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Journal 5

After a two week homestay with the Kheir family and a one-week program coordinated by the MCC office in Beit Sahour, we have left the West Bank and are now in Jerusalem – several kilometers and a world away. We are staying at Jerusalem University College, a Christian teaching institution a half kilometer from the southern Zion gate of the old city, and we are taking a class on biblical archaeology and history. Tomorrow's field trip to the Judean hill country begins at 7:00 in the morning and continues until 5:30 in the evening.

I'm chewing on a fresh date (or is it a fig?). I'll share some highlights from the past three weeks:

Lots and lots of stories – some heartbreaking, and some amusing – of a life under what is called `the occupation': stories of classes being canceled, students being held for hours at checkpoints before being told to return home, of indiscriminate shootings and incidents at checkpoints, or of people being driven from their homes and never being allowed to return. Despite it all, Palestinians seem to take most aspects of the occupation - from the piddly inconveniences to the military threats to their physical safety - with a good dose of humor and resolve.

I visited an electrician who lives down the street from our classroom. He used to work as a camera technician for the Christian TV program – 100 Huntley Street, and he returned to Beit Sahour a number of years ago to continue doing media work in Jerusalem and to build a house for his family. As of 2000, when the intifada (resistance) began, his permit to travel to Jerusalem has not been renewed, and he lives from the earnings of his one-room appliance repair business. He can't afford to continue building onto the foundation of his house, and has been dipping into his savings in order to put his children through school.

A small boy lives in a third story apartment that I often pass on the way back to the hotel. As I wind my way through the steep cobblestone streets, he always asks, "Whash yur name?" I tell him my name, and he never fails to remind me: "I'm Shorge [George]."

We spent some time at a nearby refugee camp under UN jurisdiction and spoke to a Palestinian who was roughly my age. He spoke passionately of how he longed to return to his hometown (which has been under Israeli control since the establishment of the state in 1948) and how he wouldn't accept any peace agreement unless it enabled him to do so. After further questioning, it was clear that the man had never actually lived in his hometown – he had lived in the refugee camp for his entire life. The fact that he had never known anything but a refugee camp was sad, and perhaps sadder still that his dream of returning to his home was the legacy of the previous generation.

Going to a nearby home that was shelled with incendiary ammunition by an Israeli military outpost after some shots were reportedly fired at the outpost from someone in the neighborhood. According to our guide, the fire department arrived, but was shot at by the Israeli outpost. The incendiary ammunition caused a fire and burned the second floor of the house clean.

Hearing an American-born mother talk about a bombing by F-16 jets. The family lives across from the police station, and recalled how was it was bombed one night a few years ago. Her family took shelter in a cave underneath their home. The ground shook and the air was filled with the roar of explosions, and she explained that in those moments of the attack she was no longer able to protect her children, and she lost all of her compassion for Israelis.

Meeting with a man who spoke about the four times when his house was demolished because of two missing signatures on his zoning and construction permit. He hired a lawyer to defend him, and when pressed by the lawyer, the Israeli construction permits office responsible for managing the permit had lost the file, and the offending permit application was found to be missing.

Trying to get into the Gaza Strip. We weren't allowed in because the army hadn't run the necessary `security checks' on us. The next day, there was an Israeli incursion into Gaza to pick up some suspected militants, and a dozen or so Palestinians were killed in fighting (I'm not quite sure if all those killed or some or none were armed). Since then, more incursions have happened; some to round up suspected militants and others to prevent mortar fire being directed at a Jewish settlement in Gaza.

Visiting a nearby settlement and discussing politics with a settler. Our discussion with the settler about Jewish history and Palestinian culture was fascinating, and it revealed (to me, at least) my current understanding that this is a conflict of worldview. That is, the conflict has its roots in the unholy trio of tainted attitudes, misunderstood facts and deeply-held prejudices. Many of the students in our group came away with a bad taste in their mouths from their visit, perhaps partly due to the defensive nature of the settler, and perhaps partly due to the stark contrast between the settler's views and those of the students.


- Conrad Erb

Photo galleries:
(from most to
least recent)

Gallery 14

Gallery 13

Gallery 12

Gallery 11

Gallery 10

Gallery 9

Gallery 8

Gallery 7

Gallery 6

Gallery 5

Gallery 4

Gallery 3

Gallery 2

Gallery 1