Apartheid wall - oops sorry security fence.
As close as I could get to Yasser Arafat's mausoleum.
That wall again! It's twice the height the Berlin wall and much much longer.
I travelled in very arduous fashion from Amman, Jordan to Jerusalem on Friday May 5th 2005. The 45-minute bus ride took me to the King Hussein Bridge where I spent an hour going through Jordanian emigration, not much too it except a 5 dinar exit fee (about 3 pounds) followed by an awful 4-hour ordeal at the Israeli immigration. They seem to want to examine every article I had and while I don't think they squeezed my toothpaste they did squeeze and double up a tube of sunburn cream. They gave me the third degree regarding my writing profession wanting to know what papers and magazines I wrote for. I had unfortunately locked my keys inside my briefcase and the lock had to be cut open. Luckily my house keys were inside and so was my laptop which they showed considerable interest in. They particularly wanted to see a folder of photos about Taba in Egypt near the Israeli border, where there was a bad Al Qaeda attack last year. They carefully looked at the first six or so photos of the slide show and seemed satisfied. They seemed somehow dissatisfied with the return date on my KLM ticket from Amman to Edinburgh via Amsterdam. (May19th)
They said I had no return ticket to Amman and I said I wasn't sure exactly what day I was going back.
I was made to sit for 2 hours while they made `enquiries` presumably about what they thought was my terrorist past. I felt pretty humiliated as it seemed as if everyone else had got through except me but I was given the consoling farewell of only being the second last to be let in. I wandered about outside and first impressions were that it was like Jordan - which of course it used to be prior to 1967. I had rather banked on a companion to accompany me but I'm afraid being tired and lost I fell prey to the oldest trick in the book. A smiling taxi driver whose name was - would you believe Moses, approached me and offered to help. He took me back to his home for a meal and then drove me to Bethlehem. He found me a hotel and then asked for 100 JDs (Jordanian Dinars) - about $70 which I foolishly gave him. That was more than the fucking hotel! How could I have been so silly?
Bethlehem is just a few miles south of Jerusalem; Christians all over the world know it as the little town where Jesus Christ was born. Major attractions include the church of the nativity at the manger square and the chapel of the milk grotto. Southeast of Bethlehem lies Beit Sahour which is the scene of the fields of olives , well known as shepherds fields, the place where the angel announced to the shepherds the birth of Jesus Christ.
Worse followed the next day when he drove me to Jerusalem, which suggests he was an Israeli and not a Palestinian. He drove me round the small town of Bethlehem and its much larger neighbour Jerusalem. We then went to Ramallah a city which has a population of up 100,000 with the surrounding area with its city centre of stone lions. He reluctantly took me to Jericho which being 417 metres below sea level is very hot. I ventured into the Dead Sea and just floated aimlessly for half an hour. It takes three showers to get all the muck off you. He got another 200JD off me.
There is a limit to everyone’s gullibility and I think this Moses had never read the tablets of stone. `Thou shalt not steal` or something like that. He wanted to come the next morning to take me to Tel Aviv for a mere $300. A real bargain when you consider the bus fare is 17 shekel. (Maybe $5) I sat and argued with him for half an hour - very mildly at first and them gradually the argument became heated. I banged my fist on the table a large number of times and told him I wasn’t going to pay him any more fucking money and that he a was a liar and a cheat and a thief. The housekeeper came in and with great alarm and said `Please. Please calm, down` His demeanour changed and he tore up the request slip he had written and incredibly offered me a free ride to anywhere I wanted to the next day. I went to the tourist police in Bethlehem and they sympathetically took down all the details and said they would come early next morning and take him in for questioning. I had unfortunately threatened him with the tourist police the previous day and he phoned up the next morning and said he couldn’t come. He had obviously guessed they were waiting on him. Sadly, I was fleeced of around $400 and worse followed with a taxi driver who was a Palestinian called Adnan took me for a free meal - I was highly suspicious as of course I thought `here we go again` but he came the next day and drove me around some of the seedier areas of Bethlehem but not Jerusalem as he was definitely Palestinian. I expressed an interest in Jenin where there was terrible carnage in 2002 led by that great humanitarian General Shaul Mofaz. This Palestinian guy got someone he called his brother to drive me to Jenin and after a long and dusty drive we were confronted by two sneering Israeli soldiers who said we could not pass. I expressed my disappointment explaining I had travelled a long way but they pretended not to understand saying: "You Speek Eenglish?"
After a brief discussion with the driver we went to Tel Aviv which is often described as a Miami in Miniature. I found a modest hotel and stayed the night. I was really looking forward to going to Amman by plane from Tel Aviv but Royal Jordanian fly every day of the week -except of course Tuesday. El Al doesn't operate such a service nor does it appear anyone else.
I took 2 hours to find the Tourist Information office who like most Information offices know fuck all information about anything.
I eventually decided to go to Jerusalem by bus - had to through security first. The journey took about one hour. I then got a bus to the Allenby Bridge where I had hoped to cross over to Jordan -it was still fairly early evening but the bridge was closed and they would not make an exception for me. Eventually I had to get a taxi back to Johannesburg - another night in a hotel and then yet another taxi ride back to Allenby Bridge. It took 2 hours to get through their emigration and I had to pay 128 shekel for the privilege of five really shitty days. I cursed the country but was a little wary of the aggressive machine gun toting guard who seemed to love bullying people - Over there! This way! That Way!
It was a relief to get through to the Jordanian side - they were much more pleasant though there was slight confusion about buses and taxis. The usual horde of Taxi drivers insisted I go with them as there was no bus service. I wasn't going to be a three time loser so I asked a Jordanian security officer who kindly escorted me to where the bus that didn't exist went from. It was just 2 JD (Jordanian dinar) and there was a collection of 1.5 JD at the end - driver's tips. It was such a thrill to be back to a country which to me feels like home. I went straight to the Al Monzer hotel and was embraced by Jamil who is the manager. I got a room with a private bathroom straight way. I had a little coffee and food and we talked a while about how horrible the last five days had been. I went upstairs to bed at 1400hrs -2pm and slept right through till 0750hrs the next morning - that's around 30 hours sleep! And boy did I need it!
I have been moaning too much about my misfortune but of course what I suffered was just the loss of some of the bank of Scotland’s money. Still they'll understand won't they?
The Israelis especially the security staff were rude and arrogant and aggressive. They have the whip hand over the Palestinians. I found some of the Palestinians less friendly than I had imagined. Maybe they thought I was an Israeli. After all they live in a virtual prison whose walls are closing in all the time. I complained about some of the prices in Palestine and said Jordan was much cheaper but they said `you can’t compare Palestine and Jordan - everything in Palestine has to be imported from Israel meaning they can charge what they want.`
I shouldn't feel bitter I know - I should feel apprehensive as my next port of call may be Baghdad - it's only a possibility mind.
I attach some photos of the West Bank/Israel. Sorry I can't label them as I usually do as my laptop is broken and so is my digital camera.
Pity the poor Palestinians and Iraqis though whose suffering is infinitely greater.
Israelis, like Americans have an almost, mystical reverence for their flag and many houses shops, cars and taxis display at least one flag, often two. They both have an arrogant disdain for their neighbors be they Mexico or Canada in the US (where the hell is Canada anyway?) On a much more severe scale is the contempt the Israelis have for the Palestinians.
On Saturday 7th May I travelled around Bethlehem and Jerusalem and then went to Ramallah which is about 16km (10 miles) north of Jerusalem. It is sometimes known as "the bride of Palestine'' the twin cities of Ramallah and El Bireh are said to have a combined population of 100,000. I went to see Yasser Arafat's tomb though I couldn't get really close to it. The house of Palestinian leader Abu Mazen is well guarded with two helicopters close by. I said that I thought Ramallah was much bigger than I thought.
I asked a couple of local people for their views. I spoke to a young student “I asked what the people in the west could do to help the Palestinians?''
"Ramallah is my country. We are friendly people; we are welcoming to all visitors."
The roads are Israel are much better than in Palestine and it is much easier to cross a Palestinian checkpoint than an Israeli one. I interviewed a young female student from Jenin called Samana and I told her of how 500 people from Socialism in Scotland had effectively closed the Hilton hotel in Glasgow for two hours - the so-called `butcher of Jenin` Shaul Mofaz was staying there but will probably not be residing there again! She said Palestinians just wanted to live in peace.
From Ramallah we went to Jericho and the Dead Sea which at 417 metres below sea level (that’s 1,368 feet) is the lowest place on earth. Jericho, the so-called `city of palms `is the oldest inhabited city on earth. Dating back almost 12,000 years. Excavations at Tel al Sultan ruins show Jericho settlements as early as 10,000BC. No trip to Jericho would of course be complete without a visit to the Dead Sea. I am not the world’s greatest swimmer but I simply had to float on my back and paddle along. I swallowed a little of the sea water which I think is 34% salt. The tourist industry is much more developed on the Israeli side than the Palestinian side as the Israeli’s don't want tourists in Palestine.
I had hoped to visit the city of Jenin where there was a dreadful massacre in 2002 but on reaching the town two sneering soldiers turned us away.
I went on to Tel Aviv, Israel’s largest city, and will tell you about that later.
A number of photos are attached but I’m sorry the quality isn’t as good as usual. my digital camera and laptop both packed up and not being a mainstream reporter like Richard Littlejohn of the Sun who reportedly gets 15,000 pounds a week ("Oh gawd blimey look at the size of them , Phwoar!, we ought bomb all them bloody Arab pigs senseless. bloody asylum seekers getting benefits of 300 pounds a week while I have to manage on 15 grand a week, I mean it's not bleedin'on is it?")
I cannot replace my lost camera and laptop but I hope what I have cobbled together is of some interest and maybe just a little better than Richard (`you couldn't make it up) LitttleJohn.
I’m thinking of Baghdad but only thinking about it mind! More news later, Paul
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