Journal in the Land of the Holy One
November, 2003
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The roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is the quiet retreat of the Ethiopian Monastery. 
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.)
Carried aloft seminarians' shoulders, Deacon Homam celebrates his  ordination at the Latin Seminary in Beit Jala. 

Saturday, 11/1/03:  Today is All Saints' Day.  We spent it working on the film and our itinerary, and not as in past years joining the community in worship remembering those who have passed away this year. This afternoon our friend Hans arrived for a visit. He spent three months in Zababdeh with the World Council of Churches Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel. It is nice to see him and catch up. 

Sunday, 11/2/03: This morning we worshiped in the Orthodox Church and returned home to work.

Monday, 11/3/03:  Our friend Hans left us early this morning, and not too much later Marthame headed to Jalame to film one of our subjects there. Sa'ed, an electrician and farmer, has lost land to the Wall.  We had already filmed his land a few months back, but now we're rounding out the rest of his story, how he and others presented their papers to stop the project taking their land, but the trump card of Security wins out in Israel.

Tuesday, 11/4/03: Marthame went to the daily prayers at the Orthodox Church today to record the chorus. They are interested in creating a cassette, we're helping them and using the music on the film. 

Thursday, 11/6/03: Late this morning, Marthame went to Jenin (which has been open the past few days) to run errands.  Our telephone, cellphone, bank account, and other services will need to be closed when we leave,  and he went to all their offices to see what we needed to do in advance. We hope Jenin will be open when we need to close these accounts for good.  In the evening, he stayed with our friends there and did some more work on the film.. Elizabeth spent the day in Zababdeh attached to the computer. 

Friday, 11/7/03: This morning Marthame shared breakfast with his hosts and then moved on the Jalame again, to film the bi-weekly prayer service there. Fr. Alphonse, the Latin priest in Jenin, has pastoral responsibility for the village, so he and the sisters go there to lead services.  There is no church building, but one of the congregation has converted his upper level into a makeshift home church.  It took a while to coordinate things so Fr. Alphonse could pass through the checkpoint at the edge of Jenin, but he made it - an hour late.  After church, Marthame made it back to Zababdeh.

Saturday, 11/8/03:   Early this morning we heard the death knell ring from the Latin church bell tower. A solemn, lonely sound.  It wasn't until the afternoon, when Marthame went to the church, that we knew why. Fr. Boutros passed away.  He was a Latin priest from Zababdeh who served many years in Beit Sahour.  Six years ago he suffered a stroke which severely limited his movement. Elizabeth went to the church yard, where mourners were congregating.  Soon, the funeral procession arrived, heralded by a solemn drumbeat from scouts marching ahead in full regalia. Next came black-robed seminarians, who had made the trip to Zababdeh from Beit Jala that morning.  They were followed by the clergy, from the village and from outside, and the pallbearers with the coffin. Finally, a wave of extended family entered the churchyard and flowed into the church. Those of us who had gathered outside followed them in. Soon after the service began, Bishop Marcuzzo arrived from Nazareth, having been held up at the checkpoint.  With him were nuns and Fr. Louis, who was the Latin priest in Zababdeh when we arrived. Halfway through the service, the Latin Patriarch and his entourage arrived, also having been held up at checkpoints. Late as they were, it was still a powerful statement that the Patriarch and several bishops, as well as all the seminarians and other priests were there, gathered to say farewell and give thanks for one of their own. It was very moving.

Sunday, 11/9/03:  This morning, we worshiped with the Melkite Church, using the opportunity to film Fr. Firas and his congregation.

Monday, 11/10/03: This evening the young adult group at the Latin Church held a memorial for their friend Wisam, a 20 year-old young man who died recently in a tractor accident.  The youth had put together a presentation with music and pictures that was meant to refocus people's grief away from the tragedy of the accident to the power of resurrection we celebrate.  It was very effective and moving, leaving people in tears as the young man's father spoke about the power of faith to which we should all turn.

Saturday, 11/15/03: Happy Independence Day! On November 15, 1988, the PLO, in exile in Tunis, declared Palestinian independence. And so annually it is celebrated, in spite of the absence of independence or freedom here. Oh the irony. As in years past, there was an Independence Day party at the school, with presentations, song, and traditional dance.

Sunday, 11/16/03: This morning we worshiped with the Latin church. In the afternoon, our friend Susan came up with her sister to visit.  Susan works for an NGO in Jerusalem and is up here checking on some projects; even so, like many NGOs, she has a lot of trouble crossing checkpoints. But she and sis finally made it and we had a fun evening hanging out with other ex-pats at the university.

Monday, 11/17/03:  Marthame wet off to film Fr. Firas in the hills today, interviewing him under the olive trees. Our guests went off to Jenin and Jenin Camp, while Elizabeth stayed attached to the computer.  Early in the afternoon, Marthame arrived home with a very dour look.  The video camera is eating cassettes.  He managed one hour of interview before it consumed four digital cassettes. This is very very bad news for our film project.  Without the camera we can neither get new footage nor edit existing footage. We're not happy.

Tuesday, 11/18/03:  Marthame decided to leave with Susan and her sister this morning, to get a ride with them back to Jerusalem, where hopefully he can get someone to look at the camera.  The three of them headed out through the Jalame checkpoint, which has been moved a good half a mile inside the West Bank, almost next to the petrol station along the main road.  The only business along the main road which was not demolished (due to its owner being Israeli and having all of the necessary licensing and threatening legal action against the military), the station is now obsolete.  Before heading down to Jerusalem, the three stopped to have some fun in Akko (aka Acca, aka Acre), the ancient fortress city along the Mediterranean.  Once they arrived in Jerusalem, Marthame dropped off the camera, hoping it'll be ready in a few days.

Thursday, 11/20/03:  Elizabeth got up early this morning and left in a shared taxi headed towards Tulkarem.  Hamra and Tayasir checkpoints have become next to impossible to cross, so traffic headed south from Jenin district now has to go all the way to Anabta, near Tulkarem.  There, people can usually walk across the new metal gate closing the road and board shared taxis and busses on the other side.  That is what Elizabeth did today.  The bus going to Qalandia checkpoint hadn't gotten far before we were stopped at a "flying checkpoint," basically a few jeeps and soldiers set up anywhere on a road and stopping traffic. The line was long, and the movement slow to imperceptible.  Closer to the head of the line was another bus run by the same company, so those of us on board were advised to disembark and walk up to board that one, in order to get through faster. After perhaps an hour, the UN van waiting ahead of us was allowed to pass and it was our turn. We were all told to get off the bus and turn in our IDs. After a while of standing outside, men lined up along the roadside and women in a huddle, the soldiers finished checking the IDs and waved us on. We loaded up and moved on, amid mutterings of nushkur allah, thank God we passed safely. The rest of the passage to Qalandia checkpoint was long but uneventful.  Most of Elizabeth's fellow passengers then lined up to enter Ramallah or dispersed to find shared taxis going to other destinations. Elizabeth walked a bit to find a shared taxi headed into Jerusalem, which eventually filled and took a round-about route toward the Old City. Only one checkpoint later, we arrived and Elizabeth walked into New Gate and to the hotel where a hot shower was waiting for her. The trip took just under 5 hours. Marthame meanwhile spent the morning running errands around the Old City.  Once reunited, we made and ate sandwiches (with cheddar cheese on dark rye bread!), topped off with tangerines before going out to the Holy Sepulchre for a penultimate visit to that astounding church.  In the evening, we walked to a supermarket to buy raspberries and a nice selection of  ice cream (another treat for us) - our contribution to dinner with friends.  It was great to see them, to have a delicious meal and get feedback on three segments of our film.

Friday, 11/21/03:  This morning we headed out of the old City and were met by a cacophony of honking and cars and a multitude of police and barricades.  We were thankful that our journey was on foot, as we walked past innumerable cars caught in a nasty traffic jam.  A friend we met on the way told us the crowd and the extra security was because today is the  last Friday of Ramadan and tonight is Laylet al-Qadr, "The Night of Providence." This is a night that falls during the last ten days of Ramadan that commemorates the night when the first verses of the Qur'an were revealed to Mohammad.  Because it is described as a night more valuable than a thousand months, many Muslims spend the night in their mosque.  It was not clear how many of the hopeful would be able to spend the night at al-Aqsa this year.  When we arrived at Sabeel we had a very nice time catching up and gathering resources for our upcoming itineration. Then we were invited to share in a simple lunch of olives, olive oil, yogurt cheese, goat cheese, fresh bread, spices, fresh cherry tomatoes. Our friend Susan picked us up and we went to Sunbula for a bit of shopping. Sunbula has Palestinian crafts from women's cooperatives and other self-help programs. She then dropped us off at Jaffa Gate and we walked to the Gloria Hotel, which we have all to ourselves - including the staff. From the roof, we have a great view of the Old City.  Jaffa Gate at night is especially beautiful.

Saturday 11/22/03:  With Marthame nursing a cold, Elizabeth went to lovely handmade pottery and tile workshop, run by the Balian family, one of three Armenian families brought to Jerusalem in 1917 to renovate the ceramic tiles on the Dome of the Rock. The selection was delicious. We have always thought that before we leave we should get a few pieces of this stuff, so today was our chance. Elizabeth fantasized about having a kitchen and bathroom and balcony done in these beautiful tiles. Candleholders and coffee cups will do for now, though. Friends met her at the shop, to help with last minute decisions, and then we went back to the hotel, to sit on the roof with Marthame for a bit and see the sun set over Jerusalem. Eventually we made our way to a nearby restaurant for good coffee, decent soup, and mediocre chicken. With a full list of errands tomorrow, we called it a night, and went back to the hotel early.

Sunday, 11/23/03:  After breakfast, Elizabeth dashed off to find a taxi to take her to far south Jerusalem, to the offices of B'Tselem, The Israeli Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories.  Off the tourist track, this area sports very little English language signage - less in fact than even small Palestinian towns. So eventually Elizabeth managed (even using "excuse me," "where," and "thank you," in Hebrew) to find her way to the right door in a huge office complex.  B'Tselem's offices have an extensive resource room, with free copies of all their reports since their inception in 1989. After loading up on useful items, and packing them up in a spare box, Elizabeth walked to a nearby post office to send it off. She took a taxi back to meet Marthame, who had spent the morning picking up the camera (which apparently had needed a good cleaning) and doing resource gathering at the Alternative Information Center and the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. We headed off to meet our colleague and friend Doug in Bethlehem. Luckily for us, the Tantur checkpoint has been open the past couple of days, so we could walk through, with a quick check of our passports. Doug was waiting for us and took us to have pizza (ah, pizza!) and ice cream (ah, ice cream!).  Because of its Christian history and remaining Christian population, unlike many towns, Bethlehem has restaurants open during Ramadan. After a thoroughly enjoyable meal, Doug took us to his friends who are traditional olive wood artisans, where we purchased a nativity set for ourselves and a few other items. These shops are a sad thing. Bethlehem's economic lifeblood is pilgrim and tourist trade, and that has been at an utter standstill for three years. But people have so much invested in their shops, and no other opportunities for work, so they stay on, day after day in quiet streets, hoping for change. Our new friends delivered us at the Latin Seminary in Beit Jala (overlooking Bethlehem).  We had come to Jerusalem not only to fix the camera, but more to attend the ordination of our friend Homam, who today becomes a Deacon of the Roman Catholic Church. Homam served last year in Zababdeh as part of his seminary training, and we very much enjoyed getting to know him. We were very glad to be able to be present at this joyful event for him and his family.  After the service, there was a big fiesta in the seminary yard, with scouts on drums and bagpipes (audio - 5 sec.), and cheering and dancing seminarians and monks (audio - 6 sec.), lifting Homam onto their shoulders. We were also invited to supper afterwards, with family, Seminary clergy and others.We enjoyed a fascinating conversation at our table with a Jesuit priest who converted from Judaism.  "No, the Roman Catholic Church has not yet fully come to terms with its complicity in the Holocaust," he said.  "However, the problem now is its inability to extricate those issues with issues of how to reach out to the Jewish people and how to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."  After a supper, we tucked ourselves into a car in the Patriarch's convoy back to Jerusalem.  We rode with two Franciscans, one of whom was among those in the Church of the Nativity during its five week siege in 2002.  He talked about how difficult it was physically and emotionally.  Was he afraid of the Palestinian gunmen who entered the church? No. Was anyone afraid of them? Yes.  "The situation stripped us all down to our cores. Everyone found what he was looking for in that time. If you are a frightened person, you would be afraid. If you are angry, you would find something to make you mad." Did the gunmen desecrate the church? "They did some damage looking for food, but there wasn't any damage intended to desecrate the holy place." We sat back in our seats, pondering how this young monk must have felt during those long, scary, hungry days. Soon enough the car pulled up at our hotel and we waved farewell.

Monday, 11/24/03: After catching a quick slice of bread and cup of tea this morning, we took one last look at the view of Jerusalem and loaded up our bags and walked with Deacon Imad toward St. George's Guesthouse.  There, we meet our friend Alain and a few Mennonite Central Committee folks headed to visit the school in Zababdeh, considering possible programs here.  We were more than happy to hitch a ride with them, as travel now is harder than ever. After a smooth scenic drive up the Jordan valley road, we turned off at Tayasir checkpoint.  We spent the next few hours trying to negotiate our way across the checkpoint.  We were told in no uncertain terms that we should not pass from this checkpoint, because the Hamra is meant for us.  Hamra has mostly meant frustration and abuse (and three hour waits) over the past few months, so we knew better than that. 
"I pass here all the time," Marthame told one soldier. 
"I've never seen you before, and I've been here for a month," was his reply. 
"A month?  I've been here three years!"
After two hours, we were permitted to pass, and soon enough we were in Zababdeh, touring the school. After a look at the facility, we all enjoyed a meal together in the Latin compound and coffee with a neighbor. Then the Mennonites had to be on their way, hoping to be allowed out again to return to Jerusalem. They dropped us and our many bags off as they left town. It's good to be home again. 

Tuesday, 11/25/03: Kul 'am wintum bikheir. Happy holidays. Today is the first of the three day Eid al-Fitr, the celebration marking the end of Ramadan. We spent it inside working on computers, Marthame still feeling sick and Elizabeth feeling like she's catching whatever he's got. In the evening we had a nice visit from the Veronique our French volunteer and a friend of hers who teachers French in Beit Hanina, part of greater Jerusalem.  We watched parts of our film and they interviewed us for articles they're writing for French periodicals.

Thursday, 10/27/03:  Happy Thanksgiving. This is the first year that we are not having turkey and the fixings with the university ex-pats. Because the University is on break for the Eid al-Fitr holidays, they have pretty much all left town.  So we are left to our own devices, which are pretty slim feeling as sick we we do.  We slurped on chicken soup and huddled around our space heater and tried to take solace in bad TV programming.  Next year in Atlanta!

Saturday, 11/29/03:  After sleeping lots and trying to eat as much garlic as possible, we both seem to be feeling a bit better.  Marthame felt up to going to Jenin, where he connected a couple of journalists with friends in Jenin Camp. Elizabeth stayed warmly blanketed in tasks.  We can't quite believe we'll be arriving in the US a month from today. Oh boy. 

Sunday, 11/30/03:  Happy Advent.  After worshiping at the Melkite Church, we had lunch at the Latin Church.  Deacon Homam had come up for the weekend, as so we all wanted to welcome him back with food and fellowship.  Marthame then went back to Jenin.  The main checkpoint between Jenin and Zababdeh has been removed, which makes traveling seem like something out of a dream, compared to what we've gotten used to!  There, he connected with a Palestinian journalist friend.  For our film, Marthame needs to film some checkpoints.  However, the military has declared these off-limits, even to folks with proper authorization.  From a safe distance and with the use of a good zoom, however, we were able to get some shaky footage.  Meanwhile, bad news came from the University - two of our friends there have been refused entry into Israel and the West Bank after their 'Eid holiday.  Jonathan and Adam have been teaching English at the University, but because the Israelis won't give work permits to those working in the West Bank, they have been coming in and out on rotating tourist visas.  This catch-as-catch-can process has finally caught up with them, and they were turned back.  There is a chance they'll get back here soon, but it doesn't look very hopeful right now.

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