Sunday, November 14, 2010


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.

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