Journal in the Holy Land
July, 2001
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The sounds of Zababdeh: 
4:45 AM, Muslim prayer (40 sec.) 
6:00 AM, Church bells (40 sec.) 
6:30 AM, sheep 
7:30 AM, National Anthem (40 sec.) 
24-7, Electrical generator (5 sec.) 
All night long, cow (14 sec.) 
Night-time, shooting (5 sec.)

7/1/01:  It was a long, long day (or a short two days, depending upon your calculations).  From Chicago, we took the flight to Amman (changing, once again, in Milan).  Given the extra amount of stuff we brought back, we decided to rent a car from Avis (yes, Avis) from Amman to the Hussein Bridge.  Getting across was no problem on either side, and we ran into a friend from our December visit to Hebron , an American (and a Presbyterian) working in Ramallah.  It turns out that he'll be in our language class this summer!  It was good that we arrived when we did, because the bridge closed half an hour after we arrived - since the Intifada started, the bridge's hours have been unpredictable from one day to the next.  We made it to Jerusalem and found a hostel near the Damascus Gate.  We called Birzeit, the village where we'll be spending the summer close to our classes at nearby Birzeit University .  Our housing, it turns out, won't be ready for us for a week (or at least with furniture).  Since registration is tomorrow, that means we'll be doing some creative arranging - at least of ourselves when we sleep!

7/2/01:  The packs we've been carrying are so heavy that Elizabeth got blood blisters on her shoulder. Ow.  Unfortunately, our travels for the day are not over.  We took a while trying to figure out how we were going to get to Birzeit - one word was that the checkpoint was closed, another was that it was open but yellow-plated taxis would not be allowed in.  We found a driver willing to take a chance, who got us to Ramallah no problem (the situation often changes from minute to minute), and we found a taxi to the University.  From there (bags and all), we hustled through registration and through our qualifying exams (which we passed into level II - yay!), before we tried to figure out our housing situation.  We talked to University folks, who informed us that they were full - thus the need for prior registration.  We decided to go to the Latin Church where we found the Rosary Sisters (the same order that is in Zababdeh).  They made a call to the priest, then to someone in the village, and then we were whisked off to the Latin Church's housing project (like Zababdeh's school, funded in large part by a Spanish NGO).  Apparently there was a room ready for us after all - fully furnished, with a washing machine and - more importantly - a bed!  We're kind of waiting for the other shoe to drop, that we're not really supposed to be here.  Well, at least we'll get some good rest first.  The view from the place is quite remarkable, and on a clear day our neighbor told us we can see a glimpse of the Mediterranean.  Today, however, is not clear.  We ventured into Ramallah with the rest of the internationals for a lovely dinner in a garden restaurant and dessert overlooking the bustling streets below.  It's a world away from Zababdeh.  We returned home to be invited over by our neighbors for coffee (of course).  And, it turns out, she is from Zababdeh and we know her family.  Not such a world away...

7/3/01:  Today was a down day, classes starting tomorrow.  Which was good, since the jetlag kept us awake until 5 AM.  We made our way to the University, exploring the cafeteria and the library before heading to a lecture planned for the foreign students here to study Arabic and Palestine Studies.  One hour later, we headed to Ramallah, because our elderly speaker couldn't walk the 1/2 mile across the road block to another taxi.  Ramallah is Area A (fuller Palestinian control), the road is Area C (Israeli military control), and Birzeit is Area B (shared control, with full Israeli military access). The road currently is subject to random closures and delays, which vary from hour to hour in duration and severity. It was far too hot for an elderly man to be walking in the heat of the day.  We met him at the Friends' School (the road to Ramallah was open by the time we finally got there), where Marthame first came to Palestine in 1993 for a three-week experience.  Next to the school stands the former Palestinian police station, where two Israeli soldiers were lynched at the beginning of this Intifada.  That place (and places in several other towns) was bombed later that day by the Israeli Army, and has remained in ruins.  Someone had scrawled onto the walls, in English, "A settler a day keeps the doctor away."  Next door, the school's green and flowering gardens make a quiet refuge from the bustle (and sometimes the chaos) of Ramallah. What a juxtaposition, this place of destruction and death, a symbol of the ravages of war, side by side with peaceful gardens and a school built by Quakers, committed pacifists.  Our speaker was an eloquent expert on Palestinian humor and folklore.  He gave an insightful talk on the subject, citing jokes and folktales as much better judges of public opinion and morale than political speeches - they circulate if they resonate with the people, and they die if they do not.  In particular, he contrasted the jokes of the first and second Intifadas.  In the first Intifada , there was a general trend of optimism.  One example he gave is of the Palestinian woman who gave birth to twins in an Israeli military hospital - the army had heard that the babies were boys, so they had soldiers near by.  As he was being delivered, the first baby saw the Israeli soldiers in the room. He turned back to his twin, saying, "Bring some stones!"...There was a feeling of unity in the stories, a feeling of conquering the enemy (interestingly always identified as the occupying soldiers, not as the Israeli people), the triumph of youth.  Even tragedies are the subject of stories and jokes here, we suspect as a way to deal with difficult situations. For example, in 1994 after a settler killed 29 worshippers at the Ibrahimi mosque in Hebron, jokes such as this (alluding to the traditional stubbornness of people in Hebron) circulated: "Why didn't Baruch Goldstein kill more people in the mosque?" "Because their heads are so hard, the bullets bounced off!" This Intifada, however, the jokes about tragedy seem to belie a defeated, hopeless morale. For example: A boy in Gaza asks his father for two shekels.  "Why?"  "To go to the checkpoint and throw stones.  I need one shekel for the taxi there, and one for the taxi back."  "Here's one shekel, son.  You don't need another; they'll bring you back in an ambulance." Now also the PA is the butt of many jokes (as are its leaders - these were too obscene for our professor to feel comfortable telling us, though Marthame's heard a few of them around Zababdeh before). Like jokes, folktales now seem to fall along the lines of pessimism, division, and distrust of leadership.  The professor's analysis certainly matched what we had picked up in our conversations with people around Zababdeh over the past year.  We returned for dinner with the neighbors and an early night.

7/4/01:  Our Arabic professor was unable to make it to Birzeit today (not from Ramallah, but from the States), so we had another unintentional free day.  Today for us passed without fireworks (being the 4th), which was probably a good thing in our neck of the woods.  But it was a little hard to feel like celebrating, anyway - word came of an assassination of three Palestinians in their car near Zababdeh (Marthame heard about it from one of his 8th grade students by email), most likely with American-made weaponry.  The sad irony of Independence Day...

7/5/01:  We finally had our first Arabic class!  Our professor was so impressed with everyone at first that he announced we would be using the level III book instead of level II.  Then he began to ask us simple questions (parts of the body, everyday household items), and immediately back-tracked us to between level II and III.  Oh, well...had an ego boost for a minute!  We headed to Ramallah to meet a friend for dinner in another of its garden restaurants, then we walked the bustling streets (past the Chinese place and the Mexican "Pollo Loco" Restaurant) chomping on our ice cream cones.  The energy in Ramallah is exciting, with its neon and traffic and walkable size.  We kept bumping into people we know from various places in our time here, too, which helps us feel more at home.  Ramallah seems like a fun place - it'll be good to get time to explore it this summer.

7/6/01:  We caught the daily taxi from Ramallah to Zababdeh, getting to share the ride with friends who were in the area on a brief visit.  The road we took was shorter than usual, but was a detour nonetheless (clocking in at just under two hours).  Our taxi driver, before the Intifada , made two trips a day at 1h15 one way.  Now, he's down to one trip a day and can often clock in at 3h on a much tougher road for his car. We were grateful for an exceptionally quick day!  We got the chance to visit and catch up with our Zababdeh friends and neighbors, who were anxious to hear stories about our time in the States and word from our families.  We brought back gifts for them from our support churches and from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) , including Pentecost pinwheels (the biggest hit for the kids).  We got the story on the bombing near Zababdeh, too.  Apparently three Islamic Jihad members were driving their car on the road between Zababdeh and Misilye (the town we have to pass through when the main road to Qabatiya - the town we drive through because the short way to Jenin is closed - is closed) at 11:00 PM when they were hit by four rockets from an Israeli helicopter.  The three were suspected terrorists.  Everyone in Zababdeh heard the shots, which were so loud that people thought Misilye itself was exploding.  Some heard the helicopter and saw the rockets.  Our neighbor, who works for the PA, went to the site to help out that night.  His experience of the scene there was so gruesome it doesn't bear retelling.  We also were able to watch a video we tracked down in the States.  The tape is a French-made documentary on the arrival of electricity to Zababdeh in 1969 with the assistance of Caritas Jerusalem.  It was interesting to see the mayor, the priests, and the sheikh debating where to put the poles, how much to charge people, etc.  A particularly compelling scene was of the Orthodox priest, Abuna Shakir, singing liturgy and standing barefoot in the tree as he harvested his olives.

7/7/01:  Today, of course, was a day for more visits (we've only got two days in Zababdeh - seeing everyone will be impossible, especially when we have homework to do!).  We shared more gifts with the kids, too.  While we were gone, our telephone bill went unpaid for three weeks, which meant that it got cut.  So our attempts to up/download email were frustrated.  Marthame spent part of today in Jenin taking care of that before Paltel went into collective-punishment mode (i.e. cutting off our whole building), as they have done before.  We also heard the tale of the generator, which has been fixed in our absence.  There were three motors, and two were broken as we left (waiting replacement parts).  It got to the point where electricity was off for twelve hours each day!  In our absence, they brought in a newer, bigger motor.  There have been some temporary shut-downs, but for the most part we're running better (and noisier) than before!

7/8/01:  Today we worshipped with both the Anglican and Orthodox churches.  The St. Matthew's Anglican service begins early, since the priest has to leave for Nablus and his other community for a later morning service.  He asked Marthame to read the epistle and to serve the eucharist wine.  Zababdeh's clearly in summer attendance mode, but it was good to be back in worship with our brothers and sisters in Zababdeh.  We then headed to St. George's Orthodox Church, where we were about thirty minutes late.  There's no problem with that, though, because the very nature of the Orthodox liturgy is kind of a controlled chaos as far as the congregation's role, with people wandering in and out throughout the two hour service.  The music is hauntingly beautiful, sung by the priest and one or two helpers, while the congregation comes and goes in and out of the church.  The service was long today, because they were celebrating six months since one of their parishioners died (this is done after six and twelve months).  Abuna To'mie showed us the sign (which we had not noticed before) marking a gift his church received from the Presbyterian Church (USA) on a visit from some denominational representatives seven years ago.  He was very excited to show it to us and to get a book from First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta (the word "Presbyterian" has never been better known in this village).

7/9/01:  We got very little sleep last night, fulfilling our obligations to visit folks in Zababdeh yesterday before leaving early to get into Ramallah in time for class.  Our return route was essentially the same round-about way we've taken several times before, but at one Israeli checkpoint there was a long line of cars waiting, with none coming from the other direction (indicating the checkpoint was closed).  The traffic continued to build, full of taxis taking people to work and produce trucks carrying fruits and vegetables.  We inched forward, not because any cars were getting through, but because impatient drivers were beginning to take up every available inch of space onthe road.  We waited in the line for close to an hour, hoping things would change - conditions can change in the blink of an eye.  After a while, our driver decided it wasn't worth the wait and began following some brave souls down a steep hill to a dry river bed (dry in most parts, being summer).  We negotiated the "road" for another hour before joining back up with the road on the other side of the checkpoint.  "Welcome to the occupation," once sang REM's Michael Stipe (audio - 3 sec.).  We did arrive in Ramallah in time to catch a nap at home in Birzeit before class.  That afternoon, Marthame headed off to find a doctor in Ramallah to help with his ear (he hasn't been able to hear anything out of his left ear for two weeks, which has made sleeping easy, but hearing the alarm difficult).  We'll spare you the details of his "ear irrigation" - suffice it to say it was successful.  The clinic itself was quite impressive, not far from the center of town and boasting all kinds of specialists. Marthame spent the rest of the afternoon in Ramallah, jumping from sandwich shop to office supply store to ice cream parlor while Elizabeth studied her Arabic lessons.  Marthame then connected with friends and our teacher for an 'oud concert at the Khalil al-Sakakini Cultural Center (near the Lutheran Church).  Two brothers - Samiir and Wisam Jibran from the Galilee - put on a wonderful show of 'oud duets, ranging from slower pieces (video - 60 sec.) and solos (audio - 40 sec.) to raucously paced ones (audio - 40 sec.), from apparently familiar folk tunes ( audio - 40 sec.) to interesting 'oud harmonies (audio - 40 sec.).  We are experiencing some culture shock - not from the States to Palestine, but from Zababdeh to Ramallah!  Note: we have learned from our readers and from experience that our audio files are giving people a lot of trouble.  Unfortunately, it seems that the only way to play them in full is to download them to your computer (we promise that they're safe) and them play them.  Please see our help page on information on how to do that.  For these 'oud files, it is really, really worth it!  The videos can sometimes be a problem, but the audios present the real challenge.

7/10/01:  After class today, the Public Relations chair at the University gave an impromptu talk on students' questions and whatever came to mind.  Albert Alghazarian is an Armenian Palestinian Christian Jerusalemite, and he is passionate about each of those facets of his identity.  As for history, he talked about Birzeit's "illegal cells of education" (so-called by the Israeli government) as it organized classes in professors' homes between 1988 and 1992 when the University was closed by Israeli military order.  He also talked about operations at the University during this Intifada and how frustrated he is with his people's "ability to adapt."  A case in point is the roadblocks put up at the edge of Birzeit, cutting it off from Ramallah.  Palestinians, he said, when turned back from a checkpoint will go around.  But the next day, they won't even try that checkpoint, they'll just go around.  Pretty soon, everyone's going around rather than putting pressure on the checkpoint to be open (our ride from Zababdeh yesterday immediately came to mind).  Later today, we got a chance to meet with the priest of the Latin Church (called "Our Queen of Peace"), Abuna Iyad Twal.  Abuna Iyad has been in Birzeit for three years, having been born and raised in Jordan.  We thanked him for housing us, shared greetings from other Presbyterians in relationship with his parish (First Presbyterian Church of Houston and National Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C.), and talked to him about matters of all concerns, including the impending leadership change in Zababdeh.  He is clearly quite an energetic and intelligent man.  He also has a great sense of humor and strikes us as quite a wonderful leader for this community.  He took us to see the church, which was originally built with financial help and workers from Mexico.  Thus, its center mosaic (and its original name) were La Guadalupana , the famous Mexican image of Mary; this, and the image of the cathedral in Mexico City, were not things one would expect in the middle of Palestine!  We could've spent the rest of the day with Abuna Iyad, but our studies demanded us.  We returned home around sunset, able to see the distant skyline of Tel Aviv, rose-silhouetted against the sunlit Mediterranean.  It provided a perfect backdrop for watermelon with the neighbors and hide-n-go-seek with their kids.

7/11/01:  We've been practicing our Arabic in class by beginning each section with informal conversation (what did you do yesterday, how was the concert, where is your family from).  Our professor today talked about his background.  His grandfather had been a Melkite priest in the Nazareth area, in the village (now part of Nazareth's sprawl) of Jaffa (not to be confused with the village of the same name next to Tel Aviv).  His father was an Arabic teacher, and first taught in Jaffa before teaching in - you guessed it - Zababdeh!  In 1946, the family finished a new house in Nazareth.  In 1947, the Latin Patriarchate sent him to the Christian village of Taybeh (near Ramallah) for a one-year teaching assignment.  He and his family moved down there, the war broke out, and they found themselves on the opposite side of the Green Line (the 1967 Armistice Line between Israel and Jordan) from their house.  Officially, our professor and his family are Palestinians - not Arab Israelis, and so the house isn't theirs anymore.  It's the stories like this that tend to depress you and make you realize how some arbitrary things - like armistice lines - affect everyday people's lives.  We made our vocabulary flashcards and headed back to the Latin Convent in Birzeit - they have built a patio restaurant overlooking the valley, where you can get a nice meal, a cup of coffee, or smoke an argileh.  In the Latin Convent!?  It's a perfect place to study, and it has provided a place for Muslims and Christians alike to gather.  We also got word today that our piece on Iraq, Tongues of Fire , has been published on-line by the Episcopal magazine The Witness.

7/12/01:  Our weekend began after class today (we're relishing these three-day weekends while we can get them), and so we headed to Jerusalem for a few days.  Marthame is preaching at St. Andrew's Church of Scotland on Sunday, and we'll take the opportunity to visit with friends who live near the Old City.  We caught a ride to Ramallah with one of the students in our class, a Belgian who is married to a Palestinian.  They have two kids and are living in Ramallah for the foreseeable future, but has to renew her tourist visa every three months (there is no permanent resident status granted to non-Jewish foreigners in the Occupied Territories, even if they have family obligations there).  Her husband was originally from the Tel Aviv-Jaffa area, but had to flee in 1948.  "You know where the zoo is?  That's where his family lived.  And he can't even get over to see the zoo!"  Our drive was fairly inconsequential, with a short wait for a temporarily-closed checkpoint between Ramallah and Jerusalem and a quick check of our taxi upon entering Jerusalem (the young Palestinian man was asked for his ID).  We realized upon our arrival that we are in Jerusalem for their annual film festival - hopefully our weekend will give us time to go.  We did get a chance to see the opening night fireworks over the Old City walls (video - 10 sec.).

7/13/01:  A slow, easy morning off brunching in West Jerusalem and visiting with interesting folks.  With our Belgian classmates' words ringing in our ears, we headed off to the zoo--not the Tel Aviv one, but rather the Jerusalem "Bible Lands" Zoo (the friends with whom we're staying have a toddler who is beginning to learn words, so the outing was perfect for her, and for the four of us who pretended we were going for her benefit).  We spent some time admiring a number of the animals there, including hippos and monkeys and elephants and ostriches (the definition of a "Bible Land" animal has been stretched a little thin).  Strangely set apart between two animal areas was a fenced off section which had what appeared to be old home foundations - an old (and it appeared to be quite old, but we don't know) Arab home, likely abandoned in the '48 War, but for some reason preserved and fenced off - a reminder that even a trip to the zoo here is fraught with politic implications if one chooses to see them.  Across the valley, over the hippo pond, we could see many more such foundations as the muezzin's prayer call sounded.  The highlight of the trip, though, was the closing-time rounding-up of the giraffes.  One was unwilling to cooperate with the handler, who then sent for back-up with a jeep that then succeeded in chasing the giraffes around their pool for an additional half hour (video - 21 sec.).  We then spent the night "babysitting" (the kid was already asleep while we watched TV).

7/14/01:  Today was a relaxing day of reading, laundry, studying Arabic flashcards, and writing sermons (well, just one - Marthame is preaching tomorrow at St. Andrew's Church of Scotland).  We took it very, very easy, not leaving the house until late into the evening.  Our friends got a babysitter and we headed off the famed American Colony area of East Jerusalem.  The evening weather this time of year is remarkable and wonderful, and we sat among the palm trees enjoying our tasty fancy drinks as we decompressed our past year here together - the frustrations, the stresses, the joys.  It was, all in all, a good day, until Marthame got his wallet out to pay and discovered that about $600 (in dollars and shekels) had disappeared.  As the initial shock wore off, we put together our plausible theories for the money's disappearance, none of them being to pleasant.  The most likely is that someone snuck into our friend's house and took off with the money.  Earlier that evening, we had tried to find our camera bag, which had somehow mysteriously ended up covered in dirt in their backyard.  The two events together made the petty theft theory more probable, but it still left us feeling violated and it contributed to the overall sense of loss this place can instill.  However, in the grand scheme of losses, we know this was insignificant.  The beautiful crescent moon over the walls of the Old City provided us some solace.

7/15/01:  The pastor at St. Andrew's Church of Scotland in Jerusalem had invited Marthame to preach there today. The pastor is on vacation back home this month, and our more flexible summer schedule gave us the chance to be able to say, "yes."  It's been over a year since Marthame has led a full worship service; though he has participated regularly in small ways in Zababdeh, the language barrier has prevented fuller involvement.  Thus it was nice to check that muscle memory.  And apart from leading the congregation in reading the wrong psalm (full of all kinds of wonderful Hebrew Bible unpronounceables), the muscles still worked.  His sermon focused on the story of the Good Samaritan, the lectionary text for the day.  We joined some of the congregation as their guests for lunch in East Jerusalem, then we lounged around the rest of the afternoon, putting together our amateur Sherlock Holmes skills to last night's mystery (still sticking with the balcony-hopper theory, though Elizabeth's "trained monkey from the zoo" postulate is gaining steam).  For dinner, we joined together with a group of visiting Christian Scientists and their Israeli tour guide for dinner and some conversation about the current situation.  Such conversations can prove to be exhausting, particularly when opposing viewpoints are being offered - you have to pick your words so carefully here, because every term is so politically-loaded.  One woman asked if the village we lived in would be considered in Samaria.  The tour guide, who knows the West Bank quite well said, "yes."  "It was in Biblical times," we added. "Samaria" has become a politically-loaded term, often used by Israelis who are staking claim to the northern West Bank as part of the state of Israel (e.g. the Ministry in charge of settlements is called the Council of Judea and Samaria).  Indeed, for a period in history, the region around Zababdeh was a primarily Jewish place called Samaria; but this is not the only, or necessarily the most dominant or identifying period in its history. In a way, to refer to it as Samaria denies the reality of the current inhabitants and situation; it overlooks the people and history before and after that particular Biblical period. These kinds of meetings are good for us - we don't get the opportunity for that kind of interaction very often.  Speaking of which, it's back to classes in the morning.

7/16/01:  We left Jerusalem early this morning, because you never know how long a journey might take.  Even though Birzeit is relatively close (like 15 to 20 minutes),  we allowed ourselves 2 1/2 hours of travel time.  When we got to Ramallah, the taxis were announcing that the off-again on-again Israeli checkpoint at Surda was in effect, so the Taxi Plan B took over - ride to Surda (halfway to Birzeit), walk across the checkpoint, then meet taxis going to Birzeit.  But by the time we got there, the checkpoint was gone and it was back to Plan A.  We arrived early, but not that early, for class - a bit weary from our exciting weekend.  After class we lingered to see a bit of graduation (video - 9 sec.) - the ceremonies are carried out over the course of three days for different departments and degrees.  Three Zababdeh folks were among the diploma-recipients today, so we were able to say hello and "Mabrouk" (congratulations) to some dear friends.  It was quite moving to see these young people who had perservered, particularly over the last ten months.  As if to underscore this point, the  checkpoint was back in effect, meaning families trying to get to Birzeit were delayed (and thus graduation was as well). They were, however, luckier than families in Gaza, who could not attend. We were told that the university had a kind of live video hook-up so that these families could share in some way in their loved ones' big day, and also simply see one another. We've talked to Gaza students who have not been able to make the short trip home for over two years. Then we headed into Ramallah to meet some friends (from Zababdeh, of course) later on in the evening.  We ended up being late, because the Surda checkpoint went back into effect (our taxi driver this time was expecting to get through, but we took Plan B).  Drivers were getting through slowly, perhaps one every five minutes of so.  This is the unpredictable fact of life for those who must travel this way too and from work (it's a different take on the commuter headaches of the West), with traffic lined up for a quarter of a mile for the privileged humiliation of facing Israeli soldiers.  We had a great time in Ramallah, though, with ice cream and pizza (really good pizza!).  The amazing thing about this city is how much promise it carries, in spite of being severly crippled by the occupation.  We headed back to Birzeit to find the line of cars at the Surda checkpoint doubled.  While we had been in Ramallah, a Palestinian suicide bomber had killed himself and two Israeli soldiers near Tel Aviv, so collective punishment was back in effect.  The cacophony of horns seemed to be the only outburst apparent here.

7/17/01:  This morning our view was nice and clear, meaning we could see the Israeli settlement Naha'ail that looms on a nearby hilltop.  It's been there for the last nine years or so, built just prior to Oslo.  It's also within the view from our classroom at the University - most settlements are built on hilltops, which makes them easier to defend.  It also makes them a constant reminder to residents of Israel's thirty-four year occupation of this land.  Today being Tuesday, we had another guest lecturer for the summer students.  Yusef Nassar is a native Birzeitian, but was raised in the States and speaks English without accent.  He only learned to read  Arabic as an adult - not an uncommon thing for dual-culture Americans.  With his American citizenship he returned to Birzeit as faculty in 1980.  As his new employer was in occupied territory, he had to constantly renew his three-month tourist visa (no work visas were being issued).  In 1982 a military edict went into effect such that every fifteen days he had to get permission from the military offices in Ramallah to work at Birzeit.  By 1993 he received his Palestinian residence ID, but given the current situation he cannot leave - as far as Israel is concerned, his Palestinian identity overrides his American citizenship.  The American Consulate told him it's none of their business - this is an internal Israeli issue.  None of this, however, was his topic - we asked him about it after the talk.  His lecture was an overview of the economy over the past 52 years in the West Bank, including the current condition here in the West Bank.  Since the outbreak of violence, it is estimated that the Palestinian economy is losing roughly $6 million each day - one-third of that in wages that people would be earning in Israel.  Israeli border closures have cut that financial lifeline.  Even prior to this, though, the economy here has been totally reliant upon Israel. The Oslo process simply made it official.  One example: it is now a requirement that all petrol must be purchased from an Israeli refinery in Haifa.  The additional excise tax goes not to the Palestinian Authority, but into the personal bank accounts of Yasir Arafat and two others - roughly $30-40 million each month.  There's little doubt that the P.A. has benefited from Oslo, while the Palestinian people have gained very little - if any.  We returned to chat with our next-door neighbor who spent yet another day without work.

7/18/01:  After class today, we wandered back over towards the Latin Covent to visit its restaurant.  Upon arriving, we discovered that there was a party!  A nice, big portable stage had been driven in on an eighteen-wheeler, and kids were performing songs and dances for their families and friends.  This is the second week of the Latin Church's camp.  About 200 kids come each day to play games, do art projects, see films, study the Bible, and of course prepare songs and dances. According to Abuna (Father) Iyad, almost as important as the camp's ministry with the children is the ministry it offers to its leaders. The camp is coordinated and run by 35 or so young adults, who gather each day before camp begins for their own Bible study and preparation for the day's activities. It is great to see the whole community actively involved in the life of the parish. We ran into a couple of people who were born and raised in Zababdeh - they had married people from Birzeit and moved here to be with extended family, but were excited to hear news from Zababdeh.

7/19/01:  Following class we headed down to Jerusalem for a meeting at Sabeel , an ecumenical Christian center in the Eastern side of the city.  The yellow taxis with green (Palestinian) plates that usually go from Ramallah to Jerusalem now all have been replaced by monochrome Ford Transits with yellow (Israeli) plates.  Sometimes we get stopped at the Jerusalem checkpoint, sometimes no.  Today we weren't, but were stopped inside the city - not far from the Old City - by an M-16 toting Israeli soldier.  He asked to see a few IDs, Marthame's included, and then shut the door.  We headed on to our meeting, a product of the Conference we had attended in February .  For the past several months, locals and internationals had been gathering to discuss ways to support - and participate in - nonviolent activism.  Since Zababdeh is on the other side of the planet (or so it feels nowadays), we hadn't been able to be involved in anything around the Jerusalem-Ramallah-Bethlehem area.  This meeting was a chance to reflect on where the movement is and where it might be going.  This was somewhat encouraging, but the mood throughout the land continues to deteriorate.  The violence of the Israeli Occupation is increasing, as is the Palestinian response to that Occupation.  Non-violent resistance continues to be used as a strategy to fight the Occupation (consider the daily acts of resistance performed by thousands of people--crossing road blocks to go to work and school, using tractors to open closed roads, refusing to buy Israeli goods, requesting international monitors to observe/protect them, organizing protest marches and events, etc etc etc). However popular, non-violence appears to be viewed and judged as a strategy rather than as a moral obligation.  We had dinner with a friend who is now with the Christian Peacemaker Teams in Hebron (where we visited in December), a group thoroughly committed to non-violence as a faithful act of confrontation.  Things in Hebron simply sound more desperate than ever.  After supper, we made our way back to Jerusalem in the familiar Ford Transits lurking around the Damascus Gate.  Once inside Ramallah, a man in civilian clothes carrying a kalashnikov (we think - we don't know guns very well) pulled over our taxi and asked us, "Btahki 'Arabi? (do you speak Arabic?)"  "Shway.  Nudrus fil-jama't Birzeit bi-Saif. (a little - we're studying at Birzeit University this summer)"  Apparently that was the Palestinian equivalent of the ID check in Jerusalem.  A fitting way to bracket conversations about non-violence.

7/20/01:  During the summer, the language program has scheduled events for us in an effort to give us a chance to see the area.  Today, one of the Birzeit students arranged for a group of us to go visit his village of Kufr 'Ain.  It's a mere 5 kilometers (3 miles) away from Birzeit, but it took us nearly an hour - the normal roads, like most of the West Bank, have either been closed to Palestinians (either by roadblocks or military vehicles) or are too dangerous for them (with settler groups "keeping watch" over "their" roads).  Nevertheless, we had to go through an Israeli checkpoint.  They stopped our van, picked out one of the two Palestinians in our van, and scrutinized his ID - the look on that Israeli soldier's face was nothing if not pure revulsion and hatred, and gave us all pause.  They were baffled by the presence of American and Australian passports, though, and let us through without too much delay.  We arrived to the village and began our hike through the mountains, walking along a path that began high and worked its way along the ridge overlooking the dry river bed. In the winter, after a rainfall, the river flows for a good three days we're told.  We can imagine how beautiful it is, with everything green and in bloom - now, it's quite the opposite, with heat and dust being the orders of the day (but beautiful nonetheless - video - 18 sec.).  Someway down the trail, we stopped at one of the springs to drink some fresh spring water (tomorrow will tell how fresh it is), and had to wait while the men in the group decided to make tea.  There's something very cultural about it, even in the heat of the summer, that Arabs will drink their tea or coffee.  But the truth was that the hot, sweet tea was quite refreshing, even if its preparation involved sitting/standing near a fire.  Unfortunately, it meant that we would spend the rest of our hike in the height of the sun's heat (not advisable in summer in Palestine!).  We stopped again at one of the springs that give the village its name ('Ain means "spring" in Arabic), sharing our drink with a donkey or two, then resting under the shade of the tree to share in some fellowship with locals.  One of our student companions shared a song from his native Gaza (audio - 40 sec.).  By this time, the sun had grilled us (a useful phrase we've recently learned in Arabic), so we headed to our host's family for some cold cola, hot coffee, and cool grapes from their vines.  The welcome was warm and, well, welcoming, as we have come to expect after all of our experiences of Arabic hospitality so far.  We then began the arduous side-journeys back to Birzeit, stopped at two checkpoints (as were all Palestinian cars) while settler vehicles were waved through.  The soldiers acted very differently upon realizing they were dealing with a car full of internationals, and seemed rather bemused - "What are you doing studying Arabic?  At Birzeit?"  We got home to find out that we still have no water...well, to be accurate, little water.  We're learning some interesting water conservation techniques.

7/21/01:  Today was a day for nerding out.  We haven't had much of a chance recently to really dig into our studies, so a day without anything to do was most welcome.  Our day in that regard went very well, until we were interrupted by a stray herd of goats (video - 6 sec.) - quite the strange scene when living in a rather modern-style building!  It got our noses out of our books (something, we're sure, which our neighbors find most curious) and over to visit the neighbors.  She's from Zababdeh, he's from Birzeit, and their four children (three boys, one girl) have been a real treat to get to know this summer.  He hasn't been able to work in Israel like he used to do, and so he finds odd jobs here and there around the village (and sometimes in Ramallah).  You can see the worry in his face, and he has talked quite openly with us about it.  We sat outside in the cool night air, visiting and playing various games, until they were visited by some other neighbors (she's from Zababdeh, too!).  We're still struggling to find that balance between being the foreigners who are privacy-freaks and immersing ourselves in the local culture by loosening our grip on that false idol.  But for now, we're content being a little counter-cultural.

7/22/01:  We joined the Latin Church in Birzeit for worship this morning, mistakenly sitting in the choir section (we were assured that this was quite OK).  The music and the level of energy the choir adds to the congregation was evident.  Abuna (Father) Iyad made a point of introducing us to the community and welcoming us in their midst.  The community was most warm, and we stayed after to chat for quite a while.  Besides, it beat returning home to see how little water we have (video - 13 sec.).  We drowned our parched sorrows by joining friends from Birzeit on a trip to Ramallah for sandwiches and knaffe (Nablus' dessert speciality).  We also went to pick up a friend who works at the Palestine Media Center , the Palestinian Authority's Ministry of Information office.  He, a student at Birzeit, is in charge of helping with English-language translation.  The Palestinians are beginning the learn (as the Israelis have known for years) that the PR battle must be fought on American soil. 

7/23/01:  After class today, we headed off to visit some friends of friends (there are a lot fewer of them these days passing through) who are spending part of the summer at Tantur.  Tantur is an ecumenical institute founded in the early 1970's in an effort to bring churches together for conversation and fellowship, as a bridge between East and West.  Over the years, though, it has become a place where such conversations take place primarily between Protestant and Catholic - the Orthodox have largely opted out of the conversation.  The Institute has the interesting geography of being right at the Israeli checkpoint along the Jerusalem-Bethlehem Road.  Our bus from Damascus Gate stopped just short of the checkpoint to let its Arab occupants off.  Most of them followed us, into the grounds of Tantur, so that they could get around the checkpoint and into the waiting Arab busses on the other side to take them home to the Bethlehem district.  Such roundabout transportation system has developed since the seige tightened in September, and the Israeli Army seems to turn a blind eye - this is the "illegal" traffic which feeds Israel's need for a cheap labor force.  Across the road, we could see the continued construction of Har Homa, the Israeli settlement on the Arab land of Jabal Abu-Ghneim, once a thickly forested hill, renowned for the beauty and respite it offered to the Bethlehem area. The aesthetic and ecological (not to mention moral) disaster makes our (especially Elizabeth's) stomachs turn.  It began under Netanyahu, continued under Barak, and we have seen its presence explode in our brief time here.  We had a wonderful visit with our new friends, hearing about their summer experiences - particularly those involving dialogues between Jewish and Palestinian peace groups - and their lifes in the US.  It was also good to get second-hand reports on friends back in the States.   Upon returning to Birzeit, we went to the roof to do some investigative work with our neighbor, and discovered that someone had closed our water tank's valve.  This means that when water arrived to Birzeit (to fill roof tanks), ours remained shut off.  We should have water in the morning.

7/24/01:  Elizabeth woke Marthame this morning with a squeal of delight. The toilet flushed! We have water!  This is no small victory, and we celebrated with showers for everyone (our neighbors and classmates were most grateful).  Today being Tuesday, we had a special guest lecture.  Today's lecture was of particular interest, "The History of Hamas."  Our lecturer was a Birzeit Professor, Hisham Ahmad.  His characterization of the party was quite interesting and squared with others we had heard recently.  Hamas (which claimed responsibility for the Dolphinarium Disco bombing in Tel Aviv among other things) sprang out of the ruins of the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1980s. Our professor said that they were  strengthened by the PLO's loss of influence (particularly after Israel's attacks on Lebanon, where the PLO was in exile) and by an intentional choice of the Israeli government to allow their growth (i.e. not suppress their political actions and pursue their leaders as they were doing with the PLO) in an attempt to nurture discord in Palestinian resistance.  Its aims are clearly nationalistic, and it has gained ground by capitalizing on the mistakes of others.  Their espousal of Islamic rhetoric appears to be an opportunistic strategy rather than a sign of religious zeal - that is to say, their religious rhetoric serves their political aims.  When Marthame asked about Christian involvement in Hamas (something that we have been informed has happened during this Intifada), he replied, "Yes.  This is something I find shameful."  We're not sure if he meant for the Christians or Hamas - probably both.  We returned to Birzeit to bemoan the state of all things political with one of our new friends who has been living in Jerusalem for the past year and studying at Hebrew University.  New Birzeit friends of his were arrested and detained recently because one of them had a brother with a prison record (assault on an Israeli soldier, which apparently carries a sentence of fifteen years).  This, along with a recent visit to Jewish friends in Jerusalem which showed hardening opinions there, left him rather dismayed and hopeless.  Couldn't say that we disagreed much, for visions and ideologies give way to brutal realities here.  But we do have water.

7/26/01:  Today we managed to get out of bed early.  We had gotten a phone call from a Palestinian woman who wanted to meet us - she found our writings quite interesting and wanted to meet the people behind them.  Today, we got the chance.  Her name is Rita Giacaman, and she is the Director of Birzeit University's Institute of Community and Public Health.  A native of Bethlehem, she and her family left for the States in the wake of the 1967 War.  She returned in 1978 as an American citizen, sued to receive her Palestinian identity card (it only took five years), and began working on issues of public health.  She is a fierce woman, but is clearly somewhat tired. She and many of her contemporaries struggled for years with a vision of a democratic, just, and sovereign state of Palestine, but have found themselves dismayed - if not hopeless (a common word these days) - from the current state of affairs.  The Institute does research on public health issues (everything from rising diabetes rates to water pollution to domestic violence) throughout the West Bank and Gaza.  There's something refreshing about a chain-smoking Palestinian feminist who has great affection for Quakers.  We then headed over to the Latin Convent to take another peek at their summer camp.  The kids were in the midst of a scavenger hunt, sprinting all over town to bring home the prize (video - 5 sec.).  We didn't have much time to stay before class started, but we saw that the kids were having an absolute blast (as were the nuns, truth be told).  After class, we got a rather depressing call - we had antipicated heading up to Zababdeh this weekend to play host to a group from Atlanta's Peachtree Presbyterian Church.  Their tour company, with whom we had arranged things, wanted to know if that could be changed to tomorrow (when we would be on the road to Zababdeh).  Apparently the company had told Marthame one thing and the church group and their hosts in Beit Sahour another.  Needless to say, this was bummer news.  We decided to drown our sorrows in a visit to Jerusalem and a meal of Thai food (that old Chicago remedy) while Marthame broke the news to the various priests in Zababdeh. Our taxi from Ramallah to Jerusalem took all kinds of back roads and twisting turns (even though checkpoints were open - albeit slow), slowing down before intersections upon reaching Jerusalem, finally arriving at the Damascus Gate.  When we got out, we noticed the reason for all of the precautions: green (Palestinian taxi) license plates.  Before September, this wouldn't have been anything to comment on, but now that's a huge gamble.  Clearly the guy desperately needed the handful of shekels our taxi gave him.  We'll head down to Beit Sahour to see the Peachtree group on Saturday instead, which will be good, but a far second to how we had hoped to spend our weekend.

7/27/01:  Today was mostly a day to rest - we're still pretty disappointed about the cancelled Zababdeh plans (as were a lot of people, but they responded with typical Palestinan patience, " Bahimmish.  Bahimmish.  (don't worry)."  We did get a chance to rest today, eventually wandering over to the Eastern part of the city to meet our Zababdeh neighbor who works at the Arab American University of Jenin - he's getting ready to leave for a while, and it was nice to see him before he goes. As we wandered back towards the Old City, we saw a taxi (the undercover Ford Transits that make up the Ramallah-Jerusalem artery these days) getting pulled over by Israeli police and soldiers.  We stood around the watch as the driver was asked for his identity card. Whatever he gave them wasn't satisfactory (perhaps West Bank ID), and he was carted off.  His passengers got out and waited for another taxi to pass so they could continue their commute (might've cost them double - we're not sure).  There was particularly creepy article in the Jerusalem Post today, the city's right-wing voice box (this in addition tothe front page, where a photo of graffiti saying "Death to All Arabs" was accompanied by the headline: "A Time for Vengeance?").  An editorial was commenting on press coverage of the siege and violence here, saying it was typical anti-Semitic bias.  They gave some specific examples, but said the winner of the "Black Boot Award" (a not-so-subtle reference to Nazism) went to the reporter for the UK Guardian.  The final line said, "Congratulations on winning the award.  And we're looking forward to delivering it to you in person."  Typical stuff for the Post, and nothing to comment on, except that we were staying with friends of ours who are journalists (whose "TV" emblazoned car has been been the target of neighbors' scorn and intimidation, including the careful placement of a boulder on its roof), and we were meeting the Guardian journalist at the American Colony for dinner.  The American Colony has been a place where internationals - particularly journalists - have gathered in East Jerusalem for years.  It's a 5-Star hotel with an outdoor cafe under palm trees - a great place to gather in the summer evenings.  So we joined with a small group of journalists and NGO workers for a little relaxation.  We talked politics, law, human rights, terrorism, and how all of these things have impacted us as foreigners over the past year.  This land seems to take it toll, particularly on the very people who take seriously uncovering its nasty truths.

7/28/01:  Another day of reasonable relaxation before gathering for lunch with friends.  One of the ladies at lunch was a grandmother of a friend, a native of the Old City of Jerusalem currently living in Beit Hanina (between Jerusalem and Ramallah).  Her church of worship when she was a child was the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  She had very vivid memories of the city in 1948, which were interesting to hear.  Most of her family, though, is living "outside" (as the Palestinians say) - not in the land.  We then headed off to Bethlehem, catching the Arab bus from Damascus Gate which took us to the Tantur checkpoint.  We walked across the checkpoint with everyone else (that is, everyone who wasn't hiking around the checkpoint through the Tantur grounds instead), showing our IDs to the Israeli border soldiers, catching the shared taxis into Bethlehem.  We met up with the tour leader at the Paradise Hotel, which has the unfortunate location of near the IDF's (Israeli army's) Rachel's Tomb outposts.  This area has been the scene of clashes, particularly early in the siege that began in September.  Out of the hotel's five floors, the first two have been unaffected by the shooting.  The top three, however, have been completely burned out by Israeli gun and tank fire, so the hotel is closed.  Nevertheless, its a landmark and we met our friend there.  He took us to Beit Sahour and we spent some time at a Bedouin tent restaurant (the tour company is kindly making up for the Zababdeh goof by hosting us with the Peachtree group today and tomorrow). We rendezvoused with the group from Peachtree in time for dinner and to hear their stories from their weeks of travel.

7/29/01:  All of us headed to Beit Sahour today, the site of the Christmas shepherds' field (Beit Sahour means "house of the night watch").  After worship we gathered for fellowship with the priest, Abuna Majdi, and the Peachtree folks as they brainstormed together, creating a vision for their new sister church relationship.  We were then treated to a huge lunch spread by one of the members of the church (his sister lives in Zababdeh, of course!).  He's building a new house on his family's land (without permits from the Israeli military who control the land -  building permits take years and years, if they are awarded at all).  From his balcony, we could see the Israeli bypass road leading up to the half-finished  Har Homa settlement (his house is in its shadow).  We don't envy his position in the coming years when this settlement is finished.  All day long, snippets of news were coming from Jerusalem - the Temple Mount Faithful trying to place a 4 1/2 ton cornerstone for the Temple on the site of the Dome of the Rock, Palestinians throwing stones on worshippers at the Wailing Wall, Israeli police raiding the Haram al-Sharif (the site of the Dome), reactions all over the West Bank - none of it as bad as its potential, but certainly not helpful.  In the afternoon we took a tour of Dheisheh Refugee camp.  This camp of 11,000 people (6,000 of whom are children) has been here since refugees started pouring in during the war of 1948.  People come from dozens of destroyed Arab villages that now lie inside Israel.  For four years people lived in tents before the UN  built concrete-walled hovels for them.  Some people have been able to build nice places in the camp in the ensuing forty years, but most people live in pretty poor conditions.  In 1987, during the first Intifada, the entire camp was surrounded by a twenty foot concrete and barbed wire wall, and all of its entrances were closed off.  There was one opening, a grilled revolving door gate, manned by the Israeli army.  The gate remains s a memorial to those years, and to the hope that they can return to their villages.  There is a real pride in their Refugee status, as was evident in the eloquent young men who led us around - volunteers at IBDAA Center for the Development of Children's Skills and International Cultural Exchange.  For all we had heard about the radicalism of refugee camps, it was certainly surprising to hear rather moderate - yet uncompromising - rhetoric.  There's no shortage of idealism here, where even under the Palestinian Authority they are not quite at home.  We finished off the day back at the Bedouin tent, which was completely full of people eating and smoking 'argila (water pipes).

7/30/01:  We bummed a ride with the Peachtree group to Jerusalem.  As we went along the road to Jerusalem's Old City, we saw that the closures were particularly tight today. Soldiers were waiting at the exit of Tantur, taking the IDs of anyone exiting,and making them return to the checkpoint and wait. In our very short trip, twice we saw vans pulled over, with all the passengers standing in a line for the soldiers. We caught our Ford Transit taxi to Ramallah (further up the road than usual - everyone's on-edge after yesterday).  One of the passengers was a young Japanese kid, who clearly spoke little English and no Arabic, who was spending seventeen days in the area.  Kind of stunning to find such innocence heading into the middle of Ramallah these days.  When we got to the ar-Ram checkpoint (between Jerusalem and Ramallah), two Israeli soldiers opened the van door and peered in.  They asked one young man for his ID then asked Marthame - when he responded in English, the soldier turned his attention back to the rest of the van.  It looked like we got a "let them go" nod from his partner, but then they asked for the ID of the well-dressed man sitting next to Elizabeth.  They then summoned him out of the van.  We took off - we were blocking traffic, and nobody else probably wanted to give the soldiers a second look.  Then we arrived to Birzeit - well, in reality, only halfway.  The usual checkpoint with soldiers was gone.  In its place was a line of giant cement blocks, preventing traffic from going through.  Everyone in the car patiently disembarked, walked across, and got in taxis on the other side for the rest of the journey.  We met friends in Ramallah tonight for dinner - on the way, there were now two places where the road was blocked.  Coming home, there was an Israeli jeep between the two roadblocks, with soldiers shining bright lights on all of us who were walking across.  All of this in response to what was, in the grand scheme of the last ten months, a pretty minor ruckus yesterday.

7/31/01:  Today was another day for lectures, which have been set up for the foreigners here this summer.  Since 1993, the program has been averaging 70-90 summer students.  This summer we're down to 20, of whom about two were not already in the area.  For today's lecture we headed into Ramallah. (As we walked across the roadblock, we noticed that the Ramallah side of the roadblock has grown into a parking lot; people have driven as far as they can, and presumably take shared taxis for the rest of their journey, after they walk across the block. Not so easy for trucks--we're not quite sure how goods will be getting between Ramallah and Bir Zeit now.)  We went to the offices of the Palestinian Independent Commission for Citizens' Rights.  Established by presidential decree to act like an ombudsman on behalf of Palestinian citizens, the center has been spending most of the last ten months dealing with the issues of the Occupation and siege.  But since, as they say, they are a human rights organization and not a political one, they have also been dealing with issues related to the Palestinian Authority - mainly the complete collapse of its infrastructure, since most PA-related folks are simply fearing for their lives (word came during the meeting that eight Palestinians in Nablus were victims of Israel's policy of extra-judicial execution).  We could see this, as the offices overlook the new Palestinian police station.  But rather than stay inside (and be easy targets), most of the force is out under the olive trees - where they now sleep, too.  It wasn't much of anything new, but to hear the numbers and the statistics again remind us how unbelievably oppressive the situation is - 530 Palestinians killed, 15,000 injured, 25,000 trees destroyed, routine infractions that amount to "grave breaches" of the Fourth Geneva Convention: settlements, assassinations, collective punishments, torture, killing of civilians outside of conflict, willful destruction of property.  No one in the Palestinian human rights camp seems to be ignoring PA violations, as can be seen in their very thick year 2000 annual report. However, the human rights problems with the PA have clearly taken a back seat as the PICCR is fighting to keep up with the overwhelming number and scope of infractions of the current Israeli seige.