The last time the Abu Leils tried to go to the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer (about 5 kilometers from their house), they left over an hour early and got there at the end of the service.

Al Ram –
The last time the Abu Leils tried to go to the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer (about 5 kilometers from their house), they left over an hour early and got there at the end of the service.  They don’t try anymore.  They live in Al Ram, which used to be considered a part of Jerusalem because it was integrated with the neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, but it is about to be sealed off on the West Bank side of the Wall.  

This map is not completely accurate but gives an indication of the route of the wall.  The solid redline is the completed wall, but it has not been completely sealed in all places.  It is about to be sealed off around the arrow point.  This area is still being completed and has caused tremendous traffic and congestion problems on what used to be the main route to Ramallah.  The dotted red line indicates the portions of the wall still under construction.  It is also hard to travel because the routes change often.  To  enter Jerusalem, the Abu Leils – although they hold Jerusalem IDs – find themselves on the West Bank side and must drive up to Kalandia Checkpoint, several kilometers to the north, and wait for what can be 15 minutes or 3 hours, one never knows.  Picture a 3 lane toll booth, where each car is questioned for an indefinite time, but usually only one lane is open.  Then they must go south again to reach Jerusalem through torn up roads half-constructed. It doubles the distance but can quadruple the time.  They estimated to get to their 9 am service in Jerusalem, in Jerusalem, they would have to leave at about 6:30 to make sure they were there on time.  And since they have to do this same drill every weekday for the kids to reach their schools, they all are so tired that it is hard to make that effort.

This northern wall between Jerusalem and “the West Bank,” although it is really right through the middle of Palestinian areas that used to be considered Jerusalem, is becoming more and more complete.  This wall section in Al-Ram is expected to be sealed very soon.

This has virtually cut off faith life for the Abu Leils and almost 25% of the families of Redeemer’s Arabic congregation.  It is simply too hard to get there.  This year, their 13-yeard-old son, Feraz, is supposed to begin confirmation class.  But unless special arrangements are made, he won’t be able to. He is only 13 and has no ID, so he can’t go through the checkpoint on his own, but he might be a special case to go through an existing checkpoint by foot if accompanied by a parent from one side and if the pastor is willing to come and meet him from the other side.  They are still working on it.

The Abu Leils talk about going to the Lutheran Church in Ramallah, about 13 kilometers away, but Samir says:  “We are strangers there.  I grew up at Redeemer.  That is my church.”

Another major change may come if they can no longer afford to keep their children in costly Christian schools.  The public schools, the only schools available to them in their neighborhood behind the wall, are Islamic.  But they only cost 20 sheckles (about $5) per student per year. 

Bethlehem –
Zoughbi hasn’t been able to go to his church in Jerusalem for 6 years.  Not for Easter, not for weddings, not for funerals, not for baptisms and not for Sunday services. He used to be a member of the English-speaking congregation of the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer.  But it’s hard to be a member if you can’t get there.

Zoughbi said he doesn’t even try to get permits anymore because it is such an onerous effort.  “You can wait for hours, only to be told ‘come back tomorrow,’ but ‘tomorrow’ never comes.  And that’s just applying for the permits.”   He said they are rarely given, and even when given, they can be revoked at any time at any checkpoint by a soldier who says, “not today.”  He also said that sometimes they will give permits for the wife but not the husband, the brother but not the sister.  Zoughbi also talked about men – and women – having to go through humiliating searches.

He said the effect is a complete fragmentation of the family, which for Palestinians – both Muslim and Christian – is integrally woven with faith and life. For him, it is not just that he can’t go to his church anymore for Sundays or Easter, but it is the inability to gather for weddings, funerals, baptisms, confirmations.  These family events are the faith and life moments that are the whole fabric of Palestinian society.  With these restrictions are tearing that fabric apart because most  Palestinians have families spread throughout the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza.