Israel

Tag: Israel

There is nothing quite like a female Israeli airline security guard

During the 14 months I spent in Israel making my 2000 film Settlers I spent many hours being questioned by the security boys and girls at Ben Gurion airport as I travelled in and out of the country… So it is from experience that I know they hate it when you get annoyed by their questions – obviously I always make sure to take great offence and obviously I always get annoyed when stopped for questioning, but today is different, today I approached the guards with a gleeful smile, knowing already that I would definitely be in for a question or two because of the Syrian stamp in my passport.

I am stopped by two female security guards… “Where are you going today” they ask, “Beirut” I say.. “Oh really, why?”, they ask, “I’m filming there”, “Why did you go to Syria?” “To film” I say.. “Ah you are a brave man” the two women say almost flirtingly, It’s going well so far I think to myself. “Did you make any friends in Syria?” they ask, “Yes” I reply, “Why would you do that?” they ask, “I need to know people to make films” I tell them, “But do you STILL know them?” the girls ask, “Yes” I answer, suddenly I get the feeling that the women are no longer flirting, the rubber finger is getting closer to my ass unless I get better control of this interview.

So I go for broke and play (what I hope will be) the winning card, and one which happens on this occasion to be the truth… I tell them that the Syrians I had been filming were now living in Beirut because they had to flee Syria in October last year after I was arrested and held secretly in a high security Damascus prison for a week. Thankfully the girls faces soften, and a sense of the relief comes over me as the rubber finger retreats and I begin to win back control of the encounter.

They both go away for a private whispering session looking at me “flirtingly” out of the corners of their eyes. They return, handing me my passport, “Mr Sean.. You are very cool, one women says.. you can enter this way no problem, in that direction”. “Where will you be going next after Beirut?” one of the women asks as I move along, “I leave Beirut for Athens in a few days where I am starting a new film” I explain, the woman look surprised and excited, “This is the new Nazi land of Europe” the perceptive women tell me, “Yes” I tell them, “The neo Nazi’s just got 8% of the vote – these are very dangerous times in Europe”. I tell them the story of how I arrived in Athens last month and was tear gassed within 2 days at an open air party set up by anarchists who keep the police out of “their” part of town.

The women look very impressed and I feel calm, no rubber fingers coming my way now I think to myself. “You are a very brave man” they tell me, “You go to all the hot spots in the world and you put your self in the fire”, I smile and tell them that the bravest thing I’ve ever done is taken on the two of the most feared security women in the world at Israel’s Ben Gurion airport. They both smile, laugh flirtingly again, and usher me on my way.

Safe in my dentists chair

31 August 2010

My trip to Beirut gave me a chance to think about Syria again and remind myself just exactly what it is that I find so fascinating about the place, a chance to stand back and peer in from its more glamorous neighbour Lebanon, where the Paris-like prices nearly killed me, but god I loved the sea!

I missed my appointment on Sunday with dentist Rima and couldn’t call to tell her from Beirut because I’d left her number at the hotel By the time I called on Tuesday she was in a panic, ‘”Where are you? What has happened! are you OK?” In one of my loneliest moments in this arid desert land it seemed that the brave ‘McAllister of Arabia’ had found himself an Arabic mother in his veiled dentist Rima.

I was back in her chair the following morning. “No needles today Sean, it all seems to be healing up well. Did you enjoy Lebanon?” She asked. “Yes I did” I replied, and, with dentist Rima poking around in my mouth I continued “It was great to begin to understand how people see the conflict in the region, I met many who loved Hezbollah and others that didn’t, some who felt that Syria was having a proxy war with Israel on Lebanon’s land by funding Hezbollah, and others who believed that if Israel really wanted peace they could have it tomorrow, but for some reason they don’t want it.”

Loyal and fierce in her patriotism dentist Rima sighs as if she’s heard this a thousand times, “It is all connected to Israel Sean, until the issue surrounding Israel is resolved there will never be peace in the Middle East.”

In the countryside of Syria I have spoken to many of the older generation who refuse point blank to accept the land of Israel. “The Jews can live there but the land has to be called Palestine” said one, another says “No Jews, only Arabs in our Palestine”. I suggest that realistically speaking Israel with the backing of America is going nowhere so isn’t it better to do a deal for peace, maybe get the Golan Heights back and divide Israel in 2 parts?

No compromise I am constantly told by the older generation; the ones that lived through the creation of Israel and the following displacement of million of Palestinians, they seem as uncompromising as do the current Israeli government, no wonder any peace deal seems so far away. I am told that the crusaders occupied this land for 200 years and were eventually kicked out, that Israel is still young only 60 years old, that there is plenty of time for the Jews to be kicked out, that as the American economy collapses in the recession it won’t be able to continue propping it up.

Dentist Rima like many here puts much of this in the hands of god, “One day we will get the land back” she says, “Oh and the good news is root canal is healed”. If it wasn’t for my veiled Arabic mother what would I do?

World Cup war

22 June 2010

A cacophony of gun fire and cries for help, screaming voices of Americans and Brits, pleading “Save us, save us”. I opened my eyes and saw the rotating fan, top-lit by a dim bulb, the smell was Arabic, a balcony shimmered in the distance, sweating and shaking I sat up, it was like the opening scene in ‘Apocalypse Now’. But all was calm, moments later I realised I must have fallen asleep with the telly on. A news item about western hostages being killed in Iraq had woken me, a graphic re-construction had thrust me back to Iraq for a nightmarish moment, but here I am again waking in peaceful Syria.

Peaceful? well so it seems most of the time, as I push my way though the thousands of tourists in the old city of Damascus. Tourism is big business, despite the world-wide recession tourism is up 12% in Syria making it a billion dollar industry. The last thing Syria needs now is a war, but the more international news I read from the region the more it looks like it, the papers predict a war between Israel and Lebanon where this time Syria will get involved. In the past Syria has sat on the sidelines fuelling and funding (along with Iran) Hezbollah – the freedom fighters of south Lebanon. As I wander through the old city posters of Hezbollah leader are clear to be seen everywhere, their support it seems comes from the people as well as the government.

But how likely is it to happen? Bashar al-Assad the Syrian president said in a recent interview here that if there is a 1% possibility of averting a war he will find it. But other reports say that bigger and more sophisticated weapons have already been sent to Lebanon from Syria in preparation for any fighting.

The blockade of Gaza, the Israeli attack on the ‘Freedom Flotilla’ aid ship and the killing of nine volunteers has raised tensions in the region and now new fears of a pre-emptive Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear plants next year puts war high on the news agenda. Not that it seems to bother the tourists here in bustling Damascus, in the hot sweaty souks where old men play backgammon whilst sipping on tiny cups of Arabic coffee, a bigger news story has won the hearts and minds of locals and tourists alike… the World Cup in South Africa!