Sam and Ruth's Blog from Ibillin
The blog is early this week,
because we are nearing the end of our stay and we know we will be busy
in the next two weeks. This may be the last edition before we
return to our other busy life.
The week began on Monday with an unexpected treat. Our tenth
grade class decided that they wanted to do some dancing during the
break (I guess that makes them Break Dancers) and so we turned on the
big amplifiers and danced in the auditorium. There was no
interference this time, except for the remains of the last party which we swept up.
The dancers were enthusiastic, as always. They learned Korobushka,
and then did it changing partners -- something the twelfth - graders haven't quite mastered yet.
Tenth Graders, All Together
We realized that this week would be
pretty much our only chance to get to the Bethlehem area and pay a
promised visit to the Azar family, who opened their home to us nearly
three years ago. So on Tuesday we set out for Jerusalem, planning to stop on the way in Ramle.
Ramle: Train Station
The attraction in Ramle is "Open House". Those of you who have read The Lemon Tree
by Sandy Tolan will know that this is the house from which Bashir's
family fled in 1948, and into which Dahlia's family moved shortly
thereafter. Bashir's family had lived in the house for
generations, while Dahlia's had just moved to Israel from Bulgaria
after managing to aviod the Holocaust. Bashir returned to the
house to ask for a lemon from the tree in the back yard. Bashir
and Dahlia recognized that the house contained two stories - both
legitimate, and have sought to have it serve the purpose of a bridge
between Jewish and Palestinian inhabitants of the same land.
Valerie in front of a Lemon Tree
Day Care Denizens
We were given an orientation to Open
House by Valerie, pictured below in front of a very fruitful lemon tree
in front of the house (in good sunlight). Open House serves as a
daycare center for Palestinian residents of Ramle for much of the
day. Valerie also has established circles of women, Jewish and
Arab, who meet regularly to become acquainted and to discuss religion
and their mutual problems. They don't discuss politics.
In the summer Valerie runs a large summer camp in the neighboring
town of Neve Shalom for middle-school children, and she feels that this
provides Open House's greatest impact.
Day Care Children
Civic Center of Ramle
After about two hours in Ramle, we found
the bus station (in the large civic center building) and, with only
minor problems boarded the bus to Jerusalem. We had some time
before our scheduled meeting with friends in Beit Sahour, so we set out
for the old city. We knew that it we would find it straight down
Jaffa Street, and that it was a couple of kilometers away. From
that way the obnoxious taxi driver talked, it seemed to be on the other
side of the world. That was our introduction to the city.
We set out down Jaffa St, with no cars and a light-rail tram down the
middle. It was a warmish day for winter, and we certainly were
over dressed. Below are some of the regular sights - black-suited
men in round black hats in a hurry, armed soldiers, and a small pile of
snow left over from the seventy-year storm three weeks ago.
The omnipresent Black Hats
Soldiers on the
tram lines Snow
We reached the old city at the New Gate
which might be called the North-West Corner of the Old City, and then
walked down the wall to the left to the Damascus Gate - familiar
territory from our stay three years earlier. Inside we found the
same bustle of shoppers heading home with bags of fruit and bread, and
others heading into the Old City for prayers.
We made it through the crush, past the Via Dolorosa, and the proud
little Israeli flags proclaiming the steady conquering of the Muslim
Quarter. Then near the Western Wall Checkpoint we made a little
detour up stairs to an upper arcade. Three 10 to 12 year-old
boys tried to sell us something, or be our guides. Their English
was limited and they did not want their pictures taken.
Inside the Damascus Gate
Shop Owner and his daughter
We were somehow rescued by a 13-year-old girl, who spoke very good
English. We asked her about life for Palestinians in the Old City, and
she took us to meet her father. He ran a shop in a narrow hall way,
featuring some 2000-year-old columns along the walls (one can barely be
seen in the picture below). He was clearly proud of his daughter, who
was doing so well in school. We had a nice conversation. He was not
optimistic about any improvement in the future, but was hopeful for his
children. We asked him about the Israeli flags - he said, "You know,
the rich Jewish people have offered me $24,000,000 for my shop, and
that would make me rich for the rest of my life. But I would not sell
for a billion dollars, This was my father's shop, and his father's,
and I will not desert it."
Men and Boys approach the Wall
I Think this
Sign is Unique
Prayers under the Dome
We continued on through the check-point
to the Western Wall Plaza. I really do not like that place,
however this is the site of perhaps the only public toilet in the Old
City. I was clearly marked by a sign I found unique but
appropriate, in the sea of black (large and small) that
surrounded us. (Around the corner there was a similar one for
women - only).
We stayed for a short time as the setting sun illuminated the Dome of
the Rock, and then followed a tribe like the one on the left as they
exited the plaza. They did not leave the city, however. On
the way we saw them descending steps sponsored, it seems, by the
Western Wall Heritage Foundation. We picked up a brochure
describing the area. In it we learned that not only were there
temples on the temple mount, but also it was the very spot that God
told Abraham not to sacrifice Isaac. That happened just 2000
years after the creation of the universe. Very interesting.
Obviously American Gift
The Remains of Dinner
We returned to the Damascus Gate where
we boarded a Palestinian bus that took us to Bethlehem. We were
met by Reema Azur and two of her children, and she took us to their
home in Beit Sahour, in the West Bank. The family had hosted us
previously in 2011, and it was nice to return to their comfortable
home. We had not noticed, but this was New Years Eve, and we had
come to the house at the right time.
When we realized what was in store, we excused ourselves to our room
and took a two-hour nap. The nap ended as the sounds from the
rest of the house increased, and a certain aroma began to fill the air.
We enjoyed a superb Palestinian dinner, with salads, fresh fruit
and lamb and chicken ka-bobs. Eventually most of the dishes were
cleared and we settled in for a variety of Bingo. The numbers did
not fill all the spaces on the cards, and the winners were successively
for corners, two lines, and full house (about 20 numbers on a card),
The numbers were called in Arabic and then repeated in English,
and I (Sam)was playing six cards - three for me and three for Ruth, who
was either doing dishes or taking pictures. I had the help of
Magd, an eleven-year-old cousin, who was also playing three cards of
his own. It we he who saw that I had corners on one card, and
managed to win the first prize of the evening. It became raucous
when we got to full house.
Bingo: The Caller
Grandfathers and helper
As soon as bingo was over out came the
Tablas and dancers filled in the empty space on the balcony. Raja
seemed to be the master with several apprentice Tabla players. It
is hard to see their hands at full speed. Chestnuts replaced
ka-bobs on the grill, we played another round of bingo, and then the
real fireworks exploded at midnight. The party went on for about
another hour, and finally we all said good night and were quickly
Three Cousins on Tablas
Master and Apprentice
In the morning we ate a
bountiful breakfast, and had time to discuss life in the West Bank.
In the neighborhood of Bethlehem life is not as grim as in more
remote areas of the West Bank. Still there are uncertainties that
make life difficult. Unemployment is high and most of the good
jobs are in Jerusalem. Raja can find work, but it is hard to keep
a steady job amid the vagaries of identity cards and border closings.
Reema's teaching job in Hebron is more secure, but it is a
thirty-minute drive away and gas costs around $8 a gallon. For a
car at 30 mpg that means driving to Hebron and back would cost $30.
They did not expect anything helpful to come from the current
negotiations, but they remained hopeful.
Light Rail near Old City
We returned by Palestinian bus to the Damascus Gate -
delayed 15 minutes because two of the riders did not realize that their
"Christmas Amnesty" permits had expired with the old year. This
time we took the light rail to the bus station, and the express bus to
Haifa arrived in a little over two hours. The 166 took us home