Journal in the Land of the Holy One
February, 2003
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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.)

Saturday, 2/1/03: All students arrived this morning, although the Jenin students' bus was held up for an hour at a checkpoint.  Elizabeth accompanied the tenth graders on their class picnic where they enjoyed the beautiful sunshine, singing and playing (audio - 15 sec.), and teaching each other the dance to the "Ketchup Song" (video - 30 sec.).  Marthame went by the Latin Convent in the evening to work with Deacon Homam on production of the Christmas Pageant.  From what we can tell, all the components - software, hardware, etc. - are there, patched together from local and American products, but it just ain't working.  Right when we thought we had it all figured out, there was a sudden loss of electricity.  They are always temporary, but sometimes longer than others.  When we went to sleep, there still wasn't any power.

Sunday, 2/2/03:  Still no power this morning.  Not unprecedented, but not without frustration.  We split up our church duties this morning, Marthame going to the Orthodox church.  The gospel this morning concerned the healing of the ten lepers (Luke 17) which took place in nearby Burqin.  Meanwhile, Elizabeth was at the Roman Catholic Church of Visitation, where the gospel was about Joseph and Mary presenting the infant Jesus at the Temple in Jerusalem and offering a sacrifice of two doves.   Fr. Aktham arranged some special liturgy for the occasion.  First he asked for a Yousef (Joseph) and a Miriam (Mary) to come forward from the congregation.  A teenaged Yousef raised his hand, but Fr. Aktham said that he needed older people, as they were also symbolizing the elderly Simeon and Anna, who recognized Christ at the Temple.  There were some interested looks (what is he up to?) and soon two volunteers came forward, and they helped Fr. Aktham receive a number of symbolic gifts from the congregation, brought up by the youth.  The symbolic presentation of gifts (oil, flowers, a cross, flowers) is common in this church, but the last gift was birds in a a birdcage - not so usual. As soon as the doves were presented, all of the mothers who had given birth over the last year brought their infants forward. It was quite beautiful.  After Mass, Fr. Aktham and Deacon Homam drove down to Beit Sahour for the funeral of a father of one of the Patriarchate's priests.  Elizabeth and the visiting American kindergarten teacher gathered with the school's art teacher and some junior high kids.  Together, they are working on a a peace quilt, a project of a junior high school in New Hampshire.  Each kid designed and colored a square of fabric, and eventually, Zababdeh's squares will be joined up with squares from the States, Bosnia, Kenya, El Salvador, and other places.  It was a great chance for the kids to express their creativity.  The electricity was still out, so Marthame grabbed a taxi up to the University to recharge batteries (literally - not symbolically - of our laptop and camera and cellphone).  The University runs on its own generators.  It, the Naim Khader Center outside of town, and the modern bakery have generators and are the only places in the area which had electricity today.  While he was gone, electricity came back to town, but only temporarily - before he got back, it cut off again.  This is truly worrying.  Not only do we need electricity for such a big chunk of our work - internet, emails, etc., and not only do we, like everyone else, need electricity to keep a lot of food from spoiling, but our building is set-up so that an electric generator refills the water tanks on the roof.  Once they empty, if there's no electricity, there's no water.  We went out in the evening to run some errands (candles, batteries, etc.) and to pay some visits.  Not much work happening at home.  We might as well be social.  We stopped by with friends and had dinner - if extras show up, extra plates are added welcomingly - in the half-light of kerosene and candles. Before we left, though, the electricity was back on.  A mere twenty-four hour outage.  Life is good.

Monday, 2/3/03:With both Fr. Aktham and Deacon Homam down in Beit Sahour, Marthame did some subbing for them, mostly teaching the students simple hymns in English. The eleventh graders were interested in "Amazing Grace" and the story that goes with it, that of John Newton's conversion from slave trader to devout Christian.  Marthame went up to the University later in the day to visit with some of the students who were involved with the visiting American group.  There is a deep interest in follow-up, and a deep hope that this is not the last group to come to visit and to work with the youth here.  Two of the teachers - one local, one American - are taking charge and are helping to empower the students to brainstorm for future ideas.  It's exciting to be part of it all, but with the impending war, it seems like this area will fall silent for a while as far as the outside world is concerned.  On the way home, Marthame stopped by the Melkite convent.  Thanks to financial support which has arrived from Holy Cross Melkite Church in California, Fr. Firas has been able to make some real headway with the work before him.  The church has transformed from an abandoned building to a construction site, and now all of the old plaster has been stripped away.  Today, a concrete mixer arrived to lay the new roof on top of the church.  Fr. Firas got himself dirty, as he seems to enjoy doing during the work.  It's another step along the way - not all the way, but getting there.  Deacon Homam returned in the afternoon, but Fr. Aktham has stayed behind in Jerusalem.  As a result, Fr. Firas led afternoon prayers in the Latin church.  Marthame went to pray with him, and Fr. Firas insisted Marthame wear his grandfather's old Melkite robes.  It was certainly touching, but not very practical.  Fr. Stephanos was a tall man, and the robe which is supposed to come down to the wrists (so when you lift your arms you can use your hands) nearly draped the floor.  So any simple action first involved the gathering of the robes, which looked more like the field crew gathering in the tarp after a rain delay at Wrigley Field rather than a graceful liturgical motion.  It had an unfortunate comic effect.  But it made a nice picture.  The Christmas pageant editing woes continue.  We can't seem to figure out how to get the editing software to work with the camera and hardware.  But at least we have electricity!

Wednesday, 2/5/03:  We spent the evening with friends from the University, feasting on Italian food and enjoying the ex-pat company.  The electricity remains spotty in the village - mostly on, but periodic outages - so getting together in a place with reliable lights (and heat!) is a luxury.  The mother of one of the teachers is headed back to the States, so we'll be loading her down with some mail - the quickest and most reliable form of delivery these days.

Thursday, 2/6/03:  Two of the University folks came over tonight to play songs and "jam."  It wasn't as fruitful as other outings have been, but there were moments (audio - 9 sec.).  Meanwhile, not far from us, a family squabble was getting out of hand.  We could hear lots of shouting and quite the commotion.  At first, we assumed that soldiers had come into town, such was the noise.  We called a house nearby to find out what was happening.  If the same thing had happened in the States, we would've called the police.  Not here: the Palestinian Authority's authority is virtually confined to two rooms in Ramallah.  The bigger cities (remarkably) still have some Palestinian police (occasionally seen directing traffic), but outside that, there is no effective civil authority. So we did the next logical thing: call the Catholic priest.  The role of the clergy here is very different from that in the States.  When he showed up, things broke up.  We returned to our musical adventures, a bit disturbed by the whole experience.  We got a poem from one of the students at the University via email today.  Somehow it conveys the sense of life in this area these days: "being happy over here doesn't belong to happiness; it's from the sickness of being bored of sadness."

Saturday, 2/8/03:  Tanks grinding through the hills woke us up this morning, as did shooting at the edge of town.  It's amazing what you can get used to - both negatively and positively.  The sound of tanks has become normal, when a year ago it would have caused us, and everyone else in town, panic.  Shooting, however, was par for the course until about five months ago.  Now, we've acclimated to the absence of it - enough so that its return woke us up.  As Elizabeth walked through town towards school, she could hear the tank moving along the main road.  No matter how far away they are, they always sound like they're right inside your head.  We more than half-expected absences today, but the kids and teachers were all there - except for those who have "gotten away" early for the upcoming 'Eid al-Adha holiday.  We're looking forward to the break, but not sure how we'll spend the time.  Surely we'll figure out something.

Sunday, 2/9/03:  This morning we worshiped at the Latin (Roman Catholic) Church of Visitation, Marthame leading worship with Fr. Aktham and Fr. Firas.  The gospel passage was that of Christ's healing of Peter's mother-in-law.  Fr. Aktham has been using the gospel passages as an opportunity to be creative with the liturgy, as we saw last week.  Today, he invited older people in the congregation forward for a sacramental anointing with oil.  Following church, we had lunch with some friends from the University, including the mother of one teacher who has been very active in the last two weeks visiting the area and volunteering her time, including at the Latin School.  We also stopped by the school to look at the English Club, which is becoming a display room for creative English projects by the students.  We are now officially on vacation, which is a nice place to be.  We'll take advantage of the opportunity to get down to Ramallah, but that waits for tomorrow.

Monday, 2/10/03:  We left Zababdeh and its spectacular view at 6:30 with one of the teachers from the University who has his own web site and has been getting more and more interested in the many creative peace movements on both sides of the Green Line.  It's the first time either of us has been in Ramallah since Marthame went for a few hours with the Presbyterian Church group in October, and the first time we've spent any time here since studying at Birzeit in 2001.  We arrived at the Qalandia intersection at about 9:00 after some delay at the Tayasir checkpoint - sitting for half an hour waiting for any soldier to come and take interest in the twenty taxis waiting in front of us for the gate to be opened.  The Orwellian Qalandia checkpoint has evolved into its present state of affairs over the last two and a half years.  Once no more than a quick security check, it has been built up with cement barricades funneling masses of people and cars (only Israeli plates, ambulances, or diplomatic cars might pass) into long lines to await permission or refusal.  It's loud and muddy and crowded - and looks like a cross between an international border crossing and an animal herding station. We grabbed a taxi on the other side, headed towards the center of Ramallah, noticing the new billboards in Arabic warning children not to play with Israeli handgrenades they might find.  Sobering...Ramallah is an amazing city, and it has been far too long since we've had time to spend here.  We found our way to a nearby hotel before stopping in to drop off a cassette - the production of the Christmas Pageant has become a tedious tale, but now it remains to translate one cassette from International format to American.  Ramallah is one of the few places in the area where folks might be able to do such a thing.  We visited with Fr. Fadi, Ramallah's Anglican priest, who is not only originally from Zababdeh, he is also Fr. Firas' brother.  He and his wife are expecting their first child, and the future grandparents - from Zababdeh and Amman - are in town to welcome the child.  We had lunch and discussed a number of things, from Fr. Fadi's studies at the Presbyterian-founded Near East School of Theology in Beirut to his difficulties serving the parish here and in Birzeit - sometimes his travel between Ramallah and Birzeit is blocked, despite the Vatican travel documents he carries. People in town are getting ready for the 'Eid al-Adha holiday tomorrow with last minute shopping and the like.  We caught up with friends in the evening at Stones, a Ramallah restaurant across the street from the Melkite Convent, serving Western food in a Western atmosphere.  Conversations at the tables around are half in Arabic and half in English, and that's just the locals.  The friends we caught up with were students at the Friends' School when Marthame first came to Palestine in 1993.  Since then, one has gone on to get his Bachelor's from Hope College and stayed on to get his MBA in the States before returning - he now works with the UN Development Program (UNDP); another traveled to Germany to study and now works with PalTrade, a Ramallah consortium which brings international business investment to the area; the third finished up her studies in Jordan and now works as a speech and hearing pathologist, traveling around the West Bank and working with local clinics and families who have special-needs children.  Far from being a minority in Ramallah, such young professional types make up an important part of the character of this city.  We talked with them about all kinds of topics, from religion to politics to the situation.  A few days ago, the one who works with UNDP was threatened at gunpoint by Israeli soldiers while driving his UN car with UN plates and a UN flag.  He also carries a UN ID in case there was any question.  All three of these young people had every opportunity - and every reason - to leave and to stay gone.  But they chose to come back, and they chose to help build a Palestinian civil society with opportunities for all.  They grew up as children of the first Intifada; one told us as a teen she spent a night in Israeli "children's jail" - she and her friends were arrested for practicing dabke, traditional Palestinian dance. These folks have a resentment for those who came back to Ramallah post-Oslo to enjoy the high-life and re-emigrated once the going got rough.  For Marthame, having been greatly shaped by his experiences in Ramallah ten years ago - so much that he wanted to come back, such a reunion was wonderful.

Tuesday, 2/11/03:  Kul 'am w-intum bi-kheir.  Happy 'Eid.  We were awoken at the time of the pre-dawn prayers by the sound of the faithful gathering at the mosque.  For several hours, the slowly gathering chorus repeats the Muslim creed, "God is great; there is no God but God and Mohammed is his prophet" (audio - 7 sec.) until everyone disperses for the marathon of family visits that will continue over the next few days.  We made our way towards Jerusalem and its empty Old City streets, not knowing what the Qalandia checkpoint might have in store for us.  Given that it was holiday time, it was a definite possibility that the checkpoint would simply be closed.  Hundreds of people were lining up to get through.  We simply walked around where a soldier was turning Palestinians back - we were waved through with a scant check of our passports.  Once in Jerusalem, we ran errands - stopping by Patriarchates, buying books and vitamins, going to post offices that function - before stopping to visit with journalist friends outside the Old City.  He's in northern Iraq waiting for the war to start.  She's trying to decide what's the responsible thing to do with two small children.  It makes life in Zababdeh seem easy by comparison.  We, and many people here are absolutely horrified by the seeming inevitability of war.  Perhaps that's because we've got several tastes and glimpses of conflict and loss.  Or because an attack on Iraq threatens chaos in the whole Middle East and promises an exponential increase in global anti-Americanism. Or because we met people in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq, were welcomed into their homes, and worshiped with them - it's hard to think about such people as "collateral damage."  On our way back to Ramallah, we saw three women standing at the Qalandia checkpoint observing the goings-on.  They were three observers from Checkpoint Watch, an Israeli group which was concerned by all of the abuses reported at various checkpoints.  They have stationed themselves at various checkpoints around Jerusalem. Checkpoints in the West Bank's interior, however, are currently too hard for them to get to, but it's a start, and a wonderful one at that.  They commented that many Palestinians passing by simply say, "thank you," a reminder that there is hope for this place.  Once in Ramallah, we made our way to the Al-Kasaba theater for a movie (a movie!).  But having read the calendar wrong, the only thing on offer was Die Another Day, and somehow we didn't feel in a James Bond mood.  Instead, we grabbed New York-style pizza (New York-style pizza!) at Angelo's and went to visit with friends in town.  He's from Zababdeh, she's from Switzerland.  Their children are multi-multi-lingual, the three year old dazzling us with a song in English about monkeys jumping on the bed (video - 18 sec.).  They've had enough of the situation here, and with one daughter starting school next year, they're off to Switzerland.  This is a hard land to stay in. 

Wednesday, 2/12/03:  A lazy day, working on a piece for First Presbyterian Church of Marietta's Lenten Devotional (due on Monday - oops) and picking up some supplies from the Ramallah Melkite Convent's bookshop - it's right across the street from Stones Restaurant.  In the evening, we decided to try the other movie theater in town at the Popular Arts Center.  We arrived earlier than the announced 6:00 starting time, and a few minutes before the guy with the keys showed up.  We paid for our tickets, the first people there.  Others, mostly older high school kids, began to show up around 6, 6:15, 6:20.  We entered the theater at 6:20.  A few minutes later, a group of girls entered, asking if people cared if we watched something else they would choose.  Since we had come to watch the advertised Insomnia with Al Pacino and Robin Williams, we kind of cared, so they relented.  At 6:30, the lights dimmed, the screen lit up, and the DVD menu appeared.  Not exactly film...As soon as the dialogue started in at a rapid pace and without translation or subtitles (as is par for the course at these theaters)  the kids began standing up and leaving.  The hearty few stayed on, those with excellent English, and those who simply wanted to sit in the back and talk.  For $3, we amped up our noise tolerance.  Perhaps we'll restrict ourselves to Al-Kasaba in the future.  We made our way to Sangria's, another Buckhead-ish Ramallah hang-out which serves an American-menu full of pub grub and met up with the same friends we joined at Stones a few nights ago.  Ah, the comforts of home...

Thursday, 2/13/03:  The cassette, which promised to be ready today, remains decidedly un-ready.  Elizabeth headed back to Zababdeh via shared taxi.  At the first checkpoint (Tamasiih), her car was refused entry because two of the passengers were West Bankers without special permission to travel on the Jordan Valley Road (as it runs through the West Bank). A couple hours later, at the last checkpoint (Hamra), two other passengers were refused entry because they had Jerusalem  IDs.  They had to leave the car, and either try to find another way in or return to Jerusalem. It's a Catch-22 commute - one checkpoint stops some, another stops the others.  Jerusalemites are permitted to travel the Jordan Valley road, to enter Jerusalem, and even travel into Israel, but they are forbidden to enter the West Bank.  It's as if residents of Chicago could enter Chicago, and cross into Indiana and other states, but were forbidden to go to the rest of Illinois. And Illinois residents were not permitted to leave the state, travel on some major highways, enter Chicago, or for some, leave their town.  Hard to imagine.  Even harder to live.  Meanwhile Marthame slowly wandered over to Birzeit to visit friends we haven't seen since we lived there in the summer of 2001.  When he arrived at the center of town, he noticed young men standing around the Al-Manara Circle staring down the street.  He soon learned what they were looking at, a couple of Israeli jeeps a few hundred feet away, and decided to catch the shared taxi towards Birzeit.  At that moment, people began to break into a run, though they soon returned to watching the jeeps. Marthame and the taxi were long gone at that point, making their way to Surda.  Surda is the small village between Birzeit and Ramallah which has become the focus of road destruction and military activity.  No army presence was around, as we've experienced in the past - instead, just pile after pile of dirt blocking the road.  Most everyone chose to walk rather than ride in the few cars risking driving through that section of road.  Apparently the soldiers like to play the game of hiding until a few cars go through, then reappearing and punishing the drivers who have been bold enough to drive on what was once called a road.  The thing that is so striking about this place where Israeli security has been put in place is that there is nowhere any potential attacker could go.  There is one dirt road which cuts off over the hill to an Israeli military camp, but those who would drive between Birzeit and Ramallah could not physically go anywhere else along their way.  It has also been the scene of non-violent protests, attempts to remove the roadblocks.  And yet they remain.  Marthame eventually arrived in Birzeit and stopped by to visit with our old neighbors from our time in Birzeit.  The father, thankfully, is working again in Ramallah, and travels there daily with some kind of special permission papers.  Mom, however, originally from Zababdeh, hasn't visited Ramallah since the Intifada started.  She hasn't been back to see her family in Zababdeh in three years.  The youngest son is now in second grade, the middle son in sixth (and has become very active in his church - a bright, confident kid), the daughter in ninth, and the oldest son looking towards college.  Since we've lived here, their house has been searched twice by the Israeli army, but they have remained well through it all.   Marthame then went to visit with Fr. Iyad, the priest who kindly hosted us during our extended summer stay in 2001.  They had a wonderful chance to catch up about the various goings-on in both Zababdeh and Birzeit.  The Birzeit parish has progressed steadily in its relationship with National Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC, to the point that there will now be a Sunday in April designated not only Mission Sunday, but Birzeit Sunday.  Fr. Iyad will preach at all three services.  It is exciting to see this, and we are hoping that some of Zababdeh's fledgling relationships will similarly grow with time.  After lunch and before darkness set in, Fr. Iyad drove Marthame back to the Surda side of the checkpoint.  No sooner had they gotten in the car than it began to hail!  Along the way, it lightened up.  Luckily, Fr. Iyad had a spare (broken) umbrella in the car, and gave it to Marthame.  No sooner had Marthame stepped out of the car and began the twenty minute walk to the other side than it started hailing again. There was nowhere to go but forward, so he trudged along, every layer of clothing getting progressively wetter with each step.  He finally arrived to a waiting taxi on the other side, no wetter than if he had been swimming in his clothes.  To the side of the road a number of cars were parked, a makeshift lot for Birzeit-Ramallah commuters.  Each car, however, was missing one tire, and the tires were stacked in a neat pile.  The soldiers had come a half hour before and systematically removed one tire from each of the cars, then left.  Couldn't have seemed more arbitrary unless they had set fire to the pile.  The hotel back in Ramallah had no dryer, so he wrung out his clothes and hung them in the shower and turned on the fan, hanging some of the wetter clothes on the radiator.  It's cold here!  He then borrowed some clothes and he and our friend from the University went out into the cold (but not rainy) Ramallah night towards the Chinese restaurant.  No one was out - perhaps everyone else had the sense to stay home out of the cold.  The Chinese chef who used to work here has headed back to China; nonetheless, they've done a good job at approximating Szechwan.  Maybe they'll open up one in Zababdeh...

Friday, 2/14/03:  After all that, there's still no cassette, so Marthame cut his losses and made his way out of Ramallah.  One day's worth of travel in this place could easily make for a novel.  While passing through the Qalandia checkpoint, Marthame had his photo taken by a soldier - a nice turnabout, we suppose.  Our best guess is that he was assumed to be an International Solidarity Movement activist, so our next time across the international borders should be interesting.  He and the University teacher caught the taxi back to Zababdeh.  Sharing the taxi was a young man from Nablus, a new teacher at the University who had spent time in Damascus and was remarkably aware of the diverse Christian community and history in the Middle East.  We spent most of the ride talking about religion, particularly about how it is manipulated for violent purposes, no matter what the "holy books" might say.  We didn't even try the Tamasiih checkpoint, knowing that it usually means disaster, but had to deal with another checkpoint along the way.  The soldiers forced everyone to stand on the side of the road in the mud (apparently there's something wrong with standing on the pavement).  They were far more interested in the two Americans' passports than in anyone else's.  Three passengers knew that it would be questionable if they could get through: an old woman traveling on her Jordanian passport (with no visa - which means she has a Palestinian ID somewhere); the teacher traveling from Nablus to the University, though an ID from there helps; and a young man from Beit Jala married and living in Jenin - his ID says "Beit Jala," which makes this travel (in the opposite direction of Beit Jala) tricky.  It was the latter whom the soldiers refused to let pass.  The soldier had even given him a way out: "Are you a student?" - that would explain his travel to Jenin though being from another part of the West Bank.  "No," he replied truthfully, but not helpfully for his own sake.  Marthame offered to translate from broken English to broken Arabic.  The soldier in charge sent everyone else back to the taxi, then tried to explain the situation.  He offered several options: the young man could go back to Bethlehem (under full curfew now), he could go to Ariel (settlement and coordinating office near Nablus), he could send his ID with a friend (Palestinians caught traveling without IDs face a world of trouble).  By this time, it was raining and a cold wind was blowing.  The young man tried to explain that he's been trying to get his ID changed to say Jenin, but he can't because the only place he can do so is at the Palestinian Authority Office in Jenin which no longer exists.  The soldier was incredulous that there wasn't an office in Jenin.  "He can't pass.  I can't do anything," he said finally.  "Yes, you can," Marthame replied.  "I can?  No I can't."  "Yes you can.  You can let this man pass.  But you don't want to.  That's the difference."  With that, Marthame got back in the taxi and the young man gathered his bags, paid the driver for a partial journey, and waited alongside the road for a ride back towards Bethlehem.  What's most remarkable is that he was punished for telling the truth, and the fact is that he will get back to Jenin eventually - another road, another soldier, another day...At the Hamra checkpoint, dozens of cars were waiting and no one was moving.  Marthame and the two teachers got out to walk around, coming across a mufti - a muslim cleric. He and Marthame exchanged greetings as religious leaders do in this land.  The talk soon turned to politics, as it often does here.  A crowd gathered around.  "I am glad our American brothers are here to see with their own eyes how we are living," he said to the curious and interested.  "I was just visiting with some people in the Authority in Ramallah.  I wanted them to come with me without their VIP status to see how we're living here."  General nods came all around.  "I went out for a drive in Ramallah at 11:00 last night.  I went by Stones, Sangria's, these places, and parked out in front were dozens of recent model cars - 2001, 2002.  Can you imagine that happening in Jenin?"  Someone in our taxi told the mufti about the young man from Beit Jala.  Should he have lied and said he was a student?  Then followed an interesting discussion of religion, morality, and truth in the face of such examples.  When the line finally started moving, it did so quickly, and the taxi passed through without so much as a glance at the various passports and IDs.  Back in Zababdeh, two tanks had set up shop: one on the road to the University, the other on the road to Raba, both in sight of our balcony.  For about three hours cars were stopped and checked before passing. Around 5:30, the tanks let off plumes of smoke, belched to life (audio - 7 sec.), and went off towards Jalame.  Welcome home. 780

Saturday, 2/15/03:  Today was the first day of classes after the break for the 'Eid.  Elizabeth worked with the English Club a bit, gathering the kids to take photos for the (hopefully) upcoming edition of the newspaper.  We put out one issue last Winter, but were unable to send it out because of the lack of a Palestinian postal service and the unfamiliar Israeli postal regulations.  We're trying to encourage the kids to do this one, but student initiative is difficult to cultivate when it runs counter to the top-down mechanics of almost everything here.  If we stayed five more years, perhaps we could help build a lasting student-run school newspaper program. And possibly a number of other things too.  In spite of this, we still feel called back to the States for ministry and life there.  Meanwhile, tanks resumed their positions on the two roads going from Zababdeh towards the University and towards Raba (audio - 5 sec.).  Although traffic was progressing through these new checkpoints slowly, we hope this isn't a specter of things to come.  In the evening, we met with Fr. Aktham to talk about our contingency plans.  With the world situation such as it is, there's a lot of ifing going on.  Our conversation swirled around these ifs.  Deacon Homam suggested we move on from if towards g.

Sunday, 2/16/03:  We attended worship at the Greek Orthodox Church this morning.  Fr. Thomas announced that, through a local initiative by Sabeel in Jerusalem, the churches will be praying for peace on Wednesday.  We hope these are prayers that are heard.  The Melkite Church, thanks to some support from Western churches, continues its renewal.  New doors arrived while we were down in Ramallah. Shway shway - little by little.  Meanwhile, the Anglican church has a new gate across its doors - somehow this isn't as hopeful, since it's been almost nine months since they've had a Sunday morning service.  It's funny how the same thing - a simple door - can signal both hope and finality, depending on its location.  No tanks today, but there was shooting at the edge of town.  The Israeli camp is long gone by now, but we're still getting visits.

Monday, 2/17/03:  Today we had visitors from the World Council of Churches.  Last August, they began the implementation of a program called Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel.  For the past five months, volunteers have been coming and linking themselves with local organizations in an effort to provide protection for civilian populations and to deal in advocacy issues in their home countries.  Last month, someone came to explore possibilities in the Zababdeh/Jenin area.  Now, we are looking towards having a team placed here in Zababdeh to provide support to the region.  Four people came - the program's director, a current volunteer, and two friends who simply wanted to visit the area.  They are looking towards the middle of next month as potential implementation time and are here to investigate what the needs are.  Marthame met them at Jalame, where they drove in with a simple wave of the hand through the checkpoint.  They were stunned by the road we took towards Zababdeh, a series of semi-paved paths and tractor trails through the hills, the only alternative to the settlers' bypass road.  After a visit with Fr. Aktham and a tour of the Latin School, in order to root their work with a local partner and to find out about housing possibilities (as well as possible tasks - school bus travel is a major issue for the school), Marthame took the group over to the Anglican clinic.  There is also a possibility that they can facilitate the Anglican priest's travel as well as other clergy in their efforts to simply get around.  We then went to the Naim Khader Center on the edge of town where many of the Jenin and Nablus areas' NGOs have relocated.  The situation in Palestinian cities has hampered their work and endangered their staffs.  In October, the well-marked Save the Children car was peppered with bullets from an Israeli tank in Jenin while the driver was inside.  She escaped fortunately.  If it were but one story, that would be something, but these stories repeat themselves over and over again.  These NGOs hope for more mobility and safety if they are located in smaller towns.  The WCC group had another quick stop at the University, meeting with the head of the English Department, hoping to connect with both University ex-pats and students.  After lunch at the Latin Convent, Marthame took them to Jenin to meet with the director of the local YMCA chapter.  Though Jenin was closed in the morning under full curfew, it had opened up and the group managed to pass - though by the Burqin-Jubriat path.  We had taken a group to the YMCA last month, and there is hope that the YMCA can help coordinate potential activities in the Jenin area, in particular in Jenin Refugee Camp.  We took a quick drive through the Camp, where the heart of the camp, the infamous scene of destruction last year, has now been leveled to nothing but dirt.  It's hard to picture the multi-story cement buildings, the homes and businesses that were once here.  Several of the locals were curious about the visitors - they approached with some suspicion, tired of foreigners who have come to look, take pictures, and leave, resulting in no change in the local situation.  Marthame said that these people are interested in improving their daily lives, and compared the WCC's work to that of the International Solidarity Movement folks, who have come to offer encouragement and protection to an endangered civilian population.  An Irish woman who lived in the camp for an extended period of time, who took a bullet in the leg fleeing soldiers, has become quite a legend around here.  The explanation brought out relief and warm greetings from the locals.  The delegation then left the Camp and took a taxi towards the northern end of town, towards a checkpoint neither of us has braved in a year.  We waited for the cars in front to pass, those who know the way pleased to see one particular soldier in charge of checking vehicles.  A Bedouin Israeli soldier, he appeared a bit drunk or shell-shocked.  He said to Marthame in Arabic, with a bit of glee, "In a little while, America is going to hit Iraq.  When that happens, you can't come here anymore."  His fellow soldier found this quite hilarious, too.  After a quick check of the trunk, it was off to the Jalame gas station and back to Nazareth they went.  A long day, but a good day - it's reassuring to see some of our advocacy and connection-building work paying off like this.  While Marthame was on his way back, a legion of tanks came to Zababdeh and wound their way along the main road for several hours, coming and going.  Elizabeth heard a commotion towards town, tanks and shooting and other noises.  This was more than the usual Israeli visits to town, but we weren't sure what the gist of it was.  By nightfall, the tanks were gone, but the planes had come to take their place, circling until the wee hours of the morning.  It's hard to sleep like this.

Tuesday, 2/18/03:  The commotion yesterday afternoon took place at the home of one of the Kindergarten teachers.  After surrounding the house and shooting the front door full of holes, they made a check of the house.  No one was arrested or detained, thankfully.  It was the topic of much conversation today, though.

Wednesday, 2/19/03:  In the afternoon, Marthame went to the Greek Orthodox Church.  Sabeel Ecumenical Theological Center in Jerusalem has organized this day for prayers on behalf of peace, and Fr. Thomas made the announcement in his church on Sunday.  Fr. Thomas gathers with people from his community twice a day - early in the morning and in the afternoon - for daily prayers.  Today, instead of the usual daily liturgy, particular liturgies and prayers were offered up on behalf of peace - peace in this land, peace in Iraq, peace throughout the world.  As Marthame stood there, with children and grandmothers, he was overcome by a sense of sadness, a sorrow at the suffering these people face.  A big question mark fell over the church: why?  Why must these people, these wonderful people who have welcomed us so graciously, why must they suffer so?  May the suffering here end, and soon.

Friday, 2/21/03:  A weekend, a day of rest.  The electricity problems abound, though.  Rain has hit the area hard, and that - or rather the lightning - has seriously disrupted the village's electricity.  Marthame attempted to prepare for his college class (which begins Monday).  As soon as the electricity would come on, he would turn on the computer.  As soon as it booted up, the electricity would shut off again.  This pattern of mockery continued for several hours until Marthame gave up.  We resigned ourselves to reading (there's no going visiting today) and watching the spectacular rains until it was too dark to do either.  The whole area is out of electricity.  It may be frustrating, but there's no arguing with its beauty.

Saturday, 2/22/03:  After school, Marthame and a student from the school went to Ramallah.  The student was scheduled to take the TOEFL Sunday morning, and Marthame went along in case there would be checkpoint problems for the student.  A young Palestinian man from the Jenin region fits an army  profile of terrorist, and so he might not be able to travel at all.   Sharing our afternoon taxi was a native of Zababdeh who works as a radio journalist in Ramallah.  He had interviewed Elizabeth back in September (to her dismay, she ended up on the cutting room floor - kind of like Kevin Costner in The Big Chill).  As the taxi made its way to the Tayasir checkpoint, all of the other taxis were coming back.  The checkpoint had closed a half hour ago and showed no signs of opening.  Marthame and the journalist walked down to the checkpoint.  Two soldiers were standing with their backs turned.  "Excuse me!  Can I speak with you?"  Marthame shouted from a safe distance.  "No.  We're in the middle of something."  "I see you're in the middle of two concrete blocks," muttered the journalist under his breath.  "OK.  We can wait," Marthame answered.  "Ta'al.  Come here," the soldier replied.  Marthame and the journalist explained all the IDs - an American pastor and his student, a journalist, a man with permission from his doctor to travel, and the driver.  "OK.  You can pass."  Shocked, we went back to the taxi which went through the checkpoint without so much as a look at the IDs or bags or anything.  The other taxi drivers began trying their luck soon after we left - they met with little success.  Another brief stop at a checkpoint, then a quick walk through the Qalandia entry through Ramallah (without even a word from the soldiers), and Marthame and the student made their way to their lodging.  The Anglican School and Home had offered to put them up for the night.  Marthame had been there before when he met with the Anglican Bishop a while back.  The school was founded in the 1960s by a group of Protestant women seeking a communal life and ministry in the Holy Land.  Though not formally nuns, they go by the name of "Sister," and are regarded with much respect in the community here.  They now work under the auspices of the Anglican Diocese of Jerusalem.  They are currently looking for volunteers to work with them - the times are difficult for all those seeking volunteers in this part of the world - especially as home parents for the dormitories.  Marthame accompanied them to visit Fr. Fadi, the Anglican priest of Ramallah (and Fr. Firas' brother) to congratulate him on his newborn baby Philip.  After supper, Fr. Fadi came over to the home to lead the weekly prayer group.  It was nice to have such a chance - our activities in Zababdeh aren't focused around opportunities like this - and in both English and Arabic.  Marthame went out in the crisp evening (people are predicting snow) to pick up a copy of Jenin, Jenin, the now infamous documentary of the April Jenin incursion by Israeli Arab Mohammed al-Bakri.  A series of interviews with people in Jenin Camp, the documentary has been officially banned from being shown within Israel.  Left-wing peace groups have been holding viewings anyway, in private homes and the like.

Sunday, 2/23/03:  At the Latin church in Zababdeh, today is seminary Sunday, celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Roman Catholic seminary in Beit Jala.  Ironically, the seminary is closed this year, as the Patriarchate has been unable to secure Israeli visas for its foreign (mostly Jordanian) students or priests.  The seminary houses and teaches students from seventh grade through ordination. Except for those in the final years of their preparation, all their students are in their hometowns, attending local schools, hoping the Israeli government will relent and grant visas for them to return next year. Some of the older seminarians from Jordan have remained here, knowing that if they go home, they might not be able to return. A few of them were among those who came to Zababdeh today, sharing in morning worship (audio - 20 sec.). After church, there was a program in the church hall, where people looked at photographs of the seminary and its students for the past 150 years - under Ottoman, British, Jordanian, Israeli, Palestinian and again Israeli control. One photo during the last Gulf War showed students sporting their gas masks.  Then everyone settled down to watch a powerpoint presentation about the seminary's mission, history and facilities.  Afterwards, Elizabeth joined the seminary group and Fr. Aktham and Deacon Homam and the Sisters for a delicious meal of Jordanian style mansaf (with sauce from Bedouin-style dried cakes of yogurt instead of fresh yogurt like local mansaf).  Delicious.  The seminary group was headed back to Jerusalem, and took with them a couple parcels headed to Roswell Presbyterian Church in Georgia, part of a student-to-student program with our and their first graders.  Since there is no longer any postal service here, we rely on trips to Jerusalem or into Israel to mail anything. Marthame spent the morning in Ramallah, doing more preparation for his class at Ibillin, while the young man went off to take the TOEFL.  At 10:30, Fr. Fadi returned from his Sunday morning duties in Birzeit in time for his pastoral duties in Ramallah.  Marthame participated in the service - it's the first time in a long time that we've been able to worship in an Anglican church here - Zababdeh's is basically closed at this point.  We've missed it.  Marthame and the young man made their way out of the Qalandia checkpoint, expecting a challenge from the soldiers.  Sure enough, the young soldier wanted to see his travel permission.  He didn't have one (and likely wouldn't have gotten one had he asked for it).  Marthame explained the situation.  "But no one can enter Ramallah or leave Ramallah without permission," the soldier explained.  "But he entered Ramallah without permission, just yesterday, and no one told us otherwise."  After a pregnant pause, the soldier replied, "OK, but tell him this is the last time."  "Sure thing."  The taxi filled up with passengers and made its way towards Jenin.  The soldiers at the first checkpoint (near the settlement of Ma'ale Ephraim - we've gotten to know their names by now) were not letting anyone pass, and weren't particularly interested in checking any of the cars.  After an hour wait, and several attempts by the driver to approach the soldiers, we were finally allowed to pass.  The Hamra checkpoint was eerily empty - probably because of the Ma'ale Ephraim checkpoint - so we passed quickly.  It's nice to be home.  We watched the Jenin, Jenin documentary (with English subtitles).  It's a fairly accurate mix of the Palestinian perspective - accurate and personal stories of outrageous Israeli excesses, which have deservedly brought sympathy to Palestinians, mixed with the excessive overstatement and exaggeration that have undercut it.  An old man weeps like a child, a young girl recites nationalist sentiment.  It's not meant to be an investigation of what happened - rather, it's a study in Jenin Camp opinion and reaction.  And that it does well.

Monday, 2/24/03:  Today is Marthame's first day of school in Ibillin.  He left in the morning for Jalame (the rain has left the roads in an unbelievable state - worse than their normal horrific condition).  His ride from Jalame to Nazareth, however, fell through - the checkpoint was closed to traffic.  By chance, there was an Israeli taxi in Jalame - at first, the driver didn't want anything to do with someone traveling from the West Bank (Arab Israelis sometimes have very little understanding of their West Bank counterparts and are frightened of associating with them), but assured of Marthame's passport, valid visa, and profession, he consented.  He had dropped off a niece from his village in Jalame, and had argued his way through the checkpoint coming in.  Getting out was tough, though - an hour and a half wait at the checkpoint before a single car passed.  Meanwhile, outside it rained and sleeted.  A couple made their way to and from the checkpoint on foot twice - both times turned back.  Others were allowed to walk through with their small children, their drivers unable to convince the soldiers otherwise.  The soldier was confused by Marthame's presence, but relented.  The driver was kind enough to have pity on Marthame and take him all the way to Shefa'amer where he'll be lodging for the night. The director of the theology department has been kind enough to take in this wayfaring stranger - perhaps being a fellow Presbyterian helps.  Marthame is teaching an introductory college-level course on Church History - 1250 to present - at Ibillin's Mar Elias College. The students are all older, working, coming from an ecumenical mix - Baptists, Melkites, Maronites, Anglicans, Orthodox, Latins.  Their English ability is mixed, so Marthame is teaching in translation.  Fr. Hatem, whom we first knew when he was the Anglican priest of Shefa'amer, will be doing the translation this semester.  Since Marthame is only to come once a week, he'll teach three hours - three lectures - every Monday.  His assessment of day one?  "Fun!"  A lot of work, but a lot of fun.

Tuesday, 2/25/03:  Marthame caught the morning Arab bus from Shefa'amer to Nazareth.  On the way, Elizabeth called - school was canceled in Zababdeh due to the unrelenting rain.  Even the "good" roads (pretty rare things in the West Bank, other than settler roads) were flooded too deep for our buses from Jenin or Qabatia, and some kids even in Zababdeh were stuck at home, some without electricity.  Even the road between the university and Zababdeh and the bordering wheat fields were submerged under a new lake.  There's no doubt the road from Jalame to Zababdeh is impossible.  A quick assessment of the situation suggested that staying in Nazareth an extra day was advisable.  With the wet forecast of the next few days, though, it may be longer.  Marthame paid an early morning visit to the Church of the Annunciation, which he had to himself (apart from the cleaning lady) before making his way to Jaffa-Nazareth to borrow a friends' couch for the night.  He also got to help them try on their gas masks.  Meanwhile, Elizabeth gathered with the internationals at the University for a delicious supper and a conversation about contingency plans.

Wednesday, 2/26/03:  School was canceled again because of the rain and flooded roads.  People are talking about this rainfall as the biggest in 15 or 20 years.  It certainly goes beyond anything we've seen in our time here. We expected Marthame'd be stuck in Nazareth another day.  Travel plans were further complicated by the lack of any cellphone coverage in the Jenin area.  The Palestinian telephone company has been operating on a shoe string because of the military incursions.  The historic levels of rainfall haven't helped matters.  We had planned to bring a friend who had volunteered to give a ballet workshop to the kids in Zababdeh.  Mid-morning, Elizabeth checked with the taxi office, and the roads between Zababdeh and Jenin had opened.  So Marthame and our friend Joanna got a ride to Jalame, where the soldiers at the checkpoint merely waved them through.  There was a taxi in the center of town, willing to take us to Zababdeh.  The first part of the road (usually barely passable) was not severely affected, except the puddles seemed a little deeper.  We passed a half dozen trucks which had gotten stuck in the muddy road, spinning and turning in order to keep from the same fate.  We reached the recently-paved portion, expecting better travel, but newly-sprung rivers were running lengthwise along it.  In other places, the water had washed out the soil beneath the road, and it had caved in in places.  A couple more stuck cars decorated the side of the road.  Joanna, a Christian dancer from the States, has been teaching dancing classes in Nazareth for six months.  We were glad she could come for a couple of days not only to teach, but to experience life on this side of the Green Line.  In the evening, we got a call from the Christian Peacemaker Team in Hebron.  They are looking into sending a team to the Jenin area and wanted to check with us about possibilities.  There are some exciting things converging here: local non-violence training, church solidarity, education actions...some historical times may be ahead.

Thursday, 2/27/03:  The rain was gone, the Jenin soldiers had taken away the checkpoint, but the Jenin bus was still late - wouldn't start.  Irony shows its face again.  After school, Joanna brought together about twenty girls, from first through third  grade, to teach them a few basics about ballet.  Usually, they're learning dabke, traditional Palestinian dance.  The girls were very excited to try and learn something new, and the teacher being a foreigner added to their excitement.  They learned a few moves, tried on her point shoes, and performed a short dance.  It was adorable.  In the evening, we gathered with the University English teachers - both locals and internationals - in town for an enjoyable evening of good food, conversation, and - of course - juggling.

Friday, 2/28/03:  This morning Joanna and Elizabeth went to the School Hall for another day of ballet classes with the girls.  They were as cute and perhaps even more enthusiastic than yesterday.  Meanwhile, Marthame was lending a hand with the video conference bringing together Italians, Israelis, and Palestinians.  This past summer, kids from our school participated in a peace program in Italy with kids from Palestine, Israel, Germany, and Italy.  Some of the Italian participants organized a live conference to catch up with their new friends and so other Italian students could meet and hear their Israeli and Palestinian peers.  We've been working on the technical aspects on our side of things for a couple of months now.  We assumed from the conversations that we'd be dragging at the technological end of things.  As it turned out, we were the most prepared and aware. The Italians weren't sure how to use the equipment or the software, which the Israelis' school principal forbade them to download.  As it ended up, the Israelis spoke by phone with the Italians, who then told us what was being said.  It was interesting mix of awareness-raising and youth-bonding.  In the evening, we gathered with ex-pats from the University for one of our periodic jam sessions.  With the cold weather we've been having, it's nice to go somewhere with heat!  836