Holy Land 2012 – Day 12

September 3, 2012

Heading to the airport today, but not before taking in 2 more important religious sites in Jerusalem. Having put our bags on the bus, we walked down to the Damascus Gate before walking through the old city to Haram esh-Sharif, better known to us as the Temple Mount. Security was tight but we eventually made it through and climbed up the wooden walkway overlooking the Western Wall. Reaching the top, Brian gave a brief explanation of the Dome of the Rock, the Al Aqsa mosque and the (sadly covered) Dome of Chains before we took the exit at the Eastern corner and headed down to the Church of St Anne (Crusader church built around 1140 on the site of a chapel built by the Byzantine Empress, Queen Eudoxia in AD438, allegedly over part of the home of Mary’s parents: Anne and Joachim). The site also contains the archeological remains of the Pools of Bethesda at which Jesus performed a healing miracle.

Leaving the old city by the Zion Gate for the last time we picked up our coach and headed to Abu Ghosh and the church of St Mary of the Resurrection. A resting place both of the ark of the Covenant and the crusader army before taking Jerusalem the site has a marvellous crusader church with an intriguing crypt built over a fresh water spring.

Our final visit before the airport was to Sataff. It was a poignant end to our pilgrimage journey as the group walked through the Israeli National Park to the ruined village of Sataff – one of a number of Arab villages cleared and destroyed in the 1948 ‘land grab’ campaign of Israeli terrorists. Lunch was shared in the cafe overlooking the village remains …

And so to the airport. A brief scare when security took issue with a photo being taken by a member of the group (no names; but her initials are Helen Chappell… Oops!). After deleting the photo we made our way to the terminal ready for our flight.

Thanks are due to all who made our visit memorable and to the many friends we met along the way.

I hope the group enjoyed the, at times arduous, experience – thanks to all of them for not complaining too much!

Major thanks are due to our friends in the Holy Land: Jack and Tamara Giacaman and, of course, Khalil and Eliane Abdinnour who made so many of the arrangements.

And a final ‘thank you’ to Brian who worked tirelessly to ensure the smooth running of the trip both before and during… What a ‘jolly’ good guide ๐Ÿ™‚

That’s all, Folks!!!!









Holy Land 2012 – Day 11

September 2, 2012

A short walk this morning to bring us to St George’s Anglican Cathedral where Brian was invited to recite the Collect for the day and also the Gospel reading. He concelebrated (yes, I know that’s not a URC word!) with Hassem, the Dean of the cathedral along with his old friend Suheil Dawani, the Bishop of Jerusalem who met with us after the service to offer insight into the way Christians are often seen as the ‘voice of moderation’ in the region.

Luay picked us up in the bus and tool us to Ramallah where we picked up Dr Abdellatif Mohammed, the Deputy General Director of the Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees – a URC Commitment For Life partner who was to be our guide for the afternoon.

Passing Beirzit university on the way Abdellatif took us to 2 projects – a land reclamation project in a village called Kufl Hares where nearly 3.5 hectares of land has been made arable primarily through the use of stone walls to increase soil humidity and reduce erosion and, later, to Almdwar where PARC has helped a farmers’ cooperative to provide water for their field 24 hours a day – whilst also reducing the amount of water used, thus saving money.

The cooperative provided us with a magnificent lunch of local food before the coach brought us back, via the Kalandia checkpoint (at which 2 security officers with sub-machine guns boarded the bus to check our passports)

Palestinians certainly like their speed bumps. I reckon we went over about 150 on the way back – some at speed – so with a headache and an impacted spine I was glad to get back to our hotel in Jerusalem!

The evening was spent catching up with some of my young friends with whom I have worked for the last 7 years as part of the Kids4Hope and, latterly, Youth4Hope programmes. They have such honesty and openness – it has been an honour for me to be a small part of their lives.










Holy Land 2012 – Day 10

September 1, 2012

Almost a leisurely breakfast this morning as we were meeting Angela Godfrey-Goldstein at our hotel at 9am. Angela has set up an organisation (www.jahalin.org) which is working with Bedouin villages for education rights, amongst other things. On the way to the Jahalin village Angela gave us a more thorough tour of Ma’ale Adummim – the 3rd largest settlement in the ‘Greater Jerusalem’ area. Angela explained the process of ‘Judaising’ the West Bank and East Jerusalem. She gave us fact after fact – far too many to remember but one that stuck in my mind is that there are 36 municipal swimming pools in Jerusalem – in either West Jerusalem or East Jerusalem settlements. There are NO municipal swimming pools open to Palestinian people living in Jerusalem.

6 x the amount of water is made available to settlements compared to local Palestinian villages.

Ma’ale Adummim itself is built on 86% privately owned Palestinian land which has been confiscated, stolen or ‘bought’ using forged documents.

We headed towards Jericho for a few miles until we came to the Jahalin village. There we were welcomed by Eid, the spokesperson, advocate and village Elder. He told us of his life and struggle, translated for us by Angela and, in particular, the struggle to provide education for the local Bedouin.

The nearest school for the village children (5 – 12 years old) was in Jericho, 22km away. Over the years, on the way to or from school, 5 children had been killed on the road, 6 severely injured and many more traumatised by seeing the accidents happen and their friends killed or injured – clearly they no longer wanted to go so far to a school which involved such a dangerous journey.

So, in 2009, with help from organisations such as ‘Rabbis for Human Rights’ along with European and Muslim volunteers Eid helped the village build a school out of discarded tyres and other refuse. Last year there were 85 kids in the school (up to 12 years) with 102 due to enrol when the school year starts tomorrow. However, the local illegal Israeli settlement has complained that the school is ‘a threat’ and a demolition order has been placed on it which means that IDF soldiers will come in the morning and prevent pupils and teachers accessing the school.

The area across the road, on which the Jahalin traditionally grazed their flock has been designated a military area by the Israelis. However, there are no soldiers patrolling the area, instead there are booby traps placed which mutilate rather than kill. A pen, a pair of spectacles, some sweets … Treasure to a child – but potentially fatal if disturbed due to the hidden explosives.

Bedouin lived on the produce of their livestock The village used to have 1600 sheep and goats, and 25 camels. But the market at which they could sell their produce has been closed down. Now there are just 140 animals, no camels – it is just not viable. If it were not for the basic supplies provided by the World Food Programme the village could not exist and the Israelis would have achieved their aim of moving the Bedouin away from their traditional lands leaving the area free for the expansion of the illegal settlements. Angela, as near to an avenging angel as I have met, will be at the village tomorrow morning to help confront the soldiers in their attempt to close the school. We wish her well and offer her our prayers. Because the school is not just a school – it is also used as a medical clinic and to provide literacy classes for adults.

Leaving the Jahalin camp we returned to Jerusalem and made a short stop at the Sunbuna store; a cooperative for Palestinian craft which, due to travel restrictions, the women who make them cannot sell in Jerusalem.

Just before lunch, we stopped briefly at the Chapel of the Flagellation (another Barluzzi design – this one from 1929) and the Chapel of the Condemnation – with its altar Bas Relief of Jesus being led away from the fortress of Antonia, and including some ‘gaming stones’ – game boards carved into the stones of the pavement (lithostratus).

We had lunch at the Austrian Hospice – I can’t deny that they do a pretty good cheese and ham toastie – before climbing to the roof to look out over Jerusalem.

Continuing along the Via Dolorosa, we stopped off at the Armenian pottery shop run by the Karakashian brothers – money was spent ๐Ÿ™‚

On to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre – this time coming down from the roof via the Ethiopian monastery.

We continued to St James’ Armenian cathedral. Although we knew it would be closed, we hoped we could sneak in – we couldn’t, although the custodian did let us into the courtyard.

We had left Dormition Abbey off the agenda yesterday so decided to visit today. Built in 1911 at the place of the tomb of Mary (if you’re a Latin Catholic that is – we visited the Orthodox site yesterday and neither take much account of Ephesus!). The church was very busy – with lots of people scribbling furiously in notepads. We have no idea why.

Walking back to our hotel via the bullet holed Zion gate and through Jaffa gate we felt that we had done as much as could be expected. There had been so much to take in and we needed time to assimilate facts and rationalise our responses.

Tomorrow could be more of the same …. We’ll see!


















Holy Land 2012 – Day 9

August 31, 2012

Our morning started, after breakfast, with a visit to Yad Vashem – the holocaust memorial museum. It is impossible (for me, at any rate) to visit here and not feel, in some way, ashamed and somehow culpable when I revisit the horrors that were actioned against Jews and others by a supposedly civilised nation – and how little notice, at times, other nations, and the leadership of the Churches, took. I am constantly struck by the bravery of the Resistance fighters, and given hope by the way Denmark stood, four square, behind their Jewish citizens and ensured their escape and freedom. “I do not know what a Jew is, we only know what human brings are” Pastor Andre Trocme, August 1942 – Denmark.

As a youth and children’s worker I am all too conscious of the perceived wisdom that many abusers where themselves abused in childhood. Israel seems to fit this pattern perfectly. Having seen how the ‘separation wall’ has affected Palestinian Christians and Muslims alike, and having heard eye-witness testimony of how Palestinians in West Jerusalem were forced to leave their homes and possessions and have their property confiscated by Israelis it is impossible not to be struck by the irony of these words from the information boards in Yad Vashem relating to the way the Nazis responded to the ‘Jewish problem”:

“The Nazis in Poland took special measures against the Jews intended to isolate them from their surroundings, stealing their property…they forced the Jews to live in severely overcrowded ghettos, behind fences and walls. They cut the Jews off from their surroundings and their sources of livelihood and condemned them to a life of humiliation and poverty”.

It was a quiet group that got back on the coach and headed to the Israel museum.

Having found, eventually, the correct entrance (and asked the potentially embarrassing question of if anybody would own up to being a pensioner in order to get a discount) we headed straight for the Shrine of the Book which, dedicated to the display and study of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the Essene community who wrote them, linked back to our visit to Qumran. The full length facsimile of the Isaiah scroll forms the centrepiece of the exhibition housed in a contemporary building the roof of which is designed to look like the lid of the pot jars in which many of the scrolls had been stored 2000 years before. The scale model (1:50) of Jerusalem at the time of the second temple helped us to orientate ourselves with much of what we would be seeing tomorrow afternoon when we walk the Via Dolorosa through the old city.

We bought some lunch at the museum to take with us to the Augusta Victoria hospital where we had arranged to meet Margot, the director of the international kindergarten which is based at this hospital compound and is run by the Lutheran World Federation. Margot had also arranged for us to gain access to the church tower so that we could take in the spectacular views of the countryside around Jerusalem. Despite the lift not working all but 2 of the group climbed the steps up the tower. I was one of the ‘sensible 2’ as I knew what was coming next and decided to conserve my energy….

Picking us up at 2, the bus dropped us off again at the Church of the Pater Noster – site of one of the 4 churches in the Holy Land constructed on the orders of the Roman Emperor Constantine at the behest of his mother, Queen Helena, who was instrumental in ensuring the conversion of the Roman empire to Christianity. The church commemorates Jesus teaching the Apostles how to pray giving the example of the words in the Lord’s Prayer. Only the ruins of the crypt remain of the original church and, indeed, the magnificent basilica which was planned to be built on the site in the 1920s has never been completed as money ran out…

Passing the tomb of the prophets we then began the steep walk down the Mount of Olives stopping at Dominus Flevit with its 1st century ossuary store, chalice window, Byzantine and Crusader mosaics and the ‘hen and chicks’ (from Luke’s gospel) altar mosaic.

Carrying on down the mount, passing the Jewish cemetery on our left and the Russian Orthodox Convent of Mary Magdalene on our right we reached Gethsemane and The Church of the Agony – also known as the Church of All Nations – our second Barluzzi church of the day (Dominus Flevit bring our first).

Crossing over the Mt Olive road we went down the steps to the Franciscan Cave of the Olive Press with its altar featuring 2 sleeping disciples) before going through the Crusader doorway and down the 44 steps to the Eastern Orthodox church of Mary’s tomb.

Walking along, down and then back up the Kidron Valley, past Absalom’s tomb (and the tombs of the 2 other people we couldn’t remember!) we entered the Old City by the Dung Gate and made our way to near the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for a well earned rest, and refreshment, on the rooftop terrace of Papa Andrea’s restaurant.

We forewent visiting the Church of Peter In Gallicantu, and Dormition Abbey, as the group were clearly drained. So, instead, we chose to take the short walk up to Jaffa Gate and, following the walls of the Old City, back to our hotel at Notre Dame centre for dinner and, we hope, a relaxing evening!















Holy Land 2012 – Day 8

August 30, 2012

No such luxury of a lie-in this morning as we had a full day of travelling, with a few stops, ahead of us.

So, we said goodbye to the Mount of the Beatitudes Pilgrim Guest House and its nice breakfasts and dodgy dinners and headed towards Tiberias before taking a sharp right (well, it felt like a sharp right!) and took the Nazareth road.

On the way we passed through Cana. Had there been any weddings we might have stopped for a drink but all was quiet so we pressed on to our first stop of the day – the largest Arab town in Israel: Nazareth.

Loay dropped us off by the Orthodox church of the Annunciation. The church is built over the only fresh water spring in Nazareth and, as such, would certainly have been a place visited daily by Mary. There was a service being conducted in the church and Brian invited us to reflect how we would react if, on a Sunday morning, coach loads of tourists wandered around our church, whispering and taking photographs…. Probably not with the equanimity and good grace of the churches we have visited so far.

Walking through the market we next came to the Latin Catholic Basilica of Annunciation, consecrated in 1969 and the biggest church built in the Holy Land for 800 years. Built over 3 tiers, the first being the cave level, contemporaneous with the level of the town in the first century. Ground level is a huge, open basilica whilst, above it is the local ‘parish’ church used by the Latin Catholic congregation of Nazareth today.

Picking up the bus again (once we’d found it – parking isn’t easy in Nazareth!) it was on to Qesaryya (also known as Caeseria Maritima) passing Mt Tabor in the distance on our left, along the plains of Jezreel with Megiddo (or Armageddon) on our right to the Mediterranean coast along the Via Maris.

Despite everything I’ve done for them the group would not let me slope off for a game of golf so it was more amphitheatres, bath houses, amphorae and a hippodrome …. still, after a walk along the promenade and a lovely lunch overlooking the harbour, Brian made up for my disappointment by letting me buy him a double scoop ice cream from Bella’s on the harbour before taking the bus a short trip up the coast to see the remains of the double aqueduct which Herod had constructed to bring fresh water to Caesarea from Haifa.

And from there to our final hotel: 4 nights in the beautiful Notre Dame hotel opposite New Gate in the Jerusalem city walls. Waiting for us there were Khalil, Eliane and their eldest son, Fayez. It was good to see them again and they, well, Eliane (she works here) gave us a potted history of the building. After an evening meal of wonderful tasty, well cooked food (Beatitudes Pilgrim House take note) we walked down to the Damascus Gate and up to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (or Church of the Resurrection, if you prefer – which I do). There were no queues for the ‘tomb’ so we all took the opportunity to see inside the ugly structure which commemorates the spot at which Jesus was laid to rest.

The evening being pleasantly cool we walked over to the Western Wall expecting it to be quiet. We were wrong. It wasn’t. Well, the wall was obviously, walls may have ears but mouths are significantly lacking but there was a huge celebration going on as those conscripts who had started their military service in 2010 were being demobbed at the Western Wall. The place was heaving with soldiers happy to be reunited with their loved ones.

A short walk back up through the Muslim and Christian quarters brought us back to the New Gate and our hotel.

Please note: WiFi is no longer free at Notre Dame unless, apparently, you’re a Reverend. The remaining instalments if this blog have cost me $10.

I accept PayPal donations ๐Ÿ˜‰









Holy Land 2012 – Day 7

August 29, 2012

Almost a lie-in this morning as we didn’t have to get the bus until 8:30. Breakfast was a fairly simple affair; cold meats and cheese, one type of cereal, a watered down fruit cordial and lukewarm coffee. Still, it was welcome!

Our first stop was ‘Jesus town’: Capernaum. Having fallen into disuse some 1000 years ago it was not until the 19th century that archaeologists started taking an interest in the scattered ruins. In 1894 the Franciscans purchased part of the site and uncovered the remains of a 4th century synagogue and a 5th century octagonal church. It was only in 1968 that intensive work began during which ‘Peter’s House’ (or that of his mother-in-law!) was discovered. Jesus’ primary ministry was centred around the NW shore of Lake Galilee and we know he stayed here often – and taught in the Synagogue, the remains of which can still be seen, in part, today. John: 6:59 ‘These things he said while teaching in the synagogue of Capharnum’ (as read to the group by Ian Chappell)

A short drive east brought us to the Orthodox Capernaum, standing on its own, although distinguished by its red domes, near to the Bet Alpha national park – from where we were going to catch our boat for a trip across the Syrian Sea to Nof Ginossar.

It was at Ginossar that two local fishermen, after the severe drought of 1968 came across some metal nails in the mud. Digging deeper they found formed wood and realised that they had stumbled on something special. Experts were called in and it was quickly realised that the find was of a 2000 year old boat. Was it a fishing boat like Simon, Andrew, James and John would have used? Was it a boat lost in the battle of Migdal? Nobody knew, or cared, what was known was that, with the water table rising, the race was on to retrieve and conserve this spectacular find.

It took 10 days to stabilise and secure the boat so that it could be moved and a further 9 years before the timber had been stabilised enough to be exposed to the atmosphere without crumbling to dust. A further year’s work made it available for public display, where it remains in its own gallery in the kibbutz Nof Ginossar.

Lunch meant a short drive into Tiberias where, after overcoming the intricacies of Israeli cash machines, we split up to get a lunch of our choice. Brian has been taking many marvellous photos during our trip and he shared the secret of perspective by which you can make objects in the foreground appear much bigger than they actually are. I have included an example in the photos for today. That us certainly not a litre of beer. Nosireebob!

Back on the bus after lunch we visited Tabgha – the Church of the Heptapegon (seven springs) – better known as the Church of the Multiplication of loaves and fishes. There has been a church on thus site since AD350 and it is the home of, possibly, the most famous mosaic in the world…

The trip from Tabgha to our next stop, Mensa Christi/Peter’s Primacy, takes all of 30 seconds – but they are 30 seconds of air conditioned bliss; which does nothing to explain how we very nearly set off without Ian and Helen! Fortunately someone was counting….

Although there is no record of a church here before the 9th century Egeria, the blogging nun, mentioned, in AD383, steps cut into the bedrock ‘upon which Our Lord has stood’. These steps can still be seen today. The church commemorates Jesus appearing, post resurrection, to some of the disciples and cooking them breakfast hence Mensa Christi: Christ’s Table. The site also commemorates ‘You are Peter and upon this rock will I build my church’. A statue of the commissioning stands in a shaded area just outside the church but I suspect it has more significance for us Romans than for some other denominations ๐Ÿ˜‰

Mensa Christi is right on the shore and provides the perfect opportunity to try and emulate Jesus walking on the water. Sadly, we were all more Peter than JC and we were glad we’d stayed in the shallows!

A short walk along the road brought us to Sower’s Bay where we climbed part way up the hill to a small cave where, if you use your imagination, it is possible to imagine Jesus retreating to in order to get away from the crowds and pray.

And then it was back on the bus for the journey back up to the top of the Mount of Beatitudes to visit the Barluzzi church on the site ….. Except for a small, and intrepid* group who decided to walk up the hill via the footpath. The coach won.

The Church of the Beatitudes is extremely beautiful. Constructed in 1937 the interior is symbolically octagonal – one side for each of the beatitudes (“blessed are the..”). The centrally placed altar is surmounted by an archway of alabaster and onyx and mosaics in the floor represent the 7 Christian virtues mentioned by Jesus.

The evening was to be one of relaxation and personal reflection and devotion in the bar. We have learned that, if you never give groups time off, they usually rebel round about the time you get to Nazareth – which is on the itinerary for tomorrow ๐Ÿ™‚

* stupid and foolhardy













Update: tonight’s meal was a ‘dieter’s choice’ by which I mean I didn’t eat a great deal of it! Something cous-cousy, something tasteless pretending to be meat and some salad, followed by fresh fruit. Thank goodness for the soup, the Lebsnese pitta bread and the cheese pastry (which was, for some reason, served three quarters of the way through the meal!). The Goldstar beer was nice, though – cheers, Mr Jolly ๐Ÿ™‚

Holy Land 2012 – Day 6

August 28, 2012

Loay was a few minutes late this morning – we were concerned because he has always been on time for us but he explained that the Israelis had set up a flash checkpoint just outside Jericho that was causing delays. We were probably lucky that he was only a few minutes late and not delayed longer…

Nonetheless, this morning we were able to get to Qaser al Yahud just as it opened. It is a very simple holy site, a Greek Orthodox monastery, a tomb like structure, an altar and steps down to the River Jordan. The river is the border between Israel/Palestine and Jordan, the river is not wide here and I had never been this close before. I could almost reach out and touch Jordanian land – a competent olympic long jumper would have had no trouble in getting to the other side Also interesting was the number of holy sites on the Jordanian side. The Jordanian royal family is allowing a number of sites to be constructed along the bank of the river for pilgrims. But back to the Jericho site… there was a shop, of course, but only a small one and the site is nothing like as commercialised as the one at Yardenit near Tiberias. It was the first time that either Brian or I had visited this site (ergo anyone else in the group!) and I think it is one which I will try to include on future itineraries, despite the warnings not to stray from the marked paths as the ground has been land-mined.

But time waits for no-one, and we didn’t want to linger too long in the heat, so we were soon on the bus for the 75 Kilometre drive up the rift valley to our next stop: Beat She’an. We had no real problem at the checkpoint leaving the West Bank – mostly because Luay told the soldiers we had come from Jerusalem. Had we said we had come from Jericho, our passage might not have been so easy. One of my favourite archaeological sites in the Holy Land (therefore the group were going to visit whether they wanted to or not) the extensive excavations at Beat She’an reveal a complete Roman town with bath house, forum, wide avenues and the obligatory amphitheatre with vomitoria. In the Roman period it was the most important of the 10 cities, the Decapolis, and the only one on the west bank of the Jordan River. In the heat, nobody was going to climb the hill to the roman fort which overlooks the town but, at least there was an opportunity for a quick viewing – and an ice cream, of course. I don’t sweat much for a fat lad but Beat She’an is always guaranteed to soak my shirt. Still, better to perspire than to expire which, apart from staying on the bus is the only other option.

And so onwards, to Bet Gabriel on the southern shore of Lake Galillee where we were going to stop for lunch and a walk along the shore. An art and cultural centre for peace built in the early 1990s the centre incorporates a cinema and art galleries along with lecture theatres and a restaurant with a view north towards the Sea of Galilee (Lake Tiberias, Lake Kinneret, Lake Gennesaret, Syrian Sea – take your pick!) It was also where Shimon Peres and King Hussein of Jordan signed the historic peace treaty between Israel and Jordan in 1996.

Up to the top of the Golan Heights, via a winding road that had the bus (but thankfully not Loay) protesting to kibbutz of Kefar Haruv to get a view of the lake from on high before plunging (metaphorically) down, past Ne’ot Golan, to Kursi. There’s a Byzantine monastery at Kursi. When Jesus ‘crossed to the other side of the lake’ it was to Kursi he came (called ‘Gergesa’ in the New Testament) and cast demons (‘we are legion’) into a herd of swine before driving them over a cliff into the lake. 20120828-174140.jpg20120828-174202.jpg20120828-174221.jpg