Journal in the Holy Land
February, 2001
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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.)
All night long, cow (14 sec.)

2/1/01:  Today we got our first glimpse of the new sheep (until now it has been too cold for them to come outside).  It's definitely not the suburbs of Chicago here - there's something wonderful about walking past a house on the way home and hearing "Baaaa" coming from inside.  Tonight there was also an engagement celebration, the first one that we've known about in a while (we're still figuring out how people learn these things, but when everyone is related, I guess there's not too much need for a local paper).  The contrast between this one and the last few we went to before the Intifada was stark.  People are celebrating in a much more muted way.  There's music, but no dancing.  People are still in a nation-wide mourning.  It was interesting to see the melding of traditions between the way local women who bless the engagement (audio - 16 sec.) and the way Celine Dion does (audio - 17 sec.).  After the engagement was the monthly worship service put together by college-age youth.  This has been one of the blessings coming out of the current tragedy, as they have committed themselves to a deeper sense of prayer and vigil through these quiet services of prayer and meditation.

2/2/01:  Visited the Muslim side of town (no train tracks, but what seems to be a clear border nonetheless).  Most of the Muslim families in Zababdeh seem to be descendants of refugees from 1948 Haifa who managed to scrape together enough to buy land.  Our host works at the Latin School, and treated us to some homemade Arabic bread.  The dough is cooked on heated stones (what's with stones in Palestine?) which gives it a unique shape (video - 14 sec., but you have to turn your head to the left - it's worth it).  From there we visited the Zababdeh Computer Center, run by the Zababdeh Benevolence Society.  Even though we have been in this small village for five months, until this week, we had no idea there was such a society. And apparently they have a library near our building, but again the way news travels baffles us.  When we express suprise at such things, people say, "Oh, you didn't know???" The computers at the center are better than the ones in the school, and four days a week there are classes for youth in the village.  We then went home with the computer teacher (who also teaches computer at the school) for the Arab version of Backgammon (Marthame won the first game, when he didn't know what on earth he was doing).  A full day of visits and Arabic practice.  Good for the mind and spirit.

2/4/01:  We've been working closely with one of our friends to brainstorm ideas for the village. One of the suggestions was Adult English classes with the possibility of expanding to other languages - Hebrew (very practical for those who want to work in Israel - if they can get there), German, Italian - and even potentially some vocational training - electrician, plumbing, etc.  The turn-out was decent, and Elizabeth managed to explain everything in Arabic (six hours of prep for ten minutes of talking)!  English classes start on Wednesday, so we'll see.

2/6/01:  Marthame instituted some exciting changes in his work in Zababdeh.  In two weeks, his classroom time will be greatly reduced so that he can spend time developing other ministries (both in the school and in the churches of Zababdeh).  He hopes to breathe some life into ongoing projects, like the English club, and to start new ones where the energy is.  One project that has been very exciting is an email pen-pal project where he has linked up youth at the school with youth in the States.  The school kids are absolutely thrilled about it, but unfortunately he hasn't had much luck in finding American boys who are interested. (To avoid any potential "romance" concerns, the pen pals are same sex.)  Hopefully some interested American boys will turn up soon, because the boys at the school are getting jealous of the girls.  Big changes are also taking place in Israel, as Sharon became the new Prime Minister today.  The news was met with renewed shooting activity around the military camp outside Zababdeh.  Strange how these things lose their terror after a while (both Sharon and the shooting, that is). People here, as many people in Israel, seem to feel indifferent about the election - both candidated fail to inspire, both offer little hope for people here. Some folks here even said they prefer Sharon, because he is more straightforward - even if you do not like what he says, at least you know he means it. It seems to be an opinion of a hopeless people. 

2/7/01:  More good news with our work.  Elizabeth began the adult classes today.  There were about ten people, with promises of others to come.  The class will meet twice a week for three months, with an additional hour giving the opportunity for people to socialize and play games like Scrabble and Boggle to practice.  This holds a lot of promise, too, for both educational and fellowship purposes.  Lots of good news, lots of projects, lots of excitement!

2/8/01:  Another new project begins, as Elizabeth is teaching basketball lessons to Junior High girls.  The girls only want to play, but the hard-nosed Elizabeth "Bobby Knight" Sanders wants none of that - only running, conditioning, drills, etc.  If she can, she'll sit them down to a subtitled version of Hoosiers so they understand they must suffer to succeed. Marthame visited with family friends in anticipation of a wedding this weekend.  Their family has managed to come, despite the blockades, from Ramallah and Bethlehem for the celebration over the next few days - but those who are in the States will have to resort to bits and pieces of it (maybe partially through our web page).

2/9/01:  The night before a wedding is traditionally the bigger night for celebrating.  This family has been one that has embraced us quite warmly, and we were invited to all aspects of the celebration.  We gathered with the groom's family at his house, where his sisters led the gathered in music and dancing (video - 10 sec.).  From there we piled into taxis and headed for the bride's house - all except the groom, who was ferreted away in a brand-new BMW (courtesy of a big-shot PA friend) until later.  At her house, the men sat, smoked, drank bitter coffee, and talked technology and gossip.  The women gathered with the bride, who held large henna crosses in her hands.  Guests were invited to decorate themselves with the henna (an extremely old tradiditon, in which very few guests seem to patrticipate these days) while the groom's sisters again led the revelry with music and dancing (video - 10 sec.).  Each of the women guests (Elizabeth included) was thrust into the spotlight, to dance with the bride, holding a tray of flowers.  Then the procession headed to the school hall (in the summer the dinner is outdoors) for - you guessed it - more music and dancing (video - 19 sec.)!  It was a refereshing break from the violence and bad news of the past few months to get to celebrate and smile as a community.

2/10/01:  Weddings are a big deal in Zababdeh, and are attended by just about everyone, no matter which denomination people belong to.  The priests all came, too, including one of the bride's cousins from Beit Jala.  Following Mass, we headed back to the school hall for - yep, you got it - music and dancing!  One of the groom's sisters is a singer living in LA, and was unable to get back for the wedding, so the DJ's set-list included some of her music.  Food was the order of the day, too, and (quite to our surprise) a chair dance (video - 8 sec.) - something we had only known previously from Jewish weddings. As guests leave the party, they "mabrouk" (say congratulations to) the bride and groom, and usually slip a monetary gift into their hands. This tradition, in some ways like dollar dances we have seen elsewhere, helps the families pay for the enormous expence of feeding and entertaining their communities. In a way, it turns the village into a moveable party, from one wedding to the next, with each family taking their turns at hosting.

2/11/01:  We have been talking for weeks with a friend of ours about the possibility of buying his car.  Today, that conversation became a reality, as we made the trek down to Ramallah.  After visiting the mechanic and our friend's family, we headed back to Zababdeh in our 1987 Citroen which is equipped with hydraulics for off-road driving (an Intifada car).  That's the short version of our day.  Naturally, of course, it was a bit more complicated than that...Leaving Zababdeh at 7:00, we headed to Ramallah by taxi (direct this time - no changing in Tubas or Nablus).  We traveled by way of the Jordan Valley, only to find that the main road has been completely bulldozed for "security measures."  With the rest of the traffic, we headed down into the wadi (valley) to get around and continue our journey.  Fortunately, the rain had stopped a few days ago, allowing us to make our way slowly through the mud and back around to the road.  While in Ramallah, we made a visit to the Palestinian Red Crescent/Red Cross hospital in Al-Bireh, opposite the settlement of Psagot.  In the past months, gunmen have been shooting from the area toward the settlement. And as is so often the case (and denounced by human rights groups and the UN), the Israeli military's response to this shooting has been disproportionately violent. We visited the rooms in the Red Crescent/Red Cross hospital which burned after being hit by Israeli shelling; we also saw other damaged targets, including homes, a minibus owned by a school for deaf children, and a nearby newspaper office.  We left and headed back for Zababdeh by way of Jerusalem. We indulged ourselves in a quick stop at a mall in a Tel Aviv suburb for a fix of "Westernicana" (a burger lunch, that is) before making our way belatedly to Zababdeh by way of Afula in the dark - not something we had hoped for.  We missed the easy turn-off for the settlers' road (the easier and less-blocked of our options), and headed into Jenin.  This gave us some pause, as we were in a yellow-plated (i.e. Israeli) car, but no one - not even the Palestinian soldiers - looked at us twice.  Making our way to Zababdeh should have been easy, but the road (of course) had been bulldozed for the benefit of the Israeli settlers (by preventing/discouraging Palestinians from using the main road, presumably settlers feel safer using it, and a message of Israeli sovereignty is sent to the Palestinian population).  Fortunately, our new hydraulic system came in handy for some off-road adventures.  That is going to come in handy more than we first expected.  But we have a car!

2/12/01:  Marthame got to do more walking in the hills after school (video - 26 sec.), while Elizabeth continued her basketball coaching of the junior high girls.  On the walk, Marthame met a shepherd, who chose his profession because he gets to be his own boss.  He had one hundred in the herd, but Marthame's Arabic was too limited to ask what would happen if one of them were to wander off - would he leave the ninety-nine?  Shooting continued in the afternoon today - it isn't every day, and it isn't always at the same time like it once was.  But unlike what we recently saw in Ramallah (and Beit Jala and Beit Sahour), the shooting rarely is in the direction of the village, and still no one in Zababdeh has been hurt and very few homes have been hit, and so we are thankful.  We also went up to the Arab-American University to visit with friends - an easy trip with our car!  Unfortunately, though, the neighbor children have decided that our car makes a good chalkboard (or shall we say rockboard) and have scratched their names into the side.  Thirteen years without a scratch, in all parts of Palestine, and one day in Zababdeh...there seem to be more and more parallels with life on Chicago's South Side.

2/14/01:  Happy Valentine's Day - a bit difficult to swallow when news comes of Israeli assassinations and Palestinian terrorism.  More like a day for broken hearts.  It continues to be difficult to digest everything that happens here.  Following the murder of eight by the Palestinian bus driver, we hear that Israel will tighten the closures of the West Bank and Gaza.  From here, nothing is clearer than the fact that the closures feed feelings of hopelessness and desperation - which in turn feed anger and violent responses.  But hope always resides, and our work  moves forward.  Elizabeth's adult English classes continued today, with fourteen students!  This week, game time was quite a bit more successful.  About half of the class stuck around to play Boggle and Scrabble and eat cookies.  Just a little something to keep our minds off the nightly shootings here.

2/15/01:  We're slowly getting the hang of this Palestinian hospitality thing.  Following the youth meeting tonight, we invited them all to come to our house for a while - usually, an invitation that is rarely accepted.  But Elizabeth's persistence convinced them that we weren't just being perfunctory.  A wonderful time of conversation with the group, expanding our social circle ever so slightly.  We also got a chance to show off our web page to those of the group who have not yet become technologically involved.  Did we mention we got a car?  Had to move it to keep the kids away from it.  Unfortunately, had to put it next to the house and the only way to reach that is driving through the fields - which means if it rains, stuck-o-rama!, and we're trying to leave in a few days for Jerusalem.  Here's hoping for a break in the weather.  So much mud in the tire well now that it acts like a parking brake...

2/17/01:  Our most recent update (Obstacles to Peace) has been "published" on three different websites: the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem's Olive Branch, Media Monitors, and the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Fund (what's the deal on copyright?).  Today was Marthame's last day with his previous schedule at school (nonetheless, it was a day to clarify exactly what "I'm not teaching that class anymore" means).  Once we get back from Jerusalem, he hopes to start with some new projects and initiatives for the school, the churches, and the village.  What those look like has yet to be determined.  But, we shall see.  One of those projects will continue to be the e-mail pen pal project, which the students are taking to quite well.  They anxiously await every new email, and when they write them, they hang around and wait for him by the teachers' lounge to give him the new one.  It's very cute.

2/18/01:  Sunday in Zababdeh, and like many of the families, we attended our separate churches today (don't read too much into that) - Marthame to the Latin church, Elizabeth to the Anglican.  And, being Sunday, it afforded us another wonderful opportunity to walk through the beautiful scenery of Zababdeh.  As we walked by the now-lush fields, we noticed black and burned-looking patches. This is land polluted by the by-products of olive pressing. At the olive press, when a farmer takes his olive oil, he must also take the solid (olive cake) and liquid waste from the process. Because there are no facilities for accomodating thsese wastes, farmers often just dump them where they can - on roadsides and on corners of their land. It takes years for the land to recover. There's something symbolic perhaps about these burned scars - open wounds - in the midst of such beautiful scenery.  The lushness of it all is due to the tons of rain we've been having - we need to get that car out!  Anyone have a tractor?  Our day was perfected by a visit from one of our friends, as we discussed ideas for new projects in Zababdeh (he's full of ideas).  We fed him Gaza maqlube, the distinction being that Gaza has hot spices.  Poor guy didn't know what hit him...

2/19/01:  Monday, Monday.  Elizabeth's schedule of English story mid-term exams continued.  It was Marthame's first day without classes, but he was at school more than normal, taking care of several other projects, including applications for two teachers to spend part of the summer at a conference in Boston.  And now, for the car, it's out!  We reversed the thing all the way across the fields (had sunshine all day long), so now it's just a matter of getting all the mud out from around the tires.  Fortunately, with the  hydraulics, we'll just jack the puppy up until we get it washed.  The kids around our building get a kick out of the lift ("Raise it!  Raise it!"), which hopefully will keep scratching rocks away from the paint job.  In the evening, we got ready for our trip and took care of some waiting tasks - Marthame went to our seven year-old friend's birthday party, while Elizabeth cooked up the first mushroom from her Christmas present mushroom kit.

2/20/01:  We are thrilled to get a break from work this week as we head down to Jerusalem for the annual Sabeel Conference.  Now that we have a car, things are much easier as far as travel goes.  We headed down through the scenic Jordan Valley on our way to Jerusalem.  The bypass road leaves from Israel and travels along the Jordan river to the Dead Sea and on south. The road serves the steadily growing settler population in the valley, so our way wasn't bulldozed (no need for the Citroen's hydraulic powers).  We could see Jordan's beautiful mountains from the car - someday we'll get a closer look. Our long day ended with a good night of rest at our hotel in Jerusalem's Old City, near the Jaffa Gate.

2/21/01:  The Conference began full-steam with such notables as Abuna Elias Chacour making welcoming statements.  The group in attendance, in this "different" year, were 300-some die-hards - Americans, Canadians, Brits, South Africans, Westerners - coming to work together for justice and to show solidarity for the Palestinian Church.  In the afternoon, we traveled to Ramallah, where we were held up at the ar-Ram checkpoint (see our last update) by the Israeli soldiers.  After one and a half hours, we were granted permission to pass.  Because of the delays, we were not able to visit some of the hardest-hit areas of Ramallah and al-Bireh, or to meet with some victims' bereaved families. Dr. Mustafa Barghouti and Palestinian negotiator Yasser Abed Rabbo spoke at the Anglican Church. They discussed the current desperate situation for Palestinians living under the occupation and called for an independent Palestinian state with 1967 borders,  Jerusalem as its capital, and the Right of Return for refugees.  We then headed down to central Ramallah for a solidarity rally (video - 25 sec.), led by a Muslim sheikh, a Coptic bishop, and an Anglican priest.  Down there, we stood in the rain and heard speeches.  After dinner, we returned for worship at the Notre Dame Conference center and a little Taize chant (audio - 25 sec.).

2/22/01:  Following a morning Bible Study and a stunning map presentation given by Jad Isaac of the Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem (illustrating the enormous disparity in water allocation between Jewish Israelis and Palestinians, and reminding us that only 18% of the West Bank is under Palestinian Authority control), we headed off on bus trips around the area.  Having been to many of the places up for grabs (including Hebron), we went on a Jerusalem Via Dolorosa.  The stops included the Palestinian wait at Israel's Ministry of Interior (responsible for all legal documents for Palestinians and who have been on strike for most of the Intifada), Palestinian homes on French Hill surrounded by encroaching Hebrew University housing, Israeli bypass roads that lead from Jerusalem to Jewish settlements over Palestinian neighborhoods, ghost towns from the 1948 War, the Lutheran World Service hospital which was occupied by Israeli soldiers during the Intifada.  And the Mount of Olives, which provided a spectacular view of day one of the new Intifada, Sharon's visit to the Haram as-Sharif.  After doing some errands (those of us in the boonies were taking advantage of big city life), we attended the talk by Sabeel's director Canon Na'im Stifan Ateek.  Among the moving things to emerge from this was his vision of non-violence, which endures despite the fact that his people continue to suffer greatly, and which remains critical not only of Israeli injustices but Palestinian ones as well.  Our worship service included Taize singing again, as well as music sung by an Armenian priest (audio - 25 sec.).

2/23/01:  The speakers picked up today where Ateek left off last night - Palestinian lawyer Jonathan Kuttab, Israeli activist Roni Ben-Efrat, Palestinian academic Eileen Kuttab, and Israeli journalist (whose beat covers the West Bank and Gaza) Amira Haas.  Ateek's theme of justice, regardless of the oppressor, continued. Given the corruption of both governments and the collapse of the current two-state-based peace process, voices began to call for a future (currently more "science fiction" than reality) of a single, binational, constitutional democracy.  As regional groups gathered later in the day, it was clear that this vision had caught hold of many imaginations.  It was as though those who supported Palestinian rights and had been stunned by both the collapse of Oslo and the Intifada were beginning to regroup and gather themselves, rallying around other ideas.  Over dinner we visited with Israeli peace activists before returning to hear the highlight lectures by Arab Israeli Knesset member Azmi Bishara and South African Imam Farid Esack.  Esack presented the most compelling story of the whole conference thus far, relating his experiences as a black South African seeing the end of apartheid.  Throughout the conference, people had pointed towards the parallels between apartheid-era South Africa and Israel/Palestine (sanctioned discrimination based on race/religion, forced relocation of peoples from their homes, the failed solutions of creating "independent" states which in reality remained isolated, fractured islands - economically, militarily, and politically controlled by the ruling regime). More than once, it was related that after the apartheid regime fell, Bishop Desmond Tutu called on those faithful supporters of justice in his homeland to turn now to the injustices in Palestine. And so everyone was excited to hear Imam Esack. He bagan his talk by telling us that he was stopped and questioned in the Tel Aviv airport. When asked why he was in Israel, he said he was going to the Sabeel conference (something people were encouraged NOT to do, as it was a guarantee for a long wait and hassle). The security person hustled to get her superior, who asked more questions. Was he going to speak at the conference? Yes. What was he going to say?  He was going to discuss the occupation and apartheid. Remarkably, no more security questions followed, but, he said, they needn't have feared, because in his opinion, the occupation bears little similarity to apartheid in South Africa. The Sabeel audience caught its breath. Rather, he said, the situation faced by Palestinians today far surpasses the conditions faced by blacks in apartheid South Africa, in terms of the violence, randomness, ferocity, and sheer venom of the Israeli occupation. He called on the international community to hold both peoples here to reasonable standards of morality and justice. And he questioned the reality of the term Holy Land - "Land is not sacred.  Only God is sacred."  Amen.

2/24/01:  Today was a day of more "solidarity visits."  Our visit to Bethlehem began much like our visit to Ramallah three days ago - 90 minutes at the checkpoint.  Eventually, all 300 of us were allowed to pass, but our buses were not.  We walked (or rolled) across, but apparently something about our group made the soldiers nervous (perhaps the "End the Occupation" banners had something to do with it), and they stopped a Palestinian Israeli girl in our group and confiscated her ID.  She was willing to head back to Jerusalem, but the soldiers "lost" her ID.  As a group, we returned to the checkpoint and decided to sit and wait until they "found" it.  Banners and all (video - 25 sec.).  Not surprisingly, it was eventually discovered.  We headed off to Bethlehem again, and our Israeli Palestinian friend walked through the gardens of Tantur Ecumenical Institute to join us (as an estimate 1000 Palestinians do every day around this "closure."  The Israelis are aware of it - it happens in their full sight).  We heard more speeches, returning to the theme of "our independent Palestinian State," but the response was less enthusiastic.  Perhaps a one state vision has taken hold of this group in the intervening days.  After lunch, we headed off in different buses on tours of the area.  Ours stopped in Beit Jala where we visited in December, and also to Dheisheh refugee camp (video - 25 sec.).  The conditions there are appalling, both in terms of services and density.  After returning to Jerusalem (having to argue our way in, of course, at the Tantur checkpoint), we joined some journalist friends for dinner.  Their views on the "Situation" were most interesting, particularly given what people are saying about "Western media bias" on both sides of the conflict.  There does seem to be a certain hopelessness that swirls around this place, and one that has taken on a new face as Sharon prepares to take office in Israel.

2/26/01:  Yesterday was a rather uneventful return (unlike many of our previous travel stories!).  But having attended fourteen-hour seminars and meetings, we both returned a little under the weather and a lot exhausted.  We also returned to school today to find that the French teachers are gone (they had to take their baby to the hospital - their newborn got sick after a cold, late night evacuation because of shelling near Zababdeh), as well as another teacher on her honeymoon, and another on hajj (pilgrimage) to Mecca.  On top of that, midterm grades are due.  Also today was a welcome visit by two Chicago area pastors, David Owens and Cliff DiMascio.  David had come last summer with his Wilmette youth group, so it was a chance to see some old friends and play a little basketball.  His church is trying to bring a group to Wilmette this summer.  We'll see - it'd have to include a ballgame or two...

2/27/01:  A scene that is becoming more familiar around here, as a friend of ours is filing a visa application for the US.  This is becoming more and more frequent, particularly among the Palestinian Christian community.  The recent unrest has accelerated some departures, as lack of work and closures (as well as a failed peace process) are strangling everyone here.  Christians seem to have more connections to the West, though we pleaded with our friend to wait at least two and a half more years...Our friend Don Wagner has just completed a book on this subject, titled Dying in the Land of Promise (which you can order through North Park University's website).  Perhaps its the iridescent glow of Chris Rock that lures them...

2/28/01: Today isAsh Wednesdayas Lent begins. The service as the Latin Church was packed, as third period at school today gave way to worship.  Marthame and Abuna each served the communion wafers (tricky business, this feeding the multitudes - they do it "Old School" style, being fed by the priest).  The Anglicans had their service in the afternoon, and Marthame was invited to read the gospel text.  Did someone say "high church"?