Written by Mark Gokingco on 27 Oct, 2010
A couple of things I did for security before I left the U.S. to protect myself in the unlikely event that something happened like I get pick pocketed or I lost my passport.1. I took my smartphone and its camera and took photos of…Read More
A couple of things I did for security before I left the U.S. to protect myself in the unlikely event that something happened like I get pick pocketed or I lost my passport.1. I took my smartphone and its camera and took photos of my credit cards that I was bringing (both sides so you have the collect call number of each credit card company) and emailed it to myself. 2. I took a very legible photo of my passport on my smartphone both the outside and the first page (where my photos and details are) and again, emailed them to myself.Why my smart phone camera as oppose to a regular camera? I signed up for an unlimited plan on my phone before I left. My smart phone will be my emergency phone for the duration of the trip. I had a blackberry bold with AT&T and each place I went including the ship had signal and I received emails and data. Anyway, the reason why I took the photos using my smart phone is that I have those photos of my credit cards and passports in my smart phone to show people in case of emergency. If I get pick pocketed, I doubt they'll pick pocket both front pockets. I put my money clip and credit cards in one front pocket while I have my smart phone in another.Why email it to myself? Well, in case you get robbed and they take both the phone and wallet, you can find your way to the ship somehow or get into an internet cafe, access your email (where the photos of our credit cards are sent) and read them out to cancel them.Printing them out on paper and taking them with you just gets them lost and crumpled up. In case of an emergency, you can still use the photo of your passport to at least try to enter the U.S. Embassy as oppose to nothing at all.Close
Written by Mark Gokingco on 26 Oct, 2010
Here it is. My Pilgrimage reaches its peak today. Again, remember to retain your ISRAELI LANDING CARD you received in Day 6 along with your Sea Card and photo ID. Basic information and recommendations are the same here as it is for…Read More
Here it is. My Pilgrimage reaches its peak today. Again, remember to retain your ISRAELI LANDING CARD you received in Day 6 along with your Sea Card and photo ID. Basic information and recommendations are the same here as it is for Day 6 in Haifa in fact they are strict in the dress code especially in the old city of Jerusalem. Additionally, on Jewish holy places, you have to cover your head with a cap (opposite the Christian Church’s I know it is confusing but you have to simply remember where you are visiting and adjust accordingly).Also, if you didn't notice, this day is Sunday and though at first I was concerned that there will be many holy sites closed because it is Sunday, turns out they don't consider Sunday the Sabbath day. Saturday is the day of Sabbath so Sunday is their Monday here in Israel. Just so you know.Getting off the ship and into Ashdod port was a bit nerve racking considering the snafu the day before. This time, for Ashdod, the entire cruise sponsored excursion buses AND the personally arranged tours are right outside the gangway. We did have a bit of hard time finding the guide again but this time, our now new friends Lou and Sharon from Canada went up and down the entire length of the port where all the tour buses was waiting and found our guide at the very end of the port. I personally would not have walked to the other end of the port to find the Port Promotions guys so my recommendation is to look up and down the area where all the tours are starting especially when you see a bunch of small vans parked together. For some reason, Port Promotions (ADC Holidays) didn’t bother walking all the way down to where the passengers disembark so you may have to do it for them. Anyway, just make sure you look all the way down the line of parked cars and look for them.Our guides name was Avraham Shomer and like David on the previous day, he was originally from another country and an immigrant (from Sweden) and moved to Israel in his 20s though he spoke perfect Hebrew, English and some Arabic. He also lived in a Kibbutz. He was very knowledgeable as well. Highlights of the tour included the Garden of Gethsemane, Church of All Nations, The Western Wailing Wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. A note about the Church of Holy Sepulcher: There are literally thousands of people in this wide complex of twisting and turning hallways. You can easily lose your party or friends if you are not careful. Make sure you arrange for a designated area to find each other in case someone in your party gets lost. Lunch is Jerusalem was in a small tavern in the Jewish Quarter where they served us the best freaking’ falafel I’ve ever had!! (About $20 Euros for two people).Without going through any politics, I have to say that I was left with sadness that the people of Jerusalem will not solve their differences easily. Israeli’s are very proud people. They are proud of their accomplishments such as one of the best governmental social programs, strong economy, good mix of cultures and strong tourism. For a country no larger than the size of New Jersey, they have carved themselves a small, yet fiercely independent nation. I really, really liked Israel and I really enjoyed visiting, meeting and talking to Israelis. I find them very friendly, culturally accepting and truly kind people. Just remove politics off the discussion and you will find that these people are just as much alike as you.Close
Written by BawBaw on 10 Aug, 2010
On April 1, 1925, Lord Arthur James Balfour stood on the summit of Mount Scopus (Har Hatsofim, in Hebrew) to dedicate the establishment of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Today, 85 years later, the university looks back proudly on an impressive record of accomplishment. As…Read More
On April 1, 1925, Lord Arthur James Balfour stood on the summit of Mount Scopus (Har Hatsofim, in Hebrew) to dedicate the establishment of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Today, 85 years later, the university looks back proudly on an impressive record of accomplishment. As envisioned by Israel's Zionist founders, the university contributed to preparing the youth of the pioneer generations as leaders of "modern Israel"--both in terms of educating the citizens of the State of Israel itself and in providing an important center of learning for the Diaspora. After independence was achieved, the university provided a focal point for defining Israel and Israelis through interaction between Jews and non-Jews participating in programs offered through HU's Rothberg International School. The History 1925-1948. In many respects, the university's history mirrors that of the nation it serves. Before independence, the Mount Scopus campus grew and matured concurrently with the development of the infrastructure that would sustain the Yishuv--the Jewish community under the Palestine Mandate that gave rise to the State of Israel. The university produced the educators, doctors, and scientists who would staff the institutions and industries of this new nation. At HU's Rehovot campus near Tel Aviv, Palestinian Jews developed many of the agricultural techniques that would make the desert bloom--not just in Israel but throughout the Middle East. 1948-1967. During the 1948 War of Independence, the university's Mount Scopus campus became a tiny Israeli enclave surrounded by Jordanian-controlled territory. Given the impossibility of conducting classes in such an environment, a new main campus was built in the West Jerusalem neighborhood of Givat Ram in the early 1950s. A few years later, a medical school was established in yet another Jerusalem neighborhood, Ein Kerem. 1967-Present. The unification of Jerusalem after the 1967 Six-Day War permitted the revival of Mount Scopus as a vital component of the Hebrew University complex. Existing buildings were restored, and new ones were built. Its location overlooking the Old City made Mount Scopus the natural choice for the university's Rothberg International School, which opened its doors in 1971. By 1981 Mount Scopus was again the main campus of HU. The legacy of the past, however, would follow the university into the future. The new academic complex built during the years after the Six-Day War resembles a hilltop fortress--and indeed the design was selected to facilitate, if the need should arise, a multilevel defense of the campus by its students and faculty. Among of my first discoveries on campus was the realization that the rose gardens surrounding of this fortress included barbed-wire entanglements--a sadly practical defensive measure.The Location The physical location of the Mount Scopus campus is quite simply spectacular. Both the Hebrew word hatsofim and the Greek scopus can be loosely translated to mean "the place that looks over." In this case, what is "looked over" is Jerusalem's Old City--at least to the East. Speaking from personal experience, I can confirm that students are easily and frequently distracted by the glimmer of gold and silver emanating from the domed mosques on the summit of Mount Moriah. Looking West from the university's magnificent amphitheater, the view focuses on a gentle ridge that forms a visible barrier between two climatological zones. Immediately below the treeline that follows the ridge is a stretch of barren terrain that serves as a base for one of the dwindling number of Bedouin bands that still wander the deserts of the Middle East. As with most of Jerusalem, campus buildings are constructed of local rose-colored stone that settles comfortably into the surrounding landscape. The grounds include numerous gardens and a botanic park, the latter complete with the remains of ancient tombs. Academic Standing The Hebrew University of Jerusalem has become a world-class center of learning. It has achieved particular renown in areas associated with Biblical archaeology, Jewish religion and history, philosophy, Arabic language and literature, agriculture, and science-based technologies. Hebrew University grants about 30% of the Ph.D.'s earned in Israel each year, including more than three-fourths of the Ph.D.'s earned in the humanities and social sciences. Through its regular academic programs and the programs offered by the Rothberg International School, the university has attracted students from around the globe. Its students come with a variety of goals: to explore their own heritage, to learn about and experience the history and culture of the region, and to study the technologies that support the new global economy. The university's Zionist founders would surely be proud. - BawBaw/DAnneCClose
Written by BawBaw on 06 Aug, 2010
Based on my own memory, Ben Yehuda pedestrian mall in West Jerusalem has been the object of terror attacks--or attempted attacks thwarted--since the 1980s. One such incident occurred in December 2001, less than 3 months after the events of "9-11" here in the United States.…Read More
Based on my own memory, Ben Yehuda pedestrian mall in West Jerusalem has been the object of terror attacks--or attempted attacks thwarted--since the 1980s. One such incident occurred in December 2001, less than 3 months after the events of "9-11" here in the United States. Taken in this light, Ben Yehuda, at least for me, provides a symbol for some of the worst perils of living in the shadow of terror: Innocence and the innocent are destroyed. Peace is mind is shattered and restored piecemeal, but perhaps always a bit more precariously than it once had been. Jerusalem's Ben Yehuda pedestrian area is not a mall in the modern American sense of the word. As with Steep Hill in Lincoln (England), High Street in Fort William (Scotland), the historic district of Weimar (Germany), and downtown Cape May (New Jersey, USA), Ben Yehuda is a long-established commercial area that has been largely closed to vehicular traffic. It provides an inviting location for typical urban pastimes such as shopping, cafe-ing, and gossiping with friends. Ben Yehuda is a gathering place for the young and the young at heart. It is a place to find jewelry and sandals, costly oriental rugs and bargain-priced headscarves, ice cream cones and falafels, Israeli folk music and silver Sabbath candlesticks. It is a place for strolling along at an easy pace, for window shopping, for bending to examine inexpensive sketches lain out on the pavement, and for sipping Turkish coffee or cafe latte at outdoor tables. It is a place of innocent pleasures--or at least it should be. Nonetheless, early one Saturday evening (Jerusalem time) in December 2001, Ben Yehuda became a place of terror and murder. Saturday in Jerusalem is a day of rest, contemplation, and worship. Shops are closed and buses do not run. It's a time for home and family. But since the Jewish day starts at sunset rather than at midnight, Saturday night is no longer the Sabbath. It is instead a time for socializing, dinner out, merrymaking, movies, and evening walks. For young people, it is a time for "hanging" with other young people--like Saturday night in any major European or American city. And for young Jerusalemites, Ben Yehuda is a favorite meeting place--both as a destination in and of itself and as a place to go until groups of friends decide what to do next. Ben Yehuda is crowded on Saturday night, thus making it a perfect target for terrorists who care only about how much carnage they can cause. I learned about living in the shadow of terror while taking a graduate course in history at Hebrew University. Those were the days before suicide bombers became commonplace. Instead, bombs were simply left as unattended packages on sidewalks and in buses. Children learned at an early age not to touch, but rather to call a policeman or soldier to examine any suspicious parcel. As for me, all too quickly I found that armed and uniformed soldiers on the streets of Jerusalem seemed both ordinary and reassuring. Submitting to searches of my purse and backpack at public events became routine. Vigilance evolved from a virtue to an obligation. On a hot August afternoon in 1985, as I browsed the shops in Ben Yehuda, a fellow shopper discovered one of those ubiquitous abandoned packages. Within minutes police had cordoned off the immediate area; those of us at the scene were guided back to a safer distance; and a special unit wearing protective gear arrived to disarm and dispose of the threat. In this particular instance, the package was not a bomb, no explosion occurred, and no casualties resulted. Still, we all recognized the potential for harm, and for a time on that hot August afternoon, the sense of oppression had nothing to do with the summer heat. In December 2001, the crowd in Ben Yehuda was not so lucky. Children died and parents were left to grieve. Other children were gravely wounded. Blood stained the pavement. Young people seeking a Saturday night's reprieve from living in the shadow of terror instead found themselves face to face with their worst nightmare. Terror came out of the shadows. A friend in Jerusalem told me that despite their long experience with such events, Jerusalemites were stunned. They were not so much angry as they were profoundly saddened. Where and when will all this terror and loss be brought to an end?--for them and for the Palestinians? The only immediate answers they have in recent years have included the expectation of still more terror and the determination to somehow carry on without losing too much of themselves in the process. Even at a distance, there seem to be more lessons to learn from Israel. How could I know that all these lessons about living in the shadow of terror would someday prove so useful here in the United States? Here in post-9-11 America--in my Washington-area backyard--the targets of terror may differ, but the victims are essentially the same: innocence and the innocent are almost always in the front ranks. Now we are all Israelis. Close
Written by MALUSE on 01 Sep, 2009
We set out in the afternoon to get a first glimpse of the Old City, the historical and religious heart of Jerusalem. We entered through the Damascus Gate, one of the eight gates (of which seven are still in use) of the old city wall…Read More
We set out in the afternoon to get a first glimpse of the Old City, the historical and religious heart of Jerusalem. We entered through the Damascus Gate, one of the eight gates (of which seven are still in use) of the old city wall built in the first half of the 16th century under the Ottoman Suleyman the Magnificent, it’s 12 m high and 4 km long (one can walk on top of it) encircling the Old City which we found surprisingly tiny, only 1 km across from side to side (about 30 000 people live there!) The Damascus Gate is the most impressive of all the gates, it leads into the Muslim Quarter, one of the four quarters the Old City is divided into, the others are the Christian, the Jewish and the Armenian ones.It was stifling hot and suffocating in the narrow alleyways which were an oriental bazaar, we had hardly stepped in when we felt we had to get out as quickly as possible. I heard a muezzin and suggested we go into the mosque to be able to breathe freely again for a while, what happened, though, was that we suddenly found ourselves in front of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre built over the spot where Jesus Christ is said to have been crucified and buried.We stepped in and found ourselves in an unbearable sauna, this was not a place to get some breath! But not only because of the heat, this is the most puzzling church I’ve ever seen and I’ve seen many in my life as a traveller! Following his conversion to Christianity, the Roman Emperor Constantine ordered in about 325/326 that the site of the crucifixion and the burial place be uncovered and a church be built there (his mother Helena is credited with the rediscovery of the Cross), the church was destroyed and rebuilt several times through the millenia, it got several annexes and has now a structure difficult to understand and explore for the unguided visitor.Today the primary custodians are the Greek Orthodox, the Armenian Apostolic and Roman Catholic churches. In the 19th century, the Coptic Orthodox, the Ethiopian Orthodox and the Syrian Orthodox acquired lesser responsibilities, which include shrines and other structures within and around the building. Times and places of worship for each community are strictly regulated in common areas. But alas, although they’re all Christians serving the Lord who preached love and peace they’ve repeatedly got into fights (the last fist-fight occurred in 2004), since 1192 a Muslim family has the guardianship and the key to the church, a wise decision!One has to climb up some steep stairs to get to the part where the cross is said to have stood, it’s a Greek Orthodox chapel now, the most lavishly decorated part of the whole church, gold and silver everywhere. We are not pious but we were shocked nevertheless by what we found, all the different Christian creeds claiming to be the right ones, fighting over trivialities, outdoing each other with luxurious ornaments, shame on them all! What would Jesus think about this place? We moved on or rather drifted through the maze of twisty alleyways, there are no visible boundaries between the four quarters, until we came to an airport-like checkpoint, we had reached the entrance to the Western Wall, aka Wailing Wall. What we see nowadays is the section of the Western supporting wall of the Temple Mount which has remained intact since the destruction of the Second Jerusalem Temple by the Romans (70 BC). The place in front of the wall serves as a synagogue, it has been accessible for Jews only after Israel captured the Old City in 1967, at times tens of thousands of people gather there for prayer, men and women prey separately, a fence divides them.We sat there for a long time taking in the atmosphere, watching orthodox Jews with curls in long black robes and black hats rushing to and fro. They never seem to walk slowly and obviously love talking into their mobile phones. We were fascinated by men wearing hats the size of scooter wheels the ‘tyres‘ made of fox fur.Our first encounter with Jerusalem was an assault on the mind and the senses. Would it have been wiser to start at the Jaffa Gate with the Citadel Museum offering a well-made overview of the history of Jerusalem? We went there at the end of our stay when we had already seen and learnt a lot, the exhibition served as a kind of summary then. No, I think this unplanned plunge into the Old City was just the right thing to do because Jerusalem *is* an assault on the mind and the senses!Three religions living together, all eager to be as near as possible to their holy sites and unfortunately always ready to fight for them. Yerushalayim, as Jerusalem is called in Hebrew, means ‘place of peace’. If only! In the course of history it has endured thirty-six wars and has been destroyed more than a dozen times.For the Muslims the Dome of the Rock is the third holy site after Mecca and Medina, it’s situated above the Western Wall, the following day we got to it through another check-point. Passing the al-Aqsa Mosque we came to an elevated plateau with the wonderful Dome covered with coloured tiles and crowned by the golden dome. We read that when it still belonged to Jordan, King Hussein sold a palace to have the dome restored and covered with new gilded copper plates.I love Islamic art and looked forward to visiting the Dome of the Rock where Abraham was ready to sacrifice his son and from where Mohammed ascended to heaven on his horse according to the holy texts, alas, it was closed. My husband tried to bribe the guard but in vain, no entry for tourists.Two people told us later that they had been inside only some days before and advised us to go there in the morning, but we were there in the morning. Someone else explained that the Muslims were afraid of terrorist attacks by militant orthodox Jews and had closed the Dome for visitors, or rather had no regular visiting hours any more, now there are only irregular opening times to puzzle potential terrorists. It was obviously the period of days-out for school-children, we could see them every day, each group accompanied by a grown-up at the front and at the end carrying a rifle or a machine-gun. I thought they were the teachers and imagined myself walking with my pupils armed like this but a waitress told us that they were guards, everyone who had done military service could be such a guard. Military service is obligatory for young men, they have to serve for three years, it’s voluntary for young women, if they do it, it’s two years for them.Jerusalem is rather a safe city generally; Seattle, USA, has roughly the same number of inhabitants (~720 000) as Jerusalem but a murder rate seven times higher.Most attractions are concentrated in the Old City, but immediately outside rises a hill with the garden of Gethsemane where Jesus walked with his disciples, its western slope is covered by a large Jewish cemetery, orthodox Jews are convinced that the Messiah will come there when he comes and they’re willing to pay 30 000 $ and more for a tomb to be near him on the great day.Two excellent museums help to understand the history of Israel and the Jews, the wonderful Israel Museum with a superb archaeological wing and the Shrine of the Scrolls where the so-called Dead Sea Scrolls are exhibited, the oldest manuscripts of the Bible that have been found and Yad Vashem, the holocaust museum. I can’t imagine a better way of presenting what happened during the Third Reich, it’s spine-chilling, but the question that interested me most, the WHY?, why was it possible for a civilised people to fall into barbarianism remains unanswered here, too.So much heavy stuff, I yearned for a counterweight, where was modern Jerusalem, the centre where people meet and go shopping? We were sent to Ben Yehuda St which has been turned into a pedestrian precinct. I was underwhelmed, so much so that I went into a book shop and asked if that was indeed the main shopping centre of Jerusalem. It was. I felt as if I were in the centre of a European provincial town some decades ago.Jerusalem is not beautiful like Rome, has no famous monuments like Paris, isn’t trendy like London or cosy like Copenhagen, what it has to offer is palpable history and religion, if you have a feeling for this, you’ll find it one of the most fascinating destinations.Psalm 122,6: Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.Close
Written by saberzaitoun on 13 Mar, 2006
From that checkpoint at the edge of the West Bank where the Israeli airport taxi dropped us off, the way to Ramallah winded through dark valleys on the western slopes of the West Bank, through many new Israeli colonies (the so-called "settlements").We took a Palestinian…Read More
From that checkpoint at the edge of the West Bank where the Israeli airport taxi dropped us off, the way to Ramallah winded through dark valleys on the western slopes of the West Bank, through many new Israeli colonies (the so-called "settlements").We took a Palestinian taxi to Ramallah, the same one that was sent to pick us up from the airport but was prohibited from doing that and told to follow us. The driver was worried about going back along that way, in between the colonies. Though the colonies were lit with bright lights, they wore a gloomy face and appeared very quiet and sleepy as everyone hid inside their houses. Each colony was surrounded by barbed wire, enclosing a large swath of land (forcibly taken from neighboring Arab villages). The entrance to each colony was further, guarded by armored personnel carriers or tanks. It was clear that those Israeli colonists, while appearing tough in public, lived in great fear.A while afterwards, we finally reached an older (and not as well-paved) road connecting Arab villages. At the intersection stood an empty Israeli guard tower which, in the gloom of night, looked more like a haunted Transylvanian castle. "This is the checkpoint where a Palestinian sniper killed ten [Israeli] soldiers. They closed it down now." On our first night in Palestine, it felt so eerie.Fortunately, the older road entered the Palestinian village of Bir Zeit, home of the famous Bir Zeit university and home to several-thousand-year-old olive presses. Finally I encountered familiar ground. Unlike the road connecting Israeli colonies which skirts the edges of habitation, this road went right through the ancient village, and though the street lights were not as bright, the village people were out on the streets, their shops open, children playing, and loud music blazing from outdoor restaurants. The whole town was alive, and fear was not in the air that night. Though the driver was afraid someone would attack us because his car had an Israeli license plate, nothing of that sort happened.After those long 24 continuous hours of travel and lack of sleep, our first night back home was very depressing. The first thing that greeted us walking into my parents’ house was a large bullet-hole in the door, left as a souvenir by Israeli soldiers who were searching houses during the incursion of April 2002. Though the caretaker back then offered them the keys, explaining that the owner of the house was on travel, the soldiers insisted on shooting at the door. The shot was far from the lock. Instead, it penetrated two layers of door, one of them supposedly "bullet-proof", then exploded into many fragments, traces of which could be seen on the opposite wall of the living room. The central fragment went through the wall, through the back then the front of a wooden closet on the other side, and all the way out the window on the other side of the house, breaking the glass.The firing of this "dum-dum" bullet was clearly not about opening the door. It was not a warning shot. It was rather about showing us who’s boss—who can shoot through many doors, walls, and rooms. Luckily my parents were away at that time, or else they might have thought to answer the door.Despite this harrowing introduction, the rest of our stay was relatively calm and uneventful (thank God). The long-awaited Hamas retaliation did not come, nor did we see any of the clashes normally on TV. Personally, I had vivid images imprinted in my mind of the first Intifada which I experienced before leaving for the U.S. in the late 1980s. Back then we would see confrontations between Israeli soldiers and stone throwing "Shabab" ("guys") almost daily in downtown Ramallah. Often the soldiers would use live bullets and it would get deadly. Often, too, the soldiers would beat everyone they could catch in the neighborhood after these confrontations, two of my own brothers having been beaten simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Now however, in 2004, we did not witness such incidents first hand. In fact, we could hardly see any Israeli soldiers in downtown Ramallah. They mostly preferred to hang out at well-defended checkpoints on the outskirts where they can control us from afar without risking their lives.That is not to say things were always that quiet. Everyone in Ramallah spoke in horrified tones about "The Incursion", when in 2002, Israeli soldiers knocked down Arafat’s compound, put the whole city under curfew, searched every single house (stealing jewelry and money in the process), and terrorized everyone. It was a very difficult time for people there. Most of the public buildings in the city were destroyed. What we saw on our trip was the result of two years of rapid reconstruction. Everyone also told us how Ramallah was actually one of the quieter places in the West Bank and Gaza. Other places, especially Gaza, Nablus, Jenin, and the refugee camps, are not so fortunate.For example, just in the second day of our stay, I was watching CNN on satellite, when they announced that a 12-year-old Palestinian boy was killed in "a refugee camp in the West Bank", and that was that. Not mentioning the name of the child, as usual, this time CNN did not even bother to mention the location of that incident. "Some refugee camp," as if ‘who cares?’. I listened again. We really wanted to know if this refugee camp is in the vicinity of Ramallah—vital information we needed in order to decide whether it was safe to go out that day. Giving up on CNN, our only deliverance was from al-Jazeera, which not only identified the place as the Balata refugee camp in Nablus, but also gave the horrid details of the incident, how the poor boy was playing on his balcony when the Israeli bullet did its deed.On another dimension, the calm and quiet we experienced during our stay was very deceptive. Like I said before, it was quiet only because the occupying soldiers chose not to enter the city center. Had they wished to reassert their authority at any time, they could enter Ramallah unopposed. The Palestinian Authority police, reinstated in Ramallah just a month before our visit, are forbidden from carrying guns. People don’t even obey their orders directing traffic. The Israelis therefore go into Palestinians cities occasionally to arrest resistance leaders and people they dislike. Yet most of the time, they choose to stay just outside our cities because that is a cheaper way of controlling us. Rather than send large reinforcements of soldiers into potential inner city combat situations, their strategy is to just build a massive wall to contain us into small enclaves, leaving only small detachments of soldiers at the gates. It is a cheaper solution only because the U.S. government is complicit in providing U.S. taxpayer money to finance that medieval wall.The result of these policies can be described in one word: "suffocation". Rather than oppressing Palestinians using bullets and violence like they have done in the past, the Israeli oppression nowadays takes on a more institutional and administrative form. Downtown Ramallah is only a few square miles in area. One can drive from end to end, checkpoint to checkpoint, in a matter of minutes, but without a permit from the Israeli jailers, one cannot leave those confines. The feeling is really suffocating. Such travel restrictions stifle what’s left of the Palestinian economy and add to the already enormous unemployment.Even more significantly, Palestinians, now confined to their respective cities, do not even get to see their oppressors. There is no one to blame, no one to hate—at least no one in sight. Palestinian children can protest and demonstrate all they want, but no one is listening. While we were there, Israel was busy building its Apartheid Wall in several villages right at the western outskirts of Ramallah, despite pretenses by the Israeli High Court of "orders" to halt construction. These villages were deep inside West Bank territory, on Arab village lands, usually separating the villagers from the majority of their lands and water wells. I watched on TV how the Israeli soldiers violently evicted the villagers from their land and quelled their small protestations. Handfuls of international and even Israeli volunteers were defending the villagers. The funny thing is that here I am—a Palestinian watching his neighbors oppressed, right in front of satellite TV, and I cannot even go there to help them protest because of the Israeli checkpoints separating us.Close
Finally at the terminal, the "place of birth" on my American passport, and the seemingly innocent question of "How's your Hebrew", were enough to identify us and lead us into the infamous "Arab Room", now reduced to a small corner of the airport. Despite our…Read More
Finally at the terminal, the "place of birth" on my American passport, and the seemingly innocent question of "How's your Hebrew", were enough to identify us and lead us into the infamous "Arab Room", now reduced to a small corner of the airport. Despite our being married for 4 years, and despite all that she learned about Palestine, and the conflict during that time, my wife simply could not believe the way they treated us at Tel Aviv airport. At first she thought they were taking their time checking our passports. Quickly though, she couldn't help notice how empty the airport was, and how many of the border girls working there were hanging around chatting and doing nothing, while we were told to wait. After a tiring 20-hour trip, we were made to wait 3.5 hours, with no access to food, before finally being escorted out of the airport, and into an Israeli taxicab that was instructed not to let us get off anywhere except inside the West Bank. He dropped us off at a remote checkpoint close to the airport, but one hour away from Ramallah, in the dark of night, and we immediately had the sinking feeling of stepping into a prison.Close
It was a very long plane ride. Seven hours from the U.S. to Frankfurt, spending a few hours at the airport, then changing to another plane bound for Tel Aviv.Though Palestine is my homeland, I haven't been back for 5 years. The last time I…Read More
It was a very long plane ride. Seven hours from the U.S. to Frankfurt, spending a few hours at the airport, then changing to another plane bound for Tel Aviv.Though Palestine is my homeland, I haven't been back for 5 years. The last time I visited, in 1999, was at the height of the Oslo "Peace Process". Everyone there was optimistic, hopeful that a decades-old conflict will come to an end so they can get to enjoy normal lives for once, like the rest of humanity.Many emigrants had returned, and Ramallah, thought to be a de facto capital of the future Palestinian state, was booming.This time I didn't really know what to expect. The high point of peace had lasted only briefly, with the region slipping back into a violent conflict, erroneously labeled "Intifada", after Sharon's offensive entry into the Aqsa mosque. Over the last three and a half years, I have seen countless violent and horrendous images on TV. On CNN, I have been able to follow for several hours the gory aftermath of the occasional suicide bomb in Tel Aviv. On BBC and later, al-Jazeera, I have been able to follow the never-ending stream of horrific Israeli attacks on Gaza and the West Bank, against my own people, friends, and family. My heart would jump every time I heard there was an attack on Ramallah, picking up the phone immediately to call my parents and check on their safety. My heart would jump too when I hear of a suicide bomb in Jerusalem, because then I know that a "reprisal" Israeli raid will likely follow. One time I heard Israeli Apache helicopters were bombing some Palestine Authority office in Ramallah, about 100 yards from my parents' house. I called home. My aged mother answered the phone. My dad was outside working, and she was alone. The electricity to the whole city was knocked down by the bombing, and my mom couldn't reach any candles from her wheelchair. I could hear the sounds of the bombing from the telephone.Traveling with me, and not knowing what to expect either, was my wife of 4 years. She is neither a Palestinian nor an Arab, and has never been to the Middle East before. I longed to take her to visit my home country. Since the present Intifada erupted, various reasons forced us to keep postponing the trip. Despite my reassurances, she of course worried for her safety. My own secret fear, however, was her getting a negative first impression of my country when she saw all this destruction and danger. I somehow imagined we would arrive to a Ramallah in ruins—with TV images of Arafat's bombed-out compound or the Jenin refugee camp imprinted in my consciousness. At first, we kept postponing the trip, one year to the next, hoping that the situation would improve.Instead, things kept getting worse. Every year became worse than the one before. After the massacre of Jenin and the siege of the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem, Sharon's government started building a wall, to keep Palestinians enclosed within their cities-turned-prisons. I have seen many images of that wall. It looked very tall, medieval, and threatening. Being somewhat claustrophobic, I dreaded having to come face-to-face with it. What will my reaction be? Yet with events spiraling towards the worst, we finally decided there is no point in waiting any further. "Let's go visit Ramallah before Ramallah itself disappears from the map".Though I have settled in the U.S. for the last 15 years, I am a Palestinian, a Christian Arab born in Jerusalem in the early 1970s, under Israeli occupation. My parents originally came from the Arab cities of Yafa and Ramleh, now almost absorbed by sprawling Tel Aviv. They both had to leave their homes under fire in April 1948, when the armed Jewish terrorist groups Irgun and Hagannah attacked their cities. Most Arab families at that time were unarmed and city defenses were laughable, courtesy of the policies of a 30 year old British occupation. With their families, my parents fled for their lives and settled in Ramallah, becoming two out of over 800,000 Palestinian refugees who were evicted under similar circumstances. The following month, the Zionists declared a Jewish state they called "Israel". Much later, in 1967, Israel invaded its Arab neighbors and took control of the West Bank, completing its control of Palestine, and thus my parents fell under occupation again. Though I was born in Jerusalem, my residence was in Ramallah, and the Israelis made a point to rub that on me, by giving me a special orange ID card as opposed to the blue-color ID for residents of Jerusalem, a city the Israelis consider their capital.An orange Israeli ID, identifying a Palestinian resident of the West Bank.
Anyone caught not carrying his ID is subject to beating, imprisonments, and or fines. "Religion: Christian" says one line on this "yellow Star of David" of modern-day Israel.You see everything in Israel is color-coded and segregated: different colored-Ids; different-colored license plates; "Arab rooms" in the airport where we get the 4-hour interrogation/strip-search special while Jewish travelers walk through security in minutes; and special foreigner border points across the Jordan river so tourists will not see the day-long torture sessions ordinary Palestinians have to twice endure every time they need to travel abroad through Jordan.Israelis apparently take pride in their discrimination, proudly informing us at the embassy that my wife is likely to get her Israeli visa application denied "for the reason that she is married to a Palestinian". How is my wife to visit my birthplace when ethnicity of spouse is a visa requirement? Besides, why would my wife care to visit that war-torn place in the first place were she not married to me? To get her visa, my wife returned to the embassy alone, posing as a tourist staying in Jerusalem and wearing a big cross. This time they gave it to her.What made the trip much more terrifying is the Israeli assassination of Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin just days before our scheduled departure. After long deliberations, hours of watching the al-Jazeera news, and many phone calls home, we had decided to risk it and go. The newspapers served on the plane were not very reassuring, quoting threats from Hamas and suggesting they might retaliate by attacking Tel Aviv airport. What worried us even more, however, was Israel's planned response if Hamas took the bait and retaliated.The flight became really uncomfortable as we switched planes to Tel Aviv. Suddenly, I was one of the few Arabs on a flight packed with Jewish passengers. Everyone had a strange look on their faces, as if they were suspiciously eyeing us, our neighbors looking around at us so frequently. An old man sitting next to us, flying by himself, looked sympathetic enough. Twice he asked us to borrow a pen to fill out his paperwork, and twice we loaned him ours with a smile. After we landed in Tel Aviv, while we were waiting for the door to open, he attempted to strike a conversation. "First time to Israel?" I made the idiotic mistake of saying "no" and little by little he gleaned just enough to figure out I'm Palestinian. He was the first one to exit the plane, and I was right behind him. At the bottom of the steps, a number of airport security guards were waiting. With a nod, this old man said a word to the security guard, and the next thing I know, the guard jumps in front of me, blocking my way. For the next 15 minutes, we were interrogated right there on the taxiway, not even allowed to board the bus to the terminal, while everyone else looked on as they disembarked.Close
Written by HobWahid on 13 May, 2003
For many, Ram Allah is the heart of Palestine -- it signifies the spirit of the Palestinian people. It is the financial center of Palestine as well as the seat of the Palestinian Authority. A city of around a half a million people, Ram Allah…Read More
For many, Ram Allah is the heart of Palestine -- it signifies the spirit of the Palestinian people. It is the financial center of Palestine as well as the seat of the Palestinian Authority. A city of around a half a million people, Ram Allah is the bustling center of Palestinian life. Thousands of Palestinians cross the checkpoint outside of Ram Allah every day to go work in Jerusalem and other parts of Israel. Ram Allah is not a typical tourist area. There are no historical sights to see, most of those having been destroyed long ago, and it not a place to go for nightlife. One goes to Ram Allah to see the spirit of the Palestinian people, to talk with locals, sit around, smoke a shisha, and take in the sights and sounds of this city that has seen so much in recent years, but still finds a way to maintain its vibrancy and sense of daily life.
Getting to Ram Allah is rather easy. It is just a 3 Shekel, half-hour minibus ride to the checkpoint and then a short taxi ride into the center of the town, to the square called "Minara," the lively center of town, a square containing towering statues of lions that have been littered with graffiti and posters of dead Palestinians.
If you are going to make the trip to Ram Allah, I suggest you get a guide. We found ours through our hostel and if you are staying in the old city as well, you should have no trouble finding someone who can take you through Ram Allah. Getting a guide gives you the benefit of having someone who knows the city and can show you around with ease. Your guide will also be able to introduce you to people with whom you can talk, and he will be able to show you where you can get the best shawerma, shisha, and masteka (Palestinian ice cream). If you go alone though, you will have no trouble finding your way around and finding people who will help you. One of the great parts about Ram Allah is that, unlike Jerusalem, nobody will try to lure you into your store to rip you off, or ask you to just come take a look.
Our tour of Ram Allah began with a wonderful shawerma sandwich at a local café. From there, our guide took us to meet a group of Palestinian lawyers that work with Amnesty International in helping victims of injustices bring cases against both the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority. After a very informative session with them, we met up with some female students from Beir Zeit University and talked with them about the female perspective on the issue of Palestine. The students were extremely friendly and intelligent. Any visit to Ram Allah should include a visit to Beir Zeit University, as this is the intellectual center of Palestine and the point from which numerous activists emanate. Our guide then took us around to show us some of the houses that had been bulldozed by the IDF, as well as a police station leveled by Apache helicopters, and then the most shocking site, the compound of Yasser Arafat that was destroyed and besieged just last year. Seeing all these piles of rubble that were once symbols of the move towards Palestinian sovereignty showed just how strong the will of the Palestinian people had to be to move on with their lives, even under such a state.
Walking around Ram Allah you get the feeling that you could be in any other normal Arab city. The streets are full of life, shops are open and people run about their daily lives with smiles on their faces, but there are still things that hint as to the state in which these people live. Graffiti is sprayed across the walls of the destroyed police station saying, "Resistance is not terrorism." The local ice cream shop has cartoons in the window of Kofi Annan with the American flag in one eye, the Israeli in the other, and blood dripping from his hands. Right next door, there are posters of the American woman who was run over by an Israeli bulldozer earlier in the year, "Rachel Corrie: Victim of Justice."
Visiting Ram Allah is not a pleasure visit, but it an enlightening experience, one that will bombard your eyes and your ears. When you cross the checkpoint into Ram Allah, you will immediately notice the difference between it and the rest of Israel. It lacks the same modern amenities and it is generally not as clean. To come to Israel and not visit the West Bank, to not see the other side, is a crime. While Ram Allah does not have the history and monuments to offer that other parts of Israel do, it can offer you an unforgettable chance to experience the hospitality and friendliness of the Palestinian people that will overwhelm any of the preconceived notions you may have carried.
Written by phileasfogg on 04 Jul, 2002
A circular bed of tulips gleams red and gold through the shining glass pane of the window, and the young man at the check-in counter has a smile just about as bright. "Shalom," he grins at us. "I hope you enjoyed your trip…Read More
A circular bed of tulips gleams red and gold through the shining glass pane of the window, and the young man at the check-in counter has a smile just about as bright. "Shalom," he grins at us. "I hope you enjoyed your trip to Israel!" We’re standing at the El Al counter at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport, ready to go back home to India after a short but extremely eventful fortnight in Israel. Everything about Ben Gurion International is oh-so-correct. Brisk, efficient, not a hair out of place- a far cry from most of the places we’ve been visiting in the past two weeks. But then, we’ve been all over the West Bank, in Palestinian-controlled areas, where the spit-and-polish of the West is replaced by the `anything-goes’ exuberance of the East.
Anything goes, but warmth and a certain joie de vivre are what rule this area. "The West? What does the West know about hospitality?!", says a Palestinian Christian at the East Jerusalem YMCA, where we spend a week. He extends a cup of absolutely exquisite Turkish coffee to my father, and the twinkle in his eye is downright mischievous as he continues, "It’s the East which knows what hospitality really is!" And in this case, the West is not just Europe or America- it’s also smart, clean, very Jewish West Jerusalem. A different city almost, with its chic boutiques, its clean pavements and its gleaming cars.
Maybe he’s right; or maybe it’s just the fact that we do end up feeling much more comfortable when we’re in East Jerusalem. Though we’re foreigners in an alien land, we don’t actually feel out of place or away from home. Perhaps it’s got something to do with the heady aroma of kebabs and shawerma, falafel and fresh oranges which hits us as soon as we get out on the street; perhaps it’s the jostling crowds, the wandering goats, the roadside eateries and the overflowing trashcans on the street. This is too much like India for it to feel like a foreign country…but perhaps it’s actually the bright grins which appear on faces when we say we’re Indian. "You’re welcome here," says the Arab bus driver on the coach we take to Bethany, "Indians are our friends."
We- my parents and I- have come to the Holy Land as pilgrims. And though we’re on our own, we’re not really on our own- because all around us are thousands of other pilgrims. Muslim, Jewish, Christian- for this city, lying amidst the hills of Judea, is sacred to all three religions. Muslims call it Al Quds- `The Holy’- and believe it to be the place where the Prophet began (and ended) his night journey to heaven. To the Jews, Yerushalayam is Zion, part of the Promised Land; and to us Christians, it’s the place where Jesus preached, died, and rose again. Walking down Nablus Street, we see ample evidence of Jerusalem’s three religions- sombre rabbis in long black coats, monks in brown habits, Palestinian women in white scarves which frame their faces…the Jewish girls, in hip-hugging jeans, their hair streaked red and gold, look very different- and yet fit in so perfectly with this city which very dexterously juggles BC and AD, east and west.
It’s a breathtakingly beautiful city: there’s no denying that. Every building, whether it’s a hotel or an office, is made of the same beige-brown stone, and all around rise the hills- shrouded with cypresses and groves of grey-green olives, and dotted with churches. These stones, these trees, the very mountains around- breathe history. A history of war and peace, of Roman and Crusader, of Palestinian and Jew…
The most-photographed of Jerusalem’s many sights, the golden Dome of the Rock glitters in the sun, the most revered (after Mecca and Medina, that is) of Islam’s shrines. And near it is the Western Wall- the Wailing Wall, sacred to Jews as the last remnant of the Second Temple of Jerusalem, built way back in 20 BC by King Herod. And within the Walled City itself, not too far from the Wailing Wall and the Dome of the Rock, is the Via Dolorosa- the Path of Sorrow, down which Christ carried his Cross.
The Via Dolorosa-the Wailing Wall-the Dome of The Rock- all within walking distance of each other. Jewish, Islamic, Christian? Or just morsels of history which lie next to each other?
One cool, balmy morning we walk up the Mount of Olives, to visit the Church of All Nations, with its beautifully crafted mosaic façade. A short break at the Garden of Gethsemane next door, and then it’s further uphill, to the golden onion domes of the Church of Mary Magdalene, and the stark white-and-black domed Sanctuary of Dominus Flevit.
We walk on up the hill until we reach a level terrace, warm and lovely in the sunshine. There, amidst beds of purple irises, we stop for a breather, and to look out over the city, its ancient walls awash with the pale sunshine of an early spring day. A quiet city, serene and seemingly peaceful. At this distance, we can see no cars, no touristy souvenir-shops, and few modern buildings.
Just Jerusalem, the eternal city.