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The Palestine Papers

Editorial note: Erin Dunigan visited Palestine last fall and she will share her detailed experiences with us over the next few weeks in a 3-part series. The following is part one of her journal accounts.

Arrival

Thursday, October 27

We arrived about a half hour ago at the hotel, and of course, I have found out how to use their (free!) Internet already! We flew into Tel Aviv. It looks like any other modern, western, American city, at least from the sky. We were met at the airport by a tour company that picked us up and drove us here to the 7 Arches Hotel, atop the Mt. of Olives.

I just got done taking some night pictures. The pictures were of the view from the front of the hotel, which is a perfect framing of the Dome of the Rock. We passed our first checkpoint as well, which feels a bit like driving in Baja past the military guards, equipped with very large guns, at the tollbooths down to Ensenada. Tomorrow we will meet up with the rest of the group.

Greetings from the Mt. of Olives

Friday, October 28

This morning I woke up early, about 5AM. I decided to get up and take some early sunrise pictures of the Dome of the Rock.

Wandering down the Mt of Olives toward the Old City of Jerusalem I wound up near a garden entrance that said "Hortis Gethsemane." There can’t be more than one, can there? Though I don’t know Latin my guess was that hortis must mean "garden".

As I peeked through the open door a man with a wheelbarrow greeted me. He introduced himself as the gardener. Seeing my interest, the gardener waved me inside the garden, which was not yet open to the public because it was only 7AM.

So, there I was, all of a sudden on a private tour of the Garden of Gethsemane. The gardener showed me the 8 olive trees that are over 2000 years old and are believed to be where Jesus prayed in the garden when Judas betrayed him. Crazy!

It was amazing to be there, and to be all alone, except for the gardener, who seemed to somehow echo the resurrection account of Mary mistaking the risen Jesus for the gardener.

After leaving the Garden I headed back up the hill toward my hotel, the 7 Arches. On my way I passed by a crippled man sitting by the side of the road. I had seen him on my way down, and said hello.

This time as we greeted each other he pointed to the gate that had now been opened slightly. The crippled man told me to go inside. I figured I was on a roll, so I pushed open the gate and went inside.

After passing by a man and two women harvesting olives in the courtyard, I came to the Dominus Flevit Chapel. What struck me most was the window inside the chapel that perfectly framed the Dome of the Rock. It was beautiful. When I later looked up the significance of the chapel in my guidebook, I learned that this is identified as the site where Jesus wept over Jerusalem. Even this early in my trip it seems that there is still much to weep over.

Well, now I am off to breakfast. We will leave here at 11AM to begin the first part of our trip, the tour with Sabeel.

Bethlehem

Sunday, October 30th

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Greetings from the Little town of Bethlehem!

What a day.

First, though, I must say, that getting an Internet connection with which to send this has been quite a challenge. I am at the hotel in Bethlehem and their Internet is not yet working.

Apparently Bethlehem went through a major expansion before Y2K because they thought they would have many tourists for the millennium celebrations. But before that could happen the second intifada broke out, with increased violence between Palestinians and Israelis. The bottom line was that no tourists came.

So, even though it is five years later, this hotel has rarely had visitors, and is only now beginning to see the return of tourists. Bethlehem is almost totally surrounded by Israeli settlements, and Bethlehem itself is Palestinian (the highest concentration of Palestinian Christians is in this area). It is also almost walled in by the new Israeli Security Wall, or Apartheid Wall, depending on which side is talking. (Separation Wall seems to be the most neutral way of referring to it.)

So, what that means is that one-day tourists may be let in (by the Israeli military) and another they may not, which has not been great for business. In addition to that, apparently most Christian US tour groups use Israeli tour companies who suggest that it is too dangerous in the Palestinian areas. So, if Christian tour groups do end up going to Bethlehem they usually just do a ‘drive-by’ of the Church of the Nativity. This means that hotels and other businesses in Bethlehem, whose primary source of income is tourism, end up suffering. The ironic thing is that many of these hotels and businesses are run by Palestinian Christians, but the American Christians overlook them completely. (Obviously not all tour groups do, and not all American Christians do, but the ratio seems to be quite lopsided.)

In the past few months things have started to pick up, which is good for Bethlehem, as they have no industry here, just tourism. The residents cannot work in the surrounding towns such as Jerusalem because they are required by the Israeli government to have a special pass/permission in order to enter Jerusalem. This pass can only be obtained in Jerusalem. Go figure.

So, the people of Bethlehem are very dependent on the tourists. Anyway, all that to say, here at the hotel they don’t have Internet, or haven’t been able to put it in, so I am on the hotel manager’s office computer, via a dial-up connection which has finally worked after repeated attempts.

To be continued…

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