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DannyWhatmough.com
4th November, 2012

For the last eight days or so I’ve been traveling as schools in Nablus have been closed for the Eid holiday. I’ve written a number of blog posts about the places I have visited that I will try and post as soon as I can get to some decent WIFI and upload some photos.

It’s been a fantastic opportunity to visit a number of places across Palestine – Ramallah, Jericho, Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Hebron and Yanoun. There are fascinating and humbling stories to tell from each and I will endeavor to tell these stories in the next few days now that I am back in Nablus.

In the meantime, I came across this video that was created a few months ago by a former volunteer at Project Hope. It’s great overview of the work of Project Hope and introduces you to some of the local volunteers that are still involved.

Project Hope – Peace and Education in Palestine from Catarina Oliveira on Vimeo.

continue reading: Project Hope – Peace and Education in Palestine...

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...

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...

19th October, 2012

London Bridge to the West Bank city of Nablus in around nine hours is certainly the biggest culture shock I’ve experienced.

Arriving in Tel Aviv on an EasyJet plane is odd in itself. But my one hour taxi drive from the airport to Nablus provided a crash course in what makes this place unique.

My taxi driver, Khaled – an Arab, living in Israel, working for an Israeli taxi company while studying English and accountancy at Tel Aviv University – proved an appropriate guide to the complexities and fragile state of this region.

Khaled was the second person I met in Israel, the first being an Israeli immigration officer. Despite warnings that I could be questioned for anything up to a few hours, I was granted a visa without anything more than basic pleasantries. [Others aren’t so lucky and speaking to other volunteers here tonight, I certainly seem to have got off lightly.]

As we drove towards the West Bank checkpoint, Khaled suddenly pointed to our left where there was an Israeli town and, then, immediately to the right where an Arab town of similar size also sat. Arabs and Israelis living relatively peacefully side-by-side, or so he said.

Through the checkpoint, into the West Bank, things were immediately different. And you could sense a shift in Khaled’s tone. He became increasingly passionate as we passed Israeli settlements where “bad people” lived, protected by IDF soldiers. At the same time (and as top of the range Israeli cars sped along the same motorway, groups of Palestinians who work in Israel during the day were making the long walk home down the hard shoulder.

At one point I commented on the impressive state of the road we were travelling down. Ah yes, Khaled said, that’s because this road leads to a settlement. The further we ventured into the West Bank, the less impressed I became.

Arriving in Nablus, as the beauty of the setting sun was matched by the Islamic call to prayer, the culture shock was complete.

“If I could live anywhere, I’d live here in Nablus,” said Khaled. “These are nice people, friendly people.” But with a wife and two small children, he feels job prospects and the future is brighter living in Israel.

It was interesting how he spoke of Israelis and Arabs living side by side in Israel and yet uttered such rage at Jewish settlers in the West Bank. And while his taxi with Israeli yellow number plates is allowed freely into both territories, if his vehicle had the green and white plates of Palestine, then he wouldn’t have been able to make this trip at all.

While London to Nablus is certainly a strange juxtaposition, I suspect that, as Khaled illustrated time and time again, there are perhaps even greater contrasts to be witnessed right here.

continue reading: A day of contrasts...