Holy Land Diary 7 - beleagued Christian village where Jesus once walked

Remains of  olive tree- now a lectern in the parish church, Aboud.

Remains of olive tree- now a lectern in the parish church, Aboud.

Early morning Mass in the village of Aboud, north of Jerusalem and Ramallah, was a wonderful way to begin our last full day in Palestine.  The Israeli by-pass road  we took links Jerusalem to Tel Aviv to one of the largest settlements called  Mo'din Ilit, really a city, with a population of around 45,000 settlers.  We passed many small roads, leading to Palestinian villages that had been completely blocked off to traffic.

Aboud is still open - at the moment.  As a village it had quite a different feel to the busy towns we had visited.  Small residential houses surrounded by farm land and olive groves.  Aboud has a significant Christian population  - Catholics and Greek Orthodox.   Our host, Fr  Samer Haddad who is Jordanian, welcomed us to the Church of Our Lady of Seven Sorrows.

A poignant feature of the sanctuary area was a trunk of an olive tree that had been turned into a lectern.  We discovered that this was one of 3,000 olive trees that had been cut down to make way for security roads and fences.  The atmosphere in the church was electric as the most wonderful youth choir led us through the Mass and families welcomed us into their community.

Fr Samer took us on a walking tour of the village - first to the Greek Orthodox Church of the Virgin Mary then to a vantage point where we saw the ruins of the ancient church of St Barbara set in the hills outside the village. 1,500 years old, this church was bombed by the Israeli's in 2002.  In the same area as the church we saw an Israeli water tower/tank, used to collect and store water for nearby settlements.  One of the fears of the village is that water supplies are being diverted.  Our gentle walk through the village was brought to an abrupt end when we came to a bank of stone, mud and concrete - a barrier that Israeli soldiers had put across the road in order to cut the village off from the nearby settlement. While villagers could pass on foot, into their lands and olive groves, it was impossible to take a truck or machinery through.  In the distance we could see a settlement with the usual security road, fence and barbed wire.

Economically the village is also suffering.  3000 olive trees cut down.  Lands taken away.  Where once some may have worked in Israel, this is now impossible.  Even movement  between one Palestinian town and another is restrictive. Walking back we came upon a small cooperative project,  factory making olive oil soap.  Aboud Soap is slowing building a market.  I discovered a batch being sent to Pax Christi in Italy and one of our group is considering buying soap for sale in his parish.  Another small opportunity for solidarity and education!

It was sad saying goodbye to the village and its people.  One of the women I spoke with at Mass was so proud of the village, so proud that Jesus would probably have walked these paths on his way to Jerusalem. Such a beautiful place, such warm and welcoming people.

8 November

Leaving new friends having shared intense experiences with them is never easy.  It felt strange getting into our coach and driving through the Bethlehem-Jerusalem checkpoint for the last time.  A smooth journey to Ben Gurion airport was ruined by the chaos within!  While we had left three hours for our 'security check-ins' we barely made our flight!  An hour wait to get our cases security checked - some of which were opened and examined in detail.  An hour to have our hand-luggage and our bodies checked.  Then another hour in 'border control'.  Very distressing for some members of our group to have to stand for this length of time and for others who had only minutes to spare in boarding the plane.  A sharp contrast to the open doors and open minds of our Palestinian friends.

Pat Gaffney, General Secretary of Pax Christi is on a delegation to the Holy Land.

For more information about Pax Christi see: www.paxchristi.org.uk/

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