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  Ellie's diaries from the Middle East
Updated 25 June 2004, 16.14
Ellie in Israel
Tuesday 1 June 21:00

This was always going to be a tough trip. And the first challenge arrived at the airport...I got questioned loads about what filming we were doing for the BBC.

The security seemed to want to check we'd be putting forward Israeli points of view in our documentary, as well as Palestinian.

It was a bit intimidating but I reassured them we'd be speaking to children from BOTH sides of the conflict, because that is our job.

Jerusalem is amazing! So good to finally see a place I've heard so much about.

Jerusalem - with the Muslim shrine, the Dome of the Rock shining in the sun.
Jerusalem - with the Muslim shrine, the Dome of the Rock shining in the sun.

Ironically, I don't think I believed it would have such a peaceful atmosphere and be so beautiful. Perhaps that's because people are afraid to go out much at night.

You really feel you're somewhere significant because it has such historical importance. All the buildings are white and dotted around the hills picturesquely.

It's really warm and it's 9 o'clock at night! The air smells different too - kind of sweet and perfumed. Very very different from back home!

We chose to stay here because it's very safe - lots of journalists stay here.

Even though I was anxious about coming somewhere as famous for the fighting here, as it's history, it's not like I expected. In fact first impressions are it's calmer and quieter than most other cities I've visited!

Wednesday 2 June 1630

We've just done our first bit of filming. We interviewed an Israeli settler family in the West Bank whose eldest son was killed by Palestinian gunmen two years ago.

We met the three youngest kids and they spoke amazingly well about their tragedy. Because they've been personally touched by the conflict, they know an awful lot about it and could talk very intelligently.

I was impressed. Even though they live in the West Bank, which is a Palestinian area, and have to be protected by the Israeli army, they have a very strong religious belief that they have a right to stay there.

It was kind of frightening to meet young children with such strong views against another group of people. It is easy to see, though, why they feel as strongly as they do.

It's very important for us to stay balanced while we're making this documentary though and not get too sympathetic to one side. As we drove into the Palestinian West Bank it felt kind of weird to be somewhere that has featured so much in the news.

I think they are mainly in the Gaza strip area. We're not going there - it's a bit far away and also too dangerous at the moment. We're looking for children's opinions - not battlegrounds!

2000

Just wrapped - in our business that means finished - day one. On the way back from the West Bank we had to go through a vehicle checkpoint. There were lots of Israeli soldiers around with guns.

It's a very intimidating atmosphere. Some of them can't be more than 17 or 18. They do shifts of standing for 10 hours in the hot sun checking cars.

They all run the risk of being blown up by a terrorist bomb, or caught in crossfire if fighting breaks out. It's not a pleasant job.

Thursday 3 June 9.30

Phew, an early start this morning! It's only breakfast time and we've already done two hours work.

We went up to a famous viewpoint over Jerusalem to record a piece to camera that will go at the end of our Extra. The viewpoint is up a hill called the Mount of Olives.

It was an unbelievably beautiful view and also really thought-provoking. It's so sad that somewhere so famous across the world for being so central to some of the major religions, is also the site of so much trouble.

1430

Stopped for lunch. We've been told by the BBC safety experts not to go to restaurants or bars in Jerusalem because of the risk of a Palestinian suicide bomb.

But our Israeli helper has taken us to a safe area and we are sitting well away from the entrance, which is supposed to be less dangerous.

The food is lovely out here! Loads of fresh salad and seafood and nice cheeses and yummy dips! I miss English tea so much though - I must remember to bring some teabags next time I go abroad!

1700

Just finished day two. Exhausted. This afternoon we interviewed an Israeli boy who was badly injured by a Palestinian suicide bomb on his school bus.

It only happened a few months ago so he was still pretty upset about it. The interview was really sad because the boy's uncle was also killed by a suicide bomber.

So he really doesn't like or trust Palestinians. It's upsetting to hear such strong views but kind of understandable considering what he's been through.

It's also interesting meeting kids who live in a totally different environment to us, but realising that children the world over have stuff in common.

This boy liked footie, computers, music, films, like millions of other 12 year olds. Seeing how kids living with conflict form their opinions of the 'other side' is also interesting.

Sometimes they copy or learn from their parents/teachers, sometimes something happens to influence them and sometimes they make up their own minds regardless of anyone elses.

But the children here seem to have one thing in common - they all have strong opinions. No-one's uninterested.

Friday 4 June, 1930

Today was really hard work and exhausting. We went right into the West Bank to a Palestinian city called Nablus. The journey was constantly interrupted by Israeli vehicle checkpoints.

The main one on the road into and out of the city was very busy and I found it quite frightening.

It's a real pressure-cooker atmosphere, with jumpy Israeli soldiers carrying big guns and loads of Palestinians queuing up in the hot sun and arguing with soldiers to let them through.

Lots of suicide bombers have targeted this particular vehicle checkpoint, so everyone's nervous and tense.

The soldiers are unfriendly and sullen. They made us wait for about half an hour in the boiling sun before thoroughly checking our ID and finally letting us through.

Ellie and the crew travelled in this armoured press car.
Ellie and the crew travelled in this armoured press car.

At least we were in a specially-protected car - I felt so sorry for all the vulnerable people out in the open air.

Nablus was a totally bizarre experience. A really beautiful location but battered by Israeli attacks.

It was a Friday, which is the Moslem holy day and all the shops were shut - the place was deserted.

Everywhere there are crumbling buildings, rubble in the streets and endless posters of martyrs: young men and women who've died, generally in suicide bombs, for the 'cause'.

It's very sad and the fact the streets were so empty just added to the eerie atmosphere.

The Palestinian family we met were lovely and welcoming. It seems such a pity they have to live in such frightening circumstances.

The children asked me if we have war in London. It was very touching. We had to leave Nablus well before dark, as that's when the Israeli army tends to come in to try and arrest terrorists and often shooting breaks out between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians.

As we left, several army trucks drove in, so we were out just in time. I found the whole experience alarming - I'm not sure how I would've coped if any violence had broken out.

Beautiful countryside and an Israeli watchtower in the distance.
Beautiful countryside and an Israeli watchtower in the distance.

Saturday 5 June 1330

This morning we filmed our final case study for this Extra - a Palestinian boy who lives in Bethlehem.

The barrier is being built right through his back garden. He was really frightened and fed up about being contained by this massive concrete wall.

He used to be mates with an Israeli boy - they played footie together - but now they've been separated and can't see each other anymore.

It seems such a shame to build the wall round Bethlehem. Although there has been trouble here, it's been quiet for a while now and seemed totally peaceful. I really liked it.

We also visited the Church of the Nativity where Jesus is said to have been born. It was incredibly peaceful and beautiful.

Ellie in the Church of the Nativity
Ellie in the Church of the Nativity

Tourists used to queue for hours to see it, but now it's deserted because no one wants to come on holiday here due to the conflict.

We also filmed right next to the barrier in Bethlehem. I was amazed by how high it is! It's so ugly too - a great big concrete wall that totally contrasts with the pretty white buildings and olive trees around it.

Sunday 6 June 1030

We leave today! Can't believe how quickly it's gone. I've had the most fantastic time. I loved the region much more than I thought I would.

Everything you see of this area on the news paints it in a negative light. Of course there are dangerous elements and life is unpredictable, but those news reports don't give a full flavour of what it's like.

The weather, culture, history, food, architecture and people. Everything is fascinating and makes me want to come back.

I just feel so sorry for the children on both sides who live amongst all this beauty and history, but who are afraid every day.

Will things get better? Who knows? No matter how angry or upset the children were who we spoke to though, they all wanted peace. They just didn't know how to get it.


 

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