We started out from Bethlehem on Thursday and headed south, stopping first at the town of Hebron. It is the site of the "Tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs", where Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, and Jacob and Leah (Rachel, Jacob's other wife, is in Bethlehem) are said to be buried. It is an interesting place, because there are separate areas for Jews and Muslims, and the tension is palpable. The place is crawling with IDF soldiers, some of them barely old enough to shave. This was the first time I've had a machine gun pointed right at my head as I went through security.
As Christians (and Americans), we were allowed to visit both sections and see all the tombs. Since the Muslim portion is a mosque, our female traveling companions had to have head coverings, and the ones offered at the site were interesting, as you will see below.
Alison was somehow able to convince me that these are not the droids I'm looking for.
The shrine over Isaac's tomb. Rebekah's identical one is off to the right.
The shrine over the tomb of Abraham and Sarah.
Next we drove even further south into the Negev region, where we visited a Bedouin village called Alsira (the sign was made by a person who didn't speak English, hence the missing "I") that is not recognized by the Israeli government. It turns out that Israel has restricted the nomadic Bedouins to a rather small parcel of land, very much like a Native American Reservation in the States. A resident named Khalil al Amour gave us a tour and served us a fabulous lunch- the type that is reserved for guests. I always knew that hospitality was a huge part of middle-eastern culture, but we were blown away by how graciously they welcomed us.
We walked around the village, seeing the solar panels that provide all their power, the water system they built by themselves, and even wireless internet that was faster than at our hotel in Bethlehem! We also saw an old widow's home that had been demolished by the government because of a lack of "proper permits" (the rest of the houses proudly display their official demolition orders). I had heard of the Bedouin before, but I didn't know they still existed and that they, like the Palestinians, have to live with second class or worse status in Israel. The resilience of these people was so inspiring. A longer blog post about our time in Alsira is forthcoming.
Then it was back to Hebron to see the Hebron Glass and Ceramics factory. It's one of the few flourishing industries in Palestine, and the artistry is incredible! The ceramics also had some amusing things painted on them, as you can see below.
We ended the day in West Jerusalem at a Catholic Ecumenical Center named Tantur, where we met with a Avihai Stollat, who works with an organization called Breaking the Silence. This organization collects the stories of former Israeli soliders, like Avihai, who want to make the world aware of what is happening in Palestine. I shot some video of our conversation with him, and I will be posting it very soon. Expect a longer reflection on this conversation to come soon.
I'll try to post an update from today before we leave. We had some powerful experiences in Jerusalem. I'll be back home in about 36 hours. Until next time, Shalom/Salaam!