Ben Granby Report From Palestine - #1
After two days of being under seige by a spectacular snowfall, I've finally returned to Palestine.
Yesterday it was determined that the roads were still too clogged from Amman to make it to the Israeli border along the Jordan river. So I bunkered down for yet another day trapped in a hotel. It made a total of 6 nights after I had hoped to only spend two there at most.
Tara arrived on the 23rd, a day late to join me in Palestine. Then her luggage was delayed, and finally on the morning we planned to set out, the snows had fallen. Yesterday we ventured out into a city completely closed down and in shock due to the freak weather. Clearly, even after 48 hours of the blizzard, no one in Jordan owned a shovel, let alone a snowplow. People were using brooms and squeegies to skirt the snow away.
Today though we made it out and reached the Israeli border. I had never entered Israel/Palestine through a land route before, but I expected it to be as bad as the airport. Tara and I settled on stories, especially as we were relying on each other as cover since Israel has been deporting young lone travellers for fear that they may work to expose Israel's occupation.
I was set for the usual questions: what are you doing here? have you been here before? do you know any arabs? are you Jewish (my Hebrew middle name gives it away)? You've been to Syria, dont you know they don't like our kind there (well, maybe if you didn't show up with guns...)? And so forth.
Thankfully, however, they didn't give me much of a problem and I only had to be subjected to some basic questions at passport control. It was notable though that they were issuing temporary entry visas, instead of the blanket 3 month ones that they used to. I got two weeks.
We shared a taxi with an overly talkative Christian peace activist who kept giving his opinion on Iraq. I didnt mention that I had just come from there, as this was the type of fellow who would glom onto a person and never shut up. In the taxi he posed his solution to the Palestine crisis -- buy a bunch of land in Africa and give it to the Palestinians. Even the Hebrew studies major from America in the front seat turned around and said that people have historical connections to land. Tara then spoke up and noted how the Zionists were originally offered land in Africa 100 years ago and turned it down. "Well, I dont know if any Palestinians would go for my idea," the man went on. "But I just thought it would make things easier." The peace movement really doesn't need such naivity...
Jerusalem looked just as I had last seen it. Although it seemed weakened by the gloom of the rain and snow. It was a depressing drive from the border along the settler-only highway, passing by several new Israeli colonies being built. The arab villages looked incredibly sad, with several dozen communities of shacks and tents for sheep herders. I pointed out to Tara the areas where the Palestinian roads had been dug up and blockaded, preventing their free movement.
We made our way to the Faisal Hostel by the Damascus gate of the Old City. The once quaint but cheap backpackers sanctuary had succumbed to the rain and snow, with its entire commons room flooding the day before. It's now cold, damp and miserable. But it's still a critical place to find out the latest info on what Palestinian cities are under total lockdown, and how it is possible to get in and see people.
But with Tara having so little time here (she returns to the US on the 4th), I don't have much chance to give a full tour. I think tomorrow we will go to Gaza, where it's much hotter - both literally and in terms of the occupation. One day in Rafah, gazing upon the moutains of demolished homes and pulverized futures is enough to give anyone a crash-course on life in Palestine.
[Further 2003 reports, with photos, are posted at http://www.devo.com/mideastlog/.
Reports from Palestine by Ben since 2002 may be found via author search at Electronic Intifada.]