Thursday, July 22, 2010

Final Reflection

Now I am home and it is time to end this blog. I chose in this year’s not to include my last week in Jerusalem. It takes time to write things up and get pictures ready and even just to think about what might be interesting to write about. But that leaves me with a few experiences, pictures and thoughts that I think are worth sharing.

One of the important places that I visited in Jerusalem was the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which is considered by several different religious groups to be the place where Jesus was buried and rose again. Pilgrims from all over the world travel to this spot to worship.  Priests from the Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic Churches along with several other Eastern Orthodox groups maintain the church.

While we were there a procession of Catholic priests started in one of the chapels. They chanted and proceeded around the various important parts of the church with clouds of incense. As they proceeded more and more people followed until they finally ended up at the location of the tomb.

I also noticed lots of people coming to the location of the tomb and lighting some special candles from a certain flame and then snuffing the candles out and putting them in a bag. I watched for a while and finally the Professor went and asked someone what it meant. Maybe you already know this, but candles that are lit at the site of the tomb are special and so when people come and visit they light a candle and snuff it out so that when they get home they can light it again. When they light it again at home it retains the special character of a candle lighted from the flame at the tomb.

One thing that made me sad while going through Jerusalem and especially visiting this important holy site was that my friends from Bethlehem could not easily come and visit it even though it is only 15-20 minutes from where they live. They have to apply to get permission to go there and it is often turned down. So sad. 

In Jerusalem we also visited several museums (The Shrine of the Book, Vad Yashem, The Citadel or Tower of David) that were extremely well designed and informative, walked around the ramparts of the old city, watched films at the Jerusalem Film Festival (in the heat of the afternoon), and even looked at an archaeological site on the side of the old city. 

I am glad I started out by visiting my friend Ruty and then had the great chance to stay with friends in Bethlehem. I am lucky to have a chance to get to know so many different people from different places. I hope I can be a bridge between them all.  

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Finishing up in Jerusalem

The last place that I visited in Jordan was called Jerash. It is a huge archaeological site. We had three hours there. I was not planning on writing much about the visit, but I cannot resist mentioning a few things. One thing that Jordan has is a lot of mosaic floors. This is an example of a skinny elephant mosaic that we saw at Jerash. I think I need to create a mosaic for my patio!

The scholars that I was traveling with were amazed at the size of the site and the amount of really interesting Greco-Roman ruins there. The first picture above shows our tour guide in front of the city gate. In general we tend to think that anything east of Israel is not that important, but there is so much to find and research.

We were also entertained by a show there with Centurions, Gladiators and Chariot Races. Even though it was just a small demonstration it was helpful to see what these things were like. The announcer (in English) said that usually a legion of soldiers was 5000 men, but there were probably 25 in the show. They showed several different formations and I thought it was interesting to see how they used their shields. 

After a few days in Jordan we have arrived in Jerusalem where we will be spending about a week. While I am here in Jerusalem I am not planning on regular blogging unless I receive comments and questions. I would be more than glad to go places, find things out and take pictures of places here. I hope to be hearing from you

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Amazing Petra

Yesterday was a long day. We went to a place called Petra, which means rock. It has really amazing tombs carved out of huge sandstone cliffs. We walked and walked and it was hot. Some people chose to ride horses, donkeys or chariots! We didn't! We walked. You could also ride a camel, but they didn't go very far. Petra is hard to describe, so I will put lots of pictures in the blog to give you the idea. 

Petra was a thriving city of the Nabataeans who lived over 2000 years ago. They settled near what is called Wadi Musa which means Valley of Moses, because there is a spring that is thought to be the place where Moses hit the stone and water came out. This was many years before the Nabataeans lived in this area. The Edomites lived here then.

Jordan is full of so much history. Almost everywhere you go there are remains of civilizations from before the Old Testament times, the Hellenistic Period, the Byzantine Era and so much more. 

In Petra there are tombs which were carved out of the sandstone by the Nabateans. They are the local people who lived in Jordan. There is also a huge Roman Temple with columns and big blocks of stone. It was amazing to me to see things here that were similar to what I have seen at Greece, Italy and even Turkey!

Click HERE to hear the flute player in the Rock Carving
The carving in Petra is stunning. It is amazing to think that people carved this intricately into the cliffs. Our guide explained that they started from the top and then carved enough so that they had a place to stand and kept working their way on down.
 You may recognize some of the scenery from Indiana Jones movie. This area was used as a backdrop for the movie. It is perfect because it is so dramatic. There was another movie being made when we arrived. There were a lot of soldiers with fancy uniforms on milling about and waiting for their scene to start.

We did not hang around to watch what they were doing, but kept walking up to the top at the end which is called the Monastery. Once we got to the top we could actually see over the whole mountain range down to the Negev desert. 

Friday, July 9, 2010

Even More Questions about Bethlehem!

Our friends from Wisconsin wrote a few more questions. I am now sitting in a hotel in Amman, Jordan and reading them. I have a few more posts with pictures of Bethlehem which I want to put up, but I will answer these questions first.

I am sorry that I am not with my friends in Bethlehem who would be the experts on the answers.

What types of beds do people sleep on?

The beds in the house that I stayed in was very similar to our beds. I think that maybe it did not have a box spring underneath and the mattress was harder. One difference was that instead of blankets and sheets like we are used to there was one blanket wrapped in a sheet (that was made sort of like a pillowcase. It was too hot to use this, so I mostly slept without covers.

If there is a shortage of water, what do people do for showers? For cleaning and washing dishes?

If people do not have water they cannot shower OR wash dishes. People definitely shower less often and in the house where I was staying (and I am guessing in most houses) they had a bucket in the tub so that you could save all of the water instead of it going down the drain. That water could be used to flush the toilet or to water plants outside. 

Most of the time people have some water, but there is not much pressure, so it trickles out. Now and then when there is NO water they have to buy water in big gallon jugs or maybe they have a family member in another part of town that has water and they can go fill up jugs there. At least then they can wash dishes and do sponge baths.  

Do people have air conditioning in their houses?

Most people do not have air conditioning. I did visit a house that had some air conditioning. I doubt that anyone has air conditioning in the whole house. If they have it they only have it in the living room. Some people have fans.

What types of jobs do people do in Bethlehem?

Lots of the jobs that I saw were people who had little shops that sold things or fixed things. For example, the brother of the woman I visited had a small shop fixing watches and he also sold new watches. There are jobs doing construction although not much construction is approved in Bethlehem and so there are not many paying jobs doing this. Some make things and sell them to tourists. There are hotels who employ desk clerks and people to clean rooms. There are taxi drivers, bus drivers, and tour leaders. There are restaurants with cooks. There is a university, so there are professors and schools with teachers. 

I have heard that unemployment is really high. I think that many of the jobs in Bethlehem depended upon tourists visiting and now that less people are coming there it is not easy. Most tour agencies stay in Jerusalem hotels and only come to Bethlehem for a short time. 

I did not see many beggars or any homeless people. 

Do families have pets? If so, what kinds of pets?

There were not many pets that I saw. However, one of the people I know has two bunnies in an outdoor cage. Some people have chickens. I think that those are more for eggs than they are pets. I did see cats and dogs, but they seemed to be outdoor animals that people fed outside.

Do people there have TVs? If so, what shows do they watch?

Everyone has a TV. The couple I stayed with were older, so I am not sure if the shows that they watched would be the same for everyone, but the TV was on most of the time. They turned it on first thing in the morning and even though they weren't watching Catholic masses were going on in the background of everything they did. They also liked to watch the news and what looked to me like soap operas or maybe ongoing adventure shows. These shows were made in Turkey mostly. They said that Egyptian shows had been more popular in the past, but now Turkish TV was better. Lots of people were watching the World Cup whenever a game was on. 
One thing that I thought was interesting was the observation that when you watched old Egyptian shows or movies from the 50s women were not wearing head coverings and the society seemed more open (men and women were relating more openly), but now it is different. Women in shows wear head coverings.

What American sports do people there know of? How do they know about the sports? Do people there watch the Olympics?

I wish I could give you a better answer for this. The couple I was staying with were not very interested in sports. Since the Olympics were not happening I am not sure if they were followed with as much interest as the World Cup of Soccer. 

What kinds of stores do people go to and what do they buy there? We are especially interested in what the kids buy.
This picture from

shows what the downtown shopping place looks like.

 Stores are smaller than what we are used to. Most food is bought from the outdoor market. This might be like the Farmer's Market if you have one. However it is bigger. There are all kinds of things that you can buy there including household goods like sponges and pots and pans. There is also goat meat hanging in shop windows and lots of eggs and chickens. 

In the outdoor market there are lots of boys with shopping carts (some like we have and others home made). They will take people's groceries from the market to their homes or maybe to a taxi. Most people walk from their home to the market and if they buy a lot it is hard to get it all home. They pay a small amount to these boys and get their groceries home that way. In this picture from you can see the boys with carts in the back.
What I saw kids buying was candy and soda. There are lots of small markets, like our mini-markets around and kids had pocket money and went to buy snacks. Junk food is becoming a problem there. Kids really like it and it is easier for parents to give them a little money than it is for them to fix a healthy snack. Does that sound familiar? 

Do any Americans ever come to visit or stay in Jerusalem? Only 2 of us have ever met anyone from Israel, so we are wondering if people there meet any Americans besides you?

I am not in Jerusalem yet, but I think that there are LOTS of Americans in Jerusalem. Many are tourists, but there are also Americans who have come to live in Jerusalem. 

This map shows how close Bethlehem and Jerusalem are. Jerusalem is in the yellow part (Israel) and Bethlehem is in the green part (Palestinian Territories) 

Thursday, July 8, 2010


I am writing this at Bet She’an, which is a small town in the Jordan River Valley with a long history and also a huge archaeological site. I left Bethlehem and rejoined the professor yesterday, but I still have a few things to write about to complete the time spent in Bethlehem. The professor and the group of other professors are off looking at the archaeological site and I am sitting in the shade writing. My first observation is the change in the atmosphere. There is no dust. I didn’t realize how dusty everything was in Bethlehem. Most of the time my hands felt dirty and there was no use cleaning my computer screen because it would just be dusty again in a few minutes. Bet She’an is at a higher elevation and not near the desert. It is also not as dry.

Monday, July 5 was my ‘second to last’ day in Bethlehem and it seems like we did more things than usual because of the lack of time. I wrote in my last blog post about growing up in Bethlehem because I had a chance to listen to a group of about 15 young people (high school aged?). I asked questions and they talked about their lives and hopes for the future.

One story that really stuck with me was the story of one of the teenagers. Her mother was the one who took us on the driving tour I describe below. She has Jerusalem residency. It is where she grew up and her family lives there. Her husband is from Bethlehem and is a resident of the West Bank. When they were first married that was no problem and they lived together and had six children. But in the last 10 years or so they have not been able to live together because she has to stay in Jerusalem or she will lose her residency there. With residency she has permission to travel back and forth in both Jerusalem and Bethlehem, but she can only be in Bethlehem during the day. Her husband and children have to get permission to go to Jerusalem and it is a hassle to get it. Sometimes it is turned down. They have spent years in court trying to get Jerusalem residency for the children so that at least they can stay with their mother. Recently they were very happy that the two youngest of the six were given residency. I cannot imagine trying to raise a family from two cities and not being able to go back and forth easily. The easiest thing would be for the mother to give up her Jerusalem residency, but that seems so wrong to me. Only a 15 -20 minute drive separate the family, but they are a world apart.

My friend took us on a driving tour of several settlements around Bethlehem. A settlement is a place where Israel is building apartments and houses and moving people into them.  The issue is that many of the settlements are taking land from the West Bank, especially around Jerusalem. There are 23 settlements around Bethlehem and 121 settlements in all of the West Bank (according to Wikipedia I am posting a few pictures here so you can see what they are like. They are permanent structures where very nice people live. There are schools and playgrounds. They are affordable for people to move into and Jerusalem is very crowded. The pictures show the Taxis at the Bethlehem side of the wall.

The problem is that they are built on land that does not belong to Israel. The land they are building on usually was Palestinian pastureland for their goats or agricultural area where they had olive trees or other crops. The rule (reported to me as coming from Israel) is that if the land has not been used in 3 years it is up for grabs and Israel can build on it.  However, shepherds are hassled and arrested and the water is controlled, so farmers are not able to water their crops. People have to get permits to build and most of them are denied. There was a lot of new construction in the settlements I saw. Sometimes Palestinians are compensated for their land, but most often it is just declared unused and built on. 

More people means more demand for the scarce resource of water.  I noticed that in the settlements there are no water tanks on the roofs. Water can be counted on and so there is no need to have a back up tank on the roof. I can feel how frustrating it is for people in Bethlehem to see these settlements beginning to surround the city when they are losing their livelihoods and their land and regularly have problems with the lack of water.

I hope you understand that I am writing this from the perspective of someone who has many friends on the West Bank and not for political reasons. The issues seem so obvious and yet I know that there are two sides to everything. If you are reading this and have some comments to make about other sides of the issue they are welcome. Please help me understand what is happening. 

I never felt in danger when in Bethlehem (except maybe from crazy drivers and I have felt that in many cities!). If you have a chance you should come visit and see for yourself. There are a lot of beautiful and interesting things in the West Bank cities and people are so hospitable and welcoming. It is also hard to understand the situation without seeing it.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Graduation

The Women and their Diplomas
I will post pictures as soon as I can. I was not able to take them because I was involved in the celebration. My friend Laura took pictures and will be sending them to me.

The Diplomas
One of the Women shows her Diploma
Gift from the Kids
This was a fantastic celebration. I can’t believe that I was only here two weeks and it worked out so well. USAID was very supportive of the computer class. This is a United States Agency for International Development and they have contributed to the Wi’am Center. They provided the computers and the desks and were very supportive at the graduation. They provided framed certificates for each of the women who completed the course and brought a sound system for the graduation. They also took lots of pictures and filmed the event.

On the morning of the celebration Wi’am was able to get a shade sail to cover a big portion of the back patio (see the picture). Since all summer it is so dry and hot it is like adding another room onto the building! Zoughbi Zoughbi, who is the director of the center, wanted to put up a shade sail, but he was concerned about having the funding. A few days ago he decided to go ahead and buy it and trust that the funds would come. Before he even had a chance he received notice of grants and donations that more that pay for the shade sail as well as helping out with the summer program. It was terrific to experience this all coming together.

Hedy making comments
Lorette Making Comments
I really enjoyed seeing the proud faces of the women were at receiving certificates and to talking to them. They felt that they had learned SO much. Some who had no email address now have email addresses and most of them have Facebook accounts and are my friends on Facebook! The kids were also there and presented me with a really nice gift, which is pictured here. They were also proud of the videos they made. I was able to present the Flip Video cameras to Wi’am and let them know they were a donation to the Center from the Austin Mennonite Church. I was really glad for that because I didn’t want to leave them with the idea that they were all from just me.

At 12 the Taxi came to get me and took me to the wall where there is a checkpoint from Bethlehem to Jerusalem. There is a way that people can walk across so that they can meet a car at the other side and also a gate for cars to drive through. When going on the settlement tour we all had to take a ride (often people take a taxi) to the gate. Then we had to walk through and meet another car at the other side. This time Carmen wanted to see if they would let her drive me through. She apologized and said that most of the time she is not allowed to take passengers across, so they have to walk and meet her again at the other side. She wanted to try to see if they would let us through first and so she took my passport (it was a benefit to be 55 for once!). We were allowed to go through, but only after one of the soldiers at the gate came with his gun and approved what had already been allowed. Then we had to stop so that they could look in the trunk and they had me open my suitcase.  What a crazy ordeal.

Now I am on to the next part of the trip. I am in Israel, but later today we will cross over to a different country, Jordan and see several interesting things and then a few days later it is back to Jerusalem before heading back to Austin.

Growing up in Bethlehem

A friend asked, "The earth, the ground looks white and dry... I'd like to know how food is grown, and what is the typical meal like?"

It is very dry here most of the time and so the ground is very dry. However, there are farms in different areas that produce many things. Right now it is the season for plums and grapes. I think that cucumber and tomatoes might be grown in hot houses, but they are also abundant. In the market you can buy watermelon, apples, plums, grapes, bananas from Jordan, eggplant, eggs, meat and chickens, and so much more that I can't remember. 

This is part of the reason that water is such an issue. For the farmers to grow crops they MUST irrigate and when there is no water the crops just die. There is just not enough rain to sustain most crops. You can really tell the areas that have water and those that don't. Land owned by Israel has plenty of water and so it looks more lush and green. For more information on the water issue look at:

A typical meal always has pita bread. Often there are things that you can dip torn pieces of the bread into. One thing I really like is zaatar which is thyme ground into a powder and mixed with sesame seeds and other things. There is also hummus and thick plain yogurt. They eat a lot of eggplant and make it in a lot of different ways. They also use lots of different forms of sesame seeds. Tahini is one of them. They mix it with cooked eggplant to make a dip. They also use lots of olive oil and eat olives. Lorette, the woman I am staying with is an excellent cook and most days that I was here she cooked something delicious for dinner. On Sunday she roasted chickens filled with rice and then served them with bulgar wheat (boiled and then cooked with sauteed onions), rice, yogurt and a plate of fresh vegetables. She also makes something that she calls upside down which is fried cauliflower, carrots, onions, and other things cooked with rice. For lunch we eat Shwarma (like a gyro, sort of) and falafel in pita bread. 

I was really going to write to you about growing up here, but I have gone on and on about food, and I could go on more! I will write more in the next post, but first I want you to think about what it would be like if your parents could not live in the same city, but had to live separated by only about 15 minutes drive. Maybe it would be like one of your parents was only allowed to live in Georgetown and the other lived in Austin and the parent who lived in Georgetown had to get permission from the Government every time he wanted to visit the other parent. The same with the kids! Enough for now...

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Children's Club and Games

Today is Saturday and all of the children came for the Children's Summer Program. I decided not to make any plans or give instructions because it is too hard without knowing the language. The kids taught me about a site that has LOTS of Flash games. I am putting a link to it below. The morning started with everyone in a circle singing the Palestinian National Anthem. I am attaching the audio file so maybe you can listen to it!  Here are the words:

My country, my country
My country, my land, land of my ancestors
Revolutionist, Revolutionist
Revolutionist, my people, people of perpetuity

With my determination, my fire and the volcano of my revenge
With the longing in my blood for my land and my home
I have climbed the mountains and fought the wars
I have conquered the impossible, and crossed the frontiers

With the resolve of the winds and the fire of the guns
And the determination of my nation in the land of struggle
Palestine is my home, Palestine is my fire,
Palestine is my revenge and the land of endurance

By the oath under the shade of the flag
By my land and nation, and the fire of pain
I will live as a Revolutionist*, I will remain a Revolutionist,
I will end as a Revolutionist - until my country returns

Revolutionist means one who risks his life voluntarily; one who sacrifices himself.

Here is a recording of the anthem that they played. At the end of the recording you will hear some of the kids singing a song they made up.
Listen HERE

The kids did many things. Some of them started by practicing a song that one of them had written about Wi'am. I hope I will get to hear more of it before I leave on Tuesday. Some of them played volleyball using a planter in place of a net. The picture only shows the kids standing at either side.

The Game Site is

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Trip to Ramallah

I am posting too often now to this blog, but I have a few pictures of a trip I took to hear some speakers at the Friend's Meeting House in Ramallah and the Bed and Breakfast where we stayed over night. The main speaker was Dr. Michael Sonnleitner, who is a Ghandi Scholar and then two Palestinians responded. Thuqan K. Qishawi who is working for the American Friends Service Committee as  the director of the Quakers Palestine Youth Program and Zoughbi Zoughbi, who is the founder and director of the Wi’am Palestinian Conflict Resolution Center were the two who responded. It was interesting to hear what they had to say about how Ghandi's approach does or does not fit the Palestinian situation. 

The Bed and Breakfast was very nice, especially the people who run it. It is run by a family. Here is the information in case you ever think of visiting Ramallah.

Khouriya Palestinian Family Guest House
P.O. Box 4507 Al-Bereh
Contact: Rawda Khouriya
Tel. 00972 (2) 281148
Cell Phone: 00972 (0) 599587476

Rachel's Tomb

  Rachel was a woman from the Bible who is very important. The story goes like this: Jacob wanted to marry a girl named Rachel, but her father said he could not marry her unless he worked for him for 7 years. So he did, but at the wedding the father substituted Leah, her older sister! Jacob had to work another 7 years to marry Rachel also (men married more than one woman back then). Leah had many children, but Rachel was barren, so she gave her maidservant to Jacob to have a child. Later she had two boys. All in all Jacob had 12 boys with his two wives and two of their maidservants. They became the 12 tribes of Israel.  "In Jeremiah 31:15, the prophet speaks of 'Rachel weeping for her children' (KJV). This is interpreted in Judaism as Rachel crying for an end to her descendants' sufferings and exiles following the destruction by the Babylonians of the First Temple in ancient Jerusalem." from Wikipedia. There is a lot more to this story in the Bible-Genesis 29.

"For Jews, Rachel's Tomb is the third holiest site after the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. It has become an important place of Jewish pilgrimage, especially Jewish women unable to give birth." (from The picture above shows what it used to look like. The picture above is actually a small model in a park in Israel. Because the tomb was in Bethlehem, which is part of the West Bank the wall has been built around the tomb. Here is the link to the site by the Committee for Rachel's Tomb- It explains that this site was extremely important to the Jews. The pictures on the other side are what it looks like now. It has been cut off from Bethlehem by the wall which now surrounds the West Bank area.
Here is a page that tells what happened to many of the Palestinians who lived and worked in Bethlehem. They were not terrorists who did things to hurt Jews who visited, but their land and homes were confiscated.

I was surprised when walking around this area that the tomb has been totally cut off from the graveyard that it was in before. These pictures show the graveyard and the wall that blocks Rachel's Tomb. This is such a sad thing for both Jews and all of the people in Bethlehem. Neither of them have easy access anymore to the tomb. This happened because there is a lot of fear and mistrust between people. The Jewish people wanted to be able to visit an important holy site, but were afraid of the Arabs who wanted to protect the land that they considered to be their own. All of the problems like this are so complicated and based on a long history. It is not easy to figure out the best way for people to live together here.

We also visited the Aida Refugee Camp where many people live who were displaced from their homes. It is run by the United Nations. They provide schools, food and funding for people to live. The entry to the camp has a huge key and keyhole which represents the fact that many people left their homes with only their keys assuming that they would be able to come back sometime. Now they only have their keys. Their homes and their land has been taken. 

One more video!

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