Wednesday, 24 December 2008

holy land reflections (2) - little donkey

Aleem Maqbool with donkey number three.

I've just been reading an account by the BBC journalist Aleem Maqbool of his journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem with a donkey. Actually, there were several donkeys as he had to change them for various reasons during his sojourn. Maqbool has now reached Bethlehem and was interviewed this morning on Radio 5 Live, from where he described the preparations for this evenings celebrations of the birth of Jesus. It is well worth reading Maqbool's account of his journey and I particularly appreciated his description of places I was not able to visit during my recent trip to the Holy Land. Here is a section from Maqbool's diary and his description of the situation faced by many Palestinians echoes some of the stories I heard durng my time there.

The morning began with a beautiful walk, but ended with a stark reminder that this trail takes us through what remains a conflict zone that impacts on people's lives every day.
The final few kilometres to the checkpoint took us past small communities, again, divided into those which were predominantly Jewish, and those that had a mix of Christians and Muslims, like the village of Mokeble, the last stop before the barrier that separates Israel from the West Bank. There, I got talking to Adala, a teacher, who was keen to show off the Christmas tree in her school hall. She said that since the barrier had been put up, her husband had been separated from his brothers and sisters who were in a village a few hundred metres on the Palestinian side. She said they could no longer come to visit him, but that her and her husband, as Israeli ID card holders, could sometimes cross the other way into the West Bank if the checkpoint was open.

After a wait at the checkpoint, I was happy to be told that I would be allowed to pass. However, the Israeli authorities informed us that our donkey did not have the correct paperwork. Donkey number two would have to be left behind. I would like to think her stubborn resistance to getting into the animal trailer was because she wanted to stay with me. However, I have a feeling it was more the prospect of a bumpy ride home.

For those Palestinian farmers in the West Bank who have land on the "wrong side" of the barrier (in many places it runs well inside West Bank, leaving Palestinian land outside), such bureaucracy can really impact on working life. Many farmers have given up tending their land in these circumstances. Two donkeys down, I crossed into the West Bank alone.
Tuesday 16th December: Mokeble. Aleem Maqbool.

This brief account reminded me of my own experience of crossing the barrier as we left Bethlehem (West Bank) to enter Israel. What at the time was for me a minor inconvenience comprising a delay of about half an hour is an everyday occurrence (of much longer than half an hour) for those living on one side and working on the other side of the wall. There are many Palestinian Christians who will be unable to attend worship in their own churches over the Christmas period because of the separation barrier. I will be thinking of them as I take my family to church on Christmas Day.

The wall at the entrance to Bethlehem.

'For He is our peace: in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.' Ephesians 2:14.

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