Today I am going to Tantur Theological Institute, an ecumenical think-tank just on the other side of the checkpoint, in Jerusalem. So I go through the checkpoint twice, on foot, and take two taxis, since I am carrying my easel and supplies. The first taxi driver is so happy for business that he gives me a loaf of fresh warm bread! Mind you, I have paid him a whopping 15 shekels for the ride, roughly $4.
The checkpoint is a flat, warehouse-shaped building with military guards carrying machine guns. It is at the Separation Wall. Whether one drives through or goes through walking, one sees the gun turret. I did not go through at peak times. Entry to the walk-through involves going through a turnstyle. The guards decide how many they will let in and then they lock it out so everyone else waits for the green light. The wait can be short or long depending on how the soldier feels about it. Once through, one proceeds through a very long walkway to an xray machine and metal detector, like at the airport. After that, one walks again quite far, and then gets to the identity screening. Internationals show passport and visa and perhaps face page of the passport. Palestinians show green identity card, giving them permission to work in Jerusalem, and then do a palm scan to be sure they match the scan on record. There is sometimes yelling and interrogation. I didn’t see this. The guards seemed bored. They said little. After the identity screening there is an exit to the street, where one can get a cab or bus for Jerusalem, only a short distance away. I pass this up and walked the short distance to Tantur.
(Some internationals are beginning to use a non-violent resistance to the occupation by refusing to show their passport. Instead they show another ID such as a driver’s license. The rational is that, since this crossing is not between two recognized states, there is no international law that requires the showing of a passport. The guards, who are just young soldiers, do not know what to make of this behavior. This is an interesting idea, but I don’t try it today!)
At Tantur I paint in the olive grove. (Note to Mary H: wise to always do the practicum before assigning it to the students…!!!) I join the priests, pastors, sisters, activists, teachers and theologians for lunch, and learn that one can come to Tantur as a scholar to work on one’s project. A good place for me to continue to gather information for my “Oh, Palestine!” show of paintings in progress. Well, that’s a matter for prayer and discernment.
I have to face in a certain direction in choosing my viewpoint for the painting. That is because an illegal Jewish settlement, Har Homa, is being enlarged and the wind is blowing the sand from the construction site into my eyes if I look in that direction. I don’t have to look at this “progress” but I can’t close my ears, so I continue to hear the sound of the bulldozer. Har Homa is already plenty big. This settlement construction which we read about in the newspaper is one of the facts here on the ground. It has a different impact on you when you stand on a hill and watch them do it. I’m watching/hearing a theft in progress.
On the way back into Bethlehem, I take this picture of a portion of Har Homa. Once out of the chutes, and into the city, I am greeted by a sea of taxicabs all eager to get a fare. The driver I went with insisted on 20 shekels. Abu Nazen is coming tonight to Bethlehem and the PA has shut down all the main streets. There is a lot of traffic and the cabs must use alternate routes. The driver says he has been sitting waiting for his turn to get a fare for 4 hours. Once he drops me off, I give him a good tip and he gives me his name on a postit. Please call, he says, if you ever need a cab!