Ancient Stones, Living Stones

By Andrew Dreitcer, from Israel

From what we hear from outside sources, things are a bit exciting in the region around us. Up to 1 million people are marching against Mubarak in Egypt right now, Jordan’s King Abdullah II has fired his government, Syria protests are growing, and Yemen’s unrest is continuing. I say we hear this from “outside sources” because here, on the ground in Israel and Palestine, things are calm; there’s no hint of disruption, even though (as I just learned) the Palestinian Authority has called for immediate elections, with no word of a buy-in from Hamas. Since all of those things have been developing within a couple of hours from us in 3 directions, friends and family who are thinking of us might be interested to know that we are feeling safe. Nothing seems to have changed here, as far as we can tell. We’ll definitely let you know if it does. Though I imagine you may hear of it before we do.

In the midst of all of that, our “alternative tour” continues – and sometimes through walls. Over the past two days the walls came in 3 forms.

Yesterday we began the day crossing from the West Bank (in Bethlehem) back into Israel (into Jerusalem), through the incredibly imposing concrete wall meant to protect Israel from what the country experiences as Arab aggression – especially in the shape of suicide bombers. We walked through the checkpoint that Palestinians are required to use. The other checkpoint, the one for tourists, is a 5-10-minute wait in a traffic line, with a quick walk-through-the-bus by M-16-toting teenaged soldiers. The Palestinian checkpoint is hundreds of yards from that spot, a long 4-foot-wide, 8-foot-high metal cage that snakes for perhaps 100 yards. When we crossed, there was no line; it was late morning. But between 7 and 9, when the Palestinian workers are allowed to cross to work in Jerusalem, there are hundreds and hundreds of people, filling that snaking cage 4-people across. After the cage-line come 3 permits/papers checkpoints. All we had to do was flash our passports; the Palestinians around us took a bit longer, but they had the correct papers, so there was not much of a pause – though I can imagine the morning rush-hour could be more than frustrating. Above all of this is the wall (30 ft. high? 40 feet?). In some places, we have learned (heard and seen) it is a “fence”: a 100-yard-wide combination of electrical razor wire, asphalted and gravel roadways, a ditch, and a no-build zone. But at this checkpoint there is only a vast expanse of graffiti-covered concrete. On one side is the world of Palestinians, afraid their lives are being squeezed away by strangling occupiers. On the other, the world of the Israelis, fearing that if they let down their guard their lives will be blown to bits. That was the first wall.

Read the rest of this post from the Ancient Stones, Living Stones "trip blog" at here.