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June 13, 2011

Some events stand out not just for their own sake, but for how they reveal dynamics far wider than the events themselves. In this case, the violence of a few men with too much power lifts the lid on issues of gender, religion, and of course how inadequate the political status quo is in Egypt.

Recently it emerged that the army carried out humiliating, painful, invasive “virginity tests” on arrested women protesters a few weeks after Mubarak fell. Read more…


June 12, 2011

Here’s to the memory, the life, the inspiration of an amazing man. Tonight I feel so keenly the phrase that ‘the world is darker without him’.  Patrick Rolfe had such a ridiculously huge amount to give and to enjoy, to learn and to teach, to love and to inspire. Pat, the road to human liberation is longer and darker without you.

My heart and thoughts are with his friends and family. I remember how I’d feel relieved to see him at a meeting, knowing his passion and good sense would always have a good impact. He was immensely caring and managed to be fiercely intelligent but never ever patronising. The kind of person who empowers the people around them.

Far away from home and as shock turned into grief, I was relieved that my mum was nearby. We went for an emotional drink in his honour, like so many must be doing tonight and in the coming days. She’d met him a couple of years ago during the Vestas campaign (after workers occupied their wind-turbine factory that was being closed on the Isle of Wight),  and he’d walked with her into town. His great intelligence and decency had made such a powerful impression on her in a short space of time that she remembered all the conversations they’d had and immediately understood how huge this loss is for all who knew and loved him and for all who should have but now will not.

More words in his memory and honour

You can enjoy his wit and wisdom here

Ana la atakalam Arabi, asef. (al-Cahir habibti)

June 3, 2011

If the police officers enjoying a cigarette while breaking apart the anti-settlement protest last Friday reminds me that I’m out of Europe, it was the border guard having a smoke while checking my bags through the x-ray machine that welcomed me to Africa*. Well actually I have been welcomed by beaming Egyptians every 10 seconds or so since that moment. Read more…

Settling in (see what I did there?)

May 28, 2011

Israel just doesn’t let you forget which country you’re in.

(Even leaving all the ultra-nationalist stuff aside, because that’s just too obvious and I do try to mentally adjust the level of jingoistic propaganda that I let rile me while I’m here, because if I didn’t lower my expectations then I’d just spend every minute infuriated. Read more…

Mile high musings

May 27, 2011

(Copied from my frenzied scribblings on the plane on Tuesday evening)

24/05/11, 4pm GMT

The surreal beauty of looking down through that small round-cornered window feels like the calm before the storm, soothing me into indulgent introspection, so please forgive the emotional ramblings that are sure to follow. The brown and green creases of the hills of the Mediterranean coast passing beneath, and each island, bay or mountain range left behind is another distance towardsIsrael,Palestine,Cairo. With all the times I will have there, and with all their staggering contrasts and contradictions, peoples, politics, pleasures and pain.

There’s the usual emotional cocktail – Read more…

Apologies, reminiscences and old drafts – for posterity’s sake

May 19, 2011

Okay, okay, so my attempt at keeping some kind of public record of my experiences and analyses fell flat on it’s face last time. It may well do this time (I’ll be back for six weeks, arriving next Tuesday) as well, but I feel I should give it another shot.

I would like to clarify that it was definitely not for lack of material that my previous efforts failed. Read more…

Cabin fever

October 12, 2010

My training for volunteering as a “Certified First Responder” for the Israeli branch of the Red Cross, Magen David Adom, is now pretty much finished. So I’ve finally got time to write, now that I’m waiting a couple of hours to find out if I’ve passed.

It’s been pretty intense. Most days the routine was classes starting at 8.30am and finishing at 8.30pm or later. I was worried this would be a bit of a shock to the system after three blissful post-school months of everything being on my terms, but luckily it transpired that turns out my work ethic and ability to concentrate are mostly still intact.


Practicing dressing wounds and fractures


I’ve also enjoyed getting into this type of study. It’s been a mix of theory (anatomy etc); understanding, recognising and treating medical conditions and emergency situations; practical skills regarding using equipment and responding.

On the one hand, I am by no estimation a scientist. I had to actively motivate myself by repeatedly imagining the situations in which I’d need this information. Without being uncharictaristically goal oriented, I’d have had a hard time absorbing all the information – such and such mechanics of the respiratory system, this and that type of shock or physical trauma…

Because ultimately I’m interested in ideas not facts. To be honest, I want to learn about things that I can have a row about. Interpretations, counter-arguments, contexts – these are the things that engage me; even if I were many times more intelligent, strong willed and creative than I am now I wouldn’t get very far trying to contest the intellectual validity of CPR  or the logic of inserting an IV. Try as I might, I could never anayse how the political background or deliberate on how Cushing’s Triangle (low blood pressure = fast pulse + fast breathing) was an expression of Harvey  Cushing’s class interests.

On the other hand, I’ve been getting such a thrill from arming myself with relentlessly practical skills. This course was inescapably useful in a way that history, or any humanities subject, could never be.

Of course, I know that the study of history is useful and necessary. If we had no independent-minded historians then all we’d know about how our world, conflicts, societal norms and political institutions had come to be would be gleaned from the state’s National Curriculum writers. And Wikipedia. Society would be in an even bigger mess than we are now, and Orwell would weep in his grave.

Be that as it may, if someone collapses on the pavement in front of me on a windy evening, I won’t do them any good by speculating that the decrees of Peter the Great which forced women to participate in high society had nothing to do with any hypothetical liberal tendencies on his part, and was actually a result of his adoration of Western European culture coupled with his authoritarian strategies for rearranging Russia according to the aforementioned devotion.  I might calm down a hyperventilating patient, but they’d probably just hit me. Then I wouldn’t even be able to call an ICU if their condition deteriorated.

Anyway, I’m a firm believer that pretty much everything is political, in that any scenario will be affected by the society in which it takes place. Even ambulance training. For example, in my exam this morning as we practiced treating a car crash victim, our instructor started throwing bandages and other classroom flotsam at us, telling us that we were being attacked by militant arabs from the neighbourhood to test how we’d deal with this. We watched videos of terrorist attacks from the second intifada when learning about mass casualty incidents.

On the interpersonal level, I had a bit of a shock in finding that the vast majority of my coursemates are here on various Zionist youth programmes and/ or are pretty damn religious – one girl is shomer negiah, and kisses the mezuzah of every door she passes through. I had some notion that there mighten’t be many other lefties on this course, but I didn’t expect to be spending so much time discussing (okay, arguing) the justification for Operation Cast Lead, the ethics of dating non-Jews, what counts as a civilian casualty, are Palestinians actually just a “naturally volatile” nation and its “them or us”, do humans need the profit motive to get out of bed in the morning…

I was also pretty shocked to be informed that we would be singing the Israeli national anthem, HaTikvah (“the hope”), every evening. As you might expect, I had some pretty serious problems with this. Not really being a fan of imposed patriotic devotion in general, I’m particularly uncomfortable in this case.  Consider the lyrics:

As long as in the heart, within,
A Jewish soul still yearns,
And onward, towards the ends of the east,
An eye still gazes toward Zion;
Our hope is not yet lost,
The hope of two thousand years,
To be a free people in our land,
The land of Zion and Jerusalem.

Is it really so unthinkable that one of Israel’s million Arab citizens might feel resentful about having to sing about his “Jewish soul in the innermost heart”, or that some of the many secular Jews here might be uncomfortable about having their identity defined so crudely in this way? Even more pressingly, the lyrics about this alleged “2000 year” hope of our apparently single willed nation is basically propaganda. The movement of Zionism, the belief in Israel being the true homeland of the Jewish people and that we should act to bring it into being, is not much older than the 100-year old HaTikvah itself. This song invents a narrative, to push an imagined connection to this land on us, so that we might not notice that there were people living here before we got here and maybe just maybe this might have something to do with why we don’t live in peace.

Thus, I’d consider HaTikvah to be pretty much an ideological weapon, even more so when taking into account its gorgeous melody which tugs so affectively at the heart strings.

So, troubled but not wanting to make myself a pariah in the group too early by setting up a picket or something, I spoke to the coordinator of my concerns (he was very surprised) and settled on passive resistance i.e. standing there but not joining in.


Wouldn't happen with St John's: Learning to attach a patient with a spinal injury to a backboard. Our instructors got us to place Eric in the lift. They then pressed all the buttons and left him there.


Anyway, in general I’ve had a good time but am going a bit crazy from being in the same place for ten days, focusing on the same subject (I know that friends in the army will have no sympathy for this though!). Our instructors have been great – funny (“death is not a danger, it’s a solution”) and very laid back. In our exam today one was listening to reggae and Van Morrisson while we strapped our patient to a backboard; jokes about partial erections (a symptom of hanging, apparently) abound.I was pleasantly surprised that the food was decent and we had sheets and towels on the beds, but I’m looking forward to meals where I only eat yesterday’s reheated leftovers if I choose to.  I’ve enjoyed meeting lots of new people and getting into miscellaneous debates with many of them, but I’m looking forward to spending time with friends in Tel Aviv.


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