Friday, 29 January 2010
Now they feature on the Hampstead Tourist Trail, not least because number 2 is now a National Trust property.
The James Bond creator Ian Flemming so hated the architecture and apparently these houses in particular that he named his principal villain Goldfinger thus placing the name into household status.
Goldfinger was a much celebrated Hungarian modernist architect, a generation on from the bauhaus movement, but also much known for his firery nature and character.
This house, at number 2 Willow Road, was Goldfinger's house of residence and opposite the house on the Preacher's Hill part of the Heath is a bench in memory of his son.
It's fair to say that even though the house is celebrated now, it was controversial with modernists at the time...
Erno passed away in 1987 and was cremated at Golders Green cemetary where his ashes were scattered.
Sunday, 17 January 2010
The School has an amazing schedule of alumni and a proud track record of providing high quality education and training.
But the building itself has considerable history and hosts the Embassy Theatre.
The Theatre accomodates about 700 people and is a former Music Hall and dates essentially from 1928 when it was converted by architect Andrew Mather. It was previously Eton Avenue Hall from 1890 then Hampstead Conservatoire of Music.
During WWII the building was damaged and so saw an extensive refurbishment in 1945/1946.
The Theatre has a crucial place in the history of the development of modern Hampstead and Belsize in that it hosted the meetings of the AJR (Association of Jewsh refugees). This group initially met at 26 Belsize Park and then rented small premises at 279a Finchley Road before moving to 8 Fairfax Mansions.
On 27th May 1945 a meeting at the Embassy Theatre to mark the end of the wa saw 800 people in the theatre and 200 more outside and again on 3rd September the venue was used for the next stage of the AJRs work. A fascinating little part of the rich tapestry of NW3.
Wednesday, 13 January 2010
This morning I met with Social Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog in Jerusalem. Minister Herzog is a form of political Israeli royalty in that his father was Chaim Herzog (President of Israel 1983-1993), his grandfather was Rabbi Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog and his uncle was Abba Eban.
Minister Herzog is one of the few rising stars of the Labor Party in Israel - Labor is in a tough place there at the moment - but his charm, wit, speed of thought and personality makes him stand out. He is tipped for higher office and widely respected across the political sectrum in the Knesset and in the media.
We talked about a range of issues: my visit to Gaza, his father and the connection to Bergen-Belsen and the current political situation in the wider Middle East. It's clear to me that Herzog is someone who has a bigger view, he's an internationalist and has a real grasp of building relationships.
As a way of topping off an incredibly thought provoking trip to Israel, meeting and talking with Minister Herzog (nicknamed 'Buji') has done the trick.
Final postscript: I'm typing this at the airport - my final meeting was with Rachel Liel of the New Israel Fund to discuss some of the issues around civic society and development of Israel's democracy and giving the political system greater depth and relevance. Rachael gave me an insight into the beautiful town of Neve Shalom - Wahat Al-Salam. We then drove up to the town - it's just an amazing demonstration into the ideals of Israel and an illustration of how Jewish and Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel live and work together, and set in the most breath-taking scenario.
Right, back to north west London I think :-)
Tuesday, 12 January 2010
But let me try and make a start and tell some of what I saw with pictures.
Today I went to Gaza, an early start to be there for the 8am crossing and a full day with UNRWA leaving Gaza at 3pm (it takes about an hour to get through security - not because it is busy but because it is a long and thorough process).
Can I also just say to all readers that this is very much written from what I saw - it's a complex set of experiences and the stories and accounts I heard need to be fully processed by me - not least by a night's sleep before being developed into firmer views - but let me try and give you an insight.
The first thing to say about the access is that it feels like an incredibly efficient but cold airport - but the other element I now understand is bar soldiers, just how few Israei's actually know what goes on within Gaza. I spent tonight having dinner with friends in Jerusalem and none of them have been to Gaza or the West Bank in at least the last 10 years - those that had been to Gaza went as soldiers (during service rather than during recent conflicts) and Ramallah or the West Bank was somewhere they had been to as much younger children.
I should add that I had absolutely no real or clear understanding of what to expect - it's the first time I had been to anything that might be described as a war zone, but all the reading of history didn't give me a clear image of what to expect.
I was struck by the devastation in the 'buffer zone' - nothing was left standing - there are a few almost ironic features left - a tap in a field of ruins - but largely crumbled concrete and mangled metal from the building sturctures. The building construction time has rendered destroyed buildings near useless for re-using the materials.
The second is that this all lies within what is clearly incredibly verdant landscape - it's clear that the north of the Gaza strip has/had the potential to be incredibly fertile agricultural land yet this is a community that relies on food vouchers from the UN - on a simplistic level - the contrast is just too stark to pass by without comment.
Next is the wider wider prosperity and potential of Gaza (and I only saw northern Gaza in the time I had). It was clear to me, and reflected in conversation with virtually everyone, that this is a community that is well educated, educationally ambitious for their young people, entrepenurial and innovative and dogged. But the war has set back such economic hopes and left a wake of distruction, mistrust and significant food and fuel poverty.
The blockade is having the effect of giving massive leverage over the local economy (if it can be called that) by the operators of the tunnels - the tunnels I now understand are not some determined small operation of a few parcels here and there - they are full scale passages enabling the illegal passage of fuel, building materials (cement, blocks etc) as well as commodities and food stuffs and inevitably arms and weapons. It's a full scale operation. The illegality of the operation is opposed by many of the traders and merchants of Gaza who see their business being undermined by Hamas.
Now I'm sure it is possible to get contrary opinions but some of the messages I heard were pretty clear and almost pleas to me at least (in no particular order):
- we (Palestinians) are not all terrorists, we are as much terrorised as Israel is.
- the vast majority of people here have no truck with extremism.
- there is little love for the British MP George Galloway and he is percieved by the people as stirring up anger and negative passions
- before the war there was strong and growing trade with Israel and that was good for trade, work, skills and opportunities
- the building destruction that has taken place has left an indelible mark as there are no rebuilding materials
- what is the next move/next stage if the "idiots" ( a direct quote) keep firing rockets: what do we "residents" do?
I think I'll pause there - I want to sleep further and think about what I saw and heard. Going was one of the best things I have done and I'm grateful to friends and contacts who made the links to enable me to get the permit and see something of it for myself and to the team who made my visit possible today.
Monday, 11 January 2010
The next thing that strikes you is the amazing geometric architecture.
My father was always interested in ancient culture and art influences an often cited muslim art from the 7th/8th centuries on as being of incredible beauty and very advanced compared to other cultures.
Now I'm not claiming to know the dating of the decor of the Dome of the Rock - not least because it has gone through so many architectural era's and influences - not least for example the Stables of Solomon which are not of that era but are Crusader architecture, or the gold of the Dome itself which is very late 20th century!
But the mosaic's, the tiling, the geometry, the richness of colour, the complexity of the design, the mathematical fascination can only be marvelled at.
And for me, interested in ancient history - wandering around the Temple Mount constructed by Herod (much changed - not least by the demolitions of Titus and Hadrian, but the sense of place that it occupied remains) is a privilege and a joy.
Sunday, 10 January 2010
But whilst the government, people and army of Israel feels compelled to defend itself then the whole thing is depressed and maintained at a level that cannot and will not thrive.
The over-riding topic in Israel and on the West Bank in political conversations is that of security - and yet there is a curious double existence with the religious pilgrimages going on all around from Christians, Jews and Muslims.
This photograph of the security fence around the West Bank is taken from Mount Zion (Ironically I was visiting Oskar Schindlers tomb). It wasn't a clear day, but you can see the dominance of the Israeli security fence.
For a long time I have held the instinctive position that constructing walls between communities is wrong, that use of violence is wrong, that human rights are fundamental. Much of these 'western values' emerged from the wreckage of World War II and are principles that my grandfather's who fought in that war would recognise.
We tend to view the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians as a conflict that just needs sorting out. But here it is a battle for survival. There are groups, movements, armed individuals, groups and even countries that don't want Israel to exist. But the right for Israel to exist is now a permanent one and is now accepted in most Arab capitals.
So if you accept the right for Israel to exist, and then regret the existence of the walls and fence and the conflict you still have to handle the fundamental issue of security. And this it seems is where the mainstream debates in Europe and Israel differ. This week in one of the papers here, the former Israeli Ambassador to Germany described Israel and Europe of having two monologues instead of one dialogue and it feels to me like that's an accurate call.
There are countless community peace initiatives - in the UK, in Europe and even here in Israel - I saw the joint music centre in Ramallah - but it seems to me that these community led initiatives will count for nothing whilst the wider concerns over security exist. This is where Europe seems to part company with Israel. Whilst Europe's assumption is that that peace will come through trust, it feels like a pipe dream here. Neither side is going to stop it's current conduct. If anything it feels more likely that it will escalate. Israel will do anything (almost literally) to defend itself, it's people and it's existence - here on the ground I see and understand that. And the concerns over human rights, over atmospheric tension, over the effect on the next generation of Palestinians are put to one side.
The task for those of us who care about this is to reflect the concerns over the future of statehood - for both sides - understand the scale of passion on the need to defend yourself and security, security, security. Then and only then can a dialogue start that might enable real borders (not fences and walls) and then move into ordinary economic and human rights work. If this was easy it probably would have progressed - but it is not - and on the ground I guess I just understand the impossibility of the situation and the passions aroused by religion and borders and statehood. You end up trying to decide whether to try and make a difference or whether to walk away and try something else in another sphere of the world.
Saturday, 9 January 2010
I'm not sure there is a clear answer, but I'm here in Israel and there's no ducking some of the issues here.
So over the last 10 days I have been meeting up with residents (many of whom are not politically active), I have met with a number of interest groups, I've discussed domestic affairs like health and education and I have met with a range of politicians.
Going to the Knesset (The Israeli Parliament) was really interesting. I visited 15 years ago when I was President of the Students' Union at Nottingham University on a trip organised by the Union of Jewish Students. But this time my understanding of paliamentary democracy is a tad more attuned - and I've come under my own steam. I have met with a range of MKs (Knesset Members - equivalent to MPs) of many parties/factions and heard a wide spectrum of opinions and views.
I've been getting The Jerusalem Post and Ha'aretz newspapers each day (both in English) and they are at different ends of the Israeli political spectrum. I've been avidly reading and consuming news and conversation.
This weekend - my last few days here - I'll be in Ramallah on the West Bank and hopefully will get into Gaza as well - a mixture of seeing for myself as well as deepening my understanding. The walls, the Hamas rockets, the Israeli airstrike yesterday, the heightened sense of tension and even the Hamas in a stand-off against Egypt - all have a very different impact when they are taking place a few miles away from where you are staying.
One of the major concerns here is international opinion - not as some voice of conscience, but because of the role politicians play in shaping peace and aggression. So Barack Obama, not unsurprisingly, looms large. The general view, as far as I can ascertain it, is that at last America has a President capable of understanding complexities and nuances - that not everything is black and white - and nuance isn't a bland subtlety but a crucial part of effective diplomacy.
So the remaining issue to explain through this blog post is why I'm here - specifically. On that first visit 16 years ago I was totally taken by the heady mix of dust, history, religion and heat - my degree on Ancient History helped to instill me with an understanding of the age of the emotions and conflicts (it's useful knowing your Titus from your Hadrian!). I have a strong belief that even hard problems can be solved - it's years of playing chess, I think, that has forced that home.
So I'm visiting Israel with just 12 or so weeks before Gordon Brown finally goes to the polls. And I return to the UK (snow permitting!) charged up with enthusiam and passion - but also with understanding and empathy. Anyone can make a speech on a subject, but to speak from experience and knowledge is far more convincing. In Hampstead and Kilburn local residents want an MP who knows the issues, understands their concerns and who can engage in the dialogue.
Having renewed my links here in the Middle East, gained a better and fresher understanding and seeing much much more for myself I'm ready for the challenge and I'm willing to go further. I say to local residents in north west London - I know the issues, I understand your concerns and my views are drawn from personal experience and a preparedness to get out into the field and see it for myself.
Note: The trip is organised, planned and funded entirely by myself - I have had no official support from anyone in arranging appointments or meetings - it is all at my own initiative. I have been on the buses, met in the cafes, walked the markets - it has not been about chauffered cars or going where someone else wanted me to go. A snapshot, but I hope a valid one. The final clarification is that I'm neither jewish nor muslim, I have a faith but it is my own.
Friday, 8 January 2010
- The American Colony Hotel (much recommended by a friend) in East Jerusalem.
- The road sign for Nablus Road - which is where the Hotel is...
- And Palestinian Pottery - specialising in hand decorated tiles Est 1922.
The Hotel is the heart of diplomatic, international visitors in East Jerusalem - a regular hang-out for journalists, businessfolk and politicians. But the Amercan Colony Hotel also has an amazing history and heritage to it and a visitors book to wonder at.
The Nablus Road sign is perhaps a shade unfair - but as I walked from Damascus Gate along the Nablus Road you have a sense that you are moving into the European Quarter yet you are in the much spoken of East Jerusalem and it looked to me like this was a bullet pitted street name sign.
And so to the Palestinian Pottery - I was reading my book by Edwin Samuel (Sir Herbet's son), A Lifetime in Jerusalem - and I recollected that I read that he set up a fair in the Old City of Palestinian craftsmen.
"In 1921, the first exhibition of indigenous Palestinian arts and crafts, largely peasant ware, was held in the Citadel, and I was made the organizer" Edwin Samuel, Second Viscount Samuel.
So the connecting threads are these:
- all three are on the Nablus Road, there is much much more to East Jerusalem than Palestinian/Israeli dispute (don't judge a book by it's cover or just the reviews),
- Herbert and Edwin Samuel are inextricably links to all three - Nablus Road was a main thoroughfare for Mandate officials,
- the Colony Hotel was a key part of the British Adminstration and there some pretty compelling empirical evidence that Edwin Samuel was involved in the promotion that led to this company setting itself up...
Thursday, 7 January 2010
Between the Mount of Olives and the Old City of Jerusalem - near the Dung Gate is the Kidron Valley. It's quite dramatic and quite steep - at least to walk into and out of and makes traversing from the two locations quite hard.
But in the Kidron Valley is some ancient rocks out of which have been carved memorials - semi-mausoleums. One is known at the Pillar of Absolom and the other is the Tomb of Zechariah - between them are the Cave of Bene Hazir - none of the three: pillar, tomb or cave are in fact of the people they are attributed to - but as local historical - probably 1st century AD (CE) they are pretty impressive.
Wednesday, 6 January 2010
But let's re-cap:
- the first Jewish Cabinet member in Britain
- an Old Gower (pupil of UCS)
- First Governor of the Palestinian Mandate
- First Jew to govern 'Israel' since ancient times
- Liberal Party Leader 1931-1935
- First Jew to lead a political party in Britain
So on my journey to Israel I was pretty excited to find this plaque still up at the start of King George V Street.
KING GEORGE V AVENUE
HIS EXCELLENCY SIR HERBERT SAMUEL
HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR PALESTINE
IN THE PRESENCE OF
SIR RONALD STORRS
GOVERNOR JERUSALEM-JAFFA DISTRICT
RAGHEB BEY EL NASHASHIBI
MAYOR OF JERUSALEM
9TH DECEMBER 1924
(it's in Hebrew to the left and Arabic to the right - immediately behind my head - but was quite hard to get me in the pic as you have to virtually stand in the road!)
Excited at this was one thing - but when I was in a bookshop and asked about the Mandate days the woman behind the desk revealed she had interviewed Herbert's son - Edwin - as an old man in Jersusalem in the 1970's. I'm now onto finding the person who has the notes an tapes of that interview...
Tuesday, 5 January 2010
[A reminder that where it's a small picture the reader should be able to double click on the photo and it open up at full size so you can see the detail].
Here you are quite literally walking on history and walking on layer upon layer of the stuff. But this isn't history as some cool, detatched even academic perspective - this is the stuff of current affairs, international diplomacy and religious passion.
But of course the other thing about Jerusalem and the history is that it is SO important to those today that it is still living and breathing and all around.
So this picture of the Dome of the Rock - one of the most venerated of Muslim sites - photographed here from the roof terrace. This is in fact a few hundred yards away and the modern satellites betray that there are people living amidst, what in the rest of the world would be historical sites and just historical sites. In this charged environment they are residential, precisely because they are so so important.
So you walk away from the Western Wall plaza, take a staircase, wander on aimlessly a bit - gazing at your guidebook trying to work out what appears next and you find you are literally on a roof and there are three layers of shops and residency and worship beneath you and due to the landcape of the mountain up to four storeys of archaeology under that!
In fact I was so high up that this massive spire of the Lutheran Church was almost at eyesight level - and this is one of the highest points in the city! It's amazing.
And it was that point that got me thinking - the issue here is what has gone before. It's not what happens today, it's not yesterday - it's who has been here before. On one level it is the pilgrims, the residents, the soldiers (too many soldiers) and the generations of events and activity - but most of them were/are here for the religious devotions that are undertaken in memory of the historical figures who were themselves here.
So this graffiti - devotional, dated, carved into the wood and the marble and the stone of the door frames of many and most of the churches gives you a powerful realisation that your steps are but two steps amongst literally millions of others.
But the challenge is making those traditions of the past work today shoulder to shoulder, cheek by jowel. And it would seem to the tourist eye that there is an equilibrium.
But that in itself risks being a deception. The Israeli governance over Jerusalem only really dates from 1967 in modern terms and that led to the clearing of the old housing that clustered in front of the Western Wall [aka the Wailing Wall]. So what is now a great visitors plaza is in fact a highly political space - for all Jews - perhaps it is now the most precious religious space. In fact in that context one of the great outstanding issues in the peace talks of the future is the Temple Mount.
But right now you have the Western Wall and nest to that a convoluted wooded construct walkway that leads to the Dome of the Rock - all to accomodate the various histories that currently co-exist.
Now the general assumption over the years was that history - whilst it is grasped and clutched to the breast of each cause and faction to their advantage - that in fact time is a healer of sorts, in that the human memory forgets knowledge and fails to pass it on.
The Western Wall is significant for two factors - the first is it significant because it is the closest wall to the former site of the Holy of Holies - this was the temple built upon the site where Abraham was going to sacrifice his son. The destruction of the temple by the Roman Emperor Titus after the first Jewish rebellion was pretty complete - some 50 years later a more intense form of destruction was wreaked by the Emperor Hadrian to surpress another revolt.
Both of these events have led to a human recollection that says that the bit of the Western Wall visible from the Plaza (above) is the only surviving structure.
Two issues with that. First is that in fact bits of the other walls - north, west and south all survive but for Jews it's the proximity to the Holy of Holies that is religiously significant. Secondly archaeologists have confirmed and now opened up the full length of the Western Wall as a tunnel and with it the site of the earliest synagogue - and that tunnel was my experience today. Pictured here are the stones of the Herodian 2nd temple, still standing, still acting as foundation stones to the constructs of subsequent generations over them.
So being in Jerusalem - in Israel - listening to issues around the conflicts of the middle east - I was really struck today that with the history live and in front of us - it's also above and below us, all around and is a relevant now as ever before.
Monday, 4 January 2010
And sure enough, David Ben Gurions house did not diappopint. Getting there early meant there was no-one else in the house so we had the whole place to ourselves.
The charm, the simplicty, the learned knowledge hungry nature of the man that I had read about stood out more than anything else.
The ground floor is so of it's time - 50's I think - the green tiling has a style that is so retro today, the furniture if unfussy.
The only element that feels like it crowds the house at all are the gifts from Heads of State and adoring associations. Just how many elephants died for high quality african tusks to be presented to him..?
But upstairs was the gem - or gems. The library. This was clearly a book thirsty, knowledge hungry, avid reader. Books everywhere - wall to ceiling. To say I felt some jealousy would be to go too far but when you appreciate the breadth of the reading and you realise that the collection is stunning...
Ben Gurion was not without his critics - his ability to leave his party and form a new movement occurred twice - relatively unsuccessfully - the last when he was over 80!
There are no shortages of biographies on line and published available and it;s worth getting behind the man and his achievments to understand who he was and what drive him.
Crucially he fought for his nationality, created a nation, established institutions - he quite literally led and drove the movement that made Israel a reality and not just an intellectual concept - and at a time when pogroms and the genocide of the holocaust created such a need for hope and refuge,
Sunday, 3 January 2010
It feels like an incredibly liberal, vibrant and positive city - many communities, still growing - the nearest thing, bar the climate, to a London-esq sense of village communities.
The amusing thing - and when Herbert Samuel arrived a Governor of Palestine the legacy must have been still very live - is the way the streets are named after British figures: Herbert Samuel, Arthur Balfour, George V and Edmund Allenby.
Happy to be corrected but I reckon most people will be aware that George V was King but little sense of his significance to Israel or Tel Aviv, as previously posted no understanding of who Herbert Samuel was, Edmund Allenby I think has no recognition - being interested in history I knew him to be a soldier and the leader of the middle east campaigns of the first world war but I think I'm in a minority.
Arthur Balfour however, in reversal of his recognition rate in the UK is heralded here as for his Balfour Declaration that led in time to the creation of the modern state of Israel... But Allenby's road/street is the larger, more significant route through the city. :-)
I'm staying on Allenby Street and I have to say it has a quality that is incredibly reminiscent to the Kilburn High Road - that sense of different by day and by night, all traders cheek-by-jowel, an amazing history that is much underplayed (though hinted at a bit) and is a key road through the midst of this whole city - much like the High Road is to north west London.
So in that comparative vein I thought I would draw in my age old tradition of looking at the variety of street signs - there is something incredibly charming and special about street names.
It's as though the way in which a community is signed is an insight into the way in which that community has a self-esteem supported by the governance arrangements that sustain it.
I think Allenby Road has an incredible sweeping effect through this city - one of the guidebooks describes it as 'enigmatic' - for me it the best insight there is into what Tel Aviv is, where it has come from and where it might be going...
All great stuff and there for anyone to see - for me this afternoon in was a great wander, stopping, looking up, taking pictures (too many over the course of just 3 hours!) and gazing at what was hidden, but yet still very visible to the inquisitive eye.
Saturday, 2 January 2010
Herbert Samuel, later Lord Samuel, has largely dropped from public knowledge in the UK but in terms of several elements for me he's a crucial piece of a local jigsaw.
On a simple and political level Herbert Samuel was leader of the Liberal Party - not the most prestigious period from 1931-1935 - and is one of the Leaders during an almost 'dark ages' following the splits with Lloyd George and well before the Grimond Revival.
Further, Herbert was a school boy at UCS, University College School - then in Gower Street, now in Frognal, Hampstead. Thus making him an Old Gower (as frmer pupils of UCS are known).
And finally and crucially he was the first Governor (Commissioner) of Palestine under the British Mandate - making him the first Jewish ruler of what is now Israel since ancient times. It's for this third role that he generate the kudos to gain the main street in Tel Aviv being named after him... There's a short video on him here: www.youtube.co.uk/474towin
I just wonder how many other UCS boys have a main road in a city named after them?
Friday, 1 January 2010
It is the singlemost feature that struck me when I was first here and not much has changed. Well, there's a slight sense of an economic down-turn in the air which might reflect the slightly un-maintained housing, but the city remains awash with architectural gems.
In short most of it is from the Bauhaus tradition - it's essentially minimalist - reflects the beauty of white, simplicity and using the cleverness of lines and sight.
The effect is great sweeping balconies and structured mirror images in what might otherwise be very ordinary properties. Tel Aviv was the beneficiary of the 1930's wave of architects who fled Nazi Germany and brought the tradition from there to Tel Aviv.
The Cinema in Tel Aviv is world famous and is I think quite literally a former cinema now a Hotel and is connected and managed by the same team as the Central Hotel.
It's just on the junction of Dizengoff central junction - which has a serious pedestrian flyover with water fountain from it's former flower bed layout - presumably to cope with the traffic!
The result is a city with loads of Bauhaus architectural treasures hidden away on streets and corners. This is just a brief reflection of them and does them no justice at all.
But it was this Bauhaus tradition that led to Tel Aviv getting world UNESCO preservation status and securing a special place in the hearts of those who have visited and seen it gleaming for themselves.
The last picture just seemed to take up the theme of being the White City....