Journal in the Land of the Holy One
November, 2002
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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.)

Friday, 11/1/02:  Marthame and one of our friends from the University went with Deacon Firas to visit the Christians of Jalame.  Marthame and Firas had been there last week, and our most recent update described both the visit and the trip it took to get there.  Deacon Firas called when we were about half an hour away to tell them to expect us.  We arrived, waiting another half an hour for as much of the community to gather as was possible (they number about seventy, and come from two large extended families).  In the days when Fr. Alphonse and the St. Anne Sisters in Jenin could come regularly, one of the homes had a room which had been turned into a makeshift sanctuary with couches and a cross at one end, space for rows of plastic chairs at the other end.  It was a simple service, particularly welcoming to the children, reciting familiar prayers and singing familiar hymns (audio - 11 sec.).  Deacon Firas spoke to those gathered about the importance of the Christian witness in this land and of the importance of passing the faith onto their children.  Marthame maxed himself out speaking for a few minutes in Arabic about our work in Zababdeh and throughout the northern West Bank.  Then we sang a few more simple hymns with guitar accompaniment before heading back to Zababdeh.  Soon, Firas will be meeting with the Roman and Greek Catholic bishops of the area to talk about the future of ministry in this village - it technically falls to the responsibility of the Melkites (Greek), though all of the families are Latin (Roman).  But the two are in communion, and Firas is both willing and able to come (the latter of which cannot be said of the Jenin clergy these days).

Saturday, 11/2/02:  While Marthame worked on preparations for next semester's course at Ibillin, Elizabeth went to school to teach and to get birthday cake!  Fr. Aktham turned thirty-three today, and the whole school took part in the celebration, with cake in the teachers' room and candies handed out to the kids.  Fr. Aktham looks even younger than he is, and when he first came, everyone commented on how young he is.  Having served in parishes before Zababdeh, it was clear he was used to - even amused by - this. When we learned how old he is, though, we had to inform him that Marthame is younger.  And, indeed, so is Fr. Hosam.  So after Fr. Thomas, the Greek Orthodox priest, Fr. Aktham is the second oldest pastor in the village! The school also had a special mass today - not for Fr. Aktham's birthday, but in honor of All Saints' Day.  Elizabeth also worked with the first grade religion class on a penpal project.  The last two years, Roswell Presbyterian Church has sponsored the school's Christmas party.  This year is no exception, and in addition, the first grade Sunday School teacher there is working with Elizabeth to have the children write Christmas cards to each other.  Given the postal system situation, we might've started too late already!  But the kids (and Elizabeth) had a lot of fun decorating their cards.  In the afternoon, Marthame went to the Latin Church's special Mass.  All those who lost loved ones in the past year come to remember them.  After Mass, there is a procession to the village cemetery as hymns are sung (audio - 20 sec.).  After a brief liturgy, family members of those who have died hand out sweets - mostly chocolates - as others come to pay their respects: "Allah yerhamhum - God have mercy on them."  Perhaps this shapes our Western Halloween tradition (not practiced here), the sweetness of treats symbolizing hope at the end of the mourning period.  Families then spread out through the cemetery, visiting other family graves, and leaving candles at the site.  People wordlessly drifting through the cemetery, cattle egrets squawking in the trees, tears and sniffles, darkness descending.  A beautiful, somber evening.

Sunday, 11/3/02:  We worshiped this morning at the Latin Church of Visitation, Marthame taking part in the liturgy with Fr. Aktham and Deacon Firas.  Today in particular, thanks was given for the oil of this year's harvest.  Obviously for the church, oil has particular significance - symbolic of healing, used in baptism, anointing, as well as in simple things like candles - but for the people here, it is both an economic lifeline and a major food staple.  Unfortunately, though this year's crop is better than last year's, the price of oil has plummeted.  It's a buyer's market.  Marthame visited with Fr. Aktham after Mass, as they began working together on a computer training project proposal.  As they sat and worked, Fr. Aktham received a phone call.  The son and wife of the man who was shot last week were visiting him in the hospital in Haifa (after receiving all of the necessary travel permissions and having to argue their way into Israel anyway) and had now returned to the Jalame to re-enter the West Bank and go home.  Now they were being denied entry to the West Bank by the Israeli soldiers.  Abuna called the District Coordinating Officer on one phone while he spoke to the family on the other.  Within minutes, they were through.  In the evening, we had the chance to visit with a Palestinian-American friend we had only gotten to know by the internet - we have more and more such friends these days.  She lives in California, but is spending a month volunteering in the village of Taybeh near Ramallah.  It was good to connect and to be strengthened in our ministries together.  We arrived home to find that a story we wrote for the Yale Alumni Magazine has been published.  Old friends have begun contacting us to reconnect - a nice side benefit.

Monday, 11/4/02:  Today was the 11th grade class trip/excursion.  Each of the grades gets one day each semester to go mish waar, a half-day of school followed by a picnic.  Elizabeth, who teaches English to the 11th graders twice a week, was invited to accompany them as one of the chaperones.  The students carted their barbecue fixings to the stony, olive-treed hills and set up camp.  It's amazing to think how old these kids are and how much more mature they are than their American counterparts in some ways.  Their concerns are not preoccupied by the stereotypical frivolity of high school (what clothes to wear, when to go to the mall, whom to ask to the prom).  This seems partly due to differences in society and culture (no prom, no mall) and partly because an atmosphere of violence and impoverishment makes kids (worldwide) grow up fast.  Nevertheless, the picnic trip was a nice opportunity for the kids to be kids, playing cards, singing, giggling, telling riddles and jokes.  They translated some of these for Elizabeth, who even told one herself.  The kids laughed a lot, but Elizabeth isn't sure if it was at the joke or at her Arabic.  Either way, a good time was had by all. On their way home, Elizabeth and the other chaperone stopped for coffee and guava fruit with one student's family.  Originally from Nablus, her father works at a bank in Jenin.  He and his wife shared stories of Nablus, of their thirteen years in Saudi Arabia (where he worked in a bank), and trips to Ireland (for training in banking software).  Both of them (and their parents, and their parent's parents) are from Nablus, making them as "city" as you can get.  Elizabeth chatted with them about making the urban-to-rural transition, as she's done from Chicago to here.  They clearly miss their families and the amenities and busy life of the big city.  Like many people, he used to commute to work daily between Nablus and Jenin.  But multiplying checkpoints and accelerating military destruction of roads made that impossible, so he decided to move to Jenin.  He went ahead last winter to make the arrangements and then sent a special car to bring his family to be with him.  The car arrived to the outskirts of Nablus, where a soldier made the mother and four kids get out of the car and then riddled the car with bullets.  Like many kids in this battered land, the ten-year-old brother is still suffering psychologically from the trauma.  They moved to Jenin, just in time for the April 2002 incursion.  Bad timing.  The apartment they were renting was slated for a house-to-house search. When soldiers reached the oldest son's bedroom, they found a shaheed poster, the ubiquitous pictures of those who have been killed, or have killed themselves (and often others) in the cause of Palestine.  The young man in this poster was a brother of a friend and had been given to him as a gift - to help his friend's grief over losing his brother, he had put the poster in a place of honor.  The soldiers closed the bedroom door and beat him, the family helplessly listening to the thuds in the other room.  They left Jenin.  Now, they have moved to Zababdeh, and the kids have enrolled in school here.  With Jenin closed, he's currently not working.  This conflict touches everyone...

Tuesday, 11/5/02:  Rain today!  Wonderful, beautiful rain.  It began with rolling thunder, which alerted Elizabeth's 2nd grade class of its approach.  They all perked up and cheered when the water started pouring out of the sky.  Lucky for us, Elizabeth thought to bring an umbrella to school this morning, so the downpour didn't catch us totally unawares.  After school, as we hustled home under our umbrella, we passed a number of umbrella-less kids waiting under the school awning for the deluge to abate.  Unfortunately for the tenth grade, this is their picnic day - they made it out to the hills and had just gotten their barbecue fire started when the downpour began.  Alas...We returned home to find the taps run dry and in need of refilling from the cistern.  Now that's irony, Ms. Morrisette (soundtrack - 5 sec.).

Wednesday, 11/6/02:  Today is the first day of Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting.  From sun-up to sun-down, the faithful do not eat or drink anything.  Exceptions are made, particularly for the sick, the young, the old, the pregnant and breastfeeding, and the traveling.  Even though most of Zababdeh is Christian, we try to make a point of not eating in public - doing so seems to imply a touch of disrespect.  The Jenin closure is having its impact on the school far more than simply the students who are unable to come.  The teachers receive their salaries by picking it up at the Bank of Egypt branch in Jenin.  However, no one can get to Jenin, and even if they could, the bank is closed anyway.  As a result, even though the teachers (unlike so many here now) are gainfully employed, they are essentially making no money. One teacher commented that he only has 5 shekels (about $1) to his name.  He dug in his pocket to show it, and came out with only a key.  Everyone laughed ruefully - not even a buck, and no end in sight.  In the evening, kids shot off fireworks in celebration of the beginning of Ramadan - we find ourselves still a bit jumpy from loud noises.

Thursday, 11/7/02:  When we arrived at school this morning, the buzz was about Jenin being open.  The curfew inside the city was officially lifted from 7 to 11 am.  No one was supposed to be coming in our out of the city, but the taxis were willing to try, and our unpaid cellphone bill left us at risk of being cut off.  Marthame grabbed a taxi from the garage, and it made its way from Zababdeh past the old military camp through Qabatia to the Shuhada intersection.  From there, we turned on the main road into Jenin, seeing that traffic was still making its way.  We passed the rock quarries and the now-vacant Jennat restaurant before turning off this once glorious boulevard - it is now punctuated by destruction, whether from tanks, rockets, or bulldozers.  Cars were patiently lined up for the bypass route.  Two taxis in front of us was a truck, traveling the same gravel path.  From the main road, it turned left, making its way up the steep embankment.  However, it couldn't make the sharp right turn, so it backed its way all along the narrow cliff.  We followed behind.  The road we traveled was parallel to the main road, and it was easily within sight below us.  From our vantage point, we watched two jeeps and two large armored vehicles barrel down the main road, eventually arriving at the tank and armored personnel vehicle blocking the main road.  The only other traffic was an ambulance, lights flashing, waiting to be permitted to pass.  Meanwhile, we were part of a steady flow of traffic heading into Jenin, well within sight of all the activity below.  In short, anyone who wanted to leave or enter could, just as long as they didn't travel the main road.  Being frustrated by such arbitrariness is par for the course.  Jenin itself looks terrible. It's like pastoral visits to the terminally ill - each time you go, the condition is worse, and you're prepared not to be shocked by what you see.  Marthame arrived at the cellphone company, where he clearly wasn't the only one anxious to pay.  The banks were far worse - hundreds of people inside, hundreds outside, all trying to get money before the reimposition of the siege.  Our friends with whom we stayed in Jenin have temporarily relocated to Zababdeh, and Marthame saw the father who was frantically trying to gather some of their possessions (especially the kids' winter clothes) to bring back to Zababdeh. The trip out of Jenin was much easier, passing through the hills by Suweitat and Haddad, traveling the old military bypass road until we arrived.  In the afternoon, Marthame went to survey Zababdeh's housing project.  In 1994, around 40 families contracted together.  These are popular projects given the economy, the price of land, the central importance housing plays in Palestinian culture, and the drain on Christians from the "Holy Land", so the families chipped in to by fourteen dunums of land on the outskirts of town.  Each month they were each putting in money, but now that plan - and, consequently, the work - has stopped.  The skeletons of two buildings are the legacy, hoping for better times so they can continue.  The plan is to have fourteen buildings for eighty-four families, including a shopping center and a kindergarten.  The Latin Church has purchased ten dunums adjacent to the land, and is hoping to build a church there.  People are joking and calling it Zababdeh Illit (after Nazareth Illit, the new, largely Jewish neighborhood overlooking Arab Nazareth).  One of their number is going to Canada to visit family and will try and solicit funds from foundations there, and Fr. Aktham has asked Marthame to help them with their presentation - English language, in particular, and using photos.  It's the most beautiful view of Zababdeh either of us has seen.  Elizabeth, meanwhile, joined the female teachers for a visit to a colleague who has become a new mother.  Such visits are customary - upon moving into a new home, having a new child, etc.  The triplets dressed in orange eating parsimmon were the hit of the party.

Friday, 11/8/02:  Today is our Sabbath, but we split the cost between resting and working.  We left in the morning with a couple of American friends from the University and made our way to Burqin with some of our friends from Zababdeh.  They are one of the families we are following in our film project.  When asked "where are you from?" Palestinians often reply with their family's traditional town/city, even if they don't live there. And so our friends say they're from Burqin, even though they've lived in Zababdeh and Haifa more in the past 50 years than they have in Burqin.  But Burqin is where their roots are, the setting for family lore, and what shapes their identity - and it's where they return to harvest from ancestral olive trees.  There used to be around 200 Christians in Burqin fifty years ago, but now their numbers are down to less than a hundred. Some have moved to the majority-Christian atmosphere of Zababdeh, but more have gone off to other countries in search of security and a hopeful future.  It's the same story throughout Palestine.  As we stood in the cool, dank cave-church, our friend's mother spoke not only about the ancient history of the church, but also personal stories and memories of hers - her grandfather the parish priest, her flight as an eight-year-old from Haifa in 1948, families fleeing with just a week's worth of clothes, living with other refugees in the church during the war, returning to Haifa twenty years later to look at their repossessed home, being recognized and jubilantly welcomed by their former Jewish neighbors...She and another of the village's faithful shared stories and memories, all colored by sweetness and sadness.  That contradiction defines life here.  From there, we went to help harvest their olive trees.  Usually, olive trees are tended on the rocky hills, and the richer flat valleys produce wheat and other crops. But our friend's grandfather decided to plant olives on his valley land, possibly because more profit could be made from oil than other crops at the time.  In all, the family has three plots of land with olive trees, which is a lot of harvesting work.  Now, with smaller families and most of them abroad, they have to contract out for the labor.  Even so, they come every year to see how the orchards are faring, to pick a few olives to cure and eat whole, and enjoy the harvest time.  The land is tended, the trees pruned, and the olives picked by an extended Muslim family, longtime friends of the owners.  We arrived and greeted them, then excused ourselves to have a late, late breakfast under the shade of a nearby tree. "Ramadan Kareem", they said, the traditional phrase used by Arabs when the stringency of the fast restricts the usually overflowing hospitality that seems to course through the blood here.  When asked if it might bother them that we were eating, our hosts replied absolutely no.  "They know we are Christian so we're not fasting."  Also, as we stepped aside to eat, we established a bit of private space, so in a sense we weren't really eating in public.  We've noticed cultural differences the understanding of private and public space (and time!).  Rules of modesty, for example.  Nobody would go out in public in shorts, but at home or in the yard or on the roof (even if clearly visible to everyone on the street) is fine, because that's private space.  On a picnic with family and friends, a Muslim woman who publicly wears the veil might not wear it since the group has created private space together.  Anyway, after our "private" breakfast, we picked olives for a while, particularly looking for the larger ones which will be used for eating rather than for pressing. The most efficient way to harvest is by hitting the branches with a stick, to make the olives fall on big plastic tarps. This is fine for olives destined to become oil, but olives to be cured and eaten whole are picked by hand to avoid bruising. Also, hitting the branches can damage the tree, but picking all olives by hand would take too long for most orchards. The harvest is hard work, but this was Elizabeth's first chance in two years, so she approached it with gusto.  Marthame, however, chose to alternate between working and napping.

Saturday, 11/9/02:  As Elizabeth headed off to school, Marthame went with Fr. Thomas to the church in Burqin.  Fr. Thomas, who now has responsibility for three parishes, prays in Burqin on Saturdays (audio - 5 sec.).  On Fridays he goes to Tubas, and on Sundays it's Zababdeh. Orthodox sacramental theology prevents anyone from celebrating mass more than once in a day, so he cannot serve all of them on the same day.  Although the church in Burqin is called the fourth oldest Christian holy site in the world (from the chronology of Jesus' life and ministry) in honor of his healing of the Ten Lepers (Luke 17), the church is named in honor of St. George.  Perhaps naming it after lepers isn't desirable.  On the way back to Zababdeh, we stopped by a house which had been blown to smithereens during an Israeli operation.  Concrete cinder blocks littered the neighborhood - this in retaliation for someone in the family's political activity.  News of an assassination in Jenin of a senior Islamic Jihad leader was the buzz of the village.  That and the fact that Jenin was "open" in the afternoon - via some of the roads that Marthame has taken in recent weeks to get there.  Fr. Thomas also came by in the evening with the khouriyye (priestess), the name affectionately given to wives of Orthodox priests.  They wanted to watch the video we took with them when Marthame went with them to harvest their olives.  They also dropped off a large bottle of fresh oil and two containers of olives.  This is our favorite part of the year!  We're also realizing that, no matter how much Arabic we've learned, we still have a long way to go.  Marthame went into town looking to buy zbale, what we thought was the word for "garbage can."  Hutha fil-zbale (put it in the zbale), people will say.  But when he asked around town, all he got were strange looks.  No one could quite figure out why he wanted so desperately to buy garbage!  But now we have a new vocabulary word: baramil.

Sunday, 11/10/02:  Still low from the aftermath of our colds, and having spent good prayer and meditation time in Burqin, we worshiped this morning at the Church of St. Home.  Again, language can be frustrating - as much as we understand, the language of worship is different.  It's like the difference between American spoken English and King James' English, or maybe a Russian...who's hard of hearing.  Anyway, we're hungry to understand.  We sang some hymns, prayed, and did some Bible study, struck by the story of Cain and Abel and how its lessons remain so unlearned by the world.  We ventured out for lunch at a friend's house overlooking Zababdeh with Fr. Aktham and Deacon Homam, featuring delicious msakhan and the ubiquitous olives.  Our friend's family is originally from Nablus, but his parents grew up and were living in Beisan in 1948.  They, like those who took us to Burqin on Friday, fled the war and went back to their ancestral hometown, expecting that the military unrest would soon be over and they'd be allowed to return home.  Now our friends from Jenin are making a similar "temporary" escape.  For them it is to Zababdeh, and hopefully truly temporary, but it helps us connect with those feelings of 1948 a bit.  Jenin remained open today, and the talk is that the students from there will be joining us in school tomorrow. N'sha'allah - God willing. 696

Monday, 11/11/02:  The Jenin students came!  It's hard to describe our elation.  Elizabeth was in the school book store, enjoying a free class period, when the bus rumbled into the playground.  She hustled out to greet the kids "ilhamdillah as-salaame!"  This is a traditional phrase used upon someone's safe arrival (Praise be to God for your safety).  Even though the Jenin kids are a minority (about 10% of the enrolled students), their absence has been sorely felt by all the teachers, including Elizabeth.  Some of her brightest and most dedicated students have been missing for several weeks now.  To see them back here safe and sound is particularly comforting. 

Tuesday, 11/12/02:  It's official.  As of today, Elizabeth is an illegal alien (theme music courtesy of Genesis - 6 sec.).  We filled out the paperwork a while back, but the day we tried to renew our visas there was a strike in the Ministry of the Interior.  The strike soon extended to the Ministry of Religious Affairs and to most of the government, including the post office.  We have been promised that an expired visa during a strike is no reason to panic, but forgive us if we're not taking bureaucrats at their word around here.  Last year's visa experience was frustrating enough (enough to write about at length).  It sounds like things will be resolved soon, which, of course, means that there will be an intense backlog at the Ministry of the Interior, making for longer lines and more waiting and frustration than that place had before (if indeed such a thing is possible). We had contemplated heading out to Jordan for a few days so we could return on the "automatic" three month tourist visa for Americans.  But with so many people having been refused tourist visas and turned away at borders, we were advised that it was much wiser to wait for the strike to end and wait for Godot at the Ministry.  So we wait.  Last night, Marthame and Deacon Firas had gone to visit Fr. Thomas, but he was heading out on a pastoral visit.  An elderly member of his congregation was dying, and he was going to anoint her.  She died soon after.  The funeral was held today after school.  In a community like this, where everyone is related to each other, deaths affect everyone.  The body is prepared in a casket filled with bright flowers. The priests - all of them - head the procession taking the body to the church, and much of the village follows behind them, carrying the casket in silence.  The clergy sit up front in a place of honor, no matter their denomination, Marthame among them.  After an open casket memorial service, the family comes forward to kiss the deceased before the casket is closed.  As opposed to the extended periods of visitation we're accustomed to in the States, here people are almost always buried on the same day they die, so the process of mourning has just begun.  As the casket is closed, offering the last glimpses of a loved one's face, people are frequently overcome by emotion.  With the casket closed, it is carried out of the church, accompanied by the men of the village, and followed by the women.  Slowly, they walk to the cemetery, the men entering and the women waiting or dispersing outside.  Both the burial and memorial service are simple and communal rituals.  No eulogy of the deceased is given, but rather a brief homily on the meaning of resurrection and salvation.  After the burial, Marthame stayed and visited with the other non-Orthodox clergy. Elizabeth had dispersed with the women, joining a few of the deceased's granddaughters to the Beit al-'Azza, the house of mourning, where the family will receive visitors for the next three days.  At the home, Elizabeth greeted each of the mourning women with a handshake and a kiss and the customary allah yerhamha, (God have mercy on her).  Not long after arrival, we were served a small cup with a little bitter coffee, which is quickly drunk and returned.  We sat for quite a while in silence, interspersed with small talk.  Then, we were each served plates of of mansaaf (rice and beef with yogurt sauce and almonds), which was prepared for the mourners by Fr. Thomas's wife.  This was followed by a dried date, a customary food at funerals and also at Ramadan.  Not long after we finished our meal, one of the men stuck his head in to the room and asked if we were ready for prayer.  Fr. Thomas and the men (who were all in a different room of the house) joined the women for chanted prayers.  Occasionally throughout the prayers, Fr. Thomas dipped his hand in a glass and sprinkled those present with water which he had blessed.  At the conclusion of the prayers, he poured a little of the water in his hands and wiped them on his face and head.  Then he went to everyone present, pouring a little water into the palms of our hands, and we all wiped them on our faces, a symbol of the enduring grace of baptism.  To be included in such an intimate gathering is grace itself - and in our time here, our intentional inclusion in such meaningful moments has been one of the most powerful blessings we have received.

Thursday, 11/14/02:  Today is Irony Day in Palestine - in 1988, while in exile, Yasser Arafat declared Palestinian independence.  Now, the day is celebrated - however, there is little resembling political independence here.  Perhaps it's refreshing to remember that the American Declaration of Independence was issued in 1776, but the fledgling nation didn't have its first president until thirteen years later.  The Palestinians, meanwhile, have had fifteen years, and they have a president, but no independence.  The actual day is tomorrow, but celebrations in the school are taking place today.  It began with Elizabeth's 8th grade students leading the morning assembly in English. They led the students in the Lord's Prayer and Scripture reading before sharing some reflections they'd written about their national holiday.  As they were finishing, the Jenin bus pulled up.  Elizabeth had chosen one of her Jenin students to read his reflection, and he had been looking forward to sharing this morning. We all waited as he stumbled off the bus and hustled over to the microphone.  Breathlessly he shared his thoughts, particularly poignant in light of his daily commute to and from school.  He said, "This day is important to the children because they want to live free without the Occupation and to have smiles on their faces."  (audio - 12 sec.)  The new art teacher was busy setting up displays in the hallway of the students' artwork - she has been an absolute blessing to the school this year, bringing energy to an area that has been neglected.  The school day finished early for a parent-teacher conference, which was far more pleasant than the one we first attended two years ago.  Unfortunately, the Jenin parents were not allowed out of that closed city, so they missed the meeting.  They also missed the party, which included a few speeches, some traditional dabke dancing (audio - 7 sec. - the video is really cool, but we still need the funding to upgrade our technology), and a wonderful skit prepared by Sister Nadia.  The 3rd graders re-enacted the story of King Solomon deciding between two women arguing over a newborn baby.  He offers to cut the child in half and give one half to each of the mothers.  The true mother is revealed to be the one who would rather preserve the child's life than compromise (I Kings 3:16-28).  The story has relevance for today, as was intimated by the anachronistic toy rifles held by King Solomon's guards.  Indeed, we have heard this story used as in reference to a one-state solution.  But we seem to be lacking King Solomon in all his wisdom.  The kids finished by singing, "Peace, peace, to the people of the Lord everywhere."  (audio - 8 sec.)  In the evening, we went to visit our friend Jihad who teaches at the Arab-American University.  He and his family lived in the States for nearly a decade while he studied before returning here to teach.  Their little kids are bilingual and adorable, and he has an amazing sense of dignity, human rights, and fairness.  He is in the process of opening a department of human rights and conflict resolution at the University, and we chatted about ways that our work and ministry might intersect.  Since it's Ramadan, we joined them in ftuur, the breaking of the fast at sundown.  The traditional practice in these parts is to do so with a small bowl of light soup, a date, and a glass of water before having the meal.  We did so, then shared some joyous msakhan with them.  The power went out not long before we arrived and stayed out long after we left - it had a wonderful calming effect, though we're beginning to wonder about the benefit of joining the power grid was if we lose power for five hours every five days.  However, it's preferable to the voluntary three hours each day. A while after the meal, some of their friends came over as well.  It seems to be customary here that as soon as a critical mass of people are in a place, they divide into two groups: male and female (perhaps this is not so different from the States, if memory serves).  Elizabeth chatted with the women about a number of things. Not surprisingly, discussion turned to their kids (several of whom were playing around us).  Elizabeth asked the ladies how many kids they had.  One quickly replied "two;" the other hesitated. "I have two now," she said, indicating the little girl pushing her infant brother around in a stroller.  Then, with a sad, resigned look, she pulled out from her purse a picture of two small boys, perhaps 11 and 7.  "These were my sons, too."  She went on to tell Elizabeth how her sons were killed last year in an Israeli attack on a building in Nablus.  They were playing on the street next to the building. Elizabeth was at a loss for words.  The woman named her infant after the older son who was killed.  "This is my Bilal now," she said.  We walked home in the quiet darkness of Zababdeh's electricity-less night.

:  Happy Independence Day.  We have a three day weekend, something very much needed.  Since our weekend is usually split over Friday and Sunday, even two days of rest together is welcome, and three is just peachy.  Last night, we learned from friends in town, we missed quite the movie scene here.  At around midnight, jeeps and tanks moved into town, covered by helicopters overhead (which Marthame heard, but was too far asleep to really register them consciously - Elizabeth missed them altogether).  Until about 4:00 am, the Israeli army searched a few homes looking for specific wanted men, but rounded up a bunch of young men nearby for questioning anyway before releasing them hours later.  A wanted man from nearby Tubas had fled through the hills into the town, was shot in the leg by the helicopter, and eventually arrested.  Meanwhile, we slept through the whole Rambo affair.  This afternoon we went walking in the mountains with a friend of ours from the University, bringing the Bible along and engaging each other in some study.  The passage, somehow fitting during Ramadan and with Advent approaching, was about fasting (Matthew 9:14-17).  Elizabeth, perhaps inspired by the Study, began to glean the remaining olives on the surrounding trees.  In the evening we went to visit our good friends, taking advantage of a lighter work load to make good on some social obligations.  Their son, who runs one of Zababdeh's three (!) internet cafes, shared his story of last night's madness - his place was full of young people when the army entered.  When they heard helicopters and tanks and shooting, they turned off the lights and waited until 4:00 AM to venture home - even sticking one's head out of a door at the wrong time has proved fatal more often around here than should be normal.  As we chatted , our friends' grandchildren gathered around Elizabeth to get a free English lesson.  "What is your name?  What color is this?"  At night, flares lit up the sky, meaning a nearby village was likely facing what Zababdeh faced last night.

Saturday, 11/16/02:  A double day of rest.  The difference between one and two days is enormous, and we often pine for the weekends of American lifestyle.  In the evening, we went to visit other friends of ours, members of the Greek Orthodox church.  Visiting them were some friends from nearby Jalqamus, Muslims whom they met when living and working in the Gulf.  After returning, they also worked together in Israel.  The patriarch of the Christian family is known for dispensing his folk remedies to the ailing.  Since we have no children, we fit into that category (particularly in Arab society where children are the center of attention), and in the past he has offered us little papers with the the right prayers and Bible readings to recite and rectify the situation (and instructions about which pillow to put them under).  Marthame tried to explain to him Elizabeth's complex medical history, and that waiting until we live somewhere where the hospital is not surrounded by tanks might be a good idea.  And to illustrate, Marthame quoted the Scripture: "Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves." (Matthew 10:16)  In other words, trust God's healing power, but don't be glib about it.  Unfortunately, when Marthame translated the Bible verse into Arabic, it came out: "Be as clever as a big worm and as simple as a pigeon."  Our friend smiled and nodded politely...That was a while ago.  Tonight, the visitors had a sick child, and he was giving them advice about what prayers to say, but these were from the Qur'an.  Later on, he got up and stood near the child, praying quietly to himself, and making the sign of the cross.  Over a Muslim child.  And the family welcomed it.  We had read similar stories in William Dalrymple's From the Holy Mountain about how Muslims would sometimes visit Christian shrines because of healing properties attributed to them.  But to see it first hand was something else.  After the visiting family left, we stayed for a bit, played with grandchildren, and ate some fresh black olives before heading home in case the helicopters returned.

Sunday, 11/17/02:  We worshiped this morning at the Latin Church of Visitation. Marthame led worship with Fr. Aktham and Deacon Firas.  After Mass, we administered a practice TOEFL for the 12th graders.  We are hoping that one of them will qualify for North Park University's full four year scholarship.  Having only one tape for the listening section, Elizabeth and Marthame performed a live version.  One of the students' scores was reasonably high, at least high enough to take the real thing in Ramallah.  That'll be an ordeal, since it involves travel between Palestinian cities by a seventeen year old male - by virtue of nationality, age, and gender, a prime suspect of terrorism.  Marthame will probably accompany him to ensure his safe arrival and return.  In the evening, the school hosted a ftuur, the sundown breaking of the fast for Muslims during the month of Ramadan.  This has become an annual event, but usually in the baladiyye, the village municipality (some words in Arabic have come to mean more to us than their English counterparts).  That event will take place this weekend.  This is the first year that the Latin School has hosted it, an intentional sign of welcome and hospitality.  After the traditional dates, the meal of mansaaf (lamb meat on rice and almonds, coated in yogurt sauce) was served.  Marthame sat at the table with Fr. Aktham, Fr. Thomas, Deacon Firas, and Sheikh Fathi.  Elizabeth, meanwhile, ate her fill in the kitchen with those who prepared the meal - this was a male-only event.  However, when Elizabeth arrived, she was invited to stay, and at least one of the Muslim guests brought his daughter.  Life is never black and white.

Monday, 11/18/02:  School returned today, after our welcome three-day weekend.  It was a busy day, as we and other teachers race to complete our lesson plans and bring the Jenin kids up to speed before the end of the semester.  Our copy of the Yale Alumni Magazine arrived today with our article in it - not via the usual post office, but rather via something more akin to the Pony Express.  Mail comes to the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem to Abuna Aktham's name, and when he goes to Jerusalem, he can pick it up and bring it back to Zababdeh.  Otherwise, the postal service works locally like this: all mail comes to Israel, then all mail for the West Bank is brought to Beit El, the Israeli army post in the heart of the West Bank responsible for all activities in the territories.  If the Israeli authorities are talking to their Palestinian counterparts, West bank mail is transferred to Ramallah - if Ramallah is open.  From Ramallah, if it is open, mail is transferred to Jenin - if it is open.  From Jenin, if it is open, mail is transferred to Zababdeh, and if the post master comes (he lives in Jenin), we get our mail.  It's easier to line up the planets by hand than for all of those things to pass.  In the evening, we went to pay some visits, including to Fr. Thomas and his wife.  Elizabeth had collected some olives on our walk through the hills on Friday, and needed more advice on how to prepare them for eating.  The process for black olives and green olives is different.  Her green olives are on their way, soaking in salt water with lemons and hot peppers.  The black ones have had a false start of sorts, so the khouriyye (literally, "priestess", a title of respect for the pastor's wife) demonstrated to Elizabeth how to do it properly.  It's beginning to get cold, and our apartment always seems to be colder than the weather outside, so it's advantageous for us to visit others.  It's also good for our spirits and our Arabic.  Another side benefit is being fed, something we never complain about (although our waistbands would do well for more restraint on our parts).  Disturbing news arrived today about a zabdawi (resident of Zababdeh): our favorite Zababdeh-Jerusalem taxi driver is missing.  The last anyone heard of him was a few days ago when he was headed back to Zababdeh from Qalandia, finding no passengers for his taxi (these days, not unusual unfortunately).  Along the road, his taxi was pulled over for the usual security and ID checks.  He called his wife at that point, to tell her that something was amiss, at which point the Israeli soldiers forced him to turn off his cellphone.  No one has heard from him since, and no one knows where he may be held.  Standard procedure is two weeks' detention, but no one really knows.  We have only known him as a gracious older man who spent time in Germany in his youth as a gästarbeiterTwo years ago, his house was damaged by stray Israeli military fire from the nearby camp - fortunately no one was hurt.  Now, whatever the charge, he is MIA.  Unfortunately, this is an ordinary experience among Palestinians, regardless of guilt or innocence.  For his sake, we can only hope for the best.

Tuesday, 11/19/02:  School continued today, as did a project of coloring and writing Christmas cards to anonymous school sponsors.  Today the religion teachers had some advanced warning, so we were able to adjust accordingly.  Not nearly as exhausting being a sub as it was yesterday (theme music courtesy of the Who - 2 sec.).  Marthame worked with Deacon Homam and Sisters Elba and Nadia until all of the cards were used up.  One amazing moment came with the first graders, whose Islam teacher wasn't feeling well and went home.  But before leaving, she asked if her students could stay with the Christian students and color in the cards as well.  So there the students sat, adorable first graders, side by side, Muslim and Christian, sharing their coloring pencils as they wrote Thank You and Merry Christmas notes to sponsors of the school.  Now Marthame has an inkling of Elizabeth's joy at teaching the lil'uns. 697

Wednesday, 11/20/02:  Our visa situation, and the end of the strike at the Ministry of Interior, have necessitated a trip down to Jerusalem.  It's the first time either of us has left the village, let alone the West Bank, in almost two weeks.  We went after school with Deacon Homam (making his way to an ordination in Beit Jala) with a man from Zababdeh who works with a Bethlehem-area NGO.  He offered us a lift in his jeep, and despite his Palestinian license plates, we were able to pass through the three checkpoints along the way fairly easily - no doubt three international passports helped with that.  We were dropped off in Abu Dis, a Arab Jerusalem suburb, on the other side of a large concrete wall blocking the street.  It wasn't clear which way we should cross, so Marthame asked some soldiers in their elevated military watchtower/cubicle.  After a few questions, they let us pass at their station, instead of making us walk down the road to the regular pedestrian checkpoint.  They sent us on our way joking that "Chicago is more dangerous that Israel."  We arrived in Jerusalem, and at our hotel, courtesy of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem (who writes all the official paperwork necessary for us to get our visas), and then went off to the l Hospital for a check-up for Elizabeth.  She's been having headaches, and given her medical history, it was worth it to have them checked out.  She'll be spending a few extra days here for tests, and will be coming back in a couple of weeks for more, so prayers are most welcome.  Back at our hotel, the "Knights' Palace," we met some actual Knights and Ladies of the Holy Sepulchre, internationals who generously support the indigenous Christian community through the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. Unfortunately, they take their name from the Crusaders who came to "liberate" the "Holy Land," and in so doing also sacked and slaughtered Jews, Muslims, and local Christians.  The Crusades are alive in the popular memory here, and also are deep-seated in the Western consciousness as something to be commended (selfless people are called "crusaders," our most precious social causes are our "crusades").  Somehow we can decry jihad without despising crusade.  At any rate, we had a nice short visit with the Lords and Ladies, telling them about our work, in particular our partnership with the Roman Catholic parish in Zababdeh. The we met some friends for dinner.  One is a freelance journalist, writing a piece about local Christians - in time for the Christmas season attention the region receives.  We're hoping that she'll be able to come up to Zababdeh as well in order to see and meet with folks here.  Our day will begin early tomorrow, so an early night would have been wise - however, we can talk about the Christian population here for quite a while.

Thursday, 11/21/02:  Based on advice from the Patriarchate, we left the hotel at 5:00 a.m. for the Israeli Ministry of the Interior.  There were two women already waiting there, so we joined in line.  Most of those waiting were American Jewish high school and college students trying to extend their student visas.  These young women took advantage of the early morning hour to call back home, chat, giggle, and to do some knitting.  Elizabeth joined in with her half-finished scarf.  At 6:30, we were given numbers and told to come back at 8:00.  It reminded Marthame of his high school days, camping out for concert tickets.  We'd gladly pay Ticketmaster's exorbitant fees in this case, though.  At breakfast in the hotel, we heard news of a bus bombing in West Jerusalem.  As we walked back to the Ministry, it was a chilling feeling, wondering where the bombing was, if the girls we'd been chatting and knitting with had been there. Was it possible that these young women, who had exuded such innocence, were among the murdered and injured?  Yes, it was possible.  More death, more reminders of the fragility and unpredictability of life.  A friend called from Zababdeh, concerned for our safety.  We assured him that we do not, as a rule, take busses within Israel, and worried more for him as a reprisal was no doubt on the way.  We returned to the Ministry of Interior at 8:00 and the masses were hoarded into what can best be described as a Gulag - a dank, gray yard sandwiched between buildings, with distant light filtering down through the chicken wire which spanned the space from rooftop to rooftop. Numbers were called in bunches, and we headed upstairs to get a second number, relieved to see our morning's acquaintances herded up with us.  When our second number appeared on a digital screen, we turned in our paperwork and passports and received a third number. As we waited for number 746, we chatted with a British woman behind us, who told us about her organization, a strange mix of Judaism of Christianity that has found its heavenly home in modern, secular Israel.  Elizabeth listened to her story, about the journey which led her to this point - mostly, it was her husband's experience, that of living under German occupation in the Channel Islands during World War II, and an affinity that developed for those who suffered at the hand of the Nazis.  It is often very frustrating to find people who have such compassion for those who suffer yet turn a blind eye to some forms of suffering because it doesn't fit a particular agenda.  Particularly telling was her remark at how much had changed since her first trip to Israel in 1967, that the road form Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was so small, and the hills around Jerusalem were empty.  "See the progress," she continued, "now the road is wide and modern and the hills are full of towns." Never mind that prior to 1948, the hills (there and throughout Israel) were full of Arab villages destroyed and cleansed in the War; most of their descendants are refugees living in camps or among the internally displaced living in Israel's unrecognized villages. How soon we forget our histories.  We completed our visas successfully, in no less than five hours, and danced a gleeful jig on our way out of the Ministry.  We wandered around the Old City and East Jerusalem for a while, stopping to avoid a fight in East Jerusalem - some young men were getting pretty physical with each other, and a more serious consequence was avoided by the intervention of many others breaking up the fight.  The presence of women and children, not to mention a vat full of boiling oil for falafel nearby, helped cool senses.  Again, we note with surprise that more such incidents don't end disastrously, particularly with no Palestinian Authority (in our area - in Jerusalem, there is the Israeli police force, but notably absent most of the time in Arab neighborhoods) and rising poverty, anger, and hopelessness.  The conservative nature of Palestinian society no doubt helps - communal responsibility, as well as a heightened sense of what is forbidden (both religiously and culturally) no doubt keep things in check.  We ended up at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, still hauntingly absent of thronging tourists.  We entered the tomb without a wait, taking a chance in the unusual quiet of the place to reflect and pray.  We joined up with friends for dinner, hearing news from Bethlehem.  For almost a month now, the city has enjoyed a bit of freedom (at least internally), but the suicide bomber's Bethlehem origins have everyone battening down the hatches, gathering for the expected invasion and siege, and assuming the worst.

Friday, 11/22/02:  Indeed, the worry was not for naught.  Bethlehem has been retaken, as well as Nablus, Jenin, and Jenin CampTubas is also under a strict curfew.  In short, Zababdeh is surrounded.  But we are far away in Jerusalem, hearing the news by telephone only.  We split up to run errands and to do a bit of sightseeing.  Marthame went over to the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate to see Bishop Timotheus, whom we had met on his visit to Zababdeh back in January.  Marthame, dressed in his usual Roman-style shirt and collar, was not welcomed into the Patriarchate with open arms - perhaps an appearance too Catholic was part of it.  Speaking with the Bishop, though, his treatment soon improved.  The Patriarchate, as ancient as it is, is quite the intricate maze of courtyards and buildings.  Finding the Bishop's home (in a lovely shared courtyard with several other bishops) was tricky business, but they soon met and chatted, speaking specifically about our ministry in Zababdeh as well as the situation for the Orthodox in the area in general.  He asked Marthame to deliver some papers to Fr. Thomas.  Marthame then went towards the Church School resource center in East Jerusalem.  An ecumenical resource center for Arab Christians, they want to deliver some books to Deacon Firas in Zababdeh.  The problem is the delivery path from Jerusalem to Qalandia (where the taxis leave for Zababdeh and the rest of the West Bank).  The box of supplies weighed about forty pounds.  One of the center's employees helped Marthame carry it towards Damascus Gate, where he tried to find a taxi to Qalandia.  No one was going.  He carried the box around, trying to find another taxi, and found one empty.  He spoke with the driver, who told him, "I don't speak Arabic.  But I can help you with your burden."  Marthame opened the door to put the box in, to which to driver said, "No, not that burden.  Your burden of sin!"  He then asked Marthame, "What church are you from?" (the collar is a dead giveaway of Christian identity)  "Presbyterian."  "Do you believe in inerrancy?"  At this point, the box was beginning to get heavier, and time was fleeing to meet up with a taxi driver going to Zababdeh.  The conversation was getting tiresome, too.  Marthame, seeing where it was going, replied, "I believe the Bible is the word of God, and that God is perfect."  "Then you're not a Presbyterian.  You're a liberal."  "I don't have time for theological conversations right now, my brother.  I have to get these supplies to Qalandia."  "You're not my brother.  You're a liar!  Your dog collar won't save you either, liar!" he shouted as Marthame walked away, carrying the box on his shoulders.  So much for disciples of Christ being known by their love.  Marthame delivered the box back to the Center, hoping for another day, a better day to take care of business.  Meanwhile, Elizabeth went to meet up with friends for a delicious quiche lunch (after grading some school papers) and to meet a fellow Yale grad between law professorships spending a few months at Hebrew University researching human rights.  She spoke with our friends, journalists, about the recent disturbing news today, that of the Brit (a UN worker) shot and killed in Jenin Camp.  Different stories are abounding about what really happened, the Israeli army claiming he was caught in a cross-fire and shot accidentally.  Given the recent coverage of the attack in Hebron, the idea that the truth, and not political spin, will out is getting harder to believe.  In that attack, Palestinian gunmen ambushed Israeli soldiers and settler security armed with M-16s.  Strictly an attack on military targets, not civilians.  But the story was first reported as a massacre of Sabbath worshippers in Hebron (as the Israeli foreign ministry reported it), and Kofi Annan, Tony Blair, George Bush, and Colin Powell decried it as such.  The truth no longer has bearing at that point, because the story has gained validity by simply being told.  Our friends bemoaned the challenge of undoing such misinformation, and of honest reporting in the face of a very sophisticated and well-funded spin machine.  Later, we sat at Jaffa Gate, waiting for some friends.  We passed the time watching people coming from West Jerusalem into the Old City for Shabbat.  Most were orthodox, women in long skirts, their hair covered by a simple hat or a wig.  Men came in simple black and white, topped with a large black hat, their sidelocks and fringes long.  Some of the men were wearing a style that goes back to more wintery climes, a circular wool hat with a long silk robe and stockings.  Our friends arrived, easy to pick out from the crowd (plus they were driving - a Sabbath no-no).  We had dinner in a lovely plaza in the center of the Old City, wandering to an overlook on the Western Wall and Dome of the Rock.  Sabbath worshippers had largely cleared out, and the call of "Allahu Akbar" (God is great) resounded from the nearby Haram al-Sharif (audio - 10 sec.).  Meanwhile, a full moon hung over the Mount of Olives (video - 8 sec.).  Marthame got a call from Deacon Homam, who had attended an ordination in Beit Jala today.  Somehow, even under curfew, he was able to get out and into Jerusalem.  He and Marthame will go back to Zababdeh in the morning.

Saturday, 11/23/02:  Today, Elizabeth spent quietly, mostly at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, praying and watching the small influx of pilgrims/tourists.  Chatting with a gentleman in the Coptic chapel, she learned that Saturdays always have more visitors because it is Shabbat, and Israel's foreign (largely domestic) workers, many of whom are Christians, have a day off. However, there were also a number of groups, mostly eastern European. The man said that now tour agencies are so desperate for visitors that their rates have plummeted. So people who normally couldn't afford to come are here. Some he said are so poor that they bring all their food with them, suitcases stuffed with cans and jars. A slice of old-time pilgrimage with a modern flavor.  With tight schedules dominated by the religious highlights and almost exclusively Israeli tour guides, these pilgrims are guaranteed not to have much exposure to the living stones, the breathing Church in the Holy Land.  And the sad part of that is that they probably don't mind; they're coming to see the holy sites, and not to engage with their co-religionists or hear about their predicament.  Later, Elizabeth shared supper with a few friends and called it an early night. Meanwhile, Marthame and Deacon Homam left the Old City at 6:30 am, hoping to get back for a few classes at school.  After the taxi filled up at Qalandia, it made its way up the road.  The first checkpoint was not far outside of Qalandia, at an intersection where a small group of settlers have decided to build.  The seizure of land continues.  As the taxi left the intersection, we could look back and see a Palestinian truck that had been stopped - not by the soldiers manning the checkpoint, but by a settler.  The soldiers were walking away as the settler appeared more and more angry.  No telling what the final result was.  The taxi eventually arrived at the Hamra junction.  The driver handed the IDs over to the soldier, and everyone descended from the vehicle.  One by one, people were called over to take their IDs, each having to lift their shirts to show they had no explosives strapped to them.  Deacon Homam refused, but wearing a collar (and having an international passport), his refusal didn't seem to bother the soldiers.  As he told Marthame, this practice is not so much for security as for humiliation.  After Hamra, there are no checkpoints, but Tubas is closed - full curfew in effect - so the taxi took the long journey around that city, via the village of Jdeideh.  Along the way, we learned that the Zababdeh taxi driver who had been arrested was now free, freed after five days.  The story that emerged is that he was made to wait at another checkpoint for five hours.  Losing his patience, he yelled at the soldier and was immediately arrested for two weeks.  His lawyer was able to get him out in five days, but the Red Cross had to intervene at one point because of his heart condition.  Marthame and  Deacon Homam arrived in time to see the school being dismissed.  Eleven teachers, a third of the faculty, are absent (Jenin, Qabatia, and Tubas are closed off), and thus there are not enough people to teach (and enough students absent that a delay is advisable).  The news is full of the British national killed in Jenin Camp.  After initial denials, the Israeli army admitted to shooting him, thinking he was carrying a weapon (a UN flag, it turned out).  He had had extensive international experience, having worked war zones in the Balkans and Afghanistan.  He was trying to send children home from an inoculation program.  After he was shot, the army prevented UN ambulances from getting him to the hospital.  An apology along the lines of "this kind of stuff happens in war" was issued.  Also, an Irish national whom we know was shot in the leg.  She's part of the International Solidarity Movement, a group of folks tired of waiting for peacekeepers and also sick of the constant bloodletting.  Hoping to spur a nonviolent peace movement, they have placed themselves in places of danger.  The circumstances of her shooting are unlikely to be investigated, but her story is of being targeted as she tried to evacuate children from in front of a tank.  Her picture is all over the papers.  Between these two incidents, as well as that of the taxi driver, and being in Jerusalem during the latest suicide bombing, it's been a bad week that has felt more personal than usual.

Sunday, 11/24/02:  Marthame went to church at St. George's Orthodox Church this morning.  It was a beautiful service (audio - 5 sec.), if a bit dark - electricity was out all morning, so the normally darkened cave of a church was even darker, lit merely by candlelight. People are beginning to get frustrated with the new electricity situation, and rightly so.  The generator offered lots of noise (audio - 5 sec.), as well as electricity that was more expensive.  But it was easier to plan for the power outages, since they were regular and planned (and daily).  Now, when the power goes out, it is cut off at the main switch, beyond the Israeli checkpoint at Tayasir.  As a result, correcting the problem requires the coordination of the Palestinians and the Israelis - thus power outages are unpredictable and require divine intervention.  The situation for the Palestinian cellphone company is not much better, as we have experienced through repeated problems (busy messages, system overload messages, calls cut off, service temporarily down, etc.).  However, this situation seems to be far more intentional - a report released today reveals that the Israeli authorities have impounded 7.5 tons of imported towers for the Palestinian network.  This was after destroying fourteen towers and allowing Israeli cellphone companies to operate freely, without paying any taxes or licensing fees, in the West Bank.  It's amazing that we get to make phone calls at all.  Elizabeth, still in Jerusalem, went back to Hadassah for a vision test and then on to Qalandia.  She took a special (i.e. not shared) taxi from the hospital directly to the checkpoint.  Traffic, usually a mass of honking, piled up cars, was very light on the way out (although there was already a long line of cars waiting to enter Jerusalem).  Elizabeth found a shared taxi headed toward Jenin.  As she went toward it, she heard "Elizabeth!" and turned to see a journalist friend of ours.  He was working on a story about the difficulties of traveling in the West Bank.  At first, it seemed that he'd get all he wanted; to avoid a notorious checkpoint, the taxi pulled off the road and through a landfill, where we got a flat tire.  The driver and another passenger helped to put on the spare as we got out and tried to find a place that didn't stink terribly.  After that picturesque pause, we went on our way, ironically passing the following checkpoints without trouble.  Elizabeth and the woman next to her gasped with delight as we were allowed through a main checkpoint at the entrance to the Jordan Valley road - neither of us had ever been in a taxi allowed to pass there.  It seemed that a fistful of Western passports made quite a difference.  As we traveled, the journalist asked passengers questions about their travels and their work.  One woman said she and several other passengers once had to stay overnight in a taxi at Hamra checkpoint, not allowed to pass until the next morning.  Another passenger talked about being a maternity nurse in Ramallah, and described a newborn baby which arrived dead at the hospital.  His mother was not allowed through a checkpoint in time; he was born and died there.

Monday, 11/25/02:  Elizabeth returned to school today, surprised to see the Jenin children arrive and a few of the Tubas teachers filter in.  Unfortunately, the Tubas teachers who came did so by disobeying curfew, a risk well avoided by our Tubas students.  However, school stayed open and we managed to fill the gaps one way or another.  These absences are truly unfortunate as the semester winds down and everyone is intent on completing the curriculum in time for exams.  Before Elizabeth awoke, and early enough to catch a splendid sunrise, Marthame went down to Jerusalem with Fr. Thomas for a local clergy retreat sponsored by Sabeel Ecumenical Theological Center.  Fr. Thomas, as a Palestinian Orthodox priest, has no permission to travel to Jerusalem (unlike Palestinian Catholics and Protestants alike who get special Vatican passports), so we were both a bit nervous about our success.  We knew, however, that with time, determination, and money (accompanied by a foreign passport) there are ways to travel around roadblocks, and once inside the Old City, the chances of a silver-bearded Orthodox priest being asked for his ID are next to zero.  The first few checkpoints passed without incident, and the driver delivered us on the Palestinian side of the Ar-Ram checkpoint that divides Ramallah from Jerusalem.  We began the walk towards the waiting taxis, hoping to simply walk past, but were flagged down by a soldier who spoke impeccable Arabic (Fr. Thomas speaks little English).  "Hey!  Baba! [Baba locally means Papa/Father and is also how Arabs may affectionately refer to the Pope]  Where is your ID?  Do you have permission?"  "No.  I haven't been to Jerusalem in two years."  "Where are you going?"  "To my patriarchate."  "How are you going to get there without permission?"  He then left us, walking off to check another car, then turned back.  "Go ahead, Baba.  Say hi to Mama."  Likely having an American with him helped. We first went to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where Fr. Thomas kneeled prayed - no doubt in thanksgiving for safe travel, but also for the historic and powerful wonder of that place.  For Orthodox in particular, place has particular meaning.  We then went to the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, where the roles of the Ar-Ram checkpoint were reversed - the guards at the door were skeptical about Marthame until Fr. Thomas said, "He's with me."  Once inside, he dealt with overdue errands from two years of absence in Jerusalem - getting a Patriarchate ID (perhaps checkpoints will go easier now), checking on his salary and travel expenses situation, picking up calendars and pictures for the churches in Burqin, Zababdeh, and Tubas.  Each little clerical nook and cranny of the Patriarchate is a strange sight to behold - the priests, archimandrites, and bishops, all Greek nationals who speak a degree of Arabic, all held an air of history.  One bishop with a splendid title (Bishop of Constantina) was responsible for IDs and appointments for the Patriarch.  Another with a similarly wonderful prefix leaned over a lectern bending under the weight of notebooks (in Greek) detailing the reimbursements of parish priests.  Another chain-smoked as he worked over a computer (history and technology meet in bizarre ways here).  We were hoping to find Bishop Timotheus, who was out, to discuss a project for Zababdeh.  Next to the land purchased by the Zababdeh Housing Cooperative is land for sale that the Orthodox church wants to buy.  For the price of three dunums, they are being offered eight.  And if the funds are available, they will buy them.  Historically, the purchase of Muslim land by Christians is unusual (the reverse, however, has been quite common), and Fr. Thomas is anxious to proceed.  We finally went up to Sabeel, arriving hours early for the retreat but in time for lunch.  From there, we made our way with the other priests attending to the Franciscan Convent in Ein Kerem, the birthplace of John the Baptist.  Like Jaffa near Tel Aviv, this picturesque Arab town was mostly emptied of its inhabitants in 1948, resettled by Jewish immigrants, and has since become something of an artists' colony.  It is also the location of Hadassah Hospital, which is becoming familiar ground to us.  Rev. Naim Ateek, the Director of Sabeel, and Marthame made up the Protestant representation.  There were also two Melkite priests (from Jerusalem and Nazareth parishes), two other Orthodox (both from Jerusalem), and three Roman Catholics (one from the Patriarchate, one some eighty-five years old and completely deaf, the other a twenty-seven year old Franciscan Monk hosting us at Ein Kerem).  Marthame and Fr. Thomas, therefore, were the West Bank delegation.  Most striking among the group was Archimandrite Atallah (Jonathan) Hanna, an Arab Greek Orthodox priest from Israel who could easily have been a linebacker - six feet and then some, 300 pounds, striking green eyes, and a salt and pepper beard, he is an intimidating presence even before he opens his mouth.  When he speaks, his Arabic is elegant - akin to someone speaking King James' English.  He has also become infamous recently, given his arrest and questioning by the Israelis and his demotion by the Patriarchate.  He has never shied away from controversy, nor from politics, but the accusations against him are bizarre - defending suicide bombings, links with terrorist organizations, etc.  As much of a nationalist as he is, he's more proud of being a Christian - specifically an Orthodox Christian and as such vocally opposes violent acts of terrorism. The retreat is entirely in Arabic, certainly a challenge (and something new) for Marthame, on the topic of Christian-Muslim dialogue.  The facilitator opened with an icon of the Holy Trinity, using it as a point of departure for the conversations ahead.  Since God's nature is plurality in unity, our Christian identity should be one of dialogue.  We realized together that, if there is to be fruitful Christian-Muslim dialogue, there must first be fruitful Christian dialogue.  This led to the subject of the ecumenical approach to feasts that is proliferating - in many places here Eastern and Western Christians have agreed on the dates for Christmas (on the Western calendar) and Easter (on the Eastern calendar).  The Jerusalem clergy were fairly united in their distaste for this, particularly given that Patriarchs are now celebrating on different days than many of their parishes (Jerusalem and Bethlehem remain places were disunity reigns).  For the West Bankers and those in the Galilee, though, the situation is far different.  A minority community (in the northern West Bank, less than one percent) that can't agree on holy dates appears absurd to the majority.  Marthame pointed out that there was historical precedence for compromise: in 1453, prior to the fall of Constantinople, the Roman and Greek Patriarchs of that city celebrated Mass together.  This historic event was also the last time Christian prayer was heard in Hagia Sophia (the Church of Holy Wisdom) - it has been a mosque ever since.  The point being two-fold: one, that this event which we see with great pleasure, was done not out of love, but out of fear; second, it was done too late - for the last thousand years, no Christian prayer has been allowed in that site.  Obviously, as a Protestant, Marthame could be such the thorn - but the Melkites (Eastern Rite Catholics), were pleased by such words.  The evening concluded in prayer in the monastery's chapel, lifting up the school's absent Tubas students.  The quiet of this place is a long way from Zababdeh's daily unpredictability.

Tuesday, 11/26/02:  The second and final day of the retreat began in prayer, followed by a brief tour of the monastery - it is a beautiful place, as one would suspect from the Franciscans.  We finished the tour on the roof of the monastery overlooking the village.  From there, we could see the spires of the Russian Orthodox convent and Greek Orthodox church, as well as the mosque.  Once an Arab village that was overwhelmingly Christian, Ein Kerem is now almost thoroughly Jewish.  The churches are maintained by their respective communities, and one Arab family remains from the once-thriving Roman Catholic community.  In 1948, they stayed.  Everyone else evacuated, hoping to return soon, but citizens of the new State of Israel arrived first, and finding the homes vacant, squatted there.  The temporary situation became permanent, as it did in most of the Arab villages West of Jerusalem (and throughout what is now Israel).  The afternoon was spent trying to produce practical programs for the ideas we had discussed in terms of Muslim-Christian dialogue. Perhaps a youth conference, or a laity retreat, will follow soon.  In the evening (evening comes early here), we returned to Sabeel in time for a Christian-Muslim ftuur, the meal that breaks the daily Ramadan fast.  Christian and Muslim leaders sat around the table at this feast which has become a regular feature in the Middle East.  Tradition attributes this interfaith act as a fairly new practice, introduced by the Coptic (Egyptian Orthodox) Pope Shenudah some fifteen years ago.  It has become familiar here.  Meanwhile, back in Zababdeh, the Tubas students were absent again.  The teachers from that nearby village managed to come, though, again riskily breaking curfew to do so.  The dedication to education here is remarkable.  Marthame and Fr. Thomas made their way to the Old City, hosted by Bishop Timotheus in a pension near the New Gate.  Given our early departure tomorrow (and the absence of a TV to catch up on the news), an early night is in order.

Wednesday, 11/27/02:  We left the Old City at 6:00 in the morning.  Arriving at Qalandia, we waited for passengers to fill the car.  An hour and a half later, we left the checkpoint, but not before getting to watch the morning Jerusalem-Ramallah (and reverse) commute.  The old West Bank taxi stand outside Damascus Gate has relocated to this intersection.  Cement blocks and army vehicles are everywhere, making the line of cars into and out of Ramallah interminable.  Most of the commuters have given up and simply walk across through the dust and mud.  Thrown into the mix of this are Palestinian drivers going the wrong way, trying to skirt the clogged roads in order to get to their destinations.  A tank soon passed by, emitting white exhaust as it went.  There was an immediate panic, as people assumed it was tear gas - fortunately, it wasn't.  Later, a police jeep showed up, also making its way up the wrong side of the road.  A taxi and a civilian car didn't move fast enough out of its way, so were their drivers were detained.  A crowd of onlookers gathered, from a distance.  One young man got too close, and the police man barked at him in Hebrew, swinging at him and landing a punch on his neck.  The two drivers were eventually let go.  Finally, the taxi filled up and we made our way back towards Zababdeh.  New settlements sprout out of the desert, boasting green instead of the traditional red roofs.  The area around their homes is lush and green, while the nearby area remains native desert.  Checkpoints were the easiest part of the drive, though we were turned back at one and had to take a longer way around.  All in all, it was a four and a half hour journey (normally closer to an hour), making Marthame late for class.  Tubas was open along the way, the army having just left - people were out on the streets in force, most of them carrying brooms to clean away the dirt that had gathered from the days of curfew.  Meanwhile, the Jenin school bus arrived - albeit late after having to stand (full of children) for two hours for the tank that blocked their path to move.  Marthame had a faster commute from Jerusalem than they did.  In the evening, we went to visit friends whose son was celebrating his first birthday (audio - 19 sec.).  It was a chance for the extended family to gather together and celebrate and coo over the little ones - a favorite pastime here.  Elizabeth brought the video camera along, asking them to reflect - both in English and in Arabic - on their experiences over the last two years.  The last week in particular has been tough on people in our area, with both Tubas and Jenin regularly closed off, not to mention the horrific reports of civilian casualties that are coming out of Jenin and Nablus. The filming gave our friends a chance to express and relieve some fears and frustrations related to recent events - as one student said, "The situation hinders our education." (audio - 6 sec.) 

Thursday, 11/28/02:  The news today is chilling, of Israelis targeted in attacks in Kenya.  Several dead Kenyans and Israelis at a hotel, and many more fortunate as rockets missed a flight out of Nairobi.  Again, militants are using civilians as targets, but this time, disturbingly, it has become internationalized.  Historic images of Israelis and Palestinians murdering each other abroad come to mind, though the conflict is clearly broadening.  Likud's elections today remind us of Israel's hardened swing to the right - today is unlikely to change this development.  In spite of the news, we did enjoy Thanksgiving- the Hebron Christian Peacemaker Team's message for today helped to remind us of our need for thankfulness.  And while not a recognized Palestinian holiday (we had school as usual), people are aware of it - as well as the importance that turkey plays for some reason in the American tradition.  We give thanks that everyone was able to arrive to school today. Elizabeth's seventh graders are in the midst of oral presentations that they have prepared, each about a different country in Africa (for more information about Ethiopia, listen to the audio - 7 sec.).  After school, we gathered at the Arab-American University of Jenin, as has become our holiday tradition over the last three years, to celebrate with the other ex-pats.  The numbers are progressively getting smaller, but we treasure this time together nonetheless.  One of the American teachers is a Muslim, so we combined traditions into a Ramadan Thanksgiving, eating the turkey and fixin's after sundown.  We had the works - turkey, dressing, gravy, even sweet potato pie (soundtrack courtesy of Farm King - 8 sec.).  After eating, we played music and sang songs - everything from folk standards to old spirituals and blues (audio - 14 sec.) to advanced improvising (audio - 40 sec.).  One of our number is a gifted musician and artist who prefers the latter to songs everyone knows, usually leading to a balance between chaos and creativity (lyrics would go something like, "Over the water, so deep and so far; no matter what happens, nothing can keep us apart" - or the less-lucid, "I tried out for the opera, and I tried out for the circus; one was a mistake, and the other was on purpose").  We give great thanks for such times.

Friday, 11/29/02:  The wind, rain, lightning and thunder were powerful and persistent last night.  By six o'clock in the morning, the power had been out for a while - due to the lightning and the lack of local coordination, we assumed.  By four o'clock in the afternoon, we were getting annoyed - though we had spent a quiet and restful day (digesting last night's excesses, playing backgammon, reading), the sun was going down and it was beginning to get cold.  We decided to head out and pay a couple of visits anyway, and noticed that everyone else's lights were on.  Finally, we checked our circuit breaker.  It was off.  Feeling quite dumb (a feeling we have too often here it seems!), we flipped the switch and headed out to visit people, deciding not to tell them of our day-long folly.  Marthame spoke with the Melkite Deacon Firas in the evening, who had made a trip to Haifa and back to see his bishop today.  The official news is that his ordination will be on December 14th in Zababdeh.  Unfortunately, his church remains a building in need of great repair, so it's unclear where exactly he will lead worship.  But he is beside himself with the good news. 701

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