My odyssey to Bethlehem from Beirut was far from direct – at times I considered abandoning the project. I was arrested arbitrarily in Tripoli on my way to Syria, detained and interrogated with no access to legal counsel or the outside world. I had to re-think my itinerary in the wake of the Xmas kidnapping so I stayed in Beirut a bit longer, working as a photographer in a boho-bourgeoisie bar and teaching English to a Kata’ib family in East Beirut. I escaped back to familiar Amman, to touch base until I was called to Istanbul – a place and language that was totally foreign to me. I ‘lost’ my passport in Istanbul and instead of getting an emergency travel document – I applied for a new one in situ. I couldn’t be idle – an’ there was a lot to learn in such a bustling big metropolis replete with old Ottoman architecture, minarets and bric-a-brac stores full of monsters and dust. I was based in the vibrant Cihangir adjacent to the restive Taksim where tear gas would frequently fill the sokaklar and alleyways – thronging crowds of young people would burn trash to impede the advance of Toma armoured cars. Their water guns and percussion bombs. The induced panic was in many ways more frightful than the occasional car bomb in Beirut. Istanbul was my environment for a couple of months while I learnt Modern Turkish with its Romanized alphabet and blended it together with my Arabic to produce a broken archaic Ottoman tongue. And in spite of it all, I intended to work for the Syrian cause with NGO’s, as a journalist and a fixer, which I did but on a purely philanthropic basis. I did so with such zeal to attract the most prominent of the war industry. It’s interns and coordinators. But I came back to London, and found myself in tax haven, shallow by thy name.
Legislating is something for the elite, but administration is a common man’s game. So I had the opportune to make a break. In Corporate potentially, for a long tenure, but keeping keen to the fiction domain. Crossing borders bedoun hadood, from Beirut to Bethlehem, and its periphery, from Malta to Yalta, the non-aligned, and the frontiers of the divided city. Demarcated with barbwire in Nicosia, to firebombed in Beirut and displaced to Jerusalem and beyond. But Bethlehem, the birthplace of my father is the place I seek to visit. To show how divided – its journey fraught with difficulty and suspicion – to transcend the rift. Just for the sake of it, with no noble intention. So here I am in Tel Aviv, one bag away, just an’ old soomka. On rooftop squalor, with contemporary treats and a stone’s throw away from the beach. The sun is shining, but not for everyone it seems. I take voluntary exile, rather than forced exodus – to widen the gap in normality. It’s not a bad profession – a knowmore or bon vivant. It’s better than living in the dark – understand the plight and indulgence of others. In Tel Aviv and Jaffa, with the latter a little backwards. A merged modern city with prosperous modes – not without aid and expertise of its benefactors. A motley of immigrants like any other country, few with political agenda. The rest live in peace, in the bars and restaurants, at the playground or crèche – simply trying to raise a decent family. I praise the individual, and in many ways, ‘Israel’ can protects this – between themselves, and any others considered Israeli-Arabs maybe. But if you can go without guilt or hate – you will be welcomed as long as you can get through the border. That can be tricky with a father born in Palestinian Bethlehem.
The hard techno goes all night in Tel Aviv – side by side with the adhan or call to prayer in Jaffa. I stay on the crossroads of Arab and Israeli in a mechanics yard. But if you venture inland, you will meet increasingly conservative stock. Some have advised against such a gamble to the West Bank – for fear of being roughed up by the IDF, or caught up in clandestine activism. A high-profile fatality just occurred north of Ramallah, in the process of planting olive trees – this is controversial as continued cultivation means that the land is harder for the Israeli Settlement Movement to reclaim more Palestinian land. It’s an old Ottoman law, which means disused land reverts to the State – the Jewish ‘state’ has been very selective in inheriting their laws for political expediency. The laws in England for homicide are well established – you take a victim as you find them. Call it the eggshell rule if you want. Ziad Abu Ein, a Minister of Prisoners in the PA, ‘Palestinian Authority’ – he had underlying heart problems, but a head butt and a few blows suffocated with the stress of tear gas will do any eggshell in – this is at least ‘manslaughter’. The Middle East is all about manslaughter; we specialize in this, on all sides, within the same sect or against. But go without religious affiliation to the Holy Land on a pilgrimage, and an open heart without prejudice – we can’t guarantee your safety, but at least you will get the balls and be able to live anywhere in the world you want.