Friday, April 29, 2011

A Palestinian Coalition

It was announced on Wednesday that the Palestinian groups Hamas and the Fatah (formerly known as the PLO) have finally formed a coalition. Hamas and Fatah have been in-fighting for years, causing their own civil war. This has caused a huge stir here in Israel.
Hamas traces its beginnings in 1987 in Gaza. Its declared doctrine is “Allah is its goal, the Prophet is its model, the Koran is its institution, jihad is its path, and death for the sake of Allah is its coveted desire”. No messing about then.
It does not recognise the right for a Jewish state and views Israel as a democracy which means that any Israeli target as a legitimate one – thus explaining its recent missile attack on an Israeli school bus.It was democratically elected in both Gaza and the West Bank in 2006, winning 76 out of the 132 parliamentary seats, in contrast to Fatah’s 45.
Where does this leave Israel? Speak to even the most liberal of Israelis and they fear the worst.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Moisha Returns – the End of Cat – Sitting

It has been somewhat stressful cat-sitting. Whilst Cleo has developed a strong love for me to the extent she never wants to leave my side 24/7, Emma has been far more trying. She leaves the apartment for hours on end and indeed sometimes overnight. It is snake season in Israel and it is not unknown for neighbours to lay out poison. However, if i don’t let her out she continually meows annoyingly which even my MP3 player can’t block out.

During my overnight trip to Jerusalem to witness the Easter celebrations i arrived back to find cat shit and vomit upstairs and down. Charming.

The cats are still in one piece and i still have two of them. Moisha has now returned from his international travels and i am officially released from my duties. Bliss.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A Day Out With Dan the Man

Jerusalem Beach - downtown Tel Aviv

Dan The Man is Uncle Moisha’s son. He is laid-back and shares a degree of dromomania. Indeed he has just come back to Tel Aviv having spent the last month trekking in Nepal combining two treks in the Mount Everest region.

Dan and his wife Irit

Dan has a quality Art Deco apartment in downtown Tel Aviv which he has been keen to show me for the last 10 years. It is quality indeed.

quality apartment

I hardly recognise Tel Aviv since my last visit in ’85 where i slept out on the beach with some friends.

It’s just a three minute stroll away to Jerusalem beach which is completely crowded for the last day of Passover.

It is conveniently close also to the wonderful Thai House restaurant (Bograshov 8 tel no.03 – 517 8568 – pre-booking essential) which serves authentic high quality Thai food and reasonablish prices.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Ultra Orthodox Jews

I confess i have a serious problem with the ultra-orthodox male Jews. They look so wild, creepy and downright crazy. If the adult males look bizarre, then the young boys look positively freaky: their heads shaved but long curls remain and wearing adult-like 17th century clothes. If i ever make another horror movie (i wrote, directed and produced a movie called Hound Dogs in 1992 but that’s another story), i would utilise these kids. Chucky eat your heart out!

the kids look particularly scary

Elizabeth refers to the men as Wagon Wheels for their fur hats are simply enormous whilst i prefer to label all the males as Curly Wurlies. We’re both terrible really for we can’t help openly scoffing at their outrageous appearances.

blowing in the wind

Camera shy we seclude ourselves just outside the old city with the sole aim in capturing them on our cameras. Unfortunately none of the pics do them justice.

They are from different sects depending on whether they wear their curls in front of or behind their ears, their shoes aqnd even by the colour of their socks.

I fear i might either be hit or struck down by a vengeful god for openly laughing at these freaky looking oddballs.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Lost with Liz

an ultra-orthodox Jew and wife
Elizabeth and i head over to the Moslem Quarter for dinner on Friday night. Options are always limited in Israel on Friday night for Sabbath. We enjoy a reasonably priced meal at El Nasser, close to Damascus Gate.
Elizabeth armed with a quality Streetwise map of the city suggests we take a shortcut back to our hotel and knowing the general direction we need to aim for i am happy to go along with her plan.
We manage to get hopelessly lost and we end up in an ultra orthodox Jewish area - Mea She'arim.
Elizabeth is happy to approach the few late night walkers to ask directions, but they appear completely scared and frequently wave their hands in front of theri faces and shaking their heads. Clearly they will only speak to a male, so i try my best. A few are more communicative but typically in Israel, each response is different to the last.
There are several large posters up which request all women “outsiders” where modest dress, and Elizabeth wants a photo. She puts me on watch-dog duties and i give her the all-clear.
The flash goes off and out of the gloom comes an ultra-orthodox male running and screaming. I don’t know if to laugh or scream, and amazingly i resist both. We both beg forgiveness – this is clearly a serious breach. Our assailant goes ape-shit at us and we bow and apologise profusely.
the offending photo
We certainly learnt our lesson the hard way.
Our “short-cut” has taken an hour and we are both relieved to have made it back to the hotel in one piece.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter, Jerusalem and Christianity

The Dome of the Rock - the iconic image of Jerusalem

When we parted in Cairo, Elizabeth tells me if i am in Israel during Easter, Jerusalem is the place to be. She is due to arrive a few days before having completed her tour of Iraq. She does, i am, so we meet.

With holiday traffic running riot throughout the country, i opt to take the train from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, David kindly drives me out to Lod, some 40 minute from Hertzliya so i don’t have to change trains. Bless his cotton socks. The journey is very picturesque, comfortable, costs NIS19.50 and takes about 1 hour 15 minutes.

Elizabeth is staying in Jerusalem for at least 10 days and she fixes me a room at her base hotel in the New City – Kaplan Hotel (No. 1 Havazelet Street), just off Jaffe Street. A single costs US$65. I get into Jerusalem by 10.30 and my room isn’t ready. I literally dump of my bag, grab The Beast and head into the Old City.

I have a real penchant for the Old City, and it never disappoints as you go through the labyrinth of market stalls that make up the Moslem Quarter. The Old City is a relatively small area broken up into four quarters – the Christian quarter, the Jewish quarter, the Moslem quarter and the Armenian area. Each are fairly unique and have their own kind of charm.

By accident i hit upon the massive procession walking through the Via Dolorosa. It is clearly a very multicultural affair with Indians, Russians, Greeks and Ethiopians and Taiwanese making up a sizeable percentage of the pilgrims. Police barriers and blockades are all over the pathways leading into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the alleys are completely chocabloc with both pilgrims and photographers. Actually many of the pilgrims are also snapping away along the path.

14 Stations of the Cross

It was Helena, mother of Constantine in around 313AD that originally endeavoured to locate these 14 points based on the New Testament – much of it written down between 50 – 300 AD. It’s too easy to fit the Stations around the writings, after all there were simply no living witnesses, but then i am just an old irreligious sceptic.

The pathway of the Final Walk is known as the Via Dolorosa.

Station One

This is the place where Jesus was condemned. It is now the courtyard for Omariye College.

Station Two

The Franciscan chapels of condemnation and flagellation are where allegedly Jesus was given the death penalty, whipped, crowned with thorns and attached to the cross

Station Three

At the corner of El-Wad Road stands a Polish chapel. It marks the spot where Jesus fell for the first time. This is depicted by a high relief by Thaddeus Zienlinsky

Station Four

Jesus’ Mother says her fond farewells on the roadside. It is now an Armenian chapel

Station Five

A Franciscan Oratory marks the place where Simon the Cyrenian risked persecution for assisting Jesus with the cross

Station Six

Veronica wipes the sweat from Jesus’ forehead with a cloth

Station Seven

Jesus falls for a second time. It is marked by a Roman column in yet another Franciscan chapel.

Station Eight

This is marked by a Latin cross on the wall of a Greek monastery. Allegedly Jesus consoles the weeping women of Jerusalem

Station Nine

A Roman column close to the Holy Sepulchre Basilica marks the point of his third fall

Stations Ten, Eleven, Twelve, Thirteen and Fourteen are all at the Holy Sepulchre

10th – stripped of his clothes

11th – nailed to the cross

12th – death on the cross

13th – taken down from the cross

14th – laid into his own tomb where he miraculously rises again three days later

I manage to get past some of the blockades and find myself at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as a large collection of cross-bearing Christians are making a mass exodus.

I eventually manage to meet up with Elizabeth who has come armed with a quality Streetwise map of Jerusalem and we make it onto the Via Dolorosa. We find all the Stations of the Cross and visit some of the landmarks along the way, including the prison cell. It is packed solid and hugely claustrophobic with many Russian pilgrims breaking down into tears – i’m guessing for Jesus rather than their own personal discomfort, but i might be wrong. You an also visit the place where the last supper was hosted and the birthplace of Jesus' Ma, Mary.

Indeed the pilgrims are very emotional and i see several in tears throughout the day. The women in particular look incredibly pious, extremely plain and completely asexual. The men either look like hippies or dorks. Almost all are carrying crosses of varying sizes and the Moslem and Christian stallholders are doing a roaring trade with prices for Jerusalem Olive wood crucifixes with Jesus images beginning at US$60 for the smallest ones.

a field day for cross sellers

Eventually arriving back at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Elizabeth insists i go inside. With five of the 15 Stations it is Christianity’s most reverent pilgrimage site. The crowds are heaving and all i will say is i have rarely witnessed such unchristian like behaviour in my life, with people shoving into each other and swearing like foul-mouthed Wayne Rooney in a Manchester derby as they jostle to enter. It’s all too much madness and i refuse to complete the Stations. After twenty minutes i jostle back out from whence i came.

The Russian Orthodox church

We end the daylight hours away from the Christian pilgrims at the Wailing Wall to witness the ultra religious Jews – variety is the spice of life.

Unfortunately the hordes increase on the Saturday and almost all the gates into the Old City are closed. off by police, army and barriers. Only permit holders and residents are allowed in. Eventually i manage to enter by the wailing wall but again there are barriers to stop anyone getting near to the Holy Church of the Sepulchre. It is here where there is the main annual celebration - the Fire Ceremony.

Nonetheless, it has been both immense and intense, and i am delighted i made the effort to make the journey.