I left off this blog at our visit to Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem, and will need to share this with you in person. Somehow posting pictures of this grim reality or communicating via email does not seem adequate. Displaced Palestinians have been living in this camp since just after the 1948 establishment of the State of Israel, behind walls and barbed wire, with watch towers surrounding, a virtual prison. The murals on the walls illustrate the suffering.
The gaps in communication are the result of poor internet connection in the different places we traveled, plus days that began at 7am and ended about 9pm/ Intense and full and fascinating, but boy did bed look good! Leaving Bethlehem we went through the Judean wilderness to Jericho, seeing Bedouin shepherds herding sheep and goats through the high dry mountains, their camps makeshift shelters they share with their animals. It was not hard to imagine Jesus’ lonely sojourn and temptation in the barren desert landscape. It was 101 degrees with surprising high humidity the day we traveled through. At Jericho, we toured the ruins of Hashim’s palace with Byzantine mosaics, and went on to the Dead Sea, where some in our number floated in the warm water. I held out to swim in the Sea of Galilee, really a fresh, or as our guide Ra’fat said, “sweet water” lake. I got up early and went in before breakfast – it was beautiful.
The inn, Pilgerhaus, was right on the lakeside, and in the hills close by landmarks for Jesus’ Galilean ministry – the Mount of Beatitudes, Nazareth, the ruins of Capernaum, Bethsaida, and Magdala. This region really brought a sense of Jesus’ living presence. In Nazareth we visited a 1st century home site discovered underneath a convent, and nearby, a tomb with the round stone still in place before it. I got chills seeing it. As Sister Stefania said, leading us through, Jesus as a boy, before he was the Christ, likely visited this home. Everyone would’ve known everyone! I absolutely loved visiting all these places and imagining the stories we’ve read coming to life. Along the Sea of Galilee, all these sites are close together – so easy to picture Jesus calling the disciples, walking the streets of Capernaum, and visiting the fish processing port of Magdala – Mary of Magdala’s hometown. And what a beautiful church in Magdala – the altar and pulpit fashioned like a fishing boat, with a view of the water.
All along the way, this pilgrimage has focused on the plight of the Palestinians, a true apartheid situation. Palestinians are not allowed to go to the coast, to Jerusalem, to Galilee, or anywhere in the state of Israel without special permits, difficult to obtain, and passage can be revoked anytime. Water taken from Palestinian lands is pumped to Israeli settlements and cities, and sold back to them at higher cost, their ability to farm the land drastically reduced. Electricity and amenities are limited, and Palestinians no longer have access to roads they once did – travel is very difficult – and you really notice the difference in road maintenance in Palestinian territories as opposed to those in Israel. Everywhere in Israel the state flag flies, lining the streets. Palestinians are not allowed to raise their flag, and can be jailed for doing so. We heard from many speakers about the issues faced, and the longing for a return to the land, and most of all, for peace to prevail.
More to come…
With gratitude for this once in a lifetime experience!