Saturday, 22 March 2014
|The church of Elias Chacour|
|The steps leading up to the|
church with the Beatitudes
in several languages
I travelled to Israel on March 2nd 2014 primarily to visit Ibillin in the hope of a personal interview with Abuna Elias Chacour who was the Archbishop of Akko, Haifa, Nazareth and All Galilee of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church from 2006 to just before I arrived. He had only just retired. St John's Church has been supporting his work since Rev. Graham Trasler took groups on pilgrimage to the Holy Land in the 1980s and 90s. Elias Chacour has written several books recounting his childhood in Bir'em, a Palestinian Christian village in the North of what is now Israel.
|The Ash Wednesday Ashing ceremony |
performed by Bernhard, the German priest
|Inside the church|
Even the people I sat with on my flight over gave a taste of the divisions in this land. Next to me was an Israeli avidly reading a huge tome on the background and cults of Islam, and on the aisle seat, was a very tired looking Roman Catholic priest. On the way back it was journalists who occupied the two seats next to me.
So my journey in Israel began with a rather low powered car that struggled with hills and a useless Sat Nav from Ben Gurion airport, Tel Aviv. The Sat Nav did not recognise the name Ibellin and nor did most of the people I asked for help on the way. A late night drive on the other side of the road, with all controls in opposite positions to what I was used to was pretty awful, but getting very lost indeed without a clue as to where I was, was so bad that I resorted to approaching an Israeli police car at some road works. One of the many God moments on my travels. The policeman drove me in convoy to Ibellin with lights flashing and saved the day! A few days later that same police officer, off duty, stopped me in Nazareth to make sure I was OK!
|An English lesson for 14 year olds|
|Michael (Mica) Chacour|
|Elias Chacour's front door|
|Church of the 12 Apostles|
|Inside the church of the 12 Apostles.|
|Sea of Galilee|
The following day I visited Nazareth. Nazareth is very much like old Jerusalem in places and I felt very at home. I first visited the Greek Orthodox church where they were having an Ash Wednesday service. It is a beautiful church so I was glad to be able to listen and even to see the murals and the spring in an older part that feeds the well that Mary is reputed to have used.
|Greek Orthodox Church Nazareth|
|Inside the Basilica|
|Church warden of Anglican Church|
|Anglican Church Nazareth|
|Mica looking out over Safed|
|Mica at the door of Bir'em Church|
|Inside Bir'em Church|
|The remains of Bir'em|
|The Lebanese Border|
|The Caananite Gate|
We then travelled further into the Golan heights very close to the border with Syria. It was a strange place to be and felt very quiet and 'peaceful' - very eerie.
|A Syrian town in the distance|
|Picnic at Caesaria Philipi|
After a morning talk by Elias Chacour, I finally had a private meeting with him on the afternoon of Saturday 8th March. I have two recorded messages from him. One is about Islam and the relationship between Islam and Christianity in the Holy Land, which I include here. the second is a personal message to St John's which I will share when I do a presentation on June 3rd.
I arrived safely in Jerusalem despite the Sat Nav and it was a relief to hand the car back. Having had a glorious week it began to rain and steadily got colder. Little did I know what was in store!
|Elias Chacour gives his views on Islam|
in the Holy Land
|Entertainment, food, company and fun|
at the Ibellin Guesthouse
Posted by Miranda in Palestine at 10:48
|Nawal looking very fed up in her shop|
|A neighbour's shop not so well |
I could see the damage to theirs and other shops and you can get some sort of impression from the photos. The sadness was palpable and like everyone else I have met in both Israel and Palestine on this trip, they say as one, that they have no hope and that the so-called peace talks are making things worse for them.A good rhetorical question they ask is, if Israel says it is willing to make land swaps and evacuate some settlements, why is it spending so much money building more of them on stolen land? In all my time here I have never felt so much despair.
|You can see the Rajabi building in the |
|That is not just water flowing down |
Israel always goes on about their security, yet no one seems to care a jot about the security of the Palestinians who live here by right and have never hurt anyone. There are also reports of 5 Palestinian deaths just today. 3 in Gaza and 2 in the West Bank, not to mention the Jordanian judge who was shot at the checkpoint coming in from Jordan. Whatever you may read, there were witnesses and the truth is that the Judge told the IDF off for the way they were treating the Palestinians so they just shot him 3 times and then said he had tried to grab their weapons!
|Rabbi Ascherman and others climbing|
down to the cave
|The cave dwelling in Beir il Id where|
the meeting was held
Hamed had also taken me to a very interesting meeting in Hebron in the morning. It was at HRC in Hebron and was a multi agency meeting that was instigated by the Christian Peacemaker Team, because of the recent school invasions, detention of children, teacher and other staff, and even tear gas and stun grenades thrown into schools by the IDF for no obvious reason, if there ever can be a reason for such behaviour. On one occasion a cleaner was abducted and just abandoned in the Negev to try to find his way back. Even head teachers have been detained for short periods. Children are frequently detained and some arrested and this is happening in regard to many schools and not just those whose pupils and teachers have to use checkpoints 209 and 29, which were of particular concern to CPT. We were told that children from Cordoba School suffer from nightmares and bed wetting because of the stress. The purpose of the meeting was to look at ways of dealing with all the issues. There were people from the Ministry of Education, DCOs from the Palestinian army, a lawyer, Betselem, EAPPI, CPT, ISM, TIPH and others. It was a useful meeting and there seems to be a united effort towards rights information for pupils and parents as well as contacts for the various organisations to ring when events occur. The fact that these are basic human rights violations were not something that could be addressed realistically.
|Andrew addressing the gathering|
In the evening a very enjoyable 50th Birthday party was given by Andrew Ashdown in Beit Sahour. Delicious food and great company.
|Some of the American Jewish 'Encounter'|
group listening to Hamed's talk
It was also wonderful to have Andrew's company with Hamid from rather too early the following morning for a remarkable meeting with a group of American Jews who were on an 'encounter visit' to the West Bank. Their party also included some local Jewish settlers.
|Hamed and the head of the village|
Since 1948 the village has been refused any building permits or infrastructure improvements by the Israeli government, who have civil responsibility for the village.
|The all-purpose village school|
with demolition order on it
We had a moving speech from the Village Council leader in the small, poorly equipped all-purpose building that the village has built themselves without permission to act as a school, clinic, and meeting place. This building has now received a demolition order. Meanwhile, on the hill overlooking the village in the illegal settlement, you can see the 3-storey new school that has been built for the settlement along with all other modern facilities. When the village children ask why they cant have a nice school like those on the hills around them, their father does not know what to tell them. It was fascinating to see the reactions of the group, most of whom were clearly moved, and who asked some very good questions. Hamed explained the situation so well to the group and in answer to questions, that I was able to learn a great deal from being part of this gathering..
|This is what the entrance to the Gilo|
checkpoint looks like when empty
|This is what it looks like when safely|
through to the other side.
I was thankful to arrive safely back at the very comfortable Austrian Hospice. When I stayed there a few days before, I had been given a room on the ground floor without a view. This time I had an amazing balcony on the second floor! Last time I was woken at 4.30 am with a beautiful call to prayer. This time the same speakers were on a level with my window - perhaps a little too close for comfort, but I certainly didn't complain. The view from my room was a real tonic. All I needed for my last day was a little sunshine and warmth.
|My wonderful balcony view in|
|Manar and Palestinian feast for two!|
I had thought the 2 hour plus journey from Jerusalem by bus via Ramalla had taken a long time, but the return journey was much worse, because of the checkpoints, particularly the entry to Jerusalem. The traffic was almost at a standstill and all Palestinians under 45 have to automatically leave the bus and go through on foot. Not only did some of them not return to our bus, but the IDF came onto it asking questions of us all and thankfully they accepted my explanation, but 2 German tourists were not so lucky and were removed from the bus. We continued with only half the passengers. After a relaxing day, it was a final reminder of what the occupation means to every Palestinian and anyone else who dares to visit the West Bank!
Posted by Miranda in Palestine at 10:47