On Holy Saturday, May 4, 2013, the Holy Fire arrived in Beit Sahour from Jerusalem at approximately 3:00 pm. The Holy Fire appears annually at the Church of the Sepulchre in Jerusalem during a special ceremony performed by the Greek Orthodox priests. It is then carried and distributed to all the churches in the West Bank and to other churches in around the Orthodox world.
Thousands of locals and internationals joined in the joyous celebration in front of the Greek Orthodox Church. Local scouts and marching bands created a festive atmosphere.
Beit Sahour is a model of cooperation and brotherhood between Christians and Muslims. Throughout the troubled and turbulent history of the land, the people of Beit Sahour have always stood firm as a united community. Today, Beit Sahour is home to just under 14,000 residents, 80% Christian and 20% Muslim.
Dimitri Diliani, head of the National Christian Coalition in the Holy Land, said Israeli forces deployed heavily in Jerusalem’s Old City. He accused Israel of trying to stop Christians from performing rituals for Holy Saturday and of trying to erase the Christian identity in Jerusalem.
(Drawn from various news sources)
Excerpts from my journal as I explore the situation in Palestine and Israel
May 5, 2013, Sunday, Bethlehem, the Tawil apartment, kitchen table
I engaged in Holy Fire for the second time yesterday, in Beit Sahour (last year in Beit Jala, both villages adjoin Bethlehem), an easy walk from my home near Shepherds’ Fields to where the action would happen. Someone at the market told me to wait at the Hotel Ararat and there I discovered a high vantage point. Altho the building is about 10 stories high only a few levels have finished rooms. So I climbed stairs to the 4th floor and leaned out a window to show the growing crowds. I then joined in on street level, sauntered back and forth to do my favored grab shot photography (aka hip pocket photography, aka wild mind photography), chatted awhile with a man who splits time between Virginia and Bethlehem (he works for GE medical), and eventually joined the throng to greet the priest with the holy fire.
I observed Muslims along the Holy Fire route, some of them simply watching, another group throwing hard candies at the car with the fire. Whether to honor the tradition or tease the priest I wasn’t sure. We walked by a mosque next to the Greek Orthodox Church. The procession seems a strong sign of religious co existence.
While waiting for the Holy Fire I noticed many drummers playing their instruments, about 6 small groups in my locale, from different bands. They all played separately. No one played together. I remembered drumming circles at home in the States where first one person showed up with a drum, then another, and more, and soon the large group would drum together, drawing more and more people, including dancers and other musicians—a large joyous circle. So I asked the guy from Virginia and Beit Sahour, you’ve lived in both places, ever seen drumming circles in the states?—No.—Could you imagine one?—Yes.—Have you noticed here that no one joins with others to drum?—I have, it is very peculiar.
So I concluded, perhaps prematurely, that this separate drumming mirrors the separateness of some or most of Palestinian society. Coincidently I’ve been reading in the current issue of This Week in Palestine an analysis of separateness, swashbuckling, bravado (shatarah), and impetuousness (nazaqah). Each for oneself and to hell with the rest. Accurate or not? Recent or long-lived? Ali Qliebo in his article, “Bravado, Impetuousness, and Swashbuckling in Palestine Culture,” believes this is recent, an effect of urbanization, and a departure from the relative civility of earlier Ottoman culture. What might this imply for the Palestinian freedom movement?
I begin to feel more of the widespread despair in Palestine. Cars are part of this—zooming thru intersections. The Palestinian news agency I volunteer for is part of this—lack of support for my work. Ayman told me that in Gaza anyone successful would not disclose the method of attaining success because the successful one did not want to share it with others. My host in Bethlehem, Johnny, is an exception in how well he treats me (while perhaps himself in deep despair at his unemployment). Have I been too long in this region, too many times here, time to move on?
Minor coda about Palestinian fashion:
While waiting for the entrance of the Holy Fire I noticed high heels, long shiny straightened black hair, and hooked arms (not only women’s in men’s, but occasionally men’s in women’s). I am well situated to notice such cultural signs. Because I’m out of the culture, everything here is new to me, and because I deeply appreciate some of these traits. Linked arms for instance reminds me of walking with a friend a day or so before my departure. I look forward to walking this way again with her. Very very soon. Too bad we can’t do this via Skype.
TO BE CONTINUED