The Banks of the West Bank (Part 5 of Our Adventures in the Palestinian Territories)

(In part 1 of this series, I detail how my wife and I end up in the old Hyundai of Assaf (not his real name), a well-meaning Palestinian guide, for a tour of Jericho and the West Bank. In part 2, we enter Area “A”, the area of the West Bank under Palestinian control, and pass a failed hotel and casino project that symbolizes the short-lived hope of Israeli-Palestinian cooperation following the 1993 Oslo Accords. In part 3 and part 4, we enter Jericho and visit the ruins of Hisham’s Palace and the walls of Jericho, and I learn that Assaf is willing to detour to visit a church but not a synagogue.)

8452423151_06ffd039cbWe return to Jericho less than three hours after we left. The setting sun adds a redder appearance to the red signs of warning placed by the Israelis on the Jericho border, but the warning itself remains clear: entrance into Jericho is “dangerous to our lives.” It was bad enough to have encountered these signs once, at mid-morning, when we first came into Jericho as part of the tour schedule. Our second visit to Jericho is unscheduled. I feel like visiting Jericho twice, in one day or one lifetime, may count as one time too many.

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The Malls of Jericho (Part 4 of Our Adventures in the Palestinian Territories)

(In part 1 of this series, I detail how my wife and I end up in the old Hyundai of Assaf (not his real name), a well-meaning Palestinian guide, for a tour of Jericho and the West Bank. In part 2, we enter Area “A”, the area of the West Bank under Palestinian control, and pass a failed hotel and casino project that symbolizes the short-lived hope of Israeli-Palestinian cooperation following the 1993 Oslo Accords. In part 3, we enter Jericho and visit the ruins of Hisham’s Palace, where we see how Palestine struggles and fails to protect its historical legacy, while we hear the sound of its security forces being trained somewhere close by.)

download (1)As we leave Hisham’s Palace, our Romanian companions Dorin and Gabi (not their real names) mention to Assaf that they’ll need to visit an ATM before the tour is over. “No problem,” Assaf assures them. I guess that like me, Dorin and Gabi weren’t expecting Assaf to pay our tour site entry fees, and they’re also worried that they might not have enough cash to repay Assaf at day’s end. I figure, it wouldn’t hurt to piggpiggyback on their request, and withdraw a few hundred extra Israeli shekels when our little tour stops at an ATM.

We retake our seats in Assaf’s Hyundai, and Assaf drives us around the outskirts of Jericho. He points out the Quarantine Monastery, built into the side of one of the mountains that separates Jericho from Jerusalem. This mountain is reputed to be the Mount of Temptation, where Christians believe Jesus fasted for 40 days and was “tempted” by Satan. The Palestinian Authority (PA) has built a cable car up to the monastery; we can see cars travelling up and down the cable, all empty.

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Does Jesus Disapprove?

3t6rqvI spend too much time on this site saying things, and not enough time asking questions. But this is a site in pursuit of Jewish-Christian dialogue, and good dialogue requires good questions.

I have a question for you all, particularly those of you who are Christian: I stumbled across a poll today on the web site ISideWith.com. The poll is a question submitted by Zealot author Reza Aslan last September: if Jesus suddenly came back to earth today, would he approve or disapprove of modern Christianity?  The allowable answers are “Approve,” “Disapprove,” or “Depends on which denomination of Christianity.”

As I write this, the poll has received nearly 22,000 votes, making it the most popular user-submitted poll on the site (admittedly, the site’s political polls receive a lot more votes). So far, only 9% of those voting think Jesus would approve of Christianity today. A whopping 87% think Jesus would “Disapprove.” And perhaps most surprising, only 4% give the answer “Depends on which denomination of Christianity.” I might have figured that more Christians would believe that Jesus might like their church, but not the other guy’s church. Not so.

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Palace Guard (Part 3 of Our Adventures in the Palestinian Territories)

(In part 1 of this series, I detailed how my wife and I ended up in the old Hyundai of a well-meaning Palestinian tour guide, driving towards the ancient town of Jericho. We have passed the red signs on the road, containing the Israeli warning that we are entering territory “dangerous to your lives.” In part 2, I talk about the hotel and casino project lying along the Jericho road, a project that marks the failure of the Israeli-Palestinian joint venture following the 1993 Oslo Accords.)

As we drive into Jericho, the scenery turns greener. Jericho is an oasis, fed by ancient underground springs. Water from these springs is Jericho’s most precious resource – this is easy to understand, given that the region receives only about 5 inches of rain a year.  The principal spring in Jericho is named ‘Ein es-Sultan in Turkish, or Elisha’s Fountain in English. This spring is legendary; in the Bible, the prophet Elisha purified this spring with salt, making it fit to drink. There are smaller springs throughout Jericho, and these springs have been tapped for irrigation, turning Jericho into a town of small farms. We can see water for irrigation running down culverts on the sides of many roads as we tour through the town. But less water flows today than in the past, a result of decreasing rainfall and deep-well drilling in nearby Israeli settlements.

Our guide Assaf (not his real name) stresses that Jericho is a small town. Wikipedia confirms this, giving Jericho a population of less than 20,000. Even if we look at the entire Jericho Governorate – a region of the Palestinian Territories that includes Jericho along with much of Palestine’s Jordan River border, we’re still looking at a population of roughly 30,000 people. This is tiny by the standards of towns we consider small in America – towns like Boulder, Colorado, or Green Bay, Wisconsin.

Jericho’s fluctuating size is part of its modern story. Jericho used to be even smaller – in 1945, its population was closer to 3,000. But in the aftermath of Israel’s War of Independence in 1948, Jericho became home for some 100,000 Palestinian refugees who had fled  (or were forced to leave) Israel. At the end of the war, the West Bank (along with Jericho) was annexed by the new nation of Jordan, and perhaps the Jordanians reasoned that Jericho’s water resources made it a logical place to locate refugee camps. When Israel invaded the West Bank during the Six Day War in 1967, most of these refugees fled (or were forced) across the Jordan River. There are only 7,000 Palestinian refugees remaining in Jericho today – most of them children or grandchildren of the original 1948 refugees – but even with these reduced numbers, roughly half of Jericho’s current population lives in refugee camps.

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Heartbreak Hotel (Part 2 of Our Adventures in the Palestinian Territories)

image3136151x(In part 1 of this series, I detailed how my wife and I ended up in the old Hyundai of a well-meaning Palestinian tour guide, driving towards the ancient town of Jericho. Jericho is in Area “A” of the Palestinian territories, under the control of the Palestinian Authority. We have passed the red signs on the road, containing the Israeli warning that we are entering territory “dangerous to your lives.”)

Shortly past the red signs on the road to Jericho is a twelve-story Intercontinental Hotel, rising improbably from our bleak desert surroundings. The hotel is the tallest building for miles around. From the tour company’s web site, I understood that the hotel would be a featured talking point on the tour, but Assaf merely points out the hotel as we drive by. So it falls to me to talk about it here.

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