Thursday, January 25, 2007

Actually Nothing much has happened lately

In the world of TV news if nothing much is happening then nothing much is happening, lots of small domestic stories like the President being charges with rape and sexual harrasment, the Prime Minister is about as popular as a pork chop at an Orthodox bar mitzpa and a local 19 year old tennis player is the talk of the town for getting to the quarter finals of the Australian Tennis Open.
One of the things about working in an International bureau like Jeruslem is that when we are busy it is chaotic and dangerous, when it is quiet enjoy the time and catch up on events like planning my two month vacation that starts next week.
I had reached the stage that I was owed so much time off that the only thing to do was to take a block of two months of and thus I will be heading to Australia, Fiji and Vanuatu. I do not think I can get any further away from the Middle East.
Be prepared for dispatches downunder.
I do have to go and do a training course in Wales UK on how to work in a hostile environment, the joke amongst everyone is that am I teaching or attending

Friday, January 19, 2007

Black Eyes

“The eyes are the mirror of the soul”

For the first time in a long time I held the shot of the old lady, her face full frame in my viewfinder and for a moment it felt like our eyes locked as she turned and stared down the lens. I could not button off, and stop recording.

The eyes almost hollow and black had seen hell.

Every now and then you meet people who touch you, sometimes it is not physical, sometimes you cannot understand why, we did not share a language or even speak a word.

I was filming in a centre where Holocaust Survivors live.

What these people have seen nobody knows, but through their eyes they have seen the worst of man. The have captured images in their souls that can never be replayed to anyone, like my images.

Filming anything to do with the Holocaust, is hard. espicially here in Israel. There are events in this world that should never be forgotten and as the survivors grow older and pass away, the photographs and films of the Holocaust will be left for history.

But the eyes that witnessed the death camps will be gone, perhaps that is what held me yesterday. In my own way I witness scenes and events of horror, images that can never be filmed, but they are burnt into my soul.

Maybe when our eyes met yesterday it was our souls that communicated.

Around the room, more eyes searched for mine.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Are you Commando !

Now going "commando" is one of lifes simple pleasures, and for those who are unaware of the expression "commando" it is a term that describes not wearing underwear under your clothes. There is nothing kinky in any way about going to commando, it is not something that one advertises by walking into the office in the morning and when being asked "How are you today?" one does not reply "Great thanks and I am wearing no underwear"

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

Well the story starts simply with the knowledge that anytime you go anywhere in Israel, you will be subjected to security. It is a fact of life here and no one objects to being searched or bags beng scanned. A fact of life here is that there is security everywhere, whether going into a coffee shop, mall or cinema you will be checked, a casual wave of a handheld metal detector or the simple question "Do you have a gun"

Now add the joys of carrying equipment for a TV News Interview and security steps up, we have stopped carrying battery belts as they look like the types of belts that Suicide Bombers wear, and they freak the living hell out of any xray scan to say the least. But still we need batteries for the camera, so you get used to having them x-rayed again and again, with endless perplexed security staff asking questions.

If you have ever visited Israel and had the joy of being subjected to the Airport Security check as you leave, you will understand that nothing is left to chance and you can expect to be asked the most blatent questions and have all your bags completely pulled apart and searched and then be subjected to more questions and then have every item in your baggage swabbed and tested for explosives. It can take a couple of hours to actually get thru security on occasions. Everyone has a horror story about leaving Israel.

Now apart from the Airport & the Prime Ministers Office , the next worse (or most efficient) is the Defence Dept, Israels Pentagon. Here you get the full treatment, just like the airport, your passport is examined and every foreign stamp requires an explanation. And all going well you avoid the back room.

We had a simple interview to do with the Assistant Defence Minister the other day, nothing major a simple in and out three questions. I did not even take lights in for the Interview as it would of just added to the Security nightmare.

Our new correspondent Reena, came along to the interview, as we had just finished shooting an interview for her on the "Rise of Islamic Fundamentalism in the Horn of Africa" the sheer title explains how intresting the topic is. Anyway Producer Yonat Friling and I had spent the morning helping Reena to the nuances of Passports and Security in relation to life in Israel.

Reena has only one Passport at the moment and it includes stamps from Jordan and Iraq in it. Now you can imagine the expression on the face of the Security Staff at the Defence Building when being presented with a passport that has stamps from Iraq.

In the 1st Gulf War, the Defence Building in Tel Aviv was the prime target for Saddams Scud missiles. When he fired them this was the building he wanted to hit.

So the Security Staff confer and confer, then confer some more all with Reenas passport in hand. Yonat and I are questioned separately and allowed thru to the next point past security. Reena however is now no where to be seen. She has been taken to the back room for more questions.

After about ten minutes, her shoes come out and are x-rayed, we even joked about hearing the sounds of the latex gloves being snapped on. Another five minutes and still no Reena in sight. The security staff are nice but will not answer any questions as to why she is being questioned and how long it will take.

Another five minutes pass and Reena appears with a smile on her face. No matter how many times they scanned her with the mag wand they kept getting a positive and finally they tracked it down to the buttons on her jeans fly, so apparently the female security staff had to ask her to undo her pants so that they could check they were just buttons and not some fiendish Iraqi plot to get into the building.

My only comment to Reena as we got into the lift to go up to the interview was

"Note to self, make sure you are wearing underwear"

This all goes to illustrate that going "Commando" may be not such a good idea in the Military Headquarters here in Israel.

As to whether I was Commando , that something I only know.

Another day, another glimpse of life here in Israel

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Another tease: Make Sure you are wearing Underwear!

Apologies but have not the time to write today the full entry but to just tease you the title will be
"note to self, make sure you are wearing underwear"
Now that will make you come back
Wishing you all well

Friday, January 12, 2007

Star and Bucks

Starbucks is the Mc Donalds of the coffee world, the thought and appeal of it always exceeds the actual product satisfaction. Lets face it when you finally get near the counter there always seeems to be someone ordering a " Grande Decaf Low Fat Soya extra hot unscolded latte with whipped 5% cream to go" and what is worse is that the person behind the counter does not even blink did you know that there are 87,000 combinations that can be ordered at the counter.

Has Ramallah in the West Bank become the latest victim in Strabucks desire to conquer the world. Filming in Manarah Square, Ramallahs equivalent to Times Square New York, except the locals have on occasion been know to hang dead collaborators upside down in the middle of the square to warn the population.

Well looking accross the square, well actually it is a roundabout, (then again Times Square is also not a square) accross and looking up there it was a brand new fancy: Star & Bucks.

Thats right Star and Bucks, using the same colors same fonts and making sure that the and is not that prominant. Ramallah has fallen victim to a fake Starbucks.

So we head up to the second floor determined to find out more, walking in the door it was good to see that smoking is naturally acceptable, no self respecting restuarant would dare to forbid smoking inside, in fact you can even get a hubbly bubbly pipe or Hookah to enjoy with your coffee.

Brittany Spears videos blared out from the Plasma TV mounted on the walls MTV is alive and well here, and to add a personnal note here, you start to appreciate the high musical quality of Brittany Spears when at other times you are forced to listen to the cat wailing that Arabic music can sound like in most restaurants.

But it is the coffee that matters correct, remember we are talking about a Star & Bucks.

So Mike Tobin, Reena Ninan (our new correspondent here in the Unholyland) and Producer Ibrahim Hazboun studied the menu noting that Humus and Falafal are not normally seen on the Blackboards of Starbucks New York, but there is something that both have in common, both are capable of bad coffee.

We opted for the large latte, and duly out came three enormous almost beer mug size these bland milky looking frothy things. Nena opted for an Anise Tea (yeah I know - anise & tea what is the world coming too).

Back to the coffee, well the closest our milk came into contact with coffee maust have been after they heated the milk and held a can of instant coffee to the side of the glass mug and hoping that osmosis would happen and the flavour and taste of coffee would blend from the unopened can thru the metal and glass and into the milk.

So for Starbucks devotees out there, rest easy the coffee sold in the Star & Bucks is just as bad as Starbucks worldwide. They might not have the winter cinamon latte just yet and the tea is Liptons not Tazos but we were led to believe that coffee mugs are forthcoming.

Thus I will return to get a coffee mug from Star & Bucks Ramallah, because that is a classic collectors piece of on the road useless crap you buy, that will go just nicely with my genuine United Nations "Gaza Strip Club" T shirt.

Strange but Owner was reluctant to discuss any issues related to copy right matters.

Ramallah will never be the same.

West Bank

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Wait till you hear about this Funny One

Aplogies for not being able to write out fully a funny Starbucks Ramallah Incident , but will post in a day or two most likely Friday a story that can only happen in the West Bank , complete with Brittany Spears and not a gun shot being fired .
You will have to just come back
West Bank

Monday, January 08, 2007

Being under Sniper fire

Another moment of terror from the recent Iraq trip was when we were setting up to record a link for War Stories and suddenly the crack of a sniper rifle came past us, followed by another a minute later. Needless to say we did not hang around and even luckier we had already got a couple of takes in the camera.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

The Scariest Moment in 2006 Picture

Reflecting back on defining moments during this weeks break from week I decided that this split second was probably the most scared I was in 2006. The Orange flash you see in the Marines face and the orange glow around him is the explosion of an RPG being fired at us in Ramadi Iraq.

We were in full view looking down a road trying to draw insurgents out to see where they were hiding when this RPG was fired at us hitting in front of our vehicle

One of the few times in my job when I thought "Oh f..." we are in deep trouble and then you realise that there is nothing that you can do or even get away from this. That is what separates some war coverage from conflict coverage in Gaza or during the Lebanon war I could always move if I wanted too. Here at this split second there was no where to go but sit there and hope to get out of there alive.

Thats why this wins the worst moment of the year award

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Year In Review 2006

No doubt many of you are going back thru old tapes and diaries looking back at the events that shaped our own personal lives in 2006.

The year has been very hard for me personally but at the same time incredible in so many of the events that shaped my life and I hope that you have enjoyed sharing them along with me.

So in a few hundred words lets look back and remember along with a few pictures some of which you might of seen others you may not.

The year started standing in the rain, freezing cold rain outside a hospital in Jerusalem where Israeli Prime Minister Sharon had been rushed too, as I write Sharon remains in a coma almost 12 months later.

It was meant to be an election where the Palestinians would have a chance to celebrate democracy through the ballot box instead of the gun. What followed was a political earthquake that saw Hamas become the legitimate Government of the Palestinians, with a Political charter that includes the destruction of the State of Israel.

By years end Civil war exists on the streets of Gaza, and the world really does not care anymore for the plight of the Palestinians.

I spent 44 days in Gaza up to July. My entries in the Unholylandnews News reflect what happened in those days. The 45th and 46th days I spent in Gaza were for the release of my kidnapped friends, Olaf & Steve.

Since that day of their release in August, no one from Fox News has set foot in Gaza again.

The war between Lebanon & Israel was the most intense event of the year, a month of pure hell and terror. I wrote a lot back then and when I go back and read those entries it brings back memories of great friendships. People often ask do I enjoy covering war and conflict; the honest answer is something that keep close to my own heart.

There was the trip to Nepal where we spent more time flying there and back than we did in Katmandu, a week in Turkey covering the Papal visit without actually even seeing the Pope. The indoor ski field in the desert of Dubai was perhaps the most amazing thing that I saw this year in a bizarre way.

I remember watching the Football world cup in five different languages, none of which I understood a word of. I still laugh when I think of sitting in coffee shops in Gaza drinking non alcoholic beer and cheering along with Hamas Gunmen who would have to rush off to prayers during the halftime. The referee’s whistle would sound and immediately the call to prayer would sound from mosques, and the patrons would duck out, prey and be back in time for the second half.

December saw me back in Iraq for another embed with Ollie North, spending nearly three weeks as Ollie and I like to say looking at tourist and investment opportunities in Ramadi.

It was a Year to Remember for many reasons. “It is better to light a candle, than to curse the darkness”

I just wonder what 07 will bring, perhaps that is why I still like my job after all these years, I wake up every morning never knowing where I will end up going to bed.

Happy Holidays and all the best for 07.