Journal in the Land of the Holy One
August, 2003
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Fellow international Birzeit students entering the Palestinian Authority Compound, still destroyed after last year's Israeli incursion in Ramallah.
The sounds of Zababdeh:
3:00 AM, Rooster (3 sec.)
3:00 AM, Dogs (5 sec.)
4:45 AM, Muslim prayer (40 sec.)
6:00 AM, Church bells (40 sec.)
7:30 AM, National Anthem (40 sec.)
Palestinians, Israelis, and internationals are building a Peace Center on the Site of the Shawamreh Family home, which has been demolished four times.

Friday, 8/1/03:  A hot summer day in Palestine (theme music courtesy of Armstrong and Fitzgerald - 5 sec.).  While Elizabeth did some computer work at home, Marthame and Fr. Firas went up to the Galilee - Fr. Firas to meet with the new Melkite bishop, Marthame to Shefa'amer to finish up the marking for last semester's exams in Ibillin.  At the Jalame checkpoint, they were stopped and questioned for a while, particularly because of Fr. Firas' laissez passer which the Vatican issues to its priests so that they can get pass through such checkpoints with ease.  So much for that.  On the way back, they were stopped again.  Though they had passed through this checkpoint on the way out, the laissez passer again raised suspicions.  "Did you enter Israel on this passport?"  "Yes."  A long delay as phone calls were made.  "What country are you from?"  "Zababdeh."  Another long delay.  "Have a nice day."  We arrived back in Zababdeh to welcome the group of our fellow Birzeit students.  They are in Jenin with a program set up by the students and staff at the Arab-American University.  The meeting was a forum on Christians in Palestine.  Fr. Thomas hosted at the Greek Orthodox Church, and Fr. Firas represented the Melkites.  Fr. Aktham was unavailable because of other activities, so the Vice-Principal of the School represented the Latins.  And as has been the case for the past few years, there wasn't a priest available to represent the Anglicans.  The discussion mainly focused on present relations between Christians and Muslims, as well as some history lessons on the Christian presence - particularly under Ottoman rule.  There was general agreement that the situation for Christians improved with the arrival of the British as well as under Jordanian rule in the West Bank, but under Israeli rule/Occupation the situation has been unbearable for Christians and Muslims alike.  We retired as a group to the Latin Convent for dinner.  It's exciting to see the AAUJ students taking on the hosting role that they first began exploring with the American group that came in February.  Palestinians are well known for their hospitality - it has always seemed a natural fit to us.

Saturday, 8/2/03:  Marthame took care of some errands before making his way back to Jerusalem - he's preaching tomorrow, and a Sunday morning taxi wouldn't do the trick.  The taxi arrived at the Hamra checkpoint, one of the young men getting turned back - it always seems that there must be one, and usually the one with the most likely reason to get through.  He walked around the checkpoint, meeting up with the taxi on the other side (which waited in the shade with the hood up in case the army passed by).  The young man was convinced that the soldiers had seen him, but just didn't want to be bothered.  The rest of the trip was "status quo."  In the morning, Elizabeth caught up on more work at home before joining the Birzeit group in Jenin. They'd spent the morning in Jenin Camp, visiting families who had been affected (by being injured, losing a loved one, losing their home, etc.) during the Israeli incursion in Spring 2002.  Elizabeth found the group after their visits at lunch in one of Jenin's nicer watering holes, the very large and air-conditioned Al-Aqsa Restaurant. From there, a small bus took us on round-about dirt paths to Jalame, a town on the Green Line.  One of the village elders came to speak to us and show us the foundations of the "separation wall" being built between Israel and the Palestinian Territories. Only, it's not really being built between Israel and the territories. Instead of following the Green Line, it's passing deep into the West Bank, confiscating villagers' land as it goes. (We recently heard a lecture from The Palestinian Environmental NGOs Network about the environmental, agricultural, and social costs of the proposed wall route.)  Our guide pointed to where farmland had been destroyed and olive trees had been recently uprooted to make way for the wall.  Rolls of barbed wire pass across the land, preventing approach to the wall's foundations. Jalame's farmers are no strangers to land confiscation; many still hold title to lands on the other side of the Green Line, in Israel, but forbidden for them to access. And now they face uncompensated loss of their property again. "If they want a wall, fine," he said. "But put it on the border, and don't steal our land to build it." Hot and dusty, our group left Jalame and headed toward the lovely Haddad family complex, between Zababdeh and Jenin. A Christian family whose name literally means "Smith," the Haddads have done well in the metals business, such that their compound has five large homes, one for each son and daughter (as well as extensive orchards and gardens).  One of the AAUJ students who has been involved with hosting foreign groups such as ours is a Haddad and her family wanted to invite us all over for a barbecue.  The compound is built at an intersection leading to Jenin, and as such it is frequently bulldozed or (as today) guarded by soldiers.  We were allowed through after some convincing and affirmation by the Haddads that we were indeed only going there (and not on to Jenin).  After a cool drink we strolled around the grounds, spending some time watching and photographing the tanks and soldiers outside the Haddad fence.  After all that, we were ready for some serious eating, with grilled turkey and kibbe (seasoned ground beef) and salad and hummus and finally, the best treat of all, fresh knaffe (a sweet cheese dessert for which Nablus is famous). We returned to Zababdeh sated and sleepy. 

Sunday, 8/3/03:  Elizabeth worshipped at the Latin Church of the Visitation, at the end of which it was announced that Sister Nadia was moving to another parish.  A representative of the church council presented her with an icon and Jesus and Mary as a farewell gift. We're fond of all the Rosary Sisters, and we'll miss Sister Nadia very much. Still no one knows where she'll go, although Sister Isabel suggested it might be Birzeit. If so, we'll be sure to visit her there. After church, Elizabeth caught a shared taxi and made her way back to our home away from home away from home. The ride was very hot and dusty and long.  At Hamra, two of the passengers (who didn't have the special permissions required of Palestinians to move about) got out as we were waiting in line. After an hour or so, it was our car's turn. We all got out of the car and handed in our IDs. After some time checking all the bags and our IDs, we were allowed to go through. Around a bend in the road, we picked up the two who left us before the checkpoint. They told us how they had walked through, one pretending to be very sick. "Where are you going?" asked the soldier. "He's sick - he needs to go to the hospital," said one of the men as the other held his head and stomach. "What? Are you crazy? How will you get there from here?"  "I don't know but we have to go. He's very sick!" The soldier shrugged and waved them through. And we were on our way, arriving at Qalandia without any more stops. From there, Elizabeth passed the checkpoint to Ramallah and a series of shared taxis took her to Star Mountain, where a shower was much appreciated. Marthame, meanwhile, preached at Redeemer Lutheran Church's English-speaking congregation in Jerusalem.  Among the congregation was a visiting delegation of the Christian Peacemaker Teams.  They were headed off on a tour of the Wall led by the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions, and had an extra seat on the bus.  Marthame jumped aboard gratefully though without the camera - that had been left behind with Elizabeth in Zababdeh (we are waiting for copies from the delegation and will put them up on the site as soon as we get them).  The first stop was the village of Mas'ha, where a number of organizations have set up a peace camp in protest of the Wall.  They all echo what we've heard many times - should the Wall be built along the Green Line, there would be much less outcry.  Instead, it is being built to confiscate as much land as possible and to protect as many settlements as possible.  The most likely route of the Wall (as Israeli journalists have discovered) will mean that fifteen settlements will be given up - the other 150, however, will stay and be given room to grow.  Palestinians, meanwhile, will be caged off into densely-populated ghettos, most of their agricultural land outside the Wall.  In Mas'ha, two sections of the Wall will come together - one snakes around to include several Israeli settlements and Palestinian agricultural land on the Israeli "side."  On the other side, a home on the outskirts of Mas'ha is in trouble.  The neighboring settlement of Elkanah runs right alongside their property - thus the Palestinian home will fall in the no-man's land between the Wall and the electrified fence.  The army has promised not to destroy the house and to allow the family to stay.  Twice a day they will be allowed to pass in and out, imprisoned without crime.  Rumors were circulating that today the family's barn would be destroyed, and activists - particularly Israeli Jews - came to chain themselves to the barn.  The contractor promised not to touch it for another month, and the group retired to consider what to do next.  They discussed the possibility of moving their tent to block the path of the Wall, but this was ruled out - far too confrontational.  The goal, instead, was to protect this home, not to provoke confrontation.  For groups that have been much maligned, particularly like the International Solidarity Movement, such deliberations point to a broader portrait.  Meanwhile, the family's water supply was cut several days earlier during the construction further down the hill.  Being here was also a chance to see what the Wall looks like.  In some places its a tall concrete wall - in others, an electrified fence.  On both sides are army patrol roads and ten-foot ditches filled with rolls and rolls of razor wire.  Those who have deeds to agricultural land outside their prison will be allowed in and out twice a day to harvest - only those whose name is on the deeds, that is, and not allowed to bring donkeys or carts with them.  One person hand-harvesting.  Three years of absenteeism and the old Ottoman laws kick in, such that the land becomes property of the State.  We've heard many talks and a great deal of information about the Wall, but it doesn't really sink in until you see it first-hand for yourself just how wrong-headed the whole enterprise is.  From there, it was off to see the cities of Tulkarem and Qalqilya, where the Wall first originated.  Particularly, the situation could more appropriately be described a prison.  High concrete walls, guard towers placed all along.  In order to include nearby settlements on the Israeli "side," Qalqilya has been isolated such that it has one entry gate coming and going.  It is already estimated that one fourth of the city's population has left - voluntary transfer at work.  The situation at Tulkarem is slightly better, but it's hard to imagine what worse would look like.  Marthame got back to Star Mountain, dirty and not a little bit discouraged.

Monday, 8/4/03:  "Did you hear what happened to 'Barbara'?" asked "Karen." "She was standing at Qalandia, sketching the scene in her notebook when the police detained her. She spent 6 hours in a detention facility!" Apparently one of our fellow Birzeit students was suspected of spying at the checkpoint.  Police pulled her aside and took her passport. Lucky for Barbara, she had been there with some women from Machsom-Watch (an Israeli organization which monitors and seeks to prevent human rights violations at checkpoints).  Barbara was able to give her cellphone to them before she was taken away.  Barbara is sure that they were influential in making contacts pressuring for her release.  At the facility, Barbara could hear the police discussing her, proposing that she was working with Hamas, collecting information for terrorist activities. Barbara spoke up in her defense, asserting her innocence.  Astonished that she knew Hebrew, the police turned to questioning her, a process which wore on and on, and which took decidedly harassing turns (you have a boyfriend?  how do you make love to him?). Finally, after pressure from Israeli friends, Barbara was released, assured that no permanent file was created in her name, and that she should not have problems with security because of this event. The assurances were oral, leaving Barbara nervous about future dealings with security (at checkpoints, at the airport, etc).

Tuesday, 8/5/03:  Our student Anis, who is due to go to  North Park, still has no progress on his visa. His flight leaves in five days, his orientation starts in ten, and classes in two weeks.  At this point, his application is in DC ( the final scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark comes to mind).  The Consulate in Jerusalem can do nothing at this point except wait.  Same for Anis, same for us.  The word "helpless" comes to mind.  We also heard this morning that there was a military raid at Mas'ha Peace Camp, and about forty activists were all arrested.  Given the deliberations that Marthame witnessed just two days ago, it seems most likely that the contractor decided it was time to raise the barn and the activists did what they could to protect, but to no avail. 

Wednesday, 8/6/03:  Our good friend and fellow Birzeit "alum" from two years ago, is taking some vacation days from his job in London and visiting Israel and Palestine.  We met up with him in Ramallah, where other friends joined us, including one of the World Council of Churches Ecumenical Accompaniers who lived in Zababdeh last fall. We relaxed at Ziryiab's, a pleasant Arab style restaurant (with great nachos!?). It was great to catch up, to discuss our friend's novel about the region (the first draft of which he recently completed), and to share the latest local jokes.

Thursday, 8/7/03:  Today the Birzeit program had arranged for the foreign students to meet with President Arafat.  First, we went to Fatah party offices to see Hani al-Hasan, the former PA Minister of Interior who is currently in charge of rebuilding Fatah.  After playing a part in decades of conferences, summits, agreements, and accords, none leading to a just and durable peace, he seemed tired and not very hopeful.  He asserted that without a strong "push from Bush" to assure Israeli agreement to the Roadmap, there will be no progress, and in fact, the situation will probably deteriorate rapidly.  His major criticism of the Oslo process (which he never supported as a good plan)  was the lack of explicit mechanisms of accountability.  In contrast, the Camp David Accords between Israel and Egypt stipulated that the US must intervene to redress failure to follow the agreement.  Without these, nothing ensured real progress towards a final solution. Rather, since Oslo began, the number of settlers and the size of their settlements increased twofold, and only 18% of the Occupied Territories came under Palestinian control. For people who expected a viable state in the 1967 borders by 1998, the real results of Oslo were meager and frustrating. Al-Hasan also indicated that he thought Clinton forced the signature between Rabin and Arafat prematurely (with 32 issues - including water rights - unresolved), seemingly for his own political advantage. An interesting meeting, but not very hopeful and showing a lot of strategy on the part of the Palestinian leadership except the status quo negotiation process.  We discovered that there had been a miscommunication somewhere, and Arafat was not expecting to see us. Our group (all cleaned up and on our best behavior) was disappointed, but hopeful maybe we could meet with him another time. Nothing to do but eat Angelo's New York style pizza.  On the way there, Elizabeth bumped into the (extremely talented) art teacher for Zababdeh's Latin school.  She's been taking a course on computer art and design in Ramallah and staying with two of her brothers who have a natural beauty care wholesale business. It was nice to catch up with her and see her brothers' store, and all the products (causing a streak of nostalgia for when Elizabeth worked at Bonne Sante Health Foods in Chicago).  Out on the street, unbeknownst to us, vigilante "justice" was taking place.  A Palestinian suspected of collaborating with the Israelis was gunned down by three masked men.  When we left Angelo's, the fire trucks were busy hosing away the blood.  Once again we remain baffled that this stuff doesn't happen more often in the vacuum that is Palestinian law and order these days.

Friday, 8/8/03:  After a busy morning of sleeping in, we made ourselves useful until the evening, when we met with friends at the local Chinese restaurant (next to the local Mexican restaurant, owned by the same man and sharing kitchens). We'd been here two years ago when we knew that the chef was from China (a friend of ours who'd spent years in China occasionally translated things for him).  The food remains good and as authentic tasting as any little Chinese restaurant in the States.  The creepy red glow has more to do with our camera in low light than the red paper lanterns.  the must was less than authentic - Frank Sinatra, John Denver, and an unidentifiable horrific rock ballad called "Midnight Lady."  Afterwards, we went to Sangria's restaurant for drinks in their pleasant outdoor patio.  We're making sure to sample all of Ramallah's restaurants.

Saturday, 8/9/03:  This morning we went to Jerusalem for a tour of settlements in the Old City led by students at Al-Quds University. Unfortunately, there were a lot of people with us, and the leader had a hard time speaking up, so we didn't learn as much as we'd hoped. We were also an hour late, and missed a great deal as a result.  But we did get a good look at the outsides of residences in the Muslim and Christian Quarters which have been taken over by settlers. In many cases, it's simply a case of squatters taking over other people's homes.  They are then protected by the Israeli government.  One Palestinian man, whose home was confiscated in 1967, tried to buy back his home. He came and presented the correct amount of cash.  "You can't do that," he was told.  "Why not?  Here's the money."  "But you haven't served in the army."  "Well, I'm willing to serve.  Where do I sign up?"  His case went all the way to the Israeli Supreme Court, where it was turned down.  According to the ruling, there are four quarters in Jerusalem - Muslim, Christian, Armenian, and Jewish.  Based on these divisions, the man will be able to live in the Old City accordingly.  However, Jews are subject to the same restrictions, as the Old City settlement policy shows.  We also saw the very poor conditions that some Palestinians live in, some fenced in under settlements, not unlike the Old City of Hebron.  We also walked through the Jewish Quarter, which was extensively restored between 1967 (when Israel took the West Bank, including the Old City and east Jerusalem) and 1983.  The contrast is stark.  We went to an overlook where we could see a few people praying at the Wailing Wall under the Dome of the Rock, glistening in the sun. The noon call to prayer sounded from Jerusalem mosques while we were there; that, and the distant sounds of Jewish prayers below gave an interesting a polyphonic experience (audio - 17 sec.).  After wandering around a bit (and seeing things such as an enormous gold menorah, estimated at $4 million, built according to Biblical standards for the Temple, ready for installation when the Temple is rebuilt), we went back to Ramallah, and ended up at Stones, another one of Ramallah's night spots, to relax with friends. We were deep into a card game when we were told that card playing us not allowed there. Apparently card playing is only allowed in special card and backgammon and billiards places - it has a seedy reputation, and this was a respectable establishment.  No problem - we had fun anyway.

Sunday, 8/10/03:  We got up early and took a series of shared taxis to Qalandia, which as foreigners we passed easily, and then on to Jerusalem for worship at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer.  One of the Christian Peacemaker Team members delivered the sermon, centered around Jesus's admonition to "be angry, but do not sin."  How can we acknowledge our anger and harness it for good? It had a message for everyone in this hurt and angry land.  After church we and a number of the CPTers went for a leisurely lunch later visiting with friends living in the Armenian Quarter (their neighbor is a Dr. Kevorkian - a bit creepy!).  We then met up with a good friend of ours who is a member of Rabbis for Human rights, especially working with the Jahallin Bedouin near the settlement of Ma'ale Adumim.  We don't get to see him nearly often enough, so it was great to catch up. He asked if we wanted to go to the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions (ICAHD) work camp to construct a Peace Center on the site of the Shawamreh Family home which has been demolished four times.  A large group of internationals and Israelis were there, working with Palestinians on the site, which was impressive for only two days of construction.  While there we finally got to meet Jeff Halper, Coordinator of ICAHD and a Professor of Anthropology at Ben Gurion University, and an inspiration for many.  Our Zababdeh student was scheduled to depart today from Amman.  No such luck...

Monday, 8/11/03:  The summer summer semester is winding down, with only this week to go, so we are trying to get the most out of the last few days. After class, we joined our friends and former neighbors for a delicious meal of maqlube ("upside-down") with chicken, potatoes, chickpeas, eggplant, and cauliflower (and of course rice). Afterwards, we relaxed and chatted about Zababdeh (she's from Zababdeh, the aunt of a number of our students), the summer heat, and the political situation.  Elizabeth helped prepare grape leaves (picking off the stems) which later will be used to make waraq dawale (grape leaves stuffed usually with rice and meat).  We also watched the several Arab video stations proliferating.  One had a video by a Dutch group called Outlandish - they've remade a popular Algerian song called, "Aicha" (pronounced aisha, but since the song was in French, it  is spelled with ch), kind of a pleasant innocent love song.  Two of the group's members are Muslims (from Morocco and Pakistan), and the images of women in the video are mostly Muslim, wearing the traditional headscarf, differently representing the titular "Aicha."  One exception is the woman putting her child to bed - a large cross is plainly visible in the child's room.  Somehow, it captures the Middle Eastern essence (audio - 4 sec.). At six o'clock, we joined the rest of our fellow students at Arafat's compound, for our second attempt to see the President.  And this time they were prepared for us.  After we left our bags and cellphones below, and demonstrated that our cameras were cameras, we went upstairs in one of the only buildings that remains standing in the Presidential Compound.  After we were seated around a large round table, the President entered and shook (or kissed) our hands.  He shared with us details of the history of the PLO and various peace initiatives, meetings, treaties that have come and gone over the years. He showed outrage at the destruction of Christian sites (the ancient church in Aboud and the statue of the Virgin Mary that was atop the Holy Family Hospital in Bethlehem). "This is terra santa," he asserted. When asked what he would like to tell Americans, he said, "We are not asking for the moon. We are asking for what has already been agreed."  The fact that a President has an hour and half to meet with a group of seventeen foreign students speaks volumes about the current state of affairs.

Tuesday, 8/12/03:  Two suicide bombings today - one in the Territories, one in Israel.  Hamas has claimed responsibility in response to the four killed recently in Nablus.  And they also claim to be sticking to the cease-fire/truce - they just had to get even.  Their logic is similar to that of the Israeli army - we are in a state of truce, but that doesn't prevent us from engaging in incursions and assassinations.  Hamas is also holding to the truce, but that doesn't prevent them from carrying out retaliatory suicide bombings.  Now it's all clear...

Wednesday, 8/13/03:  Some of the students in our program have been working with the Birzeit student activities committee to prepare an event together at the end of our term. Marthame agreed to transform one of his funnier episodes learning Arabic into a short skit for the event. The story goes like this: Marthame wanted to buy a garbage can, but didn't know the word for it. He assumed that, since people say "put it in the trash (zbaale)," that zbaale meant garbage can. So he went to Charlie's  shop and asked to buy zbaale. Understandably, the shopkeeper was confused and amused.  After describing something plastic to put trash in, the shopkeeper said, "oh, you want plastic bags (kyaas)." "OK, I want kyaas," he replied, assuming that kyaas was garbage can. "Sorry, we don't have any. Go to Bassam's shop. On the way Marthame forgot the word kyaas, so when he got to Bassam's he said, "I want to buy zbaale." "Take as much as you like for free," said a laughing Bassam. Remembering the word kyaas, Marthame asked for those. "tall or short?" "Tall, please." When Bassam showed the plastic bags, Marthame was flustered. "No, I don't want kyaas, I want zbaale itself!" "What?!" "You know, something tall, plastic, black, which you put trash in." Oh, you want a trash can (baramil)! We don't have any. Go to Charlie's."  It's a story that gets lots a laughs when we tell it here, so it was a good bet that it would go over well as a skit. At the last minute, however, our Charlie bagged, so Elizabeth stepped in as Im Charlie (Charlie's mother), with a real falahiyye accent (equivalent of "haawer yeeeew" for "how are you"). We got lots of laughs. There was another skit, singing, violin playing, traditional Palestinian dabke dancing, and finally an open forum to discuss the political situation and students' roles in resisting occupation and building a nation.  We left around four o'clock, and headed into Ramallah, to an appointment with the general manager of Plaza Mall, an enormous enterprise at the edge of town. We were impressed with the extent of the place. Usually not huge fans of malls, we did have to acknowledge that this project is aimed at not only making a profit for investors, but also at building an economic infrastructure for a fledgling nation, bringing wanted services and products, and creating jobs. We also had to appreciate the fact that we could find a variety of cheese and bread unlike most other places. They do carry Israeli products but highlight Palestinian ones with little "Made in Palestine" signs. The whole enterprise is run by Sam Bahour, an Ohio-born Palestinian whom we have gotten to know through his periodic emails.  He does a great job of describing the situation with humor and honesty and without resorting to being shrill - a skill that is needed.  After an interesting discussion, we did a little shopping and headed back to Star Mountain.

Thursday, 8/14/03: Marthame was woken by the telephone ringing.  It was one of our fellow students asking about the status of the Surda closure.  She was in Ramallah with hundreds of Birzeit students who were milling around, unable to find taxis to school - apparently it's closed again today.  We made a few phone calls to see what was happening, and apparently there was some kind of checkpoint, but people were able to walk through.  Marthame checked on-line to see if there was some regional news which would shed light.  The Israeli daily Ha'aretz's headline blared almost ironically: "Israel agrees to ease Palestinian daily conditions"  Clearly.  After taking our final exams, we gathered for a lunch with our fellow students and then piled into taxis.  We had arranged for a tour of the nearby village of Taybeh, the only fully Christian village in the West Bank.  After driving through about fifteen other villages (due to road closures and checkpoints), we arrived at the Latin Convent of Taybeh.  Fr. Ra'ed, a native of Zababdeh, welcomed us.  He told us about the history of the village (which was called Ephraim in the gospels and which welcomed Jesus and the disciples - it has been Christian since that time) before showing us to the "House of Parables."  We have visited it before, but he has added to it such that it can illuminate the stories of the gospels more fully.  This includes everything from the parable of the storehouses to the paralytic being lowered through the roof.  From there, it was off to visit the ruins of Al-Khader, a church which Constantine's mother Helena had built atop a mountain crest in the middle of the village.  No longer a regular place of worship, it is still used by Christians of the village today to give their thanksgiving offerings of a lamb, the meat of which is given to poor families.  It is probably one of the few cases of Christian animal sacrifice today, based on the Jewish Temple sacrifices.  The pools of blood indicated that it in in practice within at least a few days.  Our friend Maria met up with us and took us to the highlight of the tour for many - the Taybeh Beer Brewery.  It is one of a handful of breweries in the Middle East, the only one in the Palestinian Territories.  Since the outbreak of the Intifada, distribution is back down to almost zero - restaurants and liquor stores in Jerusalem, Ramallah, and Bethlehem being the only exceptions.  There is no interest in Israel, and it costs too much to send to Jordan.  Nevertheless, we enjoyed samples of fresh brew before headed back to Birzeit - rumors of Israeli presence in Ramallah turned out not to be true, and we spent our last night together at an Italian restaurant.  In many ways, it's been a good summer.

Friday, 8/15/03:  We left Ramallah in the early afternoon with our Zababdeh friend to go back north.  Being a West Banker, she's not allowed to go out through Qalandia - even though it's now the departure point for all West Bank taxis, only those with Jerusalem permissions can pass (despite the Jerusalem checkpoints further down the road).  We caught the taxi in the Ramallah garage and headed back towards Birzeit.  There was a checkpoint at the outskirts of Birzeit.  After a quick conversation with the soldier, we were turned back.  We then retraced yesterday's path through Taybeh, passing through the villages of Jifna, 'Ayn Siniya, Dura al-Qar', 'Ayn Yabroud, Bittin, Deir Dubwan, Rammun, and then Taybeh.  We arrived at a bulldozed road where the soldier sitting on the other side waves us away.  We got out to plead our case.  We wanted to go from West to East, across the intersection.  Palestinian taxis were crossing from North, South, and East, but we were coming from the West.  The soldier helpfully argued that we could simply get out of the taxi and walk across.  We turned back, passing back through Taybeh, Deir Jarir, and Kufr Malik, before getting back to the same intersection - this time from the North.  The same soldiers were there and didn't even stop to glance at the taxi.  An hour detour for that - you begin to wonder what this is all about.  We were clearly able to get around, and didn't even have to drive through olive groves or ditches to do so.  It was just about getting across at that point.  What was yesterday's headline?  "Israel agrees to ease Palestinian daily conditions."  We have yet to see it.  We arrived at the Hamra checkpoint, taking our place in line.  A taxi was pulled over to the side, the driver waving to Marthame.  We know him, but didn't know why he was waving.  then Sister Elba, one of Zababdeh's Rosary Sisters, stuck her head out.  Marthame walked up, the soldiers asking him what he was doing.  Marthame ignored them, greeting the folks in the Zababdeh-bound taxi.  Apparently Sister Elba was not being let through because she had an Israeli ID (she's from the Galilee).  Normally, religious orders are granted special permission to pass, but sometimes you find this stubbornness.  Fr. Aktham had already called the DCO and they promised to resolve the situation.  Marthame decided to wait behind, since Fr. Aktham was going to Mass and would be unavailable.  The soldiers continued to try and send her away (and Marthame as well), but they persisted until finally the DCO called.  Do we have to get UN intervention for a nun to cross a checkpoint?  It feels like it.  We got back to Zababdeh and visited with friends in the cool evening air. 924

Saturday, 8/16/03:  We spent a day in Zababdeh, running errands and trying to stay cool.  The most important event today was the arrival of the new desktop computer on which we'll do the editing of our film. Yay!

Sunday, 8/17/03:  This morning we worshiped at the Latin Church, happy to be with friendly familiar faces. Today the new deacon, Deacon Imad, preached for his first time.  He gave a moving sermon about the eucharist, and how we should not be afraid to partake.  Many people, it seems, forego the feast because they feel unworthy and not pure enough; rather than forego, said Deacon Imad, we should partake of the eucharist, and the joy of that offers us strength and transformation to face our weaknesses and sins. After worship, we caught a shared taxi south.  At the first (and now only major) checkpoint between Zababdeh and Qalandia checkpoint (the new transportation center of the West Bank), we stopped and waited. When our turn came, we all turned in our IDs.  One of the soldiers, a young man with curly blondish hair, did a double take at our American passports and said, in a New York accent, "So, you're Americans? What are you doing here??" "What are you doing here?" we asked back.  "Yeah.  It's a helluva place to be," he said, handing back our passports.  One of the other riders was traveling to Ramallah to see a doctor for a possible kidney stone.  "Why does she want to go to Ramallah?"  "To see a doctor; there's a note from the hospital." "You know what, I'll let her go - because of you," he said, looking at us.  We thought we would be on our way, but the soldier took a hard look at our driver's ID.  "Ask him where he lives." Marthame complied. With a vague sweep of the hand, the driver said "Over there."  The soldier went back to talk with another soldier, and our driver let out a heavy sigh.  After a moment, the American soldier returned and said, "I'm sorry, but your driver has a fake ID. The rest of you are fine, but he can't go through. You'll have to find another taxi."  Our driver, who is from Zababdeh, had gotten a fake ID to cross that very checkpoint; like the rest of the population, without special permission, he is not allowed to travel out of his home district (but allowed to return to it).  So he got an ID listing his home district as on the other side of the checkpoint (hence allowing him to cross it); on the way back, his Zababdeh ID would do the trick.  But not today.  He eventually found a driver coming from Qalandia to Jenin; he took their passengers and we crossed with the other driver.  Still curious about how drivers manage to get around, we asked this one about how he passes checkpoints.  He said he has travel permission because of a job in a factory - a job which of course he doesn't really have. It seems that the entire taxi industry relies on a thin veneer of lies and authorities (when they want) turning a blind eye. Eventually we made our way back to Ramallah, where we had a nice meal, still feeling a bit raw about the day's events.

Monday, 8/18/03:  Elizabeth went down into Ramallah to do some shopping; at al-Manara (the city center) she saw a gathering of people, a small demonstration in the works. She gathered with other onlookers to see what was happening. The Syndicate of Palestinian Journalists had organized a memorial march for Mazen Da'na, a Reuters cameraman and the second Palestinian journalist to be killed by US forces occupying Iraq.  According to the official US account, a soldier mistook the Da'na's camera for a grenade launcher.  It was to be the award-winning cameraman's last day in Baghdad.  Elizabeth moved on to her errands, running across a less somber scene a few streets away.  August seems to be prime wedding season, and various wedding transportation options (horse and carriage, Model-T-like car decked out with white flowers, etc.) periodically appear, advertising themselves on the streets.  Today Elizabeth found a carriage with fez-ed attendants particularly appealing.  Meanwhile, Marthame was back home, working on computer.  At night we migrated like spawning fish to good company at local restaurant and bar Stones.

Tuesday, 8/19/03: Today we worked at our assigned volunteer activities at Star Mountain, Elizabeth cleaning cabins and doing remedial landscaping; Marthame assisting with webdesign for the institution.  We also were busy cleaning up and packing for our upcoming little vacation. Marthame headed down to Birzeit to the Bible Society's Living Stones Center to meet up with young Christian men studying at the University.  They talked about church history and the relationships of various denominations.  Together, they went over to welcome Fr. Aziz, the new parish priest, to Birzeit.  In the evening we turned on the news to see images of the devastating bomb at the UN headquarters in Baghdad, interspersed with pictures of rescue efforts in Jerusalem, after an especially fatal bus bombing. We feel sad and angry and tired. God help us all.

Wednesday, 8/20/03:We needed to go to Ramallah again to do some errands.  After the bombing yesterday, nobody was sure what the situation might be like there.  We talked to some friends who said all was as normal in town, but that the Surda checkpoint, recently reopened with such fanfare, was closed again.  We, along with a small trickle of people, made our way to see if we could get through. Indeed, the stretch of road had been re-bulldozed, with three huge blockades stopping traffic, but allowing pedestrians to make the dusty journey to and from the edge of Ramallah, like so many ants following one another in line up the hill.  Once on the other side, we caught a taxi.  The driver told us that morning he'd brought a car of people to Ramallah from Nablus, his hometown. But after he arrived in Ramallah, Surda (his only exit) was closed. So now he's trapped with his taxi in Ramallah.  After a few errands, we had lunch at a relatively new restaurant with pretty good fried chicken. The proprietor lived in Houston for several years, but moved back partly because of his kids.  He felt better about raising him in Ramallah (in spite of the ongoing violence) than in the States.  "Too many drugs and gangs and that stuff, you know," he said.  He too was angry and frustrated by the suicide bombings.  "It's wrong and stupid," he said.  His business suffers deeply when Ramallah is cut off from the surrounding villages.  "People who live in Ramallah eat at home.  It's the ones who come in from outside who eat in the restaurants.  It's one o'clock - my shop should be full."  We took a look around the empty place.  He took the opportunity to complain also about the business taxes he has to pay, coming to sixty percent of his gross.  But still he seems to be sticking it out.  It takes a special breed to be a Palestinian entrepreneur these days.  In the evening we went to the home of a fellow Birzeit student two years ago.  She's from Belgium, married to a West Banker.  She and their two children had recently returned from vacation in Belgium, and she was eager to share horror stories of trying over the years to get permissions for her kids to leave (although they are Belgian citizens, they are also Palestinian, and are treated by the IDF as such) and then her own visa to return (she's never been granted a Palestinian ID even though she's been married for many years).  Travel seemed more trouble than it could possibly be worth.  After a lovely dinner and catching up, we left our friends to meet some of Marthame's buddies from 1993, when he came to help renovate the Quaker Friend's school.  We met up at Sangria's, one of the trendy spots in town. Half way through our beers, our friend gt a call telling him that the IDF was massing tanks at the edge of town, and that there might be an incursion tonight.  Not wanting to be stuck in curfew, and really really not wanting to miss our flight on Saturday, we decided to call it a night and head back to Star Mountain.  Walking across Surda in the dark and nighttime fog (which Ramallah is high enough to get almost every night) was eerie and otherworldly.

Thursday, 8/21/03: An uneventful day of work.  In the evening we made plans with friends in Ramallah to meet at a local restaurant/pool/garden.  Nothing happened in Ramallah last night, and people's concerns were allayed about any imminent incursion, so we headed into town to meet up with friends from Birzeit and AAUJ  . An enjoyable evening was spent relaxing by the pool, playing guitar, and singing (audio - 16 sec.).

Friday, 8/22/03:  This morning, we packed for a night in Jerusalem and our week's vacation in Europe.  Doing our best to pack light, we managed to fit everything into two daypacks and two canvas bags, which we toted with us as we caught a taxi from from Star Mountain to Surda, walked the distance to the next set of taxis to Ramallah, then to catch another taxi to Qalandia, where we walked through the international-border-style checkpoint, caught another taxi to al-Ram checkpoint, walked across, caught another taxi, and arrived finally at Damascus Gate of the Old City of Jerusalem.  This trip used to be one easy and cheap shared taxi ride. Now it takes an hour and a half and costs four times times as much. That is, if you have the correct permissions to make the trip in the first place.  Once in Jerusalem, we got a place in our favorite-no-longer fleabag hostel (where we had to fight too hard this time to get sheets and toilet paper to warrant a return visit, in spite of how cheap and conveniently located it is).  Shed of our stuff, we headed out to a late lunch at our (and many others') favorite hummus joint, Lena Restaurant, near the eighth Station of the Cross on the Via Dolorosa in the Old City.  Fresh hot bread and flavorful hummus with pickles and onions on the side washed down with cold drinks cleared road-weariness from us for a while.  We did a bit of shopping and wandering, including near the Israeli Ministry of Interior for Arab Jerusalemites, resembling a prison even more when closed than when swallowed up in masses of waiting people.  In the evening, we we went to the elegant Ambassador Hotel, where we'd been invited to dinner by Bill and Kathy Christison, writers and former CIA political analysts.  They were in the country participating in the the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions (ICAHD) work camp which constructed a Peace Center on the site of the repeatedly-demolished Shawamreh Family home outside Jerusalem.  We were honored that people with such a long and storied involvement in the Middle east had heard  of us and wanted to meet us. We spent a very enjoyable and engaging evening together before turning in relatively early to be ready to go to the airport tomorrow.

Theme music courtesy of Monty Python (audio - 5 sec.).

Sunday, 8/31/03:  Today was our Return to Star Mountain (wasn't that a Disney movie?).  We got up in Helsinki at 4:10 AM, and arrived in Ramallah at dusk.  The ride from the airport was interesting, traveling all over West Jerusalem to drop people off.  It was another hour before we arrived at the Old City.  We paused between taxi rides in Ramallah to eat supper with friends, and then made the long walk at Surda in the foggy dark.  An Israeli jeep was perched on the hill overlooking the checkpoint, it's search light periodically shining on the masses.  Several hundred others joined us, most of them women coming back from a family wedding in Ramallah.  A thin sliver of moon shone over the mountain in the distance.  A fitting return indeed.  937

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