Sunday, May 18, 2008

Ben Laden and the Pope

Today, to my surprise, two personalities I generally disagree with, issued interesting statements.

The first was Osama Bin Laden
The second was the Pope Benedict.

1. Here is the first"Osama bin Laden released a new message on Sunday that accused Arab leaders of sacrificing the Palestinians and called on Muslim militants in Egypt to help break the blockade of Gaza"

Well, we have to agree. There are about 50 jobs that a Palestinian CANNOT apply to in Lebanon. Official discrimination is in place in most of the Middle Eastern countries where Palestinians live. Since there is a policy of maintaining Palestinians under a refugee status, many Palestinians are born in exile and will never be given the citizenship of their country of birth, which goes against my belief in jus soli.

Unofficial discrimination is also a reality: ask a father from Lebanon or Egypt if he would give his daughter to a Palestinian husband.

Human Rights organizations issued many reports on Palestinian discrimination in the Middle East. Here is Amnesty International

Plenty of testimonies are available, like this one :"Being a refugee in Lebanon since my birth, I have witnessed and lived through all kinds of prejudices practiced against my people.Palestinians are not allowed to work in many jobs".

After so many statements that Egypt was supporting its "Palestinian brothers", why did Egypt close its border with Gaza ?

2. I had so many objections against the election of Pope Benedict XVI, especially considering his misguided youth when at the same age, young men aged 17 died in the resistance. Today Mr Ratzinger is using his position of moral authority and his ministry for a good cause: the ban on cluster bombs.

He unexpectedly took on to speak against the production of these bombs. A cluster bomb is a bomb that subdivides into many smaller bombs scattered indiscriminately on the ground, many of which do not explode after impact. These smaller bombs just lay there for months or years, until a civilian, usually a child, picks up this funny-looking piece of plastic, and gets maimed or killed.

The largest producers of cluster bombs, of course, do not support this ban. That would be China, Russia, Israel, and of course the US.

It's a bit sad that these statements come from people I dislike (the Pope) or despise (Bin Laden). The statements stand out because of the personalities of their authors, being who they are. It would be more comforting if they came more often from people that we do support.

The REAL Iron-Man

Okay... Let's breathe and change topics a minute. Check out Yves Rossy, the Swiss pilot.

I want a pair of these !

About "heroes" in the Middle East: with the Black Iris, I don't understand why so many otherwise reasonable people here cannot be at all critical of Hassan Nasrallah. That includes some European observers, fascinated by the guy. 

Why isn't Lebanon entitled to try and have a government with the monopoly of legitimate violence, as any other State (in the definition of Max Weber) ? What's so great about having a sectarian State within a State, supported by foreign powers ?

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Do I have the right to use my mind ?

Should I apply my reason only to things confined to my country of citizenship, or do I have the right to observe, study, and build a reasonable informed opinion on things related to the rest of the world ?

As a great admirer or travelers and observers, Ibn Battuta was always a long-time hero for me. He travelled from Morocco to Central Asia, Afghanistan, China and the Arabic peninsula. He was an acute observer and "journalist", commenting on local habits, and often acting as a judge, using his wisdom and common sense.

No one has infinite knowledge, but wisdom and common sense are universal tools that one can apply in China as well as in Timbouctou.

But today I am more and more weary of the criticism of change in sectarian societies: change (especially in the sense of open democracy and separation of religion and state) is bad, because change comes from the outside. Change is a new form of colonialism, with soft power.

There is a legitimate suspicion in that criticism. Even if it is flawed, I can understand it because by definition it comes from closed societies.

That is why change should mostly come from within one country's borders. The biggest job is done in the field by local, grassroots NGOs.

Let only the Egyptian NGOs tackle FGM in Egypt, only Jordanian NGOs tackle "honor killings" in Jordan, only Muslim NGOs tackle women's rights in Islam, only Israeli NGOs criticize Israel.
Not because they're the only ones who share these principles and values. But because they -at least- cannot be accused of neo-colonialism and of being insensitive to local cultures.

My conclusion, after years of working with NGOs is, maybe there is no place yet in the world outside Euro-America, for a cosmopolitan community of observers of Politics, a fraternity of freethinkers, because at the local level there will always be the obstacle of  "if you don't come from here, you have no right saying what you think because it just means you want to impose your values".

No amount of time traveling, studying customs and languages can give the legitimacy needed by closed societies in order to listen to new ideas and think about changing.

But it's vital that we look beyond our own problems, that we imagine solutions.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Happy (?) Birthday Israel

So... today's the day. Happy birthday Israel. But... are you really happy ?

It's a year of 60th anniversaries: May 14, 1948: Israel was born (May 15: Nakba started). A few months later: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was issued.

I keep finding it funny that the United Nations created in a few months' interval a State based on ethnic preference, and a Declaration that condemns ethnic/religious discrimination.

Funny also that one year before, India (also formerly under British rule) gained independence and was partitioned along ethnico-religious lines with Pakistan, forming two "ethnically homogenous" (!) States. Of course the ensuing massacres did not teach anyone anything, nor did the refugee situation in both countries, and the lingering territorial problem. Well, at least India is now a Democracy that has a Muslim President. That's not likely to happen soon in Israel.

It took me some time to get to see the point of Palestinians, because at first I did not question the wisdom of the UN decision to create two States in 1947-48. I thought all the current problems came from the post-1967 situation, the occupation of territories, the settlements, the wall, etc.

But applying a cartesian approach, I decided to get rid my my preconceptions and started to question the legitimacy of this UN decision, 60 years ago, to create these two "monoethnic" entities, and to question the philosophy behind it.

It's easy to see what is wrong in the pure logic of an ethnically based country today. Let me take an example: Aliyah.

For those who are not familiar, Aliyah is the "Law of Return" that says that even if I have no connection whatsoever with Israel, know no one there, don’t speak Hebrew, and know nothing of Judaism, I am still entitled to immediate Israeli nationality, based on my “race”, because one of my ancestors was Jewish (and therefore I'm "ethnically Jewish" if that makes any sense to anyone). In the meantime, Palestinians will not enjoy equal  rights.

Let's see what it would mean in another context. It's as if the USA issued automatic citizenship to "ethnic" White Anglo-Saxon Protestants from all over the world, and denied that same citizenship to Native Americans, while forcing those "Indians" out and restricting them to reservations.

Oh wait... That's what happened in America... But that was in the 19th century. They got away with it then, there was no one to look over their shoulder. But in the middle of the 20th century and a fortiori in the 21st century still, it looks bad.

This is exactly why renowned historian Tony Judt says Israel is "an anachronism":

"The very idea of a "Jewish state"—a state in which Jews and the Jewish religion have exclusive privileges from which non-Jewish citizens are forever excluded—is rooted in another time and place. Israel, in short, is an anachronism.

In a world where nations and peoples increasingly intermingle and intermarry at will; where cultural and national impediments to communication have all but collapsed; where more and more of us have multiple elective identities and would feel falsely constrained if we had to answer to just one of them; in such a world Israel is truly an anachronism. And not just an anachronism but a dysfunctional one. In today's "clash of cultures" between open, pluralist democracies and belligerently intolerant, faith-driven ethno-states, Israel actually risks falling into the wrong camp."  (see full article)

Tony Judt is, might I add, Jewish. Like many other Jews, he questions this philosophy of mixing ethnicity and State, as clearly a notion of the infamous past. Other Jews who think like this include Ilan Pappe, Jeff Halper, Rony Brauman and others. Google their names + "One State Solution" and you'll get plenty more references.

Since it's Israel's birthday, I mention only the Israelis who question the ethnic principle, but of course plenty of Palestinians also think the same, starting with the late Edward Said.

So there is hope. You can see it, for example, in Galilee - where Jews and Arabs live in a region relatively free from state interference. I saw the other day a BBC report on the city of Jaffa, where Jews and Arabs have always and still live together, in stability.  Jaffa is not particularly exceptional, this situation can be repeated everywhere.

I also meet  more and more Jews and Palestinians (Christian and Muslims) who see in this option a better way to achieve stability, long-term security, and economic prosperity.

One State Solution means a secular state, with clear separation of religion and politics, under the protection of the UN and the US, that would protect and guarantee the rights of Jews and Arabs, equally, that would actively mix them in schools, and develop the poorest parts of the country (Gaza), like the reconciliation process did in South Africa.

What about past grievances ? Already a number of Palestinian and Israeli historians started working together to achieve a common narrative for the history of this land. In his book, Ambassador Dennis Ross, chief US negociator during the Oslo process, argued that "the problem was the differing narratives of the two sides and the failure to reconcile the conflicting perspectives". Re-writing a common history book for both sides is one of the tools of engineering a reconciliation process.

Some have said that Israel is reproducing South African apartheid, so indeed there is hope. What  South Africa did 15 years ago, ending the apartheid and starting a process of peace and reconciliation within ONE single state, seemed almost impossible at the time. Yet they did it, and although South Africa is not home yet, the violence of the 80's is long gone, and it's the most vibrant economy on the continent. It has a Black President, and the Blacks did not start killing the Whites frantically.

Many Jewish organizations are not happy with the state of things (to mention a few: “Rabbis for Human Rights”,  "Israeli Human Rights Group", "Israeli Peace Group", "Fellowship of Reconciliation", etc). Hava Keller, an old grandmother who was once an Israeli soldier, now speaks for Palestinians, much like White activists were advocating for Blacks' rights in South Africa. There's hope. Check Yesh Gvul, that group of Israeli soldiers who protest against their army. 

This anniversary is the oportunity to say "Israel is not home yet. Maybe it was wrong of the UN to create it that way 60 years ago. Let's not deny Israel its right to exist, but let's give it the chance to become, at last, a modern, open democracy, with equal rights  for all, so that Jews and Palestinians can live in peace together on the same, undivided land."

To end this post, I will tell you a story. When I saw the picture below, by an Israeli artist, painted on walls in Tel Aviv, it reminded me of it. Alexander the Great, in order to unite his Empire and avoid future clashes between Persians and Greeks, planned to create a new class by intermarriage of Macedonian and Persian families. He ordered his most prominent soldiers and officers to marry Persian women. He himself married foreign, Roxanne of Bactrian. But this is another story...

Good night, and good luck :)

ps. As I'm still awake, I heard that a rocket fired from Gaza wounded 14 Israelis in Ashkelon. Tomorrow's going to be the Israeli response. Business as usual.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Occupation 101

1. I just went to see "Occupation 101", the documentary on Palestine by Sufyan Omeish (thanks, Lina !)

At first, I thought this movie was exactly what the title says: a 101 documentary,  for people with no clue about what is going on in Palestine. One more of these. In Europe, as opposed to America, we've been quite extensively exposed to documentaries about Palestine.

I was wrong. It's not one more of these. After 15 minutes, the specificity of this documentary started revealing itself. Clearly, it's destined to an American audience (hence the choice of statistics that will appeal to American taxpayers about how their money's being spent). But, the specificity is that the majority of the witnesses who speak against Israeli occupation are Israeli Jews.

This makes it all the more interesting, especially when shown to a Middle Eastern audience. It shows anti-Zionist Israeli Academics, journalists, Human Rights lawyers, activists, etc, bashing their country's policy. And that is refreshing. Humanity.

I thought I had seen it all before but the first image that caught my attention was indeed quite disturbing: Israeli soldiers using stones to break the limbs of prisoners. To be frank, the only thing these images come close to, in their sheer brutality, are World War II documentaries about the way the Germans treated the Jews. Sadly. It is quite unpleasant to draw the parallel. Also, the parallel with South Africa's apartheid is underlined.

I am normally quite weary of the use of the image of children in documentaries. I think it usually relies too much on pathos to be honest. But there is a quite rare interview of a very articulate little girl who has to be no more than 7 years old, and who talks extensively of her own experience, with her own references. She complains vehemently that her clothes always smell of gas, but she can't throw them because they're the only ones she's got, and she couldn't enjoy her new rings, because her house and belongings were destroyed.

As I said, I hate to see sad children in docs, because there are sad children everywhere, and that doesn't say much. There are also sad children who suffered bombings in Israel. But this little girl, she's not sad. She's angry, disappointed, and righteously indignated, in the way a reasonable adult would be.

I dare anyone who sees that sequence to be able to speak, with that lump in the throat, immediately after listening to her.

There are the inevitable Ilan Pappe and Noam Chomsky interviews, always interesting. A couple of "refuznik" Israeli soldiers, one old woman who was an Israeli soldier in 1948 and speaks against occupation. This is quite new, too.

It's undeniably a powerful documentary, not just one more of the same. For me, I did learn new things, which is, after all, why I'm in the Middle East at all. 

2. More on this "honour killing" story in Jordan. Everyone says that religion has nothing to do with it, that it's a minority of lunatics who perform those crimes. But I'm wondering if any formal condemnation will come from the mosques in the next Friday sermons. If a few clerics could come out and be vocal and clearly condemn those practices, maybe it would help educate the perpetrators.

3. I was wondering why many Jordanians don't like debating politics and exploring different options on a number of issues. I think I might have found at least one part of the explanation.

If you live in a system where your voice does not count, will you bother to express it ? I wonder how many Jordanians actually vote. And if they vote, I wonder if the vote has any influence on the outcome of the country's policies. Surely, if you cannot choose your leader and the way the government spends your taxpayer's money, you're not going to bother debating about policy options on education, religion, human rights, etc. Especially in an executive monarchy, without accountability (that I know of).

So that would explain why debate seems sterile and useless, and why some people feel they cannot do anything to promote change. It must feel very disempowering, can't blame them.

Yet, Jordan seems to do quite fine. Better than its neighbours. Better than Egypt, and definitely better than Lebanon. For now. For how long ?

Knowledge, Respect and Responsibility

Many people infantilize traditional societies, like those performing Honor killings and FGM, with a demagogic, twisted discourse based on a terribly wrong interpretation of Max Weber's famous "axiologic neutrality", and a misuse of the word Respect.

Mostly, all modern education is based on the philosophy of Enlightenment and Humanism. A belief in Mankind. An optimistic view that things will get only better if we put our minds to it. Everywhere.

It is the philosophy that brought us a few Revolutions, including scientific revolutions, and the various Declarations of Human Rights, especially the first principle: all men are born with equal rights, equal dignity, and should be given equal opportunities. Everywhere.

By a strange deviation of the thought, there is a branch of academics known as relativists who extended that belief to claim that all cultures are equivalent, in all aspects, everywhere, and at any point in history. Therefore, no progress should ever be attempted to me made.

In other words, it means denying access to closed societies. Disguised as a very "open-minded" approach to the world, this is, in fact, a terribly despising, conservative posture.

It means "we (from rich countries or the wealthy classes in developing countries), are the happy few. We have had access to culture and opportunities, but you guys (Africans, South American natives, poor people everywhere, etc) should stay as you are, because we respect your culture".

So I met a well-intentioned anthropologist, well-educated, who was explaining that NGOs should not tamper with local cultures. She said in substance that NGOs should "respect" local cultures and not try to suggest to implement ideas they think are better. It's a philosophy that I understand. But allow me to have a doubt.

The problem is, it's a philosophy from the de-colonization time... 60 years ago. It was also the big debate in NGOs about 50 years ago. It was new and necessary then. Now, it's moot.

NGOs have evolved a lot in 50 years. They integrated this criticism, they changed their approach, became very aware of local cultures, of local empowerment, they started to listen before they suggest changes. But the victims of traditional societies cannot be left abandoned.

It poses an epistemological problem: if you cannot judge values, there are no values, everything is worth the same, good or bad. There is no good, nor bad. No beliefs. Especially it contradicts the platonician belief that the aim of democracy is the pursuit of happiness, and to have a better society. And it bans the pursuit of virtu, Machiavel's "civic virtue". Sometimes you just have to take a stand, with all due respect.

So... What of Relativism today ? It seems it's the ultimate lack of respect for "locals", actually.

Read the newspaper today in Jordan: ONE MORE HONOR KILLING. A man killed his 22-year-old sister for sleeping with her lover.

Relativists say let's respect him, the brother and his family. It's their culture. Let them learn with time, and not interfere. Let's maintain them longer in their ignorance and bigotry.

Denying that the other can be as good, and as bad, as myself and my society, is denying similarities, denying kin-ness, for better and for worse. It's denying the fact that, deep inside, we're all made the same way and have the same instincts. And we're all entitled to progress. And we can all learn. All societies actually make progress. No one can stop it, thank God. But we can slow it down or accelerate it considerably.

It is a good idea that progress should be shared. Those who had access to knowledge were just lucky, and should share it with the rest, just like Penicillin was shared, otherwise it's called being incredibly selfish, self-centered, and unfair. After years of expensive education, it seems ungrateful to believe that one should keep their ideas and experiences to themselves and not share them.

With great knowledge comes the great responsibility to share it.

The whole world has learned from all cultures. We've learned mathematics from the Arabs, we learned from the Chinese, from India, and yes, we do learn from Africa, and, yes, Africa learns from other continents. It is not a bad thing. Ideas should circulate, should adapt to societies, and they most of the time do, in a smooth way.

Take the best in all cultures, reject the worst. That seems sensible, common sense. Plus, sharing is also challenging. It shakes one's beliefs. It can shatter them or make them stronger, more firmly based, having been through the fire of a different reality.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

How I worshipped Satan in the Holy Land

I hate borders. This is not new. I still think fondly of the good old times when a man like Ibn Battuta could roam the Middle East without borders and passport, just a letter of recommendation in hand. Nowadays, he would never make it 50 miles from home. Borders and walls never stopped any terrorist anyways.

Here's a little experience I had a few days ago. Pay attention if you plan on traveling the Middle East. My plan was to go from Amman, Jordan to Sinai, Egypt, and to save money by not using a plane.

Aqaba is right next to the city of Eilat in Israel, and Taba in Egypt. There are boats that go directly from Aqaba to Egypt, to Taba or Nuweiba.

The trouble is, nobody in Aqaba knows when and where those boats leave. So, I missed it and took the road. This shouldn't be a problem, since I am a European citizen and don't need a visa to go to Israel.

The Taxi from Aqaba to the border takes about 5 minutes. Crossing Eilat in Israel, border to border is about 10 minutes. So, there I went.

I arrived at the border at 1 pm, carefully asking the Jordanian officer to stamp my exit on a separate sheet of paper, not on my passport, in case I wanted to go to Syria or Lebanon.
5 minutes later, I walked the 100m no man's land between Jordan and Israel, till I reached the Israeli flags.

There was nobody else crossing. The woman on duty took my passport and called her superior, from intelligence security services. The grilling started.

"What is your nationality ?
- French, as you can see on my passport" I was still smiling.
- Where does your name come from ?
- France
- It is not a French name
- Yes it is. Define 'French'. Good luck, it's been an ongong debate in my country for more than 2 hundred years...
- ... What? You know what I'm talking about
- I certainly do not. Please be specific. At an administrative level, being French means I hold a French passport, which I do. At a philosophical level, being French means to want to live in a certain culture, which I do too. We happen to be a diverse nation, with blonds, brunettes, tall, short, etc. So, again, please be specific and I would be very interested if you could define, in your opinion, what constitutes a "French".
- Er... Very well, what is your religion ?"

At that point, I was already starting to boil. I considered this last question an unrequested invasion of my privacy that had nothing to do with my entering or not in Israel. I told her so.

"Sir, this is a security check. I can ask whatever I want" she said.... Or can she ? I know that even in Israel there are law, I'm pretty sure of that, and an officer can't just do what she wants...

She repeated the question again. Again, I refused to answer.
"With all due respect, officer, this is really none of your business.
- If you do not cooperate, this will take longer.
- OK, officer, I'll tell you, since you insist. But you may not like it. I actually worship SATAN. We satanists have a special ritual: we listen to Death Metal on saturdays, stand on one foot, raise our hands to our ears and move them around, while jumping in rythm, see, like that. Then we engage in orgies until the morning..."
- ...
- Oh but wait! Wait!...
I raised my hands to my head and closed my eyes
- What is happening to me?... I... I... I feel I'm about to convert. Yes! I just converted to being a Buddhist. Ok, scratch that religion line from before: I'm a Buddhist now. Let's hurry, I'm not sure how long it'll last.

Like all people with limited wits and unlimited powers, she did not have a sense of humour and did not appreciate. At all.

- What is your email ?
- As you know, my email is private correspondence and has nothing to do with passport check. (I ended up giving her a bogus email)

Further questioning, about the religion of my parents, grandparents, etc. At one point, I saw myself staying there for a very, very long time, arguing my unalterable secular point of view. The sun was declining so to save time I confirmed that one of my ancestors (one of my great grandfathers) was Jewish, hence the name.

"So you're Jewish
-No. Pay attention. As I just told you. One of my beloved great grandfathers was. I happen to have been conceived through the help and intermission of about 7 other greatgrandparents, 4 grandparents and two parents, oddly enough. And I'm a Buddhist. Three of my grandparents were catholics, why is there just one grandparent that counts? Or does it mean I'm 1/4th of a Jew, 3/4th of a Catholic, even though I just converted to Buddhism before your eyes? Should I see 3/4th of a mass and then read 1/4th of Talmud?
- So you're ashamed of your Jewish ancestors ?
- Actually I'm very proud of all of my family, and especially of my Jewish Grandfather. You do know, of course that according to Jewish rules, since my mother is not Jewish I can't claim to be Jewish? Or did I just break the news to you? It's kind of a big deal.
- ... But you dais your grandfather is jewish.
- (sigh) Yeah
- So if you're Jewish, why didn't you immigrate into Israel ?"
- Oh Lord..."

I was just bewildered. She was serious. Angry, actually.
"Er... Maybe because I'm French. I'm fine thank you."

Flipping through my passport...
"Why do you visit so many Arab countries ?
- Why not ?
- I ask the questions. Why do you visit Arab countries ?
- Because I love to travel.
- Do you speak Arabic ?
- I am learning.
- Why do you want to learn Arabic ?
- Because I value new knowledge
- But why go to those countries ?
- Because I like it
- Why do you like it ?"

I was getting bored. I talked about the pyramids, culture, poetry, tourism, language, people... anything to finish this silly interview.

"So why don't you visit Israel more instead ?
- You mean since you are so welcoming?".

Flipping again... "So why did you go to Afghanistan, Iraq, and Sudan ?
- It was my job, as an aid worker"

Somehow, it did not compute for her. I was a new species. A Klingon. So I patiently started explaining, but I still did not make sense in her world. She was getting more and more confused and frustrated.

"Did you visit Israel before ?
- Yes
She typed on her computer. My file came up. "You went to GAZA ?!"

That was on an old passport, but they keep all the records.

"Yes. As a French citizen, with people of my Embassy I went to Gaza"

That was it. The proof I was up to no good.

They proceeded to unpack everything I had. EVERYTHING. The vitamins in a box were analyzed one by one. They chemically analyzed my shampoo, toothpaste, and every speck of dust on my personal items (for which they use a special swab), for explosives. Then I was kindly asked to strip in front of a male officer who applied some kind of detector to the area dearest to the future of my descendants.

When, surprisingly, they didn't find any bomb in my crotch, neither of course anything wrong with my passport, she was obviously even more frustrated.

"So you live in Amman ? Do you have friends there ? Arabs and Palestinians ?
- Of course
- What is their name ? What is their job ? Give me their names and telephone numbers.
- I will do no such thing. You can't bother my friends to check on me from Israel, because if you call them, they won't be my friends any more. Tell you what: if you want to contact someone in Amman, to check on me, call my Ambassador, here's the number of my Embassy. Then you may have a slight diplomatic situation, denying entry to a tourist from a friendly country with a valid passport.
- ..."

She disappeared with my passport. I was left there waiting for 4 more hours, knowing that the border closes at 8pm. I complained to an officer several times, until I got to speak to the guy in charge.

"Sir, this is standard procedure. If you are not happy you won't make it into the country.
- Fine. I'm not crossing any more. I'm going back to Jordan.
- You can't. We hold your passport. You have to wait till we decide what to do with you."

At approximately 7pm, the frustrated woman reappeared, she gave my passport to the immigration desk.

I decided to change tactics with the new officer, a blonde young woman, and tried my charm... "So... finally I get to cross ! Please put the stamp on a separate paper. Can I go now ?
- What is your religion ?
- Ma'am, I already answered all that with your colleague !!! I'm an ex-Satanist, newfound Buddhist, ok ? I'm thinking of converting to Zoroastrian soon.
- She is Intelligence. I am Police. Not the same service. I can ask you the questions I want"

OK, I thought. This is groundhog day. I've got to get the hell outta here.

"Look. The name's Jewish, OK ? I'm a happy French citizen who does not want to immigrate. According to your own definition of Jewish, I'm not Jewish because my mother is not Jewish. Nobody's perfect, y'know ?"

She looked up at me and smiled. Finally !

The "shortcut" took me over 6 hours. 6 hours to cross 5 kilometers, because of a non-intelligent Intelligence officer. She poked her nose into everything: my email addresses, my bank accounts, my job, my way of life, hell, every single thing was incomprehensible to her world. And she's supposed to see travellers all day.

Back to my trip. The Taba border, in Egypt, took me about 5 minutes. A look to check that my passport was genuine, that I had the right visa, a smile from a jovial officer, and "Ahlan wa Sahlan, welcome to Egypt. Enjoy your stay Sir"

No comment.


To make a long story short, if your name is not "suspicious", if you did not visit "strange" countries like Gaza, and if you divulge a certain number of personal facts, like the telephone number of your Palestinian friends, crossing the border should take no longer than 15 min.

Why, oh why, is it so hard to cross these few miles when on paper they all allow European citizens to come and go ? Winston, can you erase back those borders ?