If I recall well, it’s the first time I have to censor myself. I cannot write everything I think and feel about our 10-day visit to Palestine. I have to be cautious. The situation in the Middle East and especially in Israel, Palestine and the Gaza Strip is so tense, that whatever one writes, from least one side, accusations, acid remarks will start flying. Therefore I’ll be extremely cautious. Please understand. I’ll try to tell more during private discussions.
I wanted to visit Palestine for a very long time: I was extremely curious of how people live, what they think, how much they earn, get a glimpse into their daily lives, experience the crossing of the various checkpoints, see the refugee camps, talk with the Jewish settlers and maybe the soldiers. During my visit to Palestine (March 27-April 5, 2018) I the success rate was around 90%…
How did it all start?
I simply needed a breakthrough. It came during my unauthorized access to a Turkish military area in Famagusta/Varosha (ghost town), Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (a de facto no man’s land only recognized by Turkey). During the most difficult period of my life (tried by a civilian and then a military court, convicted and expelled) I was helped by… two Palestinians. Thanks to my girlfriend, Bianka, who found him on the platform, Sameh Muhammad hosted me for over a week me through CouchSurfingbetween the military court hearing. He and his flat mates/friends from countries that are regarded by the international community as failing, failed or terrorist states kept my profession secret from the authorities, even though they could have decided to turn me in and be rewarded in various ways.
Sameh was my breakthrough. He was organizing our trip to Palestine from… South Africa.
We bought the Wizz Air ticket as early as December 2017: we paid 303 lei (65 euros) for it.
The flight was in the early hours of March 27, 2018 – we only slept 3 hours prior to departure. We tried to sleep during captain Del Bufalo Manfredi and his team maneuvered the aircraft through the clouds and rising sunshine. Bibi wore red tanga for luck. Both our socks had holes in them. For luck, of course. The tactic paid off: no delay, smooth landing and entry to Israel – we were prepared to encounter difficulties, rough and tough, down and dirty, because we were headed to Palestine, our destination. What if they would have found out that we want to visit Qalqilya, Nablus, Jenin and the refugee camp next to it, Ramallah, Jericho, Bethlehem, Hebron and East Jerusalem? Would they allow us in? We put up the stupid tourist face, and I strongly think that because of this only two simple questions were asked: purpose of visit and length of stay.
Halleluiah, we were in!
Let the rest be told by these pictures. Click on the first one, please!
Early hours of March 27, 2018, at the Cluj International Airport: Wild and rough…
We only slept 3 hours prior to departure, so we made up for it during the 3 hours flight
Orthodox Jews keep a special hat in it
The Israeli passport stamp used to be a question many visitors asked. Today, that question might still be asked but the answer is simple – the Israeli passport stamp is no more, border officials give you an entry visa automatically on a piece of paper. No more stamps in passports (although if you really want one, they might let you!) I asked for one and got it during our tour of Israel in 2013… Whilst many Arab countries who do not recognize Israel will not allow entry to anybody who has an Israeli passport stamp, the Israeli authorities are sympathetic to the fact that many people do wish to travel around the world and since early 2013, most visitors to Israel don’t have their passports stamped… by default!
Bibi wanted to touch the Mediterranean Sea, so took a train from the Ben Gurion International Airport till the center of Tel Aviv
The first gates…
According to The Times of Israel around 6 thousand construction workers help Israel to build, build, build
Conscription exists in Israel for all Israeli citizens over the age of 18. Arab citizens of Israel are not conscripted. We saw many soldiers, everywhere… Of some we thought they are definitely not 18, but, most probably, they were…
How much and for how long?
Saving the planet
We walked a bit, took a bus from the central railway station in Tel Aviv, and there is was: the beach
Enjoy the sun
Fat and fit?
Let me touch the Mediterranean Sea…
Kippah ready to be deployed
We arrived to Kfar Saba by train. We were to meet David Marian (Adi), a Romanian construction worker at a mall that only Jews and foreigners have access to. Street art in the streets of Kfar Saba, Israel
Adi took us to meet Sameh’s father, Muhammed. We drove a bit and then separated: he had to go through an Israeli checkpoint for Arabs. We didn’t. We drove by one designated for those cars which have Israeli number plates
We were hosted by the Muhammad family in the village of Essla in Palestine (West Bank). Warm welcome, great hospitality. It really felt like home. It is not a journalistic exaggeration!
In the evening we went on a stroll. There was a beam of light next to the house. Children were playing with a ball. Ours are playing computer games between four walls…
A shortened version of the events: on Monday, April 24, 2017 I entered Varosha ghost town (right next to Famagusta, Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus) together with another person near Levent Sk. The fence was almost opened, my acquaintance only had to “work on it” just a bit. We only entered two completely abandoned buildings about 20-25 meters from the fence, took a few pictures and made a few video clips.
We got out after about 10-15 minutes. People from the garages saw us coming out. We went to my acquaintance’s car, chatted. The police in civilian clothes, but with a marked car intercepted us. We were taken to the Famagusta (Gazumagusa) police station: we were questioned around 4 hours by the normal, traffic, special, military and political police. We were subsequently incarcerated, spent the night in a cell.
On Tuesday, May 25 an English translator and policeman told us the charges: entering a first category military zone, taking pictures and videos. We asked to have a lawyer, they called one.
We were taken to Nicosia (Turkish side) and brought in front of a judge. The bailout was 2000 TL, around 500 euros. We paid, and set free. The military court was in session only more than a week later, on May 4. The military court in Nicosia set a fine of 3000 TL, around 750 euros. We paid. The lawyer’s (young and connected) fee was 1500 TL, around 400 euros for both of us, that is 200 euros/person.
With the help of our lawyer we did the necessary paperwork, drove to Famagusta, got our travel documents, made sure that the ban on us leaving the country was lifted and all checkpoints were notified. Our lawyer kindly arranged a taxi for us for 50 euros from Famagusta to Larnaca International Airport (Greek side). With the paper from the court and our travel documents we raced out of North Cyprus, got on our planes only a few hours later.
This is a country only recognized by Turkey, so one cannot ask for any consular or other help!!! It’s a de facto existing, but the jure non-existing country! The military has formidable power and influence!
Only those can truly and fully appreciate freedom who spent at lease one night in jail… 🙂
So, look from outside, but – my advice – DON’T ENTER VAROSHA GHOST TOWN!!! Unless you want to go through the adventure and adrenalin described above. Or… you’re rich… 🙂 But beware: they might put you in jail!