This past week has been incredibly eventful. I've added new photos to my Picasa collection on the lower right - where you can find all my trip photos including all the many things I saw over the weekend.
I'll start with a playground update. The build site is now at the Orthodox Club of Bet Jala, with a secondary build site at Osh Ghorab park in Bet Sahour. We may get to begin two playgrounds while I'm here. The Osh Ghorab site is incredibly beautiful and the municipality of Bet Sahour has been very helpful - I've met with the park planning engineer and I have a meeting with the mayor and the park's architect on Saturday morning. The Orthodox Club is also an amazing place - they are fully renovating the club from the bottom up to provide a public space for the children of Bet Jala to gather. Also - and this is the really exciting news - they're going to include a swimming pool! After meeting with their engineer, it seems that there is a lot of work to do but we will get moving as soon as possible. Either way, I'm driving back and forth from Bet Jala to Bet Sahour filled with joy, imagining the possibilities present at both of these sites. This project is a joy to work on - each meeting has been a pleasure - very few things are as life-giving as envisioning a means in which to provide children a safe place to play.
Last Friday was the 4th of July. I confess that the 4th is probably my favorite holiday. My father had a deep admiration for the "founding fathers" of the United States and I also revere our national history and our struggle for independence. Interestingly, many of the people I have met here in Bet Sahour also respect the U.S. struggle for independence. During the first Intifada in 1989, the residents of Bet Sahour staged a tax-strike. From the wikipedia article:
"During the first Intifada, the Palestinian resistance urged people to stop paying taxes to Israel, which inherited and modified the previous Jordanian tax-collection regime in the West Bank. “No taxation without representation,” said a statement from the organizers. “The military authorities do not represent us, and we did not invite them to come to our land. Must we pay for the bullets that kill our children or for the expenses of the occupying army?” The people of Beit Sahour responded to this call with an organized citywide tax strike that included refusal to pay and file tax returns.
Israeli defense minister Yitzhak Rabin responded: “We will teach them there is a price for refusing the laws of Israel.” The Israeli military authorities placed the town under curfew for 42 days, blocked food shipments into the town, cut telephone lines to the town, tried to bar reporters from the town, imprisoned forty residents, and seized in house-to-house raids millions of dollars in money and property belonging to 350 families. The Israeli military stopped the consuls-general of Belgium, Britain, France, Greece, Italy, Spain and Sweden when they attempted to go to Beit Sahour and investigate the conditions there during the tax strike."
I've seen this same bravery amongst the residents of Bet Sahour today. It is also important to remember that Bet Sahour is a predominantly Christian town - 85% of the people who live here are Christians. But they stand in solidarity with their brothers and sisters all across the West Bank in resisting the occupation. So I was excited to celebrate the Fourth of July here in Bet Sahour. To make it extra special, Robbie, Sam and I drove to Hebron to obtain some delicious, succulent, fresh camel meat.
Don't look at me like that.
It's not my fault you're completely delicious.
We had a bbq at Osh Ghorab and a festive time was had by all. Approximately half of the attendees were actually British so it was kind of an interesting Independence Day celebration.
On Saturday morning we left for Jericho and the Dead Sea. On the way to Jericho we stopped at St. George Monastery in the Wadi Kilt. It was a beautiful monastery, tucked away deep withing the ravine of the Wadi itself. It was built in the fifth century by John of Thebes. Afterwards we traveled to Jericho itself - a beautiful town set right against the Dead Sea. We saw the ancient ruins of the city from the time of Christ and earlier - Jericho is the longest inhabited city on the planet. We swam in the nearby Dead Sea. This part of the trip was a little rough, emotionally, because our guide and driver had to wait above while we went down to lay on the beach. Despite the fact that the Dead Sea is solidly in the West Bank, Palestinians are not allowed to swim in it. It was fun to float about a bit, though. The water stings like hell if you get it in your eyes or mouth.
At this point, Robbie, Sam and I separated and headed North for the Sheik Hussein bridge into the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. I was really, really excited to see the Jordan river - but it was actually kind of disappointing. The area is a DMZ - a demilitarized zone - so you can't really see what's left of the Jordan beneath the bridge because you're ferried across on a special bus. The Jordan River itself has been nearly drained dry by the Israeli National Water Carrier and the Jordanian government. It's also heavily polluted... very sad.
Once in Jordan, we spent the night in Amman, one of the largest cities I've ever seen. We took a bus in the morning to get to Petra where we met up with some Bedouin horsemen. They rented us some horses to get up behind Petra - we spent the rest of the day journeying through the ancient site (make sure to check out the photos). That night, one of our Bedouin friends let us stay in his cave and even cooked us dinner! Completely awesome.
In the morning we made our way out to Wadi Rum - a gigantic chunk of the Jordanian desert that hot, mountainous and inhospitable. We hiked around for a bit, climbed some canyons and spent the night in tents. After this we were ready to head home so we traveled to Aqabba and the crossing into Eilat, Israel.
Eilat is a beautiful Israeli city on the Red Sea - we spent time on the beach before catching the bus to Jerusalem. It was bizarre - moving through three countries in one afternoon - but eventually we made it back home to Palestine. My friend Stephen informed me that the following morning the would be lifting the curfew (house arrest) at Nilin - a village near our friends in Bil'in, so we decided to head up there to see what we could see.
When we arrived, the villagers had already left their homes to see the devastation that had taken place while they were under house arrest. The soldiers had bulldozed the nearby orchard to make room for the apartheid wall. Protests, marches and some degree of violence ensued.
Apparently, and AP reporter was present because it made the front page at CNN.com.
The IDF was really rough - people from the town were understandably unhappy to have had their orchard stolen from them.
I have some video of the event, most of it is pretty fuzzy but I'll try to post it later.
In the mean time - please continue to pray for everyone over here.