Sunday, 13 February 2011

He Do The Police In Different Voices (T S Eliot at the book group)

Yesterday felt like quite a special meeting of the book group. For one, we met in N’s new house. For another, there were so many of us that N ran out of mugs. For yet another, we welcomed several first time attenders, who had been attracted by our choice of T S Eliot’s Waste Land and Four Quartets. Several people talked with love of how his poetry spoke to them. Eliot originally planned to call The Waste Land 'He Do The Police In Different Voices', and voices became a theme of the meeting.

There was a view that Eliot’s religious sense can run the risk of religiosity, which is off-putting to some readers; this blossomed into a rich exchange. I can’t do justice to it, really (can others who were there help me out in comments?), but it was about the way some ‘religious’ poetry seems written primarily to show off the writer’s religion (or to convince themselves of it), rather than coming more from a place of spiritual searching. The first lines of Burnt Norton were quoted as an example of this hesitant, quite compelling, exploration.

We listened to a recording of Eliot reading his own verse in a booming, rather mannered patrician voice, then to Paul Schofield reading the same extracts. Schofield’s voice was mellifluous and charming, but somehow less engaging than Eliot’s flawed delivery. It reminded me of something David Byrne of Talking Heads said – that he knew his singing voice was poor, but he felt this lack was of use, in that it did not draw attention away from the content of his songs. There is something here about ministry too, perhaps.

Then someone said how Eliot’s fragmented, many-voiced work, covering a wide range of idiosyncratic voices, reminded them of how Meeting can be.

And someone commented that just as Cubism and modernist verse demanded a constant shift in focus in their audience, perhaps this ever-changing focus may be the way we approach spiritual mysteries most rewardingly.

Finally, our Central Meeting has a member who had afternoon tea with Mr Eliot in 1947 or thereabouts; he has a fascinating story to tell. If you are reading this, we would love to hear it!

Friday, 11 February 2011

Khirbet Tana - demolished four times in one year

I just returned from being an ecumenical accompanier one month ago. I shall be talking about some of my experiences on Tuesday at the Quaker meeting house. The last month of my stay there was a busy time, visiting the many villages in and near the Jordan Valley demolished by the Israeli army. One such village, Khirbet Tana had already suffered two such demolitions earlier in the year. Sadly I just received an email from the British EA currently in the area. It has happened again. Khirbet Tana is where the shepherds from nearby Beit Furik, near Nablus, go with their flocks for the winter and spring. Like shepherds all over the world they migrate with the flocks to higher ground, more spacious, ready for the birth of hundreds of new lambs. These shepherds have been doing this for centuries. When I was there I spoke to one man whose grandfather had been killed by a Turkish soldier during the period of the Ottoman occupation. There is a mosque in the village, 300 years old.

The village is about 8 kilometres from Beit Furik along a difficult dirt road, past an often burning rubbish tip. So the people built a school for their children, so that they would not have to walk this road there and back each day. Education is very important to Palestinian people. As well as the school there are living units in large tents, and barracks, which are shelters for the sheep. Some people live in very comfortable caves and build a small tin shack as their toilet.

When we arrived at the village we found the headmaster of the school standing by its ruins, little chairs and tables lying around in disarray. A man sat by, head in hands. The mayor of the village was off to speak with the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah. The Red Cross were beginning to arrive with new tents. Sheep had scattered everywhere. We sat with one family outside their cave, surveying the ruins of their toilet, drinking tea. Even in these terrible cicumstances people will want you to drink tea with them.

I asked them if the Palestinian Authority would help them. "We are waiting for the PA, like we are waiting for the rain" said one man. It hadn't rained for six months. The people feel abandoned. But up on the hillside we saw young men carrying girders and tarpaulins, ready to rebuild. The school had been rebuilt after the last demolition. It took four months.This was December. The children were due to start school in January. Now I hear it is demolished again.

I asked if the soldiers gave a reason for doing this. "They say the area is fo military training, but I have never seen them training here. The only time we see them is when they come to demolish our village, and they don't need training in that", said my companion. These people never lose their sense of humour!

Thursday, 10 February 2011

More Photos from Israel and Palestine

The two previous photos are from the checkpoint outside Bethlehem where thousands of Palestinian men queue before dawn everyday to go to work in East Jerusalem.

This one is from a checkpoint outside Nablus where these children and their father were trying to go shopping one Saturday morning.

© EAPPI/QPSW/Matt Robson

But it would be wrong to think that it is all scenes like these. The next picture shows Palestinian and Israeli children playing together (a very rare event), even more remarkable is that all these children have lost a relative in the conflict. They had the opportunity to meet at the Parents' Circle Summer camp, there is not enough space to fully describe the wonderful work of the Parents' Circle but please read more here.

© EAPPI/QPSW/Matt Robson

Photos from the West Bank

I can't remember the first time I heard Matt talk about his experiences on the West Bank. All I know is that they were hard for me to visualise. I'm a visual person. He came to our book group in September and we discussed the graphic novel (a book told in drawn photos) Palestine by Joe Sacco which helped some. However, I still had no idea what it looked like or how it might feel or smell to be there. These things matter to me when I think about other people's experiences and am trying to understand and empathise about what they are going through.

When we were talking about Sue Beardon coming to talk at the Quaker Meeting House this Tuesday (Feb 15th at 7:00, please note that I initially made a mistake - oh no! - I posted this incorrectly as 7:15, if you come a whole 15 minutes late you may miss tea and the introduction and crucial opening explanations and all sorts of important stuff and the best seats but still come if that's the best you can do :-) ), I asked him if there were any photos he might recommend. He showed me some photos of graffiti. He lead me into a whole world of Palestinian Flickr graffiti art. He started me off on some great Banksy stuff but if you're interested in looking for yourself, all you have to do is go to Flickr and search (click on this link for a number of groups that have specific photos related to Palestine).

Here were a couple favourites I found that immediately conveyed a great sense of place and space:

Limbo Photo Credit: Daniela Galazzo Limbo, Bethlehem (West Bank, Palestinian Occupied Territories), Check Point

Alba Vaga
Photo Credit: Daniela Galazzo Alba Vaga, Bethlehem (West Bank, Palestinian Occupied Territories), Check Point

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Deacon Dave in Hebron


I have been invited to share some stories of my time in Palestine. I have been going backwards and forwards to Hebron for the last 4 years. Initially I went with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM). Then I met my wife Arwa under an olive tree. We got married and rented our own house in the Old City. Now when we go back we stay with her family. We were in Hebron last summer for 2 months and plan to be back there this summer again, God willing.

Photo credit: Giuseppe Onori, Handala

I love Hebron and specifically Tel Rumeida. The people there have always made me very welcome. I learn a lot from them about endurance, patience and resistance in very difficult circumstances. I find it easier to be close to God when I am there. Praying in the mosque 5 times a day enbles me to keep my sanity in an insane situation. Jewish settlers continually throw stones at children, attack their neighbours' houses, smash windows, harrass families, burn ancient olive trees and generally try to force Palestinians to move away. Israeli police and soldiers protect them and sometimes help them.

Settlers moved in across the road from Arwa's family in 1984. Soldiers came to protect them and set up their barracks on our family land between her 4 uncles houses. The family cannot use their front entrance or walk up their street at all. No Palestinian can drive in Tel Rumeida, not even ambulances sometimes. To get to shops or school you have to go through 3 checkpoints and carry all shopping by hand through the metal detector and up the steep hill.

For more stories and photos check out my own blog

For videos see
or Hebron Voices

Hebron Voices is the project I am currently involved in. The idea is to let local Palestinians tell their own stories. I filmed a lot of interviews last summer and hope to continue this summer. People give me donations and I give out DVD's free to anyone who will watch them. Contact me if you want copies.

Do come along to our Film and Falafel Night on Thursday 24th Feb at 7.30 at Christ Church, Pitsmoor Rd (and Nottingham St.) Arwa, the "Queen of Falafel" will be cooking her wonderful Palestinian food and I will show "Price-Tag Policy", a 22 min film about the setting up af a new illegal settlement near Hebron and all the violence against Palestinians that accompanies that. After the film we will discuss the impact of settlements on the "peace process".

Contact me if you have any questions or if you would like us to come speak to a group or school class.

God bless you. Thanks for your help in listening to Palestinian stories and sharing them with others.

In peace and hope,
Deacon Dave

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Six Impossible Things before Breakfast

Apologies to Lewis Carroll

I went to Israel/Palestine in 2003 and 2004 with the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel ( As a volunteer it can be very difficult to know what one person can do or if your presence makes any difference to such a long running conflict, but on a good day it does feel all worthwhile. This piece was written after a productive morning.

If you think you are too small to be effective, you have never been in bed with a mosquito. ~Betty Reese

Up early this morning, partly because of the mosquitoes, but mainly because I had a job, my first as an Ecumenical Accompanier. I had volunteered to help pick up patients and bring them back to the Augusta Victoria Hospital for dialysis. So at five in the morning I arrive to find the driver, Jalil, preparing himself for morning prayers. And as he kneels down and goes through his ritual I find myself joining him in my own way. The orientation is over this is where it gets serious, I ask God to keep us safe and well whatever happens over the next little while. It is a sobering moment I am not asleep any more, but the dawn chorus, the lightening sky, the world waking up give me some kind of hope and then Jalil brings the ambulance bus round and we are off, no turning back now.

Israeli Democracy in Action
Photo credit: Phil Chetwynd Israeli Democracy in Action

We are going towards Hebron, where a few days earlier a Hamas leader has been killed and dozens of people arrested. It has one of the worst reputations for violence in the country, and thats where we are going as fast as Jalil can manage. He asks if I can drive and says that I can if I want to, fortunately I have left my driving licence behind so we decide it is best not to. He teaches me a few words of Arabic and we laugh at my pronunciation. The sun comes over a hill and everything is bathed in a glorious golden light, it doesn’t seem so scary after all.

We pick up the first patient, a ten or so year old girl, and a few minutes later a younger girl and her mother. Then as we reach the turn off for Hebron we join the end of a queue for the checkpoint. The soldiers don’t seem to have woken up yet and no-one is keen to disturb them. The ambulance edges slowly forward to the front of the queue and we can see our last pick up, three children and their mother, about 20 metres away waving their passes and trying to attract some attention. They could walk over, but without some kind of acknowledgement they are frightened to do anything. A soldier emerges and tells us all to go back. Jalil shouts something, I presume to say we are from the hospital, but he waves us away. A few seconds later two more come out rubbing sleep from their eyes and holding bottles of juice, we have interupted their breakfast. Jalil thinks I should go and talk to them.

Red hat on, open the door, it didn’t feel like THIS in training. But I am not fast enough another man (the children’s father ?) is far more used to this and is already close to the soldiers explaining the situation. I wander closer and when he has finished say that we have come from the hospital to pick them up. The soldier tells me to go back to the car so I turn around and go slowly away. He checks the passes and then the mother and her children can join us. The whole thing has taken about five minutes but it feels like much longer.

As we drive away the tension starts to ease, the children start to chatter and laugh, they teach me my name in Arabic and tell me I am beautiful.

It is all a bit much and I feel a few tears coming. By seven o’clock we are back in Jerusalem and it must be time for breakfast.


Monday, 7 February 2011

A special week on Sheffield Quakers' blog

This week on Sheffield Quakers’ blog we are hosting a series of writings on the theme of Israel/Palestine. We hope this is a chance to hear something of the everyday lives of Israelis and Palestinians rather than the headline grabbing stories of violent conflict, which is how we often perceive this region. It is also a chance to hear about the work of three people from Sheffield who have been part of the international nonviolent effort to end the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

If you want to know more then Sue Beardon, Friday’s contributor, has just returned from the region and will be sharing her stories and experiences at a public meeting at Sheffield Quaker Meeting House, St James Street, on Tuesday 15th February at 7pm. More details here