Uncle Sam being the grandaddy of democracy in the Middle East, it was with no small excitement I offered to take my USian flatmate’s ballot to West Jerusalem for safer posting this long weekend. As year 1438 AH (5777 AM) was welcomed in, I’d be playing my own wee role in the future of world politics. !
On Saturday night a bus (10.5₪) took me through the winding mountain roads to Ramallah, the first stop on the journey to Jerusalem. As my ears popped in the Valley of the Thieves I was as aware of the vote on my lap as if it were contraband I was smuggling. I confess that as a descendant of outlaw Wild Humphrey Kynaston, the Robin Hood of the North, recipient of a pardon by Henry VII, I find the valley name somewhat romantic.
The pass in which I clutched my vote is known as Eyes of the Thief. It gained bloody notoriety in spring 2002 – second Intifada time – when 16 Israelis were shot there by a young Palestinian man hidden amongst the rocks and olive trees of the hillside. Unconnected to any militia or political groups, he had ridden out on horseback with an ancient Mauser rifle he had somehow found and serviced. Legend has it he had only 17 bullets, but made 16 of them count; 10 Israelis were killed (soldiers and civilian settlers) and 6 wounded. Due to his sniping skill, Mossad suspected the IRA. After days of eluding the search in hills and villages, having switched horses to confuse prints (much like my ancestor), Israeli forces caught him. He is now serving 11 life sentences.
In this comparatively peaceful time I have been through it several times journeying from Nablus to Ramallah. Ramallah is the happening town of the West Bank, and the postal vote and I planned to stop off at an open mic night before spending Ras as-Sanah/Rosh Hashanah in the holy city.
First I supped with British journalists in the attractive Ziryab restaurant, empty apart from a couple of other westerners whom I decided were almost definitely spies. The most endearing quality of Ziryab for me was the desperation to keep us there. The waiter avoided bringing us our bill and sent us free bowls of unidentifiably flavoured ice cream. It was in hope of staff like this that I visited the sadly disintegrating Baron Hotel in Aleppo in 2009. I’d been in two minds, but thankfully I read this review of how ‘scary and weird’ it was, and so I had to go. Now I have washed my feet in T E Lawrence’s basin and I’m glad:
One would have thought that on any given night in the West Bank there would be no more than one open mic event. One would have been incorrect. I am very relatable to all my readers and I missed out on both of them. But do visit the Khalil as-Sakakini cultural centre. It has a vibe like Salisbury Arts Centre or St George’s, Bristol and is afaik no.1 spot for interprative dance.
Afterwards we headed to Garage bar, which I like because their decor is sympathetic to Morris Minors (and it has a friendly atmosphere).
Yesterday was the weighty day of ballot-sending itself. On a trip to Jerusalem the vote was posted. I also took in the amazing Church of the Holy Sepulchre, divvied among six denominations and the site of Christ’s tomb, and the oppressive Via Dolorosa, up which, incredibly, a grumpy man was hefting two crucifixes. I also bought a new schoolbag which I am super pleased with.
Shana Tova and Kul Aaam wa Entum Bikhayr!