Todayas Road to Emmaus
The traditional site of Emmaus is in a little village called Al Qubeiba in the West Bank, less than 10 miles north west of Jerusalem. Al Qubeiba is next to a sizeable village called Biddu. As you may have gathered, the Separation Wall is not just one long line from North to South of the West Bank.,along the 1967 border. It has lots of extra wiggly bits, nicking chunks of West Bank land with particular agricultural benefits or water sources, etc, or curving in to fence off the Palestinians from little settlement islands. Biddu and Al Qubeiba and 5 other villages, with a total population of 30,000, are to be surrounded completely by the Wall, about 25 miles of Wall, I should think, with ONE gate. Biddu has been a focus of resistance to the Wall since December, and several protesters have been killed here.
Last week, the nephew of my hotelas cook, who comes from Biddu, was killed there. The cook is a friend of mine, who makes me a lovely large glass of Arabic coffee each morning. He went home for several days to mourn with the family. Land of his family is being expropriated by the Wall. I should explain that it is not easy for the cook to go home to his family. Like several of the staff, he does not have a Jerusalem ID, so he is working illegally in Jerusalem. When these people want to go home, they have to walk by round about ways, sometimes over hills, to avoid checkpoints and roadblocks. If they get caught, they risk a heavy fine and imprisonment. So when working in Jerusalem itself, they hardly venture out, for fear of getting stopped and their IDs checked by the police. Sometimes they donat get home for a couple of months at a time. They all have wives and children in the West Bank. When the Wall is finished, the cook will have to find work in the West Bank itself, hard to come by, to be able to get home to and from his place of work at all.
The Emmaus story is a precious story of the Resurrected Christ to me, especially the way the disciples who walked with Him talked of how _our hearts were on fire_ while talking to the man they did not yet recognize. So I set off on a double pilgrimage _ to the church at Emmaus and to the Wall, the site of the death of a nephew of a friend of mine.
For me, with my valid visa at last (yippee!), it is still not a matter of taking the direct road to Biddu. First, I headed north through the Aram checkpoint, the _minor_ checkpoint before Qalandiya on the road to Ramallah, where you only usually get checked on the way back to Jerusalem. Through there, I got a battered old taxi to a point where the Israelis have blocked off the road with large concrete blocks. I walked across to the other side, through a 200 metre sort of no-manas land. A dribble of Palestinians were heading the same way. As we approached the taxis waiting on the other side, a police armoured jeep came up with much honking and shouting of incomprehensible commands through their horribly loud loudspeaker. 3 soldiers piled out, TopGun shades and all, and the officer commanded us all back with a patronizing little flick of his wrist and dismissed the waiting taxis. He was totally uninterested in my argument that I was a Christian pilgrim, although he checked my passport. We sauntered back over the concrete blocks to no-manas-land; 2 young women with branded bags of clothes shopping from Ramallah, the equivalent, with poignant difference, of girls going home from a Saturday morningas shopping in Guildford; a straggle of young men in jeans and trainers with short spiky hair; and me. They hung around in this no-manas-land, so so did I. The soldiers had driven off to a nearby command post. Along came an elderly lady in the traditional embroidered dress still worn by older ladies in the villages. _Sod that for a game of soldiers_, she seemed to say, as the situation was described to her, and marched on. As she crossed the concrete blocks, she looked around, looked back and beckoned us on. With various degrees of caution, we scampered after her, us boys, the girls walking nonchalantly ahead. The road came out on main road, an Israeli settler road, I suppose, and as we walked along an Arab _service_ (minivan taxi) on its way to Jerusalem, allowed on such a road because of its Jerusalem number plate, picked us up and dumped us all, for a shekel each, a mile or so along that main road at another sideroad signposted to Biddu, where, shortly after a heavily fenced and guarded small Israeli settlement, more concrete boulders blocked the road. A small stall sold coffee. As I bought a cup, more Israeli soldiers appeared here, but didnat object to us coming through _ itas all so random. I took a service, that dumped me outside the Emmaus church gate. I waved goodbye quite sadly to my co-travellers. For me, itas all a bit of an adventure. Iam on the outside. For them, it is a daily, arduous crippling of normal existence.
The church was a haven of peace. I took lots of photos _ how many pilgrims will get the opportunity to come here now, before the Wall comes tumbling down, as one day it will? Certainly, youad expect to get busloads of visitors every day in normal times. I was privileged to have the place to myself, with the gatekeeper, and 2 young men with 2 kids from Biddu, having a picnic, who gave me a cool drink.
The place had that special feel of a sacred site much prayed in. Refreshed, I headed back to Biddu. It was all quiet that day. No Wall protests. People were friendly once they established I was on their side. On buying cigarettes, the shopkeeper offered me L & Mas for 14 shekels, and when I said I only wanted cigs that cost 10 shekels, he produced identical L & Mas and laughingly showed me how the first had a Hebrew label, the second Arabic. I had a shawerma plate with hummus for half the Jerusalem price at a cafe. Then I hired a taxi for a tour of the devastation caused to numerous olive groves by the swathe of land, owned by families for generations, bulldozered up for the Wall. Such pretty land, with this ugly scar being brutalized upon it, looked over by a fortess-like settlement, the cause of this particular Wall topography. Men of all ages sat around in the late afternoon sun, gazing forlornly over their land, the view soon to be blocked by the Wall. I felt like a voyeur, but they were friendly enough.
The journey home was long enough but less eventful. I stopped at an Aram coffee shop which will soon be cut off from customers on the other side of the road by the Wall down the middle. Old men from opposite sides of the street who have smoked, played cards and _chewed the cud_ together of an evening in that place for years will be unable to meet together without much difficulty for this simple pleasure.