This is a short extract from my diary (with the naughty bits removed) covering the last 24 hours.
18:25 – I get a text message from one of our local contacts asking if I want to play football in the village with some of the other guys. It sounds like a laugh so I pull on my Arsenal shirt (staying neutral in the Barcelona/Real Madrid turf war) and head out. The two guys I meet are wearing jeans, jackets and leather shoes and I wonder whether my tracksuit trousers and football shirt looks a bit eager. This feeling is confounded when we stop and eat freshly made falafel (it’s hard to say no to Palestinian food). We arrive at the pitch (floodlights and all) and I start to get the feeling that something is not quite right.
18:45 – We spend over an hour warming up (I say we, the two guys who I arrive with are sat on the side – of course they are not playing, they’ve just eaten). This warm up is more exercise than I have done for a very long time. Apparently F.C Jayyus take their warm ups (and football in general) very seriously. I try to cover up my inherent lack of ability and my self-created lack of fitness by making jokes. The guys I came with laugh, everyone else looks on with growing concern at the amount of sweat dripping down this English boy’s face.
The coach barks instructions at players and I occasionally hear my name mentioned (that’s right, this village football team has a coach, and he barks). I try my best not to mess up but get the feeling that I am not the foreign super signing that F.C Jayyus had been looking out for.
21:00 – I survived it, just. One shoulder in the face, and only the occasional noticeable mistake and I think I survived my first (and possibly last) training session with F.C Jayyus. I walk off the pitch knowing full well that my legs will be stiff tomorrow but pretending that this sort of exercise is par for the course for me. It was great to meet some new faces in the village and to have a kick around with them – I wonder if that feeling is mutual? Either way, they are eager for me to come back to the coffee shop with them to watch Champions League football. I excuse myself, miming that I have to get up early tomorrow for checkpoint monitoring (I always thought the Jungle Book was hard but this take charades to a whole new level). I walk away from the group feeling proud that I have turned down the chance to watch football in favour of getting to bed on time – perhaps this whole experience is making me grow up.
23:30 – It’s pathetic and I know it. I have to be up in four and half hours but I could not resist watching Arsenal play (second leg trying to come back from a 4-0 first leg deficit against A.C Milan). Arsenal go 3-0 by half time and I am on cloud nine…and then…nothing. We (because when you support a club you are a part of the collective) crash out of the Champions League and any thought of silverware for the season goes out the window with it. To top it off, my home club, Cheltenham Town drop 3 crucial points in the race for League 2 promotion. I go to bed with my mind swarming with football. How can I love something that consistently causes me so much misery?
But anyway, if you’re looking to support Arsenal or Cheltenham Town I came across these useful coupons for Amazon. Take a look!
1:20 – I am awoken (2 hours after I went to sleep – not that I am bitter) with a phone call to say the IDF are in the village making an arrest (possible arrests – plural). After a quick assessment we decide it is too dangerous to be wandering the streets so we decide to monitor the situation from our rooftop staying in mobile contact with others around the village. It is an eerie feeling to see these silhouettes of men on roof tops in the early hours, all whispering reports to each other. It does however work as an informal information network.
2:30 – An hour later we receive confirmation that a local has been arrested. We can see IDF jeeps buzz around the outskirts of the village but only occasionally see them in the village. These late night visits (often not to make arrests) are happening far too often. I go back to bed, my mind now buzzing not with triviality of football, but of the guy who has just been bundled out of his house in the middle of the night – where will he end up, what will happen to him, what (if anything) will he be charged with?
4:55 – Alarms, I hate alarms. It does its job though and I am up to monitor the agricultural gate to the North of the village which open 5:30 – 6:30 every morning. I arrive and the IDF are parked with their headlights on full beam facing straight at where I monitor the gate from. I stand there, centre stage, performing the worst solo performance they are likely to ever see (essentially a tired Englishman staring blankly at them). After a while a small trickle of farmers flow past and I mutter a few good mornings. The Israelis have made a concerted effort to encourage farmers not to use this gate (as the road on the other side runs straight through a bit of land marked for settlement expansion) but still the locals use it. I wander back to the house feeling cold and tired.
08:45 – A Palestinian with an Israeli ID is coming to pick us up and to drive us to the other side of the separation barrier. We pass through the checkpoint and our bags are x-rayed and a sniffer dog sniffs every nook and cranny of the car. The young girl behind the desk has a staring competition with my passport photo (my photo wins every time) and I am asked why I visited Egypt (A: “I was on holiday”…my mind runs through potential comedy answers and I stop myself from laughing by making a sort of snorting noise). She looks at me and waves me through.
09:30 – We meet a local farmer and he walks us around his land showing the problems that they face (settlement expansion, military activity, water rationing etc). Inside a hut on his land we drink sweet tea and point at maps laid out in front of us. He shows us how the access to his land is being controlled (you need to have a permit to access your own farmland), restricted (they have built a massive separation barrier through the middle of his land – twice) and made unreliable (he had been waiting for months to get a permit). Worst of all, it can be taken away at any minute. We are shown his neighbours land which has been literally blown away – it is now a stone quarry providing material for massive ‘settler only’ road upgrading schemes. Areas all around his land have been claimed by the Israeli government as state property (using British mandate laws I should add – sigh…I love the BBC, tea and cake at 4pm and The Beatles but I sometimes struggle to find anything else to be patriotic about and being in Israel/oPT is not helping this).
We are joined during the day by a Dutch delegation who have decided to spend their free time working as unforced free labour on the land. For some this might seem an odd choice for a holiday but I think I ‘get it’. It is beautiful land they are working on and it is rewarding work. At the very least I ‘get it’ more than those fighting for sun beds in Magaluf.
17:00 – After a long day in the sun in the fields this is exactly what I don’t want. I am sat on a concrete bench in the seam zone (the area in between the separation barrier and the Green Line) waiting for a taxi driver who is over 1 hour late staring at the backend of a checkpoint I am not allowed to enter (it is for workers only). When the taxi does show up (with no explanation for the delay) I need to be driven in a huge loop around and through a car terminal. No one checks any of my nooks and crannies on the way back through.
I am currently serving as an Ecumenical Accompanier in the West Bank – follow the hyperlink for more information.