Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Running the Milk Blockade

January 31, 2006

Throughout history people have run blockades, whether it is smuggling contrabands or bringing in relief. Today was a small victory for us in Gaza, we ran the Milk Blockade.

On the road, your wishes and whims can vary and always in the places I travel to for work there is something that you cannot get and the more you cannot get something the more you crave it, almost to the point of obsession.

What I have missed and craved has been fresh low fat milk, that’s right simple plain fresh cow juice for my coffee. Sure there is UHF full fat milk and coffee whitener available in the stores, but with Israel closing the only commercial border with Gaza there has been no fresh product in or out of here. The border is closed.

The office in Jerusalem called yesterday to let us know that permission had been granted by the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) for my armored car to enter Gaza. What did we need, normally you would expect a TV News team to ask for crates of booze and cigarettes. Not in these days in combat zones, the last thing you need, are for your senses impaired in any way at any time.

So I asked the office could they put 10 liters of fresh milk in the back of the car and I would bring it back in with me to Gaza. Past the Soldiers I would run the risk of smuggling fresh milk into Gaza.

Yoav Shamir, the Engineer in the bureau who was to bring the car down to Erez Crossing, between Israel and Gaza, rang me back to check that I actually wanted milk!

“10 liters fresh and make sure six liters are low fat milk”

“ No problem”

Ibrahim Hazboun and I crossed the border back into Israel carrying nothing but our papers and there was Yoav with the car waiting. Lifting my winter jacket in the back, packed in a plain brown box taped up were the goods.

We went back into the border control to do the paper work, the contraband wrapped and on the back seat, luckily the weather was cool. Without breaking into a cold sweat Ibrahim and I dealt with the crisis of no papers for the car to enter Gaza.

Could our plans fall foul to bureaucracy and lack of co-ordination, for nearly thirty minutes the milk sat out in the parking lot. Luckily with tinted windows and our elaborate packing, any passing soldier would not see the goods.

Papers completed, we walked casually back to the car as to not draw attention to ourselves and proceeded to the final entry gate before Gaza, It is the last point of contact with Israel.

But there to our horror was a Palestinian car coming out, being checked by a dog, surely the animal had not only been trained in bomb detection, fresh milk would surely send the creature into a rabid attack mode.

However only cars leaving Gaza are checked for bombs and milk, entering Gaza the milk-sniffing dogs are held back.

We crossed, and the blockade had been broken, not exactly on the scale and magnitude of the famous Berlin lift operation, 10 liters of fresh milk all intact and with no leaks.

That fresh milk tasted great in my coffee this afternoon.

OK to be honest you can bring in as much milk as you like, the Israelis could not care less, but I think my version just sounds more romantic and if someone wants to write a screenplay of this adventure, you never know a Hollywood studio could snap up the rights.

The Strawberry Revolution

The Strawberry Revolution
Gaza City

Jan 30 2006

Hamas is in Power now in the Palestinian Territories, proving for once that the ballot is more powerful than the bullet. The trouble is that Palestinians thought that voting for Hamas, was a good way of sending a protest vote against the old corrupt regime of Fatah, who had ruled for the last forty years and until a year ago under the complete benign cronyism of Arafat.

Last week everyone thought what a good idea it would be to punish the old
Regime, by voting for Hamas. Now five days later after the party and celebrations they have all woken up with the mother of all hangovers or to put it another way a “Hamasover”.

Everyday in Gaza, Militants protest, get bored then protest on another issue, today someone must of woke up and decided that they did not the like Denmark and since Norway is a neighbor of Denmark then they would not like Norway as well (because their flags are similar).

The reason for their anger was because a Danish Newspaper a year ago published a cartoon about the Prophet Mohammad. So up rolled the Militant Gunmen to the European Union offices in Gaza City, presented a letter of protest fired their guns in the air and left, I also think they tried to protest and fire their guns in the air at the Parliament here but were not allowed to today.

What has Denmark and newspaper cartoons got to do with the problems of the Palestinians, nothing. But it has been a cause in the Muslim world in the last few days, so why not make a stand here in Gaza, solidarity etc not to mention a chance to fire your guns in the air.

Now not to be outdone the local farmers also decided to stage a demonstration near the Presidents home here in Gaza City. The Palestinian Authority thought that this would be a good chance to provide a show of force, because the farmers would be unarmed. Unlike the militants from the Fatah Party who have better and more weapons than the Police.

So the Police complete with riot shields and Kalashnikovs (well some Kalashnikovs, they do not have enough for everyone, unlike the Militants where everyone has at least one) Those without a gun get to brandish bamboo sticks and wave them at camera crews, note to Palestinian Authority a very Taliban thing to do – beating people with sticks.

Naturally the loud speaker truck is there playing out Arabic music, which people tell me is very good, however played at Volume 13 through bad speakers on the roof of a mini van only added to the ambience of a demonstration. Yes on Palestinian amplifiers they go up to 13, if 11 is louder than 10 the maximum an amplifier can go too, then 13 is at least two times louder than that.

The farmers here have been totally screwed by the Israelis as the majority of the produce grown here is destined for sale in the markets of Israel. However the only commercial crossing between Israel and Gaza is controlled by Israel. Now the story we were told was that the farmers who had bought the greenhouses after the Israeli disengagement from Gaza had finally gotten there crops ready for export and sale. And now for the big sting Israel has for the last fifteen days closed the crossing claiming that they have Intel that a bomb was going to come out. So all the trucks and produce have been stuck at the crossing and naturally all the produce has rotted.

The farmers wanted to vent their anger at the Authority; by staging a demonstration and since demonstrations here are a national sport. They started to throw punnets of strawberries in the air, hence “Strawberry Revolution”.

Naturally good pictures for Television and Newspapers around the world, but the media also realized that these were very good strawberries and instead of throwing the last four boxes of punnets. The assembled media all gathered around the strawberry throwers and just took the punnets and started to eat the strawberries.

The strawberry revolution had lasted less than five minutes; luckily the armed police with riot shields did not have to do anything. Another farmer turned up with a truck of cut flowers and threw them in the air to express their disgust at the economic and International boarder situation. End result everyone picked up a few nice bunches of carnations for the office and hotel rooms.

A cucumber farmer turned up, but by this time everyone was getting bored and lets face it what are you going to do with a box of cucumbers on the road in Gaza. So a few boxes of cucumbers lay on the road being stepped on, flowers and strawberries yes but cucumbers no.

Walking back to the car I picked up a strawberry and it was probably one of the best I have ever eaten. Ibrahim Hazboun (Our Foxnews Producer) started to laugh as he had just overheard a farmer complaining to the Policeman about the situation of life here, and whom in the Authority they should complain too. The Policeman dead faced with a grin said the authority was no longer in power go complain to Hamas they are the government now.

So perhaps the strawberry revolution is not over just yet, and Hamas now have to show the rest of the world they have the political ability to handle the Strawberry Revolutionaries of Gaza.
A sad post note though about the plight of farmers here. You can buy 5 kilos (close to 12 lbs) of the best strawberries in the world for two dollars, In fact in most cases they will just give them away

Monday, January 16, 2006

Still Watching and Waiting

Deathwatch Duty – The Warrior Sleeps

Day five live from the hospital, it is now a matter of waiting for the Warrior to die, his doctors say that he is breathing with the assistance of a ventilator and is moving odd parts of his body, whilst Mozart plays and his sons tell him about his grandchildren waiting for him to come home. It is hard to picture such a figure as Ariel Sharon in this condition.

Down in the Media Circus we sit and wait around the clock, we are running a 24 hour operation broken into three shifts, the cold just gnaws into your body with each passing hour, huddling around a kerosene heater in a tent. Every hour we walk to the live shot position across the courtyard entrance. There along with fifty other cameras all going live around the world, CBS, RAI (Italy) CNN, BBC, Al Jazerra, NBC and the list goes on and on down the line, it is like a family away from home familiar faces you have met on jobs and locations around the world. Once the bullshit dies down and we have all gotten into the routine our positions staked out, the competition between networks does not really exist, we are all saying the same thing and lets just try to make it comfortable and easy for all of us.

You know it is a long stakeout/death watch when the local take away restaurants come around handing out menus and promising rapid delivery times, from Chinese to Hamburgers all is available.

It is just another day at least no one is trying to shoot or blow me up today.

Hadassah Hospital

Death Watching

Waiting for Death

Hadassah Hospital Jerusalem January 7, 2006 9pm

Seven floors above the media circus at the entrance to the Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Arial Sharon lies in a drug induced coma, and in the cold of winter we sit and wait. And wait and wait, it is called a “Death Watch”.

For eight hours a day for the last three days you sit and wait, every half an hour, Mike Tobin, Amy Kellogg or Greg Burke the correspondents stand in front of the one eyed monster and relay the news, sometimes he’s in a critical stage, and at other times
the Prime Minister is improving.

Break another live shot for Washington

Repeat the News and wait for the next half hour to pass in the cold. It has been the pattern for three days now and could go on and on.

Prime Minister Sharon is an imposing person to say the least, I have filmed him on numerous occasions in his office and down on his farm. He even took us on a tour of the property and the final stop was on a hilltop overlooking the entire estate, marked by a small fenced off area that contains the grave of his wife with a garden bench for him to sit on and look at the final resting place of his Lilly, he told us then that this is where he wanted to be buried.

But in the Middle East, nothing is easy. The problem is that his farm “Sycamore Farm” is within range of the Qasam Rockets that militant Palestinians fire blindly out of Gaza, So if Jewish tradition was to hold in this case and the funeral was around the gravesite, you could have every World Leader from George Bush to Prince Charles and John Howard standing around with potential rockets falling down and exploding around them.

Break , pizza is here and then another live shot this time New York.

Past Midnight … three hours later and it is raining and colder, five layers of clothing and the chill just eats into you. And nothing has changed in Sharon’s condition, Nothing that we know. The machinations of world politics and Middle East politics are now taking place in neon lit antiseptic corridors.

The thing that is different here is that when you sit back and reflect on the life of Sharon, you start to realize that a major world figure lies in a coma, and a nation tries to convey that it is business as normal, the difference is that Israel is a nuclear nation, with a military force that can crush any of its neighbors and the man with his figure on the trigger is unconscious.

But sitting here in the midnight cold there are things that make you realize that this is still Israel with all its quirks. Come the end of Shabat tonight, the orthodox Hassidic Jews can come and visit their friends and family, so like a penguin parade they arrived in mass once the sun went down, like a scene from a Woody Allen film. Dressed in black they stood outside the hospital entrance and started praying, swaying in unison to the wall, not the famous Western wall but the wall by the side of the door of the hospital. I suppose one wall looks like another to a man bobbing up and down.

Another Washington live shot beckons and the beast must be fed as we like to say.

Hadassah Hospital