Journal in the Holy Land
October, 2000
Journal Archive
Our Main Page
(Having multimedia problems?  Download Windows Media Player for free or see our help page)
The sounds of Zababdeh:
4:45 AM, Muslim prayer (40 sec.)
6:00 AM, Catholic bells (40 sec.)
6:30 AM, sheep
7:30 AM, National Anthem (40 sec.)
24-7, Electrical generator (5 sec.)

10/1/00:  Day four of the clashes between Israelis and Palestinians continues.  We have received many emails of concern, but so far Zababdeh remains the small rural town.  The biggest news in the village was from the strike - that school has been cancelled, leaving the children as ecstatic as though it were snowing.  Many in the village remain concerned, but relatively unaffected by the conflict.  There is more immediate concern about whether or not there is work or school the next day.  Most of the village remains riveted to televisions at the top of the hour.  Nevertheless, daily life is affected - wedding tonight went ahead as scheduled, but because of the strike the usual Palestinian revelry of music and dancing was forbidden.  We remain well-stocked with food and water, as the stores will be closed for a while as a sign of solidarity.

10/2/00:  As conflict in the rest of the country continues to flare up (Israeli rocket attacks in Gaza, tanks and helicopters brought into Nablus), the signs of protest and solidarity in town are limited to a parade through town and an occasional burning tire - the now-familiar signs of Palestinian protest.  No school today, which gave us a chance to view the life beyond the village from our roof.  No one is leaving Zababdeh, and many are watching the world from their roofs, too.

10/3/00:  The clashes continue throughout the West Bank and Gaza, despite the promise earlier today of a cease-fire.  Israelis are blaming Arafat for the chaos.  School has been cancelled until Saturday as a sign of mourning, and Abuna Louis also does so for the childrens' safety - some come from other villages and from Jenin, where there have been reports of some minor clashes.  The phrase for the day is calmly chaotic, as conflict stays away from Zababdeh, but affects our day to day life anyway.  We have received a copy of Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah's reflection on the events of the past few days, which is worth reading.  And, as always, life goes on, as evidenced by a visit to our friend.  We have music from our friend playing the oud and his children singing while Marthame flails along on guitar (video, 26 sec.).  On the right, another friend makes up a song on the spot (video, 60 sec.).

10/5/00:  The violence continues in Palestine and Israel, though not in Zababdeh itself.  We have heard distressing reports from friends in Jerusalem, Nazareth, Ramallah, and Gaza.  Yesterday was Elizabeth's birthday - we're debating whether her birthday this year is more memorable than mine in 1992 (I spent the night in the hospital).  I'm pretty sure we'll remember this one.  Tonight was also the weekly young adults gathering.  It was meant to be a planning session for the year, when the college-age students were planning trips to some of the holy sites in and around this area.  Given the dramatic change in the political climate, though, that'll have to wait.  We did some Bible study before moving to the church for prayer and vigil.  Peace is needed so badly here, and yet the people feel so abandoned by the rest of the world.  Seems like a good time bring out some more oud music from Oct 3rd (halfway through the song he breaks into English, singing about Chicago - audio, 35 sec.).

10/6/00:  Tonight was a chance to see more of the village.  Abuna Tomie, the Orthodox priest, met a group of folks from the nearby Arab-American University (most of them our neighbors) to see the interior of St. George's Orthodox Church (left).  It was built on the site of an ancient grotto that dates back many, many centuries.  They're not sure how old - there's a stone with either Greek or Roman letters carved into it (it's hard to tell because it's so weathered) that no one has been able to date to give some evidence of its age.  The church building was completed in the 1870s. Afterwards, we went to visit the abandoned Melkite Church (right).  In communion with Rome but liturgically Eastern, this particular Melkite church has fallen between the bishops of Haifa and Jerusalem.  The last priest (our tour guide's grandfather) died in 1985, and the doors have remained shut.  There is a priest in Zababdeh who has been trained and is willing to serve, but political machinations have kept the doors closed for fifteen years.  It seems that politics are everywhere these days.  After our tour, we had a good old-fashioned Middle Eastern barbecue with the folks from the University.  They've been about the only thing open these last few weeks.  Many of our neighbors have done some interesting tours of duty, including Iran in the 1970s and Lebanon in the early 80s.  So violent clashes are something they're used to, but are weary of.  Oh, and there's no school tomorrow - ten more dead yesterday in Jerusalem, Gaza, and the West Bank.  Israel has sealed us in the West Bank and has begun limiting travel to its own Arab citizens - at least through Yom Kippur.

10/7/00:  After a week of closures, we have returned to school for the first day.  It's clear that the impact of conflict has a number of civilian and institutional casualties - including education.  Today the students were restless, the teachers were restless.  Not exactly the best scenario for a institution of learning to thrive.

10/8/00:  Following church today, the Catholics met up with the Orthodox for a protest demonstration through town (video -12 sec.).  This is not for the benefit of the international media (unless you count us), but it is clear that frustration with the conflict is growing as the death toll rises.  There are several from this area (Tubas, Qabatiya) who have been killed in clashes elsewhere.  No one is untouched by the upheaval in the land.  Even so, we discovered that one of the three falafel joints (that's one restaurant for every thousand people in Zababdeh!) has a foosball table.  Marthame's a little rusty from the college days, but still managed to lose only one game.

10/9/00:  School continues, life goes on.   We were treated to a traditional Palestinian meal of "ma'alube," chicken with almonds and rice, cooked by our new good friend whose son is a friend of ours in Chicago.  It's a small world!
10/11/00:  Marthame found his way to the 4:00 sports gathering on the school grounds.  Youth from the village gather to play volleyball, basketball, and soccer.  Marthame relied on muscle-memory to play, but discovered he had amnesia.  It brings a little sanity to the insanity that swirls around.
10/12/00:  Today will live forever in our memories, as we watched the TV footage of Israeli military might in response to the killing of two soldiers.  Then we went into town and faced our grim-faced friends, wanting to know why our country acts the way it does.  Our hearts are broken.

10/14/00:  The floating schedule for Saturday evening Mass continues.  We are learning to read the bells (some bells mean that someone has died, some mean that Mass will be in an hour, some just mean "pretty tune time."), which tend not to be the main mode of communication in the States.  I think we're getting the hang of it, though we were half an hour late for Mass today.  Also, something amazing happened today that requires some background.  Two days ago, right after the bombing of Ramallah and Gaza, we were confronted by a man who had very stong words for us because of our government's words and actions toward Palestinians. Tonight, we sat with him at a mutual friend's house and drank coffee.  He wanted to apologize and be sure that we knew we were most welcome in Zababdeh - his words came in the heat of that terrible moment.  We apologized for our government, but had no such excuse.  After a lenghty conversation, he invited us to his house to share food with his family.  Even in these difficult times, we feel blessed by this taste of reconciliation .

10/16/00:  Always there are little reminders that we're not so far from where we came.  One of the women who works at the school invited us to her house to meet her sister.  Her sister lives in Chicago, and is visiting Zababdeh for the olive harvest.  Her other sister lived in Virginia for fourteen years.  There are an incredible number of people who have family in the States or in Europe - only half of the population of Zababdeh actually lives in Zababdeh!

10/17/00:  Tuesday nights are our gatherings in people's homes.  Based on the focolare movement, these gatherings center around a brief Bible passage and commentary as we gather with the newlyweds of the village and bless their new homes.  Tonight's passage was the story of Christ's command to the rich young ruler to "sell everything that you own."  Marthame told the story of our party in Chicago where we gave away most of our belongings, because we recognized that everything we had was a gift we had received.  In the same way, our move to Zababdeh was a reflection of the gift of the gospel we received from the church in the Holy Land (Every good journal needs a little theology).

10/20/00:  Day one of our foray into the olive harvest!  We left early in the morning with one of the families of the village to attend to their thirty or so trees up on the hill.  The whole town, it seems, heads off to the hills when the olives are ready.  Marthame decided not to try his luck on a ladder and went for the far more stable position of up in the tree.  This family's trees are about 200 years old, and there's a fine art to this work: you want the trees to give as much fruit as possible, but you don't want the trees to grow so big you can't pick from the highest branches.  So in addition to the plucking, there is the cutting off of branches.  Periodically, we stopped during the day to picnic and drink coffee.  Those wandering by - of course - are invited to have a little snack, too.  There's something satisfying about working with your hands and seeing the results of your labor.  Even so, it was hard not to be reminded of the day's current events - two days ago, there was a gun battle between Israeli settlers and Nablus olive pickers.  One farmer was killed.  As always, there are many different versions and slants to the story, but it is hard not to think about this as your fingers pull the olives from the trees.

10/21/00:  The Schools-On-Line project we were hoping to start with a school in Israel has had to be suspended.  It seems Marthame's students are protesting against it because of the continued violence - three recent "martyrs" killed in Tulkarm were from nearby villages.  There is too much water under the bridge at this point to start such a program with high school students - it is too difficult to simply forget and move on.  There must be reconciliation, but there's a hard road ahead, and the groundwork for interpersonal relationships was not laid in time to move forward in this difficult climate.

10/22/00:  After church, we gave a letter (click to see) to the priests of the three churches in town (Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican), sharing the support and concern expressed in the avalanche of emails we have received since the most recent violence began. In the afternoon, we headed off for day two of our olive picking training.  We returned to the hills with another family later in the day.  Ironic that we're picking olives, the symbol of peace, as both sides have accused the other of a "Declaration of War."  Later, we attended a funeral for a sixty year-old woman (a member of our olive host's extended family).  She died today from a heart attack while picking olives, and was buried in the village graveyard after a procession from the church - all in one day.  As the family came forward to pay their last respects, their was an outpouring of grief.  It was hard not to be affected by this, and not to have the images of the dozens of Palestinian funerals we have seen on TV come to mind.  It's an overwhelming, emotional time for all. Following the funeral, we went to meet our friends for a delicious dinner of ma'alube (Remember? It's what we had on Oct 9, see above). Most of the olives that are picked get pressed into oil.  Our friends, in one harvest, will collect enough for 120 kilograms of oil.  The rest they eat as - surprise, surprise - olives. Elizabeth helped with the cutting before they are soaked.

10/23/00:  Day three of the olive adventure.  Most families here rely on the harvest to either make ends meet or to supply their entire oil for the year - which means that the town basically shuts down - this includes the school for today.  Tomorrow is a Muslim holiday.  Interesting note about that - it is based on the cycle of the moon, but the official day is not announced until a few days prior, making the theological statement that God can always decide to change the cycle of the moon.  Fortunately, though, the good Lord obliged us, meaning we have a three day weekend!  One task of the olive harvest is sifting out of the leaves that inevitably become mixed in with the olives.  This is done by meticulous picking or by dumping them as the wind blows, the heavy olives hitting the ground while the lighter leaves are blown away.  So many Biblical metaphors, too, of the olive tree and the harvest...

10/24/00:  The Islamic "Day of Ascension" has arrived, and so we have another day of rest from school.  The olive harvest continues, of course, and will likely do so in some way, shape, or form for another couple of weeks.  We went to Qabatiya (a nearby village) with our Palestinian German friend to see the olive presses - one full-automatic (video of the olives being cleaned before entering the press to the left - 19 sec.), one half-automatic.  The only difference between the half-automatic and the old-fashioned is that a machine now turns the grinding stones (video to the right - 15 sec.) rather than a donkey.  You can definitely taste the difference between the two presses - the oil from the half-automatic is less bitter.  Both green and black olives go into making the oil, and they guess that you get about 25% of the weight in oil from the weight in olives.  The oil that doesn't go for family consumption is largely sold in Palestine.  The Palestinians are very picky about their oil, and tend to want it from their trees.  As one man carried in his bag of olives to the press, he asked us to explain to Bill Clinton why they're not leaving their land - these olive trees carry a lot of meaning.  We have also discovered that the digital camera has helped us make some new friends quickly - even better than a Polaroid!

10/25/00:  Classes have continued uninterrupted for a while, now, and life is somewhat "normal" - which leaves the question: what is "normal"?  We hear word of fuller West Bank closures, as the Israeli military has surrounded major population centers. These closures can prevent people and goods from moving from one town to another. We and people here are all aware that Zababdeh relies on transportation with other West Bank towns and Israel for all of its water, electricity (that is, petrol for the village generator), and much food. There's an Israeli military training camp at the edge of town (photo to the right - it's about the size of Zababdeh), and ever since we arrived, sometimes we have seen soldiers run and hear their guns go off as they train in the hills.  Some days we hear sonic booms of Israeli planes flying overhead.  It shakes the walls and the windows and makes you think the earth is collapsing--definitely disrupting during class. Several of the kids who live in Jenin were friends with the teen who was recently killed in clashes there. Needless to say, it can be difficult for the kids to focus on schoolwork. We've also been seeing what's happening in Beit Jala, where the Israeli military unleashed firepower into this Christian village, extensively damaging residents' homes. Unfortunately, this kind of existence, marked by violence and loss, has been "normal" for so many people here for so long. 

10/26/00:  It's a girl!  "Mabrouk (Blessings)!"  Our neighbors have had their baby!  Our new friend's mom was  picking olives (needless to say, she wasn't up in the tree), and that night she went to the hospital to deliver.  "Maternity leave" takes on a different meaning.  Life, quite literally, goes on.

10/27/00:  A Friday.  A day off.  A day for wandering.  We headed out into the hills overlooking Zababdeh, where seasonal workers are picking olives for landowners.  After a short while, we saw the goatherds and heard from among the trees, "Hello, Chicago!  7-8-9-10, put your pencil near my pen!"  We have made friends with one of the shepherds who was in college when the first Intifada closed schools.  Soon after, he was arrested for throwing stones and spent about a year in prison. He shared with us how he wanted to travel to America and Europe, and see the world. But without any citizenship and with a past, these are impossible aspirations. Now he prefers the freedom of the shepherd life.  It's humble, it's dirty, but there are no dreams to dash.  He told us all about Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor as we ate bread and yogurt and drank tea and visited with his family.  We parted with two liters of fresh goat's milk and a promise to return for cheese in the next few days.  He and his family will have to leave the area soon.  They are staying on farmland, which is ready for planting because of the rainy season.  We've promised to visit him in his new digs, a little ways into the hills.

10/31/00:  A quiet night of sitting at home and visiting with a good friend - good fellowship, conversation, singing songs, drinking tea.  We have now heard that Arafat's headquarters bombed in Nablus last night are across the street from the Sisters of Mercy hospice and maybe 120 yards from the Anglican church in Nablus.  Then we heard planes overhead - there's no regular flight path through the West Bank, only military planes.  We usually see their lights at night, but tonight we could hear them (flying slow and low--no sonic booms this time).  To get a feel for the contrast, play the sound of quiet (5 sec.) and the sound of the plane (25 sec.) back to back (thse lights in the images are from the nearby Arab American University - note Marthame's steady handiwork).  They're flying lower and lower, adding to a sense of claustrophobia - closed in all around, and now from above.