Journal in the Holy Land
December, 2000
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The sounds of Zababdeh:
4:45 AM, Muslim prayer (40 sec.)
6:00 AM, Church bells (40 sec.)
6:30 AM, sheep
7:30 AM, National Anthem (40 sec.)
24-7, Electrical generator (5 sec.)

12/1/00: Today we had another opportunity to relieve some of the "village fever" we've been experiencing since the beginning of the Intifada.  Abuna Louis headed down to Bethlehem again to teach, and we joined with a few other passengers on the excursion.  But as you can see from the photos, it was far from a pleasure journey - rather it was a pilgrimage of sorts.  Following a suggestion from a friend of ours, we hired a guide for a few hours and made our first stop at the Wi'am Palestinian Conflict Resolution Center, a ministry of the Melkite (Greek Catholic) church.  Begun in 1995, the purpose of this center is to provide mediation services within the Christian community of Bethlehem.  Recently, they have been working a lot with young Palestinian Christians during the Intifada to work on non-violent means of response.  They have also begun working with groups in Beit Jala and Beit Sahour (the two predominantly Christian villages which have suffered immensely from Israeli shelling and rockets from the nearby Gilo settlement) to give children a constructive outlet - as well as counseling - for the trauma of nightly gunfire, loss of homes, loss of money, etc.  Not surprisingly, they have been overwhelmed lately.  We then headed to Beit Sahour and Beit Jala to see firsthand what we have been hearing and seeing in the nightly news.  What we experienced was truly overwhelming, as you can see from the photos (we also have two videos - 22 sec. and 20 sec. - that show more of the houses that have been hit).  We have far more than we are able to show.  Beit Sahour and Beit Jala have the misfortune of being the closest Palestinian villages to the Israeli settlements of Gilo and Har Homa, and so Palestinian gunmen have taken their positions there to shoot.  The response from the Israeli military, as we saw and as you have heard, was - and continues to be - incredible.  One home worth $1,000,000 was destroyed - there is no insurance for these losses.  The neighborhoods are ghost towns - people have gone to live with families, have rented hotel rooms.  Those who are not so fortunate have been forced to stay in their destroyed homes or to live in tents.  A new refugee problem is arising.  The fire destruction comes mostly from homes that were so close to the weapons that when they were fired, the propellant was still going.  We met one man, a Palestinian-born American citizen, whose house was hit by Israeli military might.  He took his savings of twenty years and poured them into his family's home in Beit Jala.  Now the skeleton of the building is all that remains.  He told us that the Israelis were, indeed, responding to Palestinian gunmen.  But he also showed us where the gunmen were firing from - behind his house, where there was no way they could hit a settlement.  The only reasonable guess he had was that they were firing into the air to let off some steam.  Whatever the conjecture, this man's life savings are a rubble.  We also saw how the Palestinian economy has been hit - a rock quarry that was a bedrock (no pun intended) industry has been effectively put out of business - it machinery and buildings bombarded by a storm of rockets, bullets, and shells. Our guide told us that the Israeli military made announcements before targeting this and other industries (we also saw a shelled macaroni factory). And so loss of life from these have been minimal. But it also indicates the intention of the attacks is retribution against the entire population, and not defensive response to gunmen. Such collective punishment darkens the lives and spirits of people here. We were getting ready to leave Bethlehem about the time the daily clashes begin at the Jerusalem checkpoint.  Once again, a tank rolled into position (the one that, last week, hit the Paradise Hotel during our visit to Bethlehem).  In the wake of all of this we learn that Bethlehem2000 has been cancelled - the two years of planning all for naught.  The tourists are nowhere to be seen, and it seems rather glib to continue with parties and festivals when the death toll is over 300, the casualties hover at 10,000, and the destruction in and around Bethlehem show no signs of peace.  Nevertheless, the worship services will continue - there is a need now, more than ever, to remind the world that the Prince of Peace has already come.

12/2/00:  We took a shorter excursion out of Zababdeh up towards Jenin.  We found things a little more interesting than we expected.  Here, as in much of the West Bank, the Israeli military has strategically blocked roads, in an attempt to isolate Palestinian population centers and protect interests of settlers. In the past, we have seen roads blocked by huge cement blocks clearly marked with "A" and a warning in Hebrew, but usually these were avoidable by a little off-road driving (usually in vehicles that are not meant for such travel).  However, now the roadsides have been dug up by the Israelis at every place where a car might be able to pass around the blocks through the fields (video - 31 sec.).  The end result is that without great difficulty cars cannot get in and out of Jenin, nearby villagers cannot get their tractors to their fields (a necessity now that planting season is here), and school buses can only go so far.  All of this is for the benefit, security, and ease of travel for two illegal Israeli settlements - Ganim and Kadim - whose total populations are now somewhere around 80.  A friend of ours in the village of Taybeh said that her trip into Ramallah (where she works and her kids go to school) usually takes 10 minutes. But now, it takes over an hour as they drive through fields on paths created by other people desperate to get to work, school, and goods. The word "apartheid" comes to mind.  We were joined by an Israeli "escort" on our way back to Zababdeh in our friend's German-plated car.

12/3/00:  Advent begins, and Christmas planning is underway. We had a daily devotional piece published in First Presbyterian Church of Marietta's Advent Booklet along with other mission workers and ministries supported by that congregation. We have been using it for our daily devotional prayer time.  Today was also a chance to expand our ecumenical horizons, as we worshiped at Zababdeh's St. Matthew's Anglican Church, just down the road from the Latin Church of Visitation.  Marthame was invited to read the epistle (from Romans) and to serve the chalice for the eucharist.  It is a much smaller congregation, and the priest is forced to split time between this congregation and another in Nablus - in addition to a handful of institutions under his jurisdiction.  It seems that "overworked pastor" is redundant in Palestine, too.  After visiting with some friends for lunch (never a disappointment!), we visited one of the houses in Zababdeh hit during the nighttime firings a couple of weeks ago.  We had heard about it, but "seeing is believing" in this part of the world.  The house was below where some Palestinians were firing guns at the Israeli military camp.  The camp fired back a little too low with bullets and shells.  One 800mm shell shattered a window and went through the family's kitchen and through two concrete walls into their bathroom.  Fortunately, there were no injuries - just terrified and anxious children and parents.

12/6/00:  The French teachers have returned from Nazareth, new baby in tow (Mabrouk!).  Mom can't leave the house for forty days after the birth, though - some kind of local tradition rooted in Levitical law (we won't tell the villagers that it's 40 for a girl and 80 for a boy - we'd like to see her again!).  Also, the afternoon was full of enjoyable sport. Elizabeth had the chance to play some basketball (as opposed to just shooting around). No mind that it was six on six (??!) and there were a few suprised looks from the other players (all male)--she's gotten that response before in Chicago, too. It was great. And Marthame began a little bit of soccer coaching today.  Not surprisingly, the youth showed little interest in dribbling and passing drills.  They wanted to play!  Little by little...And for those of you who like the bells and whistles, we have video (11 sec.) of a night time walk in Zababdeh on our street.

12/7/00:  The second to the last day of school before exams begin.  The teachers are excited, the students are restless - can't wait to see what Saturday will be like!  Tonight the college-age students held their weekly prayer service, beginning with choir practice (for college age and older high school students).  Marthame chipped in on the guitar, but that was before his new more "Arabized" look (no Flanders' jokes allowed).

12/9/00:  The last day of classes before exams begin, giving us a chance to get a way for a few days.  But another trip out of Zababdeh began in tragic and fearful fashion.  Yesterday, four Palestinian policeman were killed in Jenin.  Our plan had been to go north to get out, but as always, plans change.  Instead we headed south to Jerusalem with our friend who gets though most places with his Palestinian ID, American passport, and Israeli license plate.  The Israeli closures of Palestinian villages are getting worse.  Many roads are still blocked with cement and now dirt has been bulldozed all around.  And the asphalt of roads into villages has also been destroyed (video - 15 sec.).  Palestinian resistance (the kinds you don't see as often on tv) continues - drivers trying to drive around blocked roads, farmers attempting to get to their fields, children climbing over the piles of refuse to meet their buses.  We arrived in Jerusalem to astounding views of the Old City (as usual), including a fantastic rainbow.  In the face of the current situation, the symbol of restoration is a welcome one!

12/10/00:  We had received an invitation to go to Hebron from a group called Internationals in Palestine.  Mostly made up of folks in Ramallah and Jerusalem, these are Westerners from Europe and the Americas who wanted to make it clear that they are staying and facing the situation in solidarity with the Palestinian people rather than fleeing.  We headed to Hebron, since it has the well-earned reputation of being the worst of the worst.  Since the Intifada, the Palestinians in H2, the Israeli-controlled old city part of  Hebron (or Al-Khalil in Arabic) have been under curfew for 70 days in a row, only permitted to leave home for a few hours on certain days, when they buy food and try to work and go to school. The effect has been devastating economically; without work, people are without money, and so many are having great difficulty witht he basic necessities of life.  In the Old City, this curfew on 40,000 Palestinians has been for the benefit of fewer than 500 Israeli settlers.  This is not the first bout of  curfew for these people (when Israeli settler Baruch Goldstein shot and killed 29 Palestinians while they were worshipping at the mosque in 1994, they were put under a 40 day curfew), but it is the longest.  We were fortunate enough to be there on a day when the curfew was lifted until 1 PM. Our first stop was a school for girls that overlooks the Old City settlement. Because of where it is, the school has been open three days this year.  Another school has been confiscated by the Israeli military  because of its strategic location.  We then went to visit one of the Palestinian homes that is next to the Israeli settlement.  Most of these homes have Israeli soldiers stationed on their roof (video - 20 sec.).  The stairways to these outposts come out of the settlement, to so all settlers have access to them.  As such, this home is constantly having stones and trash dropped into its courtyard.  They have encased their home in a cage (video - 21 sec.), so now the stones and bottles don't get through. But still, things like eggs and liquid refuse sometimes fall from above.  We then went to the Old City to do some shopping (where there is a similar horizontal separation between Palestinian and Israeli).  Just outside of the market, a group of five Israeli settler women were in effect holding the area hostage. Because of their presence, the soldiers would not let Palestinians pass through from the market across the town center.  Marthame saw one woman throw a stone at the Palestinians hemmed into the market.  Another taunted them (video - 12 sec.) and called the Westerners who were watching "Nazis."  Elizabeth was the focus of her vitriol for a while (until a soldier was nice enough to push Elizabeth away).  Some of the women and young girls targeted the photographers and journalists gathered around, trying to throw water on them and their cameras (sometimes quite successfully -  video - 12 sec., other times seemingly just for fun - video - 7 sec.).  The apartheid situation of the Old City was readily apparent.  A handful of settlers had the freedom to go wherever they wanted, as soldiers held the hundreds of Palestinians in the market.  At one point, the Israeli authorities decided one of the settler women had made enough trouble and tried to arrest her (video - 50 sec.), but the rest of the women besieged them and pushed the police away.  She was back at the market in a matter of minutes, in full taunting form.  We saw one Palestinian man plead with the soldiers to let him cross the street to dispose of the trash from this market stall. As the 1 o'clock curfew was approaching, he was finally, after maybe ten minutes, allowed to wheel his rubbish bin across the street.   We, on the other hand, were virtually invisible (except to the settlers, who clearly did not welcome our presence), passing wherever we wanted.  It was, we were told, a typical day in Hebron.  We continued our march into the Palestinian Authority section of Hebron (H1), visiting the hospital and hearing about the sheer numbers of wounded that have passed through the hospitals revolving doors.  By the time we got back to the Israeli side (H2), the curfew on Palestinians was in full effect.  The streets were deserted except for the soldiers, a few Palestinians trying to get home, and some settler children again calling us "Nazis."  We couldn't help but think about the divisive rhetoric about putting children on the "front lines" of conflict.  We ended up spending the night in a Palestinian home in the Old City with an Israeli soldier stationed on our roof.  He regaled us with songs in English as gunshots (not his, thank goodness) echoed into the hills (not the best quality audio - 25 sec.).  Nonetheless, we slept like babies.

12/11/00:  Our visit to Hebron was greatly facilitated by Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT).  A partnership of the Mennonites, Quakers, and Brethren, their non-violent message of "Getting in The Way" is taken quite literally - sometimes standing in front of soldiers ready to shoot, sometimes confronting settlers on a rampage, sometimes sleeping in Palestinian homes slated for demolition.  And they take their message of non-violence quite seriously - their collection of weapons gathered from areas that have been hit includes notonly tear gas canisters and live bullets, but also a couple of marbles (used by Palestinian children in slingshots).  Our original plan had been to leave this morning, but we decided to stick around for a while (having nothing else to do).  Among the CPTers are a handful of Mennonites, a Christian Reformed, a Roman Catholic priest, and a Presbyterian minister from Kentucky.  They are the only Christians in town, except for a Russian Orthodox monastery (whose services are private, as there are "no Christians in Hebron" - apparently including our friends).  Again, curfew had been lifted for a bit and the streets were busy.  We headed out to the Baqaa Valley outside of town to visit with a couple of families.  Poised near the Kiryat Arba' Israeli settlement, these homes are under constant threat from home demolitions.  Some of these homes have already been slated for the bulldozer.  CPT has been involved with the Campaign for Secure Dwellings (CSD), which has paired up the families in these homes with congregations in the US and Canada.  One among our group came with a word of encouragement (and a bag full of balloons! - video - 5 sec.) from her Quaker congregation.  The father has been unable to reach his job in Israel because of the harsh West Bank closure, so in addition to the question mark over their house is a question mark over their whole future.  We then headed further into the valley to visit with a family whose home had been attacked by settlers a few days ago.  About one hundred settlers came over the hill, throwing stones and hurling epithets and threats at the family.  The scene they described sounded like stories of Jim Crow-ear lynch mobs.  One of the windows that was broken was the one to the bathroom where their three small girls were taking a shower at the time.  It was not the first time the family's land had been threatened or confiscated.  Three years ago, their olive groves were bulldozed and stone walls were built right up to the back of their house, claiming the land in the name of Eretz Israel.  The family has been there at least three hundred years, as the cave of their ancestors attests to that.  It was also not the last time their family had been threatened.  Their son's house across the valley had been attacked and seized by settlers, who then set up camp until the Israeli military arrived.  It was their third house (the first two were bulldozed).  A young cousin who threw a stone in response to these attacks was shot in the abdomen and died a few days later.  We then got two calls at once, one from the taxi driver who wanted us to leave quickly - settlers were gathering and blocking the road back into Hebron (always a fear-inducing for Palestinians), the other form a CPTer letting us know that the curfew was back on - a mentally-retarded Palestinian man taunted and spit on an Israeli soldiers and was shot in both legs.  The gathering on the road turned out to be a peaceful memorial service for the two settlers killed there a few days previously. And so after waiting a half hour, we drove back to Hebron.  By the time we got back, curfew was in full-effect and only soldiers roamed the streets.  The Old City was closed in with gates (one of the CPTers, when he saw them, said, "I haven't seen those in a while!"), and we noticed the Stars of David tagging Palestinian-owned shops - painted by settler youth marking "their territory".  We joined the CPTers for dinner, interrupted by a phone call (their phones are their bloodline, and are also putting them into the red) that settlers were gathering again, shooting guns into the air, and headed off somewhere in the valley.  We also heard that a settler bus had been hit with a bomb (no one injured, thank God), and our hearts sank with the seemingly unending news of violence.  We spent the night in the Old City with the family who had recently lost their third home.  The extent of Marthame's Arabic pastoral care was saying together with the family, "Allahu Akbar" - roughly translated, "God is bigger than all this crap."

12/12/00:  We left Hebron today (a day later than anticipated, but it was clear that our extended stay was quite intentional).  Full Palestinian curfew was in effect in H2 (the Old City), but we saw a couple of girls sneaking their way to school through the shuttered streets.  War-like situations seem to turn the world on its head.  We arrived in Jerusalem, and had time to be ugly Western tourists.  We found a hostel near the Damascus Gate and headed to the New City to do some shopping and eat McDonald's (mea culpa) before visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (very dark video - 22 sec.) and its carved crusader crosses.  We spent the evening with some of our new friends near the Old City, including a couple recently assigned to the Middle East beat by their newspaper.  We talked about all things political and religious, and indulged in two other treats - ice cream and bacon (not together - they were out of Ben n' Jerry's "Pork Rinds").  Full bellies and full hearts.

12/13/00:  It is time to head back to Zababdeh.  What seems like the safest and most predictable way, though, is to go all the way around the West Bank and come in from Nazareth.  We spent a lazy morning before waiting for our friend from Rabbis for Human Rights in front of the American Consulate (well, technically, 100 meters away - we found that it is forbidden to wait in front these days.  Paranoia reigns) to go out to visit the Jahallin Bedouin.  The ancestors of these 100 or so families were living in the Negev desert when Israel was established in 1948.  By 1951 they were refugees, living in the West Bank just outside of Jerusalem.  When construction began on the mammoth Ma'ale Adummim settlement, the Bedouin way was in danger.  The first 65 families were removed four years ago and given shipping containers to live in by the Israeli government - poetic to say the least.  The next 30 families, seeing what happened to their predecessors, held out for a better deal.  They were promised permanent housing, which was delivered.  However, the authorities held onto the keys for two years.  During one particularly brutal winter rain storm, some couldn't take it any longer and, in desperation, broke the windows to get some relief from the cold.  They got the keys soon after, but the promised dwellings are now in need of desperate repair.  The people's half-built houses and lean-to shanties are loudly mocked by the brand new settlements on the opposite hill, their construction cranes a memorial to their dispossession.  Now, in addition to everything else,they must make the adjustment to a sedentary, almost-urban, labor-based lifestyle.  We arrived in Nazareth and spent the night with our Presbyterian friends.

12/14/00:  Negotiating our way across these days is interesting business.  We got a ride from our Presbyterian friend to the Afoule checkpoint.  He was not allowed to drive across, so we walked across and waiting for our friends from Zababdeh to pick us up.  We watched as a Palestinian taxi emptied itself of building materials, which were handed across the checkpoint to Arab Israelis on the other side.  Five minutes later a settler vehicle with furniture tied to the roof was waved through.  You can't make this stuff up!  Driving back to Zababdeh, we were told the way into Jenin was "too dangerous" by Israeli soldiers.  People who work in Jenin were forced to walk home to their villages, as all of the roads have been closed off by dirt and large stones.  All of this as the press talks a lot about Israel opening the borders to Palestinian workers.  We returned home to see our friends and to engage in what has become a regular ritual trading stories of how the heck we got in and out, showing slides and video of what's happening in the rest of the world.

12/15/00:  So the American election is finally over!  Even those of us halfway around the world have gotten our CNN overdose.  The Advent Bells (audio - 40 sec.) are ringing, and there is no more 1 1/2 hours without electricity (too cold now).  We went for one of our periodic walks in the mountains towards sunset, this time up into the pine trees - yes, pine trees!  The terrain here is nothing like we would have imagined.  It was more like a walk in the Rockies than a hike through the desert.

12/16/00:  Our first day back at school, as exams are well-underway.  Apparently, though, Marthame bagged out on a class without knowing it (12th grade exams start a week after everyone else).  In our absence, the English Club forged ahead, having a photo exhibit on the Intifada.  Students took pictures and cartoons from the newspaper, adding their own English-language captions.  We were welcomed back heartily, too, having marched boldly through Hebron (at least, that's what we told them!).  We also found our way to Jenin - fortunately, it hasn't rained in the last day or so, and we were able to drive around the roadblocks (video - 8 sec.).  More everyday, Palestinian non-violent resistance - though they probably would just consider it par for the course.  Elizabeth also got her first tutorial in Palestinian cooking, making a delicious Maqlube (though we didn't wait long enough for it to set, so it fell apart before we could get a photo - oh well, next time).

12/17/00:  Today following the worship service, we had a special treat for the children - the Bible Society of Jerusalem sent a group of five young adults for an afternoon of puppetshows (video - 12 sec.), games (video - 21 sec.) and presents.  The organization had a number of projects underway when the Intidada began (including a new Bible museum in Bethelehem) and had to abandon them.  But they realized that they needed to do something for children who are living under these conditions, and began traveling around to schools and churches to perform puppet shows centering on the theme of forgiveness (the play is loosely based on the story of the "Prodigal Son").  One's ministry must always be open to the Spirit.  The games, on the other hand, are a nice diversion from the constant images (whether on TV or in real life) of violence.  The presents, are because (duh) it's Christmas time.  To the fascination of the older boys, there were two young women from Norway who were traveling with the Society as volunteers (an opportunity for the youth of Zababdeh to practice their Norwegian :-).  That afternoon we went for another walk around the countryside with our neighbor.  The people think we're a little wacky for walking leisurely - why would you walk somewhere if you don't have to?  (if you want to get a better, up-close look at what we see on our walks, visit Elizabeth's new nature page.

12/19/00:  Marthame had his one day of giving final exams in religion to both grade 10 and 11.  The school's system of organizing exams is quite effective - all of the students in grades 6-11 take their exams together in the auditorium.  Students in the same class are not allowed to sit next to - or behind - each other.  The likelihood of cheating is reduced to almost nothing (and, unfortunately, some of Marthame's students' grades tumbled as a result!).  The English club's photo exhibit on the Intifada (video - 40 sec.) continues in production, as some of the teachers pitch in while the students are being examined.  We have been busy making all of our plans and arrangements for the Christmas holidays and the visit of Elizabeth's family (see, there are tourists coming to the Holy Land!) - although most plans are in need of a number of back-up contingency plans just in case - closed roads, military blockades, airline cancellations, all of these are highly likely these days.

12/20/00:  Another day of exams.  The children in grades 1-5 have exams, too, but their exams aren't quite as long as the older students, so they get a chance to exercise their artistic muse with holiday artwork (Marthame calls this one "Nerd Cow").  Now that winter is here, the morning assembly time outside is drastically reduced - especially when a rainstorm shows up uninvited.  There is hope that part of the old school will be renovated into a village hall (video - 11 sec.) for youth activities and other celebrations, but the students will most certainly be grateful to assemble indoors during the winter time.  The work on the hall has also been a welcome opportunity to work for some of the families in Zababdeh, as the economy plummets all across the West Bank. The initial funds and drive for the project came from the Diocese of Sioux Falls and Bishop Robert Carlson, who have developed a strong relationship with the parish of Zababdeh and were our guests way back in September before the words "New Intifada" eliminated our tourism traffic.

12/21/00:  Many have been talking about the lack of Christmas celebrations here due to the mounting death and destruction toll, particularly around Bethlehem.  Adults (and many children) are finding it difficult to be cheerful in the face of all this (even as their were gunshots in the usual places near Zababdeh last night). 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.  Zababdeh sent thank yous and holiday greetings to Roswell, distributed gifts to the children, and sang and danced to Christmas carols.  Santa Claus ("Baba Noel") made an appearance as an old man with a cane (not quite the commercially overwrought version of Beit Sahour's patron saint that we get in the States) and in a wonderful turn, her true identity as one of the teachers was revealed.  It was a joyful party, and everyone (OK, not everyone - a few of the littlest ones were frightened by Baba) had a wonderful time.  Tonight, with the church's manger scene almost complete, our Advent worship services continued - as the loudspeakers in the church tower announced (audio - 40 sec.) - for the Novena (the nine days prior to Christmas), giving Marthame an opportunity to preach.  The liturgical season and the current situation come together quite powerfully as we continue to wait - for Christmas, for peace.  Hope still flickers, like the light of Advent candle, in faithful anticipation.

12/22/00:  Here we are in Tel Aviv, three days before Christmas, and the only sign of it is the growling visage of Jim Carrey.  In other Christmas news, the pilgrims are on their way - Elizabeth's mother arrives tomorrow, and so we left early this morning (5:00 am) to get a day in Tel Aviv.  We went with the one Zababdeh taxi driver who has yellow plates (as an Israeli citizen) and thus has some freedom of movement.  Even so, we headed out using small roads to avoid the checkpoints, from where he would surely be turned back. We entered Israel through an oddity of an Arab village that is half in Israel and half in the West Bank (half have citizenship, half don't).  Once in Tel Aviv, we checked into our youth hostel (our days of hosteling are something we remember with joy but don't care to repeat) and went to nap on the beach - beautiful and warm!  A chance to spoil ourselves with Thai food among other things.   We took a walk through the Yemenite market after shabbat had begun - thus, the shops were closed and the excess fresh produce was up for grabs by those who were foraging through the rubbish.  The youth culture was out on the beach, in a very tribal scene (video - 23 sec.) - fire jugglers, drums, dogs, didgeridoos, etc. - all under the urban lights of Tel Aviv.  It struck us as a strange searching for identity in a land where identity is such a raw question.

12/23/00:  After sleeping late, we headed for a walk along the Mediterranean and a day at nearby Jaffa.  Tel Aviv originated sprang up as a Jewish village (in the pre-Israel days) for people to live somewhere other than Jaffa (an Arab area).  In the War of 1948, almost all the Arabs in Jaffa fled.  There are a few families still there, but most of the area has been somewhat preserved (in constrast to modern Tel Aviv) as a quaint artists' colony.  We tried to visit the home of Simon the Tanner (where Peter healed Tabitha), but it seems to no longer welcome pilgrims (the only word we could understand on the big sign outside was "forbidden" in Arabic). That was disappointing. We met up with Elizabeth's mom and headed to Jerusalem for a night of sleep.  Unfortunately, we were staying at a hostel near the Damascus Gate (portal for taxis to the West Bank - a lot of shouting, "Ramallah, Ramallah, Ramallah"). That night there seemed to be something happening, so we went outside to investigate the commotion below.  Busses full with Orthodox Jews were driving on the narrow street on their way to the Wailing Wall.  Soldiers stopped all traffic to let the busses through and then walked beside them.  The lights were on inside the bus, just enough to make out the recognizable silhouette of an Orthodox worshipper.  Common sense would dictate taking one of the many other routes to the Wall (not one through predominantly Arab areas), but there seemed to be something deliberate at work.  The Palestinian youth seemed to take a certain amount of pleasure - and emotional release - from shooting loud fireworks off near the bus.  A restful night was had by us nonetheless.

12/24/00:  A marathon day.  It began with worship at St. Andrew's Church of Scotland in Jerusalem.  Most of the people were planning to get to Bethlehem later in the day, but no one was really sure how.  We soon found out, grabbing a shared taxi headed towards what had been advertised as a "closed military area" due to the nighttime clashes in Beit Jala and Beit Sahour.  The checkpoint on the main road was closed, and the road around the main road had been destroyed that morning, so we drove through an abandonded quarry.  After a grueling walk to Manger Square through the rain and crowds (and paying our cab driver's constantly escalating "tourist" fare - we could say something about the redemptive suffering that pilgrims need to undergo, but it wouldn't be true), we arrived to find the parade to the church already in progress, Boy Scouts and all.  We checked into our Pilgrims' Hostel (next to the church) and rested briefly.  After the 3:00 Latin Mass, we headed to Christmas Lutheran Church's Trilingual service (English, German, and Arabic - video, 15 sec.).  It had the feel of a church on a snow day - not many people, but everyone had some kind of troublesome travel to get there - including the newly restored organ.  It had been held up in customs in Haifa until three days before the service, had been purring like a kitten until the transformer blew two hours earlier, and was then running off of the pastor's car battery.  "O, come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant, o come ye, o come ye, to Bethlehem" - never had those words had such meaning.  It was difficult to hold back the tears of sheer joy.  It was a powerful service, a true moment of Pentecostal worship (audio of a multilingual Lord's Prayer - 30 sec.), where new words had been written for O Little Town of Bethlehem:
"O little town of Bethlehem, the organs still do play
Of Jesus in a manger and angels on the way;
Our music and our singing is louder than a gun,
And church bells in their ringing remind us we have won."
Our dinner at the hostel brought us an interesting assortment of folks - a Slovenian PhD student studying Holy Land pilgrims (a scarcity of them apparently didn't deter her research), a German correspondent for Catholic News Service, a South African nurse living in Tel Aviv, and an Australian who came because "the Pope said it was a holy year."  Again, there was a comraderie among those who had battled to arrive - most of those present were already in the area and made a trip from Ramallah, Haifa, Jerusalem (or Zababdeh), so the pilgrim quotient was low.  On a non-2000 year, there would be literally "no room at the inn."  But we had made our reservations one week in advance and got our choice of accomodations, as well as tickets to the midnight mass at the Latin church.  We stood for the three hours of the service.  It was mostly in Latin with a smattering of other languages in the hymns (Arabic audio - 40 sec.) and liturgy (gospel in Latin, audio - 40 sec.).  Patriarch Michel Sabbah addressed the crowd of dignitaries (including Arafat, who arrived to much commotion) in Frech and Arabic, proclaiming that "God allowed us to end the year of the Jubilee with trials and sufferings. For all grace, for all trial, we thank God, because suffering is also a part of the grace of the Jubilee. It helps to purify us; it allows us to see better the face of God, to better claim our freedom, since we become able to see the face of God in that of our brothers and sisters, and in the face of those from whom we claim our freedom as well." (full text here)  The sheer lack of attention and overwhelming crowds, while heartbreaking, felt a lot more authentic as a remembrance to that first Christmas.  Those who arrived had come to bear witness to the Prince of Peace.  And we were there, joyful and triumphant.

12/25/00:  Merry Christmas to all.  Our first Christmas present was to sleep in late (the three hour Mass last night did us in a bit).  We took it easy today, but managed to visit the Bethlehem Museum, run by the Arab Women's Union.  Started in 1947 to help those affected by the War, the Union now supports women's cooperative workshops all over Palestine who make traditional clothing.  They also run a Museum in Bethlehem that has restored a house to look like 18th or 19th century-era Palestine (video of Elizabeth grinding lentils - 13 sec.).  We then went to nearby Beit Sahour to the Shepherds' Field, where the shepherds were told to visit the manger. There we joined a procession (mostly of Arab Christians from Beit Sahour, Bethlehem, and Beit Jala) to Manger Square, following the path of the shepherds that night.  There were some pilgrims from the rest of the world, but taking the center stage were a group of Christians from around the world who had traveled on foot and camel from Iraq through Syria and Jordan.  They had symbolically followed the path of the Magi who came to visit the Christ Child 2000 years ago.  The planning for this trip began long before the Intifada, but became that much more potent as a Pilgrimage for Peace along the way.  Their travel had lasted 99 days, and had been rather smooth until two of their number - one from Sudan and one from Zimbabwe - were prevented from crossing the Allenby Bridge by Israeli forces.  Fortunately, the situation was resolved in a mere four days and they arrived in time for the procession (video - 9 sec.).  The procession continued through the streets of Beit Sahour and Bethlehem, arriving to Manger Square to great fanfare - though underwhelming numbers.  There was a dramatic reenactment of the first Christmas (video of dance - 18 sec.), capped by the arrival of the Magi who presented their gifts at the manger.  Powerful to watch people who had travelled all that distance with one purpose stop and kneel before the manger, presenting their gifts (video - 24 sec.).  There was a memorial for the martyrs of the Intifada on trees around Manger Square (video - 40 sec.), their names draped like Buddhist prayers and lit with simple white lights.   We stayed until it got too cold, but numerous children - Christian and Muslim - made certain that we had adequate candlelight and welcome.  A far cry from the anticipated Christmas 2000, a far cry from the purported dangers lurking at Manger Square, but somehow a fitting way to celebrate and worship there in that place.

12/26/00:  Time to bid Bethlehem farewell and head back to Zababdeh.  All seven of us at breakfast were leaving the hostel empty (normally fully booked for all of the weeks around Christmas).  Our travel to Ramallah took several small detours, but nothing hardly worth mentioning - at least compared to what we've been traveling through the last couple of weeks.  Word has come today of a new US peace initiative promising 95% of the West Bank to the Palestinians - depending on which 5%, though, this situation could continue into perpetuity with road closures, forbidden zones, travel restrictions, etc. We arrived in Ramallah in time to visit with good friends from Zababdeh and enjoy some Maqlube (by now one of our favorite meals).  But because traveling at night is far from intelligent these days, we had to leave quickly to visit our friends in Taybeh.  Elizabeth and I had been in September before the Intifada, and so we visited some of the same sites - the ruins of St. George's Church on the hill (built by Constantine's mother Helen to mark the reception of Jesus by the residents of Ephraim, it's name in Biblical times - John 11:54), Taybeh Beer (video - 28 sec.), the Latin Convent's Jesus-era House of Parables (video of Elizabeth demonstrating cattle activity - 27 sec.).  We also visited with Abuna Daoud, the Greek Orthodox priest of St. George's.  He had discovered a fourth-century mosaic there and had built a chapel over it.  It was our first time back to Ramallah since the Intifada, and our first chance to see good friends we had only spoken to on the phone over the past few months.  Visiting friends and family during Christmas is a traditional Palestinian pasttime - this is our particular version of it.

12/27/00:  Just another day of travel, first going through the roundabout near Ramallah that has been such a major flashpoint in the Intifada - quiet today as it is holiday time - the Ramadan fast is over, and Christmas is upon us.  Thus most of the shops in Ramallah were closed.  Fortunately, we were able to get a ride back to Zababdeh.  Again, we had to do some backroads maneuvering through small villages to get around checkpoints, but it afforded us some wonderful views - including that of a village perched on a mountain top.  Most of the time the housing you find in such places are the homogeneous Israeli settlements, but this was the exception.  We were welcomed back to Zababdeh, walking the streets to a chorus of "welcomes", "Merry Christmases" and "have some coffee."  It's good to be home.

12/28/00:  OK.  This is the story with travel in these times - we've made numerous references, but here's the details: we needed to go to Nazareth to meet Elizabeth's brother (he was taking a bus from Tel Aviv to Nazareth) - but to do that means we have to leave the West Bank.  We must take a taxi from here to the border, convincing the Israeli soldiers stationed several miles before the checkpoint to let our Palestinian driver take us there.  Then we walk across the border (convincing the soldiers there that we are no threat to the security of Israel), meeting our waiting taxi from Nazareth.  Added to this is the cellphone nonsense - the Palestinian and Israeli cellphone companies do not have working agreements, so we cannot call our Palestinian driver when in Israel (and vice versa) - add to this that the payphones have been removed from Arab neighborhoods in Israel, and you begin to get the picture.  Nevertheless, we traveled.  We visited two Churches of the Annunciation (one Latin and one Greek).  The first contained mosaics representing madonna and child from all over the world.  The place was empty (compare video - 30 sec. - to our first visit - 22 sec.), more evidence of the decimated tour industry in these two lands.  Elizabeth's brother arrived safely and joined us for some more of Zababdeh's almost belligerent hospitality.  Our danger here seems to be limited to menacing toy gun-wielding infants.

12/29/00:  We spent the day making lots of visits - I guess we're paying the price for being absent during the Christmas Holiday.  It's a price we are quite willing to pay. We took a wonderful side trip today that we have been hankering to do for months.  Near Zababdeh is the village of Burqin, home to 12,000 people - about 100 of them Christians.  Some of the folks in Zababdeh came from Burqin several centuries ago and still have family there.  There are two churches - a recent Latin church served by Abuna Alphonse from Jenin, and an ancient Orthodox church served by Abuna Yacoub from Beit Sahour.  The church is the fourth oldest known church in the world, built on the site where Jesus healed ten lepers (Luke 17:11-19) and one thanked him.  There is an ancient cave within the church and a hole in the roof where people would deliver food to the lepers who had been quarantined in grottos (video - 13 sec.).  Our "tour guide" remembered the whole Christian community coming to the church at night during the 1948 War to pray and be somewhat safer than they would be at home.  Some things seems to change very little.  Returning to Zababdeh, we found ourselves in the thick of Christmas-Season visiting.  The visits have their perks - loads of deliciously full plates of Palestinian food - but there must be a limit to the amount of coffee one can ingest!