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Middle East Jasmine Dispatch

Promises of the Promised Land
December 18, 1999

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Inside the Ibrhimi Mosque
Up until recently when reading the Bible, as sacred as it may be, I could never really connect a real life image to the people or the places it spoke of. But, that's all changed now! It started back in Greece when Kavitha and I passed through cities like Corinth, a city the Apostle Paul preached in during his missionary journeys after Jesus was crucified. The Biblical Old Testament book of Corinthians is named after this city, because the book is based on a letter Paul wrote to the Church he started in Corinth. He'd continued his work and moved on to other cities and wrote to help guide those cities through their hardships in his absence. Then there was Mount Sinai in Egypt where Moses received the 10 Commandments - awesome! Monica and I watched a beautiful sunrise from there as people of all religions, races and cultures sang and prayed in the dawn's early light.

Expert Fact

Expert Did you know that Judaism, Christianity and Islam all trace their roots back to one person?

Provided by: Richard Curtis, Executive Editor, Washington Report on Mid East Affairs

Then, we began to make our way across the desert of Sinai into Israel and the Palestinian Territories. Kavitha and I were able to cross this very popular Biblical route, in just a few days, with stops in a few Bedouin villages along the way. That's record time compared to the 40 years the Israelites spent wandering across this desert. I should mention, however, that our circumstances were very different. They did not have planes, trains and automobiles. But, it seems that luck was on our side as we made it into the promised land of Canaan.

Now what's with this "promised land" business you ask?. Well, that's a long story, and a key question to our theme for this stage, "The Nature of Conflict." And we'll learn just how deeply seeded that theme is here.

For starters, Kevin and I decided to visit a place called Hebron, to begin digging up some answers. Who better to start with than the man God used to start it all, the very popular Biblical figure, Father Abraham. Yes, you got it, the one in the song (sing along!) "Father Abraham, has many sons and many sons has Father Abraham," same guy. And he does in fact have many sons, according to the Bible, he is the Father of all of Israel. Just like Kavitha and I, and Moses and the Israelites, he too passed through Sinai from Egypt into Israel (I told you it was a popular route!). He traveled throughout the land of Canaan, long before the Israelites would arrive. He lived and raised his family here; his sons and grandsons, Isaac and Jacob, and their descendants after them, lived in Canaan as well. Abraham purchased a burial plot for his family on this land. On this land was a cave in Machpelah, in the region of Hebron. This site would mark holy ground for generations to come and it was the reason Kevin and I traveled all this way. It took nearly two hours to get here from Tel Aviv where Kavitha and I reunited with Kevin after all these months. You'll be glad to know Kevin's malaria is 99.9% finished running its course and he's back to being the healthy, funny, smiling Kevin we all missed.

So, we jumped right back in the saddle and headed straight to the place where the first family was buried many years ago. We spent the day exploring the town of Hebron. To my surprise, the tombs were just the beginning of the stories Hebron had to share. This place has a remarkable history, but the ancient glory has long since faded in the face of Hebron's turbulent present-day circumstances.

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Jasmine in downtown Hebron
So, just as I was just getting used to the modern metropolis of Tel Aviv, where everyone spoke Hebrew, and the veiled Muslim women were now trendy and fashionable Israeli women, dressed in the latest Euro-designs, chic winter ensembles and high-heeled boots, I land in a place where things were very different but somehow familiar. Hebron was nothing like Tel Aviv but, just like Egypt. I felt like I'd been transported back across the border into the Khan Al-Kalili souq in Islamic Cairo, Egypt.

Kevin, who had been recovering in Tel Aviv all this time was shocked at the glaring contrast between life here and life only two hours away in Tel Aviv. If we were wondering at all, the confirmation that we were in a new and different place came just as we made our way out of the small minibus that brought us in from Jerusalem into the busy city center in Hebron. We were quickly cautioned about speaking Hebrew by the driver who seemed a bit annoyed.

We decided to walk through the market, it's the best place to go to get a feel for the people of a new city. Since the people did speak Arabic I had a chance to practice a bit of what I'd learned in Egypt. 'Shalom,' a greeting that means 'peace' in Hebrew was now 'Salem Walekum' again, which means 'peace be unto you' in Arabic. So, Kevin and I reviewed a little Arabic with each other and began exploring. We made our way through the crowded market with ease; passed huge sheep on their way to the barber shop (to make winter coats for everyone), mules carrying loads of spices for sell, and entire camels on hooks at the butcher shops. "No kofta (ground meat) sandwich for lunch for me!" I exclaimed. After that appetizing display, Kevin agreed, and we decided to stop for falafel and salad instead. At the very end of the market we came out of a tunnel and into a courtyard. We'd been wandering around the market for so long, I figured we should probably start looking for the mosque. Just then Kevin pointed to the four armed guards.

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An unfortunate everyday occurance
The tombs of Abraham and Sarah, their son Isaac and his wife Rebekkah and their son Jacob and his wife Leah are all inside, but the actual bodies are supposed to be buried 5 meters below ground in the cave spoken of in the Biblical book of Genesis. The fully active Ibrhimi Mosque and adjoining Synagogue before us was originally a palace built above the cave. Still, it felt more like visiting a maximum security prison then a place of worship. We were questioned heavily about what religion we practiced before we were even allowed to pass through the first set of metal detectors and into the mosque on the Muslim side of the complex. A nervousness ran through me as I approached the soldiers behind the second checkpoint at the main entrance to the mosque. Did people really deal with this every week? It was scary, and rightfully so, it was nearly six years ago that a Jewish settler opened fire on the Muslim congregation at prayer, killing 29 people and wounding numerous others. This is not quite what I'd imagined it would be like when I envisioned visiting the Biblical sites of the promised land. What's more is that this is the reality for the residents of Hebron and most any of the surrounding Palestinian territories. After visiting the synagogue in a separate side of the same complex, since the two were separated after the massacre in 1994, we decided to make our way back to the city center.

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Hello from Hebron!
We found Shadi, Ibrahim and Mahmoud, three young Palestinian boys along the way and they joined us as we walked the rest of the way back. They were all cousins, each under the age of thirteen. Shadi and Ibrahim were in school but Mahmoud worked by selling small items on the streets. They initially approached us with the hopes that we might make a purchase but immediately became good friends as Kevin began to joke and chat with them in limited Hebrew. After our warning about speaking Hebrew, I was surprised that they spoke the language. But disapproving glances were all around. We continued on up a street with three military guard stations. Shadi, Ibrahim, and Mahmoud still laughing and giggling with Kevin, led us to meet their uncle Yedres who was unloading goods from a truck. Ramadan is fast approaching, and as a merchant he was preparing his shop with traditional items. A very friendly, older guy, Yedres, spoke fluent English, which was great for us but very boring for our new young friends. We had plenty of questions for Yedres and he was pretty talkative as well, which left he kids standing nearby motioning to us to hurry things along. He lived just down the street from his shop in a home he was proud to say he was born in, a home that had been his fathers and his grandfathers before him. He was very passionate and I could have talked to him all day, but we had to let Yedres get back to his work and Kevin and I had a bus to catch. We thanked him for being so kind, and he thanked us for stopping to talk and bid us farewell. "Samlem," he waved. "Peace," that's ironic, I thought.


p.s. - Please e-mail me at

Abeja - You Can't Have Your Cake and Eat It, too: Monument to a Lost War
Abeja - Where the Heck are We, Really?
Christine - Flee to Egypt, and Stay There Until I Tell You
Jasmine - A Life of Love
Kavitha - The Miracle of the Oil
Nancy - Two Women, One Man - Feudin', a-Fussin' and a-Fightin'
Team - A Global Holiday
Team - Exercise Your Right and Write

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