Thursday, June 28, 2007

My Favorite Country

When asked the question, What is my favourite country? People often stare in amazement as to my answer. Pakistan

Look there are far better places in the world, Australia, USA, England, Hong Kong to name just a few. But they are easy places safe places where everything works and life for the majority of people is easy and there are few negatives.

For me to be my favorite country means that there must be a sense of adventure. You need to be challenged, frustrated and amazed.

In Pakistan I have filmed exorcisms in the middle of the desert at night, goat sacrifices in ancient ceremony grounds, flown on flights with gun packing guards protecting a person on the Most Wanted Terrorist list in the world, seen the effects of an earthquake on thousands of people that have left me emotionally shattered. Seen mountains and skies that leave you breathless in awe. Been frustrated with beaucracy that defies logic and have driven through the Khyber Pass.

Have been locked in my hotel whilst people riot in the streets and wondered street markets buying Osama Bin laden posters. Madrassahs were boys spend their days chanting the qaram in a sing song melody.

Have eaten great meals and signed pledges that I am an alcoholic and I need alcohol for medicanal reasons so the room service boy can bring up a picnic basket of awful beer. Been on stage with the biggest rock band in the Sub Indian Continent in front of 20,000 fans. Danced with locals in the mountains during ceremonies at night and skimmed stones over holy rivers.

These are just some of the things that to me make Pakistan one of the most exciting places to visit, nothing makes sense in a country where the majority have so little and the minority everything. You need a sense of humour to enjoy a country that offers so much for so little. Nothing is easy trust me in Pakistan, but then again if it was?

Would I like it so much?. I doubt it


Wednesday, June 27, 2007

A question that had to be answered


Now I have been thinking about different questions that you have been asking and will in course give my views, some are political and for safety reasons may be answerwed diplomatically as I have to work in areas and the last thing I will ever want in the event of being held by "bad boys" is for my words to come back and haunt me.

As they say silence is if often the best sound.

However one question has to be answered a cryptic anonymous left a note and asked if I had turned fifty, now that set me aghast so to set the record , No I am only 48 in a 24 year old body trying to do the best I can to stay fit and healthy apart from two vices that I allow myself .

For those who question my age, my birthday is May 3 1959, so it is still a couple of years away LOL


Friday, June 22, 2007

Apart From The Axe

There is a famous joke quote that I always think of that goes along these lines

“Apart from that, how did you enjoy the show, Mrs. Lincoln”?

Referring to the murder of President Lincoln at the theatre in April 1865.

So what the hell does this have to do with life in the Unholyland?

Well after nearly a year of not going into Gaza, following the kidnapping of two fox Journalists last summer. We finally stepped back across the border into Gaza to cover the Fatah refugees holding up in the tunnel in the no mans land that separates Gaza and Israel.

Following the collapse of law and order in Gaza with Hamas staging what can only be called a military coup like takeover and destroying the Fatah security regime. Many Fatah members and their families trying to flee possible retribution tried to get out of Gaza via the tunnel and across Israel to the West Bank. Basically Israel said “No way Jose” and these people had been stuck in the tunnel for three days.

With correspondent Reena Ninan, we passed thru the metal gates that separate the two countries and found ourselves in a concrete funnel, the heat, mounds of rubbish, urine and a couple of hundred humans makes for an odor that somehow defies any advertising gurus thesaurus.

The aim of the shoot was to get in, shoot a package and get out of dodge before any potential risk to our safety.

I wanted to get down to the other end of the tunnel, to what we call the Palestinian end approx 400m walk. The trouble was that the tunnel after a 100m became, well not a tunnel anymore but an open walkway. Following the collapse of law and order, scavengers had descended and were in the process of removing anything and everything from bricks to the tin roof and once that was gone, then they were taking the steel framework from above our heads as we walked down.

Now this is not a professional demolition of property, but a complete anarchic loot carried out by men and boys, using anything and everything to smash property, and they obviously do not want to appear on the next edition of that popular Palestinian TV show “Crimestoppers”. So as I Reena and I made our way down the tunnel filming the offenders two kids above us screamed what has been translated as the foulest possible Arabic phases at us that questioned my mother and other issues in one sentence and the little Nobel laureate above us threw his axe down narrowly missing us from a height of 20ft making what can only be described as a bloody loud noise.

You have two options one to stand and argue or two keep moving and allow them to go back to looting. It made one hell of a picture that was duly put in our package that night; I just hope that the next edition of Palestinian Crimestopper’s uses the material to help the public identify the criminals.

We walked to the end of the tunnel, well what was left of it. This is a tunnel I have walked on hundreds of occasions over the past five years covering events in Gaza and now there is nothing left, everything has been taken where buildings and checkpoints once stood, now only holes in the sand remain.

It is if a society is simply eating itself, and law and order is enforced with a bullet. But there was not one person in any position of law and order to stop what was happening and if there were they would not have cared.

It was Reena’s first time in Gaza, and this was her impression. It is weird to reflect that she has never seen what we consider normal. Because the normal no longer exists in Gaza.

We shot an interview with the Red Cross, did a couple of On Camera’s and then after all that we found ourselves stuck behind a group of Russian refugees fleeing Gaza. Yes Russian refugees you ask. Trust me I had no idea that there were any Russians in Gaza but somehow a couple of busloads had to be evacuated and we were behind them.

These were not just day-trippers on a day out to the beaches of Gaza, but families who had been living in Gaza, doing what I have no idea. But they were fleeing the collapse with suitcases the size that could house families. The trap is that to get out of Gaza you have to go thru turnstiles similar to what you see at stadiums and here we were trapped behind the group as they tried to squeeze and cram these cases thru the turnstiles. It was a Monty Pythonesque scene to say the least and we still had personal security and bomb checks to go through.

This is where your worst nightmare and hold up can happen.

I found myself in the cubicles leading to the bomb detection machine with a Russian mother and her two small children a girl aged maybe four and a three-year boy. Just as they are about to enter the bomb detection machine the small boy reaches into his pocket and pulls out a spent bullet casing, no doubt a souvenir from his time in Gaza and drops it on the floor by accident. His mother freaks and checks his pockets for more whilst I just groan that this is all that we need, what else could go wrong today.

First the axe now the bullet.

Somehow the worlds most advanced bomb detection machine did not detect any gunpowder on him and we passed through to passport control. I just wonder what the cleaners thought later in the day when the found the bullet casing.

It had been an interesting day, Reena has now been into Gaza, I had returned and I thought “Apart from the Axe” how did you like Gaza Reena.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Souring Gunmen and the Nokia Ring Tone

Monday 18th June 2007
West Bank

The first question that has to be answered with the title is the word that probably breaks every grammer in the book, as I have never heard the term "Souring" . The answer actually lines in a bad translation from Arabic to English, as the word sour means film in Arabic, thus in my brillant linguistic brain I have adapted the term sour to souring, as defined as "filming".

So translated the title could be interpreted as Filming Gunmen and the Nokia Ring Tone, the part that Nokia plays in the story comes later.

We drove up the Settlers road through the West Bank in my armored car , this is a road where in past times you never would of considered travelling along unless in an armored car as many attacks have occured here, mainly snipers shooting at settlers cars, so the the armor just gives you a sense of security. Actually the worst thing is that the shock absorbers have become totally useless and all I have are the springs so it is like travelling in a bouncy bus more than a classy secure car.

We parked the car and walked thru the Hawara Checkpoint just outside Nablus, this is one of the checkpoints that make life hell getting in and out of Israel and the West not only for journalists but even more so for Palestinians, the rights and wrongs of checkpoints can be debated on both sides. But for us they can just be a pain in the preverbial. Going in is easy , coming out can take minutes or hours you never know.

So our local fixer Ali picks us up and takes us for coffee in the centre of town, we have an appointment with the Fatah gunmen who basically control the town as the bad boys. Previously we been taken in taxis and waited and transfered and moved from camp to building before we meet the bad boys. However the Israeli Defence Forces having been raiding the Refugee Camp on the outskirts of Nablus where the bad boys have lived and operated from. So we had to wait have coffee and be told where to go at an undisclosed location in the town.

Ali's phone rang , words where exchanged and we drove off , now there is no blindfolds or hoods on the head to a clandestine location, just a never ending string of Speed bumps. I am convinced that Nablus has more speed bumps than any other city or town in the world.

We pulled up outside the building and you are always nervous to some extent as these guys are the real deal and not parading for show. There were about six of them with their leader Abu jabel, who is a big big boy, handshakes and smiles. I thought that we would be doing the interview inside, but Abu Jabel insisted we would do the interview in the street.

So out we go Correspondent Mike Tobin, Producer Ibrahim Hazboun and myself standing in the street with six gunmen, so what do you do well we did the interview and then they asked if we needed some walking shots with them and Mike. (These guys are media savvy and do not need some dizzy PR person buzzing around) We did the walking shots all good Mike and the gunmen pix.

I thought the shoot was over as the boys would move on quickly, when Abu Jabel asked if we wanted some pictures of him shooting his gun. That is how crazy this place can be " Here is a big time gunmen of Fatah asking if we need pictures of him shooting.

"Sure why not?"

So we take to the edge of the building and Abu Jabel takes aim at a bottle or can down the hill and just as he is about to fire, the sound that we all know echoes , his Nokia Phone rings breaks the silence . He apologies and takes the call, so we set up again and just as he reaches for the trigger the Nokia Phone tone again breaks the silence, then as he answers one call his second phone rings, so picture this big gunman , M16 gun and two small cell phones against the side of a building with me pointing a small camera at him.

Eventually the phone calls end Abu Jabel points and fires camera jumps such is the sound that makes me jump, so I ask can we do it again.

"No Problem"

And without the Nokia we get the second shot.

"Now 'sour' us driving away"

With guns poking out they drove away, big guys with guns in small japanese cars, they could barely fit in with all there weapons and jackets packed with spare clips.

We only had a piece to camera to film before stopping for lunch and let me tell you the chicken breasts at Mister baker could be used for tiles on the space shuttle. Our exit was OK as we timed it for before workers tried to leave the city, out thru the gate and back to the office.

Just another day working in the Unholylands

Monday, June 18, 2007

Thanks for the Comments

To everyone
Many thanks for all the comments , will get back to everyone of them and answer, today was yet another one of those days in the West Bank and tomorrows blog entry will be aptly titled

Souring Gunmen and the Nokia Ring tone

Till then thanks again

Friday, June 15, 2007

At the end of my run last night

This is a funny , only in Israel could this happen at the end of a run.

Thus, last night I was running with my hash group the Thirsty Knights Hash House Harriers, commonly using slogans like runners with a drinking problem or drinkers with a running problem. Simply you run with friends then rehydrate with beer. Ok not the best training program but it adds a great alternative to speed intervals or long runs.

So as we ran back to the car park at the end of the run last night, there was a police car with its lights flashing next to my car. Now your immediate thoughts are of course , expletive my car has been broken into oh expletive.

However the car was untouched and the concern was that my car with its TV signs painted on the windows was in fact a suspected terrorist vehicle.

The background being last week Militants in Gaza had tried to kidnap another Israeli soldier down in Gaza by getting a SUV and painting TV on the windows they had approached an israeli checkpoint. There attempt was thwarted one was killed and three others fled back into Gaza.

This story was palyed heavily in the local press, and last night whilst my car had been parked and left unattended two boys had seen my car and being good concerned citizens called the police and reported a "suspected potential terrorist vehicle"

The policeman was cool about it all and drove off smiling, after we explained to him dripping in sweat " That hey no, thats just Mals car".

So a funny only in Israel way to end a run. You have to laugh.

The vehicles look so similar LOL

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Fear Junkie Syndrome

Wide screen is his response asked the queston?

At what point though are you a ‘fear’ junkie? You put yourself in it everyday and you could do this job in ‘civilian’ land but you choose otherwise.

Do you need it? Can you live without it?

This is a question many people ask me, and the answer is always the same.

We are given a jar of jelly beans when we are born, we never see the jar. But everytime you do something dangerous a jelly bean is taken out and when the last bean is taken out , then you are living on borrowed time. I figure that my jar is getting close to empty but then again with every good deed perhaps a jelly bean is put back in.

I do enjoy the adrenaline to deny it would be a lie to myself, but at the same time I also question as to what my alternatives are. One day something will come up and I think it will surprise me.

I should also point out that not everyday is living on the edge, like any other newsroom in the world we also have quiet days even weeks as working in an International bureau means that we are out of the loop of domestic issues, somehow New York HQ only likes us when boys play badly in most cases.

The thing is that if something happens you must always be prepared to go anywhere at anytime and with no thoughts to your personal life and that comes with a heavy price.

(doing nothing in the Jerusalem Bureau)

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Quelling Fear

Thanks to those who asked questions, as it gives me topics to write on that perhaps I might not of thought about, 21st Century Mom (Great Blog linked below) posed this question?

When you are sitting on the edge of war, camera in hand, unable to listen to music, how do you quell your fear?

There are few times when I actually feel "fear" in a combat zone. Given the amount of times I have been exposed to dangerous zones. But I do, like the fear of being slimed during the invasion of Iraq or sitting in a humvee being a magnet for incoming RPG's in Ramadi Iraq.

I remember those times and the reality is that there is nothing you can do and this is when I do have fear, it is that absolute feeling of sickness in your stomach, it comes in spasms and the terror is often that you cannot do anything about it. It always tends to be in moments when nothing is directly happening as in being underfire.

I do not want to sound like an adrenaline or war junkie, but being in any situation where fear comes into the play, your senses are risen to a level that is hard to explain. But always the most over riding factor is planning and experience. Knowing where to go, what to do, and being able to make fast rational decisions, when you are working at these levels there is no time for fear.

Without a doubt experience is the most important weapon in my arsenal of survival, no shot is worth dying for, and the aim everytime I go somewhere is not to get into a situation I cannot control, and if it happens and it does on a more regular basis than I wish for. It is the ability to maintain control of your own senses and use them to get the hell out of dodge.

In a combat zone a matter of a couple of hundred meters is generally all that separates you from safety sometimes even less, it is often a matter of having a plan to get there and a back up to that plan and a back up to the back up. Because Murphy likes to lay down the law in a way that only he can


Thursday, June 07, 2007

You Ask I Reply

Today , I was figuring out whether to write about the lack of bladder control suffered by male motorists in Israel or continue my series on music for when everyone plays nice for a change to give you an insight perhaps into the sounds that shape my world. Then again I thought perhaps it would be fun to offer to anyone who for some reason another a chance to let you ask me a question about what I do and respond to these for a change.
Any question is fair game and I will write my thoughts and ramblings in response, I enjoy the feedback and incredible things I read on other blogs, and just wish I could figure out how too do the same.
So readers of the Unholyland here is your chance , anything on any subject , you know me and my world

Oh and i will write about the bladder issue soon

Monday, June 04, 2007

Music For When Boys Cannot Play Nice

Now when the preverbial hits the wall and as the title suggests when boys cannot play nice. I do not repeat do not put on my ipod and chill out, in fact you need every single sense working 110% to state the obvious, and music whilst it sounds good in movie soundtracks has no place in a battlezone, I am yet to hear the US Army Psych op's team drive into an Iraqi Village with the ghetto blaster to end all ghetto blasters blasting out the Ride of the Valkeryie (ala Apocalyse Now)

But there are times when I do crank up to Volume 11 (as according to the gospel of Spinal tap)

I remember sitting inside a tank in Kuwait leading up to the war talking with the crew about what music they listen to and the loader pointed to a dusty portable cd and said in his southern drawl we ramp up Enimen and play it through the in board headphones as they speed accross the desert, "lose Yourself" is not a track of music for the peaceniks.

Last year in the Israel Lebanon War, I would start my morning by playing the Kid Rock Bawitada blaring and get completely pumped up for the adrenaline rush of incoming katusah rockets, it is almost like a drug the need to get ready and psyched up for mayhem. When it goes down in big way your own personal adrenaline is coursing through you and your music tastes in conflict zones reflect that.

Each War or Conflict has a piece of music attached to it for me, during Kosovo it was Fat Boy Slim Right Here Right NowFunk Soul Brother and Rockafellar Skunk. The Gaza Disengagement "The Killers - Somebody Told Me", China "Ray of Light - madonna" Iraq "ACDC Thunderstruck", Sudan "dave Matthews The Space Between", Afghanistan "The Doors Break on Thru" the list goes on.

Guns & Roses "Live and Let Die" Pink Floyd's "Run Like Hell", Inxs "Devil Inside", Lenny Kravitz "Are You Going My Way", Social Distortion "Ring of Fire", Billy Idol "Rebel Yell", The Clash "London Calling", Foo Fighters "learn to Fly" TRex "Spirit in the Sky", U2 "Elevation".

A funny aside earler in the year I was driving down to Sderot to go as we say "Kassam Catching" when driving into the town Correspondent Jennifer Griffin & Producer Yonat Freling asked me were we were going, without saying a word turned the dial on the ipod and cranked out Petula Clarkes "DOWNTOWN" they just both cracked up laughing.

But in closing as Howard Jones would say "Things Can Only get Better"

Now do not think I am a music freak given any oppurtunity I will actually listen to live sport on the radio as these photos will attest to. The other week sitting on the hill overlooking Gaza and Sderot I had drawn the night shift and it happened to be the night of the European Champions Football Match so there I am with a portable radio with crackly reception trying to watch the game on a small screen with no sound, well it had sound but it was in hebrew and the radio had english