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Published: August 9th 2014
My 68th Country - 4 Days in Palestine
My film “Corn Flakes in Palestine”
Whilst driving around Israel I passed through the West Bank on a couple of occasions but didn’t stay for more than a couple of hours. For this reason I hired a car and drove around the West Bank for 4 days, sleeping in the car to keep things cheap and to enable me to see as much as possible in a limited time (i.e. we didn’t waste time looking for hotels).
One of the brief visits was to Bethlehem where we went to the Church of Nativity to see where Jesus was allegedly born, although how the accuracy of the location has been kept over the years I failed to comprehend. Not being a religious man the location didn’t mean much to me but there was spiritual atmosphere so I thought when in Rome and prayed to any god who was listening (with a capital ‘G’) and asked for a little peace for Palestine.
When you cross the border you are instantly struck by the difference in living standards once
The Car We Hired
We drove all around Palestine and slept in the car
you cross that invisible line, to begin the 4 day trip we passed through Bethlehem and drove down to Hebron where we slept close to the city ready to pay it a visit in the morning.
Visiting Hebron was a strange experience for me, the presence of 4000 Israeli military personnel protecting the 500 Jewish civilians (3% of the population), who can also carry guns creates a really tense atmosphere. Indeed you could feel real tension in the air and the way the populations where segregated obviously created an unwelcoming attitude in the majority of its inhabitants. We visited the Jewish side of the mosque, where famous religious historical figures are buried making it a significant site for the Jews, Christians and Muslims. We went inside and saw an old man kissing people on the head, god knows who he was.
To get to the muslim section of the city we had to pass through an army checkpoint which was a fantastic moment as the mosques bellowed out their call to prayer as we entered an area we were warned not to go. We probably stayed a total of 15 minutes because after walking a
few blocks we were suddenly surrounded by a group of teenagers who were interested in some of our possessions and us in general. The way they acted, with a distinct lack of respect and the fact that they seemed to think we were Jewish made us wonder what other people were thinking so we went back to the “safe” side. It was horrible to see people being oppressed and controlled and I understand why they acted the way they did.
From Hebron we went back through Bethlehem and down into the Jordan Valley to visit Jericho, an ancient city which has had lots of significant events in the past related to religious stories, although there isn’t much to see nowadays. Except for a plaque showing where Yasser Arafat once made a speech and a famous fig tree where Jesus once showed his worth by asking a tax collector to come down from the tree and talk to him. I heard many religious stories while travelling this part of the world and must say I think they all sounded like fairy tales, they may be interesting stories but how people can let them dictate their lives boggles the
mind and they are most certainly not reason to kill each other over.
Before leaving town to sleep next to the Dead Sea we climbed up and visited the Mount of Temptation a place where Jesus, who hadn’t eaten for 40 days, was tempted by the devil when the horny red chap gave him a stone and urged him to change it into anything he wanted, thankfully Our Lord resisted.
From Jericho we enjoyed spectacular scenery as we drove up out of the Jordan Valley to visit the Taybeh brewery, along the way we passed a Jewish settlement that looked really surreal, all the houses looked the same and new like a helicopter had just placed the town there a week ago. The brewery was great, a source of pride for the Palestinian people. We were shown a video, guided around and of course we tried their product which was much nicer than most of the beers we get in Europe and the States.
From the brewery we travelled to Ram-Allah, a very patriotic and traditional city where we visited the market and just had a general walk around. Between Ramallah and Jerusalem
The Church of Nativity
Built where Jesus was born
was a huge border crossing and large sections of wall which I videoed as it was such a disgusting sight.
I decided to eat my Palestinian flakes next to the section of the wall where artists had covered it with loving and supportive/power to the people style messages, for example Banksy has painted 9 or 10 really cool pieces
While at the wall we met Claire Bandak Anastas, a very courageous woman who had spent the majority of her life fighting the Israeli system because her house had been surrounded by the wall (literally 3 sides of her property). Due to its strategic location she had been harassed beyond belief by the Israeli army but despite pressure to sell her property she stays put and sells handicrafts made by local children such as Nativity scenes with a big wall in the way. We also met a young tourist guide who we interviewed as he told us what it was like to exist in Bethlehem.
For our last night in the west bank we went to Herodian, the ruins of a fortress and Palace 5km south of Bethlehem where King Herod (the
Roman king who wanted Jesus killed) was supposed to have lived and is now allegedly buried. We chose not to pay the over-priced entrance fee and enjoyed the view instead, we met some locals who were doing the same thing and although communication was difficult we managed by talking like cavemen and re using the word facebook. Our social media chat worked as they invited us back to their farm for a cup of tea and to introduce us to their family, it was another occasion where we experienced the hospitality and friendliness of the Palestinian people.
The next day we crossed back into Israel and I left feeling like there was a completely unjust and biased division of society occurring in this tiny part of the Middle East but in particular of military force, work, wealth and power. And those in power seem to be encouraging segregation, tension and the inevitable fighting by keeping the populations separated and by making life full of hassle for the Muslim portion.
Palestine is officially a territory of Israel being held under a forced occupation but after my experiences driving around the West Bank in my opinion Palestine
The Church of Nativity
Going down into the chamber where he was allegedly born
is a separate country and became number 68 in my corn flake eating mission. After the 4 days I travelled back through Israel and a few days later flew from Tel Aviv to Cyprus to visit my 69th country and of course sample their corn flakes and film my 12 days backpacking around the island. Click for more about my travels
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