Journal in the Land of the Holy One
January, 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.)

Wednesday, 1/1/03:  Today we headed back out to the Egyptian waters - our experience of the other day was too wonderful to pass up again.  Elizabeth went out solo first while Marthame spent a little extra time in the Mt. Sinai recovery program.  After lunch, Marthame went to the dive shop for a scuba lesson - unfortunately, the teacher was apparently hung over in Sharm al-Sheikh after a late New Year's Eve (ah, Dahab).  So he joined Elizabeth snorkeling instead.  It's amazing how much more you can see on a second round along basically the same route.  The water was much calmer today, though, hardly a ripple across the surface.  Underneath, the Red Sea teemed with life.  Now we are armed with a couple of underwater cameras and a Red Sea identification guide - we're becoming pros!  Here, a blue-specked deep orange  boxfish darted among the plants, its wide rectangular shape its prominent feature.  There, a poisonous lionfish turned its back to us as we approached, its quills pointed in our direction.  Nearby, a moray eel poised menacingly under a rock.  The dangerous and not so dangerous share this space together.  The waist high water over the reef extends virtually from our hotel room door out about fifty yards until it drops off - corals, urchins, and fish cascading to a murky depth.  The late afternoon light came in at a spectacular angle, though it made spotting things a little more difficult.  The calmness of the water gave us the chance to simply float, breathe slowly, and watch the spectacular parade pass beneath us.  A surgeonfish, its whole body outlined with a magnificent neon blue stripe, swam nonchalantly nearby, knowing its beauty well enough to stop and pose for us.  Not only did we marvel at the brightly colored parrotfish, but, as we came close enough, we also noted the crisp crunching sound they make as they chomp on coral.  Considering how effortlessly they bit through rock-hard coral, we were glad they showed no interest in more fleshy, mammalian snacks.  More butterflyfish darted here and there, as did damselfish and schools of striped sergeant majors.  The end of this glorious break has come all too soon, but it's clear that we'll be back.

Thursday, 1/2/03:  We're sorry to leave, but well-rested (our Mt. Sinaied calves would still take issue with that statement, though).  After narrowly averting the disaster of leaving our passports at the hotel in time to catch the bus, we bid Dahab farewell and headed back to Taba.  Once there, we had several hours to kill before the bus back to Nazareth (another strangely-timed commute - leaving just in time to arrive back in the Galilee around midnight), and so went exploring at the nearby Taba Hilton.  We were glad to be rid of our bags for a while, and happy to pay the baqshish to do so, having lunch in the hotel's lounge overlooking the Red Sea and the convergence of four countries: Israel, Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia all boast coastline on this stretch, and all are within range of the naked eye.  We pondered the political absurdities of that, but were far more interested in our lamb chops in a grape curry sauce.  While by Egyptian standards it was extravagant, it was a bargain and an unusual treat for us.  We lounged on the Hilton beach before making the unremarkable crossing into Eilat.  Our bus driver made good time, thankfully, stopping for a smoking break in the middle of the West Bank, and we were able to arrive at the Nazareth Sisters' hostel at a somewhat reasonable hour.

Friday, 1/3/03:  Heading down to breakfast, we ran into Fr. Maroun, the director of the Latin Patriarchate Seminary in Beit Jala.  He was sharing the table with several of the seminarians, all Jordanians whose visas have expired and are staying in the country (even though the seminary had to close this year) to avoid the risk of not being permitted to return.  While we were able to renew our visas the same day, as have other Western priests working with the Latin Patriarchate, the Arab (mostly Jordanians and Egyptians) clergy have faced unprecedented waits for theirs.  Two years ago, it was a same-day process.  Last year, priests were spared the hassle while seminarians waited a little longer for their legal status to come through.  Now, it has been a six-month process for some.  Many are in limbo, having filed their papers months ago with the Israeli Ministry of Interior but still have had no success.  The Patriarch has filed official complaints, as has the Vatican, all to no avail.  As we pondered our luck at having valid paperwork, we pondered our options. We have errands to take care of here, things we can't accomplish in Zababdeh, and hurtling back across the border sounds less appealing after soaking in the extravagance of the Sinai Peninsula.  After deciding to delay our departure until tomorrow morning, we met up with friends at Nazareth Village, a reconstruction of parts of first century Nazareth to give visitors a sense of Jesus' surroundings.  Marthame had visited here before, but it was Elizabeth's first time.  Every aspect of the place is meticulously researched and carefully constructed.  Jewish, Muslim, and Christian visitors do come, mostly locals and especially school groups.  But to keep afloat, the project, like so much else in this land, needs the return of tourism and pilgrimage.  The olive press is in progress, and much more is in the works.  We hope folks will be willing to come here again soon.  After having lunch, we were taken on a shopping extravaganza, going to the Russian grocery store in nearby Nazareth Illit (Upper Nazareth), where we found all kinds of wonderful cheeses and sausages.  We've got another early morning tomorrow, so an early evening wandering the hostel's lovely courtyard was about all the excitement we could manage.

Saturday, 1/4/03:  We made our way back to Zababdeh, first grabbing a ride into Jalame from Nazareth then waiting for our Zababdeh ride.  The rain had us worried about the way back, especially given how difficult the passage is along those dirt roads even when the weather is dry.  We made it uneventfully, and thankfully, and spent much of the day getting caught up on Zababdeh's news.  There hasn't been the kind of excitement we had prior to our departure, but just about every night the roads around town are closed.  The army is now recovering stolen Israeli cars, something that the Palestinian Authority was responsible for doing two years ago.  Because of this, the impression is given that everyone who is "wanted" has been rounded up - now the army has moved on to policing.  Travel's still not any easier or more predictable, though.  We spent the rest of the day catching up on emails, getting ready for the return of the school year, and paying overdue Christmas visits to our neighbors and friends.  There's plenty of all of that!

Sunday, 1/5/03:  Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah arrived in town this morning for worship at the Latin Church.  He has come fairly regularly to Zababdeh, a welcome sight for folks here - a reminder that they are remembered in their daily struggles.  Part of the liturgy was the annual blessing of holy water.  This will be used throughout the year - the weekly sprinkling of the congregation on Sunday mornings, various pastoral visits.  This week, the clergy here will begin the annual 'Eid al-Ghattas (Epiphany) visits, dividing Zababdeh into neighborhoods and visiting the Christian homes in them (regardless of denomination) in order to bless them for the coming year.  This is an old tradition in this part of the world.  Until several years ago, all of the clergy used to visit the homes together. That simply became too cumbersome, so the neighborhood solution was implemented.  After the Patriarch delivered the homily and a word of encouragement to the faithful, the clergy (Marthame in tow) made their way towards Jenin.  Just outside of Qabatia, we were met by a tank and a handful of Israelis soldiers turning back all traffic.  The Patriarch's consular vehicle proceeded forward, steadily but cautiously.  After a quick glance at passports and collars, we were waved through and onto the Latin Church in Jenin where Fr. Alphonse and the Sisters of St. Anne were waiting with the congregation to greet the Patriarch.  He heard the stories of people's suffering there - overall far worse than what we face here in Zababdeh.  Jenin is feeling more and more isolated, even from nearby places like Zababdeh, so such a visit was of utmost importance.  On the way back, the soldiers were still at the same spot and tried to send us back. When Fr. Aktham informed them that we had just passed from here, they waved us through.  We may have been the only two cars to pass through there for most of the day.  Back in Zababdeh, the Patriarch visited with Fr. Boutros, a Latin priest from Zababdeh who has been wheelchair-bound for three years due to a stroke.  He also visited with the liquor store owner who is still recovering from gunshot wounds.  The visit was rounded out by a grand feast back at the Latin Convent.  In the evening, while Marthame was visiting with Fr. Thomas and working on the American youth group's plans for the next few days, we were interrupted by breaking news.  An Islamic Jihad double-suicide bombing in Tel Aviv had taken place with already twenty deaths and scores of injured.  Such news only compounds our despair and frustration.  It wasn't long before we heard the tanks nearby.  No one knows what'll happen now, but it looks like everything for the group's trip is up in the air - perhaps they won't be able to enter at all.  Perhaps Tubas will be closed, or Jenin, or Burqin, or the University - no telling.  Planning here can be a practice in the absurd.

Monday, 1/6/03:  Last night it was tanks.  Today, it was a helicopter (audio - 5 sec.), circling Zababdeh repeatedly.  They are a menacing sight, and indicate that something may be afoot - air cover for an incursion, firepower for an extra-judicial killing...Marthame spent most of the day putting the final touches on the schedule for the group's arrival tomorrow, meeting with folks at the University and with various folks throughout the village.  It's a good program - visiting the clergy in the area, working with Muslim and Christian youth, taking in a workshop at the University, and visiting with the handicapped in Jenin.  We wish they were staying longer than two days, but it's a start.  We only hope they can arrive tomorrow...

Tuesday, 1/7/03:  They made it!  After several false starts and a completely closed checkpoint at Hamra, the student group arrived in Tubas - two hours late, but safe nonetheless.  There, we were welcomed by the Christian community of the Church of the Holy Trinity with information, prayer, lunch, and conversation.  The benefit that such visits give to the likes of the Tubas Christians cannot be underestimated - even in the "good" times, few - if any - groups would come to visit these small communities, preferring to come to major Christian areas like Bethlehem or Nazareth.  Refreshed after a long journey, the group then went to Zababdeh where they were met by students and hosts from the Arab-American University of Jenin (AAUJ), Christian and Muslim alike, welcoming them with handmade cards reading "Welcome to Peace Land."  One of the American guys broke out a football (American, that is), and the guys began tossing it around with varying degrees of success.  This strange sport and strange way of throwing a strangely-shaped ball is something we simply take for granted in the States.  We had been hoping that the timing of the group's arrival would coincide with the end of finals for the AAUJ students, but because of the situation, that soon became impossible as the exam period had to be extended.  So our original welcoming party was re-tooled as a study break.  Most of the local students, to their credit, did take a break to have some hummos, falafel, and other Arabic "munchies."  Today was just the beginning.  Tomorrow the work begins.

Wednesday, 1/8/03:  Many of our AAUJ students have two exams today - one in the morning and one in the afternoon - but there are the rare few who finished yesterday, giving them the chance to be part of the program the entire time.  Today's project was one of simple destruction: tearing the old plaster off the walls of the Melkite church's sanctuary.  Again, as part of the intent of this experience, Muslims and Christians worked together, a sign of clear cooperation.  Fr. Firas set the bar high, taking off his robe, climbing a ladder, and pounding away with a chisel until the dust in his hair aged him some thirty years.  Others worked on the roof, chipped away the old layer of protection so that another fresh one could be laid down. Yet another group worked to sand away the layer of old green paint on the shutters and painted a fresh layer of red.  Fr. Firas' wife brought lunch for the group, a giant steaming pot of Maqlube, and we feasted.  Some students who had only a morning exam showed up just in time for lunch (as did Elizabeth, as the Latin school started back today), but we soon got back to work clearing away the piles of rubble with which we had littered the church floor and ceiling.  One day's not enough, but it looks like the AAUJ students may come back to volunteer here to fulfill their community service requirements.  We showered off the layers of dust before making our way up to the University in time to catch spectacular views of Zababdeh and the surrounding area.  The locals took great pleasure in leading the foreigners on a tour of their school.  We finished our tour with a workshop, led by one of the University's professors, on crisis intervention.  Given the situation in this land over the last two years, there is a desperate need for broader-based training in this area.  Those who are specialists are simply overwhelmed, and no one seems untouched by crisis or its aftermath.  We celebrated with a great feast, courtesy of the University.  We then began to make our way back to town via taxis, worried by the news that tanks were stopped on the main road.  Marthame headed down first to make sure that everyone arrived home OK.  By the time we made the journey, the tank (actually an armored personnel carrier) had gone on towards the south to Tubas.  As he waited for the next taxi to arrive, the grinding APC made its presence known.  The young men in town began gathering stones to throw - this has become a pastime here: the tanks pass through, the youth throw stones, the tanks keep on going.  Every now and then, reports come out of a soldier who shot a stone-thrower or simply fired at random killing someone.  Given our visitors, Marthame decided it might be wise to intervene, telling the shabab (young men) to put their stones away for the sake of our guests.  Surprisingly, the obliged, and the APC rolled on through town - probably surprised by the lack of stones meeting it.  It then headed off towards Misilye, the same road along which two of the students are staying.  They, too, managed to arrive home without incident, though they were "lucky" enough to see a tank close-up.

Thursday, 1/9/03:  We gathered early, most of the AAUJ students being able to join us today, and boarded the bus to Jenin.  Part of the way, learning that the main road into Jenin was closed, we cut off into Burqin.  This was the road Marthame had traveled - walked - last month when the rains had cut off the possibility of traffic.  The AAUJ students regaled the Americans with tales of their many travels along this road, including climbing up and down mountains, in order to get to and from classes and exams.  Our hosts in Jenin were the YMCA which has developed an extensive program working with handicapped people in the area.  We were split into three groups, each heading out with a counselor to visit with some of their clients, most of them injured during last spring's IDF actions in Jenin refugee camp.  Marthame's group first met with a woman who had been shot by gunfire from an Israeli helicopter - her son was injured not long after, also shot - both of them had been standing at the door of their homes.  During the destruction last April, their family had evacuated to the center of the Camp, assuming that they would be safer there than on the edge where their home is.  Thirty-five people were corralled in one room with the army began bulldozing their home.  The soldiers eventually responded to the cries for help and left the room standing.  Her right arm is paralyzed, and the YMCA has helped her renovate her kitchen and bathroom to be handicapped accessible.  The second visit was to a woman living on the edge of the camp.  She has clearly had many visitors and has told her story many times: her sister, who was working in Tulkarem as a nurse, was back visiting her in Jenin. few days into the incursion, she and her sister ventured out so she could lend a hand with the medical crisis.  There was no gunfire at the time, no airplanes overhead, no curfew in effect.  Stepping outside their door, they were gunned down by Israeli soldiers.  For twenty minutes they cried out, but no ambulance came to help them.  When they did reach the hospital, her sister died.  She remains severely wounded.  When one of the University folks mentioned that he knew the sister, our hostess broke down - the recitation of events gave way to raw emotion.  The third stop was her neighbor, a sixteen year old boy who stepped on an unexploded device weeks after the incursion - a friend was killed at the same time, another lost an arm.  His leg was severely damaged, but not permanently.  After a fourth visit, we rushed off - the road we arrived on was now closed by a tank, so we went back by way of Jubriat - an even more difficult journey - before arriving back in Burqin.  There, we were welcomed by most of the Christian community (as well as Christians from nearby Kufr Qud) and shown the beautiful, historic church.  Back at school, Elizabeth was getting the news about tanks parked at Aqaba, a town between Tubas and Zababdeh.  They allowed our school bus through, but no other traffic.  One of the teachers, who is now eight months pregnant, is usually driven to school from Tubas by her husband.  They were told that neither he nor his truck were allowed to pass. She and her two small boys, however, were welcome to walk across.  The three of them walked to school from Aqaba to Zababdeh, about three miles.  In the evening, the group stopped by to visit with Sheikh Fathi and some of the leaders in the Muslim community in Zababdeh.  We first took a tour of the old mosque before engaging in a lively conversation upstairs at the Sheikh's home.  Then came the farewell celebration.  It's difficult to believe how quickly the youth have bonded, and encouraging to see how close they've become after only a matter of days.  Their group singing of "Lean on Me" (audio - 10 sec.) was particularly impressive.  With the group here, Marthame has come to the realization of what has really been driving him in his work here.  In 1993, he visited Ramallah on a youth exchange and had a trip that changed his life.  What he wants most is for as many people as possible to have that same experience.  It seems a few more have.

Friday, 1/10/03:  Marthame joined with the group on their ride down to Jerusalem - that made an extra rider for the taxi, which meant a need to be careful around the Israeli police (a 500 shekel fine).  Israeli Soldiers, however, are another matter.  We arrived at the Tayasir checkpoint, only one car in front of us.  The soldier asked us if any in the group were from California.  "No.  Why?"  "Because I want to go surfing there."  Apparently the surfing is no good in the West Bank.  We skated through two more checkpoints easily due to the passports, but then stopped when another taxi driver made cryptic hand motions.  Border police were ahead.  Marthame jumped out (being the extra rider) and flagged down a passing taxi, following the group close behind.  The police seemed more interested in the oncoming traffic, though, and we arrived safely in Jerusalem.  Marthame parted ways with the group and went to visit a friend who works with a Jerusalem NGO.  The situation for NGO workers is interesting if not depressing.  Very few of them are here with long-term visas, in the past a mere formality.  Now, they are on tourist visas, some of them as short as two weeks.  Some have met with the US Embassy to shove the process along - Tel Aviv seems to be a clueless world away, with US government travel restrictions on their employees preventing them from even approaching the West Bank and getting a sense of what's happening on the ground.  The Jordan Valley road is as close as any of them has been in years.  Marthame came down to preach at Redeemer Lutheran Church on Sunday, and it was they who were responsible for his housing.  He arrived at Augusta Victoria Hospital, but Victoria House, their guesthouse, was full.  The manager told him that there was a place for him across the street at Rudolph House, so he went.  No one knew of a Rudolph House, but one person began to wonder if it was Rudolph's house.  Sure enough - an apostrophe 's' is a valuable thing.  Pastor Rudolph is a German national, working here on the World Council of Churches' Ecumenical Accompaniment program.  As they chomped on various German delicacies (like schmaltz, a spread made of goose fat), they admired the spectacular view over the Old City.

Saturday, 1/11/03:  Today was a slow day in Jerusalem - at least for Marthame.  He spent most of the day working on his sermon and watching digital tv, two of the great ancient sabbath practices.  Meanwhile, back at the ranch, collective punishment was once again hampering the school.  A curfew was in effect for Qabatia, meaning that none of the students or teachers from either Qabatia or Jenin were able to come to school today.  That's nearly one hundred students in a school of six hundred.  Teachers also scrambled to fill in for their absent colleagues.  The stories about new travel restrictions are horrific.  Officially, no Palestinians are allowed to travel between cities or villages.  And no Palestinians under the age of thirty-five are allowed to leave the West Bank - either for work in Israel (which is already down to a trickle) or to go into Jordan.  But for the safety of a passport, we would be part of the restrictions.  We know that Palestinians will continue to try - and succeed - at their own risk, to live life as normally as possible.  Can it get much worse here?  In the evening, the World Council of Churches' folks had a farewell party for some of their accompaniment folks.  The repeatedly requested official international observers or peacekeepers haven't come, so the WCC has responded by bringing some volunteers.  They are being paired with local churches and organizations - both Palestinian and Israeli - to do what they can to bring some glimmer of hope for peace here.  This has meant a variety of activities, and they all have their "war" stories.  The hope is that more people will come, and those that do will see for themselves and deliver an accurate picture of what is happening here back home.  While the world sits by, this offers some glimmer that truth will out.

Sunday, 1/12/03:  Marthame admired the view at breakfast one last time, heading to preach at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, in the Old City of Jerusalem, not far from Damascus Gate.  The foreign language congregations of this land are an interesting mix: part long-termers, part short-termers, and part visitors.  Before the service, the electricity was cut - Fr. Aktham later took great pleasure in this (since it had happened when Marthame preached in the Latin Church last month).  It came back, but not in time for the church bells to ring.  This Sunday is the Baptism of Christ, so - not surprisingly - Marthame preached about this practice.  The question is not so much how Christians are baptized (and he used the Orthodox practice as one example), as what we are baptized to: repentance, righteousness, and gentleness.  It's good to get "back in the pulpit."  At the church, Marthame was joined by one of our friends from college who is visiting the area.  The two of them got a ride with someone working for the World Council of Churches' Accompaniment Program, who came to Zababdeh to see what possibilities for them exist in the northern West Bank.  The road was easy (in an Israeli-plated car with three foreigners) until we arrived at the Tayasir checkpoint.  There, we approached the barrier slowly but confidently, stopping short.  The soldier manning the checkpoint became agitated at our forthrightness, grabbing his M-16 nervously.  As he approached the car, he saw Marthame, stopped, and bowed.  Marthame rolled down the window: "How's the surfing?"  It was, to our good fortune, the same soldier who had been there on Friday.  A quick check of our passports was all and we were on our way.  We arrived in Zababdeh in time to have lunch with Fr. Aktham, Deacon Homam, and Mr. Iyad, the Vice Principal.  We discussed possibilities, such as accompanying our school buses, going with Fr. Alphonse from Jenin when he needs to visit his parishioners in the villages scattered around, working with local NGOs who have re-located to Zababdeh.  We hope that something will pan out - they have enough to keep them busy, but the presence of a few more internationals in this area would go a long way to simply offering people hope and encouragement.  We spent the rest of our evening visiting with our college friend, one of very few visitors we've had who have come primarily to see us.  It seems we need hope and encouragement, too.  761

Monday, 1/13/03:  Qabatia has been under curfew for the last few days.  What this has meant for school is that not only are Qabatia students absent, but so are the Jenin kids - there is no way that the Jenin school bus can make it to Zababdeh except via Qabatia.  Once again, huge absences are plaguing us.  Marthame was going to run errands in Jenin today, and was planning on taking our college friend for a little sightseeing, but simply assumed it would be impossible.  Around 9:00, a couple of kids trickled in from Jenin - they had skirted Qabatia, coming by taxi over the hills and temporarily relocating with family in Zababdeh.  Marthame and our friend went down to the garage anyway - Jenin was not under curfew.  The taxi headed north out of town, turning up the road running through the Israeli training range.  At the top of the hill, at the area known as Sweitat, all traffic was doing its best to get into Jenin.  What had once been a paved road when we first arrived had long-ago been bulldozed.  The roads through the fields around it were bulldozed, too.  Now it's open season - any path is a legitimate road.  We finally arrived in the middle of Jenin, which was busy - a shadow of its former bustle, but active nonetheless.  The reasons for going were fairly mundane - phone bills, internet service, etc. - but these things can't be done anywhere else.  We took the chance to get some knaffe, Nablus' specialty (Jenin's version is tasty too).  There's something heartening about the fact that people are still selling knaffe, even when it's tough to get customers.  Marthame ran into two of our students there - they were simply walking around town, not able to go to school.  Leaving Jenin we had to take a different route.  Not long after we had passed from Sweitat, a tank had arrived, cutting that road off.  Not to be defeated, the taxi drivers were intent on getting through.  We took the main road out of Jenin - for a moment, Marthame thought that we'd be going through Qabatia.  Instead, we turned off to the inhospitable Jubriat road, more like mud dunes among the olive trees than a road system, arriving in the middle of Burqin's narrow streets - all to the West of Jenin.  The main road out of Burqin towards Qabatia meets up with the small village of Shuhada, where two Israeli tanks were parked.  We turned to the southwest towards Nablus, then onto tractor trails running parallel to the Qabatia road - fields and greenhouses separated us from the military.  Once among Qabatia's cramped alleyways - the curfew had been lifted shortly before - we then took another detour.  Israeli tanks were blocking the road out of Qabatia, so it was off to the village of Misilye even further to the West before cutting back towards Zababdeh.  A fifteen minute trip extended to an hour and a half, with four detours - a new personal best!  This place can really grind you down to the raw emotions.  Right now, it's a lot of hatred and anger.  Visiting with Fr. Firas usually is a good remedy, but hearing his tales of crossing from Jalame into Haifa did little to make us feel good.  After he was threatened at gunpoint at a distance of twenty meters and made to strip his robes, he was then told he would not be allowed to enter, despite his legal Vatican travel documents.  Eventually, soldiers' whims were overruled by captain's intervention.  When he returned, he was told he couldn't enter the West Bank!  But once again, he was allowed through.  It feels like time for another vacation...

Tuesday, 1/14/03:  By chance, our nurse friend was headed out this morning to his job in Nazareth.  Our college friend tagged along, splitting the cost (and avoiding the checkpoint headaches alone).  The Jalame checkpoint is simply closed, our usual escape route for the Galilee, so they headed towards the northwest of Jenin via God-knows-where in order to arrive.  They made it safely, but it seems that the Israelis are intent on enforcing the new, unbelievably strict, travel restrictions.  It was announced that no Palestinian between the ages of 16 and 35 (except special humanitarian cases) is allowed to leave from the airports, ports, or land bridges.  No Exit.  Our landlord and his family had gone back to Amman, where he's become pastor in the Pentecostal church, a few days ago.  All permissions were in order, but his two oldest sons were not allowed through.  His 15 year-old was refused entry twice.  Finally, on his third day spent at the border, he was permitted to pass.  The 17 year-old spent a week waiting, sleeping, and eating at the border.  (Imagine a week marooned in an airport; better yet, imagine a week stuck in an interstate rest stop bathroom).  He finally came back to Zababdeh, having been consistently refused passage.  Meanwhile, Fr. Thomas' sons, who came back from overseas to visit for theChristmas holiday, are stuck at home.  One is trying to return to his engineering job in Kazakhstan, the other to his theological studies in Greece.  They, too, are simply not allowed to leave - Israel doesn't want them traveling, Jordan doesn't want them to enter, and no one can do anything to help them.  People are wondering about the tighter restrictions.  Is it simply because of the elections (in two weeks)?  Is it due to advance information on an American strike on Iraq?  Or is it, as Fr. Aktham jokingly suggested, a New Year's gift from the army?  In any case, our school busses all arrived today.  We remain thankful for small graces.

Wednesday, 1/15/03:  Yesterday's optimism soon faded.  At around 6:00 this morning, we could hear helicopters constantly circling the valley where Zababdeh lies.  We waited until we could see some activity at the school to make sure we hadn't missed a curfew announcement (we hadn't).  The Tubas students arrived, Qabatia at 10:00 and Jenin not at all.  School attendance is like a crap shoot.  School adjourned at 12:00 today for teacher meetings.  The Palestinian Ministry of Education is doing seminars with teachers about school violence, and how to deal with it and students who are under so much stress these days.  Today, they began by discussing rights: freedoms of association, expression, religion, conscience, movement (everyone laughed at that), and human rights.  It is so heartening when we see parts of the Palestinian civil society still intact (or at least partially intact), still trying to build itself, in spite of everything.  Throughout the day, F-16s circled overhead, while at night, off in the hills, the grinding of tanks lulled us to sleep.  Ah, the sounds of Zababdeh.  We learned that our latest update will be published in a British Christian magazine called The Tablet.  Our first step across the Atlantic...

Thursday, 1/16/03:  The teacher meetings continued today and will continue for another few days as a trainer leads a workshop in how to deal with violence: violence in the Occupation, violence in the society, in the village, in the home, and especially in the school.  With all of the violence that swirls around here, training like this is desperately needed. Marthame went off to the Anglican Clinic today for a routine visit with lab work because his knee has been bothering him.  They were very worried about our insurance situation.  Do you have any?  Is the school paying for you?  Are you sure your church will reimburse you?  Don't worry, he told them, expecting a hefty bill.  It came to 65 shekels (about $15).  Not even a co-pay in the States.  Meanwhile, as if to underscore the importance of the teacher training, two tanks took up their positions right at the edge of town - a flying checkpoint between Zababdeh and Qabatia.  We received an email today from a student at Carleton College whom we had paired with one of our students two years ago as a pen pal.  She had written a play based on their conversations - and on the news surrounding this place - and wanted to share it with us.  In the evening, we went to pay overdue visits to friends.  We stopped by the Latin Convent to see Fr. Aktham and Deacon Homam who were hosting two priests from the Patriarchate for the evening.  They wanted to watch Fr. Aktham's Christmas Pageant, and since we have basically adopted his camera for the documentary project, we had to re-lend it to him.  The sound isn't clear in the video, so we're talking about re-doing it more professionally - but to do so, we'll need a boost in our equipment capabilities.

Friday, 1/17/03:  Happy sabbath.  It's a lazy, lazy day, a lot of laying around, sleeping in, keeping warm, watching our new TV channel (MBC-2, which brings only English-language programming subtitled in Arabic), and paying visits later in the evening.  One was to the school's Islam teacher and her family, where we got to catch up on their news and to see their Christmas (yes, Christmas) presents - including a cat - and their Christmas (yes, Christmas) tree.  Apparently they're celebrating on the Eastern calendar - or perhaps the Armenian one.

Sunday, 1/19/03:  It had been a while since we had attended Sunday worship at the Orthodox church, so we went there this morning.  With all the calendar switching, we were unaware that today is the Eastern celebration of Epiphany, the feast of the divine appearance which celebrates Christ's baptism by John.  Even though the Orthodox community celebrates Christmas on December 25, the liturgical calendar is not changed - Fr. Thomas is beholden to his Patriarch in Jerusalem for such decisions.  As a result, the Christmas liturgy is read on Eastern Christmas, and the rest of the calendar complies, about two weeks later than the Western calendar.  In his sermon, Fr. Thomas reminded us of our baptismal vows, then invited us to join in the ritual renunciation of Satan which precedes the sacrament.  We all turned and faced the West (the back of the church) in the Orthodox fashion, and Fr. Thomas led us in a call-and response renunciation of Satan ("Do you renounce Satan?!" "Yes! We renounce him!" - like an Orthodox tent revival).  We then put our hands to our mouth and blew - as symbolic of the presence of the Holy Spirit.  At the end of the service, Fr. Thomas took a tub full of water and blessed it.  Then, with his hand-held cross wrapped with branches of mint and sage, he blessed the congregation, sprinkling them with water, and coming forward for people to be touched by the water and to kiss the cross.  Then parishioners came forward to fill plastic coke bottles and drink small glasses of the blessed, slightly-herbed water - all of it a remembering of our baptismal vows and blessings.  In years past, the whole congregation would've taken a couple of busses down to the Jordan River to celebrate the liturgy at the Church of St. John the Baptist.  Some are even baptized then, though a bone-chilling cold day like today makes you wonder.  But those days are gone - hopefully to return soon.

Monday, 1/20/03:  We had a couple of visitors today (they seem to be coming in droves recently - a pre-war rush?).  A Dutch organization called King's Highway has volunteers in the Middle East, posted in Egypt, Israel, Palestine, and Jordan.  For four years they have had a nurse in Nablus with whom we have become good friends - she has left recently (the work in specialized hospitals is down to nearly nothing) for some months of training in South Africa, but she will be back.  In the meantime, they are looking at bringing an additional volunteer to Zababdeh to work in the Anglican Clinic perhaps.  It depends on many factors, but they came today to get a look and an idea.  Marthame waited for them at Jalame, at the northern edge of the West Bank, with a Zababdeh taxi driver.  They shared a cup of coffee at the gas station along the main road, where a man from Zababdeh works (Zababdeh is everywhere).  We talked about things past, things present, things to come.  Nowadays, they were guessing that there are no more than fifteen settlers living in the area, based on the traffic they see passing.  It is also forbidden to settlers to stop and buy their gas there, meaning their work is down to a crawl.  The gas station also houses a bridal shop, which is still doing brisk business these days.  Arabs from the Galilee all come here to do their shopping - both for its quality and price.  He also spoke about the situation in Jalame.  Even now, some Jews come in to do business.  Jalame is a safe place for Israelis, even soldiers and police, because its whole livelihood is based on being the West Bank portal to Israel.  If an incident happens here, the economy here will be destroyed to nothingness - something people here can't risk.  Once the Dutch visitors came (folks we had met in Beirut), Marthame took them on a quick tour of Zababdeh.  They got a chance to see the clinic, and to hear about the work there as well as possible needs.  We then brought them to the school to meet Fr. Aktham and to bounce around the possibilities of teaching volunteers coming here to work.  The rain and the cold made walking around the village (not to mention sitting in our frost-bitten apartment) a bit undesirable, so we went up to the University for lunch, a view of Zababdeh, and to see what other possibilities could arise from introducing our visitors around.  Even though students are home on break, we were lucky enough to catch the president in his office, just breaking up from a meeting.  Having more internationals around would be nice.  Marthame went out in the evening to get an overdue haircut (did anyone think that phrase would be associated with Marthame?) and to catch up on the latest jokes from the barber (sorry, none of them can be repeated here).  Our former neighbor, the son of an orphaned Greek national raised by nuns in the Galilee, he always has a slightly different take on things than most folks around here.  The biggest problem with the Palestinians, he said, was their willingness to go around checkpoints.  "Instead, we should just go and wait.  One day, two days, three days, eventually they'll let us through. What would they do if a few hundred of us just sat there and waited?"  We've heard similar sentiment before, and a popular approach that would take such ideas seriously would look dangerously like mass non-violent resistance.  It happens, especially in the Ramallah/Bethlehem/Jerusalem area.  But these people still await a leader who can galvanize the public in the way that Gandhi and King did.  And as in pre-independence India and pre-integration South, some adopt violent strategies while a majority of people are immersed in the struggle to survive rather than the struggle for freedom. 

Wednesday, 1/22/03:  A care package arrived today (via the Patriarchate in Jerusalem) - not for us, but for the students at the school.  Mail is extremely exciting for us, since mail service has come to a real halt in the past year.  The last mail we received in Zababdeh was a Christmas 2001 card, which arrived in May 2002.  Even domestic mail going between towns is at a standstill - not surprising since movement between towns is so difficult.  Our phone bills come because an employee of the phone company brings them.  Foreign mail headed to us would arrive in Israel and first go to the military exchange post at Bet El, near Ramallah.  Then, if the roads are clear, it would go to Jenin, and then, if the roads are clear, go to Zababdeh.  We know people have sent us things, and wonder where it has ended up.  In comparison, we were floored to see that this new package made the trip from North Carolina to Jerusalem in a week.  One of our stopping points this summer was University Presbyterian Church in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  Around Christmas time, they raised funds through their Sunday School to send a message of support, along with Christmas cards for the kids, to the Latin Patriarchate School here.  Fr. Aktham went down to Jerusalem yesterday to try and get his visa renewed (unsuccessfully once again), and returned with the package for the school - Christmas cards and all.  Pen pal letters also arrived via email from First Presbyterian Church of Wilmette.  The connections we have been able to participate in in our time here have been a gift - in the absence of visitors, relationships have been built.  We simply hope that someone will be able to continue them next year.  In the evening, Fr. Thomas came by for the annual consecration of homes (audio - 7 sec.).  This is an ancient practice of the church, and originally would be done regularly by the priest.  As parishes grew, it became an annual practice, around the Feast of Christ's Baptism.  Thus the holy water used takes on an added meaning, at the waters of baptism which set Christians aside for their life's calling also bless the Christian home - and through it, the Christian family.  In past times, the clergy of Zababdeh would visit all of the homes together.  Now, the village is divided into three sections, each priest visiting the homes in their section, whatever the denomination.  Our evening visits were bookended by tanks rolling through town (audio - 9 sec.).  It's become so ordinary it's hardly worth mentioning. 768

1/26/03:  Today was symbolic of our ecumenical work here.  In the morning, we worshiped at the Latin Church of Visitation, Marthame taking part in the leadership with Fr. Aktham and Fr. Firas.  A new teacher has arrived at the Arab-American University from the States, and her mother has come along to visit for a couple of weeks.  She had contacted us through the internet to say she was coming and offered to bring things to us.  Marthame asked her to bring a couple of textbooks for his course he'll be teaching in Ibillin, and she delivered them today.  A veteran Kindergarten teacher and teacher trainer, she was eager to see the Latin School and plans to come by tomorrow.  After church, we had lunch with Fr. Thomas and his family - delicious msakhan, one of our absolute Palestinian favorites.  Marthame and Fr. Thomas finished up some work, which gave us an hour or two to rest before Marthame headed back out to the Latin Church.  We are working on a more professional production of the Christmas pageant, and tonight was to be the first performance.  With three performers absent, though, it turned into a rehearsal.  We'll pick it up again tomorrow.  As Marthame left the Latin Convent, he ran into Fr. Firas.  After a little bit of work (and some celebrating - some support arrived today for rebuilding from Holy Cross Melkite Parish in California, whose priest we had met in Beirut), Marthame joined Fr. Firas and his family in their evening vespers.  Well, he and his wife were praying (audio - 8 sec.).  His young one year-old twins were too busy pulling on Dad's robes and playing with random objects that had been left too close to their grasp.  Now if only the Anglicans could re-open their church...

1/27/03:  The worry is thick in the air these days.  With elections in Israel and saber-rattling in the States, people are very nervous here, expecting the worst.  Surprisingly, today was rather normal, with all of the students able to come to school.  The American kindergarten teacher arrived as well, coming to invite the school to participate in a multi-national peace quilt project, organized by a public junior high school in New Hampshire.  Seventh and eighth grade students in seven countries (including Bosnia, El Salvador, USA and of course here) each design and color a quilt square. Seven quilts will be made, using squares from all seven countries, and when they are completed, they'll be sent to the participating schools. Cool!  Fr. Aktham was excited, as was our school's art teacher, and we plan to do the project on Sunday.  Marthame spent most of the day at home, finishing up his syllabus for the course in Christian History in Ibillin.  Class begins in about a month, and he just received the textbooks yesterday.  Not the most auspicious beginning, but everything here is on the "punt" system.  Elizabeth chaperoned her eighth graders on their picnic - not exactly picnicking weather, but always fun.  The kids, even in times like these, know how to have some fun.  And they always enjoy each other's singing.  Much was in Arabic (audio - 5 sec.), but one student showed off her knowledge of Western pop music (audio - 5 sec.).  In the evening, "production" began on the Christmas pageant.  Unfortunately, Joseph was sick, so filming was done around his part.  Hopefully he'll be better tomorrow.

1/28/03:  Today is the parliamentary election in Israel.  Forget about our students from Jenin coming.  Nablus and Jenin are under full curfew.  The results of the election were not surprising, but not heartening, either.  The Palestinians, who are affected just as much as the Israelis by the choice made today have no say in it whatsoever. Israeli soldiers killed four Palestinians in Jenin today.  One of them was described as a "combatant."  The other three, however...Today, Israelis chose to maintain the status quo.  But is that really a status quo either Israelis or Palestinians can live with?  Sharon has not delivered the security he promised to Israelis - they've never been more insecure.  Nor has he delivered any desire to negotiate with Palestinians at any level.  Today was day two of filming the Christmas pageant.  In the evening, Marthame worked with Fr. Aktham, Deacon Homam, and the school's computer teacher to try and ready ourselves for an upcoming video conference.  The plan is to build off of some international student and teacher meetings which included Palestinians and Israelis.  The problem here is technology.  The best internet connection is a telephone, and these days the Palestinian companies can't be at their technological best, operating with duct tape and bailing wire.  Today was not a good beginning: three different computers were sidelined in the process - not because of anything done wrongly, but because the gremlins were not on our side.  We've got a month to try and rectify the situation...Meanwhile, the video conference organizers are saying, "It's easy! As long as you have a broadband internet connection, you'll be OK."  Thanks.

1/29/03:  The election was yesterday, but the curfew remained in effect for both Jenin and Nablus.  People are congratulating each other - tongue planted firmly in cheek - for yesterday's election results.  Bush's State of the Union address has people reeling here.  The talk is of war.  People here have lived through one Gulf War and its effects - West Bank-wide travel shut-downs on Palestinians, a complete loss of work and school, a daily death-toll.  The more things change, the more they stay the same.  "Blessed are the peacemakers," but where are they?

1/30/03:  Our Jenin students were able to arrive today.  Thank God for small miracles.  Meanwhile, the school has laminated and posted the "Prayer-Gram" initiated by Park Ridge Presbyterian Church and supplemented by other churches in our summer travels.  Seems like an appopriate time for encouragement.  In the evening, we gathered with the ex-pats from the University for one of our periodic barbecue get-togethers.  It has become our tradition, thanks to one of our number, to bring guitars and to play for fun - not songs that anyone knows, but rather to improvise and to see what comes out.  Sometimes it turns out quite interesting (audio - 7 sec.) - other times, energizing (audio - 11 sec.), and other times, well, at least it's fun.  Tonight was no exception.  We recorded the "session" for posterity's sake on the digital camera.  Maybe it can be the soundtrack for the eventual documentary... 773

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