Saturday, 23 November 2013

To Ramallah and the tomb of Yasser Arafat

Have exhausted my camera battery by taking so many photos. We pass a sign on the road to Ramallah saying that it is forbidden for Israeli citizens to enter: there is danger to life.
Have nothing to show from Muqata, Yasser Arafat's compound where he was under siege during the Israeli occupation of Ramallah in the Second Intifada. (On the way we pass shops with their contents spilling on to the pavemenets - huge inflatable toys, plastic slides, sofas....)
I wish I had been able to take a picture of the ragged flags of the nations that recognised Palestine - which hang on flagpoles on semi-wasteland nearby.
Tests are going on to determine the cause of Arafat's death in Paris. Initial results indicate he was poisoned, says Yamen. The room where he spent his last days on the compound is being preserved as a museum. It will open soon. He has seen it: you have to have connections to go in at the moment, he says.
There are two wreaths against the grave, one of stiff orange gerbera, the other white flowers covered in cellophane speckled with hearts, which I thought at first were drops of blood.
We go into Ramallah, a lively city. We have sweet corn from a street stand and icecream. I have pineapple and Arabic gum: it somehow made sense at the time.
The traffic back to Jerusalem is terrible: it's Saturday night and people are returning from shopping trip in Ramallah. Yamen goes into a supermarket to buy cans of coffee for him and the driver: It is a long drive back to Bethlehem. He has so much energy: after a nine-hour day. He says he could do another tour. Tell other people about this, he says. His children go to a Christian school: he is Muslim. I say I am impressed by his Biblical knowledge - of Rachel and her tomb, of Christ tempted in the desert, of Jericho. Of course, he says.
We leave both the driver and Yamen at Qalandia checkpoint and cross on foot. This is a grim place. It feels like a market for animals - it has herding style metal runways and the kind of turnstiles you have in prisons. The line is long but people are let through in groups so the wait is not more than 20 minutes or so. Young-looking and sullen Israel soldiers check passports.
The bus ticket back to Damascus Gate costs six shekels. I sit next to a German woman who is a surgeon, specialising in hand surgery. She and her boyfriend have spent a week in Israel. She looks slightly bruised. Would you come back? she says.
A long day and one that will take time to understand. Perhaps a day beyond understanding.
Arrive, very tired, at the convent and have a room with a view the like of which is surely rarely seen. From the terrace outside a panoramic view of Jerusalem - from the Mount of Olives to the Temple Mount and the jumble of buildings, holy and otherwise, around the Holy Sepulchre.

Reading and watching

  • Foot by Foot to Santiago de Compostela/Judy Foot
  • The Testament of Mary with Fiona Shaw at the Barbican
  • The Testament of Mary/Colm Toibin
  • Schwanengesang/Schubert - Tony Spence
  • Journals/Robert Falcon Scott
  • Fugitive Pieces/Ann Michaels
  • Unless/Carol Shields
  • Faust/Royal Opera House
  • The Art of Travel/Alain de Botton
  • Mad Men Series 6
  • A Week at The Airport/Alain de Botton
  • The Railway Man/Eric Lomax
  • Bright Lights, Big City/Jay McInerney
  • Stones of Venice/John Ruskin
  • The Sea, the Sea/Iris Murdoch
  • Childe Harold/Lord Byron
  • All The Pretty Horses/Cormac McCarthy
  • Extreme Rambling/Mark Thomas
  • Story of my Life/Jay McInerney
  • Venice Observed/Mary McCarthy