I turned up in the holy lands (I call it that so as to stop people giving me a 20 minute lecture about whether or not there is a state of Israel or Palestine) on the 10th of Jan, 2006. 15 days before the elections for the Palestinian elections. The first thing I discovered was the joys of the Israeli immigrations. Before I’ve even made it from the plane to the terminal they were questioning me. For some reason they don’t seem to like people with Iraqi stamps in their passports.
“Who are you? Why are you here? How can you afford to be a tourist? What were you doing in Iraq? What’s your father’s name? Your grand fathers name? If you really are a tourist, why don’t you have any tour books? Why are you really here?
My answers resulted in me being interviewed by his boss, his boss’s boss and his boss’s boss’s boss. My bags being searched and x-
“Enjoy your stay in our peaceful land”!!!
As an ex squddie I can’t really blame them, I know about security etc, and having to obey orders, but for a while I was worried that I wouldn’t get in (“dear everyone who already booked a ticket, enjoy your stay, I’m back in my local pub in the UK”. Wouldn’t that go down well).
My first couple of days was spent in Tel Aviv, just recovering from the flight, getting a bad stomach (all part of the joy of travelling), wondering if I could hold on long enough to make the hour long drive to Jerusalem, and answering my first bit of hate mail.
I know I’m on the right track when people tell me how bad I am for working with kids from one community or another. The funny thing is I don’t work with Muslim kids, or Jewish, Christian, Israeli, English, black, white or sky blue pink kids with cute little yellow spots. All I work with is kids.
AND KIDS ARE KIDS ARE KIDS. THEY ALL WANT TO BE LOVED, ALL WANT TO BE HUGGED, AND ALL SUFFER AS A RESULT OF CONFLICT.
Let’s face it. Getting on a bus not knowing if there’s a suicide bomber on it is as traumatic as watching a plane, not knowing if its going to bomb your home or someone else’s. Conflict knows no borders or limits of age. And I’m here for kids, not politics.
My first week in the holy lands was met with rain and more rain. Why is it that when ever I go to a desert zone, it rains.
After two days in Tel Aviv I took a mini bus to Jerusalem. It’s only an hours drive but because it’s higher up, it’s a lot colder, and wetter.
In Jerusalem I stayed in the Jewish area. It’s a lot more relaxed here than I thought it would be. People don’t look tense or scared. Saying that there are signs of tension and conflict. Security at bus stops, metal detectors at café’s and bus stations. I had to laugh at Tel Aviv bus station. There was a solider, all in uniform and a bag over his shoulder. He put his bag through the x-
Getting address’s of n.g.o.’s etc proved to be a slow, difficult affair. Probably because of security (aid workers do get kidnapped, as happened to the British lady last month).
Eliyahu proved to be a great contact. He’s a Rabbi who’s heavily involved in the peace progress. When we were in Iraq he came over with a Imam for a day of prayers. And if you think we were brave going there, imagine what it was like for a rabbi.
After he’d given me addresses and emails my computer started playing up. So being sensible I brought 50 cd’s and put everything on them. Just as well as the next day my computer got memory diarrhoea and deleted everything, windows, word the lot. I took it to a really nice computer shop I know and they put windows and word back on it (my computer now says welcome in Hebrew) and I went to a café intending to spend the afternoon drinking coffee, smoking a ne-
(Still, these things were sent to try us)
I then had the embarrassment of having to go back to eleyahoo and asking him to take the time to go through all his files again. He didn’t even blink an eyelid, bless him.
Because it was so slow contacting folk in Jerusalem (mobiles that are never turned on, email accounts that just bounce, warchild netherlands that in 6 years of emails still steadfastly refuse to reply to a single email of mine, ever, (still, at least they are consistent, if nothing else) unicef who don’t have a list of n.g.o.’s,. I decided to take the unorthodox approach and said “blast it” (or words to that effect) and headed into the west bank, Palestine.
I went to a friendly town called Ramalla. I know the town was friendly because it was full of Arabs, the same race that kept me alive in the Iraq, a country that is covered with British and American killers.
The trip there involved taking a bus to an Israeli check point called Kalanda and walking unchecked into the west bank and then taking another bus to the centre of town. I wondered around without a clue of where I was going, checking out the prices of hotels etc and just getting a feel for the place. Then I decided it was time to meet nice people so I went to a café, ordered a ne-
Within ten minutes I’d met a young Palestinian who was wondering who I was, what I was doing here, and why I wasn’t scared. I explained to him about BOOMCHUCKA CIRCUS, our wish to work with kids from all communities, and my need to check out the local camps before the rest of the crew arrives.
He offered to take me to camps, after the elections and has since contacted me by phone to re-
After my day out in Ramalla, I headed back to Jerusalem.
On the Israeli side my passport was checked, and then rechecked.
Again my Iraqi stamp seemed to be a matter of interest, although why a stamp from an American and British run country should cause such interest is beyond me. Maybe its genuine concern for the children who you and I are starving to death (mal-
She seemed shocked at the idea and told me she hasn’t , that the Israeli soldiers would not let her pass even if she tried.
If people cant meet, how the heck can they get over their fears and find peace? Most people in the world want a peaceful life, it’s governments that don’t, but then governments tend to be run by the rich, people who own companies like ozzie, the Israeli gun company. AND MAYBE THAT’S WHY
I arrived at Tel Aviv airport to meet Andy but met the security man instead. He was standing outside the terminal and asked me why I was here and for my I’D. I told him I was meeting a friend and gave him my passport.
“Where’s this stamp from” he asked? I didn’t even look; I knew which one he meant.
“Iraq” I replied with a friendly smile.
“Wait here” he said and spoke on his radio in Hebrew “I just have to check with my boss” he said in a friendly manner
His boss arrived, looked at my passport, asked me some questions and then said o.k. and left.
I’ve never seen Andy, had no idea what he looked like and the chances are he didn’t know what I look like either, but I figured that if I wore my red and yellow coat and my juggling hat he’d know I’m me.
A blond haired, dreadlocked young man came through the barrier, smiled straight at me and said “Hi I’m Andy, you must be Peat”
“You recognised me then” I said
“Yes I saw your picture on the internet. What the **** is that balanced on your chin in one of the photo’s”?
“An A.K.47 assault rifle”
I like Andy. His easy to get along with and has a good sense of humour. Also it’s good to have someone with me when I’m running around sorting stuff out, remind me of things and kick my backside.
I took him to meet Ibrhim in Jerusalem. His a Muslim who works full time for peace. Travelling the world, talking and campaigning for people, regardless of religion, to love each other. A simple man who lives a simple life. Saying that I got a great photo of him with two mobile phones, one to each ear, as he was trying to arrange for a bunch of American Jews to come and meet with him in his home on the Mount of Olives. Unfortunately the group who organised their trip insisted on a man armed with a machine gun accompanying them every where. Ibrihim won’t allow weapons into his home, so they ended up meeting outside.
There was no need for the armed guard, no need at all. All it succeeded in doing was reinforcing the fear and mistrust that seems endemic here.
We went to a town in the west bank called Jericho, the oldest city in the world. And talked with a lady called Rowan.
She lissioned patently to us, despite the pain she was suffering from a large abses on a tooth and said that she’d arrange a weeks work for us in her town, and free accommodation (always a bonuses). Then we went into town for a ni-
We sat on a bouncany smoking and talking. Jericho is so much warmer than Jerusalem and the night air had a fresh smell to it.
Then, down the road there was a large commotion as supporters of hamas paraded along the street, celebrating their election victory.
Western governments are talking about removing funding because they don’t like the fact that demococy means people can be ruled by the ones THEY want, rather than the ones WE want. But from what I’ve seen (and I openly admit I don’t fully understand the politics here),
The ruling party, the fatur party, were very corrupt, several scandals have emerged. The people of Palestine voted for hamas, not because they are as armed and deadly as shin fain/ira (whom both bush and blair are happy to talk to, even though McGinnis, its youth and schools minister is a known terrorist and killer), but because they are more honest and less open to bribes. Which is a bit of a bugger if you’re a rich
Western country who use’s bribes to get what we want
The next day we headed up to the north of the west bank, to a place called Jenin
It took us two hours to get there, and we met with another local ngo and arranged to work with them, then, the business side of things done, we spoke about the general situation there, and that’s when he showed us the drawings.
I’m so sad to say that seen similar drawings before. After the genocide of Kosovo, the illegal war against the warm hearted people of Iraq, in Tamil Eelan and Beslan in Russia.
Drawings of hanged people, with blood red backgrounds, tanks, soldiers and dead families, a knife in a country that drips blood. Different children, different cultures, but still the same, sad drawings.
Despite the fact that I’ve seen it before, and had chance to prepare myself for them, my reaction was no different from Andy’s. Both of us had to fight back tears as we thought about the children who had committed their lives and fears to crawn and paper.
On the way back to Jerusalem another man in the mini bus introduced himself to us. His a Palestinian who works for world vision, an international ngo with a youth department. And we talked and exchanged calling cards. Then we came to a road block. The young soldiers there were polite and as helpful as they could be, but were under orders not to allow any Palestinian cars through, only Israeli ones. One soldier called me over and pointed to taxis on the other side of the road block, telling me that it’s quite o.k. for me to walk across and take another taxi, an offer we declined as we wanted to see what apertive means here, in the holy lands.
Eventually we turned around and headed off on another route, unfortunately this one too was blocked. Again we tried another road, on this one we met a check point manned by a tank and an arrogant little gobshite who not only uses his personality as a contraceptive, but also refused to let our friend from world vision pass.
As a member of an international registered ngo with a valid ngo id card our friend has certain rights afforded to him under the 4th of the Geneva conventions on the rights of humans. Including the right to unhindered travel.
This means that both it and its country were breaking international law.
At this point I need to point out that most Israeli’s that I have met hate what’s happening here and disagree with their countries policy and the way the international community refuse to do anything about it. Many I have met join hands with Palestinian protesters as they march against the wall. But the views of the majority here, like the views of the majority in Britain, mean little if anything to the ruling rich, especially where the highly profitable business of war and conflict is involved.
Eventually, after Andy’s sit in protest at that thing’s attitude (I can not call it a soldier as in my opinion soldiers only follow LAWFUL orders), we turned around again and tried yet another route.
In this land you haggle with people until a price is set, and when it’s set, its set, end of story. Which means that by now our poor taxi driver was probably losing money. Eventually he spoke with another minibus driver, and arranged for us to go with him (for no extra cost) as he wanted to turn around and head home. We changed taxi’s and headed on taking back roads that were less likely to be patrolled by Israeli soldiers.
It took us over 7 hours to do a 2 hour journey. Due in this time international law was ignored, people were humiliated and insulted, and guns were pointed at innocent, polite talking people like Andy and me. IS IT ANY WONDER THAT, AFTER YEARS OF BEING TREATED LIKE THIS, PEOPLE FIGHT BACK?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not condoning the interfader. I hate terrorising by people as much as I hate terrorising by governments. Today, as I was writing this, an Arab went crazy on a bus at the end of this street. Attacking people onboard the bus with a knife, then attacking those in the street. Something which I abhor, and which, due to the fact that it endangers civilian life, is also against the 4th convention. But unless people on both sides start treating humans as humans, how’s it ever going to end.
I can’t help thinking about a scene in the comic film “eat the rich”, where there is a siege in the Israeli embassy. The home secretary, gets the Israel ambasserter and the terrorist against the wall, knees one between the legs and says to the ambasserter
“you, give him his country back. And you (turning to the terrorist) get a hair cut and smarten your self up”.
At the time I found it so funny but now, after being here for a few weeks, I also think that that’s the attitude that’s needed if we, the western world, really want the war here to end
ANGELS Part Three
When God made man he sent some angels down to earth to be an example to us and to show us how to live. But this caused problems because their wings kept on getting caught up in brambles, or stuck in elevator doors, and besides, their wings took up too much room on buss and tube trains. So in the end the angels decided to take off their wings and walk amongst us, unnoticed in the rush hour crowds. This they promptly did, and still do. I know this because today I met one of them.
Her name is Tally and we’ve been emailing and talking on the phone for the last couple of weeks. She’s smaller than I imagined an angel to be, about 5 foot nothing, with grey hair and kind eyes, and she works as a teacher in a Steiner school in the north (If you don’t know what a Steiner school is, check them out, they are amazing places).
As part of the course work the students have to do a weeks community work, so Tally spent months and months arranging for them to work at a school in the village of Jaser a Zarka
Now Jaser a Zarka is not your average village by any standards, regardless of whether those standards are Israeli or Palestinian. To start with the fact that it’s inhabitants are black means that they are hated by all sides, both Arab and Israeli. Their origin is unclear but it’s generally believed that they were brought here long ago as slaves.
It’s known as the poorest village in Israel and is situated right next to one of the richest places in Israel. Because of the poverty Jaser a Zarka has a high crime rate, and violence, both domestic and criminal, is endemic. Also, because no one else will have anything to do with them, there is a lot of inbreeding, resulting in a high number of people with disabilities, both mental and physical.
It is home to the Arabic special needs school for the area, but most people from the surrounding area with special needs children won’t send them there as they deem the place as too dangerous.
And that’s where Tally and her 25, 16 year old Jewish students are staying and working, doing things like painting murals on walls, and meeting, interacting, and communicating with the local youth.
The amount of obstacles Tally had to overcome was awesome. The hate, fear, paper work and mistrust she had to contend with, frightening. Meetings about whose community the security guard should come from, Muslim or Jewish, local or from her school’s area. Will our children be safe in THEIR village? What happens if one of their children gets hurt in OUR village? obstacles and questions which you and I couldn’t even begin to imagine. But Tally, (being an angel and all), not only persevered, but over came these obstacles and eventually arranged for the weeks cross community work between two groups of the most wondrous angels of all… CHILDREN.
Then she heard about our tour and asked us to come and work there on the 6th. I said we couldn’t as that’s the day our 3rd performer (Theo) arrives in the country, but we could work on the 8th.
Theo turned up at the airport, spotted a man in a bright red and yellow coat and introduced himself to me. (To my lord and liege the Duke Henry Plantagenet (A.K.A. Kevin) I’d like to say thanks for the coat. It’s becoming quite famous in some quite infamous places). I’m sure I’ve met Theo before somewhere, but neither of us knows where. Again he, like Andy, is an easy person to get along with and has a good sense of humour. He’s been working in Sri Lanka with some of the same people I worked with in the Tamil area of the north and east, and has heard about me (but decided to join us anyway).
We drove back (in a borrowed car) to a friend’s place. He’s inherited a warehouse and has turned it into an “open space”, for like minded people. Once there Theo dumped his kit and then Mette, Theo, and I went into Tel Aviv town.
We met Mette in the hostel in Jerusalem. She is young (19) with blond hair, pale skin, and was being very quiet, too quiet. So quiet in fact that we soon realised that she must be Danish.
Truth is she was working in Palestine when a Danish paper decided to insult Allah, so she had to leave until it calms down (if it ever does). But Jerusalem isn’t the place to hide from religious sorts. So being the kind hearted folk that we are, we kind of adopted her and took her along with us. (“Dear mummy, the Muslims are no problem, but I’ve been kidnapped by clowns and am being held for ransom. If You ever want to see me again, then please send 200 custard pies to the following address”)
The next day (7th) was spent practicing some BOOMCHUCKA routines, like the music box and the two man juggle routine (for more info on them, check out the reports from our Iraqi tour), and working out a running order. Then on the 8th, after a days practice, we went for it.
We drove to Jaser a Zarka and knew we were in the right village as the roads were in a bad state of disrepair and the buildings were of a more shabby nature. An awesome storm was gathering and the wind was blowing hard, giving the place the deserted feel of a western frontier town like “high noon” or “dodge city”. It also meant that the show had to happen inside, in a classroom with a low ceiling, not a good thing for a juggler, and worst still for a staff spinner like Andy.
“Yep” I said to Tally with an air of confidence that was totally false “we can work here, no problem.”
We got changed in the next room, went through the running order one more time, took a deep breath, and went for it.
Thanks to the lap top computer that was donated by CHRIS HARRIS, and the speakers that were donated by TONY SIMMS, we had amplified music, always a good thing when one doesn’t speak the lingo. But as loud as the music was, it wasn’t loud enough to cover up the screams of a 15 year old girl.
She wasn’t screaming because the show was so bad (I hope) or because she was in pain, she was screaming because for some people with special needs, that’s the only way they can communicate. So I paid her little heed and carried on watching the show with a critical eye. Only afterwards did we learn the truth.
The show was a success and only afterwards did I tell Tally that it was our first one and that we only started to learn it yesterday. She was surprised, but not as surprised as I was when she told me about the little girl.
Like I said, her screams were just an attempt to communicate, and as such no big deal. Until you discover that in 15 years she’s never made a sound, not one, until today that is, when she saw our show.
Sometimes people ask me how I handle the horrors that I’ve seen in this job, and how can I carry on doing it. Graveyards full of children, ethnically cleansed villages etc. Hell, sometimes I ask myself the same question. Then every now and then, not every tour, not even every year, but just every now and then, the divine truly bless’s me by allowing me to witness a real, honest to goodness miracle. And knowing that the little girl chose that day and our show to try and communicate, was one of those times.
It doesn’t matter what happens now, because of that little girl the whole tours worth it. All the time, effort, headaches and fears I’ve had over the past few months was worth it for that one pure and simple miracle. And I’d like to give a big THANK YOU and loads of BOOMCHUCKA’S to ANDY and THEO whose shows brought about that miracle, and also to a lovely angel called TALLY, whose dreams and pure refusal to fail made it all possible
That afternoon, as the storm clouds gathered ever darker in the sky above us, we played games with local youths and Tally’s students in a community hall, using one of the parachutes we’d been donated by THE ANNE HARRIS CHILDREN’S FUND (www.anneharris.org) Then they had a disco and, as we sat there, too old to dare and try to be trendy enough to dance, we saw a beautiful sight. Children dancing and laughing together. Not as Muslim and Jewish children. Not as Israeli and Palestinian children, BUT SIMPLY AS CHILDREN. And it’s a shame that the politicians of the world weren’t there to see it. For in that innocent and joyful moment called youth, did I truely see the wisdom of the ancients, the wisdom of brotherhood, of love, and of course, of laugher.
And Again I’d like to thank a very special angel called Tally. Not just for making it possible, but also for inviting me to come and see it.
NOT THE NEWS
Today, as I sit writing my report on East Jerusalem, a Palestinian family in the Jenin area mourns the death of their 10 year old daughter. According to the army, the car her father was driving didn’t slow down at a check point. According to her father, the army didn’t give him chance to slow down. Whatever the case maybe. The fact is that when the bullets entered her skull, another innocent life was lost to the madness of politics, called war.
You won’t hear about it on I.T.N. or B.B.C. news. Why should you? It’s not as if she’s an American or British adult who had a choice about joining the army, or a freedom fighter or terrorist who made a conscious decision to pick up a gun. She is (was) just an innocent child, one of thousands the world over who are born into and killed by, conflict.
I don’t know if she was one of the many children who watched our show a few weeks earlier and, if the truth be known, I don’t want to know (for down that road lies nightmares and madness). All I know is that if the media in Europe put as much energy into reporting on and showing footage of the war here, as they do the war in Iraq. Then we, the British people would put pressure on our government to change our policy towards the two governments here. And that would affect the British companies that make the weapons and other tools of apartheid that are used here on a daily basis.
So the empty place at her family’s dinner tables, like the empty desk in her classroom, go unnoticed by us, the so called civilised west. But to her family and friends I give my sincere and heart felt condolences, and to my government, whose policies allow this situation to continue, my sincere and heart felt contempt.
Jerusalem is a modern thinking city where Jews and Arabs live side by side in relative peace, unless you look behind the scenes that is, or to be more precise, East Jerusalem.
East Jerusalem is not part of the west bank and as such does not come under the control of the Palestinian authority; instead it’s technically controlled by the Israeli government. The trouble is that, because it’s inhabited by Palestinians, they’d rather it wasn’t there. So there’s no police etc to keep law and order in a community where poverty and state enforced restriction of movement means that boredom is endemic.
Boredom and state oppression nearly always bring about the same results, a feeling of self worthlessness and inability to change your situation. This results in drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence and religious fanaticising. The belief that the balance between “the cause” and your own “self worthlessness” is so one sided that “yes, the cause is worth blowing myself up for”. The result is a refugee camp with wild children, the sort that are fun to work with and make this job so interesting.
It was Friday, which meant that there was a bigger than normal amount of people on the bus to there camp (Friday is a holy day to Muslims and they’d been to “the dome of the rock”, a very holy mosque in the old town). But we persevered and eventfully, cramped and crowded, 4 clowns arrived at sul fit camp.
The show was to be held outside, in a children’s centres playground just inside the camp and around 150 children were already there waiting for us.
The children were excited and rowdy but good natured when we arrived, and what stone throwing there was, was done softly and without malice (I think). Almost as if it was a habit, one they think is expected of them.
They really enjoyed the show, even Matt’s part went down well, and one group, in the left-
After the show we chatted with the youth workers and arranged to come back the next day to run workshops, teaching the youth worker’s such things as parachute games etc. Then we took the bus back to the town centre. On the way we had to stop at a check point. They only really check people entering the Jewish areas, not leaving them. I guess that’s because they don’t care if an Israeli is planning to attack Palestinians, only the other way round.
The young blonde female soldier who checked our passports had a stern look on her face which, mixed with her uniform just made her look more sexy (sorry, but it did). She started asking Andy about his visa (he hasn’t got one. He asked the airport not to stamp his passport so they stamped a piece of paper instead. Then they ripped it up, knowing he’d get crap for it. His reply was to glue a picture of “Winne the Poo” in his passport and tell them that’s his visa). I tried to intervene by commenting on her ear rings and how nice they were (well, you never know your luck, and I am a sucker for uniforms). But she managed to ignore my advances with a self discipline that the army would be proud of. However, she did leave soon as she could, probably due to the fact that her will was weakening (well, a man can dream). So, heart broken, I carried on back to the town centre and the FAISAL HOSTEL near Damascus gate.
The Faisal is a great place, I really like it. It’s always full of European activists and independent journalists. This means that there are always people there with their ear to the ground. People who know what’s happening and can advise us on how to travel, what to watch out for etc, always a handy thing. It cost 25 shekels a night (8 shekels =£1) and comes with free internet access. Compare this with the 10 shekels an hour the internet cafes cost and you soon realise that I’m saving money by staying there.
The Faisal hostel is run by an amazing man called Hisham. His name means “the chosen one”, quite appropriate when you realise that he was born on the 25th of December.
I’m not the one to comment on his past. It’s enough to say that he now believes that non violent direct action is the path he should follow. As such he was a founding member of the I.S.M. (International Solidarity Movement, an organisation that supports Palestian’s rights).
His very, VERY well connected, so when he tells someone “I’m watching you” (In a nice way) you feel a lot safer. Some friends of mine, who once worked in Gaza, returned to find out that Hisham knew more about their movements than they did!!!
And sometimes, when it’s been one of those days. When the show wasn’t that good, or the organising was crap, when internal politics get you down. To come back to the Faisal and see Hisham’s beaming face and hear him say “Peat, I love you more”. Does more for me than anything else here, even the beer.
I feel not just lucky, but also proud to know him and list him as one of the few people I call “habibi”.
The days workshops was a big success (Here I have to admit that the juggling workshops were not my idea, they came from the rest of the group). They learnt parachute games and juggling, and Theo spent some time repairing a broken wire mesh fence which had sharp bits sticking out.
Then in the afternoon some kids turned up and we hung out with them. No longer performers, now mates (and as such, not to be stoned).
Then they had a mock wedding, two youngsters getting married. It was so much fun, with posh dresses and a really good, cool child drummer. Lots of hand clapping and dancing. The bride was a wicked dancer (I’ve included a picture of her in the attachments). It was one of those special moments, made even more magical by it’s spontaneity. One I’ll never forget.
And as I stood there, amazed by their zest and fire for life, and the way that those who have nothing, not even hope, always seem to the one’s that laugh easiest. I realised that it was a stark reminder of a belief that I hold close to my heart. That all children, regardless of race or religion, irrespective of political and economic status, all children are just that, i.e. CHILDREN
Isn’t it a shame that, whoever killed a 10 year old girl (and half a dozen other kids since I’ve been here), doesn’t feel the same. And that we; the powerful west, do so little to enlighten him.