Sunday, 20 June 2010

Beware of pasta

The justification (or should that be "justification"?) for the blockade of Gaza has always been to preserve the security of Israel by keeping out dangerous materials. If pressed, apologists sometimes elaborate the justification from preserving security, to preserving Israel's very existence.

So, now that the announcement has come that the blockade is being eased after the public relations disaster of the storming of the Mavi Marmara and the detention of the aid flotilla on the high seas (footage of which, having been saved from confiscation, can be seen here)

it's interesting to have a look at the list of things which can not be brought into Gaza.

Sewing machines, razors and spare parts for tractors are a no-no. Fair enough. Ingenious people, Palestinians: one can see how tractor parts, blades and perhaps needles could be cobbled together to make some sort of cutting (or perhaps sewing, or harrowing) missile which would threaten the security of the most heavily armed country in the Middle East.

Flavourings and smell enhancers, A4 paper, and something called "industrial margarine" are also banned, possibly in case an attack of greased paper planes impregnated with vile smells is planned.

But, OK, flavour enhancers have got to be chemicals, haven't they, and there may be some fiendish method of engineering them into something even nastier and more vuirulent than pine air freshener. The same goes for pencils, also banned - the graphite in them must be dangerous, I think.

Clothing fabric cannot be brought into Gaza. Nor can baby chicks. Nor can seeds. Nor can dried fruit. Nor can sage, cardomom, ginger, nutmeg, halva and, until now, jam, although apparently the "easing" of the blockade will henceforth permit the import of jam.

Rejoice, for jam is going to be available to the Palestinians of Gaza... tomorrow. Halva too, though apparently chocolate remains on the banned list unless brought in by a humanitarian organisation: it cannot be imported by merchants to sell.

Pizza, macaroni, and biscuits are also banned, lest they threaten Israel's security or its very existence.

In 1990, as Saddam invaded Kuwait, I was in Naples watching Italians panic-buying tins of tomatoes and packets of pasta. I was bemused by this at the time, because the products being swept off the shelves were staples produced in Italy, not imports whose prices and availability depended on peace in other countries.

But seeing that macaroni is banned from Gaza makes me think that maybe those Neapolitan shoppers were onto something. They were not, as I had assumed, spurred by atavistic memories of 1944 in Naples when the warehouses were boobytrapped and the sea mined, when there were no cats to be seen because they had been eaten ("and frankly," said a friend, "there were no rats either."), when all the trees for a day's walk outside the city had been stripped of their bark which was boiled up for soup.

No, they were not stocking up on food as I had supposed, but cunningly preparing an arsenal to be used if Saddam, not stopping at Kuwait, had swept west, crossed the Meditterranean and landed in Calabria.

They were preparing to defend themselves with tomato-paste missiles and the macaroni of mass destruction.

And it's obvious from reading the partial list of items banned in the blockade (apparently the list changes almost daily, but numbers about 4000) that macaroni is as dangerous today as it has always been, along with baby chicks, olives and soft drinks.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Thoughts on the workshop

If you think teaching is difficult, you should try learning!

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Atmospheric Conditions

It was 6 pm and 48 degrees, but we had finally managed to get to the pool. It was packed, pool and loungers. Tuesday is a night when the sauna is women only, so all the hairy muscular little guys who spend a happy evening hanging out in the eternal triangle between sauna, steam room and "plung" pool had per force to hang out in the olympic (well nearly) sized pool. They were two or three to a lane - some of them just hanging out, but enough of them were doing showy splashy lengths up and down to make us think twice about getting in ourselves. The length markers are quite close together and we both hate colliding with others or being jostled.

We both behaved characteristically. I flopped onto the nearest available lounger like a beached whale and started to read, or at least look at, my book. It was Boris Johnson's collected bits, purloined from the library and not bad: he has a good turn of phrase and some decent enough instincts, at least in journalism, but a bit of a tendency to grandstand. It was not quite absorbing enough to prevent me flapping my ears at the possible international flirtation going on amongst the loungers to my left. Barrie, instead, paced the poolside, poised like a hawk (if hawks wear swimming trunks, which I rather doubt) to leap in as soon as a lane was free.

I must have nodded off - no surprises there, as I was exceeding knackered. When I surfaced, Barrie was submerged. It was full night now, and two small, smooth clouds gleamed low down in the sky. Gradually, though, the sky to the west began to be overcast as a continuous blanket of cloud pulled across from the direction of Oman.

Suddenly there was thunder, a long, low, distant rumble, but I had not seen any lightening. What happened next, though, was that the air began to cool and rush about - gusts blowing this way and that. People were getting out of the pool, and the kiddie pool began to empty. It was still hot, though, and some of the gusts of wind were warmer than others - warmer, and grittier. The cloud continued to draw across the sky, which told us that the wind high up was steadily blowing from the wet, whereas the wind and ground level was coming from all sides. I had grit in my eyes, and the taste of it between my teeth.

Barrie got out and came and sat beside me under a towel. Everyone else had disappeared. We kept wondering whether it had started to rain, or was starting to rain, as from time to time we each thought we had felt a drop - but every time we could not be sure it wasn't just a spray from the pool.

The lightening came, and we counted for the thunder, which was sharper, and much closer. I kept saying "Rain. Come on, rain". All week I had been wanting half an hour's rain to settle the dust and relieve the endless heat. Over the wall in the date orchard the palm trees were thrashing about. Barrie counted the next one lightening strike off and declared the storm was 8 kilometres away - about half the distance it had been, and closing fast.

Suddenly a huge wave of pinky-yellow rose behind the trees in front of us, like a mammoth lifting its head, and moving closer and to the right. It was a cloud of dust, or sand, picked up from the dry wadi that lies beyond the hotel's irrigated gardens, and which extends right down to the border. It loomed and moved, fast, against the direction the little gusts of wind were mainly coming from, and like a thing with a mind of its own: I'm going this way; you do what you like. Its yellowy pinkness was partly from the colour of the sands and partly from the neon lights around the hotel reflecting off its dusty flanks.

Then the rain started, spots and spits and then a proper stream and downpour of rain. Although we were sitting under the awning, we were wet. And cold enough to shiver: the temperature had dropped about 15 degrees. Lovely rain, the smell of wet earth. Even the hotel lawn, which is as denatured as astroturf, smelled suddenly of grass.

Then I swam. I'm not quite foolhardy enough to swim in a thunderstorm, but after the rain had passed over and headed away to Sarooj, it was time. The water was cool and filled with shards of palm leaf and large, bemused beetles like black volkswagens. As I got out I could see a bright star just under the edge of the cloud... almost impossibly bright, so that I thought it was a plane heading directly towards me, but after ten minutes it was still where it was.

As we drove away, the car temperature gauge said 38 degrees. It was twenty past eight in the evening.

There was no rain in Falaaj Hazaa, where we live.

It was still hot.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Instructional Skills Workshop

All of a sudden it's the last week of the semester (apart from the other week for which I won't get paid, but that's another story). This week I'm helping facilitate an Instructional Skills Workshop, with one co-facilitator and three colleagues participating. It's a programme originally developed in Canada which provides a short, focused and quite intense workshop in practical teaching skills.

For people who've done a lot of teaching it's a refresher, a backto-basics, and a chance to play around with techniques and ideas. For people who are new to teaching it's a safe space to try out some instructional tools which will work almost anywhere. For me as a facilitator it's all that and more, plus a chance to get to know some of my colleagues better.

One of the principles of the ISW is that we enter a kind of ISW bubble - we work together, lunch together, and are supposed to be released from all other duties for the duration. Back in the old days, I'm told (paradise is always what we have recently lost... just before my time, usually) the college would fund us or find sponsorship for us to go off to a hotel for 4 days, so we wouldn't even be physically on the college campus. Nowadays, the facilitators are also providing lunch for themselves and the participants every day.

And principles don't necessarily work well with practice.

Which is why I'm still at my desk at 9.30 pm to complete the grade entry for the last of my courses.

Say not the struggle naught availeth...

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Just a thought

Is there nothing, really nothing at all, that Israel's government and its armed forces could do that would not find defenders and apologists?

I've been wondering about that for years, and here we are again with another, even lower, low.

Most amusing comment on the IDF's storming of the Flotilla in international waters so far: our delightful Tory Foreign Secretary Willian Hague has called for "an independent inquiry."

Fine [well, in politician terms fine - ie not very, especially when we remember how effective the last independent inquiry, into the attack on Gaza, was: results sat on for months and when finally released the Israelis suddenly discover that the internationally respected judge who chaired it was a war criminal who has no right to say anything about Israel ever to anyone... you can read some stuff about it here, if you must: ].

Back to the Foreign Secretary - that is fine, right up until you read the last two words of Hague's sentence....

Thats "an independent inquiry by Israel."

Umm, yeah.

On the other hand, an "independent inquiry by Israel" has a slightly lower chance of having its head smeared after the results come out and are found to be mildly critical.