Thursday, June 13th
(continued): Israel, West Bank, Ramallah: June 6-14, 2002: At about 3:45 Thursday morning I woke up to the cleric’s call to prayer from the Muslim mosque. When I heard it, I started chuckling out loud. The episode that was playing through my head was another Muslim cleric wailing another early morning call to prayer. It was in the village of Diorbivol out in the Saharan Desert along the Senegalese River in the West African country of Senegal. I was laying on a woven straw mat listening to the call to prayer. Just on the other side of a fence from me was a scrawny rooster who had given up trying to wake up the sun and had gone to mimicking the cleric on the top of the tower with the loudspeaker. Perhaps it was the funniest thing I had ever heard.
Thursday morning I wasn’t in Senegal. I was in Ramallah, West Bank. I couldn’t help laughing. Part of the laugh was from recalling the psychotic old rooster, the other part from the unspeakable joy I felt knowing that the tanks were leaving Ramallah, meaning I would be free to leave.
We called a taxi and even before breakfast, Mohamed and I made our way through the torn up streets of the city to the ministry of health for the Palestinian Authority. The taxi driver had to make a number of different attempts and detours to finally get us to the right building, but we made it in spite of the leftover roadblocks.
We had an exceptional meeting with the minister of health. I explained how pleased I was to have made the connection with Red Crescent, who would see to it that our medical goods made it into West Bank without all the problems we had previously encountered.
The minister of health listened and asked a few questions about our previous experience in West Bank, Gaza, and Beirut, Lebanon. Then he said, “Look, I am really sorry that you had problems before. But, I guarantee you will not have any problems this time. Here is a list of the items that we desperately need in our small hospitals and clinics throughout the West Bank regions. Everything that Red Crescent brings in has to go through me right here in this office.”
“Let me see if I am hearing you correctly,” I responded. “If I worked directly with you I could shortcut the whole process and not have to ship the donations in through Jordan? And you will guarantee safe passage and delivery to the hospitals we designate?”
“That’s right,” he assured me.
“If that’s the case,” I added, “then I’m sure we can help fill the list of your needs for the smaller hospitals and rural clinics as well.”
Our time was getting very short. Mohamed, realizing that I had to get to Tel Aviv to catch my flight that evening, had decided that we could make one more set of assessments on our way. He had called Jerusalem and told them we would meet with the Palestinian Charitable Society at two o’clock.
Mohamed’s brother-in-law took us down to the center of Ramallah where the taxi vans all gathered. We found a taxi that would take us to the military checkpoint at the edge of West Bank.
We were dropped off and checked by three groups of Israeli guards. We were cleared quickly when we showed them our US passports. We then walked about the length of two blocks through the concrete barricades over to the Israeli zone. Once on the other side we scrambled for a taxi with a yellow license plate, which would be authorized to take us into Jerusalem.
Once inside the city we met up with Mohamed’s uncle who took us to the Arab section for our meetings with the Palestinian Charitable Society. There were several clinics that offered free medical services to hardship cases in the eastern section of Jerusalem and the outlying Arab communities.
My suggestion to them was to work directly with the health minister in West Bank and with Mohamed as to the logistics of getting the needed supplies from Project C.U.R.E. delivered to the correct recipients.
When we were finished with the needs assessments in Jerusalem I was escorted through the narrow streets of the old city and shown all the traditional sites including the Church of the Sepulcher, the Via Delarosa, the Dome of the Rock, the Mount of Olives, and the Jewish Wailing Wall.
We ended up on a very narrow street with high stonewalls on either side. We paused in front of a small metal door easily unnoticed if it were not familiar to you. Mohamed’s uncle reached into his pocket and retrieved a key and unlocked the small door. I was ushered in and to my surprise there were six additional doors waiting on the inside of the wall. The small homes within the old walls of Jerusalem were over 500 years old and presently occupied. The uncle and his wife lived in one of the units three days a week; the other four days they stayed in Ramallah.
I was served another cup of strong Arab tea and we sat out in a little porch area inside the old wall. I let my imagination run the gamut wishing the old walls of Jerusalem could reveal to me their secret stories of days gone by.
It was time for me to leave for Tel Aviv and the Ben Gureon Airport. Mohamed’s uncle used his cell phone and called a family friend who owned a taxi. We walked from the narrow streets to a parking lot near the old Wailing Wall. The taxi had the correct registration numbers allowing its movement out of Jerusalem and into Tel Aviv. There on the street corner in old Jerusalem I said goodbye to some newfound friends from the Palestinian corner of the world.
As I flew Air Canada flight #887 back to Toronto and then on home to Denver, I had some time to reflect on where I had been and what Project C.U.R.E. was becoming. Not many people had had the opportunities afforded to me. I had been able to get acquainted and live with people in their own environment and culture, not as a tourist or stranger, but as a friend. It had been from that position that I could feel and observe their hopes, their disappointments, their anger, their concerns for their families, their beliefs, their religious practices, as well as their love for me. I had greatly valued the privileges of my life.
I was sure I should have been able to come up with something really intelligent to say about the Middle East’s historical situation since I had now been intimately involved in it for over 15 years. The truth was I didn’t know what to think. I had cataloged a lot of observations, read a lot of background material, tried to stay current on the present happenings, and asked a lot of people for their opinions. I had no assurance at all that there would be any satisfactory arrangement until the end of times. I couldn’t help but wonder as I was making my way back home if we were not already a part of those end times.
But, above and beyond all that, it had been a rich experience to be able to share help and hope with countless numbers of people who needed to see the everyday working out of God’s love in a real world. What an outstanding privilege!
© Dr. James W. Jackson
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