After attending meeting for worship at the lovely Ramallah Friends Meeting, where I met Jean Zaru and saw an old friend of mine who is studying Arabic nearby, my little caravan of seminary students traveled east.
The road we took was narrow and most of it did not have sidebars to stop vehicles from tumbling to the crevasse below. At some points the road was not wide enough to allow two vehicles; most of time the curves were blind. This road, as of August 2011, will be the only road that Palestinians are allowed to drive on from Ramallah to Jericho. The route takes about an hour and is very dangerous. The original road, a route that takes less than 20 minutes, connects a series of Israeli settlement throughout the West Bank and will be closed for exclusive Israeli travel. In addition, all Bedouin communities camped within 1/2 mile of the Israeli road will be force to move by August.
The landscape to Jericho was beautiful and as we descended down into the Jordan valley, the air became warmer and sweeter. Jericho, 10,000 years old, is a beautiful city on the banks of the Dead Sea. The ground here is fertile and although it is very close to the Judean Desert, the Jordan Valley is lush and green. We road a cable car up to the mountain that hosts a Greek Orthodox Monastery and Herald Palace. The world felt so open and alive!
For a moment it is easy to forget about the occupation, the restriction of movement and the humiliation of the Palestinians. The barracks of the Jordanian army and abandoned hotels (because of the receding shores of the Dead Sea) are the few reminders of the past. Yet underneath the beauty and calm are signs explaining road closures, 17 year old Israelis with semi-automatics stopping cars for random searches, and settler outposts annexing more and more Palestinian land. There once was water here, flowing down canals from high up on the mountains. The settlements have interrupted the flow of these springs and have dramatically altered the landscape.
After our tour of Jericho we drove up into the desert. My favorite place of this entire trip was listening to the sounds of the desert high above the St. George Monastery. A spring makes the site liveable and you can hear the sounds of the water rushing down the mountain, down into the crevasse, and down pass the monastery. But that's not all... As the sun was setting, I sat in silence and in that silence I could hear the wind passing by my solitary figure, the voices of the world were brought by my ear, the soul of the world was close at hand. In these moments I fell in love with the desert.