Page last updated at 11:54 GMT, Monday, 5 November 2007

Jerusalem diary: Monday 5 November

By Tim Franks
BBC News, Jerusalem


There may not be many well-paid jobs in the occupied territories. But there are plenty of policemen and security officers.

They were on the streets of Nablus in the West Bank the other day, waving furiously at the traffic.

Palestinian Security forces in Nablus

They were trying to ensure that the path was clear for Gen Keith Dayton, the US point man in the region, whose job is to help knock the Palestinian security forces into better shape.

He was in town meeting the Nablus police chief and other bigwigs ahead of a big new deployment of Palestinian forces in the city.

His journey was not altogether smooth. Despite the men with guns on the streets, despite the honking and the waving from the heavily armed convoy, the vehicles could only jerk their way down the snarled street.

The impression among the amused and bemused bystanders was that the police could not even organise a convoy.

The big idea, shared by the new Middle East envoy Tony Blair, is that if the Palestinians can be shown able and responsible enough to police their own backyard, then the Israelis will be persuaded to lighten their heavy military occupation.

The path of Gen Dayton's convoy suggested there is distance yet to travel.


Just outside Nablus lies the West Bank's biggest refugee camp, Balata. As many as 35,000 people are shoehorned into one square kilometre.

Some of the children there are third or fourth generation refugees. Not even their grandparents have ever seen what they consider to be the family home.

Balat poster
Balata's distinctive close-cropped pudding bowl haircut

But ask a five-year-old where he comes from, and he doesn't blink.

"Haifa," he tells us, without missing a beat.

There is, though, one giveaway clue to the provenance of some of the boys: you'd know they were from Balata, even if you saw them down the road in Nablus.

Many of them sport a close-cropped pudding bowl of a haircut. It was the hairstyle of a celebrated "martyr" from Balata - a militant who was killed by the Israelis early on in the second Intifada.

In Balata, it is a badge of honour.


Anniversaries are the refuge of the journalist scoundrel. So here's one...

Manhattan has just staged Hava Nagila 100th Anniversary Celebration Week, to mark the writing of the lyrics to that unofficial Jewish anthem, played at all weddings, bar mitzvahs, and sundry knees-ups.

The celebrations are being co-ordinated by 86-year-old Sheldon Feinberg, a cantor in South Carolina.

He has his own website:

A small plea: listen to him singing Hava Nagila (Let us rejoice), at eight in the morning his time, down the telephone to me.

Several decades of practice went into the rolling of the "r"s, 35 seconds in.

And then listen to what Hava Nagila replaced - in the surge of early Zionist optimism - as the archetypal Jewish song.

That was a Yiddish elegy called Eli, Eli (My God, My God).

The lyrics:

My God: why have you forsaken me?
In fire and flames, they burned us.
Everywhere, they shamed and mocked us.
But no-one could turn us away from you, O God.

It is sung, tinglingly, by one of the world's top Jewish musicologists, Prof Eliyahu Schleifer, in his office in Jerusalem, on a gorgeous autumn morning.

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