Sabbatical Blog Post #12

Now past 10 days in the fasting.  I was told by some people that the first week is hardest, then the body gets into a rhythm.  It is true.  Though the last couple of hours without water is still trying, the hunger gradually diminishes.  I’m finding that at Fitr and Suhour I actually want to eat less.

Today, I concluded the first week of “teaching” English at An-Najah.  This has been tremendous fun.  Between the two classes, I have about 40 students.  This week, we got to know each other and began to work on creating resume’s.  Their first assignment was to “friend” me on Facebook and read the posts I have been putting up since I came to Nablus.  What’s truly delightful is that now some of these students are connecting with and “friending” some of my Facebook friends in the states.

After finishing class today, I made my way back to Jerusalem, where I’ll hang out until Saturday afternoon.  On Friday, I’ll do some visiting of the holy sites in the city and take some pictures.  Since it is Yom Aj-Juma, the city will be full of people coming to Al-Aqsa mosque for prayers.  Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa are the third holiest places in the Muslim world after Makkah and Medina.  Muhammad and the first Muslim community originally used to pray towards Jerusalem.

Today, I had my first personal experience of a “checkpoint.”  Though it could have been a lot worse, it was a pretty disheartening experience.   Going to Jerusalem means catching a bus from Nablus to Ramallah, then another from Ramallah to Jerusalem.  Leaving Ramallah by bus, you have to pass through the “separation barrier” to enter Israel proper.  Nothing you have ever seen can prepare you for the sheer, bureaucratic ugliness of this arrangement.

Our bus stopped about a hundred yards short of the checkpoint so that most of the Arab passengers could disembark.  These folks had to enter a queue to be checked and questioned.  If allowed through, they then get on another bus on the other side.  A few Arabs with some kind of proper papers remained in the bus.  I remained, and hoped my American passport would be sufficient.

When the bus was stopped, two profoundly bored looking 20-something Israeli soldiers boarded.  They wore body armor and carried American made M-16 assault rifles.  They brusquely made their way down the aisle, checking the papers of every passenger.  They barely disguised their contempt, and all the people in the bus looked down in barely disguised humiliation.  A “Haj,” a respectable older gentleman and his wife, sat across from me.  Respect for the elderly is a cardinal value in both Arab and Israeli society.  So, the sight of these two “kids” standing over this couple with their loaded machine guns, demanding and theatrically studying their identification papers, was sad and revolting.  Everyone is dehumanized in this situation.

The soldier then demanded my passport.  When I gave it to him he snorted “I need to see the visa stamp.”  I found that and displayed it.  He barely looked, gave me a peremptory wave, barked a command at the driver, and got off the bus.  There was nothing of “security” about it.  I could easily have had a bomb in my backpack, or drugs, or almost anything.  It was a ritual of dominance, pure and simple.

Although, I must say, it was easier and quicker than airport “security” in Cleveland!


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