Journal in the Holy Land
February, 2002
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The sounds of Zababdeh: 
4:30 AM, Rooster (3 sec.) 
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.)

2/1/02:  Today was Friday (or, as we call it, "Weekend: Part One"), and the weather is absolutely beautiful.  We are coming to the best time of year here, where it is warmer (but not too warm), and the rain has done its work of making the land greener than green.  And so today was warm, sunny, and verdant.  We joined the school's Islam teacher and her family for a picnic.  We lugged a couple of blankets, the requisite tea and coffee, and a big bucket of tabboule (Arabic salad) out to feast in the fields.  The bucket also doubled wonderfully as a drum, and they sang songs - Arab folk songs (audio - 10 sec.), Arabic children's songs, Arab popular songs, and just general ululating (audio - 11 sec.).  We lent our own with "This Old Man" and the like - somehow the Arabic drumming didn't quite work.

2/2/02:  At school assembly, Abuna Aktham extended a formal thank you to the Ministry of Education and the schools of the area for their help with our students' education during the recent closure of Jenin.  Students were stranded in Qabatia, Jenin, Burqin, Rummanih, Kufr Dan, you name it.  They were welcomed into these towns' schools as visiting students, then began their exams from Zababdeh by fax machine until the roads opened a bit.  The same, we have heard, has been taking place all over the West Bank these days.  We paid some visits to friends in town, including some who have an incredible view looking over Zababdeh.  It is refreshing from time to time to spend an evening making visits, but for the people who live here, this is what they do.  Every night.  Over and over again.  A Palestinian critique of Western culture, and perhaps rightly so, is that it is anti-social, private, and alienating. We had to admit that in five years in Hyde Park-Chicago we failed to visit our first floor neighbors even once.  There's got to be a middle ground...

2/3/02:  Early in the morning, Elizabeth boarded the "Zababdeh express" taxi towards Jerusalem.  She and a friend from the Arab-American University of Jenin have a meeting tomorrow in Bethlehem to discuss the possibilities of a summer environmental program.  The ride was long and typically circuitous, but luckily not eventful. The two of them spent the afternoon running errands in Jerusalem and spent the night with friends. Meanwhile, Marthame held down the Zababdeh fort, worshiping with Fr. Hossam at the Anglican Church of Zababdeh. The Scripture was Jesus calming the storm on the sea (Matthew 8:23-34).  Hossam asked the question, "If Jesus is already risen, why do bad things continue to happen?"  You know, something light to tackle in a ten minute homily.  No better question to ask these days in this place.  In the afternoon, several new teachers arrived at the University.  Marthame took them on a tour of Zababdeh, pointing out to them all of the important sights - especially where you can get salsa, mayonaisse, and peanut butter (but not together).

2/4/02:  Elizabeth and her friend headed out of Jerusalem early to the Lutheran School in Beit Jala. They waited for their ride at the Tantur checkpoint, where they noticed a "barking" lot. See, there is no "p" sound in Arabic. Resorting the the closest sound they know, people frequently end up saying things like "the beoble" and "I'm barking the car." It's a common joke among those in the know, and the sign at Tantur brought some giggling. Once at the school in Beit Jala, Elizabeth was very impressed by the environmental projects, such as the experimental ponds and the mist nets for bird banding, operated by Children for the Protection of Nature in Palestine. There was also a suprisingly extensive environmental center with natural specimens and displays about pollution, water issues, recycling and other local concerns. Then folks met and began finalizing a grant proposal for funds to create a summer camp for kids in the Bethlehem and Jenin districts. Elizabeth is very excited by the prospects... 

2/5/02:  Our shepherd friend came by tonight for one of his periodic visits, bringing olives as well as fresh wild mushrooms picked from the hills!  They were delicious, although the walls started to breathe...He also brough the latest news - a shooting in Jenin.  Soldiers, we assumed, but no.  A man from Qabatia was killed by three men in some kind of altercation - the details aren't clear.  What's remarkable about this is how unremarkable such an event would be in the US, with daily murders throughout the country.  But here, in a land where hundreds (becoming thousands) have been killed both in and out of combat, a murder is a rarity.

2/6/02:  Elizabeth has two English classes with the 11th Graders each week, working particularly on conversation skills.  This week, they presented short skits that they wrote.  It was fun to see how much energy they had put into them.  More shooting again today in Jenin - after (what's been reported to be a) kangaroo court bent to public pressure and rendered its verdict against the three accused, the men were taken into custody, but they were ambushed and murdered on their way to the prison.  Bizarre "Wild West"-style justice being carried out.  Elizabeth took a walk in the hills, to see what was coming up and prepare for the 7th grade nature trip tomorrow. She spotted a pretty yellow flower that she'd never seen before. (Tune in to the Nature Page to see what else is coming up this season. And stay tuned for new picts to be put up soon.) Coming back home, she was captivated by the work of the bulldozer on a nearby construction project.  All of Zababdeh has been converted into a construction zone, as everyone is anxious to rent out apartments to students and/or professors.  As many jobs have disappeared, money from rent may be the most reliable place to find income from now on.

2/7/02:  Even with all that's been happening in Jenin lately, Marthame was assured that all was 'aadi - that is, normal.  So he headed off to run some errands.  It was, indeed, 'aadi.  The longer we're here, the more interesting it is to go to Jenin - we know more and more people as we teach their children in the school and as we make more and more connections in the area.  Meanwhile, Elizabeth and the two 7th grade home-room teachers headed off into the hills to take the students on a picnic and nature outing. The kids, divided into teams, were each assigned a different flower to find and analyze (e.g. what does it feel/smell/look like? What are its roots like, what are its leaves like, etc). And they also could collect one item (stone, shell, spider, insect, flower) to bring back, for further study in Biology class. After their sort of scavenger hunt, everone relaxed and ate and drank and sang (audio - 5 sec.).  On their way back, the kids were armed with plastic bags to pick up litter, a ubiquitous phenomenon here. A good time was had by all. In the rest of the country, however, things had sadly returned to normal - a Palestinian was killed as he attacked the Jewish settlement of Hamra, killing three (Hamra is also the checkpoint we frequent on our way to Jerusalem).  Supposedly in reprisal, the Israelis reduced the Nablus governor's headquarters to rubble.  Seems like a strange choice of targets, but rarely do the punishments fit the crimes here.

2/8/02:  We both headed down to Jerusalem today, borrowing Abuna Aktham's car.  Given the shooting at Hamra, we decided to take another route to Jerusalem.  It was 'aadi.  Marthame left Elizabeth at a shoppers' paradise in Hadera (Ace Hardware! Supermarkets with cheddar cheese and oatmeal! Oh, yes!) while he went to Jerusalem to try and work with the Melkite Church's hierarchy.  There is a man in Zababdeh who has studied to be a Melkite priest.  His sewing sweatshop work has disappeared across the Jordanian border, but now there is a glimmer of hope: the Bishopric of Haifa wants to talk with him.  However, he cannot get to Haifa without proper travel documents.  Nor can he get to Jerusalem to pick up said travel documents, thus Marthame's role.  The Bishopric of Jerusalem was willing to vouch for him, but because he's from Zababdeh, he falls under the Bishopric of Haifa - and the Bishop was unavailable today.  Hopefully, this will all be resolved soon.  The Melkite Church here has fallen into severe disrepair after sixteen years of neglect, though the community remains and worships among Zababdeh's other parishes on Sunday mornings.  The return trip was also 'aadi, though there were several brutal traffic jams. We had several theories: the usual Shabbat traffic, some kind of attack, an impromptu checkpoint, a traffic accident.  Each time, it was one of the latter two - twice as many Israelis have died in car accidents than have been killed during the Intifada.  We got back home without a hitch - not even the usually tedious Jenin checkpoint was problematic. 'aadi.

2/9/02:  Our plans to go to Haifa were put on hold - our friend couldn't travel without the permission papers form the Vatican's Jerusalem office.  Soon...In the morning, Elizabeth handed out a certificate of appreciation (dubbing the recipient "Friend of Nature") to one of her students from the picnic.  She had wanted to help encourage some sense of environmental stewardship, which seems most obvious here around the issue of trash disposal.  In many ways, it's like it was in the States forty years ago - picnics end with trash being strewn around the hills.  We've tried to link the kids' love of the land to their need to keep it clean.  This one student helped the most, of all the kids picking up litter, to clean up the hill where we went yesterday. After school, we headed out together through Jenin, thanks to Abuna Aktham's generous car loaning policy.  We had to brave the chaotic roads along the way - main roads have been cut, and the settlers' bypass road we used to take back in the days of vehicle-owning is now closed to all but settlers and soldiers.  Not even the Arab-American University's hard-earned goodwill can get their international faculty on the road.  Kind of ironic since it's American tax dollars paving them...We made it down through Qabatia, but not without scratching up the car.  The road that has become the main road has to accomodate trucks, cars, you name it.  Usually, it barely can hold one car - as we discovered as a truck met us coming up.  We had to pull off the road quickly, into a giant pothole, and the car made a hideous noise.  We pulled over as far as we could and Elizabeth hopped out to see if we had a flat. Thankfully, we only detached the bumper and the mudflap. As Elizabeth was inspecting the car, another truck coming the other way stopped to help.   Two Palestinian men got out and greeted us in Hebrew, "Shalom." Apparently the yellow Israeli license plate threw them off, despite the two kaffiyes, the Palestinian flag, and the giant cross hanging around Marthame's neck.  And the fact that we were in the middle of Qabatia, a city with a reputation of toughness built up in the first Intifada, and a place where no Israeli, at least no Jewish Israeli, would possibly be now.  As the guys helped to pull the mud flap out and straighten the bumper, we explained to them in Arabic that we didn't know Hebrew. Marthame explained what we were doing here, and they switched to Arabic.  Remarkable, though, with all the tension that people would stop to help someone they thought was Israeli.  The car moves, but is a little scratched up.  The soldier working the edge of Jenin was the same one who was there when we entered yesterday.  "Chicago," he said as we passed.  We went up to drop off some papers for Msgr. Marcuzzo, the Latin Bishop of Nazareth (the one who's car was shot at by Israeli soldiers last year when he approached Zababdeh), before meeting up with friends in Jaffa-Nazareth for some good food, relaxation, and fellowship.  Not to mention their parrot, who likes to have his tummy rubbed...!?

2/10/02:  This morning, we joined the congregation of St. Paul's Anglican Church in Shefa'amer, Galilee.  Fr. Hatem has welcomed us on our other visits there.  There was a British group from CMS (Christian Missionary Service, an arm of the Anglican Church) who had spent the night with families and was spending the morning worshiping with them and their wonderful choir (audio - 12 sec.).  Fr. Hatem thanked them for their solidarity and their encouragement for the Palestinian Christians of Israel.  He likened them to the invisible army that the prophet Elisha saw (II Kings 6) so that they could resist the enemy.  In other words, a silent but powerful source of encouragement and support.  We also got a chance to see Fr. Hossam's parents - he's the Anglican priest in Zababdeh, and this is his home parish.  As we headed on the road to Jerusalem, we stopped for Chinese food in Nazareth with Fr. Hatem and his family.  It's not Ramallah, but delicious nonetheless.  We arrived at the home of our friends in Jerusalem in time to help put their daughter to bed.  We followed not long after.

2/11/02:  Before Marthame headed back to Zababdeh, we split up to accomplish as many big city/Western/Jerusalem errands as possible.  They included picking up TOEFL books in Ramallah, embroidery gifts from the Mennonite Central Committee offices, assistance paperwork from Caritas, and (finally) the Laissez Passez from the Vatican's Apostolic Nunio office for our Melkite friend.  We noticed that our massive shopping enterprises seem to run counter to those of pre-Intifada Israelis: they used to come into Jenin to buy the cheap goods produced and sold there.  We, instead, leave Jenin to shop inside Israel for the more high-tech or Westernized goods available on the other side of the Green Line.  They're certainly not cheaper.  Marthame headed back up through Jenin and into Zababdeh.  When he arrived at the entrance to Jenin, he found Palestinian cars waiting on either side.  The roadblock was open, but there were those nasty tire-popping spikes lying across the road.  The Israeli soldiers didn't seem to worry that cars were waiting.  After half an hour (who knows how long the Palestinians had been waiting - their patience is remarkable), Marthame approached one of the soldiers who moved the spikes and waved him through.  At least one other truck made it through, too.  No excitement on the Qabatia road this time, thankfully.  He visited with folks from the University who have returned after break.  They had been denied entry to Jenin the day before, and ended up taking the long, meandering journey back to Zababdeh from who knows where and through what villages.  Frustrating news, since the University has very carefully sought to sow good will with the Israeli military - asking them for work permits, travel permits, etc.  When you follow the rules here for a while, you understand why there's little respect for them on either side of the border.

2/12/02:  Elizabeth met with a group of ex-patriate women in Jerusalem who meet periodically at St. Andrew's Church of Scotland.  Many of them are wives of diplomatic corps officers, NGO folks, etc. They were very interested to hear and see what things were like in the northern part of the West Bank. Even though the distance is so small, things here are so fragmented that people just don't or can't get around anymore, even foreigners. She showed pictures and maps, and shared the story of our work and the situation as we and our friends in Zababdeh see it. Afterwards, Elizabeth swung by Caritas to pick up something for one of nuns in Jenin and then she took a shared taxi to the Qalandia checkpoint, which is between Jerusalem and Ramallah, and is as close as most Palestinian people and drivers can get to Jerusalem. So it has become a kind of loud, dusty, slow-moving center for transportation, with taxis parked all over and people walking past the checkpoint to find transport on the other side. Elizabeth found a taxi headed to Jenin, and hopped in, prepared for the wait for it to fill up, and then the long, bumpy ride home. They  were stopped several times, but after inspection (opening passengers' backpacks, having men get out of the taxi and turn around and open their jackets, etc.), they were always let through. Both of us usually get somewhat carsick on these long rides, as they are often on small dirt roads snaking around hills. However, the views, especially now that everything is green, are gorgeous. 

2/13/02:  Today should be Ash Wednesday.  However, the churches in the village here have come to an agreement (unlike in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Nazareth): Christmas is celebrated on the Western calendar, while Easter is celebrated on the Eastern calendar.  Since the dating of Easter is based on the moon, and since the Eastern calendar is thirteen days behind the Western, when the moon falls in between there's almost a month between the two Easters.  So, we'll be celebrating Ash Wednesday on March 20 and Easter on May 5.  We've got a while...Tonight we also had another ex-pats gathering in town.  It was to be a combination "Welcome" party for the newbies (four of them) as well as a Valentine's Day celebration.  Unfortunately, all of the newbies decided to take advantage of the weekend and head out to Tel Aviv, so we had our Valentine's Day party anyway.  Food, games, etc.  All of it was tempered by the fact that one of the families connected with the University is leaving tomorrow.  He's got meetings in Taiwan and would be gone for a while, and they decided with the deteriorating political situation that they would send mom and the girls back to the States to re-enroll in school.  It was a tough decision for them, and it's a blow to the rest of us.  It's been great having their kids around - they even know how to play the ironically twisted "Settlers" board game.  We said some tearful farewells and then split up the rest of their canned goods.

2/15/02:  Marthame passed a kidney stone today - no fun. As the pain first hit him, we were weighing our options of how to get to the hospital in Jenin or Nazareth - neither of which is extremely accessible these days, especially for folks without a car.  Fortunately, our neighbor knew the signs of a kidney stone, so we knew not to panic. He also dropped by with super-duper Canadian over-the-counter pain killer. So after a couple pills and an overseas call to our Chicago doctor, Marthame settled in to wait it out.  All told, it took four hours, which isn't too bad, considering.

2/16/02:  Marthame is helping the school put together a yearbook.  He is imminently qualified for the task, having served on the yearbook staff in high school for two years (he always knew that would qualify him for something) - however, back then there was a staff of one teacher and about 15 students (as well as three photographers).  This one is a solo job, accompanied by a modicum of chaos.  But it is a chance to see all of the cute kids.  It also means periodically chronicling events that are taking place in the school, like the interclass basketball games.  Not the prettiest stuff, basketball here, but it gives the kids a well-needed physical release from the stresses of life here.  In the afternoon, Elizabeth led the 7th-9th grade girls' basketball team practice. She's been doing this a few days a week for the past couple weeks. They're improving, but there's still a long way to go. They have a game at the beginning of March, and they are very excited, as they have very few opportunities for sport events with other teams. Tonight the fog rolled in nice and thick, and we could hear gunshots from the camp (audio - 5 sec.) - it has been a while since we've heard it close by, though the F-16s still do their periodic circling overhead and keep us guessing.  The shooting was probably training, but you can never be sure.

2/17/02:  This morning we worshipped with the Latin community and Father Aktham.  The lectionary this morning was from the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus calls the disciples to perfection "as your Father in heaven is perfect."  A light load to carry.  We rounded out the day with visiting friends and families in the village.

2/18/02:  Today brought more yearbook work for Marthame.  Nothing additional to mention, really - just a chance to show off pictures of adorable children!  We bid farewell to two more of the University's ex-pat community who are headed back to the States - he's finished his work here, and were the situation not so awful, they'd probably stick around.  That means six Americans who have left in the last week - all for various reasons, but it's depressing to lose such a significant part of our ex-pat community.  The other dozen or so are hanging around, though.

2/20/02:  Today was the last day of school before the Muslim feast of 'Eid al-Adha which marks the end of the Hajj (pilgrimage) to Mecca.  School let out early so that the teachers could enjoy some fun and felowship together.  We headed off into the olive groves for a picnic.  Eating kababs and Arabic salads, we played cards (audio - 9 sec.) and told jokes until the coffee and tea were ready.  Since the teachers are stretched so thin in the school (the average class load is 28 periods a week), it was a good chance to just visit with each other.  The two of us then headed off to theArab-American University of Jenin to meet up with the new teachers - four of them - and share a ride up to Nazareth.  It's still a two taxi ride, which it was the first time we went there.  The difference is that we used to take a taxi from Zababdeh to Jenin (fifteen minutes, 3 shekels) then Jenin across the Green Line to Nazareth (half an hour, 5 shekels).  Now, the taxis head off the side road and then onto roads meant for tractors to travel to their fields.  An hour and fifteen shekels each later, we arrived at the village of Jalame's gas station.  That's as far as the Palestinian taxi is allowed to go.  From there it's a short walk to the Israeli checkpoint.  The bypass road is now bordered by guardrails, and the mark of tank treads (from the periodic incursions into Jenin) has made its permanent mark in the concrete.  The soldiers are usually just bemused by the insane foreigners who are choosing to live in the West Bank, and we are usually given a superficial security check (passports, a question or two).  Our Zababdeh driver arranged for us to be picked up on the other side by an Arab Israeli who took us to our various destinations "inside" (as West Bankers refer to Israel) for 20 shekels each.  We got a rental car for the holiday and met up with our usual stopping grounds in Jaffa-Nazareth, falling asleep to the sound of the festive 'Eid fireworks.

2/21/02:  We have made a few excursions into the Galilee, but always for a day or two when we have specific things to accomplish.  This time we do have some business to take care of, but we have - for the most part - a good chunk of time to relax.  We anticipate getting to a lot of the Biblical sites over the next few days.  The first stop was Mt. Precipice, on the outskirts of Nazareth, where the crowds tried to throw Jesus off a cliff because of what he was saying about them (Luke 4).  The views from this place are incredible, and as green as the Galilee usually is, this time of year is optimal for seeing what the rain can do.  From there, we headed off to the village of Kufr Yasif.  Supposedly its name comes from Josephus, the ancient historian who wrote extensively about this place (including - we are told - mentioning this village).  Christians, Muslims, and Druze co-exist here, the majority still being Christian.  We were making a visit that was a year and a half overdue to the Abu-Akel family.  Our mentor in this whole endeavor is the Rev. Dr. Fahed Abu-Akel, a Presbyterian pastor in Atlanta.  He was born in Kufr Yasif, and his family still lives here.  Because of the 'Eid, much of the family was on vacation, including a couple who work as English teachers to Bedouins in Beersheba.  The patriarch of the family took us up north to see the Israeli-Lebanese border (video - 19 sec.) - a bizarre experience to say the least, reading a sign that said, "Israel-Lebanon border crossing."  To whom?  Wishful thinking?  A meal and a birthday party later, we set out for Nazareth - far too early in all of our estimations.  We'll have to come back for a several-day visit at least.  We were about five minutes away from our beckoning beds when we arrived at a police roadblock.  There was stone-throwing going on just down the road, and the policeman was recommending that the traffic take alternate routes.  We did, and the five minute journey took us the greater part of an hour.  Made us homesick for Zababdeh - except the roads were paved this time around.

2/22/02:  Today we turned into typical Holy Land "pilgrims," torpedoing through as many holy sites and churches as possible.  We figure that three years here should allow us at least one day like this.  Our first stop was Kufr Qana, or as it's known in John 2, Cana of Galilee.  It was here that Jesus, attending a wedding with his mother, is convinced to perform his first public miracle of turning water into wine (theme music courtesy of the Handsome Family - 5 sec.).  It's such a prosaic story, such an interesting choice of revelation.  A wedding, a celebration, a mundane experience in many ways.  Both the Franciscans and the Greek Orthodox have churches dedicated to the miracle, the former claiming the actual location and the latter claiming some of the original stone vats involved in the miraculous transformation.  The stores nearby all sell "Cana wine", ironically produced and bottled in settlements in the Hebron valley.  We then headed over to the Sea of Galilee, commonly known as the Sea of Tiberias.  We had seen the city of Tiberias last April and this time we were eager to see what else is near the water.  We took a few minutes at a museum north of town whose main attraction is a 2000 year-old boat.  It's more a museum as a testament to the technology which was able to preserve it once it was pulled it out of the mud which had protected it for so long. Much of its attraction hangs on speculation - was it Jesus' boat?  It was very interesting ot see its shape and size, and read about how many different kinds of wood were used in it, often a bit here and there as patchwork. From there, it was back to the churches: first, Tabgha (the Arabized name for the Greek Heptapgon - seven springs), also known as the Church of the Transfiguration of Loaves and Fishes.  The event it marks is one of the few stories told in all four gospels (e.g. Luke 9), indicating its centrality to the early Christian community.  Within the church is a Byzantine era mosaic which is perhaps unparalleled in its beauty and detail - at the center, under the altar, is the famous fish and loaves image. Throughout the rest of the church, Elizabeth was pleased to see beautiful, detailed mosaics of birds, flowers, and (interestingly) buildings. It reminded her of the work she'd done in Chicago, celebrating harmonious coexistence of people in nature. Nearby is the church of the Primacy of Peter where Jesus told him to "feed my sheep" (John 21).  While we were there, we could hear what sounded like mortar shells being fired.  We weren't far from the Jordanian border, and a few months ago there was an exchange of gunfire.  We asked and were told it had something to do with fishing or fishfarms. OK... The church building itself is quite simple, but absolutely gorgeous resting on the banks of the Sea on what appears to be old volcanic rock.  We left the sounds of fish-frightening behind and headed to nearby Capernaum (the Greek name for Kufr Nahum - video - 15 sec.).  It was there Peter lived, as did Jesus after he left Nazareth behind.  Many other stories from the gospels took place here, including healings and the like.  The remains of an old house church can be found here, believed to be the site of Peter's house.  Not far away are the remains of an old synagogue.  It was a while before the Church of Beatitudes would be open, so we headed up to find lunch.  The nearest town with an open restaurant was Rosh Pina.  From one side we could see the Sea of Galilee, and from the other the snowpeaks of Mt. Hermon (in Arabic, Jabal as-Sheikh).  The town has retained its "frontier" feel, not unlike a Colorado skiing town in summertime.  We returned back to the Church of Beatitudes, the supposed site of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).  The church here is surrounded by gardens and is a far cry from the desert landscape we had imagined the sermon to take place in.  At each of these spots we stopped and read the story connected with it.  The sermon's calls of "blessed are the peacemakers" and "turn the other cheek" seem as distant - and as necessary - as ever in this place.  We completed the cycle around the lake as we headed back to Nazareth.  The view of the sea is truly wonderful.

2/23/02:  Shabbat Shalom.  Today is Saturday, the Jewish day of worship.  We had many shopping items to take care of, and figured that Haifa being the secular city it is would be ideal to finish our list.  Wrong.  For some curious reason, the malls were open, but none of the stores within them were (Marthame lost the bet).  Instead, we headed up to the top of Mt. Carmel.  Marthame had taken his family up there, but Elizabeth had not had the chance to visit the nearby Carmelite monastery and the church of Elijah's cave.  The place was more crowded than any of the churches we've visited in our time here, including an Easter-time Holy Sepulchre.  The paintings on the ceiling depict many events from Elijah's life, including his ascension in a chariot of fire (theme music courtesy of Vangelis - 3 sec.).  Being a Hebrew Bible prophet, Elijah is elevated by the three faiths that predominate here - Christian, Jewish, and Muslim, and all three had come to pay their respects - or to gawk, whichever the case may be.  We then headed up to Shefa'amer to meet up with some friends from Scotland.  They have come recently to work in Ibillin at Mar Elias College (after the Arabic name for the prophet Elijah), founded by Father Elias Chacour (and chronicled in his book Blood Brothers).  These two have come to help found a school of theological education - they are hoping to make it a fully-accredited degree, but have met much resistance from the Israeli government (something with which Chacour is quite familiar) - it seems that, as an Arab institution, it will not be granted Israeli university accreditation.  Nevertheless, they will go ahead to create an ecumenical training center for the priests and pastors of this land.  They already have the backing of many bishops and seem to be well on their way to gathering an impressive faculty.  We spent some time discussing and discerning possible points of contact in our ministries.  We left feeling quite energized and recharged, as we often do after such conversations.

2/24/02:  A long overdue trip took place today.  One of our friends from Zababdeh has been trying to get out to Haifa to meet with the Melkite Bishop there.  A few weeks ago, Marthame was able to secure his Vatican Laissez-Passer, but between the roads and the changing nature of checkpoints (just because a Palestinian has official permission to travel doesn't mean it will be accepted by soldiers at a particular checkpoint at a particular time), we had to reschedule about five or six times.  We drove our rental car down to the Jalame checkpoint, and walked across to meet him at the Jalame gas station - or at the Jenin checkpoint, depending on the mood of various military officials and taxi drivers. We met one of the St. Anne sisters from Jenin on her way out in her car - she stopped to pick us up, and we found our friend (at the gas station) together.  Riding in a car driven by an Italian nun makes border crossings easier, and it was Marthame's passport that was scrutinized, not our friend's.  Sister Maria, our angel!  We dropped our friend off at the Archbishopric and another Zababdeh friend at a salon in Haifa where he hopes to work (being Jordanian, he, too, has permission, and he, too, traveled with Sister Maria).  Before the current siege, he would commute everyday from Zababdeh to Haifa to the salon.  Now, it has been months since he has gone, and he's trying to find a way to spend months at a time there (and unfortunately away from his family).  While they were attending to their various appointments, we happened upon an old German cemetery in the nearby German colony. It was, without a doubt, the most beautiful cemetery we had ever seen.  The grounds were well-kept, but not so that you'd mistake it for a golf course.  Instead, it was a beautiful garden full of palm trees, cacti, and other plants which together conveyed a real sense of awe. Hard to describe.  We picked our friend up at the Archbishopric and took him to Ibillin, where work awaited him at Mar Elias College.  Father Chacour was out at meetings, so we said goodbye to our friend and headed off to Hammat Ghader, the hot springs near the Sea of Galilee.  The place was packed with vacationers for the 'Eid, but we squeezed into the pools and relaxed.  Most of the bathers were men, though there were a few women - some in hijab head covering, some in knee-length pants, very few in bathing suits.  There were even separate pools for the more religiously-minded.  On our way back, we were able to find the well-hidden movie theater in Tiberias to catch Ocean's Eleven.  No one sat near us - perhaps the smell of sulfur from the baths kept them away...

2/25/02:  Our goal today was to get back to Zababdeh, and we succeeded.  We simply reversed our trip out - the Israeli-Arab taxi to the border, the cursory border inspection, the taxi at the gas station.  It was the first time that we noticed that the gas station has a department store attached to it - the place advertises bridal goods and wear in particular.  A bizarre little oasis of dead commerce in the midst of a warzone.  Tomorrow it's back to the grind.  Ugh.

2/26/02:  Transition is always hard, and today was no exception.  It's much better to be out and about, with no morning appointments or classes, no need for an early bedtime.  Even so, it was good to get back to and to greet our fellow teachers after the 'Eid.  In the afternoon, Elizabeth coached the girls at basketball practice - they've got a big same Saturday (it's not clear whose more nervous, the players or the coach!).  Meanwhile Marthame played a little soccer - he scored four goals, but he let four in as goalie.  Not exactly a pitchers' duel, this game.

2/28/02:  The past two months of "calm" (whatever that means) had lulled us into a sense of normalcy here.  That was all shattered today.  We arrived at school to learn that the Jenin students and teachers are again absent - the Israeli army had cut off Jenin again, as they did back in December.  100 students and 2 teachers are stuck at home, and the situation there was particularly tense today with Apache helicopters overhead.  The 12th grade picnic was cancelled, not so much out of concern for the safety of students going into the hills, but more out of respect for their fellow classmates (around 6) who were stuck in Jenin.  At about 1:00, the church death bells rang - not for a death in the village, but for the ten "martyrs" from Jenin Refugee Camp and the nearby village of Jalqamus.  From the school window we could see the funeral procession (in Islam, people should be buried the same day they die) as it headed up the road past the University.  This stuff gets real old real fast, and it isn't over yet around here.  And all this comes as the Saudi peace plan is just beginning to gather steam...