Tag Archives: Steve Hynd

Eugene Grant: “I prefer the term dwarf”


Eugene Grant is a dwarf and the founder of the viral site EveryDayDwarfism that chronicles the day-to-day experiences of what it is like to be a dwarf in 21 century Britain. Despite his experiences, Grant is optimistic that he can contribute to changing people’s understanding of dwarfism. Steve Hynd caught up with him to find out more.  

For many readers the term ‘dwarf’ is one they are not familiar with. I know some people are nervous about using it, afraid that it is derogatory. Can you tell us what the word means to you?

I personally much prefer the term ‘dwarf’ as opposed to others like ‘midget’, which many dwarfs I know find offensive. But, for me – and this is where the whole idea of political correctness becomes redundant – what’s more important are the intentions behind the terms used.

People can be ‘politically correct’ but employ such words with malicious intent; others may use quite derogatory terms without any idea or intention of insulting or hurting a person. It all depends on the way such terms are framed.

Can you tell us a little about why you set up EveryDayDwarfism?  

The aim behind EveryDayDwarfism is to document and present just some of the things that I – and my partner who also has dwarfism – go through during our day or week. Its purpose is to try to make people just that little bit more aware as to the things we encounter as dwarfs.

A lot of what we experience, I would put down to stigma and discrimination still being relatively acceptable to lots of people. The whole tone of the site is not supposed to be angry or ‘martyr-ish’, but relatively neutral, matter-of-fact and informative.

It’s to say: ‘these things happen, quite regularly. I just wanted you to know’.

Within the EveryDaySexism movement, there is a strong feeling of finally ‘shouting back’. Within EveryDayDwarfism it also feels like there is quite a lot of rage, is this an important element of responding to discrimination?

It depends what you mean by rage. Rage is very important but it needs to be channelled in the right way and used very carefully.

Leaving out abuse in the form of physical violence, I think when responding to discrimination it’s vital to ask oneself: ‘what is it that I want to achieve here?’ and, more importantly, ‘how will I get this person to change the way they think and act towards me and others like me’.

Can you tell us a bit about how you coped with the attention and discrimination before you started chronicling it on EveryDayDwarfism?

It really depends on two things: the type of abuse, attention or discrimination, and the intentions behind it.

Some abuse – e.g. an individual shouting insults from a moving car – is best left ignored. What can you achieve when they’re 100 metres down the road by the time they’ve finished their sentence?

Others – the attention from a small child for example – is normally fine; although, as I wrote on the site, it’s often the reaction – or lack thereof – from the parents that is the most frustrating thing.

Some abuse though might manifest itself in the form of totally unprovoked physical violence or confrontation.

Have you been in contact with other dwarfs, how do they feel about EveryDayDwarfism? Do others relate to your experiences?

It’s very important that people don’t think that EveryDayDwarfism or my own experiences reflect those of other dwarfs; I can’t speak for them. Not even my partner.

However, I do know that lots of people like me experience such things – sometimes less so, sometimes more so.

If you had one message to the metaphorical guy in the street who tries to take a photo of you with his phone, what would it be?

Just stop, for a moment, and think: What are you doing? Why are you doing this? Why would you or your friends find that photo or film to be of any value or interest? What does that say about your character, as an adult, and how you think about and respond to people who are different? What if I was your brother, son or cousin? How would you see it then?

A bit of a long message!

You wrote for the Guardian about the portrayal of dwarfs in the media, do you see EveryDayDwarfism as an effort to counter some of that through the illustration of agency?

Not really, no. Sadly, but also deliberately, EveryDayDwarfism documents some of the negative things that happen. And in this way, there is a negative tone to the blog.

What I was trying to say in the article you mention was that there needs to be more boring, regular, neutral representation of dwarfism in the media – weather reporters, Masterchef contestants, Question Time panelists, kids on CBBC – whatever.

Basically, more portrayals of dwarfism that do not limit that person’s identity to ‘a dwarf’ but reflects what they really are: a citizen, a parent, a doctor or lawyer, a voter, someone with views, ideas, etc.

What has been the reaction of family and friends to EveryDayDwarfism, are they shocked to hear of such day-to-day encounters? 

It was actually as a result of encouragement from friends to set up EveryDayDwarfism that I did.

Often friends have no idea of the things that I – and lots of others like me – encounter on a daily, weekly, monthly basis. Some have even been in situations with me when there has been abuse or something happen. Quite often, they are absolutely shocked at the way some people behave. It’s not a question of going looking for abuse or discrimination – that’s not a productive or positive way to live – it’s that, a lot of the time, this stuff finds youseeks you out, interrupts your day, your evening, when you’re just trying to live your life. And that’s what I wanted people to realise.


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Filed under Bath, Interview, Media, Politics, Social comment

The incarcerated nomad

A global nomad,
a no-man belonging nowhere,
desperately trying to escape,
another concrete landscape,
to  avoid another urban jail,
to speak through a medium,
other than posted airmail,
from one job,
to  another,
a quick meet and greet later,
a latte with a filofax,
income tax,
money back,
to try and get the sack,
a sack back on his back,
so he can turn his back,
on this concrete jail,
push his boat out to sail,
He wants to rest his head on a new shore,
rest assured that he can actually rest,
where the air gives credit to the phrase,
take a breather,
this global nomad wants to go,
to another land, another place,
to escape the 9-5 rat race,
to sit back and take it at his own pace,
the impossibility of this though,
just goes to show his predicament,
and so, he is too often found,
in the bars, incarcerated, exasperated,
knowing nothing will see him set sail,
and let him escape his latest urban jail.

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Filed under Social comment, Spoken Word

The race to replace Cameron might come down to recognition rates

The race to replace Cameron is well and truly on.

Cameron’s lack of popularity within his own party is well documented. The pertinent questions are now ‘who’ and ‘when’ – not ‘if’ he will be replaced.

So to start with the ‘who’ question. Ladbrokes offers us a reasonable overview (erring as always on low risk predictions):

Four names May, Hague, Boris and Hammond- only two credible though: Boris and May.

Let me explain why by starting with Boris.

Well, people respect Boris in a way they simply don’t the other serious contenders (May, Hague and Hammond). They also know who he is – recent polling by Lord Ashcroft showed 94% of people recognised Boris’ picture, and significantly 91% got his name right.

In contrast, Hammond was recognised by 23% of people and only 10% of people got his name right. Ouch.

I still maintain that Boris would be as much a disaster for his party as he would the country – but if the Tories want to run this experiment I am more than happy to pick up the popcorn and watch their implosion.

A straight Boris win then? Not quite. It boils down to the crucial ‘when’ question.

If Boris is to take over from Cameron before the next general election he needs to overcome three quite big challenges:

  • To become an MP
  • Not to piss off Londoners by appearing to abandon them
  • Keep the rabid backbenchers happy

Tim Montgomerie (for whose opinion I have a certain amount of respect) insists this is all possible – I though, remain dubious.

If Boris is to become leader Cameron has to stay leader until after the next general election. This is in itself highly unlikely with everyone assuming Labour will win a (small) victory at the next elections.

So, if a leadership election is called before the next general election the Conservatives are left with three choices:

  • May – by far the most likely to win. Has being a woman on her side, is at least recognised by half of the public and certainly will keep the rabid right happy. Whether she can win the party an election or not is another question.
  • Hague – although popular, it would be hard for Hague to go back to his old job without it being seen as a step backwards. It is also worth remembering how atrociously unpopular he was last time he was in the job.
  • Hammond – as already suggested, it is hard to make a case for leading a country if no one knows who you are and is often mistaking you for Jeremy Hunt.

May is the only credible choice.

In short:

Predication A: If Cameron goes before the next election then May will take over and last only a few years as Conservative leader before she loses the next election and then the party slumps even further in the polls. This might then open the way up for Boris.

Prediction B: If Cameron hangs on in there, then Boris may well come through as the next leader and will last until just after the 2020 elections and leave behind him the chaos of a divided party, in-fighting and a catastrophic electoral defeat that makes the 2015 results look not too bad.

Either way – things are not looking good for the Conservatives. Their only hope? Labour continuing to flounder.

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From war zone to tourism: the transformation of northern Uganda

The people of Agoro in northern Uganda were some of the worst hit by the Ugandan civil war. As the village slowly recovers, Steve Hynd from the Mountain Club of Uganda visits Agoro to explore the surrounding mountains and what role tourism might have in the regions recovery.

The car pulls up next to two piles of red mud bricks. Behind are a handful of thatched mud huts that mark the edge of the village of Agoro. Ahead, beyond the mud bricks , is another collection of mud huts. The latter are UPDF army barracks. The pile of red mud bricks is the checkpoint into the barracks that cannot be passed until ‘clearance’ has been approved.

A smartly dressed soldier appears and waves the car through. The soldier introduces himself as Lieutenant Everest. Dressed in ironed khakis and polished leather boots Lt Everest stands tall with his chest puffed out. His appearance would have been archetypically military if it wasn’t for his curious grin and unashamed enthusiasm.

When the prospect of climbing the surrounding mountains is mentioned, the aptly named Lt Everest describes in some detail the security challenges. He talks about the landmines that line the border with South Sudan and claimed a UPDF soldier’s life in 2011 and countless other lives during the civil war. He also talks though about the ‘potential’ of armed conflict breaking out from over the border.

The village had been spooked recently by reports that Kony, the wanted Ugandan war lord, is being harboured by Sudan.

The village which is two hour’s drive north of Kitgum, the most northerly town in Uganda, has every reason to be on edge. Agoro has been devastated by 17 years of almost continuous civil and tribal conflicts. Many people have been killed or forced into fighting for rebel factions including Kony’s notorious Lord’s Resistance Army.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) have documented wide spread human rights violations including reports of cutting the lips and breasts off women who dared leave the internally displace people (IDP) camps.  Agoro’s children were also hit particularly hard.

The Lord’s Resistance Army, notorious for its use of child soldiers, operated heavily in the area. One 12 year old child from Agoro told HRW how he was beaten until he agreed to kill a civilian. His experience is sadly not unique.

In light of this very recent history, Lt Everest’s opinion that armed guards were a necessity for any mountaineering expedition had to be taken seriously, despite the relative stability and peace of recent years.

Pub 4Two soldiers, carrying nothing but dust covered AK-47s led the way through the fertile fields in plastic wellington boots with the local guide, Jeffery, following suit. As Jeffery walked he pointed with obvious pride the varied fruit and vegetables that flanked the small path that he was walking.

This pride stems from both the villages new 680 hectare irrigation system and, in contrast, the near starvation that many in the village faced just a few years previously. The International Rescue Committee described Agoro’s recent history saying:

“Most of Agoro’s residents had been driven from their homes into a makeshift camp that grew up around the local trading center. These displaced farmers, with little space or incentive to grow their own food, lived on relief rations provided by the United Nations.”

It is no surprise then when Jeffery takes pride in both being able to walk freely through the fields but also being able to reach up and pick some mangoes from near-by trees.

These agricultural fields sit in the bottom of a valley which is encircled by imposing mountain peaks, the highest of which on the Ugandan side of the border stands at over 2,800 meters.

As the agriculture gives way to uncultivated bamboo forest though, so the path soon disappears. The soldiers though march on insisting that they regularly walk these routes for ‘surveillance’. The pace of the walk drops only occasionally to drink some water or to stand for a nervous few seconds as everyone waits for a snake to slither off.

The higher up the ‘path’ goes, the less apparent the ‘path’ becomes.  So, the last hour before summiting is spent scrambling through thick grass up improbably steep slopes. The soldiers who at the bottom seemed at best bemused about why anyone would want to go to the top of the mountain are now clearly enjoying themselves.

Standing on top of the peak the soldiers explain that we cannot go any further in case the South Sudanese soldiers see us. “It might cause problems” says the younger of the two soldiers as he pulls a cigarette out of his shirt pocket.

As he explains this though, he does not look up to the border of South Sudan but instead he looks out over the plains that stretch for miles out to the south. The plains are dotted by the volcanic mountains that hint at the potential for other walks in the area.

Pub 7Just as the agriculture of the plains is booming in this formally ‘no go’ area of northern Uganda, the potential for tourism is also growing.  The Ugandan Tourism Association has documented the so far mainly untapped tourism potential of northern Uganda. There is no reason to think that Agoro could not be at the heart of this tourism revival.

The village of Agoro has seen an unimaginably difficult couple of decades loosing men and women and children in a bloody conflict. This history requires visitors to be sensitive to such loss, but should not stop them from coming.

As we leave Agoro, we say good bye to Lt Everest and thank him for his help. We pull up at the pile of red bricks that mark the entrance to the army barracks and Lt Everest, now in civilian clothing, beams a smile at us and says, “Tell your friends to visit, they too can be our guests.”

Steve Hynd is a freelance journalist based in Kampala and is a member of the Mountain Club of Uganda


Filed under Outdoors, Travel, Uganda, War

Losing count

Speaking to no-one in particular, he says she’s spoken for,
but wanting something more her young heart breaks in two,
inside himself, to no-one else, he tells her that she’s the one,
but it’s been too long since he has spoken these three words.

Back home, she opens her mouth, and his anger and fists begin to rise,
she closes her eyes, and tries to hide, to put all of this out of her mind,
she pictures in her mind’s eye the softer touches of other calmer nights,
as she reaches out, with pleading in her eyes,  he reacts back, and

That was that. .

The morning after, her cheeks are bruised and smudged with mascara,
she goes to work and thinks of nothing but him and her cracking heart,
she knows her mind is crumbling and it’s not just her bodies that suffering,
there and then, she says, enough is enough, I won’t take this no more.

He stops in his tracks, he’s been walking the streets running from himself,
his mind is dwelling on the job he doesn’t have, and his fists are swollen,
He stops and stares, but does not dare, to dwell on his aching heart,
that is overflowing with the shame. Who is this man that he has become?

With his body numb, and this thought dwelling on his mind, tears starts roll,
down go his defences and down goes the possibility of carrying on as if nothing,
is going down. His hands tremble and his legs give way. Sitting there slumped,
he knows he can’t get much lower, and so he too decides to lift himself up.

Staring at her own front door she resolves that she’s worth something more,
turning on her heel she takes hold of herself and her trembling hands,
she strides with small steps away from her house and her home, all alone,
she walks and turns the corner of her street and her life and resolves that,

never again will he cause her mascara to streak….

Turning his keys, he realises his hands are shaking and his stomach is turning,
with flowers in hand, bought with an empty wallet he wipes away his tears,
stepping over the doormat, he resolved this would be the fresh start they need,
he drops his car keys onto an empty hallway table where her car keys should be.

The silence engulfs him. Finally, whispering to no-one, he says those three words,

she’s the one, and there and then, his heart starts to break in two.

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“You cannot be happy to see your dad suffering…”

This is an article that I wrote for the Africa edition of ehospice.

Mutagubya Bruno is the son of Lawrence Ssenyonde. Lawrence has cancer of the prostate and needs oral morphine to relieve his pain. Bruno recently talked to ehospice about what life is like caring for a family member in severe pain.

On the outskirts of Kampala, Mutagubya Bruno lives with his mother and father. A small alleyway leads to a neatly kept garden that is lined with palm trees and freshly hung clothes on a washing line. Bruno breaks the conversation he is having with his mother as a small delegation from Hospice Africa Uganda arrive through a side gate to their house.

In the living room, the three health care professionals sit in a line craning their necks to try and listen to Bruno’s father as he describes his pain. As Bruno’s father speaks, one of the nurses sorts through her case notes. She glances at the previous dosages of oral morphine Bruno’s father has received.

Throughout the conversation Bruno sits on the edge of a worn-out arm chair opposite his father looking on.

Read the full article here >> 

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Filed under Health, Interview, Media, Uganda

Uganda’s Lawless Mountain: Mt Moroto

This article was written for Cotswold Outdoors Community Blog.

Mount Moroto stands at 3,082 meters above sea level in the Karamoja region in the north east of Uganda. Over the last few decades the region has witnessed war and conflict which has left its peaks predominantly unclimbed. Recently there has been a large-scale amnesty on guns and dip in the levels of violence. Steve Hynd from the Mountain Club of Uganda took this opportunity to see what the mountain has to offer.

P1120081The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against all travel to Karamoja. They describe it is as:

largely lawless. There are frequent road ambushes and tribal clashes. Small arms are widespread and there are regular deaths or injury from gunshot wounds”

As it turned out, guns were the least of our problems…

We were travelling in a convoy along a dirt road which locals had told us was impassable during the rainy season. It was Saturday 30th March – the rainy season was due to starts on the April 1st.

On the road, there were a couple of hairy moments; wheels spinning on steeply banked rivers edges, deep mud that resulted in everyone getting out and walking but it was, in a 4X4, passable.

Two and half hours and 45km after leaving Moroto town we arrived at the small mountain village of Tapach.

Tapach sits at the head of a valley tucked in underneath the imposing ridges that lead up to the peaks of Mt Moroto. The village boasts stunning views of the plains of Karamoja that stretch out away from mountain.

Living with some of the best views high on the side of the valley we found Friar Gerald – our only real contact in the village.

With a warm smile he greeted us while glancing at our mud covered cars before asking, “How was the road?” The only honest answer any of us could muster was, “passable”. He grinned a knowing grin and said, “It will be fine along as it doesn’t rain”.

P1120032Friar Gerald was accommodating and kind in helping us find local men to guide us up the mountain and ensured that at least one of them spoke English.

As we waited for the ‘guides’ to come back from the fields where they worked, I asked the Friar a little bit about the valley and the region. We talked about the lasting legacy that the conflict had on the village.

On the drive in we had passed a number of UPDF army camps and I asked if they ever came to the village and the Friar responded saying,

They keep themselves to themselves nowadays. I think that’s better for everyone”.

Clearly the memories of what happened in the region had not gone away. In 2007 Human Rights Watch described a government disarmament drive headed by the army in their report, “Get the Gun”. The report documented wide-spread use torture and a number of murders.

As the Friar said, perhaps it is best they keep themselves to themselves.

The guides soon arrived though and we started snaking our way up the hillside behind the monastery. The climb was tough going and this was extenuated by the 5 litres of water we were carrying as the guides were unsure as whether or not there was any water available on the mountain. The hot sun beat down on us as we huffed and puffed our way up the valley side.

The collecting storm clouds offered us only occasional shade.

Within an hour we were rewarded with panoramic views. In one direction there were the endless plains of Karamoja, on either side deep valleys with small hutted villages and in front of us the peaks of Mt Moroto.

Kyle IMG_3708By mid-afternoon we had climbed around 1,000 meters. High in the mountains the heavens opened in spectacular fashion. The intensity and consistency of the rain slowed our progress as we picked our way across rocky ridges and up steep muddy slopes.

About an hour before dark we stopped high on a ridge to pitch camp.

The guides collected wood and lit a fire, the rest of us erected our tents and prepared food. On the equator the sun sets in a blink of an eye. For a brief moment though the storm clouds were silhouetted in front of departing sun before darkness descended on us.

P1120067That night we lay in our sleeping bags counting the seconds between thunder and lightning while the rain thundered on our tents. I am not sure if I have ever camped in more torrential rain.

Trying to not think about the rain and the state of the road back to Moroto I closed my eyes and let sleep take me.

The next morning we awoke before light and set off in a slow drizzle for the summit leaving our tents pitched on the ridge. The short walk took us through thick forest that clung to the ridge top. We scrambled up steep scrub land making the final assent with anything but elegance. Just under two hours after leaving camp we stood on the summit of Mt Moroto.

Starring into the thick mist I wondered how many other had stood where I was now stood. The answer, of course, is ‘not many’.

We made our way down, packing the camp on the way, slipping and sliding in the now thick mud. We arrived back at to the village at about 4pm with a sense of achievement but also dread about what lay ahead on the now sodden road back to Moroto.

Phoning ahead we found out that friends who were driving a Toyota Rav4 had left the village at 11am and were, at 4pm, still not back to Moroto.

I’ll admit now that I was worried – would we get back to the Moroto before dark? Would we get back at all?

Driving back was in itself an adventure. On a couple of occasions water came over the bonnet of the car, and on countless occasions the ground clearance proved in to be insufficient. But, just over two hours later we arrived back to our rendez vous in Moroto – 10 minutes after those in the Rav4 who left at 11 that morning.

I tried really hard not to be smug.

The other car load that left Tapach after us didn’t arrive back until 11 that night, they told me the next day that they had to cut out the seatbelts to use as a towrope.

The whole weekend was a mini adventure. We were not sure what we would find when we left Kampala for this remote region.  We had heard stories of guns, torture and of course incredible peaks. But what we found were warm welcoming locals who were slightly bemused as to why we wanted to climb Mt Moroto. The soldiers were courteous though and the locals delighted though that we were visiting.

Moroto district doesn’t yet have the infrastructure or the information to really capitalise on its mountaineering-tourism potential. But it does have mountains that are as beautiful as any in the national parks of Uganda.

With a good 4X4 and sense of adventure there is no reason why you cannot enjoy them as well.

If you fancy the trip – feel free to be in touch.


Filed under Outdoors, Travel, Uganda

A visit to Hospice Africa Uganda

This is an article that I wrote for ‘ehospice‘ about my recent visit to a hospice in Kampala.

An incongruous collection of books sit on the shelves next to hand-made jewellery and other bits of bric-a-brac. I stand and flick through the books for a minute enjoying being out of the hot Kampala sun. As I rummage around looking for a bargain the shop assistant, Joy, begins to talk to me about her role at Hospice Africa Uganda.

Joy is one of a dedicated team of volunteers who make it possible for the hospice to carry on offering palliative care services to patients with Cancer and/or HIV/AIDS. Joy, a recently retired surgical nurse, is clearly someone who is driven by the need to help others. When I ask her why she gives up five days a week to help at the hospice she explains:

Read the full article here >>


Filed under Health, Human rights, Uganda

The pursuit of happiness

This is an article that I wrote for the Africa edition of ‘ehospice‘ on the overlap between happiness and palliative care. It marks the first ever International Day of Happiness:

“The pursuit of happiness is enshrined into the US Constitution, the subject of countless books and is now even being measured by governments. Policy makers and development agents are now recognising that ‘progress’ should be about increasing human happiness and wellbeing, not just growing the economy at all costs. In light of this, the UN today marks its first ever ‘International Day of Happiness’.

To read the full article click here >>>

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Is pornography ever acceptable?

Warning: Many of the links in this article go to adult only sites. Only click them if you are 1) Not at work and 2) An adult.

Well of course porn can be acceptable. It is a bit of a silly question if you ask me.

Still, it was a question that I tried to answer last night on the BBC World Service debate. Of course, there was not the time to answer the question in full, so here is part of my argument to why pornography can be acceptable.

Last night I made a brief point that countered one of the traditional criticisms of porn, that it ‘peddles a misogynistic societal norm’. I said:

A simple point, how does consensual homosexual porn reflect ‘traditional misogynistic values’? It normally doesn’t.

I hoped this point would illustrate a wider argument. Pornography, in its current manifestation is a deeply worrying phenomenon, but there is nothing inherent about pornography that suggests it has to be.

So why do some feel that pornography is never acceptable?

The reasons given would broadly fall into two categories:

1)      The feminist argument – simplified, this line of thought argues that pornography is inherently demeaning to women and peddles societal norms that perpetuate negative associations with gender identities – think Andrea Dworkin.

2)      The ‘Won’t somebody think of the children’ argument – again simplified, this line of thought says that pornography is giving young children unrealistic and damaging understandings of sex and gender – think of any socially conservative mother.

There is, of course, an element of truth in both. There is however, nothing fatalistic about either argument – pornography doesn’t have to be demeaning to women or bad for children.

Just like gay porn doesn’t peddle misogynistic norms, so pornography as a positive, empowered expression of sexual identity can exist without stumbling across these two ‘traditional’ problems.

To start with the feminist argument:

Firstly, there is of course a lot of empowering pornography written for women by women.

For example, Heather Corinna is a prime example of someone at the forefront of making progressive porn. She is the founder of the websites femmerotic.com, allgirlarmy.org & scarleteen.com that actively look to offer positive images of sex and sexual identity.

She is one of many women who put forward the feminist argument for pornography. Broadly this says:

Don’t women, and all people, have the right to control their bodies, access their sexual desires, and to enjoy safe and consensual sexual pleasure?

For me, it is a compelling argument. Who are we to say that women should not be allowed to reclaim an industry that has been so used and abused by men?

Indeed, this ‘post black lace’ feminist porn has led the way in using pornography to reclaim many of the issues that affect women but are traditionally off limits.

For example Eroticred.com looks to break the myth that women lose all sense of sexuality once a month during their period. ‘Erotic Red’ is self styled as “porn made by passionate models who aren’t shy to say, “Kiss me, I’m menstruating!”.

To give another example, there is Berg’s Queer Foot Porn which is a:

not-for-profit grassroots porno-political activism designed to promotes women’s pleasure through humor and sexuality. We are driven by a longing for women to feel at home in our own bodies, to cherish the sound of our own laughter, and to welcome our sensations of desire. We believe that as women gain a better self-knowledge of what turns us on and what makes us laugh, we will become increasingly adapt at critiquing sexist humour that is not so funny and questioning depictions of sexuality that are not so fun, and, thereby, become more capable of seeing and shaping our own lives. We declare that women’s equality in the bedroom (or in the kitchen or on the living room floor) is as vital as women’s equality on the job – and that these twin goals are not in conflict

Is this not something that we, as feminists, should be welcoming? True female emancipation.

As I have to keep stating, this is not an argument for throat fucking, suicide girls or any of the other nasty plethora of things the porn industry thinks up. It is an argument for the empowering potential of pornography and a warning against the lazily labelling of all porn as the same.

But what about the kids, won’t somebody think about the kids” – I hear every socially conservative mother shout.

The vast majority of those in the industry and those who use pornography agree that children should not be viewing pornography (although why in the UK we think that kids can have sex at 16 but not view pornography until 18 I don’t know).

I would personally go one step further. I think that sought out pornography can be part of a rounded sex education.  The problem comes when the unrealistic and stylized images of sexuality act as a child’s only sign post in their sexual development.

Is there any reason that Berg’s Queer Foot Porn should not be part of a kids rounded sex education?

Therefore, to protect our children I would argue a positive two-fold approach.

1)      Greater access to sex education that doesn’t just focus on the worries and dangers but looks to celebrate human sexuality in all its diversity. This would be combined with:

2)      Open frank criticism of any publication, pornographic or not, that consistently show one gender in a demeaning light.

This latter point includes ‘lads mags’ (a dying phenomena) and yes, even the nation’s favourite fiction book, 50 Shades of Grey (phrases like “Truly I am marionette and he is the master puppeteer” – hardly female liberation speak). Of course people should be free to read such publications but we need a public consciousness and discussion about their societal impact.

What we cannot afford to do, is make the porn industry a punch bag. We need to welcome the progressives within it and openly criticise the bigots, rapists, traffickers, heroin dealers and misogynists.

Just like the rest of society, we have to articulate that these values and actions have no place in a civilised society. At the same time we need to be saying that all people regardless of their gender or sexuality are empowered to articulate their desires in a non-judgmental environment.

Not only can pornography be acceptable, but it might also act as a positive tool for changing society for the good, if only we are open minded enough to accept it.


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Talks on Israel/Palestine

In 2012 I spent five months living in the West Bank as part of the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme for Palestine and Israel. I then undertook a speaking tour about my experiences.

I wanted to say a huge thank you to everyone who hosted me and to everyone who attended one of my talks.

So a huge thank you to:

I am still available for further one off talks, commentary or debate. My contact details are here.

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This is a copy of an interview I did for charity Children of Peace.  Children of Peace is a UK based charity that works with both Israeli and Palestinian children to build positive relationships for a future generation, whose communities might live and work in peace, side-by-side.

“Steve is a human rights worker who spent five months in 2012 in the occupied Palestinian territories as part of the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Israel and Palestine. He is currently working in Kampala, Uganda.

Sarah Brown (Sarah): Could you tell us what sparked your interest in Israel/Palestine?

Steve Hynd (Steve): A mixture of design and chance is the straight answer.

My sister studied ancient Hebrew at the University of Jerusalem and was living in West Jerusalem in 2001 and experienced first-hand the impact suicide bombers had on the community in which she was living. I was at secondary school when this was happening and it challenged me to think about the conflict. My sister was moved deeply by what she saw, but will openly admit, she only saw one side of the story. This was my very first introduction to the conflict.

Since then I have been actively involved with human rights issues and organisations for a long time. Invariably Israel/Palestine came up – especially during my time at Amnesty International in the aftermath of Operation Cast Lead.

At first though, I chose to work on other issues and countries and took an active interest in countries such as Turkmenistan (described by Freedom House as ‘the worst of the worst’) thinking that there were others with more knowledge and better placed to work on the Israel/Palestine conflict. I thought to myself ‘what could I contribute?’

Only after getting involved with EAPPI, almost by chance, I have come to think that I do actually have a role to play and something to contribute.

Sarah: What made you decide to work with EAPPI?

Steve: I became interested in a model of human rights work that combined impartial monitoring with the concept of ‘protective presence’. This was being practiced by organisations like Peace brigade International (PBI) and the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme for Israel and Palestine (EAPPI). PBI worked mainly in South America and EAPPI worked in the West Bank. In the end I chose to apply for EAPPI for a range of reasons including being interested in positive examples of faith based organisations – this led me, in many ways by chance, to Israel and the occupied territories.

I had also come across EAPPI as I had previously worked for the Quakers (who coordinate EAPPI in the UK and Ireland) and had heard very positive feedback from people I respected. Before I applied I contacted Symon Hill (author of the No-Nonsense Guide to Religion) who at the time worked at Friends House in London and he had nothing but praise for the organisation.

Sarah: EAPPI has faced some recent criticism. Would you like to comment on that, or, more generally, on the assertion that Israel, as a comparatively accessible and open society, comes in for a disproportionate amount of scrutiny?

Steve: In the lead up to the Church of England synod vote (to endorse the EAPPI) they did come under a lot of criticism. A small amount of which I felt was valid, but a lot I felt was not valid and indeed was often inaccurate or misleading.

As with all conflicts, EAPPI as a human rights organisation challenges some vested interests and gets attacked because of it.

In terms of Israel more generally…

Israel is paradoxical in its human rights record. In one sense, as the question suggests, it is open and free. It consistently does well in terms of press freedoms and is a beacon of hope, in stark contrast to its neighbours, on issues such LGBT rights.

You cannot however, examine Israel’s human rights policy, without looking at their foreign policy and their on-going occupation of the territories and their continued disregard for International Humanitarian Law.

I have no doubt that some people use these violations as a tool to attack Israel – either because of regional politics or because of anti-Semitic values. Equally however, from my experience, most people working on the conflict are doing so because they care passionately about the victims. I know a number of good people working hard for peace that have been lazily labelled ‘anti-Semites’ – this cheapens a very serious problem.

Equally, sometimes the criticisms of human rights organisations are unfounded. For example, Human Rights Watch is often accused of ‘attacking Israel’ and focusing disproportionately on Israel. In reality, Human Rights Watch works on 17 countries in the Middle East and North Africa. Israel accounts for about 15 percent of published output on the region. The Middle East and North Africa division is one of 16 research programs at Human Rights Watch and receives 5 percent of total budget.

I accept that Israel has more focus on it than most other countries (such as Turkmenistan), but I still maintain that we need more focus on these neglected countries rather than less on Israel. In my opinion it is a disgrace how few people care about, or are willing to work for the people in Turkmenistan.

This why, whenever I speak to people about Israel/Palestine I insist that we can all be doing more and working harder.

Sarah: Could you tell us about some moments which most stick in your mind from your time with EAPPI?

Steve: It is hard to pull out a couple of moments. There was not a day that went by where I didn’t hear about how people’s lives were being affected by the occupation.

Perhaps the best place to start would be the occasion when I felt the most hope. I was in Sderot in Israel on the border with Gaza and we met with representatives from the peace group ‘Other Voice’.

Every house in Sderot has a built in ‘safe room’. I was told residents have just 14 seconds to get to it should they hear the warning siren before rockets from Gaza might hit. This is a physical impossibility for many such as Sderot’s elderly residents. People live in fear. Nearly all of Sderot’s residents have been affected by rocket attacks.

Despite this reality, I found people who were looking to work creatively with Palestinians to find a lasting peace. I passionately believe that change needs to come, at least in part, from within Israel. Groups like Other Voice might provide the seeds from which this change grows.

A second example that sticks in my mind highlights the complicity of the Israeli Defence Force in some of what is happening. I was in the village of Urif and settlers had set fire to a large section of Palestinian farmland. When Palestinians went to put the fire out, the IDF fired teargas at them and the settlement security shot a Palestinian in the spine. When Palestinians went to help the man, the IDF continued to fire tear gas at them. The whole time they watched on as the settlers continued to undertake acts of arson.

This is just one of many examples where the IDF were not fulfilling their responsibilities to protect the occupied population!

Sarah: Is there anything which really surprised you in Israel/Palestine? And anything which you have changed your mind about?

Steve: It surprised me quite how the occupation affects every part of life for so many people. Before I went, I understood that terrible things happened. I didn’t understand that not a day would go by in the West Bank without either a demolition, a midnight raid of a village, some arbitrary arrests, detentions, excessive use of teargas, child detention, etc. The reality of everyday life for an ordinary Palestinian shocked me.

I was lucky, and unusual, in that before I went I didn’t hold many preconceptions about the conflict. In that sense I would say that the experience was a steep learning curve for me.

Sarah: Which commentators (journalists, writers or bloggers) on Israel/Palestine would you recommend to someone wishing to learn more about the region?

Steve: This question has a catch in it. One of my biggest gripes is that too many people approach the conflict from a partisan side-taking perspective. If you follow bloggers, journalists and writers, you have to take 90% of them with the assumption that they are pushing an agenda. In light of that, I feel more comfortable naming a few organisations (with the understanding that I might not agree with everything that they say/do)

  • B’Tselem – The Israeli Human Rights organisation.
  • Breaking the Silence – The Israeli organisation of ‘veteran combatants who have served in the Israeli military since the start of the Second Intifada, and have taken it upon themselves, to expose the Israeli public to the reality of everyday life in the Occupied Territories’.
  • Al Hac – Palestinian Human Rights organisation.
  • EAPPI – They provide regular on-the-ground accounts of what is happening.

I would encourage everyone to explore and read on this issue as widely as possible – trying to empathise with what has been written.

Sarah: Can you tell us something about your hopes/fears for the future?

Steve: The same as most people I think – I hope for lasting peace that enables Israelis and Palestinians to live side by side feeling safe and secure.

My fear? That the detrimental spiral of violence and mistrust will continue and people will continue to suffer.

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The removal of ‘insulting’ from Public Order Act is a victory for free speech

This article was written for Left Foot Forward.


MPs have confirmed that the word ‘insulting’ will be removed from Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986.

This is a major victory for an unlikely alliance of free speech campaigners including The Christian InstituteThe National Secular Society and Rowan Atkinson.

Last month the home secretary Theresa May announced that the government was ‘not minded to challenge a House of Lords amendment removing the word ‘insulting’ from Section 5 of the Public Order Act.

In the past Section 5 had been used against street preachers ‘insulting’ homosexuals and LGBT activists ‘insulting’ religious groups.

As Rowan Atkinson commented, “The clear problem of the outlawing of insult is that too many things can be interpreted as such. Criticism, ridicule, sarcasm, merely stating an alternative point of view to the orthodoxy, can be interpreted as insult”

This change in law is a victory for freedom of speech in the UK.

There remains, however, an important limiting role for the law to play. That role is to provide protection to those who are victims of threatening or abusive behaviour.

In 2011 I blogged saying that, “We all hold the right to live without fear or intimidation. This has to be legally separated, however, from being ‘insulted”.

The distinction has finally been acknowledged by the government and the change in the law later in the year is now just a formality.

It is worth noting, though, that even with this change in law, the discussion about what constitutes threatening behaviour compared to ‘insulting’ behaviour will remain. There is a considerable grey area around what the law should interpret to be ‘threatening’ and what it should view as merely ‘insulting’.

For example, ‘My Tram Experience’ – a video showing a vile torrent of racist abuse on a south London tram – sparked two very different interpretations.

thought her behaviour was threatening and therefore called for her arrest, while bloggerSunny Hundal argued that she was simply being insulting.

With the change in law however, the police are some way towards having a clear distinction to follow. We are no longer asking them to be the judge of what behaviour is deemed ‘insulting’, at least.

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Event: Reflections on Palestine with Richard Graham MP

Thursday 20th December, 7.00pm

An evening of talks and discussions to update on the situation and share first hand experiences of Palestine.

Guest Speakers – Steve Hynd and Gloucester MP Richard Graham 

Venue – The Friendship Café, Barton Street, Gloucester, GL1 4RH

Steve Hynd has recently spent 5 months living in the West Bank with the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). The programme brings internationals to the West Bank to experience life under occupation. They provide protective presence to vulnerable communities, monitor and report human rights abuses and support Palestinians and Israelis working together for peace. Steve will be talking about his time spent there and his experiences with the Palestinians.

Richard Graham has taken a very personal interest in the Holy Lands having visited the West Bank of Palestine, Gaza and Israel. The political arena surrounding this area is a very complex one, and with the recent unrest in Gaza, our government’s role in shaping the future for that region is vital. Richard will be giving us an update on that political situation, and sharing some of his own views and experiences of the area.

The evening is a free event and open to all. If you have any questions or need more information please contact Imran Atcha on 01452 308127 or email gymnation@btclick.com

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The UK has turned its back on victims of war crimes

This article was written for Social Justice First.

White phosphorous used by the Israeli military at a UN school in Gaza. Photograph: Mohammed Abed/AFP

“We saw streets and alleyways littered with evidence of the use of white phosphorus, including still-burning wedges and the remnants of the shells and canisters fired by the Israeli army” Chris Cobb-Smith, a British weapons expert who visited Gaza.

“Commanders ordered their subordinates to shoot civilians and ‘hors de combat’ fighters, and to torture and mistreat detainees. Orders were often enforced at gunpoint and anyone hesitating to comply risked arrest or summary execution” UN report on war crimes in Syria.

These quotes are from two wars and describe two different accusations of war crimes.  Britain’s response to these atrocities should deeply worry us all.Last month Cameron all but offered Assad a safe passage out of Syria. Rightly there was outrage. Amnesty International commented that, “Instead of talking about immunity deals for President Assad, David Cameron should be supporting efforts to ensure that he faces justice, ideally at the International Criminal Court at The Hague”. They rightly then drew attention to the mass indiscriminate bombings that Assad had overseen – actions that constitute a war crime.

The arrogance that Cameron showed on that occasion was alarming. He believed that his idea of getting Assad out of the country at any cost was somehow superior to that of International Law. That he could bring peace where established human rights mechanisms couldn’t.

This was the first time I had heard this government leave its staunch “we support international law” line that it hides its inactions behind. Sadly it looks as though it wasn’t a one off. The Foreign Office on Monday night implied that the UK is prepared to back a Palestinian statehood bid at the UN if, and only if, Abbas pledges not to pursue Israel for the war crimes it has committed.

Can anyone tell me, since when has the UK started to hand out impunity for war crimes in return for entering into peace talks?

I can’t believe that these two incidents are not connected and I fear that they are signals for what is to come from the FCO.

The consequences of Cameron’s words

The UK is saying is that Abbas should not pursue justice for the victims of Israel’s 2009 “indiscriminate and reckless” use of white phosphorus. In contrast, Human Rights Watch said that senior leaders should be held to account as civilians “needlessly suffered and died”.

Equally, it is saying that Abbas should not follow up the evidence that suggests Israel used indiscriminate attacks in the latest up-surge of fighting in Gaza.

The UK has asked Abbas not to apply for membership of either the International Criminal Court(ICC) or the International Court of Justice (ICJ). The first being a body that aims to offer accountability by bringing to justice those who have committed the worse crimes – namely genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. The latter is a pre-judicial body that aims to settle legal disputes between states based on international law.

The Foreign Secretary needs to be asked why it is he thinks Palestine should be a state – but should not have access to these bodies!

Clearly the UK is acting in this way for some reason – perhaps trying to compromise with a hard-line US position for example. Or perhaps they are hoping to avoid Israel annexing settlements in the West Bank. But, this is a price too far.

Once you start to compromise on these internationally agreed standards – standards that Israel has signed up to – then you stand at the top of a very slippery slope!

What we need is for the UK to be making clear and bold statements calling for all those accused of war crimes to be held to account through the established bodies – regardless of who the perpetrators are!


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St Andrews Church offers an inspiration

In 2004 the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that the separation barrier that had been constructed by Israel predominantly on Palestinian land was illegal. The ruling stated that

“The construction of the wall being built by Israel… [is] contrary to international law”

Significantly however it also stated that,

“all States parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention…have in addition the obligation…to ensure compliance by Israel with international humanitarian law”.

This includes the UK.

I raised this point when I spoke to the ‘Men’s Prayer Breakfast’ at St Andrews Church in Gloucestershire. I finished my talk with a request that each member of audience writes to their MP to ask him to remind the Foreign Office of this ruling and to ask how the government feel they are fulfilling this obligation.

I had been invited to talk about my experiences of working in the occupied Palestinian territories. I have recently returned from 5 months of doing human rights monitoring work with the organisation EAPPI.

I focused on the role of the separation barrier and how it has come to define life in Jayyus – the village in which I was based. I talked of the difficulties Palestinians faced obtaining permits to cross the separation barrier to access their own farmland. I also talked of how the Israeli army maintains a strong presence within the village.

Most of all however I tried to focus on stories of empowerment. How the Mayor of Jayyus would resolutely carry on working for the community despite having his house raided and his son arrested and attacked. I talked of how Israeli peace activists would come and work with Palestinians breaking down divides between the two communities.

When I finished my talk I was up-lifted to be met by a wave of enthusiastic questions. One member of audience told me of his recent trip to the Holy Land and visiting Hebron (and being shown round by an EAPPI colleague). Time and tme again, the question was asked, what can we do?

It was great to meet ordinary people living in Gloucestershire that felt inspired and empowered to work on the behalf of others. The congregation at St Andrews showed so much empathy towards strangers, and significantly also a willingness to act. It has left me inspired; I hope that I will be met with this sort of audience throughout my talks.

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Amazing people inspire Steve to spread the word

This article was was published in the Stroud News and Journal.

Human rights activist Steve Hynd has returned home to the Five Valleys after five months working in one of the most volatile, divided regions on the planet. The vital observations he made in the  West Bank helped inform major peace organisations desperate to bring stability to the landlocked territory, which has been fought over for decades between Israeli and Palestinian troops. Having met some extraordinary people on his travels, Steve is now keen to share his experiences of life in the strained region, where human rights abuses continue to shock the world.

“I LOVE Stroud – everything from its green valleys to its award winning ale. It has a buzz about it that combines a feeling of vibrancy with a relaxed tranquil atmosphere.

It was therefore quite a jump for me to go from a quiet life in the west country to accepting a position with a human rights monitoring scheme in the West Bank.

I have just returned from five months with the scheme, which was co-ordinated by the World Council of Churches.

Throughout my time I witnessed some terrible human rights abuses but I also met some inspiring people carving out lives for themselves in incredibly difficult situations.

For example, I met Mohammed in East Jerusalem who was evicted from his home aged just 14.  His neighbourhood, Sheikh Jarrah, is being targetted by Israeli settlers looking to establish a permenant Jewish presence there.

Today, Mohammad lives back with his family but is forced to live alongside the settlers in his house, which has been literally divided into two, with his family living in the back and the settlers  living in the front.

What struck me most about Mohammad’s story was the honesty with which he told it. He would be the first to admit that he reacted with deep anger towards all Israelis, feeling the rage and injustice of the situation in which he found himself.

This was until Israeli peace activists such as Tzvi Benninga started to come and help him, his family and his neighbourhood. This was the first time he had met an Israeli who was not a soldier or a settler. Every Friday, Palestinians, Israelis and internationals come together to protest in MohammadÕs neighbourhood.

One of my organisation’s roles was to go along to these protests to monitor proceedings. In the past it has been met with violence and tear gas and it would be our role to report that.

Mohammad is just one of a series of inspiring characters that I met whilst I was there. Now that I am back home I feel it is only right to try and tell the stories of a few of the people that I met.

As such I am hoping to do a series of talks around the area about my experiences.

If you would be interested in hosting a talk then please do not hesitate to contact me by emailing stevehynd24@gmail.com.

Whenever I asked anyone I met what they would want me to do to help their situation they nearly always responded in the same way – ‘go home and tell people what you have seen here’, they would say  – so this is what I am hoping to do.

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Press Release: Steve Hynd to undertake speaking tour about his experiences monitoring human rights abuses in the occupied Palestinian territories

Human rights activist, Steve Hynd, is soon to embark on a speaking tour where he will be talking about his experiences from his time in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Hynd, 26, has just arrived home after spending 5 months in the West Bank.  He was serving alongside participants from all around the world as part of a scheme coordinated through the World Council of Churches.

Commenting Hynd said,

“The last five months have been both challenging and inspiring for me. I have witnessed some terrible human rights abuses but I have also seen ordinary people from both sides of the conflict showing incredible resilience”

“I am hoping to be able to tell the stories of the people that I have met to as many back home as possible. If anyone would be interested in having me speak I would urge them to contact me by email on stevehynd24@gmail.com”


Contact Steve here – https://stevehynd.com/contact/

Notes to editor:

1)       Steve went with The Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) which brings internationals to the West Bank to experience life under occupation. Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAs) provide protective presence to vulnerable communities, monitor and report human rights abuses and support Palestinians and Israelis working together for peace. When they return home, EAs campaign for a just and peaceful resolution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict through an end to the occupation, respect for international law and implementation of UN resolutions. For more information please see http://www.eappi.org/index.php?id=4565

2)      Steve has been blogging throughout his time in the oPt, all of the articles can be seen here https://stevehynd.com/category/middle-east/

3) Photo shows Steve with three local boys from the village of Jayyus where he was stationed for three months.

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Waterfalls and walkers in Ein Gedi

On the other side of the stream I watch on as five elderly ladies help each other climb up a small rocky slope. One at a time each of them grasps onto whatever they can reach with a steely determination. The path they are following weaves its way up through shallow rock pools and passes protruding rocks. Passing me are a unit of off duty soldiers relaxing, chatting and joking. Each pushing their way down the gravel track by which I am stood. They have the look of a group returning from the beach, slightly sun burnt, windswept but happy. Below me I can see other tourists making their way up the side of the small stream. Varying degrees of fitness and determination will decide how far up the valley they go before they place themselves next to a plunge pool for the day.

Ein Gedi is an oasis in the middle of a desert. Waterfalls cut through a barren landscape diving deep into the rock to leave two adjacent blossoming valleys. Each valley has deep plunge pools that attract tourists from across Israel. The whole nature reserve stretches up away from the dead sea leaving you with views across the lowest point on earth and out onto the shores of Jordan. An incomparable location.

What sets Ein Gedi apart however is not the idyllic waterfalls and plunge pools or even the soaring mountain landscape that surrounds it. It is not even the fact that it extends up from the lowest place on earth. What makes Ein Gedi special for me is the people it attracts. Melting together in the scorching dead sea sun are Orthodox Jews, lefty kibbutz dwellers and Israeli Arabs all swimming together. Intermixing amongst all of this are a blend of bemused and astonished internationals, unsure whether to gawp at the beautiful King David Waterfall or the sight of Orthodox Jews splashing in the pools below it. Throughout the nature reserve and beach front, families, friends and foe all come together, transfixed by the natural beauty of their location.

Ein Gedi’s beauty attracts swathes of humans but it also offers a chance to escape the hustle and bustle of the religiosity and intensity which defines so much of Israel’s tourism. If you take one of the paths out of the valley bottom up into the surrounding mountains you can experience a sense of real isolation. Stood at the peak of Mount Yishai overlooking cliffs dropping sharply down to the crafted shoreline of the dead sea it is hard not to feel a sense of wonder at such a landscape. On a still day you might be able to hear the occasional cry of children playing in the valleys below but here on the mountain tops you know you are far from where others will make the effort to walk.

As you make your way back down off the mountain side you walk past people and nature stood side by side, together.

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