Posts Tagged ‘westbank’

The following is a story written by my mate Micheal Smith, or Smiddy.

Smiddy visited Palestine and Israel recently, and had this awesome yarn to tell. A bit of editing later, and I reckon youse should all have a read. Great photos too. Great work Smith! You can email Smiddy at mjbbpeas@gmail.com should you wish.

Recently I had the pleasure of traveling to the Israeli and Palestinian territories. Being a Catholic, I had timed my trip so I would be in Jerusalem during the Easter Festivities. I wanted to make the sojourn to show the Lord a little appreciation for him helping me out in some trying times. I wanted to see, first hand, how the pedantic Christians of today celebrate the most important dates in the bibles calendar.

When I was planning my trip, I was well aware of the core problems facing these places. The Zionists believed that Jerusalem was gifted to the Jews, and the Palestinians believed their descendants (the Philistines) were the rightful rulers of these territories. The addition of imperialist America into this equation is no surprise. I could tell from my couch at home that America was striving for a base in this region, to defend against the growing threat they see as Islam.

Our first few days in Jerusalem were spent visiting places where Jesus supposedly carried out significant events in preparation for his ascension into heaven.

We went to the Garden of Gethsemane, where his disciples fell asleep; we saw the side of the  hill where Jesus was crucified; we went to a chapel which was built right on the spot where Jesus said his final good-byes, before leaving us to be with his Father; and on the Good Friday we joined hundreds of Christians, tracing the stations of the cross. The stations are throughout the winding alleyways of the main bazaar, and fitting all the worshippers into that bazaar can literally be a push. On this holy day though, it appeared to my friends and I that all the Christians were acting in an altogether holy fashion. Seeing people from different countries read out their prayers, while holding a simulated cross with their countries flag, was quite an experience. It was amazing to see the belief in these peoples’ eyes and gestures.

A Palestinian boy forced to wander the streets, because his shop was bolted up. In the background is a Israeli solider.

A Palestinian boy forced to wander the streets, because his shop was bolted up. In the background is a Israeli solider.

During our orientation period, we encountered every-day life in Jerusalem. We got to know the traditional foods, such as falafel and mansaf, traditional clothing such as the Jewish hats and coats. We found out that Friday is the Sabbath for Muslims, which means that a lot of the bazaar shuts down. We found that it seemed Jews, Muslims, and Christians lived in relative consideration of each other. Most of our initial experiences were with Palestinians, but we also had conversations with Jewish people. The Palestinian owners of our hostel were exceptionally welcoming, providing a free meal for all their occupants every night, letting travellers leave their luggage while they go on missions, as well as holding a party every Friday, including free alcohol and exceptional musical talent from the locals.

The vibe during weekday dinner-times was packed with verve and intrigue. The hostel would congregate over a meal and a Shisha, and we’d discuss recent experiences, and shared perspectives on local grievances. Come Friday night, the residents loosened up and unleashed some zany moves to Arabic trance and funk.

We met a young Jewish boy in the open air synagogue. In this synagogue the Jews threw their heads back and fourth in a wailing fashion towards the western wall. The western wall is the remains of the retaining wall built by King Herod, to support his temple esplanade and the wailing represents the peoples sorrow over the destruction of this temple. We had previously seen this custom on the documentary called Baraka, but as there is only music accompanying the films moving scenes in Baraka, it did not shed light on any of the reasons behind these actions.

Our intrigue got the better of us, leading us to probe the young Jew on this Jewish custom and others. He was only to happy to explain the wailing, the customary black hats and long coats — These signify blandness and represent that people should be judged by the uniqueness of their inner qualities, not the uniqueness of their clothing & possessions — And of course the loping Jewish beards, which represent the bonding of the minds willpower at the beginning of the beard,  leading with the hearts conscience which is represented by the end of the beard.

It was now time to venture out into the thick of Palestine. Since the whole of Israel and Palestine encompass only 21,000 sq kilometres, we decided we would make the old city in Jerusalem our base.  We could return to relax and enjoy the comforts of our Faisal hostel if not on a daily basis, at least every few days.

Our first escape was to Jenin. Jenin is a hot spot for resistance fighting, this came to the worlds attention during the second intifada in 2002. Jenin is centred around a refugee camp, which thankfully has rebuilt most of the houses that were destroyed in the intifada. At the heart of Jenin is a freedom theatre which was started by a Jewish lady called Arna Mer Khmais. The theatre is for young Palestinians to use, to express their feelings about the Israelis occupying their lands, and the savage fighting that inevitably goes with occupation. Expressing their internal feelings is one way that children can try to escape being bogged down by the situations they are trapped in, and have an opportunity to stay away from the streets and the nightmare of being lost to the fighting.

In her younger days Arna was a Israeli solider. Arna said she enjoyed her time as a solider, because she was young and felt free. We had the pleasure of going to this camp and meeting with the theatre’s co-ordinator, a Swedish Jew by the name of Jonathan. During our stay he showed us videos of the children performing, and introduced us to pupils currently partaking in classes and former students who had now grown up. The children who were involved in the theatre were all very bubbly and forthcoming, they had a real sense of hope and joy about them. This was very encouraging from a outsiders perspective, as by now we had seen parts of the West Bank Wall, and border posts: It was becoming clear that these are in place to keep Palestinians isolated from crucial daily amenities such as hospitals, petrol, and food; and to make sure that masses of people don’t unite to form an upheaval.

To think that a father can be allowed to go into Gaza to visit a friend, but for “security” reasons is not allowed back into the West Bank to be with his family and to continue working, was just one of the reasons helping us to form our own opinions.

A young Palestinian boy beside the Westbank wall which displays the caption "cntrl alt delete"

A young Palestinian boy beside the Westbank wall which displays the caption "cntrl alt delete"

As we wandered around the camp we were approached by many young Palestinians curious as to why we were in this part of the world, and wanting to know a little about our own origins and history. There was one particular group of kids who enjoyed our attention especially.They were performing for our cameras and having their own in-house quarrels. By this stage it was mid-afternoon and we were getting hungry. When we expressed the fact that we needed food, the kids dragged us to the comforts of their own home. Their entire family embraced us wholeheartedly, offering us tea and a Palestine dish consisting of rice wrapped in grape leaves. While we were feasting we let the little ones take photos of themselves and their surroundings. It was a pleasure to witness their delight in being able to see the instant digital results. Even though this random family spoke little English, the hospitality and smiles we received from them were incredible, especially when you consider they were probably stretched as it was, they could surely have used what food they gave us to eat themselves, later that evening.

As we wandered the streets we were continually reminded of the Palestinian martyrs. Street walls and shop windows were plastered with posters of young Palestinians, who had given their lives for the cause. The people of Jenin had lost many intelligent and gifted young children well before their time, but their efforts have certainly not been forgotten, and in most Palestinian eyes they are revered as individuals who stood up to Israel. As we made our way back to the freedom theatre, my friend pointed out a classic piece of Palestinian resistance art. It was painted on one of the camps main walls and depicted a star with blood oozing out of it. To us at that time, it represented the Star of David being wounded, and the emptiness of art surrounding the star made it appear the star was left for dead.

The next day we had the privilege of meeting a resistance fighter who had been at the forefront of a brigade back in 2000. To the people of Jenin he was a leader; someone who could unite the people to act against the repression they were facing. This fighter had seen an endless amount of terror in his home town, and had to deal with a multitude of  loved ones dying. To him it has just become a part of every day life.
“My mother and one of my brothers died, why did I not cry? I have no tears left” He said.
He spoke about the Israel people creating settlements all over Palestine, separating his people so it becomes even harder for the Palestinians to unite in the fight for their land. On one occasion his brigade had been exchanging fire with the enemy, they were spread out in different positions and he went to check on one of his friends. He saw his friend lying on the ground and presumed he was dead. He put a cotton bud in the bullet hole and took him to hospital, after some attention from a doctor, his friend returned to life.
“We now look at each other and laugh”.
His friend had survived in a situation where so many others have not, the laughing they still partake in represented the disbelief in how one can be so lucky. He strongly believed that retaliating without any collective long-term goal in mind was fruitless. “Every resistance needs political ideology to unite a message for the resistances purpose. Not everyone in India supported Gandhi, but he did have structure and goal”.
He now feels for this reason that resistance fighting no longer works.
“Yasser Arafat backed our armed resistance, Mahmoud Abbas won’t”.
He made his feelings towards America very clear, clearly stipulating that he believed America had a large helping hand in supporting Israel’s cause to lay a stake in Palestine.
“If you are a county near Israel, and you will help Israel, then America will give you money”
The war between Palestine and Israel seems to be never ending with tragedies on both sides
“This war has gone on for so long, that now there won’t be a winner” he explains.
His presence and aura was evident throughout the interview, he had a personality that was very capturing and lucid. He explained that he could persuade many people to be come resistance fighters, because they listened to him, but now he wanted them to live and he himself believes he is lucky to be alive.
“I have become friends with the angel of death, she says it is OK, you can stay”.

That afternoon we made make tracks back to Jerusalem. I had lost track of what day it was and was pleasantly surprised to find out it was Friday. We arrived just in time for dinner and a bowl of cheap, lethal alcohol. Within the hour it was evident the alcohol was serving its purpose with relative ease, as it wiped out any sign of grace in the room and filled it with flippancy and craze.

Not long into the second hour of proceedings, a band turned up and delighted the troops by playing an assortment of Palestinian trance. They would mix original tracks and play piano over the top. It was the perfect excuse for any individual needing encouragement from the owners to flaunt their moves on the dance floor. There were also some exceptional performances with the Japanese and Koreans flying their countries flag with creative exuberance.

As if the party couldn’t get any better, a couple of the owners’ Palestinian mates turned up representing the Palestine army. They were still on call, but thought it rude to not call in and support their friends. With their AK47 rifles by their sides they proceeded to sit back and enjoy some flavoured tobacco, occasionally the trance got the better of them and they made it onto the dance floor. Seeing uniformed soldiers dance and relax in such a benevolent environment seemed ironic, especially as just outside, the environment flipped upside down into an extremely  volatile one, where their training could call on them to dance with deadly machinery. The party we were having was full of joy, and half the reason it was so successful was that the different nationalities were getting along so well.

It seems so simple, just love your brother, well at least let him be in peace, but it just ain’t that simple.

The next day we decided to relax and wander the main bazaar of Jerusalem, knowing that every corner would present something new and wonderful. It was late afternoon and I decided to traipse around the Jewish quarters, knowing that over in that direction there must be a look out that encompasses a good view of east Jerusalem. The view was fantastic, there was a young Muslim to my left trying to film the sun setting, and below me on one of the winding roads was a man with a basket load of pita bread. There were 4 young lads, each filling their plastic bag with the mans bread, probably doing some sort of deal with the man so each families’ dinner would be that little bit richer. From my view I could see the Garden of Gethsemane, the Russian quarters with their flamboyant churches, and hundreds of modest Jerusalem homes.

When the sun had settled below the horizon, I started strolling back around the outskirts of the western wall. Not long into the walk a lady stopped me and asked whether or not I was religious. I told her I was a catholic, and she rejoiced in the fact that this would mean I would know the basic philosophies on how to live a virtuous life, with the Lord as my guiding light. She showed me a card that outlined five steps on how to follow the Jewish code; to treat your neighbour as you would like to be treated; to not worship false gods; to not waste your talents; to not get caught up in the material world and finally, to not commit murder. The last point seemed pretty clear, one does not ever have the right to take anothers life, but it was the use of the word murder that seemed a little heavy. In the religious texts I’m used to reading, kill is the common term and the use of the word murder at the time seemed a little frivolous. I guess I was just used to murder being written in the press, and the press is certainly not prone to adhereing to religious conventions.

A bombed Jenin home with a poster of a Martyr and a Palestinian flag.

A bombed Jenin home with a poster of a Martyr and a Palestinian flag.

After giving me time to analyse the points, she looked me in the eye and said
“You know you can’t murder Jews”
Instantly I replied “You can’t murder anyone”
What I meant, was that the murder of any human being is wrong, but due shock, my articulation was poor.
“..yeah but especially Jews, we are the chosen people”.
I pointed out that all human beings in my eyes were chosen by the Lord, and then walked away. It is baffling to me to think that someone who considers themselves religious, can have the train of thought reaching the decision that god would love one human being over another human being. There is either a flaw in this ladies religion, or the teachers and their teachings are misunderstood. Presumably this lady had a family, and her children would be taught the same beliefs.
I believe it is crucial to have figures in important religious posts, that are teaching the people that no matter your ethnic background, no matter your religion, the lord has equal love for all.
If this is not a core value in the millennium, we have not moved on from the 1950’s, where excuses for treating others so poorly could be blamed on religion, patriotism, and/or colour.
I have witnessed religious prejudice also in India, and to an outsider (and I’m sure to the people in the lower castes too), treating prople inequally is a harsh way to conduct daily life.

That night, like every other night we stayed in faisal, we sat down to enjoy the meal provided by the owner. Our table talk was based around the Jewish settlements in Palestine. A Spanish man in his twenties explained that there was an area about an hour out of Bethlehem called Hebron, where the Jews and Palestinians live side by side, and in some cases above and below each other in buildings. Naturally my friend and I were intrigued, and the following day we headed for Hebron.

Our taxi dropped us of in the market area of Hebron, and we could find no signs of a settlement here. We asked around til we found a young Palestinian who could understand our English. He pointed us in the right direction, but before we could go he insisted on us taking photos of him and his older companions. He was a strapping young lad, no more than 16 with an energetic aura, and gave the impression that he would have an impact on every traveller he would come into contact with. He posed by his donkey, flexing his muscles and holding his body in a strong stance. As he changed poses his friends and colleges laughed at his forward exuberance. He showed us a glance of a patriotic young Palestinian that valued his friends, job, and possessions above all. To us, the way he projected himself proved that these values were worth fighting for. Above all this though, his benevolent nature shone through and let us know that he just wanted an opportunity to have fun in life. He was certainly having fun for the 10 minutes we enjoyed with him, but how much fun would he possibly be allowed to endure for the majority of his life?

We headed in the direction that we had been told to, and after five minutes we stopped and questioned whether or not we had taken a wrong turn, this was until we looked up and spotted the netting above our heads. This was the netting that hovered over what used to be one of the main streets. Once upon a time it was the access to several hundred Palestinian markets and shops. Above the locked and bolted buildings, Israel has created a little safe haven for a Jewish settlement. Complete with homes, schools and their own shops, running literally above the Palestinians. The netting is in place as a precaution against rocks and bullets being fired up into their quarters. The Israeli Army has locked almost all the Palestinian shops below, which used to sell fruit, vegetables, falafel, clothes, drinks and other vital necessities. They have done this because they were worried the people of Hebron might break through to the other side of their shops, and start attacking the main living quarters which are situated directly behind their storefronts. Only a few defiant shops stay open with their owners determined to keep working. Not to make money, but to show the army they are standing tall with respect and pride for their culture and heritage. One of the shop owners spotted the look of disgust and astonishment in our eyes. He grabbed our attention and took us down an alleyway. It was here we first discovered the living arrangements situated above the shops. These homes even had balconies where we could see the washing on the lines, pots with flowers in them, and children’s toys. Further down another alleyway we climbed up the side of a building, and above this building we peered into a Jewish school.

The man disappears for a while and when we return to the derelict main street, he is awaiting us with a young Palestinian by his side. The boy takes us to an unfinished two storey building. We quietly tiptoe to the roofless top storey and peer over a mesh fence. We are enthralled in what we are seeing and have to be quietly reminded by the young Palestinian of the Israeli solider controlling a 360 degree lookout in a near-by tower. on the other side of the fence is a Jewish settlement;  modest concrete houses, and little gardens with trees and flowers. This settlement is home to four thousand Jews who also appear to be enclosed in a clearly defined area. They have a lot more space, and access to better facilities, but in some cases are only metres away from the Palestinian territory of Hebron, and would not be permitted to stray.

We had been snapping away with our cameras for a couple of minutes and had started to relax, when a solider climbing over the near by roofs came our way.
“What are you doing? Get down from there!” He Said.
As he kept coming closer, we followed the boy back down the stairs and back to the Main street. We spotted a cafe that was still running and decided to order a tea and shisha, so we could sit back and form our perceptions of the living arrangements and the near-by soldiers on patrol. As we sucked back the apple tobacco, we noticed a group of people being escorted by a traditional looking Jew with soldiers at the front, and the group at the rear of the escort were also soldiers.
“Every Saturday a Jewish guide shows the Jewish tourists around Hebron” said the cafe owner.
“He say this is a Jewish shop and this a Jewish building, but of course he’s a liar, they show their guns at as everyday, but we’re not afraid, I stay at this shop so they don’t take it away”.
It turns out the cafe owner used to be a member of the PLO, which stands for Palestine Liberation Organisation. He was involved when Yasser Arafat was the leader and knew him personally. He had been shot 7 times in a total of five years, for merely standing by his land and sticking up for his people. He was put in jail in 1974, where the Israeli forces continually used torture techniques to try and lure information about the PLO’s whereabouts and the strategies they had planned.
“They used to hang me by my hair until I was crying” he said.
He was putting so much effort into recalling all his experiences so that tourists like my friend and I could get a real picture of the terrible happenings that the occupation has created. Every word he strained to pronounce, as his speech had clearly been affected by a bullet to his head that had damaged his neurons. His eyes would close regularly, his neck would clench up, and his head would move sporadically. He told of the terrible living conditions that he was subjected to in jail.
“48 hours each week without eating or drinking and [they] beat me hard, every week”.
He was released in 1976, and was again jailed in 1979.The second time around, the common technique of torture was to handcuff a prisoner’s hands and legs together, and place them in a small cupboard. The cupboard was half a metre wide, two metres long and one metre high – We could only imagine what this man had been through.

Cafe owner who was a former member of the P.L.O and my traveling companion Ben Latty.

Cafe owner who was a former member of the P.L.O and my traveling companion Ben Latty.

The man took my friend and I outside, and pointed out the big Jewish school situated behind his cafe. We could only see the front of the school, but it was enough to give us the impression that it was a big school. Upon this land there used to be a modest Palestinian school, but it was bulldozed to cater for a much bigger Jewish schooling system. It is a classic ideology to strip something as fundamental as schooling from the people you are trying to repress. Without an eduction it becomes harder to learn your country’s history, and harder to learn any sort of method or reason.

The Israeli government have come into Palestine and stripped the people of their land, and their work in the old market, forcing them to go elsewhere to find a home and a job. The problem though, is that elsewhere, is where other Palestinians are struggling to put bread on their own tables, and cram housing onto what is left of their land. There are still people with little stalls in the old market, these are mobile stalls, where the people are pushed for room to show of their product, have limited capital for making their product, and at the end of the day they have to pack everything up and take it to their sleeping arrangement. These stalls are a far cry from the actual shops that we are used to, where your product has a residence, and you have a steady flow of customers that know where to find you.

I asked whether there was fighting in Hebron and the answer was no. Their are 1500 Palestine soldiers in Hebron and only 400 Palestinians. The people of Palestinians are not happy about the occupation and their lack of opportunities, but they are also well outnumbered and causing a riot would only lead to death.

As we walked back to a spot where we could get a taxi, we saw kids laughing and chasing rubber balls. They seemed to be enjoying that moment, our worry was that this was a fleeting moment, in a place where the lack of food & other necessities made being exuberant a hard task.

Later on that week we decided to go to Jericho. Jericho is geographically the lowest city in the world, and we thought it would be nice to say we had been there. We were very much still in search of the Palestinian experience. The more we saw of the land, and as we spoke to more of the people, we could get closer and relate to their emotions. It is obvious that we could never put ourselves in their shoes, and truly understand, but this was the best way we could make an effort to appreciate their repression.

Jericho is a Palestine city, so sticking with the theme of days recently passed, we ventured there from our base in Jerusalem. We first had to get a taxi to Bethlehem, and it was at the Bethlehem border we faced the patrols. We had arrived at the checkpoint at lunchtime. This is rush-hour for the Palestinians as they try to jostle between Jerusalem and the West Bank to gather supplies for lunch and night time proceedings. Hundreds of people are required to show their identification card, and explain why they are crossing the border. Often my friend and I witnessed the young Israeli soldiers losing their temper at the ID cards not scanning properly in the machines, and at the Palestinians for not keeping a single filed line. You can only imagine the frustration of Palestinians who have to line up for a couple of hours in some instances and then once they have crossed, they have to run, or pay for a taxi to their destination. They have to be meticulously methodical about what they are doing in Jerusalem or Bethlehem, because come four o’clock they have to line up ready to return home (or more accurately, ready for the return to their designated side of the wall). You really can see why they don’t keep that single file.

After about three quarters of an hour, a guard waves my friend and I to the front of the line, and we pass through — talk about the guilt we were feeling, but at the time denying the guards wishes seemed like a risk —  In retrospect we should have held our position in the line just like the Palestinians have to. Once we had reached the other side we walked to our stop and were picked up by the transport vans that they have running regularly.

They took us to our next stop, where we had to wait for the taxi to fill up on petrol before we could leave for Jericho. The taxis they have operating in the Middle East are often old Mercedes Benz sedans. The old German engines are very sturdy and in this part of the world, something that doesn’t need to be fixed means that more money is available for food. The taxis lining up for service on this day were old Mercedes limos, which could cater for two in the front and eight in the back. While we were waiting we filled our bellies with our daily Palestine favourites of falafel, pistachios, almonds and cashew nuts. When we buy food that is grown naturally with limited manufacturing and from a Palestine shop keeper, it is easier to determine that the profits are staying within Palestinian circles, but when it comes to buying drinks, things are a little different.

We had seen the harsh conditions that the Palestinians were subjected to in their own country, and it seemed only fair that we checked the backs of product’s labels to make sure that we were buying Palestinian product. What really hurts, is that the Palestinians income tax is spent on creating settlements and better living environments in the Israeli quarters. We believed then,  and still believe now that our rationale was sound.

A  Banksy Graf of a girl being lifted by balloons to see what is happening on the other side of the wall.

A Banksy Graf of a girl being lifted by balloons to see what is happening on the other side of the wall.

We saw a couple of ladies jump in the taxi, so not wanting to miss the boat we jumped in as well. After a few minutes one of the Palestinian ladies turned round and greeted us. Throughout our stay in the Middle East, including; Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt, we had never had a Middle Eastern lady initiate the greetings, let alone continue a conversation with us. She wanted to know where we were from, how we found the Jewish people and also how we found the people of Palestine. Finally she spoke of the wall, and again our opinion was sought. The lady wanted to know what the Western world thought of the wall, and whether or not our view had changed since spending time in these occupied territories. We expressed our dislike for the wall, and explained that it was much easier to form an opinion once you had seen first-hand the atrocities that arise from having your supplies and land cut off. She enjoyed our thoughts and wanted to shed a little light on the walls barrage from an everyday perspective. To do this she explained the efforts she had to go to, just to visit her friend on the other side of the wall.

She is not permitted to go to Jerusalem just to see a friend, but she will be allowed to go if she can get a doctors certificate recommending that she see a specialist across the wall. She then has to find a doctor willing to certify her feigned sickness. This help the doctor provides for her, will cost extra money. She now must send away for a permit, which allows her to pass into Jerusalem. This permit takes three days to obtain and costs 50 shekels. Once she receives the permit, it cost her a further 25 shekels for the taxi ride around the wall to Jerusalem. Before the wall was erected, she could walk to her friends place, which of course cost nothing, and she could see her friend as often as she liked. When you put this situation into perspective, it really does not make any sense. Everyone should have the simple liberty of being able to visit who they choose to, whenever they like. Friendship is an essential component of life and the bonds you form with your peers are some of the reasons that life is so enjoyable. Having to pay to continue the bond you share, is criminal. Friendship is so essential and fantastic, that you should never have to put on a price on it. Of all the people that could have to pay to see a friend, it happens to fall upon the Palestinians, who often struggle to even feed themselves. Choosing to visit a friend has to be carefully considered in this place, because there is now a monetary value attached to that friendship. I saw she could sense the fun my friend and I were having traveling together, and thought it would be a good example.

That night over a shisha at fiazal hostel, my mate and I decided we wanted to put our own art on the West Bank wall. We had seen the brilliant creativity of the English artist Banksy and other prints and statements by anonymous artists. Not all the art was visually appetising, but at the very least it had its own poignant appeal. It was this poignant appeal that we too would try and capture, and with a bit of New Zealand flavour, we would aim to represent the kiwis who were against the Palestinian West Bank wall.

The next day we got up early and went searching for spray paint in the old city. We were hoping to find black and white paint because they are the colours of New Zealand, but could only locate green and orange. The irony was that colours we were using were now the colours of our sporting foes South Africa and Australia, but we felt with a kiwi message, all would not be lost. We hopped on one of the local buses to the Bethlehem border, showed our passports to the guards and went straight through the checkpoint onto the Bethlehem side of the wall. We approached the wall looking for a blank spot, and as we looked at the wall we took our final glimpse of inspiration from the art we had been seeing almost daily for well over a week. There was the popular cartoon Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, with the statement: “Pass me back my ball”, as if to say the turtles fun will never be returning, as the neighbours over the fence keep what they find on their supposed side. There was a Pinocchio with a missile for a nose, a dove with an olive branch in its mouth, wearing a vest with a red target positioned it, a girl being carried up into the air by a bunch of balloons so she could peek onto the other side, and the words, “control+alt+delete”, to name but a few.

We went round a few corners of the wall and came across a empty patch where there was plenty of room to scribble our words. The only problem was that we were in plain view of the soldiers up in one of the watch towers. We had already decided we wanted to do this writing and our desire meant that we were definitely going ahead with it. We new they would send us on our way if we were caught, but from our view we could not see the soldiers looking in our direction.

We found a old chair in a dump not far from the wall, while one person wrote the other held the chair steady. I was wearing only boxer shorts, as I didn’t want to get any paint on my clothes. A Jewish solider looking down upon me would get quite a shock and would obviously not be impressed.

Our main statement would say  “The kiwi peace call”, and underneath that we would spray “This wall should be hit by T.C. and Sonny Bill” This statement had reference to rugby league greats  Tony Carroll and Sonny Bill Williams, who are both renowned for crushing their opponents to the ground with their powerful shoulders. Things were going well, we changed from holding the seat to spraying every so often to even the work load, and no matter the role, the thrills were high.

We had successfully completed the green spraying and were doing an outline in orange when we heard from the tower,
“Oi! What r you doing? get out!”.
The solider had spotted our frivolous behaviour, and as we had predicted, was not impressed. Our apologies came thick and fast and were overlapping each other.
“Sorry mate, sorry mate, we’re going now”.
It was now clear in the suns light, that a solider was present in the tower, he must have been facing in the opposite direction to have missed our presence from the beginning.

Our Graffiti on the Westbank wall with the watch tower in the background.

Our Graffiti on the Westbank wall with the watch tower in the background.

We put the spray paint behind a little fence, put our shirts back on (and in my case my shorts as well), and left promptly for Jerusalem. We ran back to the Palestinian side of the wall where all the taxi drivers wait for their inevitable clients. Because they tried to get us into their taxis every day as we passed, we had begun to develop a bond with them.  They inquired why we were panting, and we explained that we had been caught painting graffiti, depicting our dislike for the wall and went into detail what our statement meant. They were delighted with our efforts. Before we left them we put up our arms, faced them and bellowed “Palestine!!” They needed no encouragement to join in on our chant.

That night as we wound down with a now-customary tea and shisha, we convinced ourselves that our art needed more. Our piece had to be on a grand scale to make up for its lack of visual brilliance. It was decided that we would add other NZ sporting names to the wall. All individuals would be household names and renowned for their explosive power. This power, like the league players that possessed it, would be used as a metaphor to explain that our view was that the wall should come crushing down.

The next day we went back to our spot like possessed wolves that hadn’t eaten for a week. First we completed the orange outline and then we each picked one side of our original artwork and sprayed three metaphors each. Thankfully there was no guard in the tower during our second attempt, so our art was now complete.

We stood back and admired our efforts. It looked about as good as we expected, and we were quietly happy.

We had spent a lot of our trip in Palestine and had become quite fond of the Palestinian people. It was now time to see a little bit of Israel, so we could visit some sights and meet more Jewish people. Our first stop was the Sea of Galilee, where according to the Bible, Jesus walked on water.

We arrived at the Sea of Galilee in the late afternoon, we found somewhere to stay and then headed for the sea. Drinks were a little easier to come by here, so we found a bar by the sea, bought a couple of cold ones, and relaxed outside. We saw the fishing boats all tied up and tried to imagine what it would be like in the days when Jesus was alive. We attempted to walk on the water ourselves but it seemed we weren’t angels after all.

We then walked around the town searching for food. While we asked for directions the people were very nice to us, and the service was excellent.

Their was very little to do in Galilee so the next day we headed for Tel Aviv. We witnessed the fast food eateries, flash coffee houses, modern clothes and the flash, ritzy cars of Tel Aviv. It just didn’t seem right. The Israel territories had done nothing directly untoward to us over the last couple of days, but indirectly it seemed they had been cutting a wound in our sides from the day we had arrived in Jerusalem. As each day went by, it seemed the wound got deeper.

This wound would not heal overnight.

We swam in Mediterranean water for the first time, reflected over a drink and then returned to Jerusalem.

The next day we decided to go and have a look at our graffiti. We wanted to walk round the corner and hopefully see the boldness of our graff and the kiwi-ness of our words. We approached the tower, went round the corner and saw our art. It stood out for sure and it certainly had flavour. It was safe to say that just like the other art, it was individualistic, but still contained the same feeling.

I had my video camera on me so I could record the walls diverse art. A guy was driving past, he saw me filming the wall and called me over. He inquired as to whether I worked for the media; I told him it was just for personal use and to show people back home. He told me to let people know that the wall was dividing his people. Before he drove of he said,
“We are strong people, they took down the Berlin wall.. This wall will go”.

When I heard those words from a Palestinian man in the middle of the wall’s crisis, it seemed comforting.  I felt like rejoicing, but this would have to be reserved for the wall’s final day.


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