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.


The Lemonts said...

I hope your tavels are safe. Your tales are a joy to read

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