Thursday, 1 March 2012

Blow-out in the Holy Land


It’s a dreadful day – the third day of gales, rain and occasional hail. Palestine is shut down – people can’t handle bad weather like this and just huddle at home, toughing it out, almost as if it’s a curfew from the intifada ten years ago. They just go quiet. Hope Flowers School downstairs is closed, silent. The poor heating and insulation of houses – many of them flat-roofed – serve people badly at times like this. Phones and roads go quiet. It becomes an endurance test, accompanied by the music of the wind howling through the gaps between the windows. Being a mountain area, the West Bank is showing its vulnerability to bad weather. Well, at least it’s not as cold as the bad weather of January.

Even I, a rather hardy character from Britain, a former mountaineer, am getting a bit worn down. I mean, it’s okay really – in my life I’ve had lots of tough stuff, and I’ve generated good attitude, which is one reason I’m quite good at dealing with the socio-political issues of Palestine. But still, if I had a magic wand, I’d magic up something different. On the positive side, I guess this must be calming some of the fighting in Syria, not very far away.

I look over the valley and the separation wall at the settlement outpost of Givat HaGadan over there – it’s on the left of the only picture I’m posting today (sorry). There’s another outpost just round the corner, higher up on top of a hill, and it’s enveloped in grey, wet cloud. Poor sods. I know some people might think it politically incorrect to sympathise with a bunch of settlers who have stolen and occupied Palestinians land but, right now, I think they’re having a hard time. They live in caravans and portakabins, which are probably being buffeted around and hammered by the sleety rain, shaken by the gusty gales.

Isn’t it ironic? Rain falls on saints and sinners alike. The Day of Judgement hath come upon us, seemingly, and we’re getting frayed at the edges, rattled and shaken. Well, at least Palestinian houses are mostly made of thick concrete, and at least we’re not under heavy shelling. God’s having a laugh, reminding his little children what’s really what. Or perhaps we have a case of climate change – this weather wasn’t part of anyone’s plans, I suspect.

So I’m busy getting on with work. Just been wading through an article by a human rights lawyer about the statistics of the dead in Syria – Deraa, the nearest Syrian town and one of the centres of the trouble there, is only about 200km away. The writer is reviewing the figures and finding many faults with it, both with the numbers of dead (they could be fewer than what we’re being told) and with the counts of who is dying, on what sides (yes, there are multiple sides, not just two). For example, she found that Palestinians killed in border protests in Lebanon against the Israelis last May-June have been included in the statistics, and a number of cases have been counted twice, and that propaganda and emotional claims from both sides could be swelling the numbers. There’s no clear answer to this, though it’s still true that people are dying, and these are real people, members of families and loved ones of the living.

I’m also preparing for my return to Britain. There are lots of hassles and complexities to deal with – even down to whether I can find someone to meet me at Gatwick airport when I arrive at 4am, or whether I just need to get on the train and do a six hour journey to Cornwall straight away, and whether there’s somewhere there to stay when I get there. I’m sure it will all work out, but I’m at that phase where I need to start knocking things into shape so that I know what’s happening and have a plan. I won’t be in a state to engage with a lot of complexity immediately when I return – I shall need to camp down and decompress from Palestine, gather myself together and prepare to meet the British world. Soon, I’m even going to have to travel up to Ramallah to get a visa to pass through Jordan for a day or two, bureaucratic as the Jordanians can be. What fun.

Bless him, Ishmael rang me just now to ask whether I’m alright. Apparently snow is expected tonight. He offered to come round and take me out to the shops. Apart from running out of milk for my British-style cups of tea, I’m fine and stocked up, and I don’t feel like going out in this, getting wet just to assuage worries about a shortage of milk. Instead, I feel like taking a long, hot bath and then sitting by a log fire with some friends – fat chance!

I’m a bit concerned about Morgan, a friend up in Al Aqaba in the northern West Bank. She was going to come down to visit, but she contacted me yesterday to say she’s just gone down with the flu, and she was feeling rotten. Half of the nation seems to have caught flu. She’s a brave soul, an American who’s really dedicated to her work in Al Aqaba. But it’s quite an isolated village, high up on the edge of the Jordan Valley, and I hope people there are taking care of her. I suspect she needs a bit of looking after right now – emotionally, when you’re suffering flu, mixed emotions come up, and one of them can be the simple, almost baby-like yearning to go home to Mummy. Especially when the wind is raging around, making us humans feel small and vulnerable. Her phone is switched off. Just as well I’m a bit psychic – I’m sending her supportive vibes.

Well, at least it’s not the Israelis! Yes, good old Allah, he’s giving us a further initiation into the deeper meaning of life. I guess he’s handed over the other side of the job to his good friend and other half, Yahweh, who’s giving the same lesson to Israelis. In this land, God must be a Gemini, displaying two sides, just to add spice to our experiential gleanings from life. Unless you want to bring the Christian God into the equation too – in which case we’re up to three. Though the Christians, or at least, some of them, have a triune God (Father, Son and Holy Ghost), so that makes five. Add the Catholic Mother Mary and we’re up to six. Hang on, whatever happened to monotheism? Then we have the non-God of the seculars, who are sometimes just as dogmatically fanatical and fundamentalist as religious extremists, so that makes seven. Now that’s a decent number to stick to. Yes, let’s stay with seven. No wonder the wind is gusty – they’re all blowing in different directions.

The electricity is still on. Usually when there’s wind and rain we get a power cut. Something is happening right – and I’m still online! I’m also glad to report that the Japanese-financed rain-collection system at the school, harvesting rain from the school playground, filtering and storing it in an enormous cistern just down the hill near the school’s mini-farm, is busy storing up plenty of water for the dry season, which starts in May and lasts through to November. So, to conclude, here’s wishing you holy greetings from Palestine. All is just about well in the Holy Land – well, if you’ve got the right attitude. We’ll live to see another day.