May 22: We started our morning at the Herodion, the ruins of a palace-fortress of Herod the Great which he built in 23-20 BCE and which is 5 kms from Bethlehem and 13 kms from Jerusalem. It contains his mausoleum but his remains are gone, probably vandalized by the many people who hated him throughout his life and after his death. The mausoleum was discovered only two years ago and the archeologist who discovered it died soon after in an accident at the site. It makes one think of "the curse of the mummy."
The palace fortress was on top of two hills merged into one, in which Herod
used thousands of slaves for the 4-year construction. We saw the ruins of guest-houses for his
friends including a pool so large that his friends, according to accounts,
would go boating in it with a large fountain in the middle. This was the Herod that, according to
Matthew's gospel, ordered the massacre of the infants in Bethlehem. This was the Herod that turned the Jerusalem
Temple into something so grand that it rivalled other temples in the Roman
This was also the Herod who had 3 of his sons and favourite wife executed
because he suspected them of plotting against him or planning to usurp his
throne. Since Herod wanted to show that
he was a faithful Jew by not eating pork, the Romans joked that it was better to
be Herod's pig than to be his son. He
died of syphilis 2 years after Jesus was born.
Since there was no shade among the ruins at the Herodion, we were under the hot
sun while Glenn talked a lot about the place and about the contemporary complexity
of nationality, ethnicity and religious identity in Palestine. It became too much so that some of us stood up
and proceeded back to the bus. After
nearly a week, he still could not understand the fact that most Filipinos do
not like to be under the hot sun for long. The back of my neck and my lower arms became
red. I brought sun block to Israel, but
have not yet used it.
For lunch, we were divided into groups of five for meals with different
Palestinian families. For my group, our
host was Reema. We were not
supposed to meet her husband but he came home early. They have 3 girls, the oldest of which is 17, and
they have a boy, their youngest, at 4 years old. The boy Joseph was so cute and was not shy. He even called, "Come!" to play with
him in his little Tykes one-piece see-saw. I obliged and of course I remembered
Reema served us delicious chicken in which she used several local spices. I was told that Winnie Monsod got the list of
spices and I shall try to copy it. She
offered also a tasty stew of potatoes, cauliflower, onions and other
vegetables. Reema is a school teacher
while her husband is a construction worker. Their family is Greek Orthodox. They have one small car and a 3-storey house,
but the 2nd and 3rd floors are unfinished, just a shell of stone and cement. They hope to finish it in 3-5 years. They plan to rent out the floors or rooms for
We heard first-hand their woes in a territory that Israel has put behind
8-meter high walls with limited autonomy given to the Palestinian National Authority.
They get their water from Israel, which occasionally
cuts it off without warning and it is especially difficult in the summer. I have seen the dryness of the land and 6
months without rain is not unusual throughout Palestine.
Reema's husband works in Jerusalem and a half hour trip between Bethlehem and
Jerusalem becomes at least 2.5 hours because of the Israeli checkpoint in which
every Palestinian lines up and goes through inspection one by one even if they
have the proper papers and they go through the checkpoint day after day. There is a curfew at the checkpoints and they
can be arbitrarily closed during Jewish holidays or whenever Israel perceives a
Reema says that she gets upset listening to CNN or BBC reportage about the
troubles in Palestine because the Palestinian experience is not presented
accurately. She says that Al-Jazeera
tends to make the small problems big. She
doubts that they would be allowed to be an independent state in the next 5
Entering Bethlehem, our bus went through a checkpoint but we were quickly let
through. Going around Bethlehem and even
at the center of the city, you could see that much of the city looks drab
compared to Israeli villages around Jerusalem. Leaving Bethlehem, we spent 10 minutes at the
checkpoint, and the wall on the Palestinian side had huge graffiti critical of
what Israel does to the Palestinians. We
were warned not to take photos of the checkpoint, otherwise the Israeli guards
would confiscate the cameras.
Reema also mentioned problems they had with Muslim Palestinians, as Christian
Palestinians like them constitute a minority there.
When will Jerusalem truly become the City of Shalom?