Sunday, 30 November 2014

Palestine - The Final Word

It's been more than two months since I started blogging about Palestine and I've been quite busy with 'real life' travel during that period, having visited Canada and Morocco for the first time, so these trips slowed my armchair travelling down a bit!

Blogging about Palestine

It's been interesting telling people 'I'm blogging about Palestine' and how different that feels to when I told people 'I'm blogging about Oaxaca' or 'I'm blogging about Nordrhein-Westfalen'.  The very word Palestine immediately evokes the political situation and, despite trying to see beyond the politics for this blog, it's been impossible to learn about Palestinian culture, without understanding the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, the psychological impact of the Jewish settlements in the West Bank and the increasing sense of imprisonment that people in the Palestinian territories feel.

What have I learned?

I've learned a lot about Palestine during the past few months - of course, about the history of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the reasons why Palestine looks the way it does in the 21st century. I've learned about orientalism and how it continues to influence European and 'Western' ideas about the rest of the world. I learned how to cook a traditional Palestinian dish, Musakhan. I learned about the Palestinians-in-Israel who make up 20% of Israel's population. I spent countless hours discovering Palestinian music, I watched four Palestinian movies and read six books (and two recipe books) related to Palestine.

The London connection

Tatreez cafe in Stoke Newington
I was also lucky enough to find a real Palestinian restaurant in London, the wonderful Tatreez cafe in Stoke Newington (Hackney).  We enjoyed a delicious home-made feast and the cafe gets a lot of its ingredients from a Palestinian fair-trade food supplier called Zaytoun CIC. Not only did we have a great meal in Tatreez, but we left with a shopping bag full of Palestinian couscous and za'atar.

Things I'd like to learn more about

As usual, I didn't have time to explore every topic that I encountered during my research - I would recommend the following areas, if you want to learn even more about Palestine:

The disappearance of the Dead Sea
The Palestinians of Chile
The Samaritans
The history of suicide bombing
The work of Eretz Acheret and the Israeli Jews who support aspects of the Palestinian cause
The Palestinian tourist industry
The Maccabean Revolt
The Massacre of Hebron's Jewish community in 1929
The glass-blowers of Hebron and their connections with Venice
The olive tree and the olive harvest
The Australian fundamentalist Christian, Denis Michael Rohan, who tried to burn down the Al-Aqsa mosque in 1969
The African-Palestinian population of Jerusalem and their contribution to the Palestinian resistance movement
Sitt Tunshuq, the mysterious female leader of 14th century Palestine
Cities below sea-level
The rock hyrax

The Final word on St George

Byzantine icon of St George
It's all too easy, in the 21st century, to cut Palestine off from the rest of the world - it's an Israeli problem, somewhere far away, with no real connection to the world we live in, a bizarre hangover from 20th century colonialism and wars, so I thought it would be worth highlighting a piece of Palestinian history and culture that will be more familiar to readers of this blog.

Not many people know that St George was born in Palestine (actually in Lydda or modern-day Lod/al-Ludd, currently in Israel). It's estimated that 6% of Palestinians are Christian and I'm sure most Christians are very aware of the fact that Jerusalem/Palestine was the birthplace of Christianity, the world's largest religion.

St George's Cross has become a potent symbol of the spread of Christianity that still resonates around the world today, not least as the flag of England (therefore also on the Union Jack) and in the international name for the country, Sakartvelo a.k.a. Georgia.  St George has been adopted as the patron saint of many places around the world, including Moscow, Malta/Gozo and Catalonia - usually outposts of Christianity.  The George's cross also crops up in places as far apart as Milan, Melbourne and Montreal.

Flag of St George
We've just recently had a scandal in England regarding St George's Cross and a tweet by Labour MP for Islington, Emily Thornberry. The scandal revolved around Thornberry's supposed 'snobbery' in her comments about people in Rochester flying the flag of England outside their homes.  It's interesting to think of this in the context of George of Palestine, whose Greek name means 'worker of the land'.

I can't help thinking there is something very working-class about St George and I want to cast him in the light of a revolutionary (like Jesus Christ?), whose thinking has echoed down the years.  I wonder what St George of Lydda would make of the Palestinian situation today?

Image credits:

The image of Tratreez cafe is linked by URL to their Facebook page.

The Byzantine icon of St George is linked by URL to its page on Wikimedia commons.  The flag of St George is also from Wikimedia commons, but I created my own version, adding a red border.

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