Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The BBC's Nativity Trek Summary

In the fortnight leading up to Christmas, the BBC's correspondent based in Ramallah, Aleem Maqbool, decided to make a trek on foot and on donkey-back from Nazereth to Bethlehem.

Myself and my wife became involved and below, I've collected all the various posts I blogged on the event.

Enjoy - we did.

Putting Shiloh on BBC's Map

This BBC map

is the route one Aleem Maqbool will be taking on his trek from Nazereth to Bethlehem (Christmas is next week, remember?), a trek made by foot and on a donkey.

The map seemingly misses out on several dozens of Jewish communities.

He is scheduled to arrive at my home community of Shiloh on Saturday night, just after Shabbat and Sunday morning we'll be down at the Tel, if it isn't raining too hard.

Please visit his site and tune in to the BBC World live broadcast.

The BBC Interview


I also did two live TV interviews.

BBC Interview - First Impressions

...Having been allowed to pass, I went up the hill to the Jewish settlement of Shilo. Aside from Israel, the rest of the world considers places like this, up and down the West Bank, illegal, as they are built on occupied Palestinian land. However, this is where I would be spending the night.

I got to the settlement's security gate. "You BBC?" said the guard, and I nodded. "Where's your donkey then?" he said looking a bit disappointed.

I met Yisrael Medad at the synagogue. With his New York accent (he was born and brought up there), he peppered his talk with self-effacing jokes and seemed immediately likeable.

It is with Yisrael and his wife that I am staying. The talk of politics will inevitably come later.


And we are on the map!


Salfit is actually north of Shiloh, just west of Ariel. There is also a Talfit village but that, too, is just north of Shiloh and even Eli. The villages around Shiloh are Sinjil, Turmos Aya, Qaryut, Talfit, Jalud and Kutzreh.

Reflecting on the Interview

Well, interviews, actually, two live for television and one for radio.

First off, it is impossible to answer a question like "the whole world considers your presence here illegal and interfering with Palestinian life and infrastrucure, so what do you say?" within a two-and-on-half-minute slot of air-time, which includes the reporter's fade-in and fade-out and his asking the quetion.

Second, although I mull over it afterwards, there is in such a situation of time constraint and pressure also very little one can do. But there is something to be done - especially when the question avoids one of the main issues. For example, I could have tried to devote time to mentioning that none of the Arab villages he was passing through on his Nativity trek existed as Arab villages at the time that Jospeh and Mary supposedly made their way south from Nazereth to Bethlehem.

His walk/ride was misconstruing the reality of the countryside. He was lending a hand to an anachronism for by now, millions of BBC viewers are or have identified the countryside as "Palestine" whereas even the New Testament, Acts 8:1, for one source, refers to the area as Judea and Samaria (recall when Hanan Ashrawi called Jesus a "Palestinian"?). The term "Palestine" only came into being after 135 CE, over a centruy after the events of Jesus.

But, it could be said, all this is history and who can grasp it and comprehend it? Well, it seems the Arabs are doing quite well it promoting this semantic sleight-of-mouth. And they are doing so because people like me are asked very complicated questions and given not-that-much airtime to respond.

But, I will keep trying.

The BBC Clip

The clip the BBC's Aleem Maqbool did at Shiloh is here.

A bit disappointed. No me. No my wife. No inside Shiloh.

Aleem mentions that Jewish communities (okay, he said "settlements") are on the hills while Arab villages "down below".

But I specifically told him that our nearby village of Turmos Aya is the only, the sole Arab village in Samaria which is totally in a valley whereas all the rest are on hills. And he said to me "yes, that's true".

And, it seems, it's always the donkey that gets the attention from London.

But at least he mentioned our "unapologetic" attitude that this is our ancestral Jewish land and we surely have the right to be where we are.

My Wife's Turn

My wife on that BBC Nativity trek:

"If people think my views are extreme, then fine, I'm an extremist," said Batya Medad. "I have no problem with that."

Batya lives in the Jewish settlement of Shilo, in the middle of the "West Bank" (though Batya does not use that term, instead calling it by the Biblical regions it covers, Judea and Samaria).

Every country around the world, except for Israel, considers settlements like Batya's illegal, built on occupied Palestinian land. When I put that to her, she responded angrily.

"We (Jews) are the only ones with history here, we were here first and we should be here now. It's totally immoral to say we can't be," she says.

"I don't care what the world thinks. They didn't care when the Nazis started against the Jews and when Jews were murdered. So why should I care?"

Batya and her husband, Yisrael, were both born and raised in New York, but moved in 1970. She says she never had a feeling of belonging when she was in the United States, but that when she moved here, she instantly felt at home.

Israeli and Palestinian politicians, supported by the international community, are meant to be working towards an end to the Israeli occupation here and the creation of an independent Palestinian state.

However, Batya says she thinks that the peace process will go nowhere, and that her future in Shilo is not under threat at all.

From Shilo, I continued south along a route through a valley it is believed Mary and Joseph, and indeed many prophets (including Abraham) before them, may have travelled.

Even in the past few decades, this landscape has changed considerably.

Like many other Jewish settlements, Shilo occupies a hilltop

On many of the hilltops were the gleaming, red-roofed homes of Jewish settlements. Down below them, the more haphazard, organic-looking, Palestinian villages. There is almost no interaction between the two sets of communities, only tension.

It was an uncomfortable walk, as I received suspicious looks from both settlers and Palestinians.

The settlers I passed, one or two of them armed, seemed to assume I was Palestinian, and so, perhaps, a potential attacker. "Assalamo alaikum," one settler said as he approached me, in what I felt was a test. I decided a "hi" might be better than the traditional Muslim reply in these circumstances. He relaxed and walked away.

The Palestinians, who heard me speaking English on my phone, seemed to assume I was an immigrant settler. "Mustoutan, mustoutan" ("settler, settler"), I heard a young boy shout as he ran into his house after clocking me.

I decided to quicken my pace and walk close to the main road.

More Pics

Greeting Aleem on Saturday night just after Shabbat in the Women's Section of our synagogue:

Panoramic view from the hill I live on:

My wife, Batya, and I in front of the entrance to our home:

Being contemplative

P.S. Check this out.

And this from Honest Reporting, including the comments there.

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