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Diary from the West Bank
The Rev. Marthame Sanders helps to lead an Ash Wednesday service in Zababdeh in the West Bank.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Gayle White - Staff
Saturday, August 17, 2002

Elizabeth Sanders teaches an English class.
In the West Bank village of ZABABDEH, the REV. MARTHAME SANDERS and his wife, ELIZABETH, live a life of olive harvests and basketball games, classrooms and worship services.
But for the ATLANTA NATIVE and his wife, those activities are often OVERSHADOWED by Israeli OCCUPATION and Palestinian TERRORISM.
When they arrived in Zababdeh in 2000, the couple started a DIARY. Here are SNAPSHOTS of their life --- IN THEIR OWN WORDS.

As a boy, Marthame, 32, felt called to explore Christianity in the land of its birth. As a minister in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), he followed the call. He and Elizabeth, 29, a Texas native, teach at a Roman Catholic school that draws its 750 students from several villages. He teaches religion; she teaches English.

Both work with various ecumenical projects. They've attended Jewish Sabbath dinners and visited Muslim neighbors. Mostly they've supported fellow Christians who feel outnumbered and overlooked.

Zababdeh is exceptional in a region dominated by fighting between Muslims and Jews. About 2,000 of its 3,000 citizens are Christian.

It's easy to feel hopeless with no peace in sight. Since the time of the Psalms and Job, Elizabeth said, believers have cried out to ask God how long they must suffer. But, Marthame said, he and Elizabeth find God in "the fact that people still worship in the midst of this."

The couple's diary runs through June, when they returned to the United States for a visit. They'll be heading back to the West Bank this month.

--- Gayle White

SEPT. 13, 2000
One of the struggles for us here is fighting homesickness. Despite the warmth and welcome of the village, life here for us can be very lonely. . . . But there's nothing like a little jolt of Americana to kick those blues --- Coca-Cola, Snickers. . . . And there's nothing that quite brings a tear to your eye like watching Iggy Pop play "No Fun" live in Warsaw.

OCT. 5, 2000
We have heard distressing reports from friends in Jerusalem, Nazareth, Ramallah and Gaza. . . . Peace is needed so badly here, and yet the people feel so abandoned by the rest of the world.

OCT. 8, 2000
Following church today, the Catholics met up with the Orthodox [Christians] for a protest demonstration through town. . . . It is clear that frustration with the conflict is growing as the death toll rises.

OCT. 22, 2000
Ironic that we're picking olives, the symbol of peace, as both sides have accused the other of a "Declaration of War."

OCT. 25, 2000
We hear word of fuller West Bank closures, as the Israeli military has surrounded major population centers. . . . We and people here are all aware that Zababdeh relies on transportation with other West Bank towns and Israel for all of its water, electricity and much food. There's an Israeli military training camp at the edge of town . . . and ever since we arrived, sometimes we have seen soldiers run and hear their guns go off as they train in the hills. Some days we hear sonic booms of Israeli planes flying overhead. It shakes the walls and the windows and makes you think the earth is collapsing --- definitely disrupting during class.

NOV. 29, 2000
The airplanes continue to fly overhead constantly during the day. During daylight, sonic booms come nine or 10 times, shaking the windows, sometimes surprising us so we jump or drop the chalk as we teach, and generally giving the impression that the sky is falling and the earth is collapsing. But late at night, the town is peaceful and the stars are beautiful.

A scene in nearby Jenin.
DEC. 21, 2000
As a visible sign of hope and faith in spite of tragedy, it is even more important this year for Christians to affirm the coming of the Prince of Peace. With the generous help of Roswell Presbyterian Church, the school was able to throw a Christmas party for the small children today.

FEB. 14, 2001

Happy Valentine's Day --- a bit difficult to swallow when news comes of Israeli assassinations and Palestinian terrorism. More like a day for broken hearts. . . .But hope always resides, and our work moves forward.

AUG. 9, 2001
Days here get stranger and more difficult. . . . Word came of an explosion in Jerusalem. . . . We learned the truth of what had happened --- the suicide bomber entered the pizza restaurant and killed 14 people in addition to himself, and injured between 80 and 90 others. Our friend who carried the news to us kept shaking his head, saying, "Haram" --- that is, totally contrary to the law and will of God.

SEPT. 11, 2001
Tank and gun battles raged last night, and the teachers and students from Jenin and Qabatiya stayed home today. . . . Late in the day, Elizabeth's mother called and told us to turn on the TV. We watched in stunned horror as both of the World Trade Center towers collapsed before our eyes. It felt like the world was melting underneath us. . . . But to see some Palestinians celebrating in the streets was particularly disheartening to us. . . . Many friends and neighbors came by to bring condolences and to express their own embarrassment at these scenes. . . . We fell asleep to the deep booms of tank fire hitting Jenin just over the valley.

SEPT. 13, 2001
. . . Fear for the future is clearly on everyone's mind --- as is "What will America do now?"

SEPT. 22, 2001
. . . One of the Muslim teachers from the school brought her mother over for a visit. . . . We talked to her about a number of issues --- war, of course, is on everyone's lips. She, like us, yearns for peace. She, like us, is ashamed of those who use their religion to perpetrate injustices and horror upon others.

DEC. 25, 2001
Christmas morning also means worship. We shared in fellowship and Communion with the Anglican church, the smallest of Zababdeh's Christian communities, but faithful and committed.

FEB. 5, 2002
Our shepherd friend came by tonight for one of his periodic visits, bringing olives as well as fresh wild mushrooms picked from the hills. . . . He also brought the latest news --- a shooting in Jenin. Soldiers, we assumed, but no. A man from Qabatiya was killed by three men in some kind of altercation. . . . What's remarkable about this is how unremarkable such an event would be in the U.S., with daily murders throughout the country. But here, in a land where hundreds (becoming thousands) have been killed both in and out of combat, a murder is a rarity.

Marthame and Elizabeth Sanders dress in traditional clothing during a dinner with Bedouins in Syria.
MARCH 2, 2002
. . . Attacks at checkpoints are on the rise, and the soldiers, many of them scared 18-year-old kids, are not taking many chances. But, beyond the call of security, people have also been shot, detained, beaten without reason, fearing for their lives. . . . Our pleasant evening was topped off by news of another suicide attack in Israel. More casualties, more deaths, more crippling of this place.

MARCH 6, 2002
Deja vu --- not a pleasant sensation around these parts. We closed school an hour and a half early today. Israeli tanks had apparently come to the edge of Tubas, so we were anxious to get our many Tubas students and teachers back home to their families. . . . Several of the younger students were weeping and shaking on the drive home.

MARCH 9, 2002
All our students were able to come to school today! Praise God.

MARCH 21, 2002
The Mother's Day party went ahead as planned. . . . There were speeches, folk dancing, patriotic songs, songs about love. . . . There was a nationalist sketch in the middle of it, a mother wailing over her dead son. . . . The "dead" boy was wrapped in the Palestinian flag. All in all, a fairly accurate representation of a "martyr's" funeral. It was, quite frankly, hard for us to watch. . . .

MARCH 25, 2002
This morning, for some absurd reason, we woke up and watched the Oscars --- live on MBC Arabic television.

MARCH 31, 2002
The media attention is focused on Arafat's compound while the Israeli army is conducting house-to-house searches and rounding up all men between the ages of 15 and 45 for questioning, detainment, arrest. . . . Turning off the TV becomes, at the same time, both impossible and necessary. More suicide bombings have merely confirmed that. A day of Resurrection surrounded by mortality. . . .Happy Easter.

APRIL 2, 2002
. . . We learned that a 20-year-old man from Zababdeh had just been killed as he opened fire at a checkpoint near Jenin. Zababdeh's first "martyr." The entire village turned out for the funeral. . . . We smiled weakly at the rainbow appearing over the fields near our home. . . .

APRIL 16, 2002
There was some exchange of gunfire in the distance, but we're still unable to tell whose guns are whose. But there was no mistaking the firing of the tank. . . .The electricity cut out at the exact same moment. . . . Everyone's trying to guess what'll happen next, and many are assuming that the Israelis will eventually do house-to-house searches in Zababdeh. . . . The now steady and familiar sound of F-16s overhead adds to the paranoia and fear, which just seems to feed itself.

APRIL 29, 2002
At assembly this morning, a student showed Marthame a huge shell, which he found near his home in Jenin. . . . It is a little disconcerting to be so close to such things, especially as kids parade them about. On the lighter side, a round of mabrouk (congratulations) was in order for one of the school's English teachers, who got married this weekend. In better times, the school's teachers would have gone to nearby Tubas for the party, and the newlyweds would distribute sweets at school upon return. But there was no party and there were no sweets.

MAY 5, 2002
In the Latin community, Easter is the day for baptisms, a potent symbol of the Resurrection. Twenty-one children were baptized today, one after another, following the Mass. . . . [Orthodox Christians celebrated Easter on May 5 this year. In Zababdeh, the churches observe the Latin date for Christmas and the Orthodox date for Easter, as a compromise that promotes unity.]

MAY 8, 2002
Late last night there was a suicide bombing in Israel --- 16 killed, including the bomber. . . . The feeling of horror is accompanied by the feeling of dread, not knowing what or where the Israeli response will be. . . .

MAY 14, 2002
The biggest news to reach the school today was the new copy machine. . . .

JUNE 19, 2002

We spent 25 hours in airplanes and airports . . . until we finally arrived in Lubbock, Texas, Elizabeth's hometown. . . . The news from "back home" isn't good --- several more suicide bombings --- but the news is rarely good these days. 
> Marthame Sanders, 32, was born and raised in Atlanta, where his family attends First Presbyterian Church. He received his B.A. in American history from Yale College, where he met his wife, Elizabeth, and his Master of Divinity from the Divinity School of the University of Chicago. He is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). His call to ministry in the Middle East began taking shape with a denominational mission trip to Ramallah in 1993.
> Elizabeth Sanders, 29, is a native Texan from Lubbock and a graduate of Yale College with a B.A. in environmental biology. She also has a master's in geography and environmental studies from Northeastern Illinois University.
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