Live always at the edge of poetic possibilty, even in the face of severe prose. - Walter Bruggemann

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Nablus - Part 1

Nablus (Shechem) is a city in the northern part of the West Bank, approximately 39 miles from Jerusalem. It's an old, old city founded in 72 CE by Vespasian. While the history of the city is quite interesting and varied I'm not going to go to much in it here. Biblically, this is the place where Jesus met the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well. Today the population is predominately Muslim however there are Christians and Samaritans still living there. Nablus is under Palestinian civil control with Israel controlling the entrances and exists to the city. This entry on Nablus will be in two parts. Today you'll see the city and cultural aspects. The following entry will be of Balata Refugee Camp. Main city circle
The logo to the Nablus soap factory. Nablus is very famous for its olive oil soap. At one point in time there were over 400 factories but today there are very few left. They are family owned.
A vat of liquid olive oil soap
Pouring the hot soap
Scoring the soap and putting on the logo
Scored soap stacked and ready for packaging
Palestinians have an unusual way of using manniquins
Through the alleys of the old city
See what I mean
These two men wanted so badly to talk with us. It is unusual to see non-Palestinians in Nablus. Their English was much better than my Arabic. We could communicate with laughter.
These two young men wanted very badly to have their picture taken. I obliged. They are standing in front of a memorial.
Every guide has his or her own favorite shops to visit. This was a spice and coffee shop. Arabs are known for their incredible hospitality. We sat down and had arabic coffee before cutting any deals.
Freshly roasted coffee being ground. I bought some to bring if I only had the knack for cooking the coffee.
Umm, smell the aroma
Al Karreoun is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Nablus
We stopped at a functioning Turkish bath. This is the waiting room where we sat and drank coffee. The clients come and relax beforehand and smoke argilla aka water pipes. The tobacco is flavored and delicious
Inside the bath....the women get Tuesday afternoon other than that the rest of the time is for men. Hey-it's the Middle East, what can I say?
One of the bath attendants waiting for business
Attendants smoking argilla
The Samaritan Woman at the Well Icon. This was inside the Greek Orthodox Church built over the well. I do not have a picture of the well because photos were not allowed. We drank from the well, the living water!
The apse of the Church. For an orthodox church it was very modern with a lot of light streaming in.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Refugee Camps

In the past few weeks I have visited several Palestinian refugee camps in the cities of Ramallah, Nablus and Hebron. I'll be posting photographs over the next few days of each camp and photos in and about their respective cities.

Monday, July 28, 2008


There are two refugee camps within the radius of Ramallah. The first one shown here is Kalandia Camp. Established in 1949 on 353 dunums of land. One dunum is approximately 1,000 square meters or 10,767 square feet. Kalandia is in zone C, full Israeli control. There are three zones within the West Bank: zone A which is full Palestinian control, zone B which is Palestinian civil control and Israeli military control and zone C, full Israeli control.
Closures imposed on the West Bank have made the socio-economic conditions worsen. Unemployment is high and there is deterioration of the buildings. Camp residents run their own activities and UNRWA helps to sponsor a Women's Culture Center, Rehabilitation Center, Youth activities. There are several Palestinian NGO's active in the West Bank. UNWRA is the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Relief. UNWRA was set up in 1949 under the UN General Assembly resolution 302. Although UNWRA has scaled back its work it is still visible today. The population in Kalandia Camp is 10,759. Schools and summer camps for youth are active in the camp providing services. Girls learning the debka, a traditional Palestinian dance.
Basketball summer camp for girls.
A typical street in Kalandia.
School's out for summer! Children loved to have their photos taken.
Locally grown honey. Do you grow honey? Or keep bees??
Al Amari camp was started also in 1949 on 90 dunums of land. The refugees lived in tents for the first 8 years and then in 1957 the tents were replaced with cement block buildings. In 1995 it came under full Palestinian control-zone A.
Typical is the artwork graffiti spray painted on the walls. They often depict the Palestinian flag or faces. Here there are cartoon characters.
A typical street in Al Amari
This boy was painted up for the day. Here his is sipping fresh juice.
Electrical wiring up to code??? This young man was with our group as a representative of Al Amari. - He's working the beard!
After the camp visits we went to the tomb of Arafat. These are the two guards who were standing guard at the tomb. Like those guys at Arlington, they neither smiled nor talked nor moved.
I forget the name of these guys and the name of the drink that they sell. It's a sweetened cool drink.
The big square in Ramallah.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Holy City

It’s so funny how things come back to bite you in the derriere – NOT! Every year for Palm Sunday the Music Director of my former congregation, in cooperation with the choir and one of the soloist would sing a piece that I disliked, ALOT. The piece, The Holy City by Stephen Adams and Richard Crooks was loved by many congregants and even requested! In addition to the palms waving in the air The Holy City was a staple at our Palm Sunday services.

To me it sounded schmaltzy, calliope-ish, and old fashioned. When it began I no longer saw the soloist in his fine red choir robe but standing there with a handlebar mustache and red stripped vest belting out or maybe even bleating the refrain “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, lift up your gates and sing, Hosanna through the ages, Hosanna to your King.” When the piece began I would look at my colleague and very discreetly roll my eyes up into my head.

Well, I got bit tonight here in that Holy City, Jerusalem. It was, as usual, a stunning evening in Jerusalem. The heat of the day dissipated and the cool breeze set in. A few stars popped out in the evening sky as we sat in the Tomb of the Kings in East Jerusalem. The history of the Tomb goes back to 45 CE when the Queen of Mesopotamia fell in love with Jerusalem and decided that it was here she wanted to bury her son. The tombs were cut into the rock and included a cave with a decorated fa├žade. We sat surrounded by the high walls of the tombs which served as a memorial structure used for ceremonies. And it is here that the Palestine Youth Orchestra gave a beautiful concert as part of the Jerusalem Festival 08.

The Palestine Youth Orchestra brings together Palestinian musicians from around the world comprised of 50 young people residing in Palestine, Jordan, Syria, the USA and Europe. This was the first year in their five year history that they were able to perform in their homeland due to restrictions on entry. The first half of the program included excerpts from Aram Khachaturian’s Gayane Ballet Suite No 2 and 3. Everyone got fired up when they began to play Sabre Dance from the Suite.

The second half of the program featured Palestinian orchestral music celebrating Jerusalem. The three female vocalists were of opera caliber. Their voices blended so beautifully with the orchestra that I got chills. All of the pieces were sung in Arabic except for one song. You guessed it, The Holy City.

OK, it got to me. I admit it. I guess sometimes you’ve just ‘got to be there’ to understand. I have a whole new appreciation for this song because I can see and understand and picture in my mind’s eye the gates rising and the people singing Hosanna to our King. You can listen to an excerpt if you aren’t familiar with the piece. It still sounds like it needs a calliope accompaniment but not so much now anymore. Now I understand the power of the words and the grand, imposing sound of the notes.

Excuse me now while I go to bandage a festering wound.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008