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The crack of a gunshot rang out, then another. Both came from across the valley where I was picking olives with Palestinian farmers, one of 30 British volunteers working in small groups as protective presence. The reason for the shot? The constant aggression from Israeli occupiers endured by the West Bank (Palestinian occupied territory) peaks during the harvest, the high point of the year for Palestinians. I’ve volunteered before and written blogs about aspects of the experience here and here (for other posts, enter Palestine in the search box on my home page). But this year proved to be very different.


When I unpacked my bag the other day, wafts of za’atar enveloped me. No surprise really, as that’s the ubiquitous herbal mix (wild thyme, sesame, sumac & salt) sprinkled by Palestinians on tomatoes or used as a dip with flat-bread and unctuous green olive-oil. When cooking myself it was just too tempting to dip into a packet to flavour anything vegetal. Here’s a huge basin of it…

Palestinian za'atar in market


Some interesting comparisons crop up after Yotam Ottolenghi‘s acclaimed book Jerusalem won the British Guild of Foodwriters’ best cookbook 2013 at a buzzy ceremony in London last night. The Israeli cook and his Palestinian business partner, Sami Tamimi, scooped the prestigious award although with little money in it (£500 I think) it’s all about the glory and stamp of peer approval.


Sometimes I get the feeling I’m living backwards. When everyone else is away by the sea, up a mountain or down a canyon, here I am in London. Then when they’re all back & a few parties grind into gear, I’m away. You can’t win. But what doesn’t change, whatever the season, is London cultural life. And now with the deepening recession (who said green shoots?) it seems to have got even better. Just today statistics revealed that theatre attendance is well up on last year, and then it was up on the year before. And that’s not counting the rest – art, cinema and grass-roots.