Magazine article The Christian Century

With a Church Aid Convoy to the West Bank

Magazine article The Christian Century

With a Church Aid Convoy to the West Bank

Article excerpt

The food convoy has been stuck for over an hour at the first Israeli military roadblock between Jerusalem and the Bethlehem Christian suburb of Beit Jallah. Ramzi Zananiri, executive secretary of the International Christian Committee and leader of this humanitarian procession on wheels, is becoming increasingly agitated.

Juggling two cellular phones--one for West Bank Palestinian destinations like Bethlehem, and one for Israel--Zananiri tries to find out why a lone, scowling Israeli soldier is holding up the five trucks laden with provisions, led by our minivan.

"Captain Roy," says Zananiri, phoning the Israeli military officer with whom he's been coordinating this food aid dispatch. "Captain Roy, there is a checkpoint here and the soldier has stopped all of the trucks. He is a very mean soldier in comparison to the ones that we met last week going to Nablus." Captain Roy assures Zananiri that he is on his way to find out what the problem is. As minutes pass, Zananiri phones the drivers of the semi-trailer trucks behind us to explain the situation.

A little later, Sister Hortense, an elderly Palestinian nun sitting next to our van driver, pulls her own cellular phone out of a black habit and begins chattering with someone at the Rosary Sisters Convent in Bethlehem. The convent is to be our third food drop-off.

Members of a National Council of Churches delegation accompanying this aid mission to Bethlehem are amused by the concentrated display of high-tech equipment. Little do they know that along with mutual fear, animosity and sense of victimization, Israelis and Palestinians share a few more mundane cultural traits--including an extreme dependency on cell phones.

Time passes; the vans remain stuck at the roadblock. Zananiri doesn't get out and talk in person to the soldier in front. Since a number of Israeli soldiers were killed a few months ago by Palestinians in roadblock ambushes, the soldiers at roadblocks are suspicious of anyone approaching. They issue instructions with hand signals.

"Standing here, you can see how easily some sort of misunderstanding can occur and can lead to shouting and shooting," said Mark Brown, an Evangelical Lutheran Church in America representative with the NCC delegation in the van.

After more than an hour, Captain Roy's white military jeep appears. He is bearded, bare-headed and about 20 years old, with a serious demeanor. Speaking in Arabic to Zananiri, he informs him there is a problem entering Beit Jallah and the convoy will go to Bethlehem. …

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