Copyright 2005 Straitwell Travel Books
Author's note: Like Che Guevara's legendary tour of South America, my tour of the Holy Land began innocuously enough I just wanted to spend some quality time with my Aunt Helen and I also wanted to know what it is like to stand next to the exact spot where Christ was born, raised, crucified and buried. Instead, I ended up being chased by irate Jewish fundamentalists in Hebron and by irate Muslim fundamentalists at the Al Aqsa mosque. I also saw the Wailing Wall, the Occupation Wall, Arafat's tomb, the Golan Heights, a kibbutz near Tel Aviv and a whole bunch of internet cafes.
In short, by the end of my tour of the Holy Land, I had, like Che, become politicized....
Here's my story. Yes, I know it is long. But think of it not so much as an article but as an e-book. And, as they say in the Holy Land, "Enjoy!"
October 20, 2005: My trip to Israel and Palestine did not begin auspiciously. "I can't find your house," said the airporter driver guy over the phone at 4 am.
"I'll be right out. Look for me on the sidewalk." I got into the van and we drove off to the San Francisco airport. No one was on the freeway. We got there in record time and I got to sit around and wait for three hours before my flight took off. Part of the travel mystique is sitting around at airports.
"Do you smell something burning?" the flight attendant was asking the pilot just as I boarded. Yeah. I smelled it. It smelled like an electrical fire -- not like burned toast. Fear of dying in a fiery plane crash is also part of the travel mystique.
Ten years ago my Aunt Helen, my mother's double cousin who looked just like her clone, said to me, "Jane, the biggest moment of my life was when I traveled to the Holy Land and saw the place where Christ was born." I want to go to the Holy Land too!
"If I save up, will you go with me?" I asked her.
"Yes. I would love to." So I began saving for my trip with Aunt Helen to Jerusalem and Bethlehem and Nazareth and all those places. The Pool of Bethesda. The Via Dolorosa. Count me in. As the song goes, "I wanna walk in Jerusalem just like John!"
My family and I used to go up to Aunt Helen's house in the mountains for a family reunion picnic every year, and every year my aunt and I would start discussing our trip plans over barbecue chicken and homemade ice cream. But my trip to the Holy Land with Aunt Helen was never to be. Born in 1911, my wonderful aunt just couldn't hold out much longer, waiting waiting waiting for me to save up. Three years ago, she died.
Now I'm sitting on an Air France plane, going to the Holy Land in her memory. "I went to the Church of the Nativity and to the Holy Sepulcher and to the Garden of Gethsemane," she said. And now I would be doing that too.
It's funny about my mom and my aunt. Their mothers were sisters. Their fathers were brothers. My mom and my aunt both grew up in poverty, in a bleak California desert town. They both suffered through the Great Depression. And they hated each other.
I had seen my Aunt Helen maybe twice in my life, both times when I was a kid but several years after my mother died, Aunt Helen gave me a call. "I'm in town this week and would love to see you." Me? "I always thought you were such a...a...unique child." Oh. But when I met her the next day, I was so glad. She looked just like my mother and, to me, it was almost like having my mother come back from the dead.
Now I'm sitting in an airplane, flying to Atlanta -- and then on to Paris and Tel Aviv -- and I'm pretending that Aunt Helen is sitting in the vacant seat next to me. Hurray for us! We are off to the Holy Land!
Noon: " On the plane to Atlanta, I had pulled out my guidebook and read all about Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth. It was finally starting to become real for me. Antiquity! Really old stuff! Good grief, I can hardly wait. Religion and archeology combined? It doesn't get much better than that.
When I got to Atlanta, I called my teenaged daughter Amy. "Well, I made it this far. So far so good. Remember to tape Survivor on the VCR tonight! And remember to feed the cat."
"Only if you promise to not get lost again, Mom," Amy replied. "You know that you always get lost."
October 21, 2005, 6:45 am: My plane landed in Paris with a three-hour layover. I got to spend three whole hours in Paris! "How much does it cost to call California," I asked the nice Frenchman at the American Express kiosk.
"$17." I had really wanted to call young Amy again but maybe not badly enough to spend $17 on a phone call. Besides, there is nothing to report except that my eyes are all bloodshot and I can't speak French.
5 pm: "Please fasten your seatbelts...." Boy the captain wasn't kidding. The flight from Paris to Tel Aviv was the bumpiest I've ever been on. Somewhere over the Greek isles, I thought the wings were gonna fall off. When we landed in Tel Aviv, the passengers burst into spontaneous applause for the crew.
Guess what? Israelis look just like Americans. I was watching the ones going to the "Israeli Passport Holders Only" window. Blondes in GAP jeans. They didn't even look Jewish! And no black coats, no side-locks and no yarmulkes. Geez Louise. I hope they aren't as blissfully unaware of how disastrous the political situation is here as Americans are in America. Nope. No one could possibly be as out of the reality loop as that.
"How long is the drive to Bethlehem?" I asked Israel's version of an airporter driver. I needed to meet my tour group there the next morning at the Bethlehem Star Hotel.
"I can take you as far as Jerusalem and you can get a cab to Bethlehem from there. It takes 45 minutes to Jerusalem." How much will it cost? "45 shekels." Four and a half shekels per dollar. So a shekel is worth about a quarter. Okay.
The freeway to Jerusalem looked like it had been built by the California State Department of Transportation. And the landscape looked remarkably like southern California too. If I hadn't just been on a plane for 36 hours, I would swear I was driving down I-5 on the Bakersfield side of the Grapevine. And the cars are the same here too. Fords and Toyotas. This place does not look like the home of Jesus! I can't even imagine Him walking here -- unless He was on His way to a Dairy Queen.
Then we rounded a curve and there on the top of the hill far above us was a huge housing bloc -- perhaps a hundred buildings, each three to ten stories tall, all perched on top of a hill. But this is a style unique to Israel. Housing blocs on hilltops in southern California? Major mudslide danger.
Then suddenly we were in Jerusalem. It was made of cement and bricks, sort of like Los Angeles meets Washington DC on a hillside.
Then the sun set. And it was Sabbath. And people started walking to the synagogues and it was very picturesque. And I saw my first bunch of Amish-looking outfits. Very "Fiddler on the Roof." The native costume of Israel.
8 pm: Well I crossed my first checkpoint today. The airporter had dropped me off in Jerusalem and I had taken a cab to the checkpoint between Israel and Bethlehem. At the checkpoint, the cabbie stopped and told me to get out. "I'm a Palestinian Israeli," he said, "which means that I do have the documents to drive you through the checkpoint and get you to your hotel but it would take me hours to get back into Jerusalem again." So I got out and walked.
The checkpoint between Israel and Bethlehem was dark and spooky but not as menacing as I had imagined how it would be. I just picked out a young female soldier to ask my questions to and bonded with her. "How do I get to the Star Hotel?"
"You walk down this path," she told me after she had examined my passport and motioned me through the barrier. While I was trying to figure out how to get past some fierce-looking feral cats and jump a four-foot-high retaining wall while carrying my luggage in the dark to get to the path she had indicated, an old Palestinian man and a young American woman walked by and helped me out. The old man disappeared into the dark down some other path and the woman who turned out to be a missionary volunteer -- and I flagged down a taxi once we got to the Palestinian side. Our cabbie dropped her off at a church and drove me on to the Star Hotel.
Bethlehem looks for all the world like a dingy 1920s New England mill town. It was very depressing. Maybe it would look more cheery in the daytime. And it was a lot bigger than I had assumed it would be. It was built on several hills -- all of Israel and Palestine is built on a whole bunch of hills, thousands of hills.
Once on the Palestinian side of the checkpoint, I also noticed that the standard of living dropped considerably but not as much as I had expected it would. There was no tribal-village third-world look to Bethlehem. It just looked like some Appalachian coal town where the coal seams had run out.
October 22, 2005: I got lots of sleep last night. Maybe my jet lag isn't going to be so bad. That's a good thing. There's so much to see and do.
Looking out my window this morning, I see a large city spread out before me. You gotta understand that the Holy Land is hilly country. There are a freaking lot of hills here. And it is all much more urban and densely populated than, say, Oakland. The average building in Bethlehem is three to five stories high. And everything here is the same color -- sandstone. Even the cement is a sandstone color. I need to get up and go look around!
A cursory glance out the window of the fifth floor of the Star Hotel doesn't seem to show a city in insurrection. Bethlehem is no Baghdad. It's a peaceful Saturday morning and the sky is really, really blue.
The first thing I need to do is to hook up with my tour. The tour operator said that I was going to be searched at the Tel Aviv airport and so not to bring any materials with me describing our tour that I would be going such Palestinian places such as Hebron and Ramallah. So here I am without a clue as to when our tour begins or where to meet up with it. But actually, I got more thoroughly searched at the San Francisco airport coming over than I did at the Tel Aviv airport. The guy at the S.F. airport politely said, "Please step aside. I'm just going to search your hand luggage." And then he proceeded to go through it with a gunpowder/explosives detector.
"But I'm a Girl Scout troop leader," I protested. "Our troop sold 60,000 boxes of Girl Scout cookies! I'm on the list because I'm a blogger, aren't I?" He obviously didn't know what a blogger was. "Freedom of speech. That sort of thing."
But at the Israeli airport, a nice gentile-looking young lady just stamped my passport and smiled. No Mossad or nothing. What's with that? So far Israel/Palestine seems to be a very friendly place. I wonder if they have Girl Scout cookies here too.
11 am: Breakfast. And I met the folks on the tour. "I'm from Holland," said one.
"I am from Spain," said another. And there were people from England, Scotland and America. Articulate, amiable, nice people. Clearly more interesting than the standard tour-group tourists I'm used to; 25 of us in all. Breakfast consisted of olives, pita bread, veggies, hot milk, coffee, boiled eggs and cheese.
"How do you get to the Church of the Nativity?" I asked. Walk left, turn left again and then straight ahead for six blocks. Suddenly I found myself on an Arab market street, walking alone among hundreds of Arabs. In the mix, as it were. At first I was scared. Maybe these people are terrorists? But they weren't. They were friendly, helpful and wonderful. Walking down the main street of Bethlehem was magical.
But the true magic was yet to come. At the Church of the Nativity, at the manger where Jesus was born, I was so overcome with the holiness of the moment that I became speechless and dismissed my guide. I had heard that usually there were long lines of people waiting to file past this place but for now I was there all by myself, completely alone and overcome with the power and majesty of this holy place.
Here I am, sitting at the place where Jesus was born. I want to stay here forever. Nothing prepared me for this. I feel like I'm standing in the presence of God -- and that Jesus is the world's secret weapon for peace.
Then three ladies from Finland arrived and sang, "Jesus is Holy" in Finnish. I joined them. They also knew magic when they saw it. This one experience was worth the entire trip. Aunt Helen was right! Aunt Helen was right! More tourists came and went but they didn't seem particularly overcome. I find it amazing that they can even walk or speak here -- or leave. I want to stay here for the rest of my life!
I'll probably get bored or hungry and leave sometime too but my God what a place.
A caretaker came by and sprayed the all brass fixtures with Windex. More tourists came and went. The top of my head felt like it was glowing. Was I developing a halo? "Don't trust anybody here," another guide came by and told me. "Watch your purse." Not exactly the kind of thing I wanted to hear right now.
Maybe some of this holiness will rub off on me and I will finally become the better person I long to be.
"Usually this place is crowded and one can only stay here a second," someone else said. I had it to myself completely for ten minutes before the ladies from Finland arrived. Now a 60-person Italian tour group has crowded into this little subterranean room. Or are they Russian? But the place still feels holy.
Then a priest came through from Albany, New York. I asked him to bless me. He did. "I'm going to stay here forever," I said. "I'll be here next time you come through in a couple of years." He smiled.
Just when I thought things couldn't get much more magical, a whole bunch of priests bearing incense and candles come and performed the noon office in Latin right next to me. A nun poked my arm and told me to stand up straight. Then another busload of Russians arrived. And then a busload of Filipinos but the top of my head still glowed.
"Some years ago," another guide told me, "it was the Americans who were the number one tourists here. Now it is the Russians who are number one."
Then I asked my tour guide -- a local man who looked like he might have been a professor at Bethlehem University before the Occupation became so intense that he was forced to beg tourists to hire him -- if he would take me to a mosque. "I don't know," he said. He couldn't conceive of why I would want to do that.
"I'm a Muslim," I replied. "Sort of. I think." Am I a Muslim? This is the place to find out. "I became a Muslim last year because I figured it would be the most annoying thing I could do to George Bush." But one could be a Christian and a Muslim at the same time? After my intense experience at the Church of the Nativity, there was no way I would give up Christ. But I liked Islam too. Looks like I'm going to have to admit to Amy that I am once again lost -- only this time I am lost in the realm of spirituality. I know where I want to go spiritually but have this gut feeling that it will take a combination of Jesus, Mohammed and Buddha (and possibly Abraham) together to come up with the complete instructions on how to get me there. Sort of like the three parts of the Rosetta Stone. (I found out later that Muslims consider Jesus to be an important part of Islam by the way, so I'm good to go. Whew.)
The mosque was a simple place, nothing fancy, just a place for the locals to say their prayers. Afterward I walked home through the main street bazaar again, stopping for pancakes and to check out the local internet cafe. "Look! Guns!" said one of the little boys who hung out there. He was playing some video game that involved search-and-destroy missions and lots of AK-47s. Too realistic for me!
Then I went shopping. "Where can I buy a soccer jersey for my daughter," I asked up and down the street. Blank looks. "Does Palestine have a soccer team?" Apparently not. Next time I go traveling, I'm going to bring a photo of a soccer jersey. Nobody here seems to know what I'm talking about. Finally I found a sporting goods store but they had nothing I couldn't buy at the Berkeley flea market. Sigh.
5 pm: We drove back into Jerusalem, passing the checkpoint again -- only this time in a tour bus. It took about a half hour to get through it. Not bad. Apparently, word has come down from the Israeli government to be nice to tourists. Hey, I'm a tourist. Works for me.
At the checkpoint, there was about a one-fourth-mile-wide strip of rubble on each side of the road. "Did there used to be housing there?" I asked. Yep.
"Now we will be going to the office of the Alternative Information Center in Jerusalem," said our tour leader. "There we will learn more about what the Palestinians have to suffer through during this terrible Occupation." Uh-oh. Looks like the religious aspect of my trip and all that business about Aunt Helen and being a normal Holy Land tourist is going to be left behind in the dust. Unbeknownst to me, when I climbed onto that tour bus this morning and drove past that IDF checkpoint, I was about to leave all the illusions of a benevolent Israel created by the Israeli Zionists and the sweet little Holy Land created for Christian tourists behind and enter into the grim reality of the Palestinian world. And at the AIC, we were about to learn more about how girm that Brave New World really is.
Our speaker at the AIC was a young Jew who had immigrated to Israel from America. We found out later that she had a PhD in Hebrew studies.
"Palestinians are not ever given building permits so building a house here is an act of civil disobedience for them," said our speaker. "We have rebuilt one house five different times." She seemed to be painting a picture of a war on the Palestinians using housing as weapons. Isn't destroying housing on such a grand scale considered to be a crime against humanity or at least a war crime?
The speaker also told us that people whose ancestors have lived here for over a thousand years are being thrown out of their homes but someone who had just converted to Judaism a year ago is not only given a free house but a car and money to live on and a lot of other things. "They could be Incas from Peru but as long as they claim to be Jewish, Israel even pays for their pots and pans."
I asked the speaker about how all the occupation expenses including the horrendous expense of building thousands of upscale rent-free condo units as well as paying for the routine tear gas, helicopters, tanks and guns were being funded. "If we can stop the occupation from being funded, then would it all dry up, right?" Yeah.
"There are 10,000 Palestinian home demolition orders issued," the speaker continued, "but Israel can't afford to tear them all down." And apparently only Jews can own land. "We're not advocating, however, that Israel just go away. There is a lot of land in Israel on this side of the Green Line, with houses and stores already built. Israel is here to stay -- just like the American Indians will probably never get their land back again." But does their solid presence here also give them the right to continue to steal Palestinian real estate?
I am starting to understand the meaning of "Facts on the ground". If this happened in Manhattan, it would be like some foreign army moving in on Trump Towers and saying, "Sorry Donald but we got the guns and you don't, so cough up the deed. This land is ours. God gave it to us not to The Apprentice."
"There were many types of Judaism," the AIC speaker continued, "but the main branch of Judaism left over after the diaspora was the one that emphasized the idea of a promised land." So this idea came after Moses and them. Not a promise from God? Interesting.
"You don't have to have faith in God to be a Jew in Israel. The only heresy here is if you don't believe in the Promised Land! It is ironic that many Israelis strongly believe that God gave them Israel but...they don't believe in God." And apparently the idea of "God don't like ugly" doesn't apply to them either. "I did my PhD on Israel and didn't even realize that Palestinians existed." She then discussed economic viability. "It's basically like a prison for the Palestinians. And if they can do this to one group of people, they can do it to you and me. I just want the Palestinians and everyone else -- to have the same rights that I do."
Then it was time to drive back to Bethlehem. I was glad. My tooth hurt and I was suddenly feeling jet-lagged again. I wanted to go back to my room and finish reading the new Janet Evanovich novel I had bought at the San Francisco airport. I was bored with being in Jerusalem. It looked too much like America. If I wanted America, I could have stayed home. Palestine was much more interesting.
We passed beautiful old homes as we drove back to the checkpoint. "These used to belong to Palestinians before 1948," said our guide. "There were whole cities full of Palestinians here before 1948 despite the misinformation that Palestine had been empty before then. 'A land with no people for a people with no land' had been the Zionists' slogan." But whatever had happened in the past, the place is surely not empty now. Hundreds of thousands of Jewish Israelis live here now! Facts on the ground strike again. But the facts on the ground are in Bethlehem too. The hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who live there will have to do a disappearing act if the facts on the ground are to comply with the Israeli neo-conservative Zionists' final goals. Possible genocide? That's scary.
"How many Palestinians are there in Israel and Palestine," I asked our guide.
"Five million." That's a lot of facts on the ground.
Then we had a huge dinner. "Is this chicken or veal?" I asked regarding a breaded chop that had been the main dish. It turned out to be turkey. But the dessert was great.
"You must ask Palestinians about their stories," said our guide. "Every single one of them has a tragic story." Five million tragic stories? How sad. "And when you talk with them, please try to be tactful and gracious. They have a very hard life. They are constantly being harassed in every way possible. Palestine is a pressure cooker right now."
October 23, 2005, 4 am: The muezzin just made his call. "Prayer is better than sleep." Am I a good Muslim or what? My tooth hurts. I had a nightmare about trying to deal with frozen dead bodies in Central Park. And I had an idea too.
Yesterday, the AIC speaker said, "They can't afford to carry out all the demolitions." Money is the key. I'll bet you anything that the reason "they" pulled out of Gaza is that "they" couldn't afford to continue to occupy it. So. What to do to stop the war on Palestinians? Do stuff that will cost "them" money. How? If in no other way than to have people constantly swarming the checkpoints. Happily trying to go through them so that the Israeli Defense Force will have to spend more hours on the job. Hey, it's an idea. We gotta think of something. Bethlehem is just a prison -- even if they do make good pancakes there.
It's 5:25 am. Can I go to sleep now? No. My body's time clock is all wrong. It's 7:25 pm back in Berkeley. See? I gots one of those watches that tells time in two places.
8:30 am: "Palestine needs to organize a soccer team so that they will have jerseys so I can buy one for Amy," I announced to our guide.
"I don't think that's going to happen," said our bus driver. "Gaza has a team but they aren't all that good." Rats.
Then we went back to the AIC in Jerusalem and got a lecture on the city's history. "There has been a city on this site for the last 5,000 years because there was a prolific source of water here but things got more interesting in 1000 BCE with the arrival of King David and King Solomon." Solomon built the first temple. "Then there was the exile to Babylon and Cyrus the Persian allowed the Jews to come back and they built a second temple, destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. At that point Jews were not allowed to live here and the city became a place that Roman veterans retired to." Sort of a first-century Florida. "Then the Muslims conquered Jerusalem in the seventh century." 88 years of Christian rule in the eleventh century was the only non-Muslim break after that until after World War II except for the British mandate.
"The British were here for 30 years. They were very pro-Zionist at the beginning but then they changed their mind. Then World War II and the Holocaust put pressure on the British and the 'War of Independence,' also known as 'The Catastrophe' or 'The Disaster' if you were a Christian or Muslim Palestinian -- finally caused the British to leave. Then in 1967, Israel annexed the West Bank." Or not. "The Palestinians were offered Israeli citizenship but no one took Israel up on it at that point." Then the lecturer said something that confused me -- something about that being an Arab-Israeli citizen wasn't a permanent status and that they were not allowed to vote or own land. Then what's the use of being a citizen?
"Palestinians cannot build here legally. It is impossible. However, the wages and healthcare are much higher in Israel so it is an advantage to live here so many Palestinians stayed. They are now 34% of the population of Jerusalem."
I asked the lecturer what the percentage of Jews to Palestinians was in Israel. "Something like 55% Jews." But someone else told me there was a six million total population in Israel including one million Palestinians and others. Plus four million Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. So I think that it's actually 50/50.
Here's a trivia question. "Where does the cement used to build The Wall come from?" Ireland. Who'd have guessed.
We also talked about Russian immigrants. "Over a million people have come from Russia." That's one-sixth of the population. Who could blame them? It's warmer here!
"Is it hard to lean Hebrew?" I asked. "Or do they still speak Russian?"
"There are Hebrew-intensive courses open to everyone who moves here." I should move here. With my memory, teaching me a foreign language would present them with a real challenge!
Then we left the AIC office, walked over to the wall of the Old City and saw lots of moats and walls left over from Crusader days. History! Wow! Then there we were at the Jaffa gate. Here I am at the historic Jaffa gate! Me and Jesus. As Amy says, however, "I got 2 pee!"
Sidebar: "There are homeless people asking for spare change on every corner of every big city in America," I asked our guide. "I don't see any homeless people in Jerusalem. Are there any?"
"Not really. Israel is a welfare state basically. Housing and healthcare are provided. But we do have some drunks -- mainly Russians who miss Russia and are not able to adjust." They actually missed cold weather? And why does the U.S. government pay for healthcare in Israel but not in California? That's not fair!
The first thing I noticed as we entered the Old City through the Jaffa gate was that there were a lot of men in top hats and gaberdine walking around. "What are their sideburn curls called?"
"Do they have to cut them off when they serve in the army?" I asked a passing soldier.
"Yes," he said and laughed. I laughed too.
Our guide said, "The religious not only don't have to serve in the army, they are paid -- and paid well -- so they don't have to work at all and can spend their days studying Talmud. And they have lots of children and treat their women terribly." From the look of all the men on the streets, they weren't spending much time studying Talmud. What a racket. Plus they incite for a Jewish homeland but don't have to actually get out there and fight for it? That's just like the American so-called Christians who have "better things to do" besides serve in Iraq. I hate hypocrites.
Now every time I see an Israeli religious in full drag, I just think, "That guy's on welfare." And Americans are paying for it too.
Our tour of the Old City is turning out to be a real dud. Our Old City guide talks too much, says nothing and has spent most of our time so far looking for a coffee shop. I mean, the Old City is rather small, has the most historical stuff in the world located within its walls and this guy is focusing on showing us where to buy the best lattes?
What's with that?
Finally, after spending an hour at the coffee shop, we popped off to the Church of the Sepulcher. It was extremely medieval -- having been built by Crusaders after all. Lots of big stone blocks. Definitely a must-see. Our guide gave a long-winded speech while I pretended that I was back in the day. That was not hard to do. All I needed was a lute and a whipple -- although apparently the Crusaders left all their ladies home and merely consorted with the local girls.
Sorry, Amy. I managed to get a little bit lost again -- but suddenly ended up on my knees in front of the marble slab where Jesus had been laid, inside the Holy Sepulcher itself. Another deeply moving experience.
I finally found our group again and we moved on through the narrow streets of the medievel Old City. "And now we are in the Muslim quarter," said our guide, "but in the middle of this quarter is a yeshiva for orthodox Jews. Jews used to live here and were thrown out. Now it has been returned to the Jews."
Someone else on our tour told me that Arabs had lived here for generations and one day they came home to find they had been thrown out and their belongings were sitting on the cobbles." Wait. I'm confused. Did the Jews get thrown out? Did the Muslims get thrown out? Whichever the case, this area is guarded 24/7 by the IDF.
Then we rounded a corner and ran smack-dab into a terrace overlooking the Wailing Wall, with a huge plaza filled with devout Jews. What a sight! With the Dome of the Rock visible on the other side of the Wall. Perhaps I've been too hard on Jews and they really are devout and not all just charlestons looking for a cushy con.
Hasids in eastern Europe used to have such a wonderful tradition of Rebs and miracles and humor. How did they end up here? Being right-wing religious fanatics? How does anyone end up a religious fanatic? The two terms are in total conflict. Religion should equal peace and toleration.
There must be thousands of people down below us, waiting their turn at the Wall. I wanna wail too!
Boy I'm seeing a lot of baby mamas here. "Do they have that many baby mamas in the Muslim quarter or is it just the Jews?" I asked.
"It's true of the Muslims too," said our main guide. "They start even earlier. A 14-year-old bride is not that uncommon." I guess the Jewish baby mamas are more visible as they trot along three paces behind their husbands and with four or five children in tow. The daddies can't be all that old either. The happy couples will be grandparents by the time they are 35. I can't imagine being stuck at home with five kids at the age when one is just becoming old enough to drink legally and vote.
"The member of the Knesset we were going to visit has just called to cancel," said our main guide, "so instead we have a treat for you. Our Jerusalem guide will drive you around for an hour." The one who spent the morning looking for a coffee shop was going to show us around Jerusalem in the middle of rush hour traffic? Why am I not thrilled.
So. What did we see? Nothing. But then we got out and walked. Walking was good. "Here is the city center." It looked just like every other city center anywhere. Big wow. I wanna go back to the Old City. I can see nondescript buildings back in California.
Then the guide redeemed himself by taking us to an "ultra-orthodox" neighborhood and we met some orthodox Jews. Some were very nice. One told us to leave because we were disturbing them. I asked one about his fur hat.
"It's made of mink tails because in Europe, Jews couldn't afford mink -- only the tails. I only hope I can afford one for my children. These hats are quite pricey."
There were tents outside every house. They were light and airy and made of fabric draped over wooden frames. I asked why they were there. "Once a year at Succot we live out of doors in order to show our trust in God." How nice. But if they trusted in God so much, why do they attack the Occupied Territories so much?
I stopped and chatted with an orthodox family. They were really nice and the husband and wife seemed to really like each other. They appeared to be approximately 45 to 50 years old but both of them had been born in Israel. "Do you like living here?"
"Yes, we do."
"I thought orthodox wives were supposed to wear wigs," I said.
"I am wearing a wig," replied the wife. It was a fabulous wig and looked quite real.
We walked deep into a large apartment complex. It seemed like a quiet, peaceful wonderful place. People seemed to be happy here. "So why would these people want to put all this wonderfulness in danger by seizing Palestinian land? Why don't they jut stop the land grab and live in peace?" asked someone. Greed. I guess that's the same reason why George Bush is risking destroying America in order to make a few people filthy rich.
Then we got lost and ended up walking through a very large cemetery. "Shortcut through the graveyard!" Then we went to a bird sanctuary next to the cemetery.
"If you are a bird migrating to Africa over Israel and you see our little patch of green here, you may think that it's a great place to land. We plant trees and flowers that attract them. Our bird sanctuary is like a gas station for birds. All the birds of Europe and many of the birds of Russia fly over Israel in order to avoid flying over the Mediterranean on the west and the desert in the east." That's amazing.
Because the sanctuary has researched bird flight patterns so thoroughly, bird flu scientists are very much in contact with them.
"And here is the Supreme Court and the Knesset," said our guide. The Knesset is the Israeli equivalent of our Congress. "Both of these buildings were donated by the Rothchilds."
As we walked back to the bus through the warm evening air and watched families stroll through the rose garden, I finally fell in love with Jerusalem. What a shame it is being threatened from within. "Israel is supposed to be a safe haven from the Holocaust," said our guide. And it is. But its leaders appear to be doing everything they can to push the Palestinians into the desert -- or worse -- and are giving them no choice but to die fighting back.
8 pm: "How do you phone the United States," I asked another American in our group.
"Dial 0131 and then the area code." Now I need a phone card and a phone and it will be all good. Then I can wake young Amy up at 10 o'clock in the morning. That girl loves to sleep in.
Unfortunately, however, by the time I found out where to buy a phone card in Bethlehem, bought the phone card and spent 20 minutes trying to use it -- with the help of five grown men and a boy I finally succeeded -- it was almost noon in Berkeley. "Amy! It's your mommie!"
"Monique invited me and my boyfriend over to dinner tonight. He doesn't want to go but he's going."
"Anything else new? Any interesting mail?"
"No but I got your e-mails. They're funny."
"So e-mail me back. Duh."
"Okay." Then our four minutes were up and that was that. Amy sounded so Amy -- even from 6,000 miles away. Do I miss Amy? Yeah, I guess I do. But this trip is really going well so it's not as painful as I thought it would be to not have her along.
October 24, 2005: It's my son Matt's birthday! 26 years old. Thank goodness. "I'll never live past age 25," he once told me. Whew! He was wrong. He made it!
This morning we visited Bethlehem University, an amazing place. Seeing all those students was the most hopeful thing I have seen on this trip so far. The students were bright, the teachers were excellent and the campus was impressive. "The tuition here is $1,000 a year. The women live in dormitories but not the men. The men used to live in a dormitory but the IDF would raid it regularly and arrest 20 or 30 students at a time. It was like being a rat in a trap to live there." Also, students miss classes due to the checkpoints. " A trip from home that used to take 15 minutes now may take four to six hours."
From 1989 to 1991, students were not even allowed to enter the campus and the IDF shot and killed one of the students. "We held classes in homes, stores and mosques." This was during the First Intafada, which consisted of civil disobedience.
"During the current Intafada, we have faced hard times but haven't closed down for long periods like during the first one. But because there is almost 60% unemployment in the West Bank, it is hard for families to afford to send their children here." Because getting arrested is such a common and arbitrary occurance in Palestine, students who have been jailed are allowed to come back and make up their work without academic penalties.
The courses at the university are taught in English and so students must pass English tests to get in as well as getting high A-Level test scores. "All the closures and curfews for the last five years in the feeder schools have been hard on the students' ability to qualify for the university."
At the university library, up in the fourth-floor reading room, there was an exhibit of antique Palestinian handcrafts. There was also a big hole in the wall. "This damage was caused by an Israeli anti-tank missile on March 9, 2002." It went right through a foot-thick wall built of re-bar and concrete, causing a hole approximately two feet in circumference. The library staff had covered the hole with clear plexi-glass and made it a part of the library exhibit too.
Then we all stuffed onto a small bus and drove off to a UN refugee camp. I had imagined there would be tents and stuff but it looked like a regular street scene -- concrete houses, shops and children in school uniforms and backpacks walking home from school. "These refugees came here from Israel in 1948 after being driven out of their homes. At first they didn't build permanent structures because they thought they were going to be allowed to return but it's been 50 years and they are still here. Some have moved out of the camp but some still stay here."
As we walked by a storefront, we saw UN workers distributing flour and beans. then we walked around a corner and up a hill. "This house was bombed by the Israelis," one resident told us. "They come here every night. There, across the valley, you can see more new Israeli settlements being built. Fanatics live up there, only interested in colonizing here, not in leading normal lives."
There are 15,000 people living in this particular refugee camp. "There were tents here in 1948 then in the late 1970s they started moving into permanent housing." They lived in tents for 20 years? In 140-degree heat? That sucks eggs.
"The main problems here are overcrowding and lack of money. No jobs. Drugs are not a problem. Healthcare is provided by the UN. The average age here is 14 to 36. Some of the older people here still have the keys to their old homes in Jerusalem, still hold on to the hope that they will someday return to them."
Apparently, the Israelis have also taken most of the water. "Every day they pump millions of cubic meters from the aquifers on Palestinian lands and send it off to Israel. We only are allowed water once a week here but Israelis casually use Palestinian water for their gardens, dishwashers and swimming pools." Geez. I need to take shorter showers back at the hotel! "And the water that is supplied to the camp is contaminated by hepatitis and sewage."
"When the Israelis want to pass any laws against Palestinians, they try it out on the camp here first because they know the people here are intellectual and if they protest then the Israelis know that all of Palestine will protest too. This camp is a test case."
Several years ago, Pope John Paul II visited this camp and the leaders here told him that they wanted peace with Israel. The Israeli answer to that was to kill two people here within the next few days. "But the people here are very peaceful and friendly to anyone who arrives without a gun. They would never allow you to be harmed." And the resident was right. The school children smiled at us on their way home from school and the adults said hello and some stopped to practice their English on us.
"Where are you from?"
"Berkeley." Most of the people here are originally from West Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. There are refugees here from 54 different villages as well.
I asked the resident who was showing us around if the refugees had been violently thrown out of their homes or just told to leave. "The evictions were very violent," replied the resident. "Before the British Mandate, everyone in Palestine got along. Every village had a church, a mosque and a synagogue -- all the inhabitants had descended from the ancient Canaanites. Then the Zionists came and started agitating and trying to create friction between the groups. The Zionists claim there were no people here before they came, but there was much conflict after the Zionists arrived so there must have been people here -- there can't be a conflict without people to be in conflict." Over a million people were forced to leave their land after a series of massacres.
"Thousands came to this camp and lived in tents at first. Everyone who was able to work went out and found jobs and built homes and gradually the tents were replaced. A sewage system was set up in 1998. The pavement you see here is recent too. Before the sewage system was put in, people suffered from cholera."
All this talk about housing reminded me that I needed to go on the internet and search for a hotel room in Paris for my return-flight stopover there.
"When we see all the new settlements and swimming pools and freeways being constructed for Israelis and nothing for the Palestinians, this creates a lot of resentment."
All this talk about tents is getting to me. The Israeli Jews are making such a big deal about celebrating Succot and living in tents once a year for a week and this is considered to be an act of holiness -- and here the poor Palestinians have to live in tents for decades. Perhaps the Israelis think that the Palestinian tents are holy too? The Palestinians must find this very insulting.
Next we went to visit a local community group in Bethlehem that worked to promote conflict resolution. Their rep was really glad to see us. "In our struggle to try to promote non-violence in our community, having people from the outside come to visit helps us to realize that we are not alone. It really helps. What we are doing here is to also promote non-violence on an individual level as well as nationally and internationally. The economic and political situation in Palestine is terrible. There is a lot of anger and frustration caused by the political situation here, but it is being re-directed inward toward family and local society." The rep then mentioned that he was a Palestinian Christian and that his family had been Christians here for the last 2,000 years.
"We inject people with hope. Hope has two faces -- risk and promise. There is a risk continuously on every level. It is a risk to give dignity to everyone in the conflict and to seek justice."
This group tries to contribute to the reduction of violence and to promote communication. Plus they also served us a knock-out lunch: All kinds of meat and vegetable piroshkis and baklava and fruit. Giant grapes!
"When I traveled to England," said the rep, "I went everywhere without an ID. Here, we measure our lives in terms of checkpoints. We can go nowhere without passports -- not even to the corner store. It is a theft of spontaneity."
The group works a lot with teens, whose anger is greatest, and also with women. "This is a very patriarchal, male-dominated society and the more the men are pressured, the more domestic violence there is." The group mediates problems as well -- issues that used to go to the courts.
"The people here are traumatized -- and not post-traumatic stress either. It is ongoing trauma. Here is an example. There was a boy near here who was frantically searching for marbles. Why? To put them in the toilet. Why? Because the boy next door to him had marbles and the IDF came and arrested his older brother and demolished the house because that boy threw them at a soldier and this boy didn't want to cause this to happen to the family he loved." Apparently trauma is big around here.
"And the only two psychologists in left in Palestine just moved abroad."
Last year, the group hosted over 1,000 children for Christmas. Why? "Because in Palestine, the Grinch always tries to steal Christmas."
The rep keeps his spirits up through faith and work based on hope. "The biggest the challenge is The Wall. 70% of the Palestinians' land has been confiscated. People here depended on Jerusalem for everything and now they can't go there. .05% are given permits to go there. Jobs are there. And many men are in prison now for trying to get to work in Jerusalem illegally."
Health problems: Stress-related diseases are sky-rocketing such as heart attacks and high blood pressure. Job creation is a major project. 76% of the people in Bethlehem live on less than $2 a day.
"But our biggest problem here is displaced anger. This is what happens when there is economic devastation -- fights start over things that wouldn't even matter under other circumstances."
The canton/Bantustan situation is breaking the Palestinians into smaller and small prisons. "And the anger is growing because of it." One Hamas politician stated that he was willing to let go of the Hamas position of destroying Israel if the Israelis would move out of Gaza and the West Bank. The result? The Israelis threw him in prison. This type of blatant injustice does not make Palestinians happy campers.
"Non-violence is the only future for the Middle East," the rep stated. "The Middle East is too small to be even considering the use of nuclear weapons. We must model to the world the use of non-violence. We must use anger but not hate. We must attack the sin but not the sinner."
When we got back on the bus, I asked the driver about the price of gas. "Around $5 a gallon."
Then I toured the Church of the Nativity with our group and we got the whole story of the Israeli siege on the church. "400 people including tourists, militants, locals and school children were trapped here," said our guide. "The IDF sharpshooters picked off anything they could shoot at. Everyone slept on the floor in the main church and shared the priests' food for as long as it lasted. The church itself was damaged. Palestinians hoped there would be world outrage because Israelis were shooting at the place where Jesus was born but there was no outcry." I had out-cried! Trust me on that one! Back when that happened, I was truly pissed off! Just ask my Congresswoman and my local newspaper editor!
Then I went back into the nativity grotto again and braced myself for the same sense of awe that I had experienced when I had come here on my own the other day. It came.
In order to spend more time in the grotto, I chased after our group as they were leaving to go to some souvenir shop. "Here. Take some money. Buy me some souvenirs. I'll see you back at the hotel." Having effectively bought off our local tour guide who wanted us to buy stuff from his cousin's shop, I snuck back into my favorite place in the world.
8:30 pm: A man from Palestine who I had corresponded with for the last six years was supposed to speak to our group tonight but he couldn't make it and I was sorely disappointed. But when I asked who the replacement speaker was, I was delighted. It was another of my e-mail correspondent friends. "Jane, it's good to finally meet you," he said. Boy, did I give him a big hug! He talked about his non-violent group, the Palestinian Center for Reproachment Between Peoples.
"We wanted to get Israelis and Palestinians together because we believe that ending the occupation would be better for both sides -- better than fighting and killing and war. The PRC has lasted 12 years because the Palestinians support our work." They recently invited 25 Israeli families to celebrate Sabbat at Beit Shahor, the Shepherd's Field, on the east side of The Wall.
"Soldiers came and told the families that this was a conspiracy to kidnap their wives and children. Even the military commander for Bethlehem came and ordered them onto a bus but their rabbi said that even though the government had ordered them onto the bus, they had to obey God and they were not allowed to travel back to Jerusalem on Sabbat." End of discussion.
The Oslo accords gave everyone hope that peace would arrive. Money poured in to help peace arrive but it was a smoke screen for more home demolitions, land grabs, etc. "The world forgot 25 years of non-violent resistance to the Occupation including not paying taxes and other non-violent resistance. We sent a loud message but Israel and the UN ignored it." Even back during the British mandate, Palestinians had been trying to establish a state of their own, but no one helped them.
"Palestinians lost even more land after Oslo because the Israelis took more land than they were allowed. This whole conflict has been about land, so when Oslo took even more land, it lost all hope of resolving the conflict." As the situation stands now, the Palestinians have lost a lot of land and now they have The Wall as well.
At this point someone in our group asked a question and another member of the group stated that the first person asked too many questions. What? Even members of our tour group can't get along and right in the middle of a lecture on conflict resolution too!
"Israel had placed settlers in Gaza. Ariel Sharon was instrumental in putting them there and then he told them to leave. But before he told them to leave, Sharon met with George Bush and got a guarantee on The Wall and that settlements in the West Bank would become a permanent part of Israel. Basically, Bush gave Sharon his blessing to do whatever Sharon wanted in the West Bank. And that was the last nail in the coffin of the peace process." So. They gave up measly little Gaza in return for the jewel of East Jerusalem and the West Bank? That's the real estate bargain of the century!
Palestinians fully backed the Road Map -- that a viable Palestinian state would be established but this action put an end to the idea of a viable state. "Instead of a viable state, what we got was Bantustans and Apartheid." The massive settlements and settler freeways split the area up too much to be viable.
"Now we face a media problem," the PRC speaker continued. "People only know what the media tells them and CNN and Fox News only transmit partial reality, partial information. There is a false image being promoted that this is not a war on Palestine but only a benevolent occupation being met with violent and unreasonable resistance. But what we Palestinians are seeking is what everyone else is seeking: Freedom."
"After the Second Intafada started, the International Solidarity Movement tried to help us but they failed in one way because they couldn't get enough Palestinian people to join their demonstrations and make them really effective." The ISM was a non-violent group who tried to prevent home demolitions. Rachel Corrie was a member of the ISM. "The Israelis wanted to scare us. We thought that they would never shoot at internationals but when the Israeli Defense Force started shooting at the ISM in March 2002, Palestinians backed off because they knew that if the IDF wouldn't hesitate to shoot British and American citizens, they wouldn't even think twice about shooting Palestinians."
One of the core problems is that Israeli soldiers are trained not to see Palestinians as individual human beings. "One thing we tried to do was to make both sides more human to each other but IDF commanders wouldn't let the troops talk to us." The soldiers were told that Palestinians wanted to destroy the Jewish state and that most of the Palestinian fighters were foreign jihadists anyway. "But this fight is not a religious conflict. The Israelis made it that way. Many Palestinians are actually Christians."
The PRC wanted a one-state solution where everyone was treated democratically. "But that probably won't happen because it would mean giving up the Zionist state."
The issue of the right of return is also an important issue. In 1948, approximately 450 Palestinian villages were destroyed. 700,000 Palestinians were expelled. The Palestinian exiles in Lebanon are miserable.
"Israelis are not allowed into the West Bank because they are told it is a closed military operation but still many Israelis came here to be a part of the ISM. People risked their lives. Two people died. Rachel Corrie lost her life."
My friend was very hopeful about the divestment movement. "I am hoping that churches will spearhead it. The Presbyterian church has already divested as a result of the Hague decision that The Wall is illegal."
October 25, 2005: Today we got a guided tour of Bethlehem. "Here is the Apartheid Wall. It cuts Bethlehem off from the rest of the world. It is like a prison," said today's guide.
"No wall will stop us," said the graffiti. There was a drawing of a skeleton warrior painted by a visiting delegation from Chiapas, Mexico. Same fight, different battlefield.
We drove further along The Wall. "Here is the Aida refugee camp," said the guide. It was named after the Aida nuns whose convent was severely shelled by the IDF.
"This part of Bethlehem next to The Wall used to be a rich and thriving business area with 80 businesses that catered to tourists. Now all but eight are closed. Over there is the abandoned Intercontinental Hotel. Bethlehem has moved from grotto to ghetto."
We drove past Rachel's Tomb, a favorite pilgrimage destination for Israelis but off limits to Muslims. "Let's get some spray paint and write 'Corrie' after the word 'Rachel'" I said.
One tour member immediately answered, "I'm up for it!" but we chickened out.
Then we drove through the Bethlehem-Jerusalem checkpoint, another half-mile of no-man's-land and a tunnel. And then we found ourselves on an actual settler bypass road -- with barriers on each side to protect the settlers from rock-throwing children.
"Eeuuww. What's that?" Road kill? It looked like a dead sheep.
"Because we are on a tourist bus, we are allowed to use this bypass but no Palestinian private cars are allowed."
Up on the hill above us was a massive settlement bloc. You really can have no conception of how big these things are until you see them yourself. "This is Betari Liet settlement," said our guide. "It has 25,000 residents and is built like a fortress." It looked like one too, built on high ground to dominate the landscape. "The settlement blocs take land from the Bethlehem villages that used to be an agricultural cornucopia of fruit and vegetables for Jerusalem. Now all the land around the settlement blocs is fallow. And all the feeder villages to Bethlehem are being eliminated one by one. The goal is to isolate Bethlehem, surround it by The Wall and turn it into an urban ghetto like Warsaw." This settlement was all new. "It is mainly occupied by Americans; extremely religious Jews." I'd put the word "religious" in quotes if I were him. True religious people are tolerant and at least try to get along with their fellow-man.
Next stop: The village of Wadi Fuqeen, to visit a kindergarten. "This farming village of 1,200 residents was destroyed in 1948," said our local guide, "but it is the only Palestinian village ever to have been rebuilt." A sign outside the kindergarten declared that it was funded by World Vision -- not Israel. Israel only pays for settlers, checkpoints and troops.
"Because of further Israeli attacks on the village, we once again evacuated to a refugee camp in 1956. When we came back again in 1972, we started to rebuild. Now we are a Palestinian island, surrounded by Israeli settlements -- yet we receive no services from Israel."
The guide, a local farmer, talked about the settlements. "People live there because the mortgages are cheap, the condos are tax-free and they are very close to Jerusalem, an easy commute. And they discharge their sewage into our village fields several times a year -- a big river of sewage, destroying our crops. Our village has shrunk to one-sixth of its former size. The Israelis are talking about building a tunnel to connect us to the next villages. They want us to live like moles."
In addition, the village has disease problems, especially skin diseases for the children, as a result of the lack of sewage facilities here. Does Israel pay for the sewage lines in its conquered lands? Hell no. "And our springs and wells are being contaminated."
I'm starting to wear down. Too much to absorb. "The settlers who come down to the village to bathe in the springs always bring weapons. Settlers always carry guns. We are not even allowed to carry stones. The settlers' children call us names. The settlers try to drive us off the road." Then we got to meet the children at the school. Then our guide said something really shocking. "We cannot get internet reception here." Shudder! That's true deprivation! That woke me up.
The major difference between the settlers and the local Palestinians seems to me to be that the settlers have air conditioning and the locals do not. Can you imagine summer here without A/C? Not me. I'd waste away like a faded flower.
"The people who live on this land are the same people who lived here at the time of Abraham. They became Jews. Then they became Christians. Then they became Muslims. But they are the same Semite people." That's an interesting thought, one that Israelis from Brooklyn conveniently ignore.
"In the 19th century, the Turks declared that if a plot of land was abandoned for more than three years, it reverted back to the government. The Israelis are using this law to take Palestinian lands now. First they drive the locals off their land then they wait three years and legally claim the land for Israel." Okay. So when someone leaves their land from 70 AD to 1948, what does that mean? Laws are being juggled and fudged? You decide.
1 pm: "The road to Hebron is closed!" They just closed it five minutes ago. They just blocked off the city? That sucks eggs. "Four settlers were killed on this road last week and even though it turned out the killing was done by an irate settler man gunning down his girlfriend and three bystanders, they are still punishing the Palestinians. That sucks eggs too.
No, wait. Our bus is being allowed through. It's such an advantage to be a tourist! All the checkpoint guards give us big smiles. Everyone wants tourists to go back home thinking kind thoughts about Israel. I'll think kind thoughts about Israel when they move back behind the 1967 line.
One-fourth mile later we went through another checkpoint. "Things are so bad in Hebron," said our guide, "that the Christian Peacemakers Team have to escort the children to school to protect them from the settlers." Now the IDF is going through our luggage. "They said we could walk into Hebron but not take the bus -- or the bus driver." After thoroughly grilling the bus driver and our guide for an inordinate (and unnecessary) amount of time, the checkpoint guards finally let the bus through but we have to be out of Hebron by 4 pm or be forced to spend the night.
The bus driver then made a joke. At least I hoped it was a joke. "If you stay one night in Hebron, you have to stay there forever." Palestinians have a great sense of humor. They have to have one. Otherwise they would be doing a lot of crying. "We are always making up jokes. The guards asked me if there were any tourists on the bus and I told him no, that I was the only tourist."
The situation in Hebron seems to be very tense. "One time we were trying to get back to Hebron and a Christian Peacemakers Team member was waved on but he opted to stay with the Palestinians on the bus," said our driver. "We really appreciated that." Hebron is a big town and looks like Bethlehem -- once you get past the checkpoints, that is.
Oops. I take that back. Whole sections of Hebron are rubble, whole blocks at a time. But some of these places have been cleared off and grapes have been planted. That shows ingenuity.
The bus driver told us some Hebron jokes. "One person from Hebron went to the countryside, had his photo taken between two donkeys and sent it to his friend with the inscription 'I am the one in the middle,' written on the back. And do you know why Hebron people never shut the door when they go to the toilet? So no one can see them by looking through the keyhole." Hebron people are very industrious and hard-working, the driver added. "They make beautiful glass. And they have gone through much hardship."
We parked on one of Hebron's main streets, in front of a chicken shop, while we waited to be met by a member of the CPT. The man who ran the shop held up a bunch of headless chickens and them plucked them for our benefit. It was like watching that chef guy on the Muppet Show.
"Now he's draining the blood out," said one of our tour members, broadcasting a play-by-play description of what was happening to the chickens. "Now he's rinsing them. Here comes a customer." Looks like the price of a plucked chicken is 13 shekels.
The CPT person arrived to walk us into the Old City. "Hebron is the site where Abraham bought land to bury his wife Sarah. When the Jews were expelled from Spain in the 16th century, they moved here. It is the second-holiest site in the country, and after 1967 some of the more crazy Zionist zealots ended up here. In 1994, a Jewish extremist went into a mosque here and shot 25 Muslims." Apparently Zionist settlers have seized the Old City in the area of Sarah's tomb and are ready to fight to the death to keep Palestinians out.
Since the Zionist seizure of the tomb area, Hebron has been divided into two parts. "The part of the Old City where the Jews live is under tight control with 2,000 IDF soldiers guarding it." And apparently the city of Hebron is forced to pay for all this. "It is extremely expensive to Hebron to maintain that kind of control over this area."
This CPT's job was to keep Palestinian children safe on the way to and from school. "School children here walk through two checkpoints and a metal detector just to get to their school. Soldiers constantly come through this area to search and seize homes."
We hurried through the noisy streets of Hebron to get to the Old City before our curfew. That part of the city did look like it was built around Abraham's time. Then we went through a checkpoint and metal detector set up in the middle of a cobbled street. On one side of the checkpoint, we were in a very ancient, crowded and noisy Palestinian marketplace but when we came out the other side, we suddenly found ourselves