Saturday, October 31, 2009

Refugees forever?

As Palestinians fled from their villages in 1948 as the Israeli army was taking control of the land, they began to gather together in communities in what was then land controlled by Jordan or Lebanon or Syria. The flood of refugees quickly became a humanitarian crisis.

The floodwaters have not receded. You can see the aftermath as you stroll through the Dheisheh Camp in Bethlehem.
There are now nearly 13,000 refugees living there, the generational growth from the first 3,500 who settled there when the United Nations took responsibility for the camp in 1954. The camp then and now covers 1.5 square kilometers.

The original homes were 9 square meters for each family. Because there is no room to expand outward, families over generations have built upwards, adding second and third floors.

One thing is slightly better now. The original camp had one public restroom for each area of these tiny homes. Now there is running water and more bathrooms.

Overlying all of this, however, is the political stalemate between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. One of the central Palestinian demands in negotiations is for the right of these refugees to return to their villages in Israel. The Israeli government has consistently rejected that, since Israeli families now live in those place and since an influx of Palestinians would significantly shift the demographic balance in a state created as a place for Jewish people.

A young man named Shadi, our guide through the camp, said that at this point, most refugees would no longer choose to return to Israel. Some older ones might, but the younger ones would make a life for themselves elsewhere. But they want it to be their choice, not yet another restriction put on their lives by Israel. In the meantime, they walk this odd balance in the camp.

"We are trying to make our life here better, but we are not accepting that we will stay here forever," Shadi told us. He said that the Palestinian Authority provides no assistance to those in the camps because that would imply they are citizens of the West Bank. And memories are alive from the last time this happened -- in 2002 -- that the Israeli army can come in and exert its power whenever it wants.

"The problem is not food, the problem is not water, the problem is not the checkpoints," Shadi said. "The problem is the occupation."

But the daily problems in the camp are also realities.

Many people in the camp used to work in Israel, but with the construction of the separation barrier following the Second Intifada in 2002, many of those people can no longer get to work and they have lost their jobs.

Unemployment in the camp runs around 75 percent.
The electricity network in the camp - built in 1954 and then upgraded in 1960, is totally inadequate for the camp of today, said Hazem Al Qassas, the acting director of Ibdaa Cultural Center in the camp.

Shadi said there are 1,800 school students in the camp and only 25 teachers. The clinic has one doctor, two nurses and is open six hours a day, with some 280 patients coming in each day.

And given the extraordinarily congested conditions in the camp, going back to the original nine-by-nine houses, Shadi said that "one of the biggest problems we have here is the privacy problem. You can't have any time for yourself."

Still, there is a strong sense of solidarity in the camp, of family members looking out for each other. And they look to the rest of the world in the hope that someone will listen to their story, that someone will care.

A morning in Hebron

The three hours our group spent in Hebron on Friday morning offered an incredibly powerful look into the life of the Palestinians in that city where Israeli settlements right next to Palestinian neighborhoods, where they occupy apartments on one side of a narrow market street while Palestinian apartments are on the other side. The following three posts will introduce you to two fascinating people we met that morning -- Hani Abu Haikal and Walid Halawah -- as well as some impressions of the current situation in this major city.

Overcoming hatred in Hebron

Hani Abu Haikal speaks with passion about the future he wants for his four children -- and for all the children of Hebron.

It is a future built around a commitment to creativity and to non-violence that stands in stark contrast to the image of this West Bank city described by one prominent Palestinian resident as "The City of Conflict."

Hani also speaks with passion about the suffering he has endured at the hands of his neighbors -- Israeli settlers who torment him regularly, burning his cars and his 268 olive trees. And there is suffering at the hands of the Israeli Army that intrudes into his house regularly.

Our group of seven visitors from the United States sat in Hani's living room as he told the stories of life under Israeli occupation, stories including the harrowing hours when his wife was in labor and the ambulance got delayed at checkpoint after checkpoint.

Hani's stories are remarkable because of the way Hani has committed himself to helping youngsters find a different path.
The story of his wife's labor indicates the hardship of living under occupation. The story of the arsons shows the kind of harassment he lives with. But it is the story of how he and his friends outwitted the occupying forces to rescue the house next door that offers a light for the future.

The labor story is all too common in this land of checkpoints and arbitrary decisions by the soldiers that staff them. Hani had arranged in advance for an ambulance to come get his wife went she went into labor with their fourth child. He had all the necessary permits to get the ambulance through the checkpoints.
So when his wife went into labor and he called for the ambulance, he thought all would be well.

But one hour went by, then another. He called the ambulance driver, who said he as stopped at a checkpoint and the soldiers were taking everything out of the ambulance to inspect it.
More time went by. Still at the checkpoint. And there were two more checkpoints to go. His wife's labor was progressing rapidly.

Finally, in desperation, Hani picked up his wife to carry her over hilly, rocky, snow-covered paths as his sister used the glow from her cell phone to light the way. The birth was fine. In fact, it was well over by the time the ambulance finally cleared the last check point -- 14 hours after Hani had called for it.

He showed us videos of his car burning, set on fire by settlers. This was the sixth car he has lost to arson. He showed us a video of his olive trees burning, again the result of arson. The Israeli soldiers watched until the wind shifted, then they helped put out the blaze since it was now heading toward their post.

Hani also told the story of the curfew imposed by the Israeli army in 2000 as the second Infitada began across the West Bank. Some of the soldiers took over his neighbor's house, located on a hill that commands a good view of a large area of the city. After a while, they used the house as a jail. Hani said from his house next door he could hear the cries of the Palestinian prisoners there as they were being beaten.

Hani and some other neighbors tried to get the owner of the house to reclaim his home from the Israelis. The soldiers told him if he gave up his Jerusalem identification card -- a prized possession that allows Palestinians to enter Jerusalem -- they would give him his house back. He refused to do that.

So the neighbors made a contract with the owner to rent his house and won an order from the Israeli Supreme Court to have the soldiers vacate it. They did -- but only after demolishing it.
Hani and two others rebuilt the house with help from the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. Volunteers from human rights organizations slept there to protect it during the rebuilding process.

Now it is an educational center for Palestinian children between the ages of 9 and 16. Ten children come there for English lessons, 15 girls come for a course in video production, 25 youngsters come for non-violence training.

"Remember how I heard the screams of the tortured prisoners" coming from that house, Hani said. "Now I hear the laughter of children."
That's where his hope lies.

He said when he listened to his children going to bed at night, he heard them talking about revenge on the settlers. That's not what he wants for them.
He knows that path from his own past. He spent six years in an Israeli jail as a security prisoner.

"My culture was to throw rocks," he explained. "I don't want my kids to be like that."

He worries that radical Palestinian organizations will try to teach his children and other children the ways of revenge.
"I don't believe in guns," Hani explained. "We have no protection. God just protects us."

And then there are the video cameras.
He teaches his children and other children to use the camera as their weapon, to document what harassment they see, to post it on You Tube.

"I refuse to bomb buildings," Hani said as we ended our time with him. 'I will fight that. That is not being weak. To be non-violent, you have to be very strong."

No one who spends any time with Hani could doubt either his passion for justice nor the strength of his being.

Restoring downtown Hebron

Walid Halawah stood on the roof of his office building for the Hebron Rehabilitation Committee. From there, we could see this major West Bank city spreading out in all directions.

We could see the mosque and synagogue built over the caves that both Muslims and Jews believe house the remains of Abraham, the father of both of their faiths.

We could also see the Israeli army watch towers on hills on three sides of the city, symbols of occupation. And we could see the refurbished buildings in the old city of Hebron, a symbol of both renaissance and resistance.

Halawah is the spokesman for this effort to revive and secure the future of central Hebron.
The tensions around the Israeli occupation and the establishment of Israeli settlements in Hebron, including some in the oldest parts of the city, have stifled what was once a thriving commercial center. Walid told us that 500 shops in this old are were closed by Israeli military orders "for security reasons." Another 1,500 shops have closed because of a lack of business. Road repair and building projects are stalled in Israeli permit red tape.

"These circumstances force people to move out," Walid said. His goal, and the goal of the Hebron Rehabilitation Committee for whom he is a spokesman, is to get people to move back in.

He cites some statistics suggesting a bit of success. In 1996, the Palestinian population of the Old City area had dropped to 500. That was the year the Hebron Rehabilitation Committee began its work. Today, there are 5,000 people living in this area. Five green areas have been created for playgrounds. A vocational training school has opened. Buildings are being restored.
This is more than an aesthetic issue for the Palestinians in Hebron.

They are also hoping to block any efforts to connect the Israeli settlements through the downtown.
"As long as the downtown can stay, the settlements cannot be connected," Walid said. "That's why it is so vital to bring it back to life."

Hebron: The City of Conflict

Hani Abuhaikal and Walid Halawah are each trying to build a future for Hebron following different paths. Yet each path offers a glimmer of hope in this place that embodies the deep animosity between Palestinians and Israelis who battle over the major city in the southern part of the West Bank.

We call it "the city of conflict," Walid told us -- a sharp difference from Bethlehem's motto of "City of Peace."

This division between the children of Abraham plays out in the shadows of the place honored by both Muslims and Jews as the burial site of Abraham and his wife, Sara, as well as Isaac and Rachel, Jacob and Leah. Even here, at this holy site -- one part mosque, one part synagogue -- Muslims and Jews enter the building over the Cave of the Patriarchs from different sides, at different times, through different security systems. They are kept apart at the tomb of their spiritual ancestor.

This mosque was the site of a massacre that is etched deep in the consciousness of the Muslims here. It was on Feb. 25, 1994, that an Israeli settler, Baruch Goldstein, entered the mosque during dawn prayers and strafed the worshippers with bullets from a submachine gun. He killed 29 of them.

But embedded in Jewish consciousness is another massacre 65 years earlier, when a group of Arabs in Hebron killed 67 Jewish residents and burned synagogues and homes. Other Arabs there provided shelter for the 450 Jews fleeing the violence.
A city of conflict indeed.

Our guide through Hebron on Oct. 30 was Michael Hiller, who just finished a three-month tour there with the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), a project of the World Council of Churches. EAPPI volunteers from around the world serve as observers at the hot spots in cities like Hebron. He was sent here by the Evangelical Church of Southwest Germany.

He described Hebron to us -- the biggest city in the West Bank, with a population in the city estimated at about 200,000, in the region of somewhere around 650,000. It is the commercial center of the West Bank, tracing its history back nearly 6,000 years, located on the pilgrimage route to Mecca for Muslims, on the trade route between Damascus, Syrian and Cairo, Egypt. It is a predominantly Muslim city, with virtually Palestinian Christians presence here.

But there are six Israeli settlements that have grown up here since 1970, including one in the central vegetable market. Hiller reminded us that under international law, it is illegal for an occupying power to settle land in the occupied region. Yet that is precisely what has happened here as well as at many other places in the West Bank.

We stood with Michael at one of the borders between the two political regions in the city -- H1, which is for Palestinians, and H2, which is called a closed military zone -- the areas where the Israeli settlers live.
But even in the H2 zone, Hiller told us, there are 40,000 Palestinians. There are about 500 Israelis there, with about 1,500 Israeli soldiers providing security to them and controlling he comings and goings of the Palestinians.

Here as in so many other places in the West Bank, the Israeli control system of check points forces Palestinians to take circuitous routes to work and to school.
One particularly striking example of the impact of this control occurred at an intersection near the Ibrahimi Mosque. This street is within the controlled zone and both Palestinians residents and Israeli settlers use it. The Palestinians must approach the checkpoint on the left side of a concrete barrier that runs along one part of the street. The Israelis and international visitors like us may use the main part of the street. They are then funneled into the separate entrances to the mosque, where Palestinians must go through three security checkpoints. By the time he sets inside, Walid Halawah told us, he feels like "I'm not entering a holy place. I'm entering an Israeli military zone."

At that check point near the mosque, there is an Israeli community center named after Yosef Yitzhak Gutnik, a wealthy Australian who has provided significant financial support for the Israeli settlements in Hebron. Loudspeakers on the roof blast Israeli music all day long, disrupting the call to prayer from the mosque and making life miserable for the three Palestinian merchants at that checkpoint as well as the Palestinians walking to the mosque for prayers.

The Palestinians see all this as a concerted efforts to push them out of central Hebron, to let the Israelis create a large area that connects all of their settlements into a contiguous community.
Because of the proximity of Israeli settlers and Palestinian residents along with the military control exerted by the Israeli army, tension is always high here.

The settlers in Hebron, a majority of whom come from the U.S. and Europe, have a reputation for being particularly aggressive. The settlers in the downtown area toss their garbage down on the vegetable market, which is now protected by nets that catch the garbage (see photo above). There are many verbal confrontations.

The once thriving commercial area along Al Shuhada Street is now block after block of closed stores, some with Stars of David painted on the doors signifying the settlers intent to claim them.

Hebron -- a city of conflict in desperate need of the hopeful initiatives of people like Hani Abuhaikal and Walid Halawah.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Holy sites, hard realities

It has such a richness in its name - Nazareth, the village where Jesus grew up. But Nazareth in 2009 is a far different place than it was 2,000 years ago. It is a place that mixes holy sites with some of the hard realities of contemporary Israel.

There are the well known holy sites, like the Church of the Annunciation, commemorating the story of Gabriel, God' messenger, telling her that she would conceive a son who would be God's ultimate revelation to humanity.

But just down the street is the convent of the Sisters of Nazareth, a French order of Catholic nuns who came to this city in 1855 to teach Palestinian girls.
About 30 years later, in 1884, a worker cleaning a cistern discovered the underground remnants of what has been identified as a first century Nazareth home and burial crypt.

Sr. Marguerite, who guided us through the passages beneath the convent, told us there were about 40 homes in Nazareth in the first century. While there is no evidence that this was the home of Joseph and Mary and their son, Jesus, their home would have been similar to this one. And since the families were pretty well interconnected, it is reasonable to assume that Jesus at least visited this home.

Off to one side, deeper in the earth, is a tomb honored over the years as "the tomb of the righteous one." Again, there is no evidence who that might be, but the speculation of course runs toward Joseph, Mary's husband, known as "a righteous man." (Matthew 1:19) Sr. Marguerite was careful not to make any claims in that direction, but the twinkle in her eyes offered the tantalizing possibility.

We darted through a rare rainstorm up the hill to Nazareth Village, a modern re-creation of a first century Jewish village. But the real story of Nazareth came over an authentic lunch -- lentil soup, cabbage salad, apples with date dip -- we shared with Gosayna Karam, a staff member at Nazareth Village. Both she and her husband grew up in Nazareth, they were married in a grand ceremony in the Church of the Annunciation and they are raising their four children there. But she spent part of her life growing up in Australia and their first three children were born in the San Francisco area.

She talked about the mixed blessings of life for Palestinians in Nazareth. She values the closeness of family ties, which means that even when someone is unemployed, they are cared for by their extended family. There are no homeless people here, she said.
The Israeli health care system covers everyone, even those without jobs, Arabs and Jews equally.

But the education system - that is another story. Schools receive four times the amount of government aid for a Jewish child as for an Arab child. The curriculum is dictated by the government and ignores any sense of Palestinian history.
While Gosayna appreciates that her children are learning four languages -- Arab, Hebrew, English and French -- she is dismayed by the teaching style that emphasized facts but not learning. She lamented classes of 40 children all expected to look straight ahead, teachers who yelled rather than encouraged, homework for even young children that stretches into four hours a night.

Nazareth is a predominantly Arab village -- now with a Muslim majority, but still with a significant Christian presence. A new city just up the hill - Nazareth Illite -- is a Jewish city with far better facilities provided by the government.
But at least here, the existence of Palestinians is acknowledged. When we talked about our visit to Biram, the Palestinian village that has virtually been obliterated from Israeli consciousness, she told of many other Palestinian villages that are no longer acknowledged by the Israeli government, which means no more building permits, no electricity, no running water. She said that Palestinian aid organizations work to help residents there.

Such is the story of Nazareth. The tourists come to visit holy sites. Doing the work Jesus talked about -- embracing all across social and political boundaries, caring for those in need -- goes on in less visible places.

It's not all that different from what Jesus did in those relatively obscure years he lived in Nazareth, doing the work of God even when he was not being noticed.

You can't get there from here

Our journey from Nazareth through Jericho to Bethlehem provided a classic illustration of the absurdity of travel restrictions between the West Bank and Israel.

Yes, I know the Israelis would say there is nothing absurd about protecting there citizens from the threat of terrorism. But on this day, the absurdity played out in a journey that went on far longer that it needed to.
We drove from the Galilee region down the Jordan River Valley, entering the West Bank with just a nod from George, our driver, to an Israeli guard at a check point. So far so good.

But when we got to Jericho, we had to bypass the first entrance to the city -- just a couple of minutes into downtown had we been able to take it -- to the only open entrance several miles down the highway. We went through an Israeli checkpoint where the soldier said he was just checking to make sure we were all wearing our seatbelts. (We were.)

The main issue here was to make sure no Israeli citizens entered into this West Bank area which is under the control of the Palestinian Authority. Then we came to a Palestinian checkpoint, where George and the guard had a brief but friendly conversation.

When we left Jericho, we could take a direct route to Bethlehem, which is also in the West Bank. We had to head out past the same two checkpoints, although now both were unguarded. Then we had to drive to Jerusalem, enter Israel (another checkpoint) and drive to the main entrance to Bethlehem from Jerusalem. There we were waved off because there was an Israeli celebration at Rachel's Tomb near that checkpoint and the checkpoint was closed. ("When they celebrate, we suffer," said Rev. Mitri Raheb when we arrived at the International Center in Bethlehem.)

The next nearest entrance to Bethlehem had about a two-hour wait, so George drove a circuitous route to a third checkpoint that would let us in through Beit Jala, a city adjoining Bethlehem. We could get in that way, but George pointed out that as tourists, we could not leave through that checkpoint.

What should have been a couple of short journeys into Jericho and into Bethlehem became extended and exasperating adventures in life in an occupied territory. For us, this was just one adventure. For the residents, it is a daily reality.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Wandering along the Sea of Galilee

We were seated in a semi-circle on the hill where tradition has it that Jesus spoke the phrases known as the Beatitudes to the crowd that had gathered to hear him.

Behind us was the Sea of Galilee, that body of water that is so central to the Gospel accounts of Jesus' life. Down the coast we could see Capernaum, the village that served as Jesus' base of operations for so much of his ministry. Up the hill a ways was the Church of the Beatitudes, where people were participating in a Catholic Mass.
Bonnie Van Overbeke read the Beatitudes as Matthew recounted them: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blesses are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted ... Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled ... Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God..." (Matthew 5: 1-12)

There were tourists milling all about, of course, but for these few moments, we had this beautiful space to ourselves, letting the spirit of those words sink into the core of our beings. A bird sang from one of the bushes behind us.

There were other moments like that on this day as we traveled along the shore of the Sea of Galilee. At Capernaum, you can see a church built over the excavation of the house of Peter, the apostle. You can walk into the fourth century synagogue built on the foundation of the first century synagogue where Jesus came to teach. But for me, the stunning moment of the day came under a banyon tree that rises grandly above the Galilee shore. I sat under the tree, watching the water, imagining the times Jesus would have walked along this shoreline letting his spirit connect with God. It was a sacred moment.

Down the road a bit is the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes. This commemorates the story of Jesus feeding a crowd of 5,000 with five loaves of bread and two fish. (told in Matthew 14: 16-21) Nearby is the Chapel of St. Peter's Primacy. These are both in an area called Tabgha, which means Seven Springs. There is wonderful access to the Sea of Galilee behind St. Peter's Chapel. This spot commemorates Jesus' appearance to his apostles after his resurrection when he came ashore, ate fish with them and told Peter to "feed my sheep," which some interpret as giving Peter primacy among Jesus' closest followers. Both of these stories use food to show how Jesus opened people up to a spirit of hospitality and generosity.
We stood near the shoreline as Nancy Baumgardner played her recorder and we sang the wonderful hymn about Jesus coming down to the lakeshore to invite the fishermen to follow him. "I have abandoned my small boat," we sang. "Now I will seek other seas."

Two more stops. We saw a first century fishing boat similar to the one those fishermen would have used. It has been restored and is displayed at a museum near Magdala, the home village of Mary of Magdala. Then we ended the day at the point south of Tiberius where the Jordan River flows out of the Sea of Galilee. This is honored as the spot where John baptized Jesus. As darkness crept over the river, people dressed in white garments gathered along the bank to re-enact their own baptisms -- or perhaps to be baptized for the first time. Here was one group where the baptizer wore a cowboy had. One way down the river were a group of African men and woman being plunged into the water. The other way, a group of Mexican-American Catholics were standing barefoot in the water as a priest led them in a renewal of baptismal vows.

Somewhere ... beyond the rows of tour buses, the ever-present gift stores, the variety of legends about each place ... somehow along this shoreline, the spirit of Jesus is still vibrant, calling people to step out of their boats, share a meal with someone in need and live in the way of the beatitudes.

The hidden story of Biram

From the entrance, it just seems like a pleasant national park area. You pay a fee, park your car and meander up the rock steps to the site of an ancient Roman temple that had been converted into a synagogue by the Jewish community in the third century in the Christian era. The ruins of another synagogue are nearby. A sign an the entrance to the park tells part of the history.

What it leaves out are the hundreds of years when this village of Biram was the home of the Melkite Christians, generations of Palestinian families who cared for this land. One of them was the Chacour family. A son of that family, Elias -- the founder of amazing educational institutions at Ibillin, now the Melkite bishop of Israel -- wrote about that point in history that gets only a glancing reference in the tourist brochure.

"During the War of Independence (1948), the villagers were evacuated," the park brochure says. In Chacour's book, Blood Brothers, he offers a lot more detail.

First the Israeli soldiers, moving to take control of their newly formed nation, showed up in Biram and took up residence in many of the family homes, including that of the Chacours. The family slept on the roof. Then in the spring of 1949, the military commander told the village elders that they needed to evacuate for a few days. Leave the keys with us, they told the elders, nothing will be disturbed.

So the families "evacuated," as the brochure said. But they never again would be allowed back in their homes. After extensive legal battles, with two rulings from the Supreme Court that the army should let them return to their village, the commander told the Biram residents who had been staying in a nearby village that they could return on the morning of Dec. 25, 1951. But as they approached in joy that Christmas morning, the Israeli artillery opened fire on the village, destroying virtually all of the home, damaging the church.

So as we walked deeper into the park, we came to the church, rebuilt in the 1960s by some of the young men who had been born in Biram. Chacour tells of helping them "rebuild a symbol of hope for the Palestinian people." The church is now used for Christmas and Easter ... and for funerals. This day, our group from Wisconsin and Mississippi stood outside the church. Nancy Baumgardner took the stairs up to the roof and rang the bell.

If there is a glimmer of life at the church, the rest of the village of Biram is a monument to destruction. The ruins of the old homes dot the landscape. You can see the door frames, a grill, a window. But mostly, you see weeds overgrowing the piles of stone rubble left by the artillery barrage of 1951.

At the edge of the village is the Chacour home, just a bit down the road from where Eilas' parents are buried. In the book, Elias tells the story of his older brother Rudah, who came home one day with a rifle back in the late 1940s when he heard that the Israeli soldiers would be moving in. (It was Rudah and his son who took me on my first tour of this village in 2004). When their father, Michael, saw the gun, he erupted in a rare display of anger: "Get it out of here! I won't have it in my house." He paused, then said more calmly: "We do not use violence ever. Even if someone hurts us."

There is a rich history of family love and tragic displacement in these stones. It's a history that most visitors to this Israeli national park never encounter.

Monday, October 26, 2009

It's one part pilgrimage to holy sites. It's one part bonding with friends we know. It's one part exploration, planting seeds for new friendships as we learn about life in Israel and Palestine in a time of tension.

Eight of us are leaving today to spend 12 days in Israel/Palestine. Four of us have ties to Memorial United Church of Christ in Fitchburg -- Bonnie Van Overbeke, the former pastor there; Nancy Baumgardner, a very active member; Petra Streiff, the former parish nurse who is now associate pastor at Swiss UCC in New Glarus; and me, the current full-time pastor. Memorial has a partnership with Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem, where we will all be worshipping next Sunday (Nov. 1). Joining us are two couples from Mississippi -- Rims and Judy Barber (Rims in Bonnie's brother) and their friends Glenn and Betty Gentry.

We will arrive in Israel on Tuesday afternoon and head to Nazareth. We'll see various Biblical sites around the Sea of Galilee; visit Biram, the hometown of Elias Chacour, an amazing Melkite archbishop who works to cross the barriers among Christians, Muslims and Jews; and spend some time at Nazareth Village, a recreation of the first century village where Jesus grew up.

We will head to Bethlehem on Thursday and spend several days there, including time chatting with Rev. Mitri Rabeb, the pastor at Christmas Lutheran Church and a good friend.
On Monday, Nov. 2, we will head east to Eliat on the Red Sea. We will visit the ancient city of Petra and on the way back to Jerusalem after a few days, we will stop at the Dead Sea and visit Qumran, the site of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

We arrive in Jerusalem on Wednesday evening, Nov. 4. We will visit the holy sites there, spend time at Augusta Victoria Hospital and meet a wide variety of people.
And then it's back home.

I'll file updates and photos as I can along the way.

Peace. Shalom. Salaam.