The Keep Hope Alive team from California, Kentucky, and Iowa spent 20 days in the Holy Land. They toured the Galilee, meeting with Christian and Jewish peacemakers. They also got a sense of life for Palestinian citizens of Israel displaced out of their ancestral villages in 1948. Many residents of Nazareth are internally displaced persons who have family in refugee camps in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. The team then went to Beit Sahour and met up with 85 other Internationals there to help the YMCA/YWCA KHA Olive Harvest. Their work was instrumental in helping the farmers whose land is between the internationally recognized Green Line and the Separation Wall, who are most at risk of losing their land due to encroaching Settlements and Israeli only roads. Many of their families continue to live in Beit Jala or Bethlehem and cannot leave the city without a permit to go to their family farms to help with the OIive Harvest. The team visited with area NGO’s who document the Occupation and with a Muslim peacemaker in East Jerusalem. The group then went to Jordan to see Moses’ Well, Petra, and a day of rest in Aqaba before flying home. Their travels are documented, along with pictures,
How did our group respond about today? Breathtaking. Lots of fun. Multiple modes of transportation. Meeting Bedouins who drive carriages and offer camels, horses, and mules to ride. Tired. Nice to meet so many friendly Jordanians from so many parts of the world. Glad to finally have a day of rest in Aqaba.
Other highlights? Awe at walking down the Siq of Wadi Mousa (think Indiana Jones without the horse). After paying $40 American, the horse attendant called one of us “cheap Americans.” Madison and Marietta won the Camel race. Five of us climbed to the High Place of Sacrifice, with stunning views and an ancient open air temple with an altar. Zelda hiked up to the four Royal Tombs, where there was detailed stonecutting and art that used the color of the sandstone.
We had a delightful lunch in the shade at the bottom of the site, with terrific views of the canyons nearby. The birds were singing in the trees. Allan and Nancy bounced down the Roman road on their carriage. This is a great time of year to be here, as it was in the 80s at the heat of the day. Only Bev had a hard time with the animals today, with a horse that liked to shake its head, and the many people it took to get her artificial knee over the camel’s hump.
After trekking back up the valley, we were driven the two and a half hours to Aqaba. Most of us were dead tired, and slept on the way. Aqaba is in the midst of preparations for Eid of the near Sacrifice of Ishmael. Plenty of shopping going on for gift giving, and the many cruise ships have left port.
Right now, we are listening to Arabic music on the roof of the hotel, sharing stories and the cool breeze.
Today we said goodbye to Palestine-Israel and travelled through the Allenby Gate – King Hussein Gate into Jordan on our way to Petra. After wending our way on the Palestinian road to the highway, we were going down the road to Jericho and the Gate. We decided to stop at the Sea Level for a picture, and who do you think had to ride a camel? Karen. She thinks they are cute! And she’s been talking about riding a camel for some time, so we encouraged her to take the chance to ride a bit.
We got through the border in record time, met our new guide, and then waited around for a while our passports were being processed in Jordan. This gave us a chance to stretch our legs and visit the ATM, and grab some coffee. We rode in the bus for a few hours before enjoying a late lunch on the road, and then made our way to the King’s Way Hotel, near Petra.
The Hotel is across the street from Mousa’s Well. This is one of the sites attributed to Moses striking the rock twice to provide water for the children of Israel while here in the historic land of the Ammonites. We found some hospitable shop owners, and a chance to grab our breath before an early morning to Petra tomorrow.
Today, we returned to the most historic part of Jerusalem – the city of David. Just south of the Old City near the Dung Gate there have been excavations that date this part of the city back to the Hittites, Amorites, and the Jebusites. When David conquered the Jebusites, he built his palace on top of their fortifications. Solomon expanded the city to include his palace and the first temple inside a walled extension of the city around Mt. Moriah, upon which the Temple was built. After an archeological tour of the ancient City of David, we went down in Hezekiah’s Tunnel, cut through the stone to link the pool of Siloam with the fortifications of Jerusalem’s walled city. It proved to be enough to stop the Assyrian siege in 723, but not the Babylonians in 586.
Today, tourists can wade through the waters in the 533 meters of the tunnel to the pool of Siloam, known in Arabic as Silwan, from which the village takes its name. Some tourists stay dry by going through the older Canaanite dry tunnel, but five of us went through the water, ducking when the tunnel became lower. Great fun. We saw where the ancient Hebrew burial caves were and heard the story of the increasing conflict between the Settlers in Silwan and their Palestinian neighbors.
We said goodbye to our guide, and picked up Mohammed of Abraham’ Herberge in Beit Jala. We met with the Mayor of Al-Ubeidyeh, a small town just northeast of Beit Sahour. This community is along the new road to Jerusalem, Ramallah, and Jericho for Palestinians in the South. Because Israel has made the more direct road between Bethlehem and Jerusalem an Israel-only road, Palestinians must drive well out of their way, and through a container checkpoint, to get to the other major Palestinian work and office centers. The road north of Al-Ubeidyeh is very steep with many turnbacks, and so there are many accidents along this road. The city of Al-Ubeidyeh is proud of their new solar powered street lights on this dangerous stretch of road. Since water is a huge issue, they would like to create a water reclamation project for the polluted stream that comes through the town from Jerusalem and the Settlements. Har Homa Settlement recently took some of the city’s farmers’ land by extending the Separation Barrier (here in the form of a fence) around two nearby hilltops.
Next we went to Abraham’s Tent, an after school program for Muslim and Christian youth in Al-Ubeidyeh. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Beit Jala sponsors this free program, which serves 120 children and youth in Al-Ubeidyeh. They have operated this program elsewhere, and many other towns are asking for it as well. Each child gets a hot meal, help with homework, and enrichment classes including music, art, and dance. It’s called Abraham’s Tent because any child of Abraham is welcome. Most of the kids are Muslim, but they take field trips to Christian churches, Mosques, Jericho, and other historical sites in Palestine.
We had an informal lunch with the kids and teachers, learning names, playing games, and taking pictures. The young men performed a traditional Palestinian dance for the group, and then we met at the Tent for group pictures. The kids got to practice their English, and we shared our limited Arabic and smiles all around. The program puts on a Summer Camp each year, and is supported by the local municipality. Last summer, the church in Germany raised the funds to bring 10 youth to Germany to do peacemaking work with German Christians and Jews there. We are exploring whether it would be in both of our interests to have a sister church relationship with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Beit Jala, including some of the interfaith peace work that they are already doing.
This is our last night in Palestine. We will be traveling to Petra, Jordan tomorrow. The time we spent here has been fruitful in meeting wonderfully warm people who desire peace and an end to this conflict. We have also experienced new historic places in the Holy Land. We have shed tears, shared laughter, and experienced holy surprises. For those of us who have been here before, we have seen little progress and significant digression from a peaceful solution to the occupation. For none of us will leave this land the same people who arrived.
Tonight we had dinner with Muslim peacemaker extraordinaire Haj Ibrahim Abu Al-Hawa at his hospitality center in East Jerusalem on the Mt. of Olives. What a great story teller and generous heart. He works with Jewish, Christian, Druze, and Sufi religious leaders working for peace all around the world, but especially in Jerusalem and across the West Bank. He reminded us that no scriptures in the world tell us we need only love people like us, but that we need to go meet all our neighbors so we can love them and work for peace together.
We went up onto the Mount of Olives, where there is a magnificent view of the Kidron Valley and much of Jerusalem. The first church where we stopped was the Pater Noster (“Our Father”) church. It features a natural cave where Jesus used to teach his disciples and where one tradition says that Jesus taught them the Lord’s Prayer. Inside the church and around a lovely cloister, the prayer is written in 72 languages, surrounded by colorful tiles. The languages include many tongues of which we had never heard.
In the Garden of Gethsemane, there were at least two trees that were there in the time of Jesus. The church was built around the rock where Jesus flung himself down to pray for deliverance from his impending arrest and crucifixion, yet for God’s will to be done. It was enormously moving to be in this place.
The Dominus Flevit church commemorates the place where Jesus wept over Jerusalem, knowing that the Temple would be destroyed by the Romans in the near future.
We went to a church that, according to one of the traditions, is the site of the tomb of Mary the mother of Jesus. We all had to duck down to pass through the tiny doorway into the actual tomb area.
After a security check, complete with metal detectors, we gained access to the famed Temple Mount, where Solomon’s Temple originally stood, succeeded by the Second Temple and Herod’s extensions of it. (The Temple was destroyed in 70 CE.) The most sacred part of the Temple, the Holy of Holies is now covered over by the Dome of the Rock, sacred to Muslims. This amazing mosque has a bright gold dome and gorgeous mosaics outside, mostly in green, blue, and yellow. A second mosque, Al-Aqsa is also there on what Muslims call the Haram al Sherief. Currently, only Muslims may enter these holy sites, but our guide went inside the Dome of the Rock and took some pictures for us.
We visited the Wailing Wall, and some of us left prayers in the cracks between stones. A Bar Mitzvah was taking place on the plaza nearby. Men and women had separate sections at the Wailing Wall. Some sat in chairs and read the Torah. Others bowed reverently in front of the wall as they prayed, or touched it with their foreheads. Many would leave the Wailing Wall by backing away from it.
The Church of the Holy Sepulcher has sections administered by no less than 6 different denominations. It is built over Calvary–or Golgotha, the Place of the Skull–where Jesus was crucified. Since it includes the site of Jesus’ tomb, it is also the place of his Resurrection. The church was extremely busy, full of hundreds of people, some of them pushy. We saw a beautiful Catholic procession with Gregorian chant and candles.
We also did some shopping in the Muslim Quarter. Pastor Will and Birthday Boy Allan had their hair cut in the barber shop.
Three members of our group went to Ja’ba to participate in the last day of the olive harvest this morning. It was an enjoyable day for them, and the day brought a few raindrops in the afternoon. The group had to drive through a Settlement to get to the farmers olives. The farmer’s land is directly under threat since there are Settlements on both sides of the land. One of the local leaders had to sneak through the Security Wall to help lead the internationals. There is a Settlement School next to the farm that wasn’t in session. They still had Jewish music playing every time the class periods would have ended.
Those from California went to church at the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Beit Jala. These are our Ecumenical partners in the Bethlehem region as PC (USA) and UCC congregations. We arranged with Pastor Jadallah Shihadeh to attend worship, and meet with members of the congregation about possibly creating a “sister church” relationship. Pastor Will was honored to be invited to help with an English reading of the Gospel and at the Communion Table. The service was mostly in Arabic, but some of the music was familiar. We met with the worshipping congregation (close in size to our own back home) over coffee and found UCC and school connections from previous visits. The church offered us a wonderful lunch, and then we met with Mohammed Fararja and the boys of the Abraham’s Herberge – where 14 Muslim and Christian boys live in a program at the church so they are in a secure environment and can attend school in the region. Another project of the church is Abraham’s Tent, which provides after school programming for 120 Muslim and Christian students in the village of Al Obediya nearby in Beit Sahour.
They have hosted peace events here with Combatants for Peace, Rabbi’s for Human Rights, and community wide candlelight vigils at the Separation fence with Jews, Muslims and Christians sharing messages of peace. They have taken students to Germany for exchange programs with others from the reg=ion. We started to dream about what we could do together, and were inspired by the Ulster Project of bringing Roman Catholic and Protestant teenagers together from Northern Ireland during the conflict. What if we could create camps for Christian, Muslim, and Jewish kids from Israel-Palestine in California as a way to build peace both in I-P and among the religiously diverse teens of Contra Costa County?