Updated: Aug 7
Day 12 could be what many would consider fairly risky. Though others might say, the greater the risk the greater the reward. We woke early given our tour today started at 7:30 am, and not only did I need to get some work in, we also needed to have a little breakfast in the hostel lounge before departure.
All was going well as all participants in the tour loaded into the mini bus. I think there were 16 of us total on this tour, but every seat was taken. As we boarded, it was it required for us to dress modestly, meaning, shoulders and knees needed to be covered for both men and women.
The first stop in the tour was a 45 minute drive to Ramallah, the capital of Palestine in the West Bank. As a little background, Palestine is not an official state. Palestine has been fighting to be recognized as a state for quite some time. As a matter of fact, on November 29, 1947, the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 181 (also known as the Partition Resolution) that would divide Great Britain's former Palestinian mandate into Jewish and Arab states in May 1948. At this time, Israel was officially deemed a nation, though Palestine was not. Though the details are fairly complicated for a longer blog/discussion, it is important to note that Israel controls much of the land and roadways leading in and out of the cities, however Palestine controls the major cities such as Ramallah, Jericho and Bethlehem. This fact prohibits any Israeli citizen from visiting these settlements/occupations - repercussions, could be physical harm such as stoning and/or beating, or destruction of the vehicle, or worse. There continues to be random "terrorist" acts on Palestine and Israeli soil to this day. We chose to take the risk given the significant Christian history within this West Bank territory.
As we arrived in Ramallah, I was extremely curious how we would be perceived in our bus and on the street. Given all we have read and heard in the news over our lifetimes, I truly didnt know what to expect. The initial stop was a ice cream place, perhaps as a way to show our good will through helping local commerce through a few small purchases. We then headed to Yasser Arafat's museum and resting place. Yasser Arafat was the charismatic leader of the Palestinian's and the PLO movement through 2004 when he passed.
Im not sure leaving Ramallah was a relief, though I can say it was a bit exhilarating to have witnessed the capital, the epicenter, of the Palestinian people, and have more a somewhat more informed understanding of history and interests of the Palestinians.
We now headed for Jericho. So many interesting trivia facts around this fascinating city. Perhaps some of the more interesting facts are it is widely believed to be the oldest city in the world, dating back over 8000 years. At an elevation of 864 feet below sea level, Jericho is not only the oldest city on Earth but also the lowest one.
Jericho is the location of the Mount of Temptation described in the New Testament Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, in which it is said that, from "a high place", the Devil offered Jesus rule over all the kingdoms of the world. The best part is - Jesus rejected the temptation.
The city is well known in the Judeo-Christian tradition as the place where the Israelites returned from slavery in Egypt under the leadership of Joshua. But most importantly it is the site where Jesus was baptized in the Jordan river. Another fact is the that the Jordan river lies 1400 feet below sea level where John the Baptist baptized Jesus. There are/were so many "I cant believes" on this extremely important journey for Faith and me. This is a major I cant believe. There was a strong feeling of Jesus' presence. Faith had the amazing opportunity to see people dipping in river (though not recommended today as it is polluted with agricultural chemicals). Rather than going in for the full experience, we both needed to have a connection with the river.
Also interesting to note that we were directly on the Jordon/Palestinian border, or the East bank vs the West Bank. See the Jordan military on the other side in this pic.
Our driver and guide on this trip were both Palestinian, which helped with access around the region, however it slowed our progress. Rather than taking the better roads built by the Israelis, we were required to take the route with many potholes, which traversed through many Palestinian occupations. Our next destination was Bethlehem, yes that Bethlehem, where Jesus was born. Where it was prophesied to the three wisemen of the coming Messiahs birth.
As with many important biblical sites, other than the Jordan river, Bethlehem sits on the top of a hill. Unfortunately today it is littered with tourist traps. Even the site of Christ's birth is built up, in part memorialized it to further decay, and in part given its destruction. In 529, the Samaritans rebelled against the Byzantine state and overran the country, plundering and destroying as they went. Churches and monasteries, towns and villages were all pillaged or gutted by fire. The walls of Bethlehem and its main church were destroyed. The story we all know about Jesus being born in a manger is true, however, the site is now marked to stand the test of time as is the place of the crucifixion discussed on day 6.
Being here truly brought to life the how the prophecies in the bible do come true. After Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, during the time of King Herod, Wise Men from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, 'Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.' When King Herod learned this, he was troubled, and all of Jerusalem with him. He called together all the leading clerics and scholars of the law, and he questioned them about where Christ was to be born. 'In Bethlehem in Judea,' they answered, 'for this is what the prophet has written: "'But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.'" Then Herod summoned the Wise Men secretly and found out from them the precise time the star had emerged. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, 'Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me so that I too may go and worship him.'
As directed by King Herod, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the East went before them until it stopped over the area where the child lay. Upon arriving at the house, they observed the child with his mother, Mary, and they kneeled down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gold, frankincense, and myrrh gifts. They were then miraculously warned in a dream not to return to Herod, as he planned to kill Jesus to preserve his authority, and returned to their home by an alternative route.
By the way, it is interesting to note that each of these precious gifts has a symbolic meaning. Frankincense was used for worship in the Temple; it is symbolic of Christ the High Priest. Gold is symbolic of Christ the King. Myrrh a perfume, was used to anoint dead bodies, it is symbolic of His death for the sake of truth, and therefore of Christ the Prophet.
After visiting His birthplace, it was early afternoon and we were all getting hungry. A lunch was planned at the home of a local Palestinian family, where was would partake in an authentic Arab meal. The food was good, not fully my style but good, all of us completely finished our plates, Faith even had seconds.
We then headed to a local market. I was less interested in any tourist stuff, but more in local handmade crafts. I was not sure we would make any purchases, especially since we did not have much room in our luggage to bring anything home. We came across a jeweler. Faith had seen the "star of Bethlehem" days earlier but did not yet have a connection to it and wanted to pass. On this day, we saw a handcrafted star of Bethlehem and she wanted it. After some needed and dare I say fun negotiations, she now has her latest piece of jewelry and perhaps her most important piece. This piece of jewelry has many meanings, including Christs birth and resurrection, and Mother Mary's crown.
The final stop in Bethlehem was unexpected. We stopped at a hotel and museum that Banksy built. Banksy is a pseudonymous England-based street artist, political activist and film director whose real name and identity remain unconfirmed and the subject of speculation. Active since the 1990s, his satirical street art and subversive epigrams combine dark humor with graffiti executed in a distinctive stenciling technique. His works of political and social commentary have appeared on streets, walls and bridges throughout the world.
I am not sure I am in alignment with what Banksy represents, however he is a talented storyteller. We did not go into the museum, though we took a picture just outside against this wall surrounding a Palestinian military training ground.
This day was long, reflective, insightful, but coming to an end, so we headed back to Jerusalem and our hostel. And might I say, safe and sound!
For Faith and I, the day was over, however the night was just beginning. The archaeological team leaders invited us to the season ending wrap party at the lead archaeologists home. We accepted. It was so nice to be part of the end of a very successful dig. We had a chance to exchange contact information with many on the team, and Faith was even provided with a certificate for her contribution.
So many good conversations and connections were made during the dig. Though this journey is close to its conclusion, the impacts are far from over. Stay tuned....