Saturday, August 25, 2012

The West Bank

This is the West Bank in Israel.  The sign says it all!

This is Abraham's tomb from the Palestinian side.  That is bullet proof glass on the left of the tomb that shields the Israeli side of the tomb from the Muslim side.

No-man's land next to the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron. The right side of the barrier is where the Palestinians can walk, watched by the Israeli guards of course.  On the left side of the barrier the Israeli's can walk.  But no one really walks much in this area because it is a war zone.

This is Abraham's tomb from the Israeli side.  It is heavily secured as you can see.

An Israeli guard house at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron.

Captain Steve standing before Abraham's tomb.

This is an example of one of the signs in Hebron.  Most of the center of the old town is abandoned and similar to a ghost town except for the Israeli Army patrolling the streets.

Lunch time with an Israeli family in their home with Maria on the left.  We had upside down chicken and rice and a vegetable. No McDonalds here!

Aida Camp is a Palestinian refugee camp on the edge of Bethlehem.  We walked around inside of the camp.

This is the inside of the Palestinian refugee camp.  It makes us appreciate what we have.

This is the Wall that Israel is building between Israel and Palestine.  It was supposed to be about 5 miles long but it is currently 10 miles long and growing longer every day.  You can see the UN dumpsters in the background, next to the graffiti.  

This is another part of the Wall.  The pictures explain the Palestinian side of the story.

Another view of the Palestinian refugee camp with the closed and locked stores.

Entrance to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.  We entered through the "door of humility" to gain access to the church. 

Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

Maria in awe at the birthplace of Jesus, marked by the star.

Another view of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

The view of the countryside around Bethlehem from the Church of the Nativity.  It is very arid and barren today as you can see.

The old city of Hebron.  Most of the shops have been locked and shuttered by the Israeli Army.  Look at the netting over the alleyway.  This prevents being hit by objects that are thrown by the settlers from above.  It doesn't stop liquids however.

Some of the larger objects caught in the netting.

One of the many well defined areas in the West Bank.

Some of the gates, walls and checkpoints at the Tomb of the Patriarchs.   That is a heavily armed Israeli soldier walking on the top of the wall.

Another military checkpoint we had to go through to get into the Palestinian side of the Tomb of the Patriarchs.

Maria inside the Palestinian side of the Tomb of the Patriarchs.  She was required to wear the robe because this was the Muslim side of the tomb.

Ah yes, the footprint of Adam!   THE Adam from Adam and Eve.

Maria seems to be enjoying wearing this stylish robe.

No, this isn’t your ordinary bank but THE West Bank in Israel occupied mostly by the Palestinians but under Israeli control with new Jewish settlers arriving every day.

We had a lot of difficulty finding a tour that went to the Tomb of the Patriarchs/Cave of Machpelah in Hebron, deep inside of the West Bank.  We also wanted to go to Bethlehem and that too is in the West Bank but it is relatively safe, as compared with Hebron which is pretty much in a war zone.

What is the attraction of the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron you might ask?  Well, it is the tomb of Abraham!  Since we saw Abraham’s birthplace in Sanliurfa, Turkey we just had to see his tomb.  Also buried in the Tomb of the Patriarchs are supposedly Adam (The Adam!), Isaac, Jacob and their wives: Rebecca, Leah and Sarah.  There is also the footprint of Adam in the Tomb.

So who could resist going into Palestinian held territory to Hebron where there are bombings, shootings and general instability every day of the year?

We asked our hotel in Jerusalem if they could find us a tour and after many calls to their friends they said No, it was not possible because of the situation.  After much research we found Green Olive Tours, based in Bethlehem, and they offered a small tour that would take us to Hebron.  Along the way we would have lunch with a Palestinian family, visit a refugee camp and then visit the Church of the Nativity once we made it safely back to Bethlehem.

Our group of 7 were transported in a small Israeli bus to Bethlehem where we were left in the care of our Palestinian guide.  We all piled into a small, unmarked, slightly beatup white van for the tour.  Traveling on back roads we traversed zones A, B, C and then into X1.  All of these zones are required because they have restrictions about who can be in which ones.  Palestinians only in A; Israeli cars can go into B but cannot stay and so forth.  X1 is the Israeli controlled part of Hebron and we had to go through 3 Israeli checkpoints to enter the Palestinian side of the Tomb of the Patriots. 

Yes, these are Israeli checkpoints because Israel controls most of Hebron but not all of it.  To say that this is a lawless city is an understatement.

We walked through the mostly deserted small alleyways of the old city with only a few open shops scattered about.  Why were all of the shops closed we asked our guide.  Pointing up from the dark street we were standing on were plastic coverings and sometimes net coverings that were in place to prevent the bottles, rocks and every other item you can imagine including human urine from hitting those walking underneath.  It seems that there are Jewish settlers who have taken residence in the buildings that extend above the Palestinian old city and these settlers make it extremely difficult for anyone working in the shops to do so.  Essentially the Jewish settlers want the Palestinians out of Hebron and they are doing their best to make this happen.

The Tomb of the Patriarchs is one of the most holy sites for both Jews and Palestinians.  They both want this tomb for their own.  As you can imagine this causes a lot of conflict!  During the Israeli-Arab war in 1967, Israel captured half of the city and half of the tomb.  So today the tomb is split into 2 parts, right down the middle.  Abraham’s tomb is half inside the Jewish part and half inside the Palestinian part with iron gates and bullet-proof glass separating the two parts.  Israeli troops control access to both sides of the tomb but the inside of the tomb is divided.  This was really strange.

We were able to visit both sides of the tomb because we are Christians.  Our guide could not come with us to visit the Israeli side because he is Palestinian.  He told us to tell the military that we were Christians and nothing else when asked by the Israeli troops.  A different answer would prevent us from visiting the tomb, either side of the tomb!

So we passed through 3 Israeli checkpoints within 10 feet of each other on both sides of the tomb in order to visit the sacred site.  Maria had to wear the robe in the picture when we went into the Palestinian side of the tomb. 

But we nearly did not get to go into the Muslim side of the tomb.  It seems that even though the month long Ramadan is over they now had a 3-day holiday afterward and the tomb was closed for that.  However our guide talked to the gatekeepers and we were allowed inside.  Our guide was very good!

After our visit to both sides of the tomb it was time for lunch with a Palestinian family who lives in a house right in the middle of the street that divides the Palestinian side from the Israeli side.  There are no other houses or people allowed in this narrow strip of land except for this family.  10 yards away the heavily armed Israeli military kept constant watch on everything and everyone within 100 yards of the boundary.

Our lunch was very nice with chicken and rice served upside down, a traditional Palestinian meal.  We talked with the family and they told us their feelings of the current situation in the West Bank.  It was fascinating to say the least.

After lunch we quickly traversed the labyrinth of covered alleyways again before finding our van and driving to our next stop, a Palestinian refugee camp. 

The poverty inside the camp was oppressive to say the least.  This camp was called the Aida Refugee Camp and it was built right next to the WALL that Israel is building throughout the West Bank.  This wall is similar to the old Berlin Wall and is viewed as such by Israeli’s and Palestinians.  Yet the wall grows bigger and longer and longer with each passing day.

Next stop was Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity where Jesus was born.  Luckily it was not Christmas because the crowds were huge even now!  A silver star in the church grotto marks the spot of Jesus’ birth.  Right next to the star is the manger also in the grotto.  It is difficult to describe how uplifting it was to be in this joyous place after the sights we had visited earlier in the day.

We arrived back at our Jerusalem hotel after a very long day and basked in the coolness of our hotel air-conditioning, thinking, remembering and talking about the intense experiences we had this day.  We wouldn’t trade this day for anything.

We are preparing Aspen to sail the 4 days back to Turkey where we will leave her to rest as we return home to rest as well.

Sail on, sail on and sail safe Aspen…

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