Middle East Archive

All roads lead to… Jerusalem

All roads seem to be leading quite a few travel writers to Jerusalem. In June this year there was Guy Stagg’s debut The Crossway, in which a non-believer made a pilgrimage from Canterbury to Jerusalem in an attempt to mend himself after mental illness. At the end of November came Walking to Jerusalem (Hodder & Stoughton) by Justin Butcher, playwright, actor and musician, an account of the event he organised, with the human-rights charity Amos Trust, to mark the centenary of the Balfour Declaration and to call for “full equal rights for everyone who calls the Holy Land home”. I’m assuming that Julian Sayarer’s latest project will take him to the city too. Sayarer, who made his name as a long-distance cyclist before winning the 2016 Stanford Dolman prize for Interstate, about hitch-hiking across America, has returned to his bike and is currently researching a book about cycling through Israel and Palestine. (Incidentally, he is the most recent interviewee in the “Meet the Writers” podcast made by Monocle magazine, though the conversation deals with his earlier books and doesn’t touch on work in progress.)

More on Saudi Arabia

Lindsey Hillsum’s piece on Saudi Arabia (see earlier post) seems remarkably prescient in the light of the disappearance of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a fierce critic of the Saudi government.

The drive behind change in Saudi Arabia

One change the whole world has noticed recently in Saudi Arabia is the decree allowing Saudi women to drive. But what lies behind it? Lindsey Hillsum, assessing two new books about the country for The New York Review of Books, offers her answer:

MBS [Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman] knows that if the kingdom is to diversify its economy and reduce its dependence on oil, women must become more productive, so they need to drive and not waste their earnings on a driver. He wanted everyone to understand that women were being allowed to drive not because they had campaigned for it, but because their rulers had issued a decree. The point was clear: civil disobedience will not bring results; changes will come only from submission to a benign monarch who will decide what is best.

War in watercolours

Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, a former architect who is now an award-winning correspondent for The Guardian, is writing a book about his life as a reporter, focusing on assignments in Iraq, Syria and Yemen. He makes sense of his experiences in those places not just with words and photographs but with sketches in pen and watercolours. “When you’re in a conflict zone,” he told his colleague Killian Fox in The Observer at the weekend, “drawing is amazingly therapeutic.”

The ‘journey of death’

“I met families scattered across the Middle East, the Mediterranean and Europe like the beads of a broken necklace. Having given up hope on Syria, they saw Europe as their only chance of coming together again. If even a single member could make it, perhaps they had a chance at reunification.” Priyanka Motaparthy, for The Nation, reports on the Syrian refugees intent on making a sea crossing from Egypt to Italy that they call “the journey of death”.

Princely progress in the Middle East

Francis Bedford’s photographs of the Middle East in 1862, taken when he accompanied the 20-year-old Prince of Wales, Albert Edward (“Bertie”), on a four-month tour, are now on show at the Queen’s Gallery in Buckingham Palace. In The Guardian, Christopher de Bellaigue tells the story behind the tour, on which the prince was “less moved by the scene of Elijah’s sacrifice on Mount Carmel than [by] the prospect of shooting quail on the same slopes”.

Another side of Gaza

Having grown up in Northern Ireland at the height of the Troubles, but in one of its less troubled parts, I’ve spent the years since dodging undeserved commiserations. No, daily life wasn’t a constant round of bomb scares and bullets, and I didn’t sleep under the bed in case of shooting (though I’ve met little boys who did). There was plenty of paddling and then swimming, rock-pooling and then fishing; family singsongs that gave way to Friday and Saturday nights at the disco. A place that’s described only in terms of conflict is hardly a place at all.

That’s why I was delighted to see Tanya Habjouqa’s pictures of people at play in the Palestinian territories win an award in the 2014 World Press Photo contest. I’ve embedded a link to those pictures in an extract from Meet Me in Gaza by Louisa Waugh, which was long-listed for this year’s Dolman Travel Book Award.