Yesterday, I hitched a lift with AFP driver Mano and headed into West Bank for a press conference and another grip’n'grin with man-of-the-moment US envoy George Mitchell at the Palestinian HQ, the Mukata. Heading into West Bank was quite an eye-opener for me as, until I saw it myself, I had assumed that it would be as developed as Israel but probably a little rougher around the edges. Once we were through the checkpoint, it soon became clear just how barren the area is. Like a lunar landscape with outcrops of houses and huts formed by Palestinian Arabs or Jewish settlers, it’s a world away from the coffee shops and internet cafes of Israel. While it is often assumed that the Jewish settlers on the land have dug their feet in and are gripping tight to their beliefs (as is certainly the case with some), there are also communities on this side of the border that are here for simple economic reasons. While a house on the Israeli side may cost $700,00, here in West Bank, a similar property may set you back as little as $150,000. While it can’t be easy to live in an area with such tension always at hand, it’s understandable to see that some here simply couldn’t afford to move across the border if they wanted to. A very strange situation and one I expect may earn me a number of lecturing emails from either side. Excuse my ignorance if I’m wide of the mark with my opinions!
With our offices right next to Yasser Arafat‘s tomb, it would have been an error to miss the chance to visit. Not speaking that much Arabic (i.e. none), my thoughtful reading of the tomb inscription was hopefully convincing enough to the two soldiers on duty. I can’t imagine I was fooling anyone though.
Arriving at the AFP office, I always like to make an impression so with the class and panache of Clouseau, within minutes of arriving, the back of my chair collapsed, knocking my fresh Arabian coffee over the desk of one of the reporters, soaking his notebook. Marvellous. I really do excel at times.
The job itself proved to be all as expected; man arrives, man smiles, man walks into building, man sits down next to other man, men smile, I get herded out again. In an attempt to feel like a stalker, I then found that my other job of the day was to photograph, you guessed it, US envoy George Mitchell meeting up with the Palestinian PM Salam Fayad at the US consulate. Just so you can live the dream and see how exciting these shots can be, here you go. This was quite an exciting one as they shook hands. Most of the time, they sit and look at the camera, remaining stationary for the duration of the 20 second shoot.
Anyway, that was yesterday. Today was quite different…