Monday, April 14, 2014

The Last Tangible

This week, the last parcel arrived, the last tangible from Palestine. We had mailed it from the post office near the Old City in Quds, using a kit purchased at same. This consisted of a box, some stout string, some tape, and a plastic bag into which everything could be put before sealing the box. 

I will say that the Israeli postal system is quite good--inside what is considered Israel. More on that in a while.

Careful not to be carrying anything that might give us trouble when leaving Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv, we had mailed all the "incriminating" things like documents, our EAPPI vests, a Palestinian cookbook, a shirt speaking of Palestinian Right of Return, as well as some other clothing we would not need right away in Canada. Everything. 

"8 weeks to three months!" the postal clerk explained, when we paid for postage--cheapest, meaning slowest. It would have cost us nearly $50 Canadian to mail it at a faster rate.

So we sent it off and came back home ourselves. We were soon rewarded with the other packages, mostly of documents and cards and notebooks, that had been sent by air. Everything arrived in perfect order.

Weeks went by. No last parcel. We wondered if it got crushed, its contents spilled--I am a former postie, and I have seen things like that happen firsthand. Finally, on Thursday last week, it came, close to the three months. No problem. All was well. The last tangible from Palestine.

We looked at our vests, put aside a gift we had sent for a local friend, pored through the cookbook and prepared a Palestinian-style meal. Welcomed the last tangible things. The intangibles, in the form of memories and experiences, both good and bad, remain with us still. We have done 6 presentations on our experiences and on the situation in Palestine, and at least that many more are planned, both here and in the United States.

On Friday, I got an e-mail from the publisher of the seniors' paper for which I write. He thanked me for the Christmas card, which had just arrived. It had been mailed just after Christmas, and arrived April 11, bearing a Bethlehem postmark. 

Postcards are not high priority mail, and never have been, especially since the mechanization of mail services began. As well, mail from outside of the country of origin, regardless of its destination, does not enjoy and never has enjoyed much priority. This is just as true of Canada as of Israel.

Bethlehem is in occupied Palestine, on the other side of the Wall border between Palestine and Israel. Quds is considered annexed (illegally by international law) and therefore a part of Israel. Mail from the Quds East Jerusalem post office is therefore given country of origin priority. Mail arriving from Bethlehem is considered foreign origin. Trouble is, it has been next to impossible for the PA to set up a working postal system given the occupation, and, to be fair, its own corruption and incompetence. 

For all that, I am grateful that our package arrived, with the last tangibles from Palestine. And that the postcard arrived at the home of my friend. At all.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Encounter in Palestine

He's maybe 30,
walking up the hill
at the sunlight,
at me,
who he does not know,
at being alive.

he claps his hands
together, smiling,
opening his mouth,
"No soldiers today!
It's a good day!"

Monday, March 24, 2014


Aziz does not look for Mimi
when he opens the steel shop door
in the Old City a few minutes' walk
from Damascus Gate, 
through narrow stone-paved paths
between shops and shops and shops
like Aziz's except that they don't
make and sell camel leather purses
and briefcases and jackets--
well, some do, perhaps, somewhere
else in the Old City of Quds, but that is 
another story.

He knows that she will most likely
be sleeping on a pile of leather scraps, 
or curled up under the small tv 
on some back copies of Al Quds newspapers,
as he opens the door, stretches,
switches on the sewing machine,
clicks the tv remote, starts in on
the new orders for purses or jackets--
there is one for the guy from the Phillipines--
while people walk by, or a motor scooter
or a utility vehicle navigate noisily 
past his shop let into the wall of the 
Old City of Quds that the Yehudi
and the internationals call Jerusalem.

Mimi reminds him of his younger sisters,
the way they used to play and squabble;
he unconsciously smiles, thinking of them,
anxious for them, anxious for his father
and mother, for the shop that
the Israeli tour guides herd their customers quickly by because, as the guides tell their customers,
"The Arabs will cheat you!"

Mimi, who had no name when
the international woman found her
gaunt and sick near the Damascus Gate,
vulnerable to the other feral cats,
awakens, perhaps because of the sound
of Aziz's smile, tugging her from a nap
and a dream, perhaps of food, 
or a nightmare of the vague hungry time
before the woman took her to Aziz,
who fed her, gave her medicine.

Mimi stretches, sticks out her tiny tongue,
which widens the man's smile into a grin.
She will amuse herself playing huntress
of dust motes, will ask for food, sip water,
her tail twitching as she watches
the humans' feet as they slap
the hard stones of the street beyond
her home, her place of trust,
her place of safety with Aziz,
whose name she does not know 
any more than she knows her own.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

What was really going on...

Israeli soldiers at the village of Al Khadr, south of Bethlehem. Obstensibly there to prevent stones being thrown at settlers, the soldiers are known to deliberately provoke violence by attacks on the schools and villagers.

Readers of this blog may be forgiven for thinking that all we were about in Palestine and Israel was tourism. This is true to some extent--we certainly did some touring, as you have no doubt seen.

What we were really about--our primary purpose--was human rights monitoring and protective presence for those under Occupation, under the auspices of the World Council of Churches and the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel. This entailed being present at checkpoints at peak hours (about 4:30 AM to 6:30 AM) to monitor treatment of Palestinians going through to Israel; responding to emergencies such as house demolitions, settler violence, and Israeli Defense Force violence against Palestinians; reporting weekly and as needed to the United Nations through the World Council of Churches. One more thing: advocacy, perhaps the most important activity of all.

We are mandated to speak out about what we experienced there in order to create awareness in our fellow citizens to put pressure on the Israeli government and military to end the Occupation and to conform to international law. We Canadians can hang our heads in shame at our government's idiotic pro-Israeli stance, but we individually may do something to counteract it.

To that end, I already have another blog, , where you can see what was really going on at the time. Occasionally, I'll post relevant pieces here as well, but I will try to avoid cross-posting.

Checkpoint 300, the largest between Israel and Palestine, in Bethlehem, at 5:30 AM. Over 5000 workers pass through this checkpoint in some 2 hours. Like all checkpoints, 300 is operated capriciously, resulting in tremendous frustration on the part of the workers.

Not that the "tourist" pictures are faked or anything: every site we photographed, we visited and took in. As Ecumenical Accompaniers, we were able to travel and be tourists on our days off, so we did just that. 

Palestine is a place under siege, and no matter what "peace initiatives" are tried, nothing is going to change until Israeli government policy and actions change. We hope to play a small part in that.

Friday, February 14, 2014


On a noisy, drafty airport shuttle bus,
in my arms I carried a question.

When I opened the hotel door, the question had wriggled
in my arms, trying to escape.

At the cabin door, under the stewardess's eye,
the question refused to get on the plane.

In the room where I unpacked everything,
answers lay everywhere, some with bloody jaws,
gazing expectantly at me.

Nearby lay the question, gazing up into my eyes
with no expectations, dying.

Some of the answers started to leave--
I could not stop them.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Up early to fly

How we know it's time to go home... 

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Flying home

This bold fellow, which I believe to be a hooded crow, was keeping its predatory watch on a public park in West Jerusalem. I have always wanted to get some bird pictures, but the birds themselves are quite uninterested in keeping still enough long enough to be photographed. 

Except this fellow.

On one of my last days here, I was taking full advantage of the opportunity to get close enough for a decent picture of this fellow when I heard "Hello?" Hello!" from somewhere nearby. I paid no attention, as, being an international, I am aware that people aren't usually trying to get my attention, but someone else's.


A security guard was waving at me, calling out, trying to tell me, as it turns out, that no pictures were to be taken there. I pointed at the crow, then realized, as I did so, that the US Consulate was right across the street and that I had been unknowingly taking pictures in that direction.

I put away the camera.

On the day after tomorrow, we leave early for the Ben Gurion airport, to fly to Toronto. These days are filled with goodbyes and last-time realizations. There are the people we have encountered here, some of whom have become lasting friends. There is the little shop across the street from the hotel that serves fresh baked-on-site goodies and fine coffee every morning. There are the churches we have worshipped in, and the walks we have taken (once on the ramparts of the Old City), and a host of little things like the bold crow on the fence, afternoon tea, lemonade with mint.

I have mixed feelings, very much, about this. Three months has been a long time, and it is time to return home. But we are not sure if we will ever return here--at our age and on a retirement income, this stay may well be It. Of course, we are not eager to return to daytime temperatures of minus 17 Celsius and a half metre of snow on the ground. Jerusalem today hit 20 degrees Celsius (yes, you read that right), with of course no snow (or rain, either, and that Is a concern here, even if we like the sunshine).

So, we are nearly ready to return, to whatever awaits us back home. Certainly exhaustion, jet lag, disorientation, probably fragile sleep, will be the first things. They'll pass. But how we feel about this troubled, strangely beautiful land will stay with us for a long time to come.   

Saturday, January 25, 2014

It Doesn't Always Go Right, or, Why You Should Heed Guidebooks at Times...

The day started well: we resolved, three of us this time, to go up the Mount of Olives and walk across and down before returning through the Old City to where we were staying. Ambitious, but we used the local bus to do the donkey work of getting us up the Mount, which is a very steep hill indeed.

We walked through the beautiful Augusta Victoria hospital grounds, with incredible views to the east and south. We were even able to make out the distinctive shape of Herodion in the distance, past Bethlehem. The pleasant outlook even featured an outdoor altar stone for occasional church services.

So named  by Kaiser Wilhem II (for his wife), the Augusta Victoria hospital and walk-in clinic has beautiful grounds overlooking the east and south of Jerusalem.

Notice Herodion, Herod the Great's artificial hill stronghold, just visible on the right horizon, looking a bit like an extinct volcano. Note the difference between the desert hills beyond Jerusalem and the greener hills of the city.

On making our way across and downhill, we saw some magnificent vistas of the Old City and the Mount itself:

There is the Dome of the Rock (gold dome) and Al Aqsa mosque (dark dome, left). It was quite a spectacular view all round. We descended into the Gethsemane area, visiting the Prophets' Tomb (literally surrounded by private homes), and the Dominus Flevit (God Weeps) church on the way, then felt the need for lunch.

Across the street from the little restaurant, we spied yet another pilgrim's destination:

The decrepit Church of the Ascension (to the right in the image above), as it bills itself, is supposedly where Jesus ascended into heaven for the last time. His footprint is preserved (in concrete) on the floor of the church. Frankly, friends, it was not worth the few shekels' admission, there being literally almost nothing there of any value. It is poorly maintained and downright ugly. It didn't help that my one and only pickpocket experience here (fortunately, little of value was lost) happened just outside. 

Our friend, who consulted the guidebook religiously, read that the place was not worth a visit, but plunged ahead and paid our admission anyway. So there we were. Fortunately, we were only a half hour walk from the Lions Gate of the Old City and soon enough were back at our digs. 

Maybe the lesson is, obey the guidebook!  :0

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Where we've been: Jacob's Well

In the city of Nablus, to which we journeyed yesterday, there are two sites of potential importance, related to each other. One is the archaeological site, Tell Balata, associated with or actually, the Biblical city of Shechem. The other is Jacob's Well, described in both the Hebrew and Greek Testaments: the latter describes the story of Jesus encountering a Samaritan woman at the well and having conversation with her, near the city of Shechem.

Over the well site is a large Greek Orthodox church, to which we traveled. The well is at the back of the church, down a flight of stone stairs to a smallish room. The well top is more recent, of native stone with iron bar reinforcements and a crank apparatus to lower and draw up a tin bucket. The water is cold and drinkable.

Jamal, the caretaker, had let us in a full half hour before the regular visiting hours (thanks, Jamal!), and told us to listen by the well as he tossed some water from the bucket back into it. We counted quite a few seconds before we could hear the water splash below--the well is around 40 metres deep altogether.

No pictures were permitted in the small room, but the church was selling postcards showing a priest beside the well, prayerfully drawing water from it. 

I settled for pictures of the ornate sanctuary on the main floor of the church:

And of the gardens and grounds, which were very peaceful:

A beautiful place and a worthwhile trip.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Garden Tomb, a find...

I have mentioned being in places where Jesus walked and ministered, places like Capernaum, Kursi, and the Jordan at the south end of the Sea of Galilee. But there was one place where he had been, right here where we have been spending most of our time lately, that we had missed.

A friend in Canada had told us that the Garden Tomb was well worth the visit, but finding things in Jerusalem can be a tricky affair if you don't rely on the ubiquitous tour bus operators and taxi drivers. Even then...

We had decided on a supper at a restaurant, but wanted a walk first. On the walk, I happened to notice one of the brown and white tourist signs: The Garden Tomb. It turns out to have been right under our noses.

The Tomb's significance is twofold: it is right by the Golgotha hill (which is visible right outside the grounds of the Tomb),

and the other is the Tomb in question,

The Tomb, hard by the Golgotha hill, is thought to be that in which Jesus' body was laid after the Crucifixion. It satisfies several Biblical descriptions: the execution took place outside of what was then the city limits; the tomb belonged to Joseph of Aramithea, a wealthy man, and it was close enough to Golgotha to make sense for carrying a body for interment.

Joseph's tomb, if it was his, is unlike the majority of tombs in the ancient Middle East. While most were natural caves modified for the purpose, this was carefully chosen and hewn out of solid rock. It was in what archaeological digs confirm was a garden (with a wine press at one time) belonging to someone of wealth, as supported by several other indications. And the age of the Tomb and surrounding structures is just about right to match Jesus' time.

And there, just above, is the Tomb interior. The iron fencing is a later addition for tourism purposes, but one can clearly see room for several bodies as needed. The entire Tomb, including the anteroom from which this picture was taken, is perhaps 5 metres by 4 metres, by about 2.5 metres high (the doorway is of less height). 

The doorway itself is later: the original tomb would have had a sizeable round hole over which a stone could be rolled, and indeed such a stone was found on the Tomb site centuries ago.

Golgotha itself has an odd feature:

The "face" may or may not have been visible 2000 years ago (indeed, it has changed even in a few decades), but it lends an eerie air to the site. The top of Golgotha is inaccessible as far as we know. That said, an antique artillery piece is visible from below--perhaps that area is a museum of some other sort.

The Tomb site has probably the best souvenir shop of any we have seen, with pleasant but not pushy staff. 

We will soon leave the Middle East, but the stay has been well worth it. We have so much to ponder, so much to consider, for when we return home later this month.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

A Walk Through the Old City, Jerusalem

I had occasion yesterday to walk on a different route around the Old City of Jerusalem. I am more familiar with the New Gate area, Herod's Gate and Damascus Gate, but yesterday, I was taken around to the Lion Gate and the Dung Gate, making my Old City Wall tour almost complete.

Our route took us through and past the Al Yousafeah Moslem cemetery that seemed to stretch on forever. But considering the age of the city itself, the expanse of the cemetery is probably not really surprising. 

What my companion pointed out to me across the way, however, was surprising. Even after two months, I find myself geographically challenged, especially when it comes to Biblical places.

Consider the above: this looks like yet another treed hill in the city, but in fact that area is fraught with religious and historical significance.

To begin with, you are looking at the Mount of Olives. The church on the right is the Church of All Nations. To the left, enclosed by a wall, is a very significant piece of geography:

The above is the Garden of Gethsemane itself, adjacent to the Church of all Nations.

There is more:

This hillside road (Al Makdisi) leading from west to east toward Gethsemane is the road that the Messiah is thought to be taking when he returns to inaugurate the Reign of God. I counted 27 tour buses on that route, and when I asked my companion about it, he thought that people were there in anticipation of the abrupt and unheralded Second Coming: "They want to be the first to see Him!" he opined.

The above is the unused, bricked-up Golden Gate that is said to have been closed by the Muslim leadership centuries ago when Islam was surging and there was tension with both Christians and Jews. This is looking back at the Old City from the earlier views of Gethsemane.

Got a bit ahead of myself here: the above is St. Stephen's/Lion's Gate, which we passed before we got to the cemetery.

The area of the Western, or Wailing Wall. What you don't see is the metal detector stations for men and women (separate, though adjacent entrances), and the Wall itself out of the picture on the right. It was Shabbat, and no time to be taking pictures near the Wall itself.

I did not think anything significant historically about our path through the souk in the Old City once we were past the Western Wall area, but it turns out to have been very significant: no less than the Via Dolorosa (literally, the Way of Sorrow or Pain), considered the route that Jesus was forced through on his way to crucifixion.

I find, given the swarms of people in today's routes (preventing contemplation), and the question of how significant these areas have been (or not) in my faith journey, that I need to reflect on them more. What you read here is little more than marks on a map: the story is yet to be told in any detail.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Places We Have Been, Further

Monastere de l'Emmanuel, Bethlehem, Detail of sanctuary.

Monastere de l'Emmanuel, Bethlehem, Sanctuary

Angel, Monastere de l'Emmanuel, Bethlehem

Mini grotto(?), Monastere de l'Emmanuel, Bethlehem

 View of Bethlehem, Monastere de l'Emmanuel

Date palms, Old City, Jerusalem

Wall, Old City, Jerusalem

Interior, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem

Interior, dome, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem

Where Jesus was laid out after the crucifixion, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem

Us with creche at Notre Dame Hotel, Jerusalem

Enclosure of the tomb of Jesus, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem

Spreading the Gospel board game,
shop window, Old City, Jerusalem

Bahai gardens, Haifa

Angeli Pace, Stella Maris, Haifa

Courtyard, Stella Maris, Haifa

Vestry, basilica, Stella Maris, Haifa

Courtyard, Lutheran Christmas Church, Bethlehem