Why do we walk: notes from the Jordan Trail

Why do we walk, why do we hike? Why do we choose to move, one foot after another over the earth? To navigate the planet by foot?

I’m walking and I’m not sure why anymore, each leg feels heavy, my left foot one blister. But, there’s a rhythm to my pain, a rhythm that somehow keeps me going.

I wrote the words above near one end of the 650km Jordan Trail, towards Aqaba. I’d just walked from Dana – around 280km of the Trail (just under half) and I did not want my feet to be mine anymore.

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On the Jordan Trail nearing Iraq Al Amir

I’m writing now after a further 20 days spent walking another 290km of the Jordan Trail from Um Qais to Dana. I am walking as part of the Jordan Trail thru-hike -a 44 day hike from the north of Jordan to the south to complete its 8 sections in one continuous go. Joining the thru-hike are Jordanians, ex-pats, tourists – some for a day, others 2 days, 5 days, or for a few the whole thing. As I walk, we walk, each day, I find myself asking why I walk, we walk, they walk. In Jordan it is not only me asking these questions – walking is something of an anomaly – curious children on the street wonder what we are doing, farmers insist they could give us a lift to Aqaba, shopkeepers thrust sweets and biscuits in our hands.

We’re on something of a modern day pilgrimage, struggling each day to reach our destination and to get there with only the propelling of our bodies. We’re in the land of the pilgrims – we walk over a biblical landscape – we follow Moses’ journey to Mt Nebo and look over to the promised land as he would have done. We pass caves where Jesus is said to have slept. Sometimes at night we can see over to Jerusalem as we sit by our camp fire.

Or if not pilgrims we are traders, following Roman roads and Nabatean trade routes to transport our goods to the ports of the Mediterranean. Our paths are camel tracks, sheep and goat tracks. ‘If only goats were a little bigger’ we sigh as we totter over the rocky hillside in the footsteps of traders before us.

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Navigating the wadis using old goat paths

But on our modern day pilgrimage what are we walking for? Cars, railways, and planes have obliterated the need for trade by foot. It’s not a pilgrimage route anyway in the traditional sense. The Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca no longer takes place by foot anyway. In Jordan ‘we have cars now’ is a common response to prove the ill-need for the foot. Why do we need a Jordan Trail then? Why do we need to hike? The Jordan Trail has aims to connect the country but also to get Jordanians walking – to get people together to walk, to explore the country, to see other sides of Jordan. We all have our reasons: because ‘I can’, ‘to get away from everything’, ‘to see new places’, to ‘meet others’ or even for the ‘exercise’.

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Mohammad and Mohammad crossing Wadi Mujib

Take Mohammad and Mohammad (affectionately known as Mohammadein), two farmers/bedouins (depending on who tells the tale) from Wadi Hidan who by talking to guides passing through the area had heard of the Jordan Trail – one day they decided they were going to hike it. Two bedouins hiking the Jordan Trail – not your usual adventure heroes of 19th century Victorian literature. They visited Petra for the first time, a tourist site flocked to by tourists but one in which these Jordanians had never seen. On leaving Petra towards Wadi Rum they passed through the southern desert where there was no water for days, feeling some slight damp on the soil, they dug underneath, hitting upon an underground stream where water spurted out filling 2 water bottles. It’s the makings of a best selling novel but it also shows what walking can enable: new knowledge and alternative encounters with our landscape. Or else walking is culture itself. Writes Rebecca Solnit:

Walking has become one of the forces that has made the modern world – often by serving as a counter principle to economics. (Pg167)[1]

It is no longer a sortie from but an act of culture. Walking is as much an understanding of culture, and an act of culture as it is a movement of muscles, legs straining, tensing and moving. I’m also talking about the Middle East, about Jordan. A place where people ‘don’t walk’, where to walk is quite extraordinary. To walk then says something about a changing culture, and how a culture sees it landscape and evolves. Walking could then be as Rebecca Solnit sees it as an indicator species:

Perhaps walking is best termed as an ‘indicator species’, to use an ecologist’s term. An indicator species signifies the health of an ecosystem, and its endangerment or diminishment can be an early warning sign of systematic trouble. Walking is an indicator species for various kinds of freedoms and pleasures: free time, free and alluring space, and unhindered bodies. (Pg250)[2]

If this is the case then what does walking tell us something about the particular freedoms and pleasures of Jordan. Walking throughout history is often understood as a resistance to the mainstream, to the norm. Just a few km from parts of the Jordan Trail, is Palestine, a place in which walking is always political. To walk is to resist, the constant restrictions on movement, the matrix of land control, the settlement expansion. We are walking in Raja Shehadeh’s ‘vanishing landscape’[3]. Walking is something we do because we can and through that we are signifying our freedoms in that landscape. Particularly as a woman to walk unhindered through the landscape of the Middle East is too a freedom only recently granted to some and yet to be granted to many.

I have just done 290km of the Jordan Trail in 20 days. I walk to see something new, to meet new people, ask questions, learn new things. On the sixth day of walking we came upon two women making taboon bread- something most of us, even Jordanians had never seen. There it was happening organically, situated knowledge on the ground, an experience of culture. Yet I walk too because I can, because no one is telling me not too, because I can move unhindered through space with just the propelling of my own body. That in itself is a freedom.

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[1] Solnit, R. (2001) Wanderlust: A History of Walking. Penguin: New York; London.

[2] Solnit, R. (2001) Wanderlust: A History of Walking. Penguin: New York; London.

[3] Shehadeh, R. (2008) Palestinian Walks: Forays into a Vanishing Landscape. Scribner: New York.

‘I feel safe here’: understanding fear and safety in Jordan

‘OK – one last question. What did your family say when you said you were coming to Jordan to study Arabic? Did they think it was safe?!’ – we all laughed, ‘They thought I was signing my death wish, I was going to become a Jihadi bride’, Ruby joked.’

As the camera was put down, we were thanked for our time and told we were going to change a lot of lives, twelve graders they have no idea about the Middle East. This film, shot in one of my Arabic classes, was going to be shown across schools in America.

‘Is it safe there?’ ‘Do you feel safe?’ ‘What do your parents think of you being in Jordan?’  

For the past 6 months I’ve been conducting interviews in Jordan – asking people about walking and homestays as part of my PhD research. Yet always conversations gravitate towards questions of safety. Jordanians ask me what my family think about me being here, ajanib (foreigners) tell me how worried their families were at the thought of them being here. People both abroad and Jordanian seem fascinated by safety and what safety means – I feel myself consequently constantly needing to assure people I feel safe, I am safe.

Throughout my time in Jordan, global catastrophe has consumed my news feed; Baghdad, Istanbul, Medina, Nice, Berlin, Munich, and most recently an attack in Jordan itself near Karak. I met two tourists one weekend doing a tour of the region; they commented to me that: ‘our trip has been shaped by the conflict here. Jordan actually seemed the safest place to be. Originally we wanted travel independently but it soon became clear that it would be safest to join a tour organization. But it’s been great – we’ve stayed in a Bedouin camp, we’re here at this cooking class – we have met wonderful people.’

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Hiking in Wadi Rum

Jordan is what Dorina Maria Buda[1] describes as ‘the Switzerland of the Middle East’: relatively untouched by terrorism and the political turmoil of the region. And it feels it. Yet Jordan still remains unfortunately placed in ‘The Middle East’: a place of homogenised fear. Rachel Pain[2] in 2009 used the term ‘globalised fear’ to give name to post 9/11 events in which metanarratives of fear shape the politics and patterns of fear. Writing that the ‘terrorist attacks in the west’ and the ‘war on/of terror’ had sparked new interest in the politics and patterns of fear. Eight years on and this can be said even more assuredly and it is this globalised fear that makes Jordan feel unsafe. Sitting back in my living room in Glasgow reading of a terror attack in Jordan in the international media – I’m confused, should I feel fearful? I notice how hard it is to separate my feelings of safety there with a fear constantly pushed on to me.

Yet how do we feel safe in relation to fear? The words ‘safety’ – ‘safety concerns’, ‘safety issues’ – litter our newspapers these days in response to this globalised fear. In Jordan safety concerns are a huge issue for Jordanian tourism, Dorina Maria Buda’s recent piece on tourism in Jordan argues that understandings of the ways fear, safety, and conflict relate to one another are important to understanding the politics of tourism practices. While Debbie Lisle’s[3] recent book ‘Holidays in the Danger Zone’ argues that ‘even the most benign and well meaning tourist experience is structured by antagonistic geopolitical forces’ drawing on Michael Shapiro’s[4] work exploring how geopolitical productions of domestic, interior, homelands are contrasted with distant, foreign, outsides. In this sense it is geopolitical imaginaries of place which shape tourism practices particularly in the case of Jordan the relationship between here (safe) and there (danger). Safety plays an important role in shaping our movements as tourists; either through restricting mass tourism (as seen in the decline recently in Egyptian and Jordanian tourism) or through promoting war/conflict/dark tourism as people travel to seek danger.

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A recent article in the Guardian newspaper[5] on Jordanian tourism repeatedly emphasises the word ‘safe’. The author Amelia Gentlemen writes:

‘The cafe owner appeared bemused by the reluctance of tourists to come. “It’s safe here; we have no Isil. But people have stopped coming,” he told us.’

But the quote that really strikes with me is a jewellery seller noting:

‘A bomb goes off in Turkey and people think ‘We shouldn’t visit Jordan.’’

It’s this quote that complicates the entangled meanings of fear/safety: safety should be our biggest concern and Jordan is safe but when fear comes into play understandings of safety change. The global mixes with the local. It particularly interests me what makes people feel safe. For Rachel Pain what is often missing from understandings of fear are the ways that fear is felt, patterned and practiced in everyday life. For me what is often missing from all these headlines on safety is how people themselves actually feel safe.

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A photo from a recent event in Sinai promoting the region as safe

I remember all the conversations I have had laughing in Jordan about how unbelievably safe we feel there. For me in Jordan, ‘safety’ means something entirely differently than the ‘safety concerns’ the newspapers describe. My daily ‘safety’ concerns in Jordan revolve around negotiating the crazy driving in Amman, avoiding street harassment, and not walking alone at night. Safety concerns that are universal to any capital city. One of my friends even commented:

‘I feel safer hiking in Jordan than I do anywhere in America.’

This comment signifies the individual and multiple ways in which fear and safety entangle and are felt. How globalised fear mixes with local safety. I am sure this statement for others would be reversed emphasising how personal and individual safety is. Before we can start deeming anywhere ‘unsafe’ then we have to ask what does safety mean not just in the context of globalised fear but at a day to day, everyday life scale. That’s real safety. And if that’s real safety then Jordan is definitely safe

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A camel near Petra 

[1] Buda, D.M. (2016) Tourism in Conflict Areas: Complex Entanglements in Jordan. Journal of Travel Research: 55 (7): 835-846.

[1] Buda, D.M. (2016) Tourism in Conflict Areas: Complex Entanglements in Jordan. Journal of Travel Research: 55 (7): 835-846.

[2] Pain, R. (2009) Globalized fear? Towards an emotional geopolitics. Progress in Human Geography: 33: 466-486.

[3] Lisle, D. (2016) Holidays in the Danger Zone: Entanglements of War and Tourism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

[4] Shapiro, M. (1997) Violent Cartographies: Mapping cultures of war. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

[5] https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2016/nov/26/jordan-petra-amman-holiday-jerash-dead-sea

The violence of denied entry

‘Can I exchange these Israeli shekels into British pounds please?’

I’m at the Bureau de Change in Marks and Spencer. ‘Yeah sure’, the guy working there replies, ‘but you know the buy back rate isn’t so good – I’ll have a look.’ He looks. ‘Ok it’s bad – you’re going to lose about £80 by exchanging them back, that’s quite a lot.’ His colleague walks over; she agrees. ‘It’s quite a lot.’ I chip in, ‘yeah it is quite a lot.’ He thinks. ‘Are you sure you’re not going to go back to Israel soon, you could use them again there perhaps?’ I think. ‘I don’t think I will be going back to Israel soon, in fact I can one hundred percent guarantee to you that I won’t.’ ‘Oh OK’ – he’s intrigued but I’m not going into that, ‘maybe you could sell them to someone else going, do you know anyone else going?’ ‘OK I’ll have a think’. My mind races to images of me standing on the Durham University campus flogging Israeli shekels to students. ‘I’ll leave it today then. Right now though can I exchange some pounds into Jordanian dinar?’

Since being denied entry to Israel and banned for an indeterminate amount of time [I tried to enter Israel twice and was denied entry both times, I wrote about the first time in this post [1]]; moving again, really moving, has taken longer than I ever imagined. My decision to spend this summer in Amman was aided and encouraged only by the receiving of an Arabic language scholarship from the Centre for British Research in the Levant[2], a prediction of quite rainy weather in Scotland and North East England, and a determination not to let the violence of my denial of entry beat me. Ghazi-Walid Falah, a prominent Palestinian academic who now resides in Canada, on writing about his far more brutal experiences of imprisonment by Israeli forces[3] suggests that writing can be therapy and, in this post, I want to use my experiences in the months following being denied entry as a form of therapeutic writing but also to situate my experiences of denied entry as an example of state violence.

Getting going, getting moving is always hard (just think of all the unused gym memberships there must be this far from January). Travelling to the Middle East felt impossible, and even 6 (!) months on it felt scary. I felt surrounded by the memories of last time I tried to travel to the Middle East. The girl I sit beside on the plane from Edinburgh to Istanbul is transferring to Israel, spending a holiday with friends in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. ‘Lucky her’ I think. I stand in Istanbul airport looking up at the departure board: flights to all over the world, countless countries, yet the four flights on the board to Tel Aviv glare back at me. Last time I was in this airport, taking far too many free samples of Turkish delight, that’s where I was going. I was going there.

Being denied entry at first felt like a restriction on my physical movement only, alongside the sadness that I could not access somewhere, that I could not enter a country. At times this felt childish, a throwing my toys out the pram moment: ‘but I really want to go there!’ In fact, I can’t even really say that I am not able to visit many places. With a British passport, I can travel to 156 countries visa free, whereas a Bangladeshi passport would gain me access to just 37. If I had a Pakistani passport, I would only gain access visa free to 27 countries and Israel would never be an option[4]. I felt incredibly guilty: what about the large Palestinian diasporas across the world with families, homes, histories, heritages in Palestine who can never enter again. This turned to anger, anger that so many can never enter Palestine; all those who can never see Palestine, its beauty, understand its politics, its struggle, what the occupation really means. I hear that my University, Durham, has now stopped sending students to Israel. I feel awful. This is what they wanted, a dearth of research and scholarship to the region that might be critical.

Yet, in the months that followed being denied entry, I began to realize that the violence of this act had greater consequences on me than the physical restrictions. It was the way in which states stop movement so brutally and violently that is often the bigger issue and consequence on the individual.

I have had quite an agonising few days trying to decide what to do about the AAG [I am referring to the Annual Conference of the Association of American Geographies held once a year in U.S. city]. I am now having to accept I am doing something different from my original PhD idea as well as dealing with the implications of my denied entry continually extending beyond the initial trauma. The AAG just seems like another blow and something I was really looking forward to amongst it all. This all said, when the question becomes ‘could you deal with being denied entry?’ – the answer I know myself is No. Everyone keeps telling me there is no way I won’t get in, which makes me feel even more silly for not going, but no one knows this for certain therefore I think my only answer is not to go.’

 Written above is an extract from an email I sent to my supervisors about my decision not to attend a conference in the U.S. [there are suggestions that the U.S. and Israel share information especially with regards to border security]. Thinking back to that decision now, it seems simultaneously extremely silly, inconsequential, and yet incredibly upsetting and pivotal. Especially when the process of being denied entry becomes personal and visceral, it’s hard to know how we will ever deal with it. On entering the U.S., I was worried less that I might not get in and more that the process of not getting in might be violent.

Violence is always present at borders, in the form of protests, imprisonment, murder even[5]. Borders are where movement is restricted everyday, always violently. This violence doesn’t even have to be particularly overt, as many Palestinians know; it can be as simple as a ‘No’ or as brutal as needs be. Yet what makes the violence of denied entry so violent for me, is the way it affects my movement in a splintering effect, immobilising me beyond the single act. I now have a ‘clean’ passport to travel with but passing through immigration sends a rush of blood and sweat round my body. The interrogation, the eight hour questioning throughout the night, I faced at Ben Gurion airport and the resulting imprisonment in a detention centre before deportation is still an experience I find hard to recall, or else recall with manic laughter. It seems unreal yet it was real.

Being denied entry can be discussed logistically, pragmatically, and practically. Yet the violence transcends this; it can’t really be dealt with. There is no easy way to move on, no solution, because there is always a violence associated with denying someone entry, whether emotional, physical, psychological. Yet this state violence is so often ignored, washed under the carpet, erased under the mantra of State Security. The state and its many arms such as the military can get away with a lot when security is at stake[6]. Falah writes of the politics of doing geography after his detainment in an Israeli jail and the hell he experienced there[7]. Upon attempting to enter Israel, months after his 23 day detainment, his wife and twelve-year-old son were subjected to prolonged interrogation: the border being used once again as an important and easy avenue for state violence, always behind closed doors. It is unseen and therefore harder to comprehend. After being denied entry the first time, I was told by the Israeli embassy I could re-enter Israel through Ben Gurion Airport – clearly not true. A friend of mine was told the same.

The border is an easy site in which the state can gather intelligence about us by any means possible, construct us as a dangerous other, and inflict violence on us. And how little we must do wrong to be subjected to this – we can just be doing geography.

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Olive trees in Jordan

Olive trees in Jordan

[1] https://motioningtourism.wordpress.com/2015/11/12/emptying-palestine/

[2] http://cbrl.org.uk/

[3] Falah, GW. (2008) Geography in ominous intersection with interrogation and torture: Reflections on detention in Israel. Third World Quarterly 29 (4): 749-766.

[4] https://www.passportindex.org/byRank.php

[5] Chacón, J.A., Davis, M. and Cardona, J. (2006) No one is illegal: Fighting violence and state repression on the US-Mexico border. Haymarket Books. Tawil-Souri, H. (2012) Uneven Borders, Coloured (Im) mobilities: ID Cards in Palestine/Israel. Geopolitics 17 (1): 153-176.

[6] Woodward, R. (2001) Khaki conservation: an examination of military environmentalist discourses in the British Army. Journal of Rural Studies 17 (2): 201-217. Woodward, R. and Winter, P. (2004) Discourses of gender in the contemporary British Army. Armed Forces & Society 30 (2): 279-301.

[7] Falah, GW. (2007) The politics of doing geography: 23 days in the hell of Israeli detention. Environment and Planning D 25 (4): 587-593.

Rethinking everyday space in Palestine through the olive

‘You know something, Palestine is a pretty nice place to be right now.’

The sentence above is one I wrote two months ago after a day’s olive picking in Palestine. A sentence hard to reflect on now as I sit in the UK – not while I absorb the numerous news stories around me about Palestine and the nature of people in and from the Middle East. Particularly since the recent attacks in Paris, the Middle East is increasingly forgotten as a lived and everyday place. Rather, it has become a place where ISIS reign and conflict and violence dominant the narrative.

But as the Paris attacks demonstrated with brutal clarity, there is an ‘everydayness’ and ‘hereness’ to conflict and violence. Paris was so shocking because everyday people were affected and it attacked our places of leisure and safety – the café, the concert venue, the football stadium. Yet more shocking is how the USA, France, and the UK responded – with proposed large scale violence that will impact everyday spaces over ‘there’.[1] We live with this response here by dislocating ourselves physically and emotionally from any evidence that everyday life even exists in the Middle East.

Hearing today that the UK Prime Minister David Cameron is attempting to gain support for air strikes on Syria mirrors exactly the actions of another democratically elected leader – Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu – on Palestine. Both leaders justify attacks which inevitably target everyday civilians in Syria and Palestine by using narratives of fear amongst their citizens – most importantly telling us our everyday space is at threat. But what about the everyday space over ‘there’?

Let me then take you to an everyday space in Palestine, a space of safety, refuge, and culture for Palestinians – the olive field.

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Olive trees are one of Palestine’s most sacred objects – loved, looked after, and treated as a member of the family. In Palestine the olive tree looks after the family just as much as the family looks after it. They provide a space of shelter, an important source of food and nutrition and a valuable source of income. The picking of olives to this day remains an important cultural event in the yearly calendar. Olive picking takes place from October to November after the first rains of winter have cleansed the trees ready for picking. Traditionally olive picking is a family affair, the short period in which olives must be picked means it is a hands-on rush. Palestine at this time of year is engulfed by the olive harvest – olive trees bulging with olives cover the fields, full buckets line the market streets, and families spend their days putting olives in jars or crushing them for oil.

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It is not hard to understand therefore, why the olive tree has also become a site of violence in Palestine. It is a safe and everyday space in Palestine and is therefore the perfect place to attack. Nothing stands more for the current restrictions on Palestinian life than the humble olive. One of the biggest impacts of the building of the separation wall between Israel and Palestine has been the destruction of olive groves. The building of the wall itself has resulted in thousands of acres of olive groves being demolished, some of which have olive trees estimated to be between 700 to 1000 years old. As recent as two months ago, the oldest, more sacred olive trees continue to be cut down to make way for the building of new wall.[2]

Farmers who have been lucky enough to keep their land have in many cases been separated from it. Olive trees, like people, need love, attention and looking after. Yet most farmers have been dragged away from their land – only granted permits to reach it at very specific times of year. If they can get to their land, often it is not long enough to pick their olives, and far from being a cultural and family activity – family and friends are kept at the side lines. To attack a nation to its core, attack its livelihood, its heritage, its culture – in Palestine attack its olive trees.

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An iconic photo from the recent destruction of olive trees. A Palestinian resident of Beit Jala mourns the loss of ancient olive trees near her home.

Protecting this everyday space is a difficult task. Remarkably, however, through tourism these olive groves have become important sites of non-violent resistance. Olive picking tourism has been increasing in popularity with numerous tour operators and NGOs offering the opportunity to pick olives with Palestinian families. By doing this tourists perform three important functions: firstly they share in a traditional and important cultural tradition. I was lucky enough to go olive picking twice in Palestine. Firstly with the family I was living with and secondly with my friend whose tour company organises an olive picking tour every October[3]. Both times I found it harder work than I imagined, both times I experienced overwhelming displays of Palestinian hospitality, both times I got fed my weight in mujadara[4], and both times I understood a little bit more about Palestinian life. The second function of tourism is to draw attention to the numerous struggles facing Palestinian farmers-  by witnessing and sharing the stories of farmers, tourists become important tools of non-violent resistance. Thirdly, tourists protect the farmers. In recent years due to the proximity of many farms to Israeli settlements, farmers olive picking are particularly vulnerable to attack form unwelcome settlers.[5] This can be anything from the burning of olive trees to the murder of farmers. Tourists by their mere presence make it harder for these attacks to take place.

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Tourists helping with the olive harvest near Beit Jala. Photo courtesy of Robert Wood.

Olive picking in Palestine, the recent attacks in Paris, and the air strikes in Syria all demonstrate how entangled the everyday space and violence are.  To protect the everyday space, is not to attack it but to defend and keep it. Every space is an everyday space to someone. To save one everyday space by attacking another everyday space means that those at threat are always the innocent and armless.

[1] http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-34927939

[2] http://mondoweiss.net/2015/08/confiscate-christian-bethlehem

[3] http://tobe-there.com/en/

[4] A traditional Palestinian dish of rice, lentils, and onions. There is a super easy recipe here http://www.kitchenofpalestine.com/mjaddara/

[5] http://www.presstv.com/Detail/2015/10/15/433577/Israel-Palestinian-alJaniya-Aviv-Quds-Jerusalem-Ibrahim-Dar-Youssef

Emptying Palestine

‘Today you have been denied entry to Israel; if you follow my colleague she will escort you back to Jordan.’

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The sentence I write above is one that now seems slightly comical. I had until now associated ‘entry denied’ with those who had done wrong, broken the law, or at the very least ‘other’ people. Yet the sentence above was directed at me and its full meaning this time engulfed me and not an ‘other’.

As I write this far away from Palestine, I feel not just the denial of entry but more the separation which comes with it. A deliberate separation, isolation, and dislocation from the space of Palestine and one that illustrates exactly what the occupying power wants – an emptying of Palestine. Despite the creation of Palestine as an independent state in 1993 in the Oslo agreements[1] , Israel controls all borders in and out of Palestine. Anyone travelling through Israel’s borders who explicitly states they are travelling to Palestine or even worse happens to be Palestinian is likely to encounter problems. Through denial of entry, however, borders become not just a method of control but a very tangible way in which we see an emptying of this space physically and ideologically.

My denial of entry occurred as I attempted to renew my three month tourist visa by travelling to Jordan and then back to Israel[2] . Of course entering Israel, when you intend to enter Palestine, was never going to be an easy task. As I was informed in the interrogation room at the Jordanian/Israeli border, I was attempting to enter a highly securitised place. In other words a place where anyone and everyone is a potential threat. In recent years borders have become increasingly important for Israel’s sense of security, instead of dealing with the root causes of the Second Intifada, which saw a rise of bomb attacks in Israel, Israel built its separation wall. Bomb attacks in Israel stopped and Israel’s logical conclusion is that borders, walls, and fences should keep ‘them’ out and ensure Israel’s security and safety. Yet these methods to keep ‘them’ out are becoming increasingly de-mobilising and restrictive.

Borders are taking on a whole new meaning and have immense power in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. Despite the increasing worldwide fluidity and breaking down of international borders as more and more people travel and move freely, Israel’s borders challenge this. Borders are built to create what Eyal Weizman calls ‘Israel’s architecture of occupation’[3], aiming to restrict mobility as much as possible through their construction. Others have suggested they are an emotional and embodied entity[4], and Stuart Elden[5] uses the term ‘vertical geopolitics’ to describe their three dimensional construction in which Israeli borders incorporate space above and below ground. Borders are one of Israel’s most important means to control their space and are created and controlled with military precision.

As I waited outside the interrogation room, slumped against the wall, a Palestinian man came to speak to me. ‘Please let me find you a chair,’ he insisted. My agitated, restless body told him really I was ok and even the comfiest of chairs would feel uncomfortable right now. We exchanged tales – mine of a tourist-cum-researcher denied entry, his of a Father being denied entry back to his home. Nine hours he had been kept so far and his fate was still up for grabs.

Summoned back into a windowless room my fate, however, was decided. The stern faced security guard lifted his arms in the air as to mimic a set of scales. ‘So let me see,’ he said, ‘you have spent three months studying Arabic in Bethlehem and in that time you have only travelled to the Israeli towns of Jerusalem (as the Palestinian capital, this is a contentious statement in itself), Tel Aviv, and Yafa (which are the same places he informed me). ‘Do I know what story I think you have heard, what the Palestinians have told you?’ ‘You know there is no such place as Palestine don’t you? No such thing as the Palestinian people?’ He continues, he presses how I help people, specifically how I help Palestinians. He persists – he wants to know why I am really here. Yet despite my reasonable answers, they will never be sufficient. My crime has been committed already in his eyes – I have seen ‘things’.

For most people being in a position of injustice is hard to bare, a situation where you feel you are wrongly accused, wrongly treated, and misunderstood. Yet this is how Palestinian people are being treated all around me. It is not hard to wonder why an estimated 9.6 million Palestinians live abroad compared with 4.4 million living in Gaza, the West Bank, and occupied East Jerusalem. And this border experience just stands for such a small part of everything happening to Palestinians recently. Palestinians start from a position in which they are the enemy – the ones at fault and the ones doing something wrong. Here this becomes a tool of the powerful against the weak – against Palestinians or anyone who might know them. Make your enemy a justifiable enemy, an enemy who is in the wrong.

The killing of 19 year old Palestinian student Fadi Alloun, a few weeks ago, in occupied East Jerusalem only epitomises this[6]. He was chased by a group of angry Israeli settlers. As he ran away he saw police in the distance, he tried to run to them to get help, as he ran the Israeli settlers shouted ‘shoot him shoot him’ – sadly the police obliged, trusting the Israel’s over the Palestinian. The result – now another innocent young student has been killed.

Over the past two months of recent violence across the West Bank and Israel – 77 Palestinians and 10 Israelis have been killed[7]. Both sides are understandably scared but the occupying power ultimately controls that fear – making it particularly scary to be a Palestinian right now. In the Palestinian refugee camps this is so clearly felt. Night-time raids are an everyday occurrence – with families continually threatened with a daily ritual of fear. Tear gas fills the atmosphere of Bethlehem everyday – tear gas that gets into your lungs, your eyes, your mouth, your throat – it engulfs your body and your senses. Tear gas that enters everyday spaces and has devastating impacts – just last week a baby was killed by tear gas inhalation while sitting in a car[8]. When tear gas and night time raids is not the menu of the day then another method deemed suitable is the spraying of sewage water in the streets. In the heat of summer (which this year was never-ending) this is particularly unbearable.

The emptying of space becomes relentless: every method is used to make everyday life unbearable for those living within Palestine, while at the borders every method is used to keep ‘us’ and ‘them’ out.

Trying to get back into Palestine makes Prison Break look like an after dinner party game. I am now not a problem anyone would like to neither deal with nor help. I am a problem of the Ministry of Interior – an impenetrable force in the heart of Israel. I must, I was informed, meet with the Ministry of Interior within Israel’s borders (a problem when I can’t physically get there). I have been told I was illegally there by the Israeli embassy in the UK (apparently I should have had a student visa which is not legally correct); and spoke to the Israeli embassy in Amman who informed me even if they wanted to help me they couldn’t.

What remains clearer than ever in my head right now is how empty a space Palestine is being threatened to become. The past month I have spent in Palestine, tourism has dropped 60 percent as people cancel trips in fear of current events. My own experience too has massive implications on my own experience to research and study Palestine. It makes me wonder how often other researchers are restricted from entering Palestine without anyone really knowing; silently and subtly at border crossings. Is Palestine really a place than anyone can go and see and understand? Who even wants to remain in a place where you are first and foremost a terrorist/enemy/attacker? In essence, how long will it take to empty Palestine?

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oslo_Accords

[2] Since I am conducting fieldwork in Palestine I am unable to get a work or student visa, therefore my only option is to get three month tourist visas and travel out of Israel and back in to renew them.

[3] Weizman, E. (2012) Hollow Land: Israel’s Architecture of Occupation. London: Verso.

[4] Long, J.C. (2006) Border Anxiety in Palestine-Israel. Antipode 38 (1): 107-127.

[5] Elden, S. (2013) Secure the volume: Vertical geopolitics and the depth of power. Political Geography 34: 35-51

[6] http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/10/controversial-killing-fadi-alloun-151005081834933.html

[7] http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/interactive/2015/10/mapping-dead-latest-israeli-palestinian-violence-151013142015577.html

[8] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/oct/30/baby-dies-west-bank-inhaling-teargas-palestinian-ministry-israel

Making sense of things in Palestine

Standing a few minutes from the entrance to Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem, my friend and I were in two minds. Querying whether or not we should enter the refugee camp where the funeral of a 13 year old Palestinian boy shot dead by Israeli soldiers was about to take place[1].  To be this near the spot where something so terrible happened it seemed wrong to do nothing, yet at the same time what is the right way to act. Making sense of things here is a constant struggle, the sudden juxtaposition between reading things that once felt so far away with suddenly being right there.

Palestine is a metaphorical and physical walled fortress. All activities behind it concealed and contained, hidden from the outside world. This wall enables the outside world to treat those differently behind it, to ignore those behind it, and forget about them. In the words of former US defence secretary Chuck Hagel, we must ‘keep Palestinians caged up like animals.’ It is only being behind this wall, we can see the barrier of ignorance it creates, and the ability of Israel and the international media to keep this wall high. The media focus on the numbers of Israelis killed; frequent association between the words Palestinian and terrorist; and inability to show any daily life in Palestine occurring without conflict – feeds Israeli ignorance and ensures no cracks develop.

Palestinians are portrayed as Hagel’s wild animals – they are all terrorists, killers, they all carry knifes, all carry bombs. These are all the pictures and stories the media sells us. Israel especially works every day to keep its citizens ignorant. Signs across the Palestinian West Bank warn Israelis that entering Palestine is dangerous to their lives. Israeli citizens never have the chance to see how  their state’s occupation and control over the West Bank impacts on everyday life; the water shortages, the house demolitions, the restriction on mobility, the fear of attack by the Israeli military to mention a few.

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One of the numerous signs warning Israelis against travelling to Palestinian areas in the West Bank

Yet if we venture behind the wall, a land full of threats to Israeli security does not await us. Instead lies a land full of Palestinians trying to live a life amidst occupation. Using their fear of Palestinians, Israel justifies a whole series of controls on Palestinian life; checkpoints, road closures, seizure of farm land, control of water. Being behind the wall means I see all this squeezing, pressing, and pushing instigated by Israel. The constant daily torment imposed by the Israeli occupation makes it hard to imagine how that situation cannot one day pop. Yet outside of Palestine we never see the squeezing and pressing – we just see the pop. And when the pop does happen- inevitably so – Israeli lives matter more than Palestinian lives; the implications for Palestinians are far worse than for Israelis in terms of the law. When a Palestinian throws a stone they get twenty years; when a Palestinian attacks an Israeli their family are imprisoned and their home demolished.

This is the main difference between being here and being back there- I no longer just see the pop but I see the squeezing, pressing, pushing, and pinching. Being here makes what is happening seem so incredibly unjust. It is almost impossible to be here and not understand and feel what’s going on – my Mum came to visit last month and solidified this for me. The experiential and emotional understanding she got from being here as opposed to just watching on the news opened my eyes to just how easy it is to distance ourselves from what is happening. Yet once here that distance becomes impossible.

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My Mum and I at the separation wall, Summer 2015

This question of distance has made me rethink the role of tourism here. I have worried before that tourism based on conflict can be damaging in Palestine is it reinforces the dominant association between Palestine and conflict. Perhaps tourism based on everyday activities such as cooking or hiking could be more important for creating an imagination of Palestine as lived and perhaps even a fun and happy place.  However, at the same time the role of tourism and the tourist is changing. Particularly in tourist sites which were once considered ‘dark’ – in which death, atrocity, or disaster was present.[2] Ashworth and Isaac argue there is a shift now towards wanting to understand the motivation, subsequent experience and behaviour of the tourists in these sites.[3] They suggest that tourism and emotions are strongly linked and tourists can have emotional associations with sites.

Here in Palestine this can also be seen in the move towards experiential tourism. Tourists do not all just want to come and gaze and see any more – they also want a chance to come and experience – learn and feel. They want to come and olive pick with Palestinian farmers, take part in cooking classes, or to enter everyday spaces such as the refugee camp or the family home. In these every day and experiential places, ordinary people are given voices and they can share their own and personal stories. Tourism can potentially provide an answer as to how we might break down walls and fortresses. Graffiti scrawled around the West Bank contains slogans such as ‘now you have seen you are responsible and it is hard to come here and not feel responsible. Perhaps tourism has one solution, as it is only when both Israelis and the international community really feel what is going on that any changes will ever come about.

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We decided to go into Aida Camp that day, partly led by the shared feeling that we wanted to show we care, we hoped very much we would not just be seen as another gazer, another atrocity seeker. It is hard to describe the atmosphere in a place where a young boy has been shot by military forces. It definitely isn’t pleasant, people stand with nothing to do, the Imam chants angrily from the mosque, young boys act like men, crowds amass while women weep.

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Photo taken from the funeral of 13 year old Abdel Rahman Abdullah in Aida Refugee Camp – one of 24 Palestinians killed so far this month[4]
[1] http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/.premium-1.678885

[2] Lennon, J. J., & Foley, M. (2000). Dark tourism. Cengage Learning EMEA.

[3] Ashworth, G. J., and Rami K. Isaac. “Have we illuminated the dark? Shifting perspectives on ‘dark’tourism.” Tourism Recreation Research (2015): 1-10.

[4] http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/10/palestinian-teen-killed-clashes-rage-west-bank-151011143250761.html

Re-imagining Palestine through beer

Amongst the recent skirmishes at Al Aqsa mosque and general unrest in Jerusalem, I was sat on a crowded rooftop at Palestine’s annual take on Oktoberfest  –  a mini-festival organised by Palestine’s Taybeh Brewery.

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It is not often the image of a beer festival springs to mind when we think of Palestine. Yet while tensions were rising in Jerusalem due to Israel imposing increasingly harsh restrictions on Palestinian movement – one media outlet hailing it as the 3rd intifada[1] – here I was drinking a beer brewed on Palestinian soil no less.

Taybeh was the first brewery in the Middle East when it was established by the Koury family in 1994[2]. It plays a crucial role in re-imagining Palestine by enabling alternative representations to those produced by the ferocious and constant media focus on tension and conflict to arise. The brewery plays a role in signifying a heterogeneity of Palestinian voices and everydayness to Palestine as it shows that there are different communities and religious groups in Palestine. Taybeh is one of few entirely Christian villages in Palestine and the irony of a brewery representing a Christian community is nonetheless important because it symbolises that Palestine is a country where some can drink beer, and where festivals take place.

When we drink a beer, a taste moves and travels. I can remember that taste from Palestine but I can also bring that taste with me, I can potentially buy that taste in Scotland.  In Palestine so many things cannot travel, cannot move – particularly material things – anything which can is miraculous. Speaking with the owners of the brewery they told me it cost them more in export taxes to get their beer the 70km or so from Taybeh to an Israeli port than to move it all the way to Germany. Israel’s border controls are an important issue here by ensuring any goods coming in and out of Israel become unreasonably expensive and through export and import taxes the Israeli economy benefits while the Palestinian economy suffers. Fuel in Palestine for example costs the same as fuel in the UK, but the average wage in Palestine is about seven times less[3].

If not through border controls, Israel controls many Palestinian goods through forms of cultural appropriation in which Israel re-labels many traditional Palestinian goods as Israeli. As I walked through Israel’s main airport a few months ago my eye was drawn to a gift shop selling Israeli traditional products.  Unfortunately it contained many goods Palestinians would see as central to their culture re-labelled as Israeli: hummus, falafel, and traditional Palestinian pottery designs. This is damaging not just because Israel profits economically but they erase Palestine’s global market presence. This seems so cruel when material objects are so important for many countries: think of whisky and Scotland, Heineken and the Netherlands, wine and France. These objects (excuse the focus on alcohol) are central to the economy of each country but also key to making these countries global players.

falafel

Taybeh brewery states as three of its aims: to contribute to the Palestinian economy, elevate tourism, and widen international market presence. Through breweries in Palestine the global and local can intersect in new ways. Different actors are given new mobilities; Palestine now has two breweries (Taybeh and Shepherds[4]) and a nano-brewery – Wise Man – has recently opened up in a Palestinian village near Bethlehem. All these are family run and most importantly local – beer is giving power to local actors – enabling bottom up not top down learning. In this way Palestinians themselves are given the power to re-represent themselves and become knowledgeable actors. As the Taybeh brewery states in its aims, not only does it help the Palestinian economy and increase tourism but an international presence arises. At both Taybeh and Shepherds breweries, the hops are imported from Europe, to give a slightly European taste. The collision of different geographical locations in this beer is important, encouraging us to think of a Palestine as not completely disconnected from the world.

Back to me sat on a crowded rooftop drinking beer at the Taybeh Oktoberfest. I am now listening to Palestinian bands performing, eating delicious food from local eateries, and browsing Palestinian craft stalls. I’m not the only one enjoying myself: Palestinians and tourists surround me laughing.

These moments are important because laughter and enjoyment creates a Palestine in the present. This present is important because the present gives life. Life is lived in the present. Being at the beer festival was about enjoyment. It was also about a future, a material object which isn’t about tradition but for once an object which stands for a future. A future centred around something new and exciting.  Visiting both the Taybeh and Shepherds breweries it struck me how new and shiny they were both were – state of the art. Trying to create a future here is not easy when the future here seems so uncertain – everything is so precious because Israel can so take it away.

Of course the festival was not perfect (I heard numerous Palestinians complaining about the entry costs and restrictions on the festival meant it had to finish at 10.30pm) but as the last song played and many – slightly drunk – jumped up and down in front of the stage, I did feel a Palestine filled with smiles and laughter and maybe a different future.

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[1] http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/palestinian-figure-israeli-violations-al-aqsa-may-lead-3rd-intifada-717126677

[2] http://taybehbeer.com/

[3] http://www.pcbs.gov.ps/site/512/default.aspx?tabID=512&lang=en&ItemID=790&mid=3172&wversion=Staging

[4] http://www.shepherds.ps/

[3] http://www.pcbs.gov.ps/site/512/default.aspx?tabID=512&lang=en&ItemID=790&mid=3172&wversion=Staging

[4] http://www.shepherds.ps/

‘Who speaks for the Palestinians?’

Almost a year and a half ago I wrote my PhD proposal titled ‘Who speaks for the Palestinians.’ Writing that, it was a reference to the voicelessness of Palestinians in the conflict. Yet after a month here this sentence for me now translates as more than just the Palestinians not having a voice, but that others speak for the Palestinians.

It is something I found myself doing last week in the house of the family I live with in Bethlehem. Often they have numerous guests staying in their house and one morning I found myself describing the hardships facing Palestinian life to a French guest, who seemed to know very little, as the family sat in silence.

How we speak for and represent the inhabitants of a tourist destination – particularly their everyday life – is a problem often faced in tourism literature. Organised tours in particular are considered to be commercialised, devoid of emotion, and rushed, leaving us only time to gaze. Yet in my experience tours can also be filled with emotion, personal accounts, and time to stop and think. Particularly in Palestine, finding tours which engage with everyday life and show a lived Palestine are particularly important so as not to homogenise Palestine as a place where only conflict lives.

This post is about a tour I took last week by an organisation called ‘Breaking the Silence’[1]; who run tours led by ex-Israeli soldiers offering testimonies about their role in the occupation of Palestine. The particular tour I went on was in the southern Palestinian city of Hebron, one of the most contentious Palestinian cities because an Israeli settlement has been constructed in its heart[2]. The result of this is that in order to protect Israelis living in the settlement, the centre of the city has been closed to Palestinians and some reports estimate that 1500 Israeli soldiers guard 500 Israeli settlers.

Having visited Hebron before and seen and heard about cases of brutality towards Palestinians from soldiers stationed in Hebron, I was intrigued to hear the voices of Israeli soldiers. Arriving at the tour, however, it seemed I was not the only one with this sentiment. I arrived not to see a small group of people lingering around but instead 7 buses which could take about 50 people. In the ‘intimate’ setting of a large coach, our guide, Eli, shared with us his upbringing in a settlement with a politically active Zionist family. He shared his experiences of military service (service here is compulsory for all Israelis at the age of 18)[3] and what made him join ‘Breaking the Silence’. It was a few months into his service he said that he began to question his actions, question why he could arrest a Palestinian child with very little reason yet Israeli settler children could verbally and physically abuse Palestinian children with very little consequences. He questioned his actions in his military service, questioning the moral lines that are drawn and frequently crossed in the name of security. And although here his voice was not without fault (I found myself angry at the history portrayed as very Israeli-centric) as my friend summed up well: ‘it’s nice to hear Israelis saying this, to hear them admitting they are not always doing the best thing.’ And this is true.

Yet, reaching Hebron itself, the tour took a different angle. This is meant to be the part of the tour where we see and experience everyday life in Hebron. Yet with a tour of this size and publicised widely on the Internet, our arrival was not a quiet one. The tour only took part in the Israeli controlled areas of Hebron, these are large parts of the city centre, and on most days are like a ghost town. The forced removal of Palestinians (except a small handful granted permission to stay in their homes but with little freedom to move) means that all the shops are boarded up and none of the estimated 175, 000 to 250, 000 Palestinians who live in Hebron are allowed access. Far from experiencing what this closure and separation means for everyday life in Hebron we experienced an overwhelming number of settlers.

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A militarised Hebron
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Crowds descend
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The spectacle of photo taking
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Flag waving

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Their job was to drown out the voices of the tour guides with microphones and make their presence felt with flags and banners. I felt the tour quickly escalating from one of the sharing of narratives and voices to the creation of a spectacle. Keen to stop our presence there, Israeli settlers bombarded us with chanting and songs. The police and military joined the charade and arguments escalated. The spectacle of occupation stole the show. One of the main parts of the tour is visiting a Palestinian home (one of few Palestinian families allowed to remain in their original home­). Yet today the settlers blocked our passage and used their superior power to stop our movement through their part of the city[4]. I witnessed first-hand the ability of settlers to control the Israeli soldiers. Israeli settlers chanted, sang, and shouted while we could do nothing but watch as the police and the soldiers worked out whose right it was to move.

By the time the tour entered the Palestinian house, we were told we only had five minutes. A representative from the organisation ‘Youth against Settlements’[5] talked to us quickly: ‘I want someone to explain to me why I’m not allowed to walk in the streets I was born in. Why am I a terrorist?’ As I leave I hear two women talking and one says to the other: ‘we see all the conflicts come together here.’

As I think back on this day, this quote sticks. What I saw on this tour was conflict, I saw the effect of conflict, I heard it, and experienced it. It brings me back to the start of this blog post and my question: ‘Who Speaks for the Palestinians?’ My worry at the start of this tour was that the soldiers’ voices would drown out those of Palestinians . Yet in this tour even the voices of the ex- Israeli soldiers leading the tour were deemed less important than the spectacle created by the settlers. They ensured we only saw conflict.

Of the 350 or so people on the tour I think only a handful had been to Hebron before. On this tour all we saw was anger, frustration, conflict, soldiers, settlers, and a brief five minutes with Palestinians who described their daily struggle. Yet beyond this tour is a large Palestinian city, filled with life which continues regardless. And this was erased. We did not see a city struggling with occupation but just occupation. And that is what was lost on this tour and what is frequently lost.

When we let conflict become more important than individual voices, the importance of everyday life is forgotten. In Hebron for the 175,000 or so Palestinians living there life continues. They have to live with conflict and it is only when we see this that we see another Palestine, a Palestine not just consumed by anger. As I look back on my photos of the day, soldiers are in almost every one, and I am sure for the other 700 odd tourists it’s the same story. For me, tourism failed here, it failed to show a lived reality, it created a spectacle and it erased Palestinian life.

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Looking out over Hebron from afar

[1] http://www.breakingthesilence.org.il/

[2] Settlements are a particularly contentious issue throughout the West Bank, the signing of the Oslo peace agreements in 1993 marked clear boundaries between Israeli and Palestine, however since then Israeli has continued to build within Palestinian territory. The building of these settlements within Palestine, deemed illegal by international law, enables Israel to justify keeping a military presence in Palestine. Through settlements, Israel can justify checkpoints, closing of roads, and constant civilian and military surveillance.

[3] Compulsory military service for Israelis results in the creation of a highly militarised state in which the military becomes normalised for almost all Israelis, and the conscription age of 18 means the Israel Defence League is composed mainly of under 25s.

[4] The main role of the Israel Defence Force in Palestine is to protect Israeli settlers. This defence role has been frequently criticised for promoting defence through fear tactics such as entering Palestinian homes without warning and mock arrests. Particularly they have been criticised for taking the side of Israeli settlers. Soldiers’ testimonies are on the ‘Breaking the Silence’ website. http://www.breakingthesilence.org.il/testimonies/database

[5] http://www.youthagainstsettlements.org

Mobilities of cooking

Tourism in Palestine is constantly evolving and developing but much focus is still on tourism in Palestine as about religious pilgrimage, as motivated through politics, or sometimes as solidarity tourism. The ability of these tourist practices to capture a Palestine not seen purely through a lens of conflict is arguably limited. Of course Palestine is synonymous with conflict but it is important to look at the situation in Palestine through an everyday and lived lens as opposed to looking at the everyday through a lens of conflict created by the media. Through gaining lived experiences of conflict, Palestinian voices and narratives can be captured – voices which have been lost since the conflict began.

That is the larger part of my PhD project, but the aim of this blog ‘motioning tourism’ is to present both academic and anecdotal findings from my fieldwork in Palestine. Throughout the next year of research my aim is to look at new movements and mobilities in Palestine tourism (different ways tourists move through the landscape, new spaces tourists enter, and different interactions and intersections). To give some examples: sport tourism (hiking, biking, climbing), home stays, olive picking, and cooking.  I want to look at how these grant new understandings of Palestine and give voice to Palestinians.

This first blog post is about a cooking class for tourists set up in the home of a family in one of Bethlehem’s refugee camps. This initiative is started by  started by a group of women in the camp, called Noor Women’s Empowerment Group[1], to fund projects to help their disabled children -amongst the many issues facing families in these camps, disability in particular is often relegated a the side line. The aim of these classes is to share knowledge, raise money, and in doing so make a better future for disabled children in refugee camps.

The increasingly popularity of this class is significant because it grants us the tourists a new mobility: the opportunity to enter a new place the private home and the refugee camp. The tour always starts outside the home at a nearby luxury hotel (the juxtaposition is not lost on us) where children of the family usher us through the camp. We stop briefly to take photos before we enter their home.

These classes involve a private space, against the backdrop of the politics of the camp. The separation barrier between Israel and Palestine cuts through the camp while the camp itself was built to rehouse thousands of Palestinians removed from their homes and villages after the creation of the Israeli state. As a result these spaces are often seen publicly and our knowledge of them gained through media portrayals and imaginations – meaning that opportunities to see everyday practices are incredibly important. For all of us on the course, myself included, conjuring an image of a refugee camp is seldom one in which we imagine a family sitting around a table drinking tea. Particularly in feminist political geography, academics such as Anna Secor[2] have suggested that by entering private spaces we begin to see places such as the refugee camp as localised, not globalised phenomena. The private goes public. Through cooking classes, the lives these women have in private spaces are able to be made public. These women, by our entering of the home, begin to enact political life in informal inhabited spaces of the city. This is important because in these localised, inhabited spaces politics is understood differently, it becomes entangled with emotion and intimacy.

In the cooking class I was looked after and given tea before sitting down to watch a mother and daughter prepare the filling for the stuffed vine leaves (warak dawalli) we would be making. I was laughed at as I clumsily wrapped the vine leaves. I was part of the everyday processes of cooking, of making a mess, of making mistakes. For a brief moment we could be in any kitchen…

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And then the power goes…

We were reminded where we are, even when moments are not political – the political situation seeps in… We are constantly made aware of where we are and the politics surrounding us…We were not having a political conversation but politics drips in…

Despite this, for many of us on the course, this class was still a break from the larger political situation because we were in the moment. We were doing, laughing, and talking mainly about cooking, myself attempting to speak in appalling Arabic while trying to establish if I had ever even seen any of the spices we were using. Lauren Berlant[3] writes that when are in the present there is the creation of an impasse, a break. Through this break and this time to stop and think, it brings agency to different things – cooking and the processes of doing suddenly become important. We begin to see Palestine through Arabic coffee, Warak Dawalli, and cooking. This break also signifies that things seen historically do not stop, a break in the present exemplifies the crisis of ordinariness – it is just a break in the traumatic present.

Linking this back to the power cut, although we are doing and laughing and living, the reminder of where we are signifies this rapid collision between attempting to build a future and the constant reminders of the past and the conflict. As tourists cooking in this kitchen a power cut signifies nothing more than a brief pause in proceedings. For Palestinians it signifies that as hard as they try to move on from the present, the past and present come shuttling back. While a future is being attempted to be made, it is continually trying to be halted and stopped. All that is left is the present and the past…

As we leave, one of the women in the project asks me:

‘Do you think you will remember how to make this back home?’

This question represents the potential power of these classes: the power to create a mobility within an immobility. Few of the women in this group have access to cars, few have permits to travel, and interactions outside the camp are limited. Yet through these classes, money is raised, knowledge is shared and cooking and their voices travel. We can buy cookery books and recreate these dishes; we can allow people back home to taste this food.

More than this we experienced conflict through the everyday, we did not hear about the power cut in the camp through a news report but we saw how it impacted upon everyday life. We saw the conflict through an everyday lens, not the everyday through conflict.

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[1] https://noorweg.wordpress.com/

[2] Secor, A.J. (2001) Toward a feminist counter-geopolitics: Gender, space and Islamist politics in Istanbul. Space and Polity 5 (3): 199-219.

[3] Berlant, L. (2008) Thinking about feeling historical. Emotion, Space and Society 1: 4–9.