The Enchanting Ride from Amman to East Jerusalem
Trip Start Jun 05, 2008
7Trip End Jun 30, 2008
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Once at your destination, your senses are overwhelmed by the smells, noise, heat and raw humanity of the place
I was lucky enough to have had friends to stay with on the West Bank. One of the first things to remember is that they all live in an Occupied Territory. It has been like this since 1967, the year I graduated high school, I will go back this summer 2009 for another visit, now that I have retired. Perhaps some day Palestine will be an independent country, the present administration in DC promises the best chance of this.
The people of the West Bank are among the friendliest that I have met. First in Arab culture is hospitality for travelers, and this means eating. Eating means a "Manzif" which is a Bedu feast of rice, lamb and yogurt, all eaten with the hands. Do not think about dieting, its best not to eat at all the day you are going to have a Manzif, especially if you know that it is coming. [I had two one day and could not hardly walk after the second one]
Everywhere you go the smiles are wide and the people eager to meet you
Nothing prepares you for the reality that East Jerusalem is an awful like East Berlin, a generation ago. There is a wall, and he people on one side are a world away from the people on the other. Before going to this part of the world I got a copy of Frommer's travel guide, and I am never going to buy another. It dismisses the Occupied Territories as dangerous and simply says not to go there. It written by a guy who lives in Israel and who probably is barred from the West Bank. It is simply dismissive to the point ob being haughty. Next time I will try Lonely Planet, a much more honest and forthright publication.
My first trip was to Nablus, only a few miles on the map, but hours and hours in a car. My host's daughter was getting married, so we packed thirty or so men, women and children into three cars and a rented diesel bus. We took a winding road around Jerusalem and thru a checkpoint named "checkpoint". A fairly uninteresting affair, but another reminder that while the US has said this should be a soverign nation, the Israel's have their boot on the throat of the residents here
An Arab wedding is a thing to behold, huge numbers of family members and friends attend and the men stay in one room and the women in another. The men sit around smoking and looking dour, the women sing, dance and have a blast. Try as I might, I could not penetrate their quarters. After several hours at the reception at a hilltop hotel in Nablus, we headed back to Bethlehem. At the road block south of Nablus we had to leave our vehicles, go thur military security, and then find a cab to the reception hall. After the festivities we started off for home. Unfortunatly the checkpoint, while still manned by soldiers, was closed. It was midnight and thirty off us could not get to our cars and the bus
The next day Isa Musa went to the Old City by himself to pray. I went to court! My host's father had a dispute about a parcel of land in Bethlehem and so we were off to the Palestinian Authority court of general jurisdiction. Both criminal and civil matters were being heard that day. The new judge was Fatah and had replaced the older, wiser Hammas judge. I made no further inquiries about that as it is a sensitive subject, and was just a visitor. The court was crowded wtih all sorts of people whose only common characteristic was that they all loved to smoke
I waited around all day, only to find that the judge wanted to have the matter continued until live witnesses could be called, a common stall by judges in America to avoid deciding tricky matters. While visiting the court house, word spread that I was an American lawyer. Though my Arabic was not up to the task, I was approached by many with problems that Solomon himself would puzzle upon. A woman had been convicted of assaulting her neighbor had been sentenced to three days in jail, but since there were no facilities for female prisoners, her husband had to serve the time in her place. She was beside herself as her husband would beat her when he got out, and she needed my help. [I had no idea what to do] Another fellow has cashed a check for an Israeli that bounced. He wanted justice, but could not go to Israel to file a claim against him, and the PA court had no jurisdiction over an Israeli under the Oslo accords. [I had no idea what to do for him either] When the day was done, I was known to everyone at the court house. The prosecutor came out and introduced himself to me. He could speak English so we had a nice little chat about jurisprudence, which was not so different to that in the States. I asked him about land disputes; what happens if you decide a case and award a parcel of land to A and not to B, then the Israelis come and build a settlement on it, can you order them off? They have tanks he said, and followed it with, 'now you know what it is like to be a Palestinian.'
The next day we were off to Hebron
The next day we stopped in Hasan, a small village just east of the 'Green Line', which originally divided Israel from the rest of the West Bank, then Jordan, just after statehood. The roads were ghastly, so we cold only go 10-15 Km per hour, for fear of breaking an axel. Everyone here owns their own house free and clear, if at all
[at this point I must confess that I do not understand this software and can not get the pictures to go with the words! sorry, try to use your imagination a bit]
Jerusalem, was my final stop on my trip. The crossing thru the wall was uneventful, and there were plenty of taxis on both sides. There are buses but that requires a knowledge of the schedules or the ability to read Hebrew/Arabic. While Jerusalem is a large, sprawling city, it is the old part of the city that attracts the throngs. You should spend a full day there, at minimum. While a guide would be nice, the locals are eager to explain the sights. The catacombs near the Dome of the Rock are cool and provide refuge from the son. The man standing sentry was eager to explain the genesis of the place to us
There are restrictions on the Jewish and Muslim sites at various times of the week, but the Christian sites are open to all, subject to availability. On Sunday the Nativity Church was jammed, however. The 'Wailing Wall' was off limits the day I was there, Shabat, but is open to all faiths at other times. I had to recite so much of the Qur'an as was easy for me to gain access to the Haram on Saturday, but this too is open on other days, or so I am told.