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DannyWhatmough.com
25th October, 2012

Jericho is known as the moon city, as you can see the moon at all times, day and night. It is a constant presence across the vast plain that stretches between the mountains of the West Bank and Jordan.

Although Jordan is clearly visible in the distance, what is harder to make out is the thick stretch of Israeli military zones that separate the two Arab regions.

After a pretty late night out in Ramallah, two other international volunteers from Project Hope and I had breakfast in our hotel (hummus, pitta and Arabic coffee) and then headed to the service taxi station to catch a ride to Jericho.

The journey from Ramallah to Jericho took about an hour and cost about £3 each. Compared to other places I’ve been in the West Bank, Jericho is very flat and there are plenty of Palestinians to be seen riding around on bicycles.

We had been warned that the main sites in Jericho were quite spread out so decided to head straight to one of the main sights in the town itself: the sycamore tree where the tax collector Zacchaeus reputedly climbed up to see Jesus.

In yet another example of the incredible friendliness of the Palestinian people and the increasingly bizarre situations that seem to keep coming up on this trip, we started to chatting to a man called Mahmoud who had been sitting with some fruit sellers near the tree.

He revealed that he was actually a Dutch citizen as well as a Palestinian and had moved to Holland over forty years ago after marrying a Dutch tourist who had been visiting Jericho. This was a surprising co-incidence for the two Dutch volunteers I was with and he quickly offered to take us on a tour of the city.

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continue reading: Jericho...

25th October, 2012

I’m writing this in a hotel in Ramallah. We came up late last night to go out to celebrate the birthday of one of the international volunteers at Project Hope.

Coming to Ramallah after Nablus is a bit of a culture shock. It’s the administrative centre for the Palestinian Authority and is far more vibrant and feels almost western in places. There are neon signs everywhere and a few bars selling alcohol hidden away in little side streets – one of the reasons that this was a draw for us last night.

It’s a big shift from the conservatism of Nablus.

Today is the start of a week-long holiday for people here in the West Bank to celebrate the Islamic festival of Eid. This means no lessons for a week and lots of travelling around. The plan is to go from Ramallah to Jericho today and then onto Bethlehem before spending a few days in Jerusalem.

I thought I’d pull together a few little observations that aren’t worth full blogs posts but still interesting nonetheless.

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continue reading: Snippets from the West Bank...

23rd October, 2012

At the moment everything here is so new that each day is a totally fresh experience. The last few days have been no exception.

It’s a lucky co-incidence that the olive picking season – which only lasts a few weeks – is just drawing to a close. So, the other morning one of the international volunteers and I headed over to a little village called Bureen to help pick olives.

nablus

Olives

nablus

Olive groves in Bureen

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continue reading: Olive picking in Bureen...

21st October, 2012

Now that I have been here a couple of days, it is perhaps time to explain a little bit about the organisations I am working with.

I’m working for an organisation called Music Harvest. Their aim is to contribute to the cultural revival of Nablus and, in doing so, to also further dialogue and mutual understanding between internationals and Palestinians.

It started in 2010 with a mission to make use of musical instruments that had been donated to the city of Nablus. However, it was felt that individual instrumental tuition was not successful in reaching enough people in Nablus, therefore the focus of the teaching now is to provide introductory music lessons to as many as possible.

nablus

Nablus

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continue reading: Project Hope and Music Harvest...

21st October, 2012

Yesterday, the West Bank held its first elections for six years. Taking a walk around the old city here in Nablus, young kids were handing out yellow flyers with pictures of candidates taking part.

Elections have been delayed numerous times over the last few years due to escalating disagreements between the two main parties in the region – Fatah (founded by Yasser Arafat, it recognises Israel and wants to work towards a two state solution) and Hamas (meaning “zeal” in Arabic – supports armed resistance and the destruction of Israel although this has cooled in recent years).

The disagreements are such that Hamas – which won elections last time round and has control of the Gaza Strip – has refused to take part in these elections which, because of this, extend only to the West Bank, not to Gaza.

Here in Nablus, there were three parties yesterday: Fatah, a far left party and an former Fatah politician, now running as an independent and expelled from the main party. The latter – Ghassan Shakaa – seems to have emerged victorious here, another blow to Fatah, which has been experiencing declining support of late.

It was hard to ignore the elections here yesterday. There was pride amongst those I met who had voted – demonstrated by holding up their index finger, the tip of which was covered in black (votes are cast by giving a stamp of your finger print). At 7pm the minarets of the city’s mosques called out, not with a call to prayer (Adhan in Arabic) but with the revelation that the polls would stay open another hour. And last night, supporters of Shakaa celebrated on the streets beeping their horns and shouting.

Despite the positive fact that elections have happened, it’s not entirely good news. Turnout was low. French and German diplomats monitoring the election came into Project Hope yesterday afternoon and told us turnout was low – around the 25% mark. When I asked locals about the reasons for this, there were many answers including the olive harvest (currently going on) and the Eid holiday (which starts next week).

But the overriding issue seems to be disillusionment with politicians. The absence of Hamas as well as infighting within Fatah has left many Palestinians wondering whether any of this will actually make a difference at all.

Political disillusionment is a familiar picture for a British visitor but, in a place where effective politics could make all the difference, it is particularly depressing. As Hakim (the Director of Project Hope) said yesterday, “here in Palestine, we are the news, we are all political.”

continue reading: West Bank elections demonstrate extent of political divide...