Journal in the Land of the Holy One
December, 2002
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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.)

Sunday, 12/1/02:  Fr. Aktham has taken a little extra time after the Latin Patriarchate's spiritual retreat to visit with his family in Jordan.  He is from the Hijazin family, a large family in Karak, a mostly-Christian town south of Amman.  A number of the priests of the Patriarchate come from this family, including Fr. Faisal Hijazin who normally works at the Patriarchate Seminary in Beit Jala but filled in for Fr. Aktham this morning at the Latin Church of Visitation.  (The seminary closed this year because of the violence in the Bethlehem area and because they had great difficulty getting Israeli visas for their foreign - mostly Jordanian - students. They hope to open again next fall.)  The first Sunday in Advent, the gospel lesson this morning was about the master who charges his employees to "Stay Awake" for his return (Mark 13).  The candles we light during Advent, said Fr. Faisal, are those which remind us to stay awake and keep watch.  He also spoke briefly and eloquently about how the arrival of God incarnate in Christ is also a sign of new life for us.  After lunch, we received visitors from American Near East Refugee Aid (ANERA).  The school, in partnership with the Women's Studies Centre, has given them a proposal for a computer center, with special emphasis on women and girls' professional training.  The key part of the proposal is updating the school's archaic computer equipment.  When asked for an idea about the current technology, the computer teacher told ANERA, "We want to take all of this equipment and throw it in the garbage."  Well put.  Hopefully this will come through.  Then next, n'sha'allah, is the language lab.

Monday, 12/2/02:  Over the past couple weeks, Elizabeth's eleventh graders wrote short skits in English, imagining a dream, fantasy, or nightmare of their homeroom teacher.  Today was the day to perform, and one of the groups surpassed all expectations.  Covered in face paint and bearing a pitchfork, they enacted a nightmare, in which the devil and his wife (pictured at right) came for a visit.  Their homeroom teacher came to the play and enjoyed his portrayal.  It was a fun high point of teaching. Unfortunately, the other groups weren't as prepared, or shall we say, prepared at all.  Such are the ups and downs of teaching.  Meanwhile, Marthame went up to the University today to speak with some friends there about a group of American college students that are coming in January.  We are trying to put together a three-day program for them that will give them some exposure to the area and its issues.  We expect to have them paired up with students from the University and youth from the village, a mixture of Muslim and Christian, to put them to work one day at the Melkite Convent (which needs far more than one day), another day with handicapped children in Jenin (10% of Palestinian society is now disabled), and another day to see the area's sites.  We're looking forward to all the ducks being in a row for their visit.  Fr. Aktham returned; it's good to have him back.

Tuesday, 12/3/02:  Our cellphone bill arrived today, and as usual, there was a problem.  The amount we paid back in August at the Zababdeh post office somehow still hasn't arrived at the central offices, so it continues to show up on the bill - thus a trip to Jenin was necessary.  For that, and for some business for the school at the bank, Marthame headed out after hearing that Jenin was open.  This information arrived at 11:30, and the banks close at 12:00.  The shortest way between Jenin and Zababdeh (which passes through a village called Sweitat and past the Haddad family compound) is "open."  The turn-off toward Jenin is now completely unrecognizable, bulldozed and bypassed by cars and bulldozed again, a cat-and-mouse game repeated over the last two years to the point that a stormy ocean of dirt and mud is what remains.  It's hard to believe that anything we see could surprise us anymore, but it still does.  Marthame arrived as the bank doors were closing, and was locked inside with the hundreds of other people trying to finish their work both on a day that Jenin is open and in time for the coming 'Eid il-Fitir holiday.  Tempers were high, and employees had to step in several times to break up arguments.  While there, Marthame had to speak to Fr. Aktham to clarify something.  As bad as the cellphone system is in Zababdeh, with repeated error messages, it's infinitely better than that of Jenin, where calling out is absolutely impossible.  Fortunately, we can switch our phone over from Jawwal (the Palestinian service) to Orange (the Israeli) and make calls - when there's strong enough service.  There was, barely, and Marthame was able to complete the business, take care of the cellphone bill (ensuring our service wouldn't be cut before they receive the payment from our post office), and head off back to Zababdeh by way of Sweitat.   In the evening, we went to another birthday party with one of the extended families we've gotten to know best.  The birthday boy's grandparents were able to come from Tubas for the celebration, which included the requisite candle-laden cake, singing, dancing, and "jelly" (a jello cake like dessert substance).  The news of the ninety-five year-old woman shot and killed by Israeli troops as she tried to get in Ramallah by taxi is disturbing.  May God have mercy on us all.

Wednesday, 12/4/02:  Yesterday, as the school bus entered Jenin to bring the kids home, it was stopped by the Israeli army manning the roadblock.  The kids were taken off the bus and made to sit on the ground while the bus was searched.  Certainly nothing on the level with yesterday's killing of the old woman, but certainly enough to frighten the children as they sat on the ground surrounded by soldiers, jeeps, and tanks.  After the 'Eid ilFitir break, exams begin next week.  We simply hope that the non-Zababdeh students will be able to come.  Since tomorrow will begin the Muslim holiday (and thus a school break), many of the Muslim students and teachers from villages and cities flung "afar" have taken off early - especially given the road in front of them today.  Marthame's eleventh grade religion class spent the period decorating their room in preparation for Christmas.  Their Muslim colleagues joined in, a wonderful confluence of simple celebration.  After school, we grabbed a shared taxi down to Jerusalem.  Sharing the ride with us were a student from the Arab-American University, two professors (one with car-sick daughter in tow), and a woman from Ramallah living in Jenin with her two children - ten people in a taxi built for eight.  The first checkpoint was worrisome.  Cars had lined up on both sides at Tayasir, at the checkpoint next to the Israeli camp built on confiscated Latin Patriarchate land.  The gate was closed, and no soldiers were around to speed up the process.  We eventually saw them coming back from training exercises.  Two snipers took up their posts while one soldier checked the ID papers and luggage of each car.  As we got close, our driver mumbled under his breath.  Apparently, he had had a run-in with the same soldier yesterday who had turned him back.  He rolled down the window and the two stared at each other for a while. The driver couldn't take it. "He's just staring at me," he mumbled in Arabic to no one in particular.  The two played a cat and mouse game, neither one willing to understand or speak the other's language.  Finally, one of the professors - headed home for the 'Eid - intervened as Hebrew-Arabic translator.  "He's asking if he told you something yesterday."  "Yes.  Turn around and don't come back."  "Then what are you doing here?"  At that point, Marthame chimed in - sometimes it helps to let the Israeli soldiers know that they're dealing not just with Palestinians, whom many view with disdain if not outright disgust (sometimes it has no impact) - "Is there a problem?"  "Yes, there is a problem.  He doesn't have a passport to go from here."  The driver presented his ID and got out to open the trunk.  Usually, this involves just a glance at the luggage.  But this time, he was made to open every bag to search their contents.  The usual security game had given way to a grudge match between the two.  We waited, two snipers' sites focused on our taxi, half-assuming that the luggage check would finish with us being turned back just for spite.  Fortunately, we passed on.  The rest of the trip was unremarkable, if long, due to the skirting of the tougher checkpoints and the blocked and forbidden roads in front of us.  Nerves were short, too, on the last day of fasting during Ramadan.  Elizabeth chatted with the woman, whose son she used to teach at the Latin School.  She was taking her kids to her family in Ramallah for the 'Eid - it had been a year and a half since they had been together.  Her husband stayed at home, assuming that he wouldn't be allowed through.  Marthame chatted with one of the professors who had received his PhD from the University of Paris.  He, too, was headed home - to Bethlehem (the trip to Qalandia, our destination, is only half of the journey).  Similarly, he hadn't been home in a year.  It was unclear, given the situation there, whether he could get in or not.  His car-sick 5 year-old contributed to the conversation - on Marthame's sleeve and pants.  In the back seats, folks were faring only a bit better with the winding, bumpy, narrow Palestinian "bypass" (i.e. bypassing checkpoints) roads.  Elizabeth felt fairly urpy and the sixth-grader was having dry heaves - it's no fun to be car-sick while fasting.  We arrived in Qalandia, bid farewell to our companions, and were dropped off in Ar-Ram, just down the road.  We walked across the checkpoint there with a simple wave of the passports and into a waiting shared taxi for Jerusalem.  We jumped out in Beit Hanina and met up with American friends who are working here in an educational ministry and kindly offered to host us during our stay.  Together, after Marthame changed clothes, we enjoyed a glorious sunset - ribbons of yellow, red, and orange on a pale blue canvas - as the mosque's call to prayer from its green-lit tower acknowledged the end of the fast and the end of Ramadan. Kul 'am w-intum bi-kheir.  Happy feast.

Thursday, 12/5/02:  Yesterday, we left for Jerusalem, hoping that today would be the 'Eid.  In fact, no one was sure until last night - the actual appearance of the moon unobscured by clouds signals the end of Ramadan.  In reality, it could've been tomorrow.  But it's today.  Our friends gave us a ride out to Ein Kerem to Hadassah Hospital.  Elizabeth is having follow-up tests for recurring headaches (which have since abated - but better safe than sorry).  This morning, it was vision tests.  Marthame waited outside, sitting and re-reading William Dalrymple's From the Holy Mountain, in which he recounts his travels through the Middle East seeing the remnants of the ancient Christian community.  It is both an entertaining and depressing read - an honest telling of the situation facing a once-thriving Byzantine Christianity.  Intriguingly, he suggests that the success of Islam in the Middle East hinged on its perception by many (including theologians of the time like John Damascene) as a different (or  heretical) form of Christianity, rather than an entirely new religion.  At the time, perhaps the leap from Byzantine Christianity to Islam seemed no greater than an Armenian Orthodox becoming a Southern Baptist today. As Marthame was reading, a young man sat down next to him, his right leg somewhat shriveled.  He had a dramatic four-inch scar on his neck.  His right eye was eerily hollow and sunken, a triangular piece of his ear missing. His right hand and right leg had what looked like burn marks.  It's hard not to imagine, with scars like this and in a country like this, that this young man was one of the lucky ones - a survivor of a suicide bombing.  When bombings and clashes and invasions are ranked in the currency of lives lost, it is too easy to forget the "lucky" ones, perhaps like this man, who will also always bear the scars of the conflict. After Elizabeth's test finished, and stopping to admire the Chagall windows in the hospital's synagogue - one for each of the twelve tribes - we walked down to the village of Ein Kerem.  The ancient village, until 1948 an Arab town, cut a beautiful figure - the terraced olive groves, the pine trees draping the slopes.  After stopping by the closed but reconstructed village mosque, we had lunch in an outdoor cafe.  It's hard not to feel uneasy in such a setting, but we enjoyed the meal nonetheless.  Ein Kerem, Arabic for "generous spring," is known as the location of Elizabeth and Zacharias' summer home and the birthplace of John the Baptist - "the precursor of Christ."  The Franciscan Convent where Marthame attended the Sabeel Clergy Retreat is built over the grotto believed to be the place where Elizabeth gave birth to John.  Its style is very similar to that of the Grotto of the Nativity, what looks like a fireplace under which sits a cross marking the place.  We left that spot where the voice who cried in the wilderness was born. We were in search of the large monastery that beckoned us as we descended the slopes of Hadassah.  We wandered back through the side streets of modern Ein Kerem, a sleepy town that felt a million miles away from the ills and uncertainties of Jenin.  The town exudes an almost Alpine, European air, but we were overcome by great sadness.  The Arab architecture has been carefully preserved, and is obviously greatly admired by its new inhabitants. Elegant stone buildings with arched Ottoman-style windows, domed roofs, and recessed courtyards filled the town, but there is only one Arab family left from 1948.  The rest fled the War and were never allowed to return home.  We felt deep sadness for what must have happened to the population here who left the place they called home, a place that only lives in their memories.  We stumbled upon a locked Greek Orthodox church which appeared to have been recently repainted.  Since it was probably the parish church for the Orthodox community in 1948, it is merely left to the Patriarchate to keep up.  More sadness.  Winding our way through more of Ein Kerem's back streets, we came across the Sisters of Zion, a French monastery and guesthouse founded by Alphonse Ratisbonne - a 19th century Jewish convert to Catholicism. Their brochure mentions their ministry to the local Arab community "until 1948."  That's it - no mention of what happened to those folks.  To tell it would be perceived as political, anti-Israel.  But to not tell it is equally as political, anti-Arab.  Even in the brochures of guest hostels, politics intervenes.  On our way back up the mountain path, we visited the Franciscan Church of Visitation, where Mary and Elizabeth are purported to have met, and the infant John leapt in Elizabeth's womb.  Fr. Carlos, the Argentinian caretaker, left his new puppy Rica to take us into see the grotto where the Biblical meeting traditionally took place.  Elegant frescoes decorate the sanctuary, depicting Zacharias' vision, the meeting of the two mothers, and his miraculous protection during Herod's slaughter of the innocents.  We walked back to Hadassah as the sun had gone down, spending the next few hours in the waiting room for another set of tests and reading Dalrymple's travels through post-war Lebanon.  Sitting next to us was an eighty-some year-old Israeli man reading a book in German.  The historical imagination wonders.  We finished late, waiting for an Arab taxi driver - no Jewish drivers would go to Beit Hanina, especially at night.  A long day.

Friday, 12/6/02:  Today was a day of Old City errands.  First, it was the Latins - dropping off supplies from Fr. Aktham for another priest and picking up supplies from the Patriarchate, Caritas, and the Franciscan Bookshop.  Then it was the Melkite's turn, but no one from the Patriarchate was around to help.  Finally, the Orthodox.  We stopped by St. James' Church, the elegantly-furnished Byzantine-era parish church of the Holy Sepulchre.  Marthame had visited here with Fr. Thomas a few weeks ago, and had made some friends.  They suggested one of the shops nearby.  In the shops near the Church, there is a double-layer of business: the first, that for tourists, dealing in cheap Holy Land trinkets.  Bargaining is par for the course, so the initial prices are inflated.  The second layer is as a church resource center - icons, candles, devotional items for the local clergy.  Prices are fixed and well-known by the locals.  Marthame waited for a Columbian tour group to finish their business shopping in the store before picking up Fr. Thomas' supplies.  There is almost a feeling of insider privilege that accompanies being part of the second layer.  These errands we run seem so small, but given the situation, such small things are nearly impossible for those without international passports.  We stopped for lunch at a restaurant nearby, welcomed by the Palestinian co-owner with Canadian citizenship.  Though originally from Jerusalem, he's been away long enough that he now has to enter the country on his foreign passport.  And though he's part-owner in the restaurant, in a few days his visa expires and he's back "home" to Toronto, as much of a foreigner as we are as far as Israel is concerned.  We made our way towards Damascus Gate, daily prayers having finished and shops having opened for the post-'Eid shopping.  People are wearing their new clothes, and young boys are wielding their new toy beebee pistols.  Packages for the guns littered the ground with their warnings - in English - not to point them at people or animals, and that they are for ages 18 and up.  The 6 year-olds and their older friends were oblivious to these warnings (as presumably were their parents), as they scuttled around the narrow streets playing Israelis and Palestinians, the local version of cops and robbers or, more accurately, cowboys and Indians.  Especially in the current charged, violent atmosphere, walking around with a black pistol on the Friday following 'Eid il-Fitir seems, at best, ill-advised.  As we made our way back to our friends' home in Beit Hanina, we noticed the proliferation of Hebrew signs announcing that "Jordan is the Palestinian state" and suggesting the transfer of "250,000 Arabs" as the solution to peace.  Many have been warning for some time of the danger of the proliferation of such ideas, and now they are clearly multiplying.  We spent the evening playing games with our friends and basking in the glow of their digital satellite.  "Thou shalt not covet..."

Sunday, 12/8/02:  It has been a long time since we've been able to worship in English, so we joined the English-speaking congregation at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, just around the corner from the Holy Sepulchre.  It was the first time either of us had been here since a Maundy Thursday service last year prior to the massive Israeli West Bank invasion which is still on-going.  Today is the second Sunday in Advent, and we were asked to participate in the liturgy by lighting the candles.  It seems that many of the folks we know from NGOs and the like frequent Redeemer on Sunday, and it was good to reconnect.  We stopped by the Melkite Patriarchate and our friend Fr. Paul helped us locate the item Deacon Firas had been asking for: a wooden stamp used by the Eastern churches in the baking of eucharistic bread.  This is anticipation of his ordination this coming Saturday.  The symbolism is thick - a brochure we picked up along the way describes it well.  After lunch, Elizabeth settled in for several hours of digital television as Marthame began the trek back to Zababdeh.  Sharing the taxi were three nurses from Zababdeh who work in the French Hospital in Jerusalem and a woman from Jenin and her children.  Due to this make-up, there was little trouble at checkpoints, even passing through the usually impossible Tamasiih (crocodile) checkpoint, so named after the settler crocodile farm nearby. Tayasir checkpoint meant a long, long wait - forty minutes before the soldier would even summon our car forward, though we were first in line.  As we waited, jeeps, busses, and other military vehicles headed into the checkpoint.  There is another Israeli camp just inside the barrier, but there was so much personnel headed in it looked like another invasion was planned.  We made it to Tubas, which had been closed earlier in the day but was now open.  As we passed the Greek Orthodox church, we saw four jeeps and a number soldiers at an intersection.  They didn't stop us, but watched us closely, clearly focusing on another part of town.  This is unusual behavior, and it seems that we have returned to pre-Oslo times in full where the situation throughout the West Bank is simply that of Hebron's Old City multiplied.  Marthame had barely put his bags down when he heard the Anglican bells ringing.  He made his way to the church, expecting to see Fr. Hosam.  Instead, it was Fr. Zahi who had come down from Nazareth for the wedding of a woman from Jalame to a young man from Zababdeh.  Fr. Hosam was stuck in Nablus, as usual given the situation there. This morning, he tried to leave Nablus along with employees of the Anglican Hospital, but they turned back after they were fired at by Israeli soldiers near the edge of the city.  The groom's family called Fr. Zahi who was able to come at the last minute from Nazareth.  Marthame spent the rest of the evening delivering the goods he had picked up in Jerusalem to the various Zababdeh clergy.

Monday, 12/9/02:  In Jerusalem, Elizabeth slept in, and then again headed up to Ein Kerem to drop off old MRI films at the hospital.  And on the way back, she was able to run an errand for the school, picking up a few textbooks from East Jerusalem. The rest of the day was spent grading papers, chatting with our friends, and, you got it, watching TV.  In Zababdeh today, leaders of the Christian community went to the home of Sheikh Fathi to greet the elders of the Muslim community.  This has been a traditional practice in this part of the world, that people stop by to wish each other Kul 'am w-intum bi-kheir (may you be well all year).  Muslims visit the priest at Christmas and Easter, Christians visit the sheikh at 'Eid il-Fitir and 'Eid al-'Adha.  Marthame got a call and headed out in the rain to join the "delegation".  Entering his room, one can immediately smell Sheikh Fathi's other work, that of making colognes and perfumes, the various bottles gathered on a table in the corner.  As the village leaders gathered, most of their stories centered around how long it takes to travel anywhere - a common topic of discussion these days.  One man had to walk for six hours on the day of the 'Eid in order to arrive in Zababdeh from Nablus. 'Aadi - normal.

Tuesday, 12/10/02:  Today, Elizabeth had another appointment at Hadassah, and again made the long taxi ride out of town and up the hills. On the way there, the driver pointed out the site of Israel's last bus bombing; from the taxi, a small memorial was visible around what looked like a charred bus stop. The driver noted how afraid people are of taking buses now.  Certainly we avoid buses when we are in Israel, taking shared taxis or, as is the case with these trips to Hadassah, special taxis. This, however, costs many times the price of the bus, and many people can't afford any other option than the bus to get to work or school. However, for the driver there is some good news, as the taxi business is up.  Some people benefit from other people's tragedy.  Today was the last day of school before exams begin.  As has become all too familiar, the Jenin bus arrived late - an hour late, to be exact.  The road situation is never predictable, and today was no exception.  On top of this, Tubas is a "closed military zone."  But students did arrive, thankfully.  School finished early to give students time to study.  The teachers met with Fr. Aktham and Vice-Principal Iyad to go over details for the coming exams.  It was also a time to celebrate the completion of a successful semester, despite the many, many struggles faced over the past four months.  And so, it was a large platter of the Nablus delicacy knaffe that greeted us all.  Marthame went up to the University to meet and continue plans for the group coming in January.  Soldiers were on the hills near Telfit, the little collection of shacks that stands on the road between Zababdeh and the University.  They had stopped a couple of cars and others were waiting by the side of the road.  Nowhere is quiet anymore.  In the evening, Marthame went by the church for music practice, a small group preparing hymns for Christmas.  But, as we are often reminded, Arabic is not a literal language: "we will meet on Tuesday at 5:30" apparently doesn't mean "we will meet on Tuesday at 5:30."  But he did find Fr. Aktham and the Rosary Sisters preparing Christmas decorations, particularly the manger grotto - it'll be twice the height of last year's grotto.  There's a certain character to Christmas here, an intangible character, that is wonderful.

Wednesday, 12/11/02:  Elizabeth spent a final day in Jerusalem, running a couple errands, and meeting a friend for pizza (ah, pizza!) and a rental movie (ah, movie rentals!).  But in Zababdeh last night, it was the sound of unlit helicopters overhead (audio - 4 sec.) that prematurely began the day for Marthame.  When people in the West Bank hear a helicopter, they all poke their heads out to try and follow where it's going, because it usually means the assassination of a wanted Palestinian.  This has been happening regularly for the past two years, and with its high percentage of "collateral damage" (roughly one-third of those killed in "targeted" killings have been non-combatant civilians), not to mention the loose definition of "wanted," people are obviously nervous.  When you can't see the helicopter, the anxiety increases.  This morning, at 4:00, it was the shooting nearby that got everyone's attention.  Marthame sprang from the bed and looked out the window to see, on the other side of the Latin School, a friend's house lit up with flashlights randomly flickering everywhere, punctuated by the red laser-lights of snipers, giving the home the appearance of Christmas decoration.  Soon there was shouting: "Iftah al-bab!  Open the door!"  The neon lights of the home in question flickered into action, and soon someone responded, in English (the "common" language) here, "OK!  Don't shoot!" (audio - 11 sec.)  The lights of seven jeeps came down the old military road, two grinding tanks following a few minutes later (audio - 3 sec. - believe me, it was much louder at 4:00 in the morning!).  Two of the jeeps arrived at the house in question, their headlights illuminating the walls.  An eerie quiet fell over the town, and for the first time since we've been here Marthame could hear the pre-dawn call to prayer echoing from other villages.  We've acclimated so much to Zababdeh that we don't even hear it in the town in the morning.  But for some reason, there wasn't much sleep to be had at 4:30.  This morning, the call seemed much more plaintive, as if begging for relief from the situation here (audio - 6 sec.) - or maybe that's a bit of interfaith emotional projection.  At 5:00 there was more shooting, then the unceremonious toot of a horn (audio - 1 sec.), and the two jeeps were off.  Later in the day, Marthame stopped by the friend's house to get the full story.  They, too, were woken up by the shooting, and opened the door to find 150 soldiers surrounding the house, faces painted for nighttime warfare.  "Raise your hands!  Lift up your shirt!  Come outside!"  They obeyed, then the seven students who rent the apartment downstairs did the same, following instructions.  The captain arrived and began to ask around.  "Where is Abdallah? (one of the students)"  "He's not here."  "Call him and tell him we've left and that we're looking for him."  The other student did, then the soldiers waited for half an hour thinking he might come back.  "It's good he wasn't here, you know.  He's a dangerous man.  There would've been war, and I would've had to blow up your house - I'm not risking any of my soldiers for him.  I'm sorry, but if you have students staying with you, you have to pay the price."  Then he began to stir the pot.  "It's not you Christians (speaking to the family).  The Christians in Bethlehem have many problems with rape by Muslims.  Muslims are no good."  After deciding Abdallah wasn't returning, they rounded up the students.  "We just want the Muslims.  No Christians."  We've heard about such deliberate dividing, but to hear about it first hand was somehow more disturbing.  Tensions do exist between Christians and Muslims in Palestinian society, much like racial tensions exist in American society.  Stoking those tensions seems much like an intentional divide and conquer policy.  As Marthame and the family continued to talk, a taxi pulled up, and Abdallah arrived.  Soon, the other students did too, having spent a few hours at Salem as the Israelis tried to ply them for more information and recruit them as collaborators: "If you need anything, any help, just let us know.  We're glad to help out."  Abdallah, meanwhile, was chain-smoking, trying to figure out what exactly he had done and what he was going to do next.  A member of the University's Islamic Jihad organization, he has political sympathies.  But, as he claims, hasn't done anything.  The weight of what lay before him, being wanted by the Israeli army, seemed to be hitting him square between the eyes, and what that meant.  The family patriarch dispensed his advice: "If I were you, I'd make sure I haven't done anything wrong, and I'd go to Salem alone and turn myself in. If you don't, then you just confirm that you're dangerous.  They'll find you anyway, and they won't arrest you - they'll kill you, and they'll punish your family, too.  Go to Salem.  It's better to spend two years in jail than to be killed."  The rest of his roommates were busy below carrying away their furniture and clothes to a new apartment, fearing a return.  Abdallah was off soon after, hoping to see his parents and get their advice.  It's hard to imagine that weight on anyone's shoulders.  And it's hard to imagine that many students and teachers in the neighborhood were able to get a good night's sleep for today's exams.  But the heavy rain (audio - 5 sec.) was a nice reminder of grace and blessing in the midst of all this. 706

Thursday, 12/12/02:  In Jerusalem, Elizabeth had good news: all her medical tests at Hadassah were fine, so no worries. Thank God. Today she slept in a bit and chatted with her friends' nanny.  From the Philippines, she and her husband have been in Israel for eight years.  They are now here illegally, as there is a limitation for many foreign workers on how long they can stay, in spite of gainful employment. So even though they came legally and worked for years legally, Israel will not renew their work visa. They stay, however, because, she said, her life is here now, and her kids' lives are here. Their standard of living now is much higher than it would be back in the Philippines. And so they stay, hoping not to be caught and deported. She said she was frustrated because an amnesty was announced for foreign workers as herself, but then nothing was done about it. Our guess is that the limitation on visas is designed to stop people just like this nanny and her family from staying permanently in Israel because this constitutes a threat to the Jewish nature of the state.  Guest workers are OK, but only so long as they don't threaten to further dilute the racial/religious purity of the nation.  Again we see the difficulty of creating and maintaining a state which is a democracy and exclusively (or mostly) Jewish.  Can a state have equal rights for all when one group (a race, religion or ethnicity) is explicitly given priority?  The nanny also shared how nervous she is, since she has to take two busses to get to work and two to get home each day.  Fear permeates this city.  After a leisurely morning, Elizabeth headed out to Sabeel, for their monthly worship and lunch gathering.  For the homily, Canon Ateek shared some thoughts about the "Second Coming," and how Advent is a season not only for preparing ourselves for the incarnation, but also for the time when Christ comes again.  We all discussed ways to prepare, understandings of the "Second Coming" and how these very directly relate to this land.  One person said they'd been told by an American Christian that working for reconciliation in Israel and Palestine is sinful, because it impedes God's progress toward Armageddon.  Another said he's read about Americans who'd been deported from Israel because they were inciting conflicts between Jews and Arabs, in the hopes of hastening the "Second Coming." After worship and lunch, Elizabeth headed back to Zababdeh with Sue and Carl Johnson, two friends whom we'd met in Lebanon and Syria.  We were very excited when they said they had a few extra days in their schedule and wanted to visit us.  We haven't had visitors in a long time.  So Elizabeth, Sue, and Carl made their way to Qalandia and found a mini-bus going to Jenin.  The trip had many stops and checkpoints, all 14 of us having to exit the car and be checked, men holding up their shirts, handing over their IDs, being called over for questioning.  The usual.  We arrived in Zababdeh safe and sound, nearly four hours after leaving.  Marthame, meanwhile, went to meet with the shabibi (youth group) at the Latin Church to let them know about the American group which is coming in January.  We are trying to put together a group of Christian and Muslim youth to work with them.  Following the meeting, there was a rehearsal for the Christmas pageant which Fr. Aktham wrote - the Christmas story set in modern Palestinian culture.  It's quite a story, with Fr. Aktham's touches of humor sprinkled throughout.

Friday, 12/13/02:  Our guests, Carl and Sue Johnson, have been spending some time at Ibillin working on a new book about Mar Elias College.  Part of the story will be to set it in context, and so their visit to us (along with being a visit among friends and fellow EMEU board members) is to help do that.  They also do many State-side talks in congregations about the situation facing Palestinian Christians, and so this visit is to tell a bit of the story in the northern West Bank.  We left early for Tubas, to the south of Zababdeh, with Fr. Thomas.  Fortunately, it was open - one never knows these days - and we were able to attend worship with the Orthodox Church of the Holy Trinity there.  It was the first time in anyone's memory that foreigners came to visit them (other than us) and to ask them about their situation.  Unlike nearby Burqin (which has an historical church) and Zababdeh (which has a Christian majority), Tubas is often bypassed by Christian pilgrims - even those coming on solidarity tours.  To have two foreigners asking about the situation affecting the community of some 60 people was quite meaningful.  After fellowship and coffee, we were taken on a tour of the area, heading south on the road towards Nablus.  We passed by the old British-Israeli prison, now being turned into a youth center, opposite Farah Refugee Camp.  It, like the rest of the West Bank's camps, remains a place of squalor, if a bit more permanent in appearance than the name "camp" might convey - fifty years is a long time.  We arrived in the town of Beidan, which lies right on a wonderful natural spring.  The area around is green and lush, and elegantly-decorated restaurants line the road.  Unfortunately, most of them are empty - the one that remained open tried to coax us inside.  It was the first time Marthame had stopped here and saw what once was a West Bank playground - water slides, swimming pools, and outdoor restaurants line the stream that springs forth from Beidan.  We continued on the road until reaching as far as we could go, where the road has been bulldozed once again.  Each time, the road is destroyed a bit further down.  It remains unpassable by car, and gets longer and more difficult for passage by foot.  It would now take an hour to walk from this point to the edge of Nablus.  Nablus, it seems, is the forgotten tragedy of this place.  It is cut off from the world, cut off from the West Bank, even cut off from itself - residents of that city now need permits to go from one part of town to the other, and the area in front of the old Municipality building has been sealed off with a metal gate.  We had been hoping to go down to visit our friends there, but right now doesn't seem like the time - perhaps that may make it the most important time to go.  In the evening, we stopped by the Latin Convent to visit with Fr. Aktham and Deacon Homam.  Fr. Aktham shared with us some highlights of the pageant, as well as a few surprises he has up his sleeve for the Christmas Eve service.  It looks like the time away on the Patriarchate's clergy retreat has given him a good recharge and the chance to let his creativity take shape.  He was also able to share with the Johnsons some of the realities of life these days.  Particularly of interest was the situation regarding law and order.  After the recent shooting of the owner of one of Zababdeh's liquor stores, the Palestinian Authority was able to investigate - by telephone, mostly - and discover who the perpetrators were.  Their names are sitting in an office file in Ramallah, waiting for the roads to open so arrests can take place.  Zababdeh is not alone - there are murders, thefts, and other crimes with a similar status throughout the West Bank.  However, social order has not broken down.  The close-knit nature of society here, with mostly small towns and strong family allegiances keeps a kind of peace.  We wonder at this, considering where we came from:  what would happen in Chicago or Atlanta or even Lubbock if there were suddenly no police?  It gives us the shudders, and gives us an appreciation for our host culture.  We then stopped by to meet with Deacon Firas briefly on the eve of his becoming a priest - he is busy with last minute plans, so a quick cup of tea was all we had time for.

Saturday, 12/14/02:  Everyone welcomed Elizabeth back at school warmly, asking about Jerusalem and her health and the road and everything else.  The Johnsons joined us at school briefly, getting a tour of the facilities, before the ordination festivities began.  Bishop Boutros Ma'alim and his entourage arrived, having taken the bypass road and having navigated the area around Sweitat including the new metal gate that blocks the road.  Fr. Elias Chacour arrived from Ibillin a bit later, having flown in that morning from France in order to be able to attend the service.  It was quite the occasion, with some fifteen Melkite priests and monks in attendance.  Marthame and Firas' brother, Fr. Fadi (an Anglican priest in Ramallah), made up the Protestant delegation.  Fr. Thomas represented the Orthodox while Fr. Aktham and Deacon Homam were the Roman Catholic hosts in the Latin Church of Visitation.  Though Melkites and Roman Catholics are in communion, their style of liturgy is different.  There is far more similarity between the Greek Orthodox and Melkite forms of worship, both being Byzantine in tradition.  The organ remained silent, but with fifteen Melkite priests and monks, it wasn't missed.  It is an elegant liturgy (audio - 22 sec., audio - 14 sec.).  Deacon Firas, as in his ordination to the diaconate, took part in the service in particular moments, including the Intercessory Prayers (audio - 9 sec.) and the Gospel reading (audio - 12 sec.), in particular the consecrating of the elements for communion.  Fr. Thomas, his uncle, also took part in the liturgy (audio - 11 sec.), an ecumenical family affair - his aunt even traveled from Jerusalem to add her congratulations (audio - 11 sec.).  His family stood with him to help his dress in his new priestly garments, tears flooding their proud eyes.  It has been seventeen years since Fr. Stephen, the last Melkite priest, died, and now Stephen's son was able to witness the ordination of his oldest son.  A proud moment too long in coming.  Following a great luncheon of mansaaf in the church hall (enough to feed five hundred - or perhaps five thousand would be more Biblical), the clergy went on a collective pastoral visit.  The man who was shot in the liquor store looting has returned from his hospitalization in Haifa, Arafat (somehow) picking up the tab.  His face is swollen, and he is unable to speak correctly - the doctors project that within six months he will be back to normal, though - praise God.  The priests were as baffled by the tenuous state of law and order as the American visitors - and they are Palestinians, simply living on the other side of the Green Line in the Galilee!  It's amazing how little is known about the situation here, even by those who live nearby.  We then went down to the Melkite Convent to take a look at the situation there.  Deacon (now Father - it'll take some getting used to!) Firas has been doing what he can with what little financial support he's received.  But located on the main road, the church is well-situated.  Finally, it was to Fr. Firas' parents' house for dessert and coffee.  The Bishop asked Zababdeh's mayor to donate land to the Melkite church.  Some have guessed that he and his entourage were unaware that the situation is different in the West Bank.  In Israel, there is "abandoned" land, land which once belonged to the Arab inhabitants who are now refugees and was not incorporated into one or another Jewish village.  This is the situation in Muqeible, for example, but Zababdeh has no such land.  The Johnsons were able to catch a ride with some clergy heading back to the Galilee, and Fr. Firas' family was left to clean out a number of giant pots that cooked the rice, meat, and yogurt sauce.  The ordination is over - now the work begins.

Sunday, 12/15/02:  Today, the third Sunday of Advent, was Fr. Firas' first Mass.  Since the Melkite church is still in great need of repair, he served in the Latin church, and hence in the Roman Catholic style.  Fr. Aktham preached on the text of John the Baptist, Ein Kerem's native son, crying in the wilderness.  This is our call, he told the congregation, our evangelism, to be the Christian voice in this land.  We returned home to the bracing cold of our home.  We have never been colder than the time that we've been here.  That includes Chicago.  Temperature-wise, Zababdeh is much warmer (it doesn't even freeze here).  But there are two important things missing here which make us so cold: insulation and central heating.  Our apartment building in Zababdeh is made of cement blocks, plaster and paint. Cold air seeps through.  We have space heaters, which we hover around like moths at the campfire.  After church, we put a space heater in the bedroom, closed the door, and crawled back under the covers.  Marthame ventured outside in the evening, finding outside no colder than inside, to get to rehearsal for the Christmas party.  The church is just as cold as home - there's no escape!

Monday, 12/16/02:  Elizabeth proctored her eighth graders' exam today while Marthame stayed at home - a stomach flu hit him last night, which fortunately ended up to be a 24-hour deal.  The cold weather seems to keep our defenses at a low point.  As if to prove this point, no sooner was Marthame feeling better than Elizabeth started in with a sort throat - not before going up to the University (for an absent Marthame) to meet with the students who will be working with the American students  coming in January.  It is a good group and they are eager to welcome their guests who will travel a long way to meet them.  One of the casualties of the last two years has been Palestinian hospitality - famous for its generosity, it has not had many opportunities to extend itself over the last two years.

Tuesday, 12/17/02:  Happy St. Barbara's Day.  The Egyptian saint whose church we visited in Cairo is remembered today.  Here, it is celebrated with a sweet, thick, hot cinnamon beverage called "Barbaara."  Why, we weren't able to determine.  School exams continued today.  Elizabeth however stayed home with a sore throat and congestion. Marthame got a call from Fr. Hosam in Nablus.  The situation there continues to deteriorate.  Apparently the road which Marthame showed to the Johnsons a couple of days ago is the most accessible road out of the city these days.  The other roads are completely unpassable by foot - or even by donkey.  We had hoped to get into Nablus for a visit before Christmas, but it looks like that'll have to wait a while.  This afternoon, Marthame came home with a bag and a big, long box:  Fr. Aktham gave us a tree and ornaments as a Christmas present!  Last year, we borrowed our absent neighbors' tree, and the year before, we had a large branch from the pine forest in the nearby hills.  But now we our own "real" tree with shiny ornaments and lights.  It is amazing what a difference it makes in creating the holiday spirit, and in cheering up sick Elizabeth.

Wednesday, 12/18/02:  Again, Elizabeth woke up feeling yucky and chose to stay at home.  Marthame, however, made his way through the rain to school.  At the door, Fr. Aktham grabbed him, asking, "Do you have your passport?"  The two of them then drove down past the abandoned Israeli camp to what used to be a Palestinian checkpoint on the road to Qabatia.  Two Israeli hum-v's were blocking the road - on the other side of this "flying" checkpoint was our Jenin school bus, waiting to pass.  As we got out of the car, and approached the soldiers, speaking in English, they demanded that Fr. Aktham raise his shirt to show he didn't have any explosives strapped to him.  He refused: "I am a priest - comer [the Hebrew word]."  The situation was, as a soldier in winter ski mask explained, that they were running a security check on the driver.  Once he was cleared, the bus would be allowed to pass.  It poured rain as others waited, too - no one was passing the security check.  After fifteen minutes and then half an hour, we checked again.  It was the same situation - exams had begun an hour ago, and the bus had been at the checkpoint for another half an hour.  All of the bus drivers were already cleared by the military District Coordinating Office to avoid such problems - all for naught, apparently.  One soldier helpfully offered that we could take the children in Fr. Aktham's car, or that one of us could drive the bus.  Fr. Aktham protested the unreasonableness of this, which the ski-masked soldier answered with, "Do you think I care?  I don't care!  He can wait five more hours for all I care!" as he waved his M-16 around.  Five minutes later, our drenched passports were returned and the bus was on its way.  We're not sure which is more frustrating: the arbitrary nature of it all, or the fact that you have to kick and scream - as a protected international - to accomplish the simplest of tasks.  For Fr. Aktham, that privilege may soon change - the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem is having great difficulty renewing the visas of their Jordanian clergy and seminarians.  Teachers adjusted their schedules accordingly, and the Jenin students arrived and began their exams.  It's the nearly daily nature of such humiliation and harassment that grinds away at the soul.   Meanwhile, rehearsals continue for the upcoming Christmas pageant.  Fr. Aktham and Marthame have been working on an English translation, made somewhat more difficult by the fact that there are many plays on Arabic words and phrases.  Marthame has also been adding sound effects to the show, particularly those related to military activity.  Unfortunately, we haven't had to fabricate anything but have merely had to edit together sounds we've recorded over the past two years (audio - 14 sec.).

Thursday, 12/19/02:  Elizabeth fortunately was feeling better today, and went to school, where she graded her papers and worked on finishing up grades for the semester.  Marthame left school to put the final touches on the visit next month of the American student group.  He and a professor from the Arab-American University made their way to Jenin to the YMCA offices there.  The jeeps were in place again this morning, and though our school bus passed through, the likelihood of a taxi being able to do the same was small.  Thus began the journey through Misilye and Qabatia to the Shuhada intersection just outside Jenin.  Cars were lined up, waiting at what used to be another Palestinian checkpoint now manned by Israelis.  No one was passing from here, said the soldier, so we headed to the village of Burqin.  In the valley below the village's historic church, traffic was making its way up to a point, dropping passengers off, then turning around.  People then made a twenty-minute walk over a steep, rocky, muddy, destroyed road to the road on the other side, where taxis were waiting, after dropping off people going the other way.  It was a scene that staggered.  In pouring rain, people were making their way in and out of Jenin on foot through mud that wouldn't have looked out of place on a potter's wheel.  Slimy and gray, it dirtied shoes and pants and ran the risk of sending you into it.  We have been clear since we came about the need to respect life on all sides here - Palestinian respect for Israeli life seems pretty low, and the reverse is true.  But part of the equation which really sank in today is the question of quality of life.  Palestinians often say, "We are not living - we are like animals, surviving."  Today, Marthame felt that sentiment in his bones.  To make a commute like this day in and day out (or even once a week) - and to make it because an occupying army has destroyed your roads and their soldiers refuse you passage - and to remember how quick and easy and cheap the trip used to be - boggles the mind.  A human being cannot feel this anger without either having an outlet or simply going numb.  Needless to say, Marthame arrived late to his appointment - something that is simply assumed these days.  The meeting at the Y ran along two lines.  The first, to talk about activities related to the handicapped throughout the region.  The second, to see what kind of a program we can put together for the visiting group.  It was a good visit, even a great visit, but to say it was worth the trip would be to downplay the utter humiliation of the commute.  Marthame also took care of some errands - trips to Jenin are few and far between - before bracing himself for the return journey.  "What is this, Kandahar?" remarked another "commuter" as he sloshed through the muck.  There's a strange camaraderie in places like this that keeps people going.  Marthame returned home to find a new definition of irony - it has been raining all day long, but the water cistern for our building is bone-dry.  And because the fields are so muddy, it is impossible for a water truck to get to the building to fill it.  So much for clean shoes today.

Friday, 12/20/02:  In the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches there are daily prayers - in the Orthodox, twice a day (morning and evening); in the Roman Catholic, it's a daily Mass.  Throughout Advent, Fr. Aktham has been preaching on a variety of topics related to Christmas - the shepherds, Herod, Elizabeth, Zacharias.  On Wednesday, Deacon Homam preached on the Magi.  Yesterday, Fr. Firas gave a homily on Mary.  Today, Marthame was invited to preach about Simeon (Luke 3), the old man who was waiting for the promise of the Messiah so he could "part in peace."  He's not at the point linguistically where he could preach in Arabic, so Marthame worked with Deacon Homam on the translation.  Part way into the service, the electricity cut out - frustrations with the local grid continue - so Marthame and Homam preached by candlelight.  After church, Fr. Aktham joked that God was angry that a Protestant was going to preach and didn't want to hear Marthame's voice.  Ah, ecumenism!  Meanwhile, the well has been filled - but the pump is broken.  Water, water everywhere...

Saturday, 12/21/02:  Today is the poorly-named Feast of the Lepers.  The historic church in Burqin known for the miraculous healing of Ten Lepers (Luke 17) has an unofficial feast day the first Sunday before Western Christmas.  Because of the situation, though, the date has needfully remained flexible - last year it was celebrated in January, and Bishop Timotheus came with an entourage of Greek Christians.  This year, Marthame joined Fr. Thomas and two members of his community as the non-Burqin delegation.  It's a far cry from the celebrations of the past.  Below, the traffic headed towards Jenin and the hideous walk through the mud.  Meanwhile, the church has been revisited by vandals.  Not content to scrawl graffiti on the convent's walls, now someone has taken to climbing over the wall and writing political slogans on the church hall as well as digging in the grounds (possibly looking for gold or artifacts) and busting up a couple of lights.  It's unpleasant to say the least, and potentially quite disturbing.  People here often point to the camaraderie between Christian and Muslim, which is true, but incidents like this do little to increase confidence in a bright, tolerant future.  Other such incidents have been linked to Israeli collaborators, but are disturbing nonetheless.  Fr. Thomas promised to contact folks in his Patriarchate who might be able to intervene.  We hope so.  One of those who came from Zababdeh was invited by Fr. Thomas to say a word as part of the homily.  He spoke about the Orthodox perspective on the Virgin Mary and how it differs from the Catholic understanding.  A little bit of lay preaching, Orthodox-style.  Marthame arrived back to Zababdeh in time to join the teachers and staff for their annual luncheon celebration, replete with Nablus-style knaffe.  The teachers have certainly earned it, going through quite the ringer this year.  In the afternoon, Marthame joined Fr. Thomas at the Orthodox church in Zababdeh for "Sunday" school.  Two women in the congregation organize activities and lessons for the children.  Fr. Thomas was keen to point out that those children who came represented quite the "icon" of the body of Christ: Orthodox, Catholic, Melkite, and Anglican children all came.  Quite to Marthame's surprise, so did a couple of Muslim kids.  According to Fr. Thomas, it was the first time - he guessed they came because they heard they might get presents.  And for most small kids, that matters more than any sense of religious identity might at that age.  The best news for the day: hot showers!

Sunday, 12/22/02:  The fourth Sunday of Advent has arrived, and we worshiped in the Latin Church of Visitation.  After Mass, the children headed down to the church hall for a program put on by the Bible Society of Jerusalem.  They had done such a show a couple of years ago, and though the road has gotten much more complicated, they were still able to come and put on a show for the kids.  Again, presents were the main draw.  But it wasn't the biggest event in town - in plain sight on the road was a military blockade in place on the road up to the University.  Marthame called Elizabeth so she could film it from our balcony.  Instead, she decided to walk up there and see what was going on.  Since 9:00 that morning, soldiers had stopped all movement along the road.  Perhaps two hundred students who had tried to make their way from Zababdeh up to take their exams were stopped by the soldiers, not allowed to go to the University or back home.  Most young men had their IDs taken as they waited.  After a couple hours, the women and the professors were told they could go, but they decided to stay, both as a sign of solidarity and because they feared what might happen to the male students if they left.  "They punched some of the students and arrested them," they said. "Come look," as they led Elizabeth to the side of the road, where she could see students on the ground next to the army jeep far ahead (audio - 6 sec.). One professor held an impromptu lecture on political science.  When afternoon prayer time came, a dozen students began to pray in the middle of the road.  Elizabeth spoke with both the soldiers and the students - the former were nervous about being filmed, the latter were not.  She asked one soldier what was happening.  "We are looking for a student.  He is a bad man.  We know his name.  We know his face."  Elizabeth pointed to one student, "Is that him?"  "No."  "What about him?"  "No."  "OK.  Then why not let them go?"  "I can't do that.  We have to check them."  Ah, the Israeli military logic.  Students were frustrated and hungry, having stood waiting for more than three hours.  "They killed our humanity," noted one student (audio - 3 sec.).  Elizabeth left the students and headed back to Zababdeh for lunch with Marthame at Fr. Firas' house.  No sooner had we started eating our fried chicken when the mosque sounded an announcement: the students of the University were calling for a demonstration to walk up to the site.  At 2:00, small groups of young men began slowly making their way up the road.  We watched from our balcony, not sure what would happen next.  Before the demonstrators made it to the checkpoint, we could see the students passing the jeep and going up to the university.  As we learned later, Fr. Aktham had gone to the checkpoint to plead with the soldiers - some of the students being detained were part of the Christmas Pageant that night.  The reaction was similar to that of a couple of days ago: a round of "I don't care" followed by the release of the students.  The Christmas party started "on time" - announced at 4:30, it began at 5:00.  Sister Elba had taught the children some Christmas songs, some of them with familiar tunes if not words (audio - 8 sec.).  The University-age students had also prepared hymns, Marthame joining in on guitar.  Again, some were familiar to us (audio - 7 sec.), others new (audio - 8 sec.).  Then came the evening's focal point, "The Star of Bethlehem: Lost or Found?", Fr. Aktham's modern-day retelling of the Christmas story in Zababdeh.  Breaking news from Al-Jazeera, Israeli incursions into Bethlehem, the sounds of war outside, inside jokes about "no room in the inn" because University students have taken every last place...It was very well done, very funny, and very well received.  It struck a chord, and drove home the message that the Christmas season gives hope even in the most desperate of times.

Monday, 12/23/02:  We divided duties today - Marthame grabbed a taxi and headed to Salem, the Israeli Army's District Coordinating Office.  Prior to the Palestinian Authority, this was the bureacratic system every West Bank Palestinian had to face - for travel permissions, work permissions, etc.  Now that the Palestinian Authority has been ground down to one building in Ramallah, these offices have been put back into use.  We had been here two years ago, but didn't recognize the place.  It was once on the main road from Jenin to Haifa.  Now, the road coming out of Jenin dead-ends into a military camp.  It took Marthame a while to recognize that this was the same place.  Today, he had come here to seek permission for one of Zababdeh's young women to travel from Ben Gurion Airport to attend the World Scouting Jamboree in Thailand as a representative of the Palestinian scouting program.  Marthame waited, was told no, was then assured that maybe a certain different person could help, waited, and waited.  Three hours and many phone calls later, he was told definitively that such a thing was impossible.  Palestinians are not allowed to travel from Ben Gurion anymore.  And it takes three hours to deliver this definitive news, apparently.  He began the long road back, foregoing errands in Jenin due to incursions throughout the city.  Meanwhile, Elizabeth distributed her 7th grade exam and then excused herself to play Helper to Baba Noel, who was headed to the kindergarten. And as exams finished, Elizabeth took pictures and wished kids Merry Christmas as part of their annual party sponsored by Roswell Presbyterian Church.  For the last three years, the Atlanta-area church has purchased the gifts for the children of the school, both Muslim and Christian.  And each year, it has grown a bit in scale.  In a time when solidarity between Eastern and Western Christians seems to be running on empty, such celebrations are a gift.  In the evening, after Mass, Marthame delivered the bad news to the young lady hoping to go to Bangkok.  Though there is a possibility that she can go from Jordan, that still requires travel permits - both from the Israelis and the Jordanians - and time is short.  To say she looked "devastated" is an understatement.  It rounded out a pretty awful week.  Our respite and relief came in a gathering with the University ex-pats over homemade sushi and Christmas carols.  There's nothing like harmony to refresh the soul.

Tuesday, 12/24/02:  Following exams, we were privileged to do something that no one in their right mind would say no to: give Christmas presents to first graders!  In addition to the annual Christmas party they throw here, Roswell Presbyterian Church has just this year paired its first grade Sunday School class with the first grade Christian religion class in the school.  Zababdeh's kids had sent pictures and cards to Roswell. The other day, the box arrived from Roswell - a care package with educational posters, supplies, toys for each first grader, and letters with pictures for each of the Christian kids who had been paired up.  There's nothing quite like getting to be the source of joy for a smiling six year-old.  Elizabeth worked to put the final touches on our holiday vacation plans while Marthame finished up our internet business for a while before we headed back out to attend the Latin Church's elegant Christmas Eve worship.  It is the only show in town, quite the beautiful, lengthy liturgy.  Before Mass began, there was traditional canting (audio - 10 sec.).  The manger scene was prepared, but locked.  Fr. Aktham explained that, as Bethlehem is closed, so is the grotto.  It can only be opened by the opening of our hearts to receive the Christ child.  Meanwhile, he had slipped the key in someone's pocket as he milled around before worship.  The embarrassed parishioner unlocked the manger, and the worship began.  There were, of course, the traditional Christmas carols that we know well, with an international flavor: The First Noel (in Arabic - audio - 8 sec.), Angels We Have Heard on High (in Arabic and Latin - audio - 20 sec.), even Silent Night (in Arabic and English - audio - 14 sec.).  Marthame did double-duty, standing with the clergy as well as playing guitar and singing with the choir (audio - 7 sec.).  Fr. Faisal Hijazin, Fr. Aktham's distant cousin, was the guest preacher, reminding us of the situation in Bethlehem, and how it isn't that different from 2000 years ago.  We need to present our gifts to the Christ child tonight, he said, our love, our mercy, our peace.  As the bells rang, people embraced one another with the traditional greeting, "Kul 'am w-intum bi-kheir" - may you be happy all year - before rushing home in the pouring rain.  Blessings flow.  In the words of Fr. Aktham's Christmas message, "In the midst of a war zone, we send to you our greetings in the name of the Prince of Peace."  Merry Christmas. 743

Wednesday, 12/25/02:  With Fr. Hosam trapped in Nablus and Fr. Firas without his own sanctuary to pray in, Zababdeh has two (not four) Christmas morning church services.  Marthame went early to the Orthodox Church, arriving as Fr. Thomas was preparing the eucharist and one young man was chanting the part of the chorus.  Soon enough, the rest of the congregation arrived, filling the small church to capacity.  Even though Christmas on the Eastern calendar doesn't take place for two more weeks, in Zababdeh the celebrations are together - Christmas on the Western calendar, Easter on the Eastern calendar.  Ecumenism works sometimes...Fr. Thomas' son is in town, back from studying theology in Greece, and took part in the liturgy, chanting the epistle (audio - 8 sec.).  He is planning to be a priest at this point, and is one of only five Palestinian theology students at the Orthodox  Seminary.  In this area, Orthodox parish priests often haven't had the opportunity to attend seminary. After worship, a delegation went with Fr. Thomas to wish Fr. Aktham and their Latin brothers a Merry Christmas.  Several Muslim students and a teacher from the University had attended worship as well - some are part of the group that is preparing to work with the American students coming and are interested in long-term Muslim-Christian relations.  Marthame then joined them at Fr. Firas' house for an impromptu lively discussion of "martyrdom operations," the inappropriate title given to Palestinian suicide bombings.  Marthame was arguing for a non-violent Palestinian strategy while others were putting forth others: confining military struggle to the West Bank and Gaza, anything goes, something in between.  There is truly a desperation and anger fueling the suicide bombing - no doubt about that.  We've seen enough of the quality - or lack thereof - of Palestinian life to know that.  But the fact that civilian attacks are used as a strategy is something entirely different.  One in the group said, "I think if you are suggesting a political strategy, you should be the first to put yourself on the line.  Those sending suicide bombers into Israel won't do the same.  That shows they're not honest."  It reminded Marthame of seeing a Hamas leader interviewed on TV.  After Israel retaliated for a suicide bombing by launching an attack in Gaza which killed a number of civilians he said, "This is the price we must pay, and we are willing to make the sacrifice."  What price, exactly, is he paying?  And what price is he forcing others to pay for his convictions?  There is an important distinction between understanding a point of view and agreeing with it.  The longer we are here, the more we grow in both understanding of and disagreement with these violent movements.  We spent the rest of the day getting ready for travel.  Somehow it was fitting to have this discussion on the eve of vacation.  The olive wood Holy Family carving - a Christmas gift to ourselves - reminded us of what lies ahead: Egypt!

Thursday, 12/26/02:  There are several ways to travel to Egypt: plane, car, and bus.  Plane is expensive, we have no car, and Israeli busses are not transportation that recommends itself these days, even in during the lulls in attacks.  Instead, we will travel by Arab Israeli bus which leaves out of Nazareth.  That necessitated travel to the north, which is more expensive but both easier and more reliable these days.  We took a taxi from Zababdeh to Jalame, walking up to the checkpoint.  One of the soldiers there recognized Marthame from his Brazil-like experience at Salem last week and wished us well.  We caught our second taxi on the other side and picked up our bus tickets in Nazareth before meeting up with American friends and doing a bit of decompressing over snacks and dinner.  Finally, it was a hymn sing and holiday treats with long-term ex-pats.  The conversation was pervaded with questions of whether to stay in Israel, who was already gone, where to get gas masks, whether to get inoculations.  The looming war with Iraq has serious consequences for people in Israel, as Saddam Hussein - if attacked - would probably try to attack Israel, as he did in the first Gulf War.  It seems strange to us - it's so close to home yet these worries seem a world away from the worries of the Occupied West Bank.  Fancying himself (and hoping others do too) the champion of the Palestinian cause, Hussein would seek to maximize damage to Jewish Israeli areas and avoid Palestinian areas (like the West Bank).  And so we take some odd comfort for our own safety in Palestine.  However, in a full-scale regional war, which could easily be sparked by such an attack, all bets are off.  And so we know, as we have for the past two years, that we may need to leave Palestine for our own safety.  Small comfort for our friends and neighbors here, though.  We have to hope against hope that our leaders will not leap into war with devastating consequences.  After treats and caroling, we said our good-byes and went to catch our bus.  It's about a six hour ride, leaving from Nazareth at 10:00 pm and arriving down south in Eilat early in the morning.  It's not the most restful trip - the seats could at least recline a bit.

Friday, 12/27/02:  We arrived at about 4:00, wondering why our driver was bothering to hurry along the road.  Our middle of the night drive took us down the Jordan Valley road, the fastest commute we've recently had along that path.  After a routine crossing into Taba, on the Egyptian side, we began the long - and fruitless - search for our bus to St. Catherine's, in the middle of the Sinai Peninsula.  Some were insistent that one would come at 10:00, others that no such bus existed due to the dramatic decline in tourism in the whole area.  Accuracy is a moving target in this part of the world.  An hour later, we discovered that the tickets we purchased in Nazareth were supposed to deliver us to Sharm al-Sheikh, down at the tip of the Sinai Peninsula - the bus was still waiting for us (much to the delight of our fellow Nazareth travelers), and we boarded, deciding to be dropped off in the town of Dahab, about halfway down the coast.  Every highway intersection here has police and checkpoints, something we remember from last year's trip to Egypt.  Particularly in tourist areas, security presence is beefed up.  The signs in Hebrew along the side of the road (as well as in hotels and restaurants) were a sign of times that have largely passed with this Intifada.  After Egypt retook the Sinai from Israel in the 1973 War and signed the historic peace treaty at Camp David, they expanded on the tourism infrastructure planted by the Israelis along the Red Sea coast.  And it has remained a major holiday destination for Israelis - until now, that is. Our bus dropped us off on the main road, about three miles outside of Dahab, so we walked into town, finally arriving at our hotel on the beach.  Admittedly, after a sleepless night on a bus, and a sweaty three-mile walk with our (thankfully small) bags, we were wondering what kind of "vacation" we'd made for ourselves.  On the way, we did enjoy the stark scenery; the Sinai seems to be nothing but harsh, craggy mountains and desert, and the Saudi Arabian coast - in sight across the Gulf - seems to echo more of the same.  The "holiday village" where we are staying is pleasant enough, standing off by itself.  Clusters of rectangular stone huts topped by whitewashed domes, like Motel 6's version of Cairo's City of the Dead.  After resting from our long overnight trip, we investigated the town.  To the south are the 5-star joints - Novotel, Hilton, etc.  To the north is the heart of Dahab, where scuba-bums congregate in shops like the Laughing Buddha to pore over tie-dyed t-shirts and beaded necklaces.  We haven't smelled this much patchouli since we saw the Grateful Dead at Rosemont ('94 - any tapes?).  After buying a few disposable underwater cameras, we enjoyed lunch at the local Chinese restaurant and strolled the boardwalk, soaking up the sun and the scene.  Back at our hotel in the evening, we walked along the sea, passing under the hotel's pastel wooden beach umbrellas.  Outfitted with colored light bulbs, they decorated the beach like so many discount Tiffany lamps.  It's a far cry from Zababdeh - just what we needed.

Saturday, 12/28/02:  Our hotel is book-ended by two dive shops.  Marthame shaved his mustache (otherwise the mask can't make a seal - something we discovered the last time we tried to go snorkeling) and we rented our equipment - $5 for the works.  We happily squeezed into the wetsuits - mostly for sunburn protection but also an extra layer against the slightly chilly water (and against any prickly/stingy/pokey marine life we might encounter).  The beach in front of our hotel abuts the coral reef, so we began swimming as soon as the water was deep enough - about four feet out.  We were first met by a coarse white sandy bottom and green plants, all bowing in rhythm with the waves.  Sea urchins, diadem urchins, and sea cucumbers were the most active critters to meet us immediately.  But soon, we were seeing a number of fish - pufferfish, inflating themselves for our benefit, hid under rocks.  The sand eventually gives way to a brilliant array of colored coral - blues, reds, pinks.  About fifty yards from the shore, the reef drops off dramatically - a moment that should be accompanied by dramatic music, like the moment the plane soars over the Grand Canyon.  The greenish water gave way to blue - deep, intense blue - and an array of underwater coral islands.  Harmless jellyfish hovered at the surface.  Schools of silvery lunar fusilliers retreated, making swift synchronized turns when we approached.  Cornetfish opened their elongated mouths, feeding passively on the sea.  Unicornfish, with their namesake "horn"ed foreheads and brightly spotted tail fins, descended towards the distant sandy bottom.  Butterflyfish in their bright yellows eyed us nervously.  We caught sight of a lone anemonefish striking a pose against a light coral background.  Periodically, we would poke our heads above the water to adjust our masks and to compare notes.  It was then that the contrast really struck us - the brown, seemingly lifeless, dry desert peaks above, and the colorful, breath-taking scene teeming with life below.  Marthame's assessment, while prosaic, was quite accurate: "This is the coolest thing I've ever seen!"  Upon our return we discovered that the Red Sea is not only the source of our entertainment, it is also the hotel's source of tap water.  Nothing like a hot salty shower...  The rest of the day hardly seems worth mentioning in comparison.  Falling asleep, we thought about floating among the waves, and that effortless scene of gracious beauty.

Sunday, 12/29/02: We left our salt water hotel behind, catching the bus towards our original destination of St. Catherine's and Mt. Sinai.  Among our fellow travelers was a British national who was biking his way around the Middle East (apparently not on this leg of the journey).  He had been in Syria, Palestine, and Israel recently, and had biked his way down through the West Bank.  The bemusement with which he was met surely rivaled our experiences.  We walked from the center of town to our hotel, spread-out stone bungalows perfectly camouflaged in the shadow of impressive mountains that surrounded the slowly tilting plain.  It seemed like the hotel's designers wanted a peaceful get-away with a kinder, gentler Stone Age atmosphere.  We half-expected Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble to come out of the next bungalow.  As night fell, the mountains disappeared from view and the heat gave way to bone-chilling cold.  We're beginning to wonder about the wisdom of a late-night mountain climb.

Monday, 12/30/02:  One of the two reasons we came to this area is the Convent of St. Catherine's.  Since the third century, small monastic communities settled on and around the holy Mount Sinai, fleeing Roman persecution and revering the site of the burning bush and the delivery of the ten commandments.  The monastery surviving to this day began as a chapel built in 330 by Helena, the mother of Constantine, first of a long line of protectors.  The monastery's official name is the Church of the Transfiguration, memorializing Christ's miraculous transformation before the eyes of Peter, James, and John along with the appearance of two of Mt. Sinai's Biblical denizens, Moses and Elijah (Matthew 17).  The monastery has come to be known as St. Catherine's because in the 7th century, monks discovered on a nearby mountain top the remains of St. Catherine, an early Egyptian Christian martyr.  In the early 4th century, she was tortured and killed on a spiked wheel; yet, not only did she refuse to recant her faith, her arguments and bravery were said to convert members of the Emperor's family.  Like Saint George, Saint Catherine was brought back to Europe in stories by the Crusaders, and subsequently became a major Western saint.  In the middle of the 6th century, Emperor Justinian fortified the monastery, and brought 200 families from Anatolia and Greece (and we were told Romania) to protect and serve the monastery and its pilgrims, who have been flocking here since the 4th century.  During Mohammed's rise to power in Saudi Arabia (and nearly 20 years before the Arab conquest of the Sinai), monks went to visit him and ask for his protection.  He granted their request, and the letter he wrote (copies of which we viewed in the monastery's museum) served them very well over the years.  The Crusaders also offered their services to the area, even founding a special order to protect St. Catherine's pilgrims.  The ensuing Mameluke regime was not so friendly, but the monastery survived to be protected and well-favored by the next rulers, the Turkish Ottomans.  During "Napoleon's Egyptian adventure" (as the tourist pamphlet calls it), St. Catherine's received a number of renovations and proclamations of protection.  Today, the natural landscape has remained much the same, but the religious life has changed dramatically in the Sinai.  The inhabitants of the peninsula, once almost entirely Christian, are now almost entirely Muslim, including the offspring of the families brought by Justinian.  Over time, they intermarried with local nomads and became known as the Jebeliya Bedouins, and they still serve the monastery and the pilgrims who visit it and Mt. Sinai.  The once-thriving community of monks (once in the hundreds) has now shrunk to twenty-two. We arrived as the monastery opened to the public in the morning, hoping to deliver greetings from friends in Jerusalem to several of the monks.  We found one, Fr. George, who graced us with a pass written in Greek to see several parts of the monastery reserved for special groups.  Photographs are not allowed in most parts, so we tried to burn as much of the place into our memory as possible (and to buy postcards and tourist brochures).  We spoke with one of the monks, a Fr. Justin who was born and raised in El Paso, Texas, of all places.  He was most interested to hear news from Palestine, particularly regarding Fr. Iustinus in Nablus whom he had met on a visit to there during the first Intifada.  One of our special passes was to see the sixth century ceiling mosaic of the Transfiguration, sequestered back behind the iconostasis and guarded by Fr. Nikolai.  It's hard to believe that, 1400 years later, such a thing still shines as brightly as it does.  Behind the apse is the Helena-era chapel built on the site of the Burning Bush.  Most Orthodox altars are built over relics - this one is built over the roots of the Burning Bush, which has been dug up and transplanted nearby.  According to our guidebook, the bush grows nowhere else in the world, and cuttings from it never survive.  That, and the requests of monks and tour guides, didn't stop the hoards of tourist/pilgrims from ripping pieces from it, though (amazingly it was very crowded - we haven't been to a crowded tourist site in a very long time).  Our second "secret" pass was to view the recently-opened museum, elegantly displaying a fraction of the monastery's icons and manuscripts.  Due to its location and various protectors, the monastery has a collection of icons that avoided destruction from all the iconoclastic controversies. So they have a unique collection, unbroken from the sixth century.  We were both especially moved by a luminous seventh century icon of Christ, amazingly well preserved over the centuries.  There were, of course, icons of St. Catherine, but most unique were the icons of the Theotokos of the Burning Bush.  Since the episode of Exodus 3 marked a theophany (appearance of God), it has been seen by the Orthodox tradition as a figure of the Virgin Mary, whose womb witnessed the theophany in incarnation.  Unfortunately, we couldn't find any postcards of it.  The manuscripts here are impressive, too, second only to the Vatican in number and value of holdings.  Ancient parchment writings and elaborate illuminated manuscripts in perhaps a dozen languages were on display in the museum.  What is sad, though, is what is missing: in 1865, the Monastery lent the Codex Sinaiticus (a fourth century Greek manuscript of the Bible) to a German scholar on behalf of the Russian Czar.  It was never returned, and later the British Museum bought it from the Soviets (for 100,000 pounds).  Not surprisingly, the British Museum has not returned it either.  We left the monastery just in time, as the crowds became overwhelming, and headed back to our Bedrock bungalow to begin napping.  Tomorrow's an early day.

Tuesday, 12/31/02:  The alarm went off at 2:00 a.m.  Soon after, we layered up and began our climb up Mt. Sinai.  Being up there in time for sunrise, despite our better judgment, seems to be the thing to do, so we obliged.  The beginning was quite beautiful.  The darkness of the surrounding area lit up the stars that much brighter.  And since it's the thing to do, we joined in with tourist and pilgrim groups from places like Nigeria and Russia.  Everyone had flashlights, so we began as one long candlelight procession - lights trailing behind us, lights leading the way in front of us.  Periodically, a Bedouin would meet us in the dark with the offer of a camel ride in six different languages.  Just when we thought we were in an isolated area, a warming hut offering blankets and hot drinks would appear.  After a while, we began to wonder if Moses went up for sunrise, too - probably not.  Elizabeth took up the offer of a camel ride for a while, giving her legs a rest and giving her the chance to see the stars and dramatic reddish crescent moon just ascending.  The last stretch is known as the stairs of repentance - mostly because we were asking our bodies for forgiveness.  We arrived at the top at 5:30, and found it much colder than when we were moving.  Really, really, finger-numbingly cold in the desert, at night, on the top of a mountain, in winter.  First light came soon, as did the Nigerians' singing.  The Germans were celebrating communion, and the Bedouins were still hawking their blankets - a remarkable cacophony (audio - 19 sec.).  Sunrise, the last sunrise of 2002, came at 6:30, a brilliant red peeking over the horizon.  We began the collective descent, choosing to take the path of 3000 stairs on the way down.  The view was remarkable, as the mountains below - ringed by clouds of mist - began to change colors before us as shadows shifted.  We came across ancient portals where priests would hear the confessions of pilgrims.  Just as our legs were beginning to give out and our calves were being turned into veal, we heard a scream and came across a crowd of folks gathered around an older woman who had fallen and hit her head on a rock.  Though dazed and bleeding, she was OK - a warning to us and our rubbery legs.  We made it back safely and in time for the last dregs of breakfast and checkout.  The man at reception was anxious for us to leave so we packed up and headed out a little earlier than we'd planned.  And the initial offer of a thirty pound ($6) taxi ride to the bus soon plummeted to 5 pounds ($1).  Bargaining is par for the course in Egypt, and in order to keep from going crazy, you have to come expecting it as part of the experience - and be willing to play your bluffs through.  While sipping on tea and waiting for the bus back to Dahab, we were approached by several Czech backpackers headed there as well.  They had bargained a taxi driver down within range of the bus price, but needed a few more riders.  We joined them for the ride, but in the rush Elizabeth left fifty pounds (instead of fifty qirsh) for her tea.  Our panic at this error soon abated when we realized it was only a $10 error.  It's not great, but it is survivable to make such mistakes in Egypt - Switzerland is another story.  We had lunch at a Dahab hippy-area pizzeria overlooking the water (where Elizabeth saw a flying fish!) before checking back into our lovely little salt water respite (a welcome site after Dino-ville).  And even though it was New Year's Eve, somehow an early bedtime seemed far more inviting.  Happy New zzzzzzzzzzzz...  754

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