Skiing Down the West Bank
A personal impression
OK, I admit it. I had my doubts. Plenty of doubts. What business does a ‘colourful street orchestra’ from Amsterdam have going on tour to Palestine of all places?
What could we possibly have to offer the people there? And isn’t it all just a totally messed-up situation anyway, with all kinds of arguments for – and against – both sides? The reality on the ground has changed my view in just a few short days. But don’t take my word for it. Why not come and find out for yourself? I think you’ll find it just as surprising, amazing, delightful, appalling, bizarre, hilarious, tragic, inspiring, mystifying, exhausting and energising as I do.
A Geordie in Jordan
The Blue Fig. A trendy but soulless coffee bar in Amman. First gig of the tour. Sophisticated ‘modern’ clientele. When we told them we were going to Palestine they went bananas (or should I say they went figs?). ‘V’ signs in the air. Wild applause. Good omens…
Allenby Bridge Too Far
The border crossing between Jordan and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. A somewhat less friendly reception than in Amman! A long time waiting in a hot, hot bus, then our luggage is X-rayed and we are all asked some more or less searching questions. What is the purpose of our visit? We’re a band. Where are we going? Jerusalem. (Don’t mention the West Bank!) Then another passport check, and another, and another. But it was all worth it for this priceless exchange:
Israeli border guard: ‘Do you have a gun?’
Mark: ‘What do I need a gun for? I’m a musician!’
I’ll use that later in one of my between-tunes announcements. Cheers, Mark!
Anyway, we all made it over the border with a minimum of hassle. And stepped straight into a bus that took us through stunning desert landscape to... the West Bank of course! (It’s all right, we can mention it now.) An easy passage for us foreigners. A different story for the people who this land actually belongs to, and who have to go through this kind of process, and much worse, every day of their lives.
Nothing to do with snow, alas. ‘Snowbar’ is the Arabic word for the pine trees that form the setting for this trendy, but this time truly cool, open-air bar/restaurant. Lamps in the trees. Cushions and sofas forming an amphitheatre against the hillside. Groups of friends sharing a nargileh water pipe and a cold Taybeh, Palestine’s own beer. My kinda place! Our kinda place! We could be in Italy, or the South of France, and it’s hard to remember that we’re in an area that’s been under military occupation for decades.
In fact Ramallah in general is my kinda place! Relaxed, open, friendly, sophisticated. A millions miles away from the images of stone-throwing youths and radical clerics that have helped to colour my preconceptions. Which are rapidly being overturned. For example by the woman who told me after the gig that the whole of Ramallah was once shaded by pine trees, but because the town is now fenced in by Israeli ‘security’ measures the trees have had to be cut down to provide building materials. Or by the Stars and Bucks coffee bar which bears more than a passing resemblance to another establishment with a similar name. I can highly recommend their Ice Latte Macchiato.
On the Bus to Nablus
As we drive to our gig, our endlessly knowledgeable, infectiousness inspirational and unfailingly cheerful guide and all-round ‘fixer’ (who shall remain nameless here for essential security reasons… oh, all right then, it’s the wonderful Kristel!) explains about checkpoints, roadblocks, A/B/C areas, identity cards, the ever-expanding Jewish settlements and ever-shrinking Palestinian lands. The oppression, the humiliation, and the downright unfairness of it all. I won’t bore you with the details here (and I don’t know enough to do so anyway). You can find out more for yourself. Please do. A good place to start might be The Alternative Information Centre.
Al Souk Nokia
We play a set while walking through the covered market. Ottoman architecture. ‘Exotic’ market stalls. Bearded men and veiled women. But I’ve never seen so many people making films on their mobiles! We also play together with the Palestinian Circus School - www.palcircus.ps - in the Child Happiness Centre. Outside there’s a group of three teenage girls walking together in a giggling headscarfed gaggle. Makeup and modesty. Long coats and blue jeans. They walk over to our post-gig smokers’ group. And walk away. And walk back again. Suddenly one of them takes the cigarette from my mouth, takes a draw, and gives it back. And they walk off, still giggling. Welcome to Palestine. Please leave your preconceptions at the door. And have a nice day.
Hebron Ghost Town
In Hebron, 400 Israeli settlers have taken over buildings in the centre of the town. So the Israeli authorities have deployed 2,000 soldiers to ‘protect’ them (from the admirably persistent souvenir sellers?). One of these lovely people (the soldiers, not the souvenir sellers) points his machine gun right at you as you pass through the checkpoint. A different kind of welcome to Palestine…
A military order has declared Hebron’s main shopping street off limits to the people who live there. The remaining Palestinian residents have to go in and out through their back doors. And if they don’t have back doors they have to climb through their windows. If it wasn’t so sickening it might be hilarious. Not surprisingly, most of the residents have left. It’s a ghost town. Precisely what the Israeli authorities want, of course.