Friday, March 31, 2006

Lenten Quiet

I am emotionally, physically and spiritually tired, so have decided to do what I should have done several weeks ago and begin to observe Lent in a proper way.

I shan't be posting anymore until after Easter. Here in Cyprus, interestingly, the Roman Catholic Church follows the Orthdox dates for Easter as a courtesy to its faithful, whose holidays are regulated by the Greek calendar. So that will make it April 23 this year.

Hopefully I shall be more focused an active when I return.

A fruitful Lent and Blessed Easter to all of you.

Kalo Pascha

Sunday, March 26, 2006



From today, I propose that all Christians proclaim themselves to be God's fools in solidarity with our Afghan brother, Abdul Rahman, who is charged with apostasy from Islam and threatened with death.

CNN carried a piece this morning, quoting former Supreme Court judge Waheed Mudja, who said President Karzai "has two choices: he has to either choose Afghanistan or the international community.

"Karzai, as the leader of an Islamic country, is not authorised to change the Sharia ... The only way out of it is to prove the man is mad or will come back
to Islam."

So Abdul Rahman, who has chosen Christ as his Lord and Saviour, could be adjudged to be mad as a result.

Wikipedia tells us that the "yurodivy (юродивый) is the Russian version of the holy fool. The role can be traced at least as far back as the medieval period.

"The yurodivy is traditionally an eccentric figure who is outside conventional society. The madness of the yurodivy is ambiguous, and can be real or simulated. He (or she) is believed to be divinely inspired, and is therefore able to say truths which others cannot, normally in the form of indirect allusions or parables. He had a particular status in regard to the Tsars, as a figure not subject to earthly control or judgment.

"The Russian Orthodox Church numbers 36 yurodivys among its saints, most prominently Saint Basil. Originally an apprentice shoemaker in Moscow, he adopted an eccentric lifestyle of shoplifting and giving to the poor. He went naked and weighed himself down with chains. He rebuked Ivan the Terrible for not paying attention in church. He is buried in St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow, which was commissioned by Ivan and is named after the saint.

1 Cor 1:18-25

For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.

For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.

For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.

Where [is] the wise? where [is] the scribe? where [is] the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?

For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.

For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom:

But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness;

But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.

Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

1 Cor 3: 18-19

Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness. Posted by Picasa

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Dear Mr Ambassador

The following is a copy of a letter that I wrote to the Afghan ambassador in the United States urging the release of Abdul Rahman. I would urge each of you to write to the Afghan representative in your country and do the same.

Dear Ambassador Farhadi,

I am an American citizen living in Cyprus, who is writing to you with regards to the charges of apostasy against Mr. Abdul Rahman.

I would respectfully request that you forward to President Karzai my request that all charges against Mr. Rahman be dropped and that he be freed to live his life as he chooses.

In doing so, I cite the constitution of Afghanistan, which states, in part:

Article Seven
Ch. 1, Art. 7
The state shall abide by the UN charter, international treaties, international conventions that Afghanistan has signed, and the Universal Declaration of Human

Article 18 of the Universal Declaration states:

"Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance."

Hence, the detention and trial of Mr. Rahman is an offence against his constitutionally guaranteed rights.

Yours respectfully,

Albion Land (Mr)

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Abdul Rahman and the Afghan Constitution

For considering the legal issues raised by the Abdul Rahman apostacy trial, I have scanned through the Afghan constitution and found the following items:

A. In its preamble, the constitution refers to "observing the United Nations Charter and respecting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights ..."

In the body of the constitution, the following is found:

Article Two
Ch. 1, Art. 2
The religion of the state of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is the sacred religion of Islam.

Followers of other religions are free to exercise their faith and perform their religious rites within the limits of the provisions of law.

Article Three
Ch. 1, Art. 3
In Afghanistan, no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred
religion of Islam.

Article Seven
Ch. 1, Art. 7
The state shall abide by the UN charter, international treaties, international
conventions that Afghanistan has signed, and the Universal Declaration of Human


A quick review would suggest that there are serious internal inconsistencies in the Afghan constitution. Article 2(2) guarantees freedom of religion for non-Muslims, but that would seem to be revoked by Article 3, as Islam considers apostacy a crime that can be punishable by death.

But then Article 7 would seem to conflict directly with Articles 2 and 3, as it stipulates abiding by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 18 of which states quite bluntly:

"Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance."

Monday, March 20, 2006

A Note from the Late Fr Tarsitano

This was forwarded by Fr Robert Hart

A Note to Some Friends

While I deeply sympathize with the disappointment felt by so many over the Robinson debacle, I'd also like to point out one of the main features of the Anglican Way that often goes unobserved or unrecognized.

At the heart of the Anglican Way is the freedom to say "no" to error, just as long as one is prepared to bear the costs of that freedom. The Archbishop of Canterbury is not a pope, and the primates are neither cardinals nor a legislature. While the support of our brethren in other countries is precious, the fact remains that one can continue to be an Anglican without permission for as long as he has the guts for it. One can't be a Roman catholic without the pope's permission, nor a canonical Orthodox church without the recognition of the other churches of that household. But it is an Anglican witness that makes an Anglican church, with or without anybody else's recognition. After all, the first American bishop was not consecrated by the Church of England, but by Scottish bishops not recognized at that time by the Archbishop of Canterbury, etc.

These observations may represent a new point of view for some of us, but those of us who could not, for example, live with the innovation of the ordination of women faced this problem a long time ago. We continued on as Anglicans, even when expelled from the ECUSA, and there are hundreds of parishes that have come into existence in the process. We had our property taken away from us, mostly for not accepting the ordination of women, sometimes by some of the very same people who are protesting Gene Robinson's blasphemous "consecration."

We said "no," we paid the price, and we are free. We still pay some, too, in the dislocations and sometimes petty controversies involved in starting over. Anyone who has ever moved his family from one house to another has experienced something like the same sorts of tensions in his own household. And we aren't done rebuilding. It's hard to rebuild in a generation what took centuries to build in an era without major doctrinal controversies. But, if the Lord tarries, the beauty of holiness will be raised up again in splendor, and without the burden of impaired, semi-, hemi-, whatever "communion."

This is not an "I told you so," or at least I don't mean it to be. It's just my witness that when my Episcopal parish was sued out of existence I thought at the time it was the worst thing that could ever happen. Almost twenty years of experience since those days has taught me that the only calamities are to lose the faith and to lose the will to say "no" when that is our duty. Call me crazy, but my kids have grown up in the traditional doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Anglican way, and while it is arguable that they've had an odd-ball or two among their bishops, they haven't had a bishop since our expulsion from the Episcopal Church who was a heretic, a feminist or homosexualist ideologue, a supporter of elective abortion, a Gaia worshipper, etc. Despite whatever regrets I may have about this or that, I think this has been a gift and an inheritance to them greater than rubies, and that's a lot to accomplish in one lifetime, especially in the circumstances of this time. The kids aren't bigots, but neither are they over-burdened with doubts about what is right and acceptable before the Lord.

Just say "no" and be free.

The Reverend Dr Louis R Tarsitano died on Jan 15, 2005

Pray for Abdul Rahman

An Afghan man is being tried in a court in Kabul for his conversion from Islam to Christianity.

He could be sentenced to death for the act and his refusal to recant.

The trial of Abdul Rahman reflects the struggle between religious hardliners and reformists over what shape Islam will take in Afghanistan.

Read it all at:

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Where I Wasn't Kidnapped


I couldn't resist this one, which is posted outside one of the entrances to the hotel where I stayed in Gaza City. Posted by Picasa

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

  Posted by Picasa

The Door


This is the famous door to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the keys to which have been held by the same Muslim family for centuries, because the Franciscans, Greek Orthodox and Armenian Orthodox who grudgingly share the church were always squabbling over who should have control. Posted by Picasa



Under this altar, in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, is the place where tradition holds that Christ was crucified. Posted by Picasa

Christ's Tomb


No matter how much I edit this photo, it still looks like my image has been cut and pasted onto the background, but I was really there. Posted by Picasa

Abu Ezzedine


As promised, here is a photo of Abu Ezzedine, the very charming and gracious father of a colleague of mine at AFP, who owns a shop in the souk in the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem's Old City. Posted by Picasa

Friday, March 17, 2006

Happy St Patrick's Day

I'll be heading over to Finbarr's tonight for my annual pint of Guinness, and in a gesture of reconciliation may buy Ned Parker and Charlie Onians a pint too.

Hepworth on OW and Communion

The TAC primate, Archbishop John Hepworth, has written about divergence in the Anglican world over the question of ordaining women and its impact on the matter of communion.

Powerful Anglican forces have continued to attack the integrity of those Anglicans who remain opposed to the ordination of women to the Diaconate, Priesthood and Episcopate.

At the same time, an end to the debate (sometimes known as a “period of reception”) has been clearly signalled. Conservative Primates of the Anglican Communion have asserted more strongly than hitherto that the ordination of women is not a matter of faith, and therefore not “Communion-breaking”. Many of the Primates who form the “Global South” ordain women, or allow such ordinations within their Provinces. In several Provinces where the ordination of women has been long established, “conscience clauses” that permitted the survival of dissent have been revoked, and affirmation of the ordination of women is necessary for ordination, even of male candidates.

Read it all at The Messenger:

The Continuum and Real Presence

My good friend Rob Duncan has brought my attention to the following thread over at Spero and asked for my comments. Perhaps you might like to join in as well. I shall respond in due course. Like just about anything with Anglicanism, there is no clear-cut answer. Anglicans run the gamut of seeing the Eucharist as merely a memorial to full transsubstantion. As for myself, I defitely believe in the Real Presence, though probably in a more Lutheran sense. I'll leave you with the famous words attributed to Elizabeth I:

"'Twas GOD the Word that spake it,
He took the Bread and brake it,
And what the Word did make it,
That I believe and take it."

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Pope Calls for Dialogue with Islam

Remarks by Pope Benedict XVI in an audience with a delegation from the American Jewish Committee provided by the Vatican Information Service.

"The recent celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Declaration of the Second Vatican Council Nostra Aetate has increased our shared desire to know each other better and to develop a dialogue characterised by mutual respect and love. Indeed, Jews and Christians have a rich common patrimony. In many ways this distinguishes our relationship as unique among the religions of the world. The Church can never forget that chosen people with whom God entered into a holy covenant (cf. Nostra Aetate, 4).

"Judaism, Christianity and Islam believe in the one God, Creator of heaven and earth. It follows, therefore, that all three monotheistic religions are called to cooperate with one another for the common good of humanity, serving the cause of justice and peace in the world. This is especially important today when particular attention must be given to teaching respect for God, for religions and their symbols, and for holy sites and places of worship. Religious leaders have a responsibility to work for reconciliation through genuine dialogue and acts of human solidarity.

"Dear friends, I pray that your visit today may confirm you in your endeavours to build bridges of understanding across all barriers. Upon all of you I invoke the divine gifts of strength and comfort."

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Heading Home

Sadly, on this my last day in Jerusalem,I will not be able to get to church. I am having to work, as today is like a Monday in Israel, and two of my "anglo" colleagues are off.

I'll be at the keyboard right through till 5:00 o'clock, when I'll head for the airport in Tel Aviv and home to Nicosia, my own bed, my family and Jack the Dalmatian.

It has been a most enjoyable and educational experience, and I look forward to coming back.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

One More Slab in the Wall

On my trip to Ramallah on Monday and to Bethlehem yesterday, I had my first up-close view of the infamous Israeli security barrier, being built to separate Israel from the West Bank. It is a mixture of wire fences in some places and massive concrete slabs in others, dotted with watchtowers and paralleled by off-limits roads for use only by the border police.

The cement sections of the wall are remeniscent of the Berlin Wall. The Palestinians argue that Israel is using the barrier to unilaterally establish its future borders with an eventual Palestinian state. Israel insists that the wall is necessary to keep out potential attackers. What no one disputes is the fact that in a number of places, the route of the wall cuts deep into Palestinian territory and, in the process, cuts some villages and farms in two, severely disrupts agriculture, commerce and normal social intercourse.

One of the waiters I have got to know at the restaurant at my hotel in east Jerusalem is Nawaf al-Hilbou, a 23-year-old student of computer engineering at Al-Quds University who designs websites.

You might like to have a look at one of them, and click on the film that he has produced about the wall.

Christians and Hamas (II)

Here is the piece I promised last week on the prospects for Palestinian Christians under a new government led by Hamas. It was a pleasant suprise.

GAZA CITY, March 2, 2006 (AFP) - Hundreds of Muslims pressed their way down the narrow street that leads to the Greek Orthodox church of Saint Perfilios in Gaza City, as the Islamic world raged over the cartoons of Prophet Mohammed.
They poured into the small square off the street, where the church and its offices are located.
Father Artemios Dimitriades, 28, a priest from Greece who has spent more than half his life in the Holy Land, went down with his bishop to meet them.
But he had no fear that the church would be stoned or set on fire, as had happened elsewhere in the Muslim world, because the crowds included a large group of Christians who were also offended by the caricatures.
And also because one of the Muslims was carrying a framed copy of the Covenant of Omar, a document little known outside Christian and Islamic circles in the Holy Land.
The Al-Uhdah Al-Omariyah was signed in 683 by the Muslim conqueror of Jerusalem, Caliph Omar bin al-Khattab. In it, he promised the city's patriarch, Sophronios, to protect the lives, property, churches and worship of Christians.
It guaranteed that they would "not be coerced in their religion."
Among the marchers that day in late January were members of Hamas, the radical Islamist group that is poised to form the next Palestinian government after its shock election win.
Since Hamas's victory, there have been murmurings of unease by some Christians that the new government might seek to impose rigid Islamic law, with visions of women being forced to wear headscarves and harsh punishments imposed for common crime.
Moreover, there are fears about mandatory segregation of boys and girls in schools and of children being forced to take classes in Islamic religion.
The future under "Hamas could be kind of scary," one Roman Catholic priest in Jerusalem, a Westerner, told AFP.
But Father Artemios and others in Gaza, both Christian and Muslim, say such concerns are baseless.
And if anyone has apparent cause to feel threatened, it is the Christian community here of around only 3,000 souls among some 1.4 million Muslims.
Artemios says "we are not afraid of anything, because the Muslims and the Christians here, from the time Islam came, are living in peace and love."
That was the message which he said the marchers brought to the church: "We don't have any problems with the Christians. We respect each other and we believe in freedom of religion."
But what if all this optimism proves to be ill-founded? What if, as a more radical Hamas leader recently proposed, the new government were to seek to impose Islamic law, or sharia?
One answer comes from Hosam al-Taweel, 42, an independent who was elected as one of the six Christians guaranteed seats in the 132-seat Palestinian Legislative Council.
He got the highest number of votes of the six, because he had the backing not only of Hamas itself but also of other nationalist groups.
"Hamas knows that Palestinian society contains many different shapes, ideas and political colors, and knows also that if it were to try to force the whole of society to act against their beliefs and against their will, it will lose in the long run," he said.
As Christians, "we are sharing the same problems, the same suffering from the (Israeli) occupation, the high rate of unemployment, the bad economic situation. We are living in a united society; there is no kind of division, or any kind of discrimination" by Muslims.
And he points to the Covenant of Omar, saying both Christians and Muslims see it as having the force of law, even after more than 13 centuries.
Today, the Palestinian Basic Law, or constitution, reflects that. It stipulates that "freedom of belief and performance of religious rituals are guaranteed (unless) they violate public order or public morals."
Taweel's uncle, Anton Shuhaiber, scornfully dismissed "foreigners always asking when they come here, 'will Christians be worse off under Hamas?'"
Shuhaiber is a 68-year-old doctor who studied in England.
He is also a member of the church council and the board of the local Young Men's Christian Association, which he says has "left its fingerprints" on Gazan society through the cross-community work it does.
He counted as friends Hamas leaders Ahmed Yassin and Abdulaziz Rantissi, both assassinated by Israel, and points to a spot on his sofa where they used to sit.
"I am not afraid of Hamas, even of the Islamic religion," he said.
For Christians, who read the Koran carefully and with an open mind, "there is no fear." The real problem, he said, is the conflict now between an increasingly godless Western culture and Islamic culture.
"We have a role of working to stop that conflict. And our role is to get the (two sides) to understand each other well."

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Off to Ramallah

Tomorrow morning, the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), or parliament, holds its first real business session following the January elections and the unexpected victory of Hamas. This radical Islamic group, which does not recognise the right of Israel to exist and which has been responsible for the bulk of suicide attacks in Israel over the past five years, now has the task of forming a new government.

Its prime minister-designate, Ismail Haniya, lives in the Gaza Strip, and cannot travel to the West Bank city of Ramallah, where the PLC is based, because of an Israeli travel ban. So he and other Gaza-based MPs will have to participate by video linkup.

I have no idea what is on the agenda, but my AFP colleagues in Ramallah will take me along to the PLC chambers to sit in on the proceedings. This will be an historic moment in Palestinian history, because the legislature that sits will be the first that has come out of a genuine democratic electoral process.

I ask you prayers that the leaders of Hamas will find the wisdom and courage to move toward a more moderate stance towards Israel, seomething that will not sit well with their more radical members. Also, pray that Israel and the West, most of whom classify the group as a terrorist organisation, will not push it so far into a corner that it can't moderate.

Meanwhile, I am ashamed to say, I did not make it to church this morning. A colleague of mine invited me to dinner at her house last night, along with a young British journalist who is briefly here, and we sat up until the wee hours of the morning solving all the problems of the Middle East. I didn't get to bed till well after 3, and didn't get up until nearly 1.

Even so, I had a pleasant "morning" walking through the souk of the Old City and visiting with my new friend Fayez, who introduced me to his cousin, Wa'el, who is a teacher of English at Bir Zeit University in Ramallah. For you Texans out there, Wa'el studied in San Antonio, and does a passable Texas drawl.

From Fayez, I made my major purchase of the trip -- a nargileh, or water pipe, also known in these parts as a sheesha. You can smoke tobacco, or other substances, but most people smoke fruit-based stuff, call ma'assel. The most popular is "two apples," but there are also cherry and other fruits.

Probably half of my friends back in Nicosia are Arabs, mostly Lebanese, and the sheesha will be a nice addition to my home when it comes to entertaining.

I will be heading home a week from tonight, so hope that I can pack in a great deal more exploration.

I had thought about driving up to Galilee this weekend, but discovered that my Virginia drivers license had expired, and I had left my Cypriot license at home.

I will be off next Saturday, so will try to at least make it to Bethlehem for the first time and a visit to the Church of the Nativity. It's not 10 miles south of Jerusalem, but is separated from it by the infamous Israeli security fence.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Getting Started with the Early Fathers

It's one of those questions that just about everyone one of us wants to ask once we've begun to delve into theology, but many (not mentioning names) are just afraid to ask for fear of appearing ignorant and unsophisticated. Well Marcellino D'Ambrosio, in a highly readable piece published over at Spero News will help you get yourself up to speed without anyone knowing you weren't already there.

Read it here:

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The Erez Crossing

I'm safely back from Gaza City, and not a day too soon. This morning a leading terrorist died when a car he was walking past blew up (circmumstance still unclear). Also, the head of the land registry was kidnapped as he left his office, but he was later released unharmed.

While I was in town, only about 24 hours, I never went anywhere unescorted, except to the corner kiosk to buy some cigarettes.

I've pretty much finished writing my feature on Christians under Hamas, but will not post it to the blog until AFP's own subscribers have had a good chance to use it.

So for now I'll write about another aspect of my trip -- passage on the way back through the Erez checkpoint from the Gaza Strip to Israel.

The best part of the experience was that the Israeli army broke my camera, but more about that later.

The Palestinian end of the crossing is fairly straightforward -- you show them your passport, they make a note of it, and off you go. I had been planning to travel through with a colleague, who was driving one of our armored cars back to Israel, but since he had told the Israelis he was traveling alone, they wouldn't authorise the Palestinians to let me through with him. So I had to walk. No explaining why, as we both work for the same company, and I had entered Gaza correctly.

The trip is short, perhaps 500 metres, through a covered passageway known as The Tunnel. But it took two hours. Yet that was a quick trip compared with people I met up with half way there. All of them Arabs, and some of them mothers carrying babies, they had been held up for more than eight hours for no discernible reason.

Most of the time, I sat waiting with them on the Palestinian side of a floor-to-ceiling set of bars, inset with a huge electrically activated gate. Beyond that was a sort of holding pen, with another barricade beyond it, and a turnstyle (also electrically activated), leading into railed-off lanes remeniscent of cattle runs.

As we waited, Palestinian laborers who have permission to work in Israel were on their way home in the other direction. Regularly, groups of a few dozen would gather at the far barrier and wait, tired and impatient, till they were let through into the holding pen. Then another wait, before they were let through the final barrier. Men carrying tires over their shoulders, toilet seats, childrens' bicycles, electrical cable, bags of fruit, just about anything imaginable.

Intermittently, a woman would shout something unintelligible over the loudspeaker, even to those who speak Hebrew or Arabic. At one point, people began to say we could go through into the holding pen when the gate opened, so I walked through. But no one followed me. The gate swung shut, and I was alone. Then came more unintelligible, but annoyed, squawking over the loudspeaker, and Arabs beckoned me to come back.

Looks like it wasn't my turn after all. So back I went, as the gate swung open for me.

Then more confusion. The loudspeaker convinced some people that we were on our way again, so we all streamed through into the holding pen after the latest batch of laborers had passed in the opposite direction. But then, a heated conversation over an intercom seemed to indicate that only Israeli Arabs would be allowed through the turnstyle. As if Israeli citizens needed to be treated this way. Among them was a young mother with her four children, all under 10.

But as the discussion proceeded apace, the latest crowd of laborers was building up behind the gate, and shouting at everyone to go back, because they wouldn't be let through until we cleared out. After some hesitation, those who had remained in the pen went back to the other side. (Chastened from before, I had already retreated).

Finally, we were all let through into the pen and through the turnstyle, one by one, and there was a rush to make our way down the lanes to the next checkpoint, only 30 or 40 metres away. There the real action began.

The Israelis are quite understandably concerned about suicide bombers, as Erez has had some nasty incidents in the past. So they have set up a couple of machines that everyone has to pass through. These are vertical glass cylinders equipped with a sort of 360-degree gadget that gives a full picture of what is inside one's clothes. (A sign containing instructions even tells you the images will not be share with third parties).

When you finally get in there, you have to spread your feet wide apart and hold your hands above your head, holding still as this thing makes a complete circle around you. I watched indignantly as a toddler of no more than three years old stood, legs spread apart and hands in the air, as if in some strange yogic asana.

Finally came my turn. But before you go in to the magical machine, you are ordered to remove all metal objects (people even took off their belts) and place them on an airport-style conveyor belt to run through an X-ray machine. I put my jacket, tape recorder, camera, glasses, pens, and belt, of course, on the conveyor and got into the capsule. But I was told to take everything out of my pockets. I think I removed my passport and a toothpick I had in my shirt pocket.

I passed the 360-degree inspection and breathed a sigh of relief, imagining it was all over. But I came out of the capsule to find that everything I had placed on the conveyor belt had been unceremoniously dropped on the hard cement floor. Unlike airports, where you have those lovely rollers and a table at the end to recive items from the X-ray, all any of us got was a filthy cement floor -- without warning. So my camera was broken.

But it doesn't end there. Another turnstyle, and finally live human beings -- in my case a bored young soldier, who when I flashed my US passport through the glass, tells me, without a hint of sardonic humor, to go to the VIP section. Then another wait of 10 minutes or so, as not-quite-so-VIPs ahead of me step out into the fresh air, where a table awaits them to have their baggage inspected. (Not quite sure what was wrong with the X-ray machine). A dear old woman in front of me, one of those who had waited hours longer than I, turned to see me and gestured for me to go ahead of her. I thanked her and refused.

Finally I made it to The Table, Israeli press pass draped around my neck, and was cordially received. "Any bags," I was asked. "No, only this," the book I was carrying. And the fellow took it from me and flipped his way through the pages, just so he could inspect something, I suppose.

With that, as if the previous two hours had not transpired, he said "Have a good day."

Biting my tongue and gritting my teethe, I said: "You too."

So it's all over? No.

Now you have to go inside, and make your way past one adolescent Israeli soldier, as she types your details into a computer while chatting with someone on her mobile phone; then another round, with another teenager, who types some more details in to her computer and then gives you a blue pass to give to the third adolescent at the door, who immediately walks over to the counter and returns the blue pass to adolescent soldier number two.

Ironically, my colleague had appeared in the line next to me as I was dealing with Mobile Phone Corporal. He had expected to take even longer, and it's suprising he didn't. From what he described of the noise and the time, it seems that they dismantled and reassembled his armored car before letting him through.

We got into it and drove off.