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Celebration at the Western Wall

They never give up, do they? First day of the snow storm and Jews were still coming up to the Western Wall to celebrate Bar Mitsvah’s like every Thursday.

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Winter in Jerusalem: a laughable concept? No, I’m serious. This is real winter.

Good evening everyone,

I have planned to spend the first half of the year 2014 in Montreal, Canada. Some of you might already be aware of that. What nobody could have guessed and what I certainly wasn’t expecting when I booked a one-way plane ticket to Tel Aviv was that Canada would be greeting me a little early… To be more precise a certain element of Canada would be greeting me early: the snow.

I mean seriously, people don’t talk about the Middle East for it’s snow storms, do they? And yet I am sure that it is one of the most vivid memories I am going to take home (partly because my shoes are still drying from my little outing yesterday, I am now absolutly positive that I have used these trainers too much as I have had confirmation that there are holes in them).

On Wednesday, it was heavily raining all day, and the drops were pounding my velux window so hard that at night, I hardly got any sleep at all before 2am. So when I woke up and heard nothing but silence on Thursday morning, I expected to go down to the kitchen and see bright light shining through the windows. But mother nature had decided otherwise: it was 8’30am and flowers where already covered in a thick layer of snow, big snowflakes were falling in mass from the sky (or should I say skies, because there was so much snow falling that I really don’t think one sky was enough for that), and the trees were being pushed around by the wind in every direction. 

A little suprised, I took me a few minutes to remember that I was in Jerusalem. That I only have summer clothes a part from a couple of pairs of jeans and a single wolly sweater. I looked in my refrigerator: nothing adequate for breakfast. For a few minutes I thought going down the street to get some milk and cereales, but I looked out the window again and decided to improvise a chicken sandwich instead. 

Too restless to quietly sit down at my desk and start working on my university report (no, I’m not looking for excuses to get away from it… okay yes, maybe sometimes), I loged on my facebook account, and sure enough, my home page was covered of photos of the snow from all over Palestine. That put an end to my “I must be dreaming” theory. 

Around lunch time, the snow had stopped and I decided to go out on a little adventure. Just to take pictures, to prove that I’d been there and seen it. Just like when I want to take pictures of soldiers. Well maybe not exactly like that, but you get the idea. I walked up to road to my favorite and secret viewpoint from which I can see a good part of Jerusalem including the Dome of the Rock, and I took a few shots. I walked bak down the road and feeling like it wasn’t so cold after all I decided to be even more adventurous: why the hell wouldn’t I just enjoy the day and go and have good look round the old city? I’m going to tell you now: this was crazy. Yes, I was very merry for a few minutes. But sure enough, before I even reached Jaffa gate which is barely 20min walk from my place, my hear was soaked, my cheeks lookes like I had tears streaming down them from the snowflakes drying on my face, and my footsteps sounded like I had just come out of a swimming pool. With shoes on. But I stubbenly persued my route deep into the old city, where the already melting snow was falling in cascades from the roofs into the souks. But I got what I wanted: I got a picture of the Jewish cemetery under the snow, of the Damascus Gate, of the Dome of the Rock, and more exctingly, I got pictures of actual palm trees covered in snow. 

On my way back home, I naively decided to walk along the main road instead of sticking close to the remparts of the old city. Naive, because I had forgotten how Israeli drivers are: rude and unconsiderate of anything around them. They were not considerate of me and they were not considerate of the giant freezing water puddles they were very quickly driving through. I’ll let you mix up this idea and imagine how that went. The result was that I was simply soaked in melted snow by the time I got home. 

Note to myself before I go to Canada: gloves and a wooly are not bonus, they are necesary. And a waterproof coat would be good as well. As a matter of fact, everything waterproof would be good (it took hours for my jeans to dry off). 

Just a few days ago, my co-worker was talking about an upcoming snow storm, and I honestly thought she was delirious. Today she seems to be the wisest person I’ve ever met. I wish I had listened to her when she advised me to go out and stack up on food before the storm came. A wise person who sounds delerious to me… no, I swear, I’m not talking about my mum. Not this time anyway.

 

Today is Friday night, second day of the snow storm and as I’m writting this, I can hear the wind whistling outside. I am not ashamed to say that a part from a 10 min outing to the shop down the street to get some more than needed food, I was wise and decided to stay inside the whole day.

The snow storm is supposed to last for three days, so hopefully I’ve seen the worst of it. I’m trying to look at the bright side: this is like bootcamp before landing in Canada in the middle of the winter.

I never thought I would be so inspired to write just because of a few snowflakes, but I find it oddly comforting to be able to ramble on about womething as trivial as the weather when I’ve been living in a more than conflicted zone for the past five months.

Anyway, I wish you all a good night from my happily over-heated bedroom.

Thanks to mum and dad for giving me the idea to write about this after they heard me complain about the snow for half an hour.

Salam, Shalom, and more importantly, have a look at the few pictures I was brave enough to go out and take yesterday. I appologize for the quality of some of the photos, it was hard to keep my camera dry.

If you think that’s not enough snow for me to have written all this about, remember this was just around midday yesterday, the first day of the snow storm. It’s become much worst since. Can’t wait to see what tomorrow is going to bring.

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What it feels like to be Palestinian – Fun time at Qalandiya checkpoint.

Last Friday, I took the bus as usual to go back to Jerusalem from Ramallah. As it was Friday, I had to get off the bus at the checkpoint and walk, because there were no buses going directly from Ramallah to Jerusalem. That means I had to walk through the terminal.

When I got inside and saw that there were not many people, I was quite happy: sometimes when there are thirty people or so, it can take two hours. Anyway, I walked through and got to the security check. I ringed as I went under the metal detector. So I went back and through again without my belt. It ringed again. So I took my shoes off and walked through again. It didn’t ring, thank God the soldiers stopped thinking I was an armed terrorist. I showed my passport and this 18 or 19 year old soldier asked for my visa, which I showed. He looked at it, frowned, and mumbled in Hebrew to his colleague. She shrugged her shoulders, and the soldier told me “I can’t let you through with this visa. It’s from Arava, you need to go through Arava checkpoint”. I tried to explain to him that Arava is not a checkpoint, it’s the border down South between Israel and Jordan, and I also told him that I had already been through Qalandiya with this visa, but he kept repeating like a robot “I can’t let you through, go through another checkpoint”.

I gave up, put my shoes back on and went to the car park to take a taxi enabling me to go through another checkpoint, which costs 10 times the price of a regular Ramallah-Jerusalem bus ride.

When I told that story to a friend of mine in the evening, he said there had been many clashes at the Qalandia refugee camp, nearby the checkpoint, and the checkpoint had been closed in the afternoon. The next day, when I went back to Ramallah and crossed the checkpoint again, there was a big fire and black smoke coming from burning tires. Never ending story.

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Bedouin music in Wadi Rum, Jordan (October 2013)

Here are little musical clips from my trip to Jordan in October.

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A Middle East Without Weapons of Mass Destruction: A Palestine-Israel Journal conference in Jerusalem

New article on the PIJ website on the PIJ conference about A Middle East Without Weapons of Mass Destruction: http://www.pij.org/details.php?blog=1&id=244

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FOUR SPOTS IN ISRAEL

Back in September, I took a long day trip up the north cost of Israel and visited fours different spots :

– The ancient roman ruins of Caesarea

– The view of the Bahá’í Gardens in Haifa

– The city of Akko (Acre)

– Rosh Hanikra, at the border with Lebanon

Here are a few pictures and explanations.

1) The ancient roman ruins of Caesarea

Caesarea Maritima  is a national park on the Israeli coastline, north of Tel Aviv. The ancient Caesarea Maritima city and harbor was built by Herod the Great about 25–13 BCE. The city has been populated through the late Roman and Byzantine era. Its ruins lie on the Mediterranean coast of Israel, about halfway between the cities of Tel Aviv and Haifa, on the site of Pyrgos Stratonos.

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Caesarea Maritima was named in honor of Augustus Caesar. The city was described in detail by the 1st-century Roman Jewish historian Josephus. The city became the seat of the Roman prefect soon after its foundation. Caesarea was the “administrative capital” beginning in 6 CE. This city is the location of the 1961 discovery of the Pilate Stone, the only archaeological item that mentions the Roman prefect Pontius Pilate, by whose order Jesus was crucified.

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The emperor Vespasian raised its status to that of a colonia. After the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE, Caesarea was the provincial capital of the Judaea Province, before the change of name to Syria Palaestina in 134 CE, shortly before the Bar Kokhba revolt. In Byzantine times, Caesarea remained the capital, with brief interruption of Persian and Jewish conquest between 614 and 625. In the 630s, Arab Muslim armies had taken control of the region, keeping Caesarea as its administrative center. In the early 8th century, the Umayyad caliph Suleiman transferred the seat of government of the Jund Filastin from Caesarea to Ramla.

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2) The view of the Bahá’í Gardens in Haifa

The Bahá’í Gardens in Haifa comprise a staircase of nineteen terraces extending all the way up the northern slope of Mount Carmel. The geometry of the complex is built around the axis connecting it with the City of ‘Akko, which also has great historical and sacred significance for Bahá’ís. At its heart stands the golden-domed Shrine of the Báb, which is the resting place of the Prophet-Herald of the Bahá’í Faith.

While different parts of the gardens offer a variety of experiences, they speak in a common language of graveled paths, hedges and flower beds groomed and nurtured by dedicated gardeners.  The gardens frame panoramic views of the city, the Galilee Hills and the Mediterranean Sea.

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3) The city of Akko (Acre)

Acre is a city in the northern coastal plain region of northern Israel at the northern extremity of Haifa Bay. The city occupies an important location, as it sits on the coast of the Mediterranean, linking the waterways and commercial activity with the Levant. Acre is one of the oldest continuously inhabited sites in the world.

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4) Rosh Hanikra grottoes, at the border with Lebanon

Rosh HaNikra is ageologic formation in Israel, located on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, in theWestern Galilee. It is a white chalk cliff face which opens up into spectacular grottos.

The Rosh HaNikra grottos are cavernous tunnels formed by sea action on the soft chalk rock. The total length is some 200 metres. They branch off in various directions with some interconnecting segments. In the past, the only access to them was from the sea and experienced divers were the only ones capable of visiting. Today a cable car takes visitors down to see the grottos.

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My favorite spot in Jerusalem

One of my favorite places in Jerusalem is one where I can just go and sit quietly with a book, listen to music, or just dream a bit while I watch people walk by, or lie down in the grass and close my eyes in the sun or in the shade, depending on my mood… It’s a little green spot just outside Jaffa gate and at the foot of the city walls, where you get a great view of the King David Hotel. 

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