Snippets of conversation.

I was preaching at St. Andrew’s Galilee – and as a result stayed in the fabulous Scotts Hotel overnight (preachers from Jerusalem get an overnight stay there at the Church’s expense). Its always a pleasure to look out of your window in the morning and see the view over the Sea of Galilee.

The view from my window – not too bad really!

At breakfast there were few there – the groups tend to head off good and early, (and after preaching twice on Sunday I didn’t!), so I was sitting in the restaurant eating my omelette when I heard someone from the group at the next table saying “As a Israeli Citizen I say that our government shouldn’t give the Palestinians anything.” I couldn’t help hearing it and a moment later another on the table said, “they give all that money to the Palestinians who just pass it all on to Hamas.” Part of me wanted to ask them if they really believed that – but I didn’t – I noticed a lady on the table looking closely at me and I shook my head. She looked away seemingly embarrassed.

It reminded me of conversations I have had with different Israelis. On a plane coming to Israel for example where the lady sitting next to me expressed highly prejudiced views about Palestinians, and a conversation I had been a part of at Yad Vashem, where again the views of Palestinians expressed were so far removed from what I experience every day.

And then there was an encounter a year or so ago with a young Israeli woman, who said “Isn’t it a pity that Palestinian mothers don’t love their babies.”

I do know that there are some Israelis that know Palestinians and wouldn’t express such prejudiced views about them. I stayed one weekend with a family in Haifa and met a family who all spoke Arabic and who were adamant that Jews, Christians and Muslims, Arabs and Israelis can live together in peace – if only social justice was upheld for Palestinians. However such socially aware Israelis (regarding Palestinians) are rare. The now many years of division between Israelis and Palestinians have left both sides ignorant of each other.

I do believe that one of the roles of the Methodist Liaison Office it to help Palestinians and Israelis to meet each other and so to break down prejudices. Unless this happens, there can surely be no route to peace in this land.


Wadi Fukin

It must now be four years since I first went to Wadi Fukin. The place name means “Valley of Thorns.” Tradition has it that the crown of thorns placed on Jesus’ head before the crucifixion came from Wadi Fukin. Today it is a fertile valley with a Palestinian village of the same name within it. It is situated near to the green line in an area where the Separation Barrier has not yet been built. You can observe, from the village, hundreds of people walking up the track that leads to the Israeli town of Tsur Hadasa, to travel on to destinations throughout Israel. For those who don’t have permits to enter Israel it is easy and ready access. (This of course puts paid to the argument that the Separation Barrier has reduced attacks in Israel. There are many ways to enter Israel from the West Bank without going through any checkpoints and without having a permit).

Today Wadi Fukin is a microcosm of what is happening throughout the West Bank. The Palestinian village is being squeezed by two developments, the settlement of Betar Illit and the town of Tsur Hahasar (which strictly speaking under international law has become an illegal settlement though until it developed over the green line it was an Israeli town). The huge building developments go on without any regard for the people already living there. Recently water has flooded a number of houses in Wadi Fukin as pipes from new roads being built in Tsur Hadasa deposit water directly into homes of Palestinians. There has been frequent dumping of sewage from Betar Illit into the valley below – why is not clear, but it seems that as the development has gone on apace, at times the sewage capacity in the settlement has been insufficient for the needs, the excess has simply flowed down onto fields and crops – creating both economic disaster for the farmers and a health hazard for the village.

“Rural” Wadi Fukin with Tsur Hadasa in the background.

What with one thing and another it had been six months since I had been to Wadi Fukin. I have to say that I was shocked by what I saw. On both sides of the village the illegal development was getting closer and closer to the village – taking up more and more of the Palestinian land.

Betar Illit viewed from the Children’s playground.
Betar Illit from Wadi Fukin.

Some years ago the United Methodist Church gave a grant to develop the children’s playground in Wadi Fukin. Over the last two years a football pitch and a seating area has been added. It is the only children’s playground in Wadi Fukin. It has a demolition order on it. It is reputed that Betar Illit has sixty children’s playgrounds – and of course none of them have demolition orders on them.

I may well sound very cynical and one sided in writing this blog. It’s difficult not to feel that way when you sit in the village of Wadi Fukin. When I feel at my most charitable I feel that this is not deliberate mistreatment of Palestinians – it is simply that in these developments the decisions get made without any regard for the impact on Palestinians. I have to say that the longer I live here the fewer are those charitable moments!

Perhaps I’m being taught patience!

This photo of me does perhaps portray the level of frustration – though perhaps I ought to show a blood pressure reading as that too might illustrate something of the joys of working in Israel!!!

Me with a haggard look!

The cause of my frustration is an Israeli Company called “Netvission,” and the task I have of trying to end the account with them.

Some weeks ago I did a blog about the frustrations of trying to get the Office phone line working. Well the good news is that I have now achieved that much – and we have WiFi and phone line in the office both provided by the one company Beseq. The price for this is much less than we had been paying for a Beseq phone line and WiFi from Netvission. The bad news is that at present we are still paying Netvission as I can find no way to cancel it – and I have spent hours upon hours trying to. One of the joys of working here is that any phone conversation with companies – have to be in Hebrew. I mentioned in the previous blog the way that the English option – when it is offered – is offered in Hebrew so if you don’t speak Hebrew you don’t know that there is an English option. Netvission take this frustration even further as even if you do find the English – it then goes back to Hebrew after you answer a number of questions. With the help of a Hebrew speaking friend I managed to get from the person on the phone that there was a Netvission shop in Givat Sha’ul a suburb of Jerusalem. So I thought – surely I can cancel the account there. Not so easy. First of all find the place. To make it more difficult – despite being told on the phone that it was a Netvission Shop – in the end – when I found it – it was actually “Cellcom” – apparently the two companies are the same one. So having passed that test and finding the right shop I get my service number ( more helpful English – a button in English to press on the opening screen – press it and it says “Choose one of the three options” – each listed in Hebrew!). After many efforts and some waiting I am say down at a desk with a clerk who speaks English. We managed one sentence before his phone rang – he answered it and walked out with it and didn’t return for 15 minutes. Deep breaths – patience. Then on his return – oh you can’t cancel Netvission here you do that on the telephone! I patiently explained how that proves impossible. Very helpfully he said – well I’ll phone them for you. He asks me for one set of numbers after another, address of the office, ID and much more. No luck – you cannot speak to an operator until your ID all ties up and though I had all the ID there we were told it was not recognised.

So after over an hour of efforts – He says – well “best of luck I don’t know how you are going to cancel it!” With that he got up and left.

Where do I go from here…… I have no idea. Oh the joys of working in Israel!

Closed – The Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Last Sunday for the first time in over forty years the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was closed. The Jerusalem Church Leaders took the decision as a result of moves being taken both by the Jerusalem Municipality, and by the Knesset specifically against the churches of Israel Palestine. They did not take action against Mosques or Synagogues or any other religious buildings but their measures were specifically aimed at churches.

The iconic doors firmly closed


For many years, going back to the Ottoman period there has been a “Status Quo” agreement that guided the relationship between the religious institutions of Jerusalem and the authorities. It applied during the British mandate period, the Jordanian years and through the years of Israeli Governance since 1967. In recent years There have been a number of actions by the Israeli Government seeking to change it. This was however the first time that they acted in such a specific way against the churches. The church leaders put out a very strong statement which can be found on the net in quite a few places. It includes the following quotes “(this is ) a systematic and unprecedented attack against Christians in the Holy Land,” – “This reminds us all of laws of a similar nature which were enacted against the Jews during dark periods in Europe.” – “Recently this systematic and offensive campaign has reached an unprecedented level as the Jerusalem Municipality issued scandalous collection notices and orders of seizures of church assets, properties and bank accounts for alleged debts of punitive municipal taxes.”

I was at outside Holy Sepulchre a number of times during the closure.  The following slide show describes something of the atmosphere.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

On Tuesday evening the Government performed a considerable climb down and as a result the church was reopened Wednesday morning, but there are still concerns and the church leaders are keeping a wary eye on proceedings.

It is important to place this in the wider context of churches finding themselves the targets of physical attacks in Israel. I am aware of several, though it’s very difficult to get accurate statistics on numbers of attacks. I visited St Stephen’s Church in Beit Jamal where Ultra Orthodox Jews from Bet Shemesh desecrated the church destroying a statue of the Virgin Mary and defacing stain glass windows of the Saints. This was the subject of an earlier blog.

An amazing find.

We were visiting Soloman’s Pools just outside Bethlehem. They were one of the first attempts to create a reliable water supply to Jerusalem, which being on a hill has always been difficult to supply with water. The pools themselves are impressive and the aquaduct that used to carry water to Jerusalem – and is found beneath many buildings between Jerusalem and Bethlehem – constructed with hollowed out rocks interlocking for the ten mile route – is perhaps even more a tribute to ancient engineering.

One of Soloman’s Pools Bethlehem.

The area is pretty well unexploited, there is little money to develop these sites in area A (Palestinian Control) – we wondered along past the new Convention Centre to the Murad Fortress. It was there that we found the “Soloman Pools Museum for Archeology and Palestinian Heritage.” The curator, Ishaq Al-Hroub, welcomed us and introduced us to his amazing collection of objects from Palestine during the last century. He was quick to point out that this was a collection of the objects from Jews Christians and Muslims reflecting how they had lived together in the past. Alongside a Bedouin Tent there are rooms set aside to traditional bridal ware, farming tools and embroidery from homes of forty years ago. There was an ancient cart,  earthenware pots, jewalry, coins, prayer beads and so much more.

Unlike so many museums this collection came across as the life’s work of a man wholly dedicated to the collection and recording of life as it was – not so many years ago. Much of it is labelled in Ishaq’s own hand, and lack of space made the experience of walking through the museum almost overwhealming – as one fasinating object was piled upon another – though each deserved its own space.


I was reminded once again that there is a history here – seldom told – of Palestinians, people of the land first and foremost who also held their faiths, Jewish, Christian and Muslim, but lived together as neighbours with respect and dignity. Where have we gone wrong?

EAPPI Handover 68 to 69!

One of the most encouraging parts of my life here in Israel Palestine is the quarterly handover service for the teams of Ecumenical Accompanyists (EA’s). The Ecumenical Accompanyment Programme for Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) is a programme of the World Council of Churches and every quarter teams of 25 to 30 people between the ages of 20 and 70 come to join one of seven teams monitoring the situation in the West Bank. The programme is supported by Israelis and Palestinians and that is always reflected in the Handover Service held this time at the Church of the Redeemer in the Old City of Jerusalem.

There have now been 68 teams serving for a full three months, and the service sees one group of  EA’s handing over to the next group – now team 69. I was an EA five years ago and my team number was 47. It makes me feel old!

Rabbi Tehiel Grenimann addressing the service.

At the heart of the service is a ceremony where candles lighted by the old team light candles held by the new as the handover of the work takes place. As they do so these words are spoken, (Team name as appropriate):

”We pass on to you the calling to walk in the light with the people of Yanoun. May you walk with kindness, hope, patience and love so that you are blessed and are a blessing to all.

Incoming Team We accept the challenge to live and witness as EA’s in Yanoun. We thank you for your work, your love and the commitment you have given to the people of Israel – Palestine. Now take the gratitude of the people, the encounters and experiences you had, and the love of God back home with you, and tell your stories boldly!”

Do please pray for the incoming team 69 and the departing EA’s as they readjust to normal life – I know that it is not easy.

Sometimes its about the height of frustration!

I often get asked what it’s like living in the West Bank. Often they are asking about security, crossing checkpoints and managing issues such as the water, living amongst Muslims, the traffic. All of these have their frustrations, and sometimes their joys. Often though its about uncertainties, not knowing quite what will happen next – I was driving home the other day and saw all the cars hurriedly turning round in front of me – then I heard the tear gas and realised that it was a Friday and it wasn’t a good idea to go down the Hebron Road!

But then there is also the languages, I am trying to learn Arabic. It’s a struggle but it is certainly a help. Hebrew is beyond me! Managing simple things then become everso stressful.

I discovered a month back that we are paying well over the odds for phone and internet at the office using two companies Beseq and Netvision. The services have been provided by them for years and things have moved on since the contracts were set up. After talking with our United Methodist Co-Ordinator in the U.S. I agreed to sort out getting the phone and WiFi from the same provider, and at a much better price. It sounded simple at the time!

The first problem was contacting them. Phone them up and the message is in Hebrew. I asked a friend who speaks Hebrew to listen to it and – after going through three selections – there is in Hebrew the phrase “For English press 4.” ! When I did so they managed to tell me that they couldn’t do anything with the account until I had the passport number and last four digits of the credit card used. A week later I obtained these (they weren’t mine) and I tried again on the phone. No English option left. All I wanted to do was to cancel the WiFi. Finally the IT person at Tantur said that he would do it. That was a week ago. Last time I spoke to him he said that he had tried them time and again and they kept saying they’d call back – and they hadn’t.

That however was the simple one! I took on the phone provider and intended getting our WiFi from the same company. It seemed that there was no choice but to use Baseq as they provided the land lines here. Using the phone was again impossible but they at least had a shop – in East Jerusalem. On the first of January the land line (and therefore the WiFi) had stopped working. So I visited their shop. They told me that the bill hadn’t been paid (it seems that the credit card had been cancelled), and so that was why the phone was off. I paid the bill and was assured that the line would be on again. Back to the office the following day – and the phone still didn’t work. Pressure of time meant that it was a week later before I could go back. When I did they said “there is now a fault on the line we can’t help call 166, its a free phone number” Guess what – its in Hebrew. So I asked if there was an English voice – oh yes press 4.  Off I went to a quiet place to call. After a call of 20 minutes I was informed – for the next sequence you need to be at the phone in question.

I returned o the office. Repeated the twenty minutes of selcting options and confirmed that I was not by the phone. The electronic operator kindly informed me that there was a fault on the line (which I already knew!) and said that I would now be put in contact with an operator. “Sorry no English speaking operators are available.” Line went dead. Tried to remake the call to hear from my phone “you have no credit left please recharge your credit.”

Back to the shop again – “you said it was a freephone service.” “Ah well only from Beseq numbers,” “but I wouldn’t want to phone it if my beseq line was working….!”

Very helpfully that said that they would iPhone an engineer. They did so and were told that someone would call me back. – Guess what —- no one has!

Well its now been over a month with no landline phone and no WiFi ar the Office, and it looks like another trip to the Beseq shop!

I hate to think what my blood pressure is now!!!