Monday, June 13, 2005

The Newsletter I Forgot to Send

Tel Aviv Airport 3 am May 5 2005

3 am is a god awful time in anyone’s book , what is only worse is a 5.30 am departure from this country it means that you have to be at the airport three hours early to clear security.

Now here they treat security with a capital S, and travelling alone with equipment and no actual idea of where you are going apart from saying “ I am off to Iraq” means very little to the staff here.

I am in the position now of holding 4 passports one of which is used solely for travelling in and out of Israel and a second passport for countries which are to say the least not exactly the friends of Zion. This passport includes entry stamps and visas for Saudi Arabia, Libya and Syria. The third passport is for Pakistan and Afghanistan with the odd Uzbekistan visa for good measure and the fourth passport is what I call the get out of jail passport totally clean with not a stamp in it issued in a third country.

So when packing it pays to make sure that I have the correct passport let alone tickets and credit cards.

So starts another day another trip another adventure in the somewhat bizarre world I live and work in. I am on assignment to Iraq for three weeks to be embedded in with the US Marines in such exotic locations as Fallujeh and Ramadi. needless to say that Lonely Planet Guide Books do not list many restaurants or hotels as must experience events. In fact I do not think there are any guidebooks for Iraq yet.

Now aologies for the somewhat lack of communication in recent months, it was only the other day that my mother complained and I realised that I must put fingers to the keyboard and bring you up to date on the trivial facts of life here.

I now drive an armored car so road rage has taken on a new meaning here and the fact that I could run over anyone and squash them flat has embin the process of finishing oldened me with a new sense of purpose. It is a top of the range Toyota Land Cruiser with a satellite transmission dome on the top so it is not what you would call a subtle car on the road complete with foreign number plates, the best thing though is that it has a siren which is far more effective in getting attention than the car horn. The only down side is that it is so heavy that if you park on a slope you cannot open the doors because of the weight of the doors with the armour.

Enough of the driving asides ...

Louise is in the process of finishing her Junior Year in High School, this is equivilant to Year 11 and has one more year of High School. She is blossoming into a beautiful young lady to fast, but still has the joys and frustrations of being a teenager, enjoys staying up till five am and then sleeping till midday. Then complaining of being tired, of course it goes without saying that she cannot understand why she is not allowed to go out to night clubs till all hours of the morning in Tel Aviv.

It is hard to explain the reality of life here to teenagers, for example last week I was in Jenin (The so called home of the suicide bombers here) sitting in a cemetary with twelve gunmen who are looking for work in the new Palestinian Administration. You can imagine the job interview ... and what have you done for the last four years ? .. well I can shoot a gun, place bombs and have extensive experience in anarchy. would be an honest answer. Then out of the blue they introduce a new member of the team they are looking after, whose intention it was to go to Tel Aviv and blow himself up taking as many Israelis as he could with him. Looking into his eyes he was not kidding, luckily for everyone the local gunmen had found out and stopped him and were now looking after him so that he did not carry out his planned attack.

Now trying to explain this scenario to a sixteen year old teen daughter is weird to say the least, when her response is that we were going to club in North Tel Aviv , so whats the problem dad .... needless to say she was not allowed out to the club and the bomber I hope is still under the wings of the Al Aqsa Matyrs Brigade Commander of Jenin.

BJ is now the tallest of the girls in the household and grapples with the annoyance of not being allowed to do what her sister is allowed to do, it is just not fair Dad is the standard response Why is she allowed to go out and I am not, to which the standard parental response of she is older cuts no grounds with a fourteen year old.

As far as what has happened to me, well time passes and I have reached the ripe old age of 46 last Tuesday, celebrating it by running the marathon in Paris last month in under four hours which is the magic barrier for all runners to break hours in a marathon.

Twelve Hours later --- 3 pm En Route Frankfurt to Kuwait

Now at 30,000ft on board a new airbus (not one of the big ones but a new one) and of course now I am trying to log onto the internet whilst flying but for some reason the plane system cannot track the satellite for the moment. It amazes me that here am I in the middle of a flight and if the system works I can actually email and work from a plane using nothing but wireless connections , but of course the system is down and there is no IT guy on the plane

I am trying to think of the last Unholyaland newsletter that went out and now realise that it was in the post Tsunami days. It just seems like years ago that I was coverin that tragedy and yet it is only a few months

Since then I have been to Lebanon and Syria to cover the Beirut and Damascus Spring Revolutions that have in reality not gone that far. Syria was intresting to say the least in the fact that I was badly attacked by a mob and had the preverbial shit kicked out of me along with being beaten by sticks. One of those mad mob moments that makes you realise that for all the pretence of a normal society, brutal fascist dictatorships still exist. I managed to keep to my feet as they put the flying kicks in and the hits were just to my back and neck.

What was funny though was that as I ran and stumbled from the mob the only place that I could get to was a car operated by the secret police. I jumped in the car the mob screamed up to the car and then we had this stand off whereby the mob wanted me but the secret police wanted there car and I was convinced that I was either going to be lynched from the car by the mob or taken to the Secret Police HQ and then given a going over in a cell downstairs.

In the end not knowing what to do in the mob frenzy the SP drove thru the crowd about ten meters and then asked me to get out and escorted me another twenty meters assuring me all was ok, before letting me loose when i saw the rest of my crew and we bolted down the road and paid a taxi a small fortune to get us the preverbial “F” out of dodge city.

The company pulled us out of Syria three hours later and I did not argue their decision, would I go back yes ... would I film another pro democracy demonstration there NO


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