Living off balance - Occupied West Bank

Wednesday, March 26, 2014
It was Saturday morning when we boarded a bus in Bethlehem to head into Jerusalem and of course that meant passing through the checkpoint to move from the West Bank into Israel proper. We had connected with a Canadian girl who now lives in Bethlehem and is married to a Palestinian guy and she could understand and speak a bit of Arabic so she was to be a great help to us.

It's helpful to note that she could cross the line fairly easily with her Canadian passport, but her husband who is Palestinian, was not allowed to cross over out of the West Bank. Because they live and stay in the West Bank we asked them what they do for fun. There are not many parks or large park like areas there and there are no cinemas so what would they do on a day off. They replied that they used to go hiking in the countryside and that even some of those paths were changing because of the wall that was being built.

As our bus eased into the checkpoint, we expected that at most we would have to show our Canadian passports, but that was not to be. A nineteen year old soldier with a long ponytail and an M16 in her grasp, came on and spoke to the bus driver who then stood up and pointed to me and a few others and spoke in apologetic arabic tones. Thankfully the young lady I was sitting beside interpreted to me that we were to exit the bus immediately.  So I and six or seven others got up asking nobody in particular if we should bring our bags with us or what was happening, and we exited the bus to stand outside it.

It was an uncomfortable feeling standing there while the rest of our team was on the bus, really uncomfortable.  I never felt in immediate danger, but my naivety and my sense that a Canadian passport would cover a multitude of problems dispelled my initial fears.  It's the way things could go wrong quickly, that's where more of the fear lay.

Just a few days earlier a Palestinian judge had been shot dead at a checkpoint and the official spin on it was that he had attacked a border guard. The real truth was probably closer to the story that he had been pushed by the butt of the guards gun and had stumbled to the ground and got up giving the soldier a push, who in turn because he had a gun handy, instinctively turned and shot the judge dead. It seems this happens often here.

It's the way things could go so wrong so quickly with so many guns nearby that caused me to be nervous and fairly cautious. That and the tone of our english translator who had been pulled off the bus beside me. Her words were initially fairly tense and short. What to do, where to stand, how to stand there.

The ponytailed soldier entered the bus and began to go through passports while we stood outside with the other guard and his M16 beside us. Canadian girls tone began to relax as she began to understand what was happening to us, there by the bus on that lovely sunny day in March.

She said to me that this is what happens here to throw people off routine, to keep people on their heels. They will change the rules at any time, just to change the rules. For a while last year, and without notice they would not allow any internationals to travel on these busses. Just one day you would get to the checkpoint and not be allowed to go further. That lasted until months later an international tried to travel on the bus and was allowed. That meant the policy had changed and so all the internationals began to use it again. But there was no notice of these changes either way.

Today it had looked like they just wanted to pull off six or eight people to change things up, just to keep people off balance. Which in my estimation, had worked nicely. Keep up the tension levels, keeps people from getting too familiar or too relaxed into rhythms and routine.

With a level of relief settling on us and the rest of our team teasing us, we and the locals showed our papers and reentered the bus, we were good to go.

Just probably not quite the same.
That's the normal of living in an army occupied zone.

A Checkpoint in Bethlehem
One of the checkpoints in Bethlehem.


The Sea of Galilee area.

Saturday, March 08, 2014
We spent the day around the sea of Galilee today. It was hot and humid and beautiful. There's allot of places, churches mostly, built up over the sites. So it's really difficult to be engaged with the past. But the best part was being on the Sea of Galilee, looking out over the same vistas that Christ saw. The other good part was visiting Capernaum, where Christ lived a while. To see the ruins of the synagogue where Christ read scriptures, then to walk nearer to the shore where Peters home was, and to heal Peter's mom in law. That was insightful.

Finally to the place near where Christ was baptized, in the Jordan river. Now a beautifully treed shoreline with colorful flowers, and silence. It was good to see the distances and vistas Christ would have seen. Good as in moving.

Now we are doing a bit of laundry and then we are of to find some late dessert, probably cake. Seems to be the deal here.

Have a good first Sunday in Lent tomorrow. Pretty sure I will.

Fresh squeezed pomegranate juice.

Fresh squeezed pomegranate juice.

Me and the Sea of Galilee

Capernaum, where Jesus stayed and Peter lived.

The sea of Galilee

Supper at a roadside falafel stand.

Supper at a roadside falafel stand.

Supper at a roadside falafel stand.


Heading to Galilee

Heading to Galilee today.
Beautiful day, maybe some rain which is needed here.

Best toilet seat view in Nazareth.


Orange with green stick on it.

A bag of saffron gold, for the woman I love.


At the Fauzi Azar Inn. Nazareth.

Friday, March 07, 2014
Slept for ten hours last night. Thanks for prayers.
Here are some photos from the place we are staying at in Nazareth. Very beautiful in spite of the drought this place is in right now.

This place is filled with warm generous people. I'm loving it.

Fauzi Azar Inn, Nazareth
Fauzi Azar Inn, Nazareth

Fauzi Azar Inn, Nazareth

Fauzi Azar Inn, Nazareth

Fauzi Azar Inn, Nazareth


Spent the day in occupied Palestine

Thursday, March 06, 2014
Spent the day in occupied Palestine.
Some amazing stories being written by regular people living in poverty. Generous and hospitable, I was impressed. Very moving day, amazing people. Met pastors, world vision workers, Christian and Muslim children and those who care for them, and listened to their stories.

Spent the whole day behind the checkpoint. Saw things...

Church of the Ten Lepers

Lunch with new friends

Muslim School

Muslim School


At the Fauzi Azar Inn

Wednesday, March 05, 2014
The place we are staying in Nazareth tonight. Today I've gone back in time from jets and big cities to these narrow cobble stone back streets in the town where Joseph & Mary lived and Jesus grew up. What a day. What great people live here.

  Fauzi Azar Inn


Landing in Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv


I've always wanted to travel to...

The south of France.

  South of France



Over the Atlantic.

Over the Atlantic ocean


New York leaving Newark

New York leaving Newark. You can see central park.

Flying over New York

Arriving in Israel

Landing in Tel Aviv.

Tel Aviv


Heading East to see where a friend lived

Sunday, March 02, 2014
Tuesday morning early I am heading east.
East as in, the Middle East.
I expect to arrive in Israel early Wednesday morning. Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent.
I am getting excited about it finally.

I'm going to be attending a conference called Christ at the Checkpoint. A conference put on by Bethlehem Bible College. The mission of Christ at the Checkpoint is to Challenge Evangelicals To Take Responsibility To Help Resolve the Conflicts in Israel-Palestine By Engaging With the Teaching of Jesus on the Kingdom of God.

To that end there will be some great speakers from around the world, workshops, meals in Palestinian homes, conversation and connection. I was asked to go as part of a small group of four from our conference of churches here in Canada.

We will also connect with different missions groups there. Bethlehem, Nazareth, and Jerusalem are on the agenda, and we'll get to the Sea of Galilee, and some other local places. It will be good.

This is my first trip to this place. A place I've read about and studied for many years. It's the place where the Christ, who is Jesus, was born, lived, died, and came back to life again. It has been such a big part of my life for 50 years, that my biggest concern is that there will be an ongoing reconciliation process happening in my head. That the sites I see will be so different from the images I have in my head from these years of thinking about them.

Resolving what I see with my eyes with what's in my head, as a constant ongoing process.
I'm nervous about keeping up with that.

But interestingly, the overwhelming feeling I have is the feeling where I am travelling to see where a good friend or family member grew up, and I've never seen their place before. Like Jesus is excited to show me where he grew up and played and worked and lived, and that he can't wait to show it to me. That's what I'm feeling. That I'm going to see all these places my friend has told me about, and he's excited to show me.

Honestly I never expected to feel that way.
It's kind of odd, but really fun too.

That patch of land has seen so much bloodshed over the years, and continues to see political agenda cause pain and suffering to this day. I am going to be witness of it, and to let it shape me and my work even miles away.

So if you're a praying person, can you remember me Tuesday?
And then as I land on Ash Wednesday early, I'm looking forward to starting Lent in that place they call the Holy Land.

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