Jericho Has Not Fallen
During the Peace Camp 2016 in Israel/Palestine, I took a half-day trip to Jericho on a mission to experience this part of the Occupied Territories and to find… tea light candles — for the purposes of giving a diminutive pot of eclectic souvenirs to all the participants. And so, the cousin of a local man we bumped into turned up in a yellow taxi minivan, and we asked him to head to Jericho.
I loved reading the Old Testament when I was a child. What stories! The majesty and justice of King David and King Solomon; the dark depths of Jonah and the whale; the magic of Moses and his snake-sticks… and Jericho, with its thick walls, and the blaring of trumpets that brought them crumbling down. All of these stories were assigned to the realm of fiction in my young mind, which was also very much engaged with cartoon stories of Lucky Luke and Prince Valiant at the time.
In Danish primary school, we were encouraged to draw the Old Testament stories, and in a dusty corner of my mind, I remember an “artistic interpretation” I sketched of a stick man, possibly wearing blue, with a sort of yellow-orange swirling scribble that was intended to depict a trumpet, and I even vaguely remember having asked someone how to draw musical notes coming out of it so I could share some of the blaring trumpet soundtrack.
In that same box labelled “Fiction” in my mind, I also have stuff like trolls, fairies, unicorns and dragons, and places like Valhalla, Narnia and Middle Earth. The succession of religious studies teachers that taught me in my youth apparently failed to explain that the locations mentioned in the Bible were actually real, and a great many of them still exist! Or perhaps I missed that part, due to my cognitive bias of already believing them to be fictitious?
In any case, at the supposed-to-know-better age of 38, it was quite a surprise to realise that Jericho still stands, although wall-less to the naked eye.
As our minivan taxi approached the outskirts through the Judean desert, a very large sign loomed by the road, with a formal notice that it is illegal and DANGEROUS (potentially LETHAL) for any Israelis to enter, and they will be forced to leave. Gulp. While I am not Israeli, I felt a wave of fear rising as this was now getting a lot more real–as in dangerous–than the Ecome camp where both Palestinians and Israelis could mix to their hearts’ content. And we had an Israeli citizen in the minivan with us.
We drove through a checkpoint where soldiers with machine guns gave the minivan only a cursory glance as our driver sped by, giving the guards a honk and a wave. Minivan of tourists + local driver = clearly not an issue.
The next thing we saw should actually belong in the box of “Fiction” but very strangely did not. Mickey Mouse was standing with his head in his hands by the deserted roadside, flagging us down! While the driver did not have much English vocabulary, and my Arabic is non-existent, we managed to clarify between us that “Mickey” was advertising a local water park and wanted to give us a flyer. And he had taken the head off his costume because it was over 35 degrees Celsius in the shade. While I was working out what was most bizarre in this situation, including the proposition of a water park out here in the desert in occupied Palestinian territory, “Mickey” blew a mocking kiss in my direction. It landed like a slap. I had only smiled and accepted his brochure, and wondered what had happened in our communication for this to be his parting greeting.
Maybe minivan of tourists + local driver = not everyone’s idea of joy?
Another local, apparently of Bedouin lineage, blew a whole series of mocking kisses at me later that morning. This was while he was brutally beating a donkey with a wooden plank in front of my partner and I, as we made the pilgrimage to St. George’s monastery beyond Jericho. I think the idea was that we should pay to ride on the donkey, otherwise he would beat it senseless, going to quite some effort to make sure we could see him doing it, complete with distinctly perverted hand gestures for us, too. This exceeded the limit of cruel behaviour I can tolerate, and I was ready to physically rip the plank right out of his hands, and maybe smack him in the process too, but my partner pulled me away, which probably avoided a lot more pain for all involved.
Poor donkey – bless his sweet soul.
I am still working on my higher self that can also say “poor donkey rider – bless his pained soul”, but I need a bit longer to reconnect with the Oneness that joins this man and I, and wish him well. I still feel angry thinking about him.
Maybe minivan of tourists + local driver = recipe for trouble out here?
Our driver did warn us not to use the Bedouin “donkey taxis” on the paths to the monastery, and that is a warning I would repeat to any travellers heading out there, along with a full “body armour” of Compassion, to take the brunt of the emotional impact.
Back in Jericho, we had lunch at a mosaic fountain that is located at the lowest point on Earth (oceans excluded), which is also where salt water was turned into fresh water by Moses. It is even said to have curative qualities, but in the sizzling heat, I did not test it on my bruised heart from the donkey experience, or any other body part. Instead, shade beckoned, and another attempt at getting a feel for the local people.
The ruins of the walls, in whose homage I drew that stick man and trumpet squiggle 31 years earlier, were scattered around an archeological park that we could see from the terrace of a shopping centre and restaurant (which I evidently missed in my sketch!). While we dined on an unexpectedly gastronomic-level buffet, to support the local economy as well as our energy levels, a majestic peacock crowed at us and showed his full feather pride from the otherwise abandoned concrete skeleton of a multi-storey construction next door. Reality was being redefined by the minute. The restaurant’s lady proprietor told me that they have up to 1000 tourists eating there every day, and that she also owns a business in the USA where she regularly flies to. It seems to be a mixed bag of locals living out here in the Occupied Territories, driving all kinds of business.
And… coach loads of tourists = happiness for some locals, at least.
We were escorted up to the roof of the shopping centre by a keen salesman, clearly very at ease with European tourists, who showed us the panorama vistas over the landscape. The Mount of Temptation was right next to us. The Dead Sea appearing only a stone’s throw away. Jordan just over the water. Stone blocks from the old wall just below us. The salesman told us that he was raising money for a local church by giving these little panorama tours, and he would like to lead us in a prayer. So, unbelievably, we stood in a circle with joined hands on Jericho’s biggest shopping centre at the foot of the Mount of Temptation, and joined in a prayer of wellness for us and our families, and peace for all mankind. Unbeknownst to the salesman, four of us in the circle were interfaith ministers, assisting at the Peace Camp. He did a splendid job leading us all in prayer, and we all tipped him accordingly. You just could not make it up.
In the shopping centre downstairs, one could buy anything from multi-religious paraphernalia to miniature carvings of camels. A minister’s stole adorned with square crosses with sidebar endings and miniature crosses within the quadrants caught my eye and would not let go again. No matter how hard I tried to convince myself that I did not need any other stoles than my custom-designed non-denominational interfaith one, I could not leave without this other stole with the crosses. Something about that ancient-looking cross shape evoked a sense of recognition or belonging in me. Later, I found out that it is the cross of Jerusalem, and it was also used by crusaders. Ah-ha… I wrote about my affinity for that period in history when visiting the ancient site of Jerash in Jordan. When these snippets of “past lives” appear these days, there is nothing I feel I have to do with them, but just sink down into the interconnectedness of it all. They are both mine, these snippets, and not mine — and that is peaceful inside me. I simply make more room to accommodate them all.
As our time in Jericho was rapidly drawing to an end, with Constellation work awaiting us back at the Peace Camp, the tea light candle mission was now urgent. After Rev. Nicole sketched a quick impression of one and I dug out a photo with one that was rather blurred and unrecognisable, the taxi driver figured out what we were after. Our first stop was a souvenir shop where the owner spoke enough English to find a (slightly used and dusty) tea light candle inside a lamp, at my request. But when he realised that I did not want the lamp but FIFTY candles, he burst out laughing and gave me the candle for free, to show to other shopkeepers and try my luck!
Our next stop was a shop in the hustle and bustle of downtown Jericho, where old cars, fruit carts and a seemingly all-male local population thronged in the streets, completely with a raucous backdrop of vehicular and human noise. After pulling into an illegal parking spot on the Main Street, the driver jumped out with me, and beckoned me into a cafe. It occurred to me that he was getting very creative in the candle-sourcing mission now, perhaps about to ask for candles that might be on tables, but the waiters in the cafe turned out to be his friends, and then indicated that there was a shop a little further down where we might find our candle quarry. The taxi minivan was still illegally parked and time was ticking, so we had to hurry!
Queue an acrobatic dash between street stalls with as many goods hanging down from storefronts as items displayed in large wire baskets, to a shop which was so crammed full of merchandise that even a hoarder might feel claustrophobic inside. We had to walk sideways to fit between the piles of haberdashery, walking sticks, tobacco tins and rather ancient-looking household items, along with anything else you might need in the Occupied Territories where imported goods might not always be available. The aged shopkeeper strategically made his way to a pile behind another pile at the back, and used his own walking stick to shift some goods that were obscuring the view of… tea light candles! With a choice of rose, lavender and citronella scent, and all made in China, no less. Moments later, I had enough candles in my possession to give one to each Peace Camp participant, having been offered a favourable price, and then an extra discount to fit with the coins I had available. The old shopkeeper even shook my hand and wished me well, before the taxi driver and I dashed back to the minivan, and then on towards the Peace Camp again.
As the taxi minivan left a trail of desert dust rising behind it, speeding through the guarded gates of Jericho and into the Judean desert, I was left with the impression of a collection of parts.
Fragments of old walls of shattered ideas and illusions. Painful and pleasant interactions with locals, engaged in such varied lives out here. Through them, I was helped, mocked, welcomed, led in prayer, and presented with opportunities for peace inside myself when my strongest reaction was for war — or at least taking the plank off the donkey rider.
Jericho brought out those broken walls of illusion and intense emotions in a raw way for me. Candles from Jericho (though made in China) went to many corners of the Earth as Peace Camp participants journeyed back home. Jericho is said to be the oldest city on Earth, and it still holds the energy of shattering walls. Long may it stand.