O Little Town and Great Big Wall

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I first sang “O Little Town of Bethlehem” in the children’s choir at Bon Air Methodist Church in Richmond, Virginia. Along with other favorite Christmas songs like “Away in a Manger” and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” my awareness of Bethlehem was strong from a young age. I knew it as the place where Jesus was born. As a Christian, the images of Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus and the Church of the Nativity were powerful enough that they made me want to pay a visit to this holy place. I finally got my chance in June when I was visiting Palestine.

Jordan had control of Bethlehem until 1967 when Israel retained control after its victory in the Six-Day War. Bethlehem was returned by Israel in 1995 to the Palestinian National Authority in accordance with the Oslo peace accord. Today Bethlehem is fully controlled by Palestine, but there exists a major eyesore to tourists–the Israeli West Bank barrier or security wall that the Israeli military built during the Second Intifada.

This barrier is often called an Apartheid Wall or Apartheid Fence. I just call it a wall. It is definitely not a fence. When I was with my driver in Bethlehem, he made a point to show me the art and graffiti. The Wall is now a stain on a united holy land, but also a tourist attraction to the millions of religious pilgrims who visit Bethlehem each year, especially at Christmas. You cannot visit Bethlehem without simultaneously confronting religion and politics, as I experienced with my taxi driver:

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That’s East Jerusalem, Baby!

Understand that friends come and go, but with a precious few you should hold on. The older you get, the more you need the people who knew you when you were young.          Mary Schmich

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Inas, my friend of 28 years (!), greeted me again at her family home in East Jerusalem in the Wadi al-Joz (Valley of the Walnuts) section. We met during the summer of 1990 when I was the Academic and Program Coordinator for the Fulbright Pre-Academic Orientation Program and she was pursuing graduate studies in engineering as a Fulbright scholar.

I knew when I last saw Inas in her East Jerusalem home in 2011 to come hungry and thirsty for both sustenance and knowledge. My Palestinian family is a highly educated bunch of Ph.D.s, photo journalists, editors, authors, and pediatric dentists, just to name a few. I could go on and on bragging about this exceptional group of humans.

If you do not have a friend in East Jerusalem, your life is poorer for it!

The richness in culture, history, and education led to my spending ten hours over two days eating first at the kitchen table and then drinking tea and coffee in the living room. I ate so much that I ended up on the day bed, and we kept visiting. These pictures are before I went to lay down and sleep off my overeating.

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We sat (or I lay down!) minutes away from where pilgrims around the world come to worship at the holy sites of Greater Jerusalem, including. The Mount of Olives mountain ridge was a neighbor, as was Al-Aqsa Mosque,  the third holiest site in Islam. It is a privilege to be in East Jerusalem and reunite with my longtime friend and her dear family. Just look how happy I am. Photo credit: Inas

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I have been invited back so I guess I didn’t overstay my visit!

Palestine: A Place To Call Home

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Ben Gurion Airport (TLV)

On Tuesday, June 19, 2018, it would have been my mother’s 98th birthday. I chose this day for my outbound flight from Tokyo Narita to Tel Aviv, Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport via Seoul Incheon, as my honor to her memory, since I like to think of her traveling around the world with me. She was supportive, although a bit concerned, with my first visit to the Middle East in 2011. That invitation was from the Dean of the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy to teach two sections of a graduate course in “Marketing Foreign Policy” at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya, a private Jewish university just outside Tel Aviv. In 2018, I was invited to lecture at the first international conference of the Policy and Conflict Resolution Studies Center at the Arab American University, the first private Palestinian university located in Ramallah and Jenin, West Bank.

Getting invited to lecture in Israel or Palestine is an honor. But trying to explain your acceptance of such invitations can take a little explaining. People want you to have binary thinking about Israel and Palestine. They want you to choose a side, either pro-Israel or anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian or anti-Palestinian. In sports, it’s like saying that you love the Boston Red Soxs and the New York Yankees. That’s incomprehensible. In the case of Israel and Palestine, it’s beyond sports rivalries. If only it were that simple. In the history of Israeli-Palestinian relations, politics is a bloody sport, so if I have to choose, I’ll choose life, humanity, and people. And people like to have a place called home.

Right now there is no state, a permanent home, for the Palestinian people. They remain a stateless people living under occupation in the Palestinian Territories. Palestinian territories or Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) are terms often used to describe the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and the Gaza Strip, which are occupied or otherwise under the control of Israel. The world’s majority supports a Palestinian state that can thrive next to the 70-year-old state of Israel.  I hope that I will see this come to fruition.

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My Room View from Grand Park Hotel in Ramallah

To arrive to Palestine, you usually go through Israel, as I did when I landed at Ben Gurion Airport. The trip was quite long–a few hours from Tokyo to Seoul, short layover, and then a 12-hour nonstop to Tel Aviv. An early morning departure at 09:00 placed me in TLV at a little before 21:00. My driver was Palestinian with an Israeli car tag (IL), which gave him authority to pick me up at the airport. Palestinian car tags (P) are not allowed.  When I arrived, I saw my name “Nancy Snow” taped on the barrier that separates international arrivals from the people waiting. I went straight to my sign but there was no driver. So I taped the sign to me and waited for him to arrive. In a few minutes, there he was and off went. Now I thought it might get very exciting, but I was a bit too tired to be worried. I knew that we would have to leave the state of Israel and enter the OPT. But all that I noticed on my 45-minute drive was an empty checkpoint and a series of speedbumps, along with groups of Arab men sitting on chairs in front of businesses and homes. It was all quite peaceful and quiet. My ultimate destination was Ramallah, where I stayed at the Grand Park Hotel for the next four nights. My room was spacious and welcoming. The television had over 3,000 international films on demand, including Pretty Woman. I began to imagine a funny essay I’d write called “Julia Roberts is still young in Ramallah.”

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Desk Space at Grand Park Hotel

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Good Rest is Essential

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Image of Richard Gere in “Pretty Woman”