south, then after the check-point, turning east.

I had one of those WOW! moments, as we weaved our way up and around and over some of the hills here, to come out onto the edge of an escarpment: and the whole Jordan Valley lay before us, as far as the eye could see, with a backdrop of mountains. There was a haze, pollution or dust it's difficult to tell, but the panorama was breath-taking. In the foreground, soft treeless hills, scoured by ravines from the rains and looking like elephant hide, then there was the valley itself, criss-crossed with Bedouin paths and roads, and partially filled with huge polytunnels.

In truth this is what I came here for, not for the Biblical references. I had been annoying everyone with my tracabilite questions, about the origins of the food to be found in the Nablus market, to be told many times that it came from the Jordan Valley. So I came to see for myself, and it's true: hectare after hectare of green, irrigated produce, much of it covered by either brown chain-link cloth (to prevent scorching?) or thin plastic, with some of the produce out in the open, but in neat lines. This was the first food I had seen growing, apart from the ubiquitous olive trees, since I arrived, and I was fascinated.

Peppers, aubergines, courgettes, tomatoes, parsley, mint, sweetcorn, vines, dates...Finally I had seen where the local food came from, and the limited food-mile calculation was impressive. As we whizzed past the 'farms', it was difficult to see too much, but I did spot the signs on the entrances in Hebrew, so I gather they were Israeli-run operations. This is surprising, as my book tells me that the Jordan Valley was given back to Palestine as part of the Peace Accords.

But no Palestinian would put up a sign written in Hebrew, so I had to believe what my eyes were telling me. I wanted so much to ask questions but a) I don't speak Arabic and b) it wouldn't be wise to ask too many questions. Our minibus was stopped at an impromptu check-point, where lazy soldiers with automatic weapons slung over their shoulders, asked us for our papers in the midday heat.

It was the first time I had been addressed directly, and the only question was 'where are you from?'. He seemed satisfied with my reply 'England', and I was not asked to produce my passport, even though I had remembered to bring it with me this time. My fellow passengers, all locals, were not so lucky and had to produce papers and answer questions, and some numbers were read into a mobile-phone. After five minutes we were allowed on our way, but the resentment was palpable.

Finally after one hour we arrived in Jericho! The guide-book had warned me it was small, so I was not surprised that in half an hour I had seen the centre. I had the best falafel sandwich yet of this whole trip: fresh flat-bread, falafel, salad, fried aubergine, chips, gherkin and tahini sauce. For 60p. I went back an hour later and got a second one!

I decided not to walk the few kilometres to the local religious sites as it was very hot, and maybe I'll come back another time. In fact I was here 30 years ago, when I crossed the border from Amman where I was visiting a friend who worked at the British Embassy, but I can remember nothing about that trip. I did see a sign, however, for the Allenby Bridge, where the border is.

I did make an effort to go an see the 2000-yr old Sycamore tree, which has huge historic significance. Strangely, it is now inside the grounds of a massive new building, with fences all around and very well-maintained gardens (grass-wow!!). It was still being built, but resembled the White House in its imposing facade, and although smaller was no less impressive. Who, I asked myself, is investing a lot of money building this beautiful edifice, when all around the other buildings are old, crumbling, dusty, collapsed, derelict?

The answer was provided by two very friendly locals, who were sitting on a make-shift bench opposite the site, watching the hard work and drinking orange-juice. I was offered a welcome drink just as I passed by - they are very hospitable to strangers - and I asked the question. Despite the local's poor grasp of English, and my complete lack of Arabic, we got there in the end, and can you guess which country it is?


I've seen them!

No, nothing Holy or Divine...but the jets that fly overhead. I was looking too low. Yesterday I spotted what I thought was a white paper bag, way up high, floating around on the thermals. But after a while I realised that I was watching a jet, turning and circling in the sky, way above us here.

It was the noise that made me look up, and I doubt many other people have the time or inclination to keep scouring the skies for the origin of this noise. Maybe it's because I live in a very quiet and peaceful place, that I don't accept the constant noise of aeroplanes? I don't know, but I then traced its movements in the sky, only to see a second one join the first, turning, tipping, circling.

These were most probably Israeli jets carrying out training missions, and they are different from the black jets which also fly over, lower, often causing that sonic boom I mentioned. The nearest commercial airport is Tel Aviv, I have no idea where the nearest military base is. Anyway I can hear the sound of the engines arriving slowly in one ear, then it fills my head and the space in the Nablus valley, and then trails off out of the other ear, dying away slowly, to be replaced some half an hour later by another.

Nablus, Palestine 19.11.10

There are a couple of hours every morning when the city is calm: Nablus, like Paris, is not a place that gets up early. The sun is already up by the time I venture out on to the balcony, with my freshly-brewed local coffee (boil water in pot, add fresh coffee, return to heat three times until cooked, pour off top slowly, leaving coffee at bottom of pot).

Next door there is a closed-up house. This is a pity, as it is a lovely house, well-kept and grand. In the garden there are mature fruit trees: grapefruit, orange, satsuma, jasmin, lemon and another orange, in that order. Since I have been here, just over two weeks now, I have watched the oranges get slowly more orange, then turn darker orange, and now, one by one, drop to the earth.

There is no-one there to pick them up, and the walls are too high for children to climb in: in any case, I don't think they would, this being an urban population. So the fruit is left to rot - even the birds don't eat citrus fruit.

What a metaphore this is for the situation here: growing slowly, ripening, maturing, dropping and rotting, through neglect. Someone ought to do something, waste is a terrible thing.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

What you won't hear on the BBC


Crash JP Morgan, Buy Silver!

Want to get your revenge on those hedge-fund hyenas? Max has started a campaign where Joe Bloggs can safe-guard his wealth whilst getting even with the banks, as JP Morgan are short-selling silver, which means they are telling the markets they can produce the goods at a certain price when they don't even own it! The silver market is 100 times over-sold, so you'd better hurry and get some silver coins!


...or gold if you can afford it!



What the Future Holds


I don't actually like this bloke much, but he talks some sense in this interview. Note the bit about getting 20 acres and a mule!

Gold (2)

Apparently, there is $54,000 of cash in circulation for every physical ounce of gold. The share price is at $1350 per ounce. So, what do you think this means if we go back to the gold standard?

Paul Theroux

I've been a fan of his travel books for years, and highly recommend all of them, especially 'O-zone', one of his works of fiction.....

Well, as part of my duties as self-appointed Librarian, here at Project Hope, I was sorting through all the books, leaflets, pamphlets and flyers, when I came across one of his books I hadn't read. It's called 'The Pillars of Hercules' and is his account of his tour around the shores of the Mediteranean. As ever, an amusing and interesting anecdotal account of life in every-day towns and cities, credible because of the lack of hyperbole. I was interested to read what he had to say about arriving in Israel, and thought I'd share it with you. He started his journey in Gibraltar, and travelled clockwise, so here he is in Haifa, having crossed from Jordan, p460:

'Intending to be early, in order to catch the Sea Harmony, I went directly from the station to the pier. In the event, I very nearly missed it.
"Come with me" an Israeli security officer said to me as he leafed through my passport.
I was then subjected to the most intense and prolonged interrogation and suitcase search it has been my experience to receive in thirty-four years of travelling. This time I was not rescued by a helpful bookworm who knew my name. Instead, I was made to wait. And then I was questioned. Why had I gone to Turkey? Who did I know there? Who did I visit there? Where had I stayed? These specifics were noted. The same questions were asked of my time in Syria and Jordan. Then I was taken to a side room. My suitcase was gone through a third time, by a new official. He pointed to a plastic chair.
"Sit down."
"If you say please."
"Sit down!"
"I find this very unpleasant," I said after two hours in the chair, when the man returned with my passport.
Another man began trawling through my little bag. I stood up to stretch.
"Sit down!"
I was then summoned to receive my passport. I said, "What do you think?"
"I don't sink nossing."
"Know what I think?" I said. "I don't like being treated like this."
"No one likes," he said sourly. He hated me for my impertinence. He hated his job. He hated the Palestinians. He hated his life in a country where everyone is a possible terrorist and where life in this state of siege is a turbulent and terrifying nuisance.
The disgust and pessimism is so palpable that after a dose of it, the Sea Harmony ship-load of shouting, boasting Greeks, swaggering on deck and plucking at their private parts and smoking and guzzling ouzo and snarling at each other, was peaceful by comparison.'

The book was written in 1995. It sounds from my colleagues as if things have not got any better at the borders, and a constant topic of conversation here is what will happen to us on departure. I heard recently that you can be put in jail at the Airport for up to three years, without charges, if they consider you a security threat. I'll tell them I have to get home for my Xmas nut-roast, that should do the trick.

PS Leafing through the jacket of the book, I see that 'O-zone' is not available in the USA. Read it and find out why!

The Royal Wedding


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Eid (2)

The Holiday is almost over, and the presents have been opened. The town was full of cute little girls today, proudly displaying their new boots, with new sun-glasses and long plastic necklaces pulled over frilly dresses. The Chinese economy has just had another boost.

The boys got presents too: all-too-realistic plastic guns, complete with hand-cuffs. Lovely.


Like young men the world over, the adolescent youth here have to prove their virility to each other by making as much noise as possible with a car.

Originally designed as a form of transport, this piece of highly-sophisticated machinery has now become an extension of the macho-man's tool kit. The colour, design and make are all important, but most important seems to be how much noise you can get it to make whilst stationary.

I'd hesitate to assume that they actually drill holes in the exhaust, as many vehicles here are over 30-yrs old and held together with bits of wire and sticky tape, but I was surprised to see some of the more expensive varieties of car here, including a Hummer today, believe it or not. My local volunteer told me that he could go out today and get a car - and I eventually ascertained that he meant he could go out and get a loan to get a car...so it seems there are markets to be opened up everywhere for rapacious money-lenders.

Once the loan is approved (3 second questionnaire 'You live in Palestine and you earn $50,000pa? No problem Sir, sign here') the young man can indulge himself in getting a piece of the action, which he can then proceed to drive up and down the one main street of Nablus, slamming on the brakes from time to time for maximum noise pollution and an excellent smell of brakes and clutch.

This is the tragedy: they want to be like everyone else, but cannot leave this town, so like hamsters in a wheel, they are destined to drive up and down, round and round, criss-crossing this small town of 200,000 people, until they run out of petrol, or tyres, or brake-pads or clutch, or all four.

Well, I suppose it's nice to know that some things never change.


There's something wonderful about sitting on a balcony in the early morning with the sun on your back - probably linked to a time when we clambered down out of the trees and sat around in convivial groups looking for fleas on each other.

This morning from the balcony I finally saw an exotic bird: a hummingbird I think: small, delicate, turquoise and with a curved beak, it was sitting in the walnut tree outside the flat. I was thrilled, but there are still not many birds, probably linked to the lack of insects mentioned earlier. They're even noticing the lack of water too, as yesterday I watched two sparrows flitting around the steel water-tanks that every house has on its roof, looking for water.

I put a plastic bowl of water out onto the quieter of the two balconies, but to date not one bird has come close. Probably treated water, and birds aren't stupid.

On the way to Tulkerm I did see a small flock of black waders - is there such a thing as black egrets? Anyway, I would assume they'd normally be near water, but as the wadi is dry and there are no pools, lakes or rivers here, the birds are suffering too.

Why did I just think of a Don McLean song then?

Weather Warfare

Those who know me know that I've been talking about this for some time, mostly getting laughed out of the room by people who can't be bothered to do any research.

So here is an interesting and intelligent chap:


...who has had the temerity to write a very interesting article posing a thesis about the floods in Pakistan. Here is the article, and I'd like you to read carefully through it before you dismiss it, as he probably knows a lot more than we do about this subject:


Interesting huh??

A Picture paints a thousand words

This from Trevor this morning:


Would you like to live under conditions like this?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

5 Minute History of Fossil Fuels


South Park


Bloggers of the world unite!

Hey, thanks everyone: I notice from my stats that this blog has been read in 12 countries around the world! I think that's great, proving that grass-roots movements and individuals can make a difference, especially when confronted with so much spin and corruption at the top.

Thanks again!

Israeli Military

Starting yesterday I noticed the unmistakable sound of jets passing overhead, frequent and quite low, with the loud rumbling continuing for some time after they had passed. It's difficult to see them, however, because of the hills surrounding this neck-of-the-woods, even though I try to crane my neck for a glimpse.

Today, again, every ten minutes or so a loud jet will fly somewhere near to here, taking about five to ten minutes for the silence of the Holiday to re-assert itself. My flat-mates tell me this has been going on for some time, and has been getting more obvious recently.

I wonder whether these are routine military manoeuverings, timed to accidentally coincide with the National Holiday here, or whether something bigger is being planned?


This morning the streets were quiet, as the population of Nablus celebrates Eid, an Arabic word meaning 'festivity' and a three-day holiday celebrating the end of Ramadan, a holiday for giving thanks and of festive remembrance.

That is probably why 'Elvis for Men', the local men's barber's, visible from our balcony, was open all night, only closing in the small hours this morning: for those last minute hair-cuts. Not being able to sleep, I wandered out onto said balcony, only to be surprised to see groups of men standing outside, whilst the lights blazed brightly inside, as another millimetre of hair was shorn from another head.

Interesting to note men's fashions here: short hair is obviously the norm, bald is obviously not beautiful here, but gel and pointy hair has reached this part of the world. Also 'in' are hipster trousers, held up with outrageously large belts, as are winkle-picker shoes, various multi-coloured T-shirts, tank-tops and sweatshirts, making the male population interchangeable with any other around the world.

For the women, more traditional dress, but also surprising is the level of flexibility and freedom 'allowed' within the traditional dress model: lots of make-up, big necklaces, stilletto heels, figure-hugging tops and tight jeans with highly-decorated blouses, with the hair, for the most part, covered over by the traditional garb.

The city's shops are closed today, as yesterday was a frenzy of last-minute shopping (much like our Christmas Eve) as people bought those urgent platters of cakes and pastries: as I mentioned before, sweets and sugared bites are very popular here, and the cake shops did a roaring trade.Ice-cream is highly original: in this heat you couldn't have Western-style ice-creams, and anyway dairy is not a big part of the diet. Instead, what looks to all intents and purposes like a two-scoop cone was actually a sneaky imitation made out of semolina, blocks of ice and colouring agents. I have never had to chew ice-cream before!

Today everyone spends time with their family, and offices and shops are shut. This makes it an ideal time for me to go out and take some photos of the Old City, and I want to capture on camera that 'Insurrection' perfume poster, whilst no-one is around to be offended.

In the middle of the night, whilst I was idly watching the line of men waiting for hair-cuts, there was a huge crash: the unmistakable sound of one car hitting another. All the men rushed out of the barber's, I leant over the balcony to try to see what had happened, but to no avail. I imagine one driver, high on excitement, or caffeine (Coca-Cola is also, unfortunately, very popular here) just took the bend too quickly and arrived in the side of someone else's car.

Boiling Frogs

Sibil Edmonds has got a great blog, and I've been following her story for years. She worked for the CIA as translator, tried to do some whistleblowing about dodgy stuff she was translating, and then had a gagging order placed on her for years. Well, now it's off, and as she says in her blog, it's the home of the irate minority. Count me in!

The term boiling frogs comes from the old proverb that says if you turn the heat up little-by-little, incrementally, on some frogs in a pan, they won't realise they're being cooked until it's too late to jump out. Horrible image: do you think it could apply to us too?


Monday, November 15, 2010


Arriving in a strange city where you don't speak the language is a disconcerting experience, and Nablus was no exception ten days ago.

I got off the bus, hot and sweaty after the rough ride from Ramallah through checkpoints, over pot-holes and around the wall, finally descending in the marketplace, full of honking taxis, shopping people and dusty karts being pushed through the dense traffic by various hawkers...

I looked up, as is my wont, and saw all of the equally dusty hoardings, covered in Arabic script, advertising all manner of things, I suppose. Finally, after scouring the high-up posters for something that looked familiar, my eyes fell upon something recognisable.

It was a perfume advertisement, high up on the third floor of a building, difficult to spot unless, like me you had unconsciously noted that the name of this product was in English:

'Insurrection'. A perfume. I kid you not.


I've just added a new student to my list of lessons: asked by a member of Project Hope to give some private tutoring to this young boy, I went along and met the family yesterday, and again today.

His mother speaks English, is about my age and works as a social worker with women who have been abused. She is very kind, and after the lesson we ate a lovely meal that she had prepared.

She has four children, and I'm helping the middle son with his English: one look at his school books and the complexity of the vocabulary, compared with his ability to speak told me that this was an urgent job! I've signed up for three lessons a week, trying to do the only thing I know how to do: instill an enthusiasm and interest in the language so that a natural curiosity and desire to learn comes from the student himself and takes over when I leave off. So often the teaching of a language bares little resemblance to the language as a living, useful and fascinating thing. Also, there is a limit to what you can actually teach in five weeks.

Hopefully it's working, and after only two lessons he was proudly translating over dinner what we had learnt in class, and correcting his younger brother. Towards the end of our lesson two of his friends came in, so I expanded the lesson to include them. Then a friend of his sister came in, looking stressed and holding a copy of 'Jane Eyre'. I asked her what the problem was. Nothing trivial, of course, just an 11pm deadline, that night, for a summary on the ending of the book, to be handed in for her Open University course.

Now I think I read 'Jane Eyre', about 30 years ago, and I do not remember anything about it. She showed me on the computer what her summary was supposed to encompass, and it made me laugh aloud. A question so convoluted and complex, so pompous and banal that even a mother-tongue English speaker shouldn't have to answer it. I am a fan of simplifying language as much as possible, especially for students of it, building up more complicated grammar and vocabulary slowly.

Anyway, we did the only thing we could do: looked up on the web the ending of Jane Eyre, wrote down a few inflated paragraphs about the situation in which the poor Jane found herself, and filled it out with waffle. That should do the trick. I hastily backed out of the apartment, before her 30 classmates found me, and asked for help too...

The father of the young boy had come to pick me up at the beginning of the afternoon. I had been told that he had been a prisoner for 13 years, and on hunger strike for some of that time. He was a very quiet, wrinkled man, probably about my age again, with a 30-yr old car. I noticed his hands on the steering wheel: two fingers and a thumb on his left hand missing. Once at the flat he disappeared and I didn't see him again.


This is a fantastic site for anyone wishing to know more about what's going on, globally:


Media Matters

In Aug 2001 Elizabeth Murdoch and Matthew Freud tied the knot, at a sumptuous wedding in Blenheim Palace. A perfect marriage of media and psychology, with limitless possibilities.

If you're interested in just how few people own the media outlets where we get the majority of our information from, try Googling 'Who owns the media'. You'll see we're down to about 10 corporations, and the speed of mergers and acquisitions has ramped up recently, as can be proven by watching an hour of British TV...

It's not much better elsewhere, with wall-to-wall game shows, talent contests, sofa exposes on the lives of mini-celebrities. Shame on us for watching that crap, and thank goodness for the internet.

BBC World Service

I tune in the 'The World Today' at ten pm every night, as a way of catching up with what's going on outside these walls (!)...

Last night, would it be talk of the G20 and global financial dislocation? Would it be about Merkel and the protests in Germany? Would it be about the bankruptcy of Ireland? Would it be about Sarkozy getting rid of the Minister who protested the Roma expulsions? Would it be about the growing movement in the USA, led by Ron Paul, to end the Fed? Would it be about the earthquakes off the coast of Yemen? Would it be about Israel's agreement to stop more settlement building (except in East Jerusalem) in return for concessions from the States?

Answer: none of the above. 20 minutes solid, in a 60-minute programme, on Aung Sun Suu Kyi in Burma, followed by a 'you the people' speak phone-in, about same, followed by the Most Amazing Win in 25 years of Motor Racing History, followed by The Most Amazing Philipino Boxer In History.

When it gets this bad, you know something big is happening. I think I wasted twenty quid on the radio.

The Walnut Tree

As well as the other trees previously noted, I was shocked to realise that I hadn't recognised the large walnut tree, just outside the flat. The branches almost touch our two balconies and it stands two storeys tall. An established specimen, it looked nothing like the ones we have at home: true, there were a couple of walnuts clinging to the branches, now that I looked more closely, but the leaves were what was different. They were burnt.

I was told recently that it has rained twice since March, and one of those times was a heavy downpour for fifteen minutes.

The days are still hot with clear blue skies, even though this is the rainy season.

The Soap Factory

There used to be nearly 40 small family-run soap factories in Nablus - it was famous for that. Slowly trade dwindled, as all-purpose shampoos flooded (excuse pun) the market and soap went into decline. Add to this the disruption on the infrastructure since the Intifada, the willful destruction of hectares of olive trees, the restrictions on exports, together with the targeted bombing of some old factories in the Old City, and you arrive at the situation you have today: two remaining soap factories in Nablus.

I visited one with my local volunteer. There was no machinery! A huge old building, in the centre of town, with high ceilings and pillars on a stone floor. There were huge vats full of a glutinous slow-moving liquid: this was the soap, 50% olive oil, with added water, salt and sodium hydroxide (imported from Saudi Arabia). Other ingredients can be added to alter the texture, aroma, etc, but here it was back-to-basics soap. This liquid is mixed in the vat using a slow moving paddle (electricity-driven?), then poured onto the floors in the storeys above, between the pillars. There it is left to dry, and when dry enough is hand cut into slightly off-white square blocks. Then someone actually walks over this floor of soap, and hand stamps each block with the factory symbol.

The soap pieces are then individually wrapped in pieces of paper, and sold to locals, or sometimes tourists (although there are few) and not even to Hotels, as there is only one: this is not where people come on holiday. I am told that some soap is exported to Jordan, a sort-of life-line for exports from Palestine, and some of it reaches shops in the West - Brighton for example.

I asked about bulk export, and I was told the ex-factory price for the soap only, as freight would cost extra and he didn't know how much. Anyway for one tonne of soap, hand-made and organic, it would cost me $3200. I was trying to work this out, maths not being my strong point: he told me each 1kg contained a different amount of bars, as all bars were hand-cut and therefore slightly different in weight. But an average was 60-70 bars per kilo, so did he just tell me I could buy 60,000 bars for $3000+? This works out at 5cents, US, per bar, doesn't it?

I then wondered whether olive-oil soap would go off? If I bought 60,000 pieces, and filled a spare bedroom with them, would they go rancid before I had a chance to shift them? Images of Delboy and his various dodgy purchases drifted across my mind, and I dropped the whole idea, especially as the export taxes would be what increased the price considerably, but for a while there I was dreaming of washing in Nablus soap for the rest of my days...

Sunday, November 14, 2010


Two events of global significance happened on 12th August 1961. The Berlin Wall was built, erected overnight, dividing the city. And I was born. Well, OK, maybe the latter is not such an event of global significance, but it was pretty important to me!

There are maps posted up around the flat, here in Palestine, of the Wall being erected around the West Bank. These posters are compiled by the United Nations Offices for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA). They trace the 'green line', official border agreed upon at some meeting, the date and title of which escape me for the moment, and they show the actual wall, traced using satellite imagery. Israel is planning to build over 700km of 8m-high concrete wall between Israel and the West Bank. These maps are dated 2007, so no doubt the wall is nearly complete now. Within this wall, there are literally 100s of checkpoints, barriers, gates, piles of mud and fences. The Palestinians need all sorts of permits and passes in order to cross certain checkpoints, with others being out-of-bounds altogether.

There are by-passes and fly-overs, which facilitate the movement of Israelis from A to B, on which the Palestinian population is not allowed to travel. All of this, printed in black and white on the United Nations map, as just so many facts on a piece of paper. Imagine, however, the reality on the ground and the effect these restrictions would have on your life, your mental health.

It is the clearest example I have ever been confronted with of collective punishment, and it is in violation of the Geneva Conventions. For me this issue is not about religion, history, ancient homelands, security or terrorism. It is about wrong and right, pure and simple. It is about gut reactions and instinct, it is about understanding what happens when you cage/wall/lock someone in who has not been found guilty of anything except a certain ethnicity and making them endure this humiliation year after year. It is about not treating people as equals, but about segregation, racism and apartheid.

Doesn't it all sound a bit similar to WWII and some camps? What's next: tattoos?


Yesterday I travelled out of town to a smaller town, NW of Nablus, called Tulkarm. I'm due to come here every Saturday now, to teach English at the Women's Union Centre. The journey itself was interesting, as ever. Dry, dusty roads leading north out of town, and passing the inevitable olive groves. Onto a motorway for a short while, well-built and maintained: the road signs gave the game away, written in Hebrew first, then Arabic, then English. A fast-track road for traffic heading north to south and by-passing Nablus.

We passed a Palestinian Authority check-point, and then later an Israeli one. My local volunteer was horrified that I hadn't brought my identity papers with me, as he said I could cause a lot of trouble, and only in passing did he mention that I shouldn't mention at all what I was doing there. I suppose if you live under an occupation for long enough, you forget to warn others of what is obvious to you. Good job I wasn't stopped, as I didn't have a plausible story handy...

Anyway the class went well, with the ages ranging from 14 to 54, but with an eagerness to learn which seems general here. I was offered the usual hospitality of a strong coffee, before we got down to the business in hand of Beginner's General English. After the lesson, one of the young male students was so keen to learn that he took me to his Aunt's shop, made them make another coffee for me, bought me and my local volunteer a falafel sandwich each, followed by a cool fruit drink from a street vendor. He would not accept any money, the look on his face saying 'do not insult me'.

All of this from a young lad who is studying Computer Systems at the town's Open University, and who doesn't look like he has too many shekels to rub together. But we exchanged Facebook and e-mail addresses, and I promised to write to him in English. Of the town itself I got got the impression that life was harder here: just a few kilometres from the Israeli 'border' (read 8m wall), there were many haggard and drawn faces, and despite a few podgy individuals, I got the impression people were malnourished. They are keen on their cakes here, and lots of other junk food for kids, including crisps, snacks, sweets, cakes. Comfort food, perhaps, washed down with lots of strong coffee.

I had the thought I have had many times before when confronted with similar situations, in Tanzania or elsewhere: the problems of poverty, especially on-going grinding poverty, such as I have witnessed, are so structural that they seem insurmountable. But given that report I just posted by those physicists, maybe these problems could all be solved with a dozen signatures on a dozen cheques, maybe that's what the New World Order is all about, a global re-distribution of wealth, after the Victorian philanthropist model? We'll see, but I'm not holding my breath.

Up-date on our colleague who headed off for the airport to go home: she was interrogated by three security guards at Tel Aviv airport, and eventually allowed to travel but was noted down as a 'category 6' on the departure forms. This is the highest level, and equates to terrorist, and it is doubtful she will be allowed back into Israel, at least for ten years. She is a journalist, and as I mentioned, had been interviewing female prisoners and hearing their stories.

Physicists do it differently...

I love it when something like this comes along! A recent paper, compiled by two physicists, looking into the ownership of global stocks, shares, bonds, corporations, etc. No easy task, as ownership is hidden behind a wall of obfuscation and dead-ends. Using mathematics models, however, they have managed to reveal that the ultimate ownership of global corporations leads back to surprisingly few individuals. See this report, entitled ' The backbone of complex networks and corporations and who is controlling them', especially the penultimate paragraph of the conclusion. Click on 'this paper'.


I notice, interestingly, that there has been an up-date, in Aug 2009, since the original was first published, and the title has been slightly modified: instead of reading....'and who is controlling them' it now reads 'the flow of control'. Maybe someone was getting nervous?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Palestine in context


The Future


You're welcome to Le Guerrat!

Sublime to the ridiculous

Last night was a bit surreal: I found myself sitting in a beautiful old stone-built almost underground building, surrounded by people dancing a kayleigh and a troupe of musicians at the front, next to the grand piano, knocking out Irish tunes on a violin, flute, and guitar, with a singer too.

We started the evening by going to my first Nablus restaurant, where we had a fantastic mezze: mutabal (aubergine and tahini puree), guacomole, hummus, tabouleh, salads, flat-breads and the pink pickled vegetables I'd spotted at the market. It was divine, I love the food here.

One of the International volunteers has taken up residence here, and being a musician, is getting a local scene going, and this was the music hall. As the volunteers comprised Scottish, Irish, German, Dutch, American and English, there was a lot of enthusiasm to try something new, and no embarassment about finding partners and swinging each other around, although some confusion about the steps, as most of us are at least a couple of generations away from people who knew how to dance.

It struck me as another Hardy-esque moment, as peasants of yesteryear might have gathered for similar occasions, after a hard-days work in the fields, and enjoyed themselves having a good old dance. What a pity we have let slip this innocent past-time.

I suspect that in deepest Dorset, however, there would have been more than a little of the apple-based local brew to smooth the night along and to get rid of inhibitions. Here, nothing of that kind, just a group of uninhibited teachers dancing away to the bemusement of some locals, gathered outside the door and peering in.


Before I came here I visited London, and on the train on the way home I spotted a huge advertising hoarding. Here is the wording, word for word, hastily scribbled down as we pulled out of the station:

"Discover Dogs 2010: over 200 breeds to meet, greet and discover. Shop. Dog lovers shopping heaven".

It was being held at somewhere like Olympia, and will no doubt prove to be very popular, with an entrance fee too, no doubt. I wonder why I find it so repulsive?


One of the more colourful International volunteers, from Scotland, has had a tattoo done since he's been here, written in Arabic on his arm.

Not a great fan of tattoos myself, I thought it was a noble gesture on his part however: the English translation is 'I am no better than you'.

I applaud that sentiment, and I think many people who have an in-built superiority complex, bolstered by a biased media, could stop and ponder that for a moment.

I am wondering, however, how he's going to get through the airport 'security'...

Human Rights

For anyone who wants to know more about the local situation, here is a good website, often quoted in the media, as it is complied by Israelis on human rights:



The cats here are mostly feral, and there are plenty of pickings at the local market at closing time. They all have scarred noses, and I was wondering why, until I saw a group of them scavenging in an open bin: they get right in and 'nose-around' in the rubbish, looking for that tasty morsel, and as a result, then skin comes off of their noses!

I saw two butterflies yesterday, bright yellow. No more tortoises, for the moment.

The local situation

Just before I left UK, I bumped into an old University friend in London, who told me he works for an NGO called 'Global Witness'. They go to places that don't make the news and try to shine the light on situations that the world should know about. Good job.

I came here for several reasons, and that was one of them: to witness on the ground what I have personally heard about for nearly all of my adult life. I was inspired by my brother, who volunteered to be part of the Viva Palestina convoy which left England for Gaza a couple of months ago. They travelled 4000 miles with donated vehicles, garnering enormous local and popular support from people as they travelled through France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Syria, Egypt and then Gaza.

They got through, after a long wait in Syria to organise the Egyptian entry, and managed to deliver 5million USD-worth of medical aid to that forsaken strip of land. The welcome they received was incredible, and by the time they ended the convoy the number of vehicles had swollen to 150, some brand-new ambulances donated by Middle-Easterners, and some 400 people. They were given accommodation in the Palestine Hotel, and a tour of the strip, which only measures some 5 miles by 30. One of the most densely populated areas on the planet, apparently.

He witnessed the destroyed buildings, the checkpoints, the restricted fishing zones, complete with harassment from an Israeli patrol boat, and he witnessed the poverty. But he also witnessed their humanity and generosity, and he came back with a feeling of hope, amazed at their strength. What gives people like that their strength? Is it their faith?

Here it is a slightly different story, as there is a peace, of sorts, for the moment. But I have now witnessed myself what it is like to live under a permanent state of occupation, as on every hill around Nablus there are Israeli Army military posts. Life goes on here as normal, with the wonderful markets, and the people's joy at family events, etc, but scratch the surface and you enter a different world.

I have been interviewing both local and International volunteers, as part of a (not-so-original) initiative I had to tell these people's stories to readers of this blog, but the more people I interview, the more I realise how complicated this is. Not only is there the heavy psychological influence of the wall, the settlers, the checkpoints, but there is also local suspicion and division, as the two parties Fatah and Hamas fight for political supremacy.

I made a decision not to try to get involved in the politics of it here, but as one of my interviewees said yesterday "to live here is to be a political person". You cannot avoid it. Everyone knows someone who has suffered from this situation, it affects daily life, plans, hopes. You cannot teach a lesson all about going to the airport or the travel agency - one of the most common TEFL lessons - as these people are not allowed to travel.

Add to this the fact that we are warned not too put too much detail into our blogs, for fear of reprisals, and you begin to get the picture. One International volunteer here, who was writing a blog, actually had a telephone call from the Israeli authorities! I imagine it is pretty easy these days to track internet information, especially if it contains keywords like Nablus, Israel and Wall! I was pleased to see that even my puny blog is being read in eight different countries, which thrilled an internationalist like myself, until I saw that someone in Saudi Arabia and several people in USA are looking in: quoi? I wonder who they are...

Last night one of our International Volunteers left for the Airport. She has really put herself into a difficult psychological space by getting to know prisoners and prisoner's families, and had heard perhaps more than an innoccent Westerner should get to hear in one go. I think it is not an understatement to say that she was traumatized, and after hearing all of that, she will have to arrive at the airport in Tel Aviv with a fabricated story and false itinerary, for we are not allowed to visit the Palestinians, and we must send any incriminating 'evidence' home to ourselves in a parcel or leave it here, as we are interrogated at the airport, and our luggage closely scrutinised.

Now I ask you, is that normal?

Pot Kettle Black

I brought my little Roberts radio with me, in order to hear the BBC World Service. But plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose and the Empire lives on. Cameron heading for China, with advice to warn them about their human rights violations. Perhaps he's forgotten the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan? Then the Pontiff heading to Spain to berate the Spanish people about dropping Catholicism recently. The poor Pope, probably down to his last trillion, and running out of choir-boys. There's little I hate more than total hypocrites, and some of the people strutting the world stage at the moment are some of the worst. We should stop giving these people the respect they don't deserve.

Thought for the day

If you want to save water, try taking cold showers...


Well just over a week has gone by since I arrived here, and the dust has settled a little. My teaching week has been organised: two 90-minute lessons a week at a Women's Union, four 60-minute lessons with young children in the biggest school in Nablus, two 60-minute lessons with the English Teachers of that school (!), and all day Saturday at another Women's Union in another town outside of Nablus. Only about 15 hours contact time, but with all the travelling and heat, a full-enough week, I think.

I also have two hours Arabic tuition a week (going slowly!), and various other activities with the local volunteers, such as olive picking, visiting sites, getting to know them. As I mentioned these local volunteers are so keen to get to know us, and to share their knowledge with us and practice their English, that it is a pleasure just to hang around in the building of Project Hope and chat with them.

There are two wonderful stone balconies with views over the valley, and it is particularly stunning in the evening, as the sun sets on the hill opposite. Yesterday we were sitting there chatting to 4 Dutch people who had come for a visit, as one of them was a volunteer last year, and then a cake arrived - lots of cake - as it was a local's birthday. Then the jokes started flowing, and I heard my first Palestinian joke! A soldier is looking for three people, who try to hide and find three big bags on the floor. They crawl in. The soldier comes across the bags, and kicks the first one, but all he hears is "meow, meow", so he thinks it's just a cat....he kicks the second bag, to hear "woof, woof", and thinks, it's just a dog. When he kicks the third bag, there is no noise, but something is inside. He kicks again and again. Finally the person inside explodes out of the bag saying "don't you get it? I'm a potato, a potato"....

This was first told in Arabic, with a huge roar of laughter at the end, so I asked them to translate. I think, given the dreadful things that have happened here, they may have developed this sense of humour which is blacker than even the British one. All-in-all, it's going to be an unforgettable experience here.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Don't laugh: I'm trying to up-load photos!

Gold at 1400USD?

...looks like someone has lost confidence in the fiat currency system!

A visit to the souk

Today I was given a tour of the old city of Nablus by one of the local volunteers. I've found it very useful to speak French, as the volunteers speak either very good English, or failing that, very good French. I have found myself swapping from one to the other, as one of the hard-working office girls, who gave me my very first Arabic lesson today, speaks French. Our lesson was from French into Arabic, and vice versa.

The history of the souk goes back over 4000 years, and the city is a myriad of stairways leading no-where, or disappearing up and around a corner, of windows half bricked-up, of arches covered up by another building cutting across, of balconies long fallen into dis-use. Beautiful buildings next to piles of rubble, and all the while shop after shop after shop.

As with most souks, it is divided into sections which sell different wares: there were heaps of dried herbs and spices, giving off aromas reminiscent of Zanzibar, there were coffee shops where the coffee was ground before your eyes (imported from Costa Rica and Yemen), there were sheeps' heads in buckets of water, staring up in resigned acceptance of their fate, there were heaps of almonds, cashews, olives, pink cauliflowers, sweets, tomatoes.

There were tailors, full of men working away under the arches at their old Singers, there were pizzas, Palestinian-style ( a square piece of freshly-cooked dough filled with local goat's cheese, spinach or both, probably pre-dating the Italian version), there were falafel makers with their piles of chopped salads ready to fill the pitas, freshly cooked next-door, and there were cages full of chickens, rabbits and pigeons. Piles of white eggs, heaps of shoes, rows of ladies fashions and childrens' clothes, and butcher's, with carcasses hanging from large meat-hooks.

Now that's what I call a market, and the thought struck me, not for the first time, that our lives in the homogenous West seem to me to be so much more barren, dull, lifeless. On a recent trip to London, the small family-run businesses that I used to know even when I lived there 30 years ago have long given over to the wall-to-wall Starbucks. It is difficult to find a place to get your keys cut, your shoes mended, etc. Here they have imitations of KFC and McDo, all painted locally and with Colonel Sander's squiffy nose elaborated upon by a local artist: infinitely preferable, and I expect the burgers are better too!

I bought a falafel maker, for ten shekels. The question remains as to whether they'll let me take it through customs, or whether it'll be deemed a dangerous weapon.

Flora and Fauna, Nablus

A couple of early morning strolls around the town have been delightful: although it's supposed to be the rainy season, I haven't seen any rain yet, and everything is dusty and thirsty. There is the hint of what is to come, however, as I'm told that everything comes alive after a good downpour, and I can't wait to see it.

There are jasmine bushes, bourgainvilea, orange, fig, lemon and lime trees, pomegranate, almond, grapefruit, satsuma and of course the ubiquitous olive...

Strangely, I've seen very little insect activity, which is a great pity, as I value highly our six or eight-legged friends. There is a cobweb in the bathroom window, offering me hope of seeing the owner one morning, but so far no bees, centipedes, ants, beetles or flies. Strange, non?

Two funny things have happened to me which made me smile, however. This afternoon, whilst walking back from the Old City, an orange detached itself noisily from it's place of birth and dropped right down in front of me...making me jump. A passing local smiled broadly and said "it's just a co-incidence", as if he already knew I was a conspiracy theorist!! Spooky - haha! Second event was also bizarre: walking along a dry, dusty road full of early morning traffic, a movement out of the corner of my eye made me stop - there was a small tortoise, slowly making his/her way along the bottom of a high wall.

Now maybe he was going shopping, and I try not to interfere too much with the natural order of things, but I felt he'd be better off, and less likely to get run over, if he was in an olive grove. So I picked him up, and he immediately drew his head and legs in. I could almost hear him thinking "Oh blast, here's another of those pesky do-gooders". Anyway I deposited him 10 metres further on in said olive grove. How to think like a tortoise, however, THAT is the question? Also, it struck me how utterly defenceless he was when I picked him up: I held complete dominion over him, and his future. Such is the nature of being either bigger and stronger than your adversary, or being smaller and defenceless, even if you've developed a thick skin over the years.

Today we are hearing the sonic boom from Israeli jets flying very low overhead, as they complete their training missions.


...will sink us all!

Science Festival, University of Najah, Nablus

One of the things I love about travelling is that it often knocks your prejudices or pre-conceived ideas into a cocked hat, and visiting Palestine is no exception. It's good to be humbled from time to time, and yesterday surely was that! A visit as part of the Project Hope team to the Nablus University (18,000 students) to see their Science Festival.

A huge newly-built campus, sprawling over the hills in the north of Nablus. The students who are in their final year had obviously been asked to invent something using the knowledge they had learned during their studies and display these to the public, but mostly to groups of visiting students from other schools, as a way of encouraging interest in science but also in further education.

We were there to help guide the school kids around the displays, but as there were quite a few of us, I took the time out to talk to the graduating students and got them to explain their inventions to me. This is where I was bowled over: not only had they created all of these amazing and complex creations themselves, using recycled bits of...everything... they were able to explain in detail what it was proving/demonstrating...in a second language: English. AND they were keen to do so! I especially liked the cauliflower and carrots growing in a medium out of small parts of...cauliflower and carrot. No seed needed, just a growing solution full of the necessary nutrients, and the morsel of carrot grew into a new plant (they had tubs showing various stages of growth). Amazing.

Students I spoke to were studying: physics; electronic physics; medical analysis; biology; biochemistry; micro-biology; applied biology; parasitology; etc, etc. Good grief, I have a job even spelling those words! Friendly, helpful students, they took pity on my complete lack of scientific knowledge, and explained to me certain chemical reactions, how chips and radar and microns and little buzzy whirry things worked, and I didn't even know what to ask back: 'what is your name' seemed somehow insignificant.

The sad part came, however, when I asked them what they were going to do now. For the most part they shrugged their shoulders, some said further education in the form of a PhD, but most would now be looking for work in a country of 70% unemployment. They are 'not allowed' travel to other parts of the West Bank to look for work (check-points, papers,etc) and here in Nablus there is no industry. What an utter waste of human talent, intelligence and creativity. These kids are smart, and they deserve better than this.

Saturday, November 6, 2010



Olive Picking

Well it's 0730 and Nablus is coming awake: the lovely sound of chirping birds is a surprise, along with the inevitable cars, although I did come across a man training his horse to walk through the streets of the Old City the other day:they are ahead of us, of necessity, about alternative means of transport.

Yesterday was an incredible day, as 4 International volunteers (a Scot, Irishman, and 2 English women) headed out with one of the local volunteers to help pick olives on his family's land. His uncle is ill in hospital and they were his aunt's trees. Here, like in other countries where individualism has'nt completely taken over, they help each other, and there were at least 15 of us out under the hot sun for the day.

It was convivial, it was communal, it was Hardy-esque and it was hard work. As it was in the past, so shall it be in the future, with the peasants and the overlords, but I probably won't see the full transition in my lifetime. We're heading back to the collective, to understanding that our food comes from the ground and the trees, not from hypermarkets, and to a deeper understanding of the abundance of nature. Each olive that we harvested could become another olive tree...

We started at 0830, with old cloths being laid on the ground under the tree, two very old wooden ladders being brought out, and the rest of us gathered round the lower branches. Then we were off: pulling, picking, twisting the small black olives from their spindly branches and letting them drop to the floor. It was a very visual and physical example of the 'low-hanging fruit' principle in the net-energy debate, and one I found most interesting: the higher the fruit (energy) the more difficult it was to harvest and the more energy went into getting at it.....bonjour peak oil! For more on this, check out 'the most important video you'll ever see' on You Tube, it's all there in mathematical equations and is INDISPUTABLE.

Anyway the day was thrilling in so many ways for me, confirming what I instinctively knew that working together is a pleasure, and a job shared is a job halved. There were no slackers, even the children (of whom there were about 6-8) picked up the ones on the floor that bounced off the mats. We stopped at about ten for a fantastic breakfast of falafel, hummous, pita breads, salad, bean stew and a warm tomato and swede bake, washed down with hot herb tea, this one with sage I think.

We were miles from anywhere, having arrived by taxi, but a donkey came and went laden with olives one way and food the other, back and forth to the local village. The donkey was in immaculate condition, and very friendly. As the sun rose we got hotter and hotter, and thirstier and thirstier, but I think the trick here is not to drink too much: already it is a scarce resource, but also it doesn't seem to help: a little, washed around the dry mouth seems to do the trick.

Anyway we picked and picked and the olives dropped and were collected...we stopped mid-afternoon thinking our day's toil was over, and had another fantastic meal of a sort of risotto. Then our friend said, shyly, there are just a few more trees......these were a different variety of olive, green this time, and there is some difference about the method of preparation, but we picked them anyway, finally finishing just as the sun went down, at about 5pm.

We then sat for a good while by the side of the deserted road to await our transport and when it arrived, typically, the locals all insisted that we take the first one and they would wait for the next. We travelled back to our friend's Aunt's house, where we were again plyed with tea and orange juice. Finally all of the people and olives arrived back, and an estimation of the day's work was 400kgs of olives which should yield 112 litres of oil. Most of this is for home consumption, as these are large families, but apparently there is a Government set price of 25 shekels (about 5GBP) per litre, I presume that's for export...

Finally we were taken to visit an olive press, which was fascinating: machines made in Italy (where else!) and huge 100kg bags of olives, leaves and twigs and all, poured into a hopper at one end, up a conveyor belt, washed, crushed, strained and sieved. Finally out of the end came a dark green juice, slightly bitter to the taste, of fresh organic olive oil. WOW! I assume the bitterness are the tanins, which will probably settle/correct (?), but there were the locals with their grimy yellow 30 litre containers, bottling it all up. Good on them: this will be distributed amongst the family and they will not have to pay for another form of cooking or dressing oil, hopefully. I don't know how much they have to pay for the pressing (I will try to find out) but as we were leaving there was another large truck arriving full of sacks from one family's land.

I've seen the future, and it grows in trees...

Global Financial Situation

There is a very interesting speech given in the House of Lords which should have people sitting up and taking notice.....

Para 1538 is the relevant one, although what he says before this about the food supply is also pertinant to how we are going to feed ourselves in the future. An interesting read...


Thursday, November 4, 2010

Project Hope, Palestine

It's not often that expectations match the reality on the ground, but I must say PH seems to be doing just what it said in their website. There are four hard-working permanent members, all locals from Nablus, and a score or more local volunteers. The International volunteers come from all around the world and offer their expertise in various activities: English and French language teaching are top priorities, but there is also German, Spanish, dance, art, music, etc. There are 18 of the latter at the moment, there were 50 in the summer.

As I sit here listening to the early evening call to prayer, and the sun sets over Nablus, I think of how interesting today has been. Over to the school this morning, to be told by the lovely local English co-ordinator that I have an assessment this afternoon of two girls who are at University.

As hardly any of the International Volunteers speak Arabic, we are assigned a local volunteer, who walks us all around the city to our various classes. These students come mostly from the University and are taken on as serious members of the group, even though they, like we, are unpaid. These local volunteers have studied or are studying everything, from IT to Structural Engineering to Medicine, and this is their chance to mix with people from the outside world, to practice their languages and to share their experiences with us.

Within ten minutes of meeting one volunteer, we were talking about the possibility of exporting Nablus soap, which is (apparently, but I'll be visiting a factory soon) 50% olive oil and 100% natural. He had all the figures ready: 50USD for the first half kilo exported, being four bars of 125g each. There are no import taxes, as it is from Palestine, and the sum goes up by 30USD every extra half kilo, so to export a kilo of Palestinian soap would cost 80USD. He said that not only is it made locally, but in people's homes, and is often sold under the Fair Trade logo. I will visit one of these establishments in the next week or so, but sounds very interesting. I told him to hold off calling Fed-Ex just yet, but that we could discuss it further.

Then this afternoon my first lesson: two charming girls with astonishingly good English, both studying at Al-Najah University here in Nablus - a Uni of 18,000 students which covers all disciplines, funded by richer Arab states. My local volunteer is half way through his structural engineering course, and we got to chatting. He was born in Saudi Arabia but his family moved back 'home' when he was ten, and he prefers it here because he is surrounded by family. I assessed the girls, and will be teaching them twice a week from Sunday.

As I said I was interested in agriculture, I'm being picked up tomorrow morning at 0800 along with a few others, to go and help with the olive harvest. Partly this will be physical work, but partly also as International observers, as over-zealous Israeli soldiers have been known to pick off olive pickers if there is no-one watching. There are Israeli checkpoint on almost every hill, and olive groves have been cleared for a better view: I'm going to wear my Project Hope vest!

I've been told that if I want to witness Palestinian agriculture, I have to go to Jericho, where I will see a lot. There is a ten-day break coming up, so I might go and have a look, if I can get past the checkpoints. I was also told today that a resident of Nablus is not allowed to visit Jerusalem if he/she is under 50 years of age. As Jerusalem is where the majority of the administrative offices are, this makes doing the paperwork nigh-on impossible.

I have yet to start my free Arabic lessons, but I was told today it's the fourth hardest language in the world to learn, Japanese being the first, apparently. Doubt I'll get further than counting to ten, but I think it's important to try.

To finish, I have been touched and impressed by the friendliness of the locals: not too far from what I was expecting there, but lovely polite, modest, kind and generous people, everything said with a big smile and a slight inclination of the head...

Trevor's thought for the day...

"the future's agrarian"

for those interested, a long, leisurely read of this man's blog will set you on the right path for the future:


also, try to read: 'thinking like an ecosystem', an august post of his...

Without Wax

500 points to anyone who can understand and explain my little play on words....

...redeemable at a Jamie Oliver restaurant near you!

Nablus, Palestine 4.11.10

I've just had a morning stroll around Nablus: not a Starbucks, Costa, Pret, McDo, or Tescos in sight........................................WADDAMISUPPOSEDTOEAT?

I found 'the' mall: and bought some flat-breads, hummus, mango juice and an onion. The staff were very friendly (3 check-out guys) and knew of Project Hope. Prices were high, however, and I wonder how the locals can afford to eat well...35 shekels for a litre of olive oil, which actually comes from here! That's about 7 pounds/euros. Likewise tins of kidney or broad beans, 6-7 shekels, over 1 pound sterling.

My March 2010 Lonely Planet is already way out of date, and prices for everything are very expensive, even basics.

In the hostel in Jerusalem I was confronted with that most noble of creatures: the whingeing tourist! How expensive all the attractions are, how she had spent all of her money and couldn't even change her ticket home without incurring a penalty. I was dismayed, however, to hear her news: that at the 'gates' of Petra, magnificent sand-stone city carved into the desert rocks, entry is now 50USD per person. I'm glad I went 30 years ago, when it was free and they didn't have 5-star hotels at the entrance.

Also a Belgian traveller I met on the 'plane told me he had visited Stonehenge: fence all round it, 7GBP to enter and.......worst of all........they had erected some of the stones lying on the ground, that had presumably lain like that for millenia, and plonked them in the ground upright, holding them in place using concrete! It makes you feel hollow in the pit of your stomach: someone, somewhere is making a small fortune out of making the human race pay huge sums to see artifacts which belong to....the human race.


For those interested, there is no cloud-seeding taking place over Israel or Palestine, at least since I've been here. The temperatures are high (over 20 again today) and this is supposed to be the rainy season.....it's dry as a dust bowl, and the fig, orange, pomegranate and olive trees look parched...



Wednesday, November 3, 2010

...please excuse typos, I can spell, it's just I'm not used to an Arabic keyboard!


Nablus is allegedly one of the oldest cities in the world, possibly established 9000 years ago (so the leaflet reads...). Named "Shechem" it was the capital of Samaria from the OLd Testament, home of the famous samaritans! In AD70 the Romans obliterated Shechem, and set up Flavbia Neapolis (New City) which was eventually corrupted to read 'Nablus. The city was destroyed again in AD636, by the conquering Arabs, who proceeded to convert Christian shrines to mosques.

The Old City dates back to Ottoman times, though there's even remains of a 7000-seater Roman ampitheatre just outside the city. Modern-day Nablus is the second-largest city in the West Bank, with 200,000 inhabitants, situated in the narrow valley between Mount Eibal and Mount Jarzeem, both amongst the highest peaks in the Holy Land.

Nablus has three refugee camps, the two largest being established in 1950 on a total of 115 acres with a combined population of 40,000 refugees. The population density is one of the highest in the world. There are schools run by the U.N. where children go to school in three shifts, due to the overcrowding.

At the entrance to Balata, the largest camp in the West Bank (20,000 people) there is 'Jacob's Well. This entry in the LOnely PLanet nearly had me choking on my coffee: "Jacob's Well is the spot where Christians believe a Samaritan woman offered Jesus a drink of water, and he then revealed to her that he was the Messiah (john 4:13-14)".

I don't know about you, but sometimes there is just to much Monty Python in the ol' memory banks to take this seriously. Maybe he wasn't the Messiah, just a very naughty boy, and we're still seeing the results of bad parenting all these years later?

Nablus, Palestine 3.11.10

Google in Arabic - now that's interesting! Well I arrived in Tel Aviv yesterday and managed to get in, despite being taken to one side for ten minutes to explain what I was doing there and why I had no hotel reservation. Thanks to the information given out by Project Hope, I had nothing 'incriminating' on me, but they were suspicious nevertheless, and are apparently even more aggressive when you leave if you cannot account for your actions:I can see I'm going to have to make up an incredible itinerary, even though I must be the only visitor to Jerusalem who isn't interested in visiting the sights.

Took a shuttle bus to Ramallah, from Damascus Gate, in the arabic side of the Old City. We drove for quite a awhile through the outskirts of Jerusalem, and I'm quite surprised to see how shabby it is:money from rich expats is not making it back to the city, and all quarters seem dusty, dry and worn-out.

Lots of crumbling buildings and patches of rubble, which I presume is evidence of various military activities over the years. Military checkpoints and the 8m-high wall mean you don't treat this uneasy peace with nonchalance, but all the locals appear to be trying to achieve some sort of 'normalcy'.

Changed bus in Ramallah, after receiving some wonderful hospitality from a mobile phone shop who took pity on an old woman who doesn't know how to use mobile phones and their networks.....a strong coffee and charged up phone later, and I was escorted to the bus station and helped to get on to the right one, as my mastery of the arabic alphabet matches my knowledge of hebrew: zero.

Anyway now happily showered, rested and pleased to be part of the team: I was met by the Director and shown the offices, people and given a briefing of Project Hope's objectives. I'll be part of an 18-strong International team, including French and German teachers, who will give lessons to students who come to the building from Nablus University, from the Hospital, High Schools etc. PH has been in operation since 2003, and has a wonderful building, donated by the owner, and is a locally-run organisation. We will be leaving the building to give lessons to women and children in the schools and refugee camps around Nablus. The lessons are free for students, who are asked for 50 shekels if they want to receive a certificate at the end of the course.

That's all for today, as there is a birthday party this evening for the German girl, whose birthday is today. The weather has been hot - mid-twenties today, and Hakim told me that this summer the temperature stayed consistently in the high 30's, reaching 45 a few times:this is evident from the vegetation, it looks very thirsty. The locals tell me that all of the food in the well-stocked markets comes from Israel, as in the West Bank they cannot produce enough for more than one month's supply. In the ten-day Eid holiday that is coming up, I've volunteered to help pick olives, and agriculture is something I'm going to try to find out about, as it is such an important sector of the economy - nowhere more than here.