Thursday, January 3rd, 2013


We traveled into the West Bank on Wednesday. We were all a bit nervous about our first pass through a checkpoint. There were no problems; we were on a tour bus and were passed through. And then all was quiet. We had been traveling in Israel, on nice roads.  Immediately, the road became bumpy and the well-landscaped highway disappeared. Nobody wanted to say anything, but Kristen finally asked if we saw any differences. And everyone spoke up: “Yes, and immediately.”

The West Bank is divided into three zones: some maintained by the Palestinians (the smallest percent); some maintained by Israel and Palestinian governments both; and, the largest percent, Israeli- controlled. The Israeli government seems to not get around to maintaining some roads in the northern-most part of the West Bank. We were on several of them. And some roads are barricaded, without warning. If you live on that road, you can’t get home that way. Surprisingly, we would see this for ourselves  before our day ended.

Our first stop was Zababdeh, at St. George Melkite Catholic Church. We held a morning-long vacation bible school for the children in the Palestinian village of about 3,ooo. Not many tour buses come here and it wasn’t long before the children knew we had arrived and began coming to the church. We introduced them to Ocho the Octopus, played games with a parachute, blew bubbles, played soccer, did crafts with them and offered snacks. They were beautiful and we loved being with them.

After the children left, the pastor and his wife and family made a traditional Palestinian meal for us, a delicious “upside down” dish of couscous, lentils, vegetables with baked chicken and yogurt. We shared gifts and bid farewell, sadly.

We drove to Sebastya, which is a Muslim village with an ancient ruin from King Ahab’s day. It was a good hike in a beautiful landscape to the ruins  of Ahab’s and Jezebel’s palace – especially for Beth and Kristen, who made much of the hike on piggy-back since the terrain was too rough for Beth’s wheelchair.

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We climbed aboard our big bus and drove the narrow collonade road down the mountain. There was a man in a small white car in front of us. Little did we know that as we slowly descended the mountain he was escorting us. At one point he stopped his car and came back to tell the bus driver, Shaddy, that there were barricades ahead. There was no way the bus could turn around on the narrow road. We climbed out of the bus and walked the road to the barricades. Turns out, the man in the car, Ali, had suspected that this would happen; that the IDF (the Israeli Defense Forces) would block our exit down the narrow road. We removed two blockades of stones and a third of branches and stones.

Removing blockade.

Removing blockade.

We journeyed on through the largest Palestinian city, Nablus, and entered Bethlehem after nightfall. That was yesterday. Today, we went to Old Jerusalem, making our way through crowds and the fascinating markets along the Via Dolorosa. We had a wonderful lunch of local cuisine in a busy restaurant and then entered again the narrow, crowded streets passed endless shops and stopping at many famous churches. Standing outside the Church of the Seplucher we heard for the third time in the day, the call to prayer from the minorette towering above.

This place of three religions with the same roots yet with histories of life together and life at war with each other for centuries is mind-boggling, as churches and temples and mosques have built one on top of each other, share space in this ancient city.

We had our first views of the giant wall  that divides Israel from Palestine and Palestine from Palestine in some places; the Israeli settlements built on Palestinian land and the checkpoint where Palestinians pass through each day to go to their jobs and schools. We saw many IDF soldiers with their semi-automatic rifles.

There is a saying here: After your first visit to Palestine, you want to write a book; after your second visit, you can only write an article, and after your third visit you can’t write anything. The layers of ancient history, the layers of political and religious intrigue and devastation and sacredness, the layers of occupations and the confusing meaning and strategies underlying it all eventually have us shaking our heads. “It makes no sense,” is heard often. And beyond it all, through it all, around it all, this is a beautiful land.

((Pat is blogging while traveling in Israel/Palestine.)

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One of the most important
and one of the most challenging
skills in our lives
is communication.
It’s a cliche to say so,
but it is true.
We have had some excellent teachers
along the way
and we are still learning,
still practicing.
Our next workshop
on non-violent communication
is January 19.
We’ll spend the day together,
learning specific communications skills,
from the works of Thich Nhat Hanh
and Marshall Rosenberg,
as well as the circle process from Just Peace.
To register,
go to our website:
www.turtlerockfarmretreat.com