Saturday, December 27, 2008

Aleem Maqbool's Summary of His Nativity Trek

Our guest, and our interviewer, who walked and rode a donkey (5 in all) from Nazereth to Bethlehem, sums up:

...Maybe it is just my exhaustion, and maybe it will seem ridiculous and romantic in a few days time, but now, at the end of the trek, I do feel uplifted by the last 10 days.

If you want to call that "spiritual", then perhaps Father Louis was right.

I certainly feel I have learned a great deal from the people I have met and stayed with along the way from Nazareth. And not just about the conflict or religion.

Some conversations will linger for a while.

Those with Nedal, my guide through the hills of the northern West Bank, and the nearest thing to an "Ent" from Tolkien's Middle-Earth as I was ever likely to meet in person.

He talked of the flora and fauna as if they were family.

Chatting with the 1970s wrestling champion, Hazem, in the bath-house in Nablus, and hearing his disappointment that young people were losing interest in "noble" sporting pursuits like his.

And then there was the young Israeli soldier at a West Bank checkpoint, who talked of a love of football, and defended me when his colleagues said they really could not understand why I couldn't just get in a car and drive the rest of the way to Bethlehem.

Much of the trip was a reminder that, however obvious this sounds, people in a conflict zone are as three-dimensional as those anywhere else.

There were, of course, sad indications of the tensions here.

There was the silence of hundreds of people as they buried a 22-year-old militant in the village of Yamoon, after an Israeli army raid.

A sense of how far apart the worlds of Jewish settlers and Palestinian villagers were, how little interaction there was between the two and how entrenched their views are.

And then there was the military checkpoint that greets visitors entering Bethlehem.

But people along the way did speak of hope - though not necessarily expectation - that things would get better one day.

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