Day 386: Don’t Tell Bin Laden, But…


Today, I just hung out in Amman, the capital of Jordan. Didn’t do nothin’.. just hung about. Didn’t go anywhere that might jeopardise my entry into other Middle Eastern countries, nope. Erm, how was your day?


Yes, as some of you have already sussed out: I went to Israel today.

Sorry, I couldn’t say that until I got out of my last major islamic country (that being Indonesia). Won’t let me in, see?

And before I go off on a mad rant about how ridiculous the policy of most islamic countries who deny entry to people who have an Israeli stamp in their passport is, here’s a quick list of other passport stamps to avoid:

  • Cuba… if you want to get into the US without any hassle, it pays to not have a Cuban stamp in your passport.
  • Nagorno-Karabakh… Where?! Good question! It was part of Azerbaijan until the 90s when it was annexed by neighbouring Armenia. That being the case, a Nagorno-Karabakh stamp in your passport will deny you entry to Azerbaijan.
  • Iraq… rather unhelpful if you’re trying to get into Kuwait.
  • Malawi… bizarrely enough, a Malawi stamp in your passport will present a problem if you want to visit Algeria. Weird eh?

Countries that you would think would be a problem, but bizarrely aren’t:

  • South Korea… you would think a South Korean stamp would prevent later access to North Korea, but no! Come right in!!
  • Taiwan… given the historic animosity between Taiwan and China, you might think it would be a problem to have a Taiwanese stamp in your little travel book, but you’d be wrong: China and Taiwan now actually have a ferry service which runs between the two countries!
  • Pakistan… considering that India and Pakistan have been fighting a cold (and occasionally extremely hot) war for the best part of 63 years now, you might think that a Pakistan stamp would preclude you from entry into India. No so!
  • Kosovo… them Serbs really don’t like them Kosovans do they? But no worries: as long as you don’t try to get into Serbia straight from Kosovo (go to Montenegro first!) you’ll get in with no problems, except you might even get an extra stamp in your passport: one over the top of your Kosovo stamp saying “Annulled”.
Annulled Kosovo Stamp
My Annulled Kosovo Stamp. Hilarious!

Actually, the rant can wait, for now I’m happy just to tell you how I got in and out of Israel without any of the Muslim countries I plan to enter being any the wiser. Woohahaha!

So I was in Amman, the capital of Jordan.  I knew that even though I could ask the Israel border guards (very nicely) not to stamp my passport, the exit stamp from Jordan or Eygpt would always give me away.  There is just one way of getting in and out of Israel overland without leaving a trace: and that’s to enter over the Allenby Bridge just north of the Dead Sea.

You see, the Jordanians still claim sovereignty over the West Bank: they won’t stamp you out at the Allenby Bridge as they don’t consider you to have left their country!  A bit of a weird set up, but there you go!

So it was a short ride on a coach to the ‘border’ and soon enough I was being shepherded on a shuttle bus over to the Israeli side of things.  That is the room with the Israeli guards in the Palestinian Authority not stamping me into what Jordan regards as part of Jordan.

And here’s me thinking that the plot of Lost is pretty complicated.

I crossed over with an American girl. Looking a lot like a great big hippy who was travelling with nothing more than a camera (I left my backpack in Amman), I guess it could have got a ton of stick when crossing the border – especially since I was asking for my passport not to be stamped.

But hurrah for ethnic profiling! (Oh don’t be like that, the last time a scouser blew something up it was a big balloon at the 1954 World Fair) I was stamped in (on a separate piece of paper) and ushered through customs without so much as a sideways glance.

The American girl wasn’t as lucky – they took her off to a side-room and gave her the verbal interrogation procedure I’ve heard so much about. The funny thing was that I had all the things I wanted to say in my head from the many times I’ve been grilled by the border Vogons when I’ve entered Australia.

In the end, they allowed her in and I jumped on the bus to Jerusalem, the Ground Zero of those three peaceful religions that like nothing more than to con, corrupt, enslave or kill as many of their fellow beings as humanly possible.  Now I’m no expert on deities, but I’m pretty sure if I was a huge super-human beardy man with big glowy eyes from beyond the stars, capable of creating the entire universe in a week, Jerusalem is not where I would choose to get my groove on.

It would be a bit like Doctor Who having a box that can go anywhere in time and space and yet spending most of his time in 21st century Croydon. Madness!

Oh, hang on…

I mean there’s a nice old section with the market an’ all, but it’s nothing on Rome.

The bus went past the checkpoint that marked the ‘security fence’ and in doing so crossed over into the Israeli bit of Israel (although the bit I just left is run by Israelis too).  So now I could tick Israel and Palestine off my list.  If this had been 2009, I would have hurried back to Jordan as quickly as I could, but this year I’m taking it easy, collecting stories and learning a little more about the places I visit; so I set off to explore the old city.

The old city is cut into quarters between the Screaming Rug Butters, the Noncy Christ Fanciers, the Wacky Hatted Heebie-Jeebies and the Quite Frankly Miscellaneous.  Not really my kind of town, but the winding stone walkways are quite charming and there’s a nice vibe around the place – I wasn’t as on edge as I thought I would be. Unlike Nicosia, there is a free flow of people around the city, something that I hope stays in place even if and when Palestine is given self-determination.

I made my way to the Wailing Wall as I heard it’s a groovy place to watch people doing mad stuff.  I wasn’t wrong: there were all these people dressed up as Abraham Lincoln stuffing little messages into the wall, much in the manner of a small child posting a letter to Santa.  I imagined them all scribbling down their little prayers asking for Nintendo Wiis and red liquorice, thinking that the neater their handwriting the more Santa God would think they have been a good little boy decent grown man and give them a stocking full of yummy chocolate save their grandmother from cancer.

My mind then shimmied over to the idea that they were praying for world peace, but that annoyed me to: we could have world peace if these loonies would stop doing this sort of crazy stuff like any of it actually mattered.  I’m sorry – but they’re like people who smoke; they make children believe that this sort of behaviour is respectable, or, even worse, normal.

I turned to go when an Lubavitch Jew greeted me with a handshake and a warm smile. He wanted to know where I was from in his oddly-twanged American accent, when I told him Liverpool he said no way – he was from Manchester. There’s a Manchester in America? I thought. Ah, but hang on, I’ve met Pikey kids born and bred in Liverpool who sound Irish, so why not? I asked him if he knew Rabbi YY and he did a double-take: of course I know him! Are you Jewish?

I flashed a cheeky grin, nah: I’m just well travelled.  He was from Manchester in the UK.  We had a good old natter there, me and Dan, my new friend with the curly sideburns.  If I needed a place to stay the night, there was a guy he knew who’d be willing to take me in.  I thanked him for his generosity and went on my way.

I didn’t get very far before I came upon a strange sight: what looked like a jumble sale set up on the square. But this was noordinary jumble sale! The trestle tables, instead of being piled high with broken boardgames  and old Beano annuals, were piled high with brown books and semi-automatic weaponry.

I asked a young girl in uniform what was happening. She told me that it was a falling out ceremony for the new Israeli Defence Force “recruits” (by that I assumed she meant “conscripts”) – and the books weren’t unwanted Encyclopaedia Britannicas; they were Bibles. Oh God: they were giving these young whippersnappers a deadly weapon used to kill more people than smallpox… AND a gun!

I made a beeline for the bus-stop back to Jordan, picking up a sneaky falafel on the way. But, alas: the last bus left at some ridiculously early hour of the afternoon… I would be stuck in Jerusalem for the night, with no luggage and no coat.  Oh well.  I turned back to the old town and sought out a backpackers to lay my weary head for the night.  Well, somewhere I could lay my weary head after a night out on the sauce I mean.

I checked into a little place in the mad maze of the old town and got chatting with the ten-year old Arab kid who seemed to be running the place on behalf of his dad.  He showed me my dorm and gave me a key. Then he pulled a knife on me and held it to my throat.

No, really.

Then he cracked up laughing.  I suppose this is what passes for a giggle in the Middle East.  I had to admit, it was funnier than Russell Brand, but that’s only because Russell Brand isn’t funny.  I considered staying somewhere else for the night, somewhere I didn’t have to worry about a ten year old kid slashing my throat in the night, but it was the cheapest place in town, so I guess you just have to take the rough with the smooth.

I headed out into the night as the old town was packing up for bed.  Good Arabs and curly sided Jews have to be up at the crack of dawn to go wake up the divine creator with some muttered platitudes, but I don’t, so I escaped to the bright lights of the new town.

The night progressed, as they often do, with a little social lubrication and a lot of laughs. I took up position a nearby bar, met people from the four corners of the planet, swapped war stories and chewed the fat.

But not the animal fat, that wouldn’t be kosher 😉


I can’t go to Israel and hide the fact for almost a year without sounding off about the situation. If you like, you can skip this bit and head off to the next blog:

You still here? Right then, just let me roll up my sleeves and I’ll begin…

I am sick and tired of the vitriol and hatred that is levelled against Israel. Not by the usual suspects of right-wing wingnuts or muslim True Believers™, I don’t expect anything less from that lot: I’m talking about the wishy-washy pinko liberal types (the ones I’m more likely to consort with) who jump on the bandwagon and decry the actual concept of Israel.

Now I’m not talking here about the government of Israel, which is responsible for some incredibly dumb decisions (usually wrought by the ultra conversative True Believers™ on their side of the fight), I’m talking about Israel itself: the tacit conceit that Israel shouldn’t exist.

But unlike the gods that cause all the trouble in the first place, Israel does actually exist. Whether or not you want to accept that fact is up to you, but it does and it’s not going away.  If you think it shouldn’t exist, I would point you towards just some of the inventions and discoveries that Israel has given the world in the sixty years since its creation:

  • Solar water heating
  • The Epilator
  • The discovery of Ubiquitin (which led to the Nobel Prize for Chemistry)
  • The Prediction of Quarks
  • Formulation of Black Holes Entropy
  • Copaxone Immunomodulator (a drug for treating multiple sclerosis)
  • Interferon Proteins
  • The “Pillcam” (for videoing your gizzards)
  • The explanation of irrational human economic choices
  • Electricity conducting DNA
  • The DNA computing machine system
  • The USB Flash Drive
  • The Quicktionary Electronic Dictionary
  • The Laser Keyboard
  • ICQ (used in instant messaging software)
  • Drip Irrigation System
  • Cherry Tomatoes
  • The Super Iron Battery
  • The Energy Tower
  • Wall Radar (lets you see through walls! Cool!!)
  • Artificial Gills

There’s more*, but these are the ones I like.

Now I know this is going to generate some catcalls of lack of research/bias/racism/islamophobia but I’m going to just seamlessly shepherd you towards the notable inventions and scientific discoveries made in the last 60 years by some of Israel’s neighbours. No, actually, I’m not: go do your own research.

But the idea of ‘wiping Israel off the map’ is something that I hear banded around all over the Middle East, and one that seems to have gained some kind of tacit acceptance by otherwise intelligent and sensible human beings in the West: as if the crimes of the Israeli government somehow outweigh the country’s right to exist.

Well they don’t.  The world needs Israel as much as the Jews need – and I would say deserve – a homeland.  Why do I think they deserve it? Because of some stupid prophesy from the Bible? No. Because of the holocaust? Not even that.

I think the Jews deserve Israel because of the stunning contribution that the Jews have made to the modern world.  We’re talking Einstein, Freud, Spielberg and Marx (Groucho) here people!  In fact, since we’re already talking about Nobel Laureates, here’s some more stats for you to digest:

  • Since 1901, 168 Jews have won a Nobel Prize.
  • Of them, 123 have won one of the three science awards.
  • There are 13.4 million Jews in the world today.

Simple maths tells me that for every 110,000 Jews over a hundred year period there will be at least one scientific prize winner (they’d be one in every 80,000 if we included all the prizes).

Yes, I understand the issues with Palestine and Israel – I get it okay? All I’m saying is that Israel has much a ‘right to exist’ as Australia, New Zealand or the USA.  If you disagree, then by all means start lobbying all the colonists who ‘weren’t there first’ and treated the natives like second class citizens (or worse): go tell those dastardly Europeans to leave Australia to the Aboriginals, New Zealand to the Maori, the US to the Native Americas, Mexico to the Mayans, The Caribbean to the Caribs**, Peru for the Incas**… the list goes on.

What Israel has going against it is timing: if they had colonised the place and ‘subjugated the natives’ just fifty years earlier, nobody would have batted an eyelid. In 1898, the scramble for Africa was still in full swing, there were no Arab states (a difficult thing to get your head around these days, but the notion of statehood is a pretty modern one) and, let’s face it, nobody would have given a toss.

What Israel has going for it is the people who hate it the most (ie. every Islamic state in the world) are also some of the poorest, most disenfranchised, most wretched people in the world living in some of the most dystopian states on the planet.  And while their tyrannical governments can keep attention away from their own shortcomings (of which there are many) by using rhetoric against Israel that wouldn’t sound out of place at a Nuremberg rally, they will always have a scapegoat for their own crimes.

But don’t let them distract you. Hate the government, not the people: don’t let your disdain for the policies of Nutty-Yahoo and his cronies segue into tacit anti-Semitism.  Statistically, the Jewish race have given you more to improve your life than any group on the planet: in short, they don’t deserve it (not that any group of people ‘deserves’ prejudice).

But look on the bright side: while there will never be a true brotherhood of Islam (just look at the in-fighting in Iraq or Pakistan, never mind across borders), Israel is ‘safe’.  In fact – the Muslim would might have a bit of a Catch-22 thing going on here…

The only way that Arab countries could hope to destroy Israel (barring nuclear weapons) is by working together to force the Jews out of the region. But the only way they are ever going to work together is if they undergo some kind of enlightenment. But then, as a consequence of said enlightenment, they may well find themselves accepting Israel’s right to exist and so refrain from destroying it.

It’s a funny old world innit?

* Mostly weapons (sadly), but that wouldn’t be great for my argument would it?!
** Well, that is if we hadn’t already wiped them all out.

Graham Hughes

Graham Hughes is a British adventurer, presenter, filmmaker and author. He is the only person to have travelled to every country in the world without flying. From 2014 to 2017 he lived off-grid on a private island that he won in a game show, before returning to the UK to campaign for a better future for the generations to come.

This Post Has 9 Comments

  1. Leo

    I did nothin’ either. Nope, not me.

  2. judybear

    If you add nobel peace prize (not just science) you will find more middle easterners – an very fine Iranian woman got the nobel peace prize a couple of years ago.

    people can co-exist. I think your travels demonstrate the level kinship between people (rather like a dysfunctional grouchy family) it seems to me that it is the governments who make a mess of it, sometimes even those countries with the best of intentions.

  3. gavinmac

    Interesting. Did any of the subsequent Arab passport-stampers comb through your passport looking for evidence of a trip to Israel and/or ask you directly if you had been there?

    1. Graham

      In Syria and Lebanon they did, nobody else seemed to give a hoot; although I never got in anywhere in the Middle East without them flicking through every single page of my passport: if there was an Israeli stamp in there they would have noticed and I’d be stuffed.

      There are stories of backpackers being knocked back from Syria for having stuff about Israel circled in their Middle East Lonely Planet.

  4. segacs

    Found you via Lonely Planet’s link. Been enjoying reading your mad dash around the world – six days in a Congolese jail, yikes! – and I find your writing utterly engrossing. I love the way you relate geopolitics to pop culture and yet somehow still manage to make it all about the beer. 🙂

    Just felt the need to comment on this entry, to say: Good on ya for standing up and loudly proclaiming Israel’s right to exist in the face of all the idiots – some well-meaning, some not so much – who would deny this fact. Israel is an amazing country and it’s too bad you didn’t really have time to see much of it. I hope you’ll get back there one day.

    But, even though I’ve heard the Nobel Prize and the inventions argument frequently (it’s a Hasbara favourite), I take issue with it a bit. For one thing, the notion that a people’s right to exist depends on their contributions to science and technology is a bit bizarre. People have the right to exist because they have the right to exist. There’s no qualifier to that statement, or at least they shouldn’t be, and Israel’s legitimacy wouldn’t be any less if its citizens had never won a single prize or invented a single imaging technology. The world would be poorer for it, sure, but that’s unrelated IMHO.

    Ssecondly, your comparison to the Maori or the Australian Aboriginals is a bit backwards. Israel didn’t come in and colonise land belonging to the indigenous people; Israel *is* the indigenous people. Jews have been living in Israel since long before anyone else. Israel’s creation in 1948 was a bit as if First Nations tribes in the United States were to get political backing, build infrastructure, create a fledgling military, declare statehood, get promptly attacked by the US military, and win. Not just once, but again and again for over sixty years.

    I’m not discounting the serious plight of the Palestinians. I’m just suggesting that it may be a bit more complicated than you would like to believe.

    Though your catch-22 analogy ain’t bad. (Not sure how well it applies to crazies, mind you. Iran is worrisome.)

    1. Graham

      Good points. You’re totally correct that a people’s right to exist by no means depends on their contribution to science (or even footy), the point I was trying to make (probably quite badly!) is that the world would be poorer without Israel.

      If you take away the historic reasoning behind the state (which I was trying to ignore as it only serves to inflame passions), you’d still be left with the here and now fact that Jews have contributed (and continue to contribute) way way more than their fair share towards the advancement of our species as a whole. I was just trying to put their achievements into perceptive. In hindsight, maybe I should have picked on Tibetan monks instead, but the Arabs are the ones who want to push Israel into the sea.

      As for the Maori & Aboriginal statement, I understand your argument, but those who don’t think Israel should exist in the first place do not see Jews as the indigenous people… so this is an argument from the Devil’s Advocate view of: what if a bunch of Europeans just rucked up in a place and declared that they owned it with no foundation for their claims? That being the case, my analogy with the US/Canada/NZ/Oz etc is quite apt as you can’t damn one without damning the other.

      Finally, as for Palestine, I hardly mentioned it on purpose since it would take me months to write a blog entry that covered everything I wanted to say. I met a Palestinian atheist in Turkey last year. He had the only workable solution!!

      1. segacs

        Thanks for the reply.

        I have nothing to add to that – except that as a Canadian Jewish atheist, I’d be very worried if a country’s right to exist depended on its contributions to international football. Manifest destiny, anyone?


  5. mor

    There is no country called “Palestine”…

  6. Sian

    Hi, great adventure and fascinating account. I attempted a similar, small-scale quest in 2010 to get as far round the world as I could (starting in the UK) without taking a flight, but got stuck in Cuba – I arrived by sailboat but could only leave by plane 🙁

    I hopped around the Caribbean a little and eventually found Dominica and decided to stay here and live. Dominica is home to the last of the Caribs you mention in this post as being wiped out. It’s not strictly true, they continue to live as a modernised tribe in an area on the east coast of Dominica called the Carib/Kalinago Territory. Maybe you visited it while you were in Dominica… I will find out as I read on.

    Anyway, I like your writing style and unique perspective and am going to try and read all your posts! Call it an education. Many thanks

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