Bearing witness to this link will be the thousands of blown glass ornaments that will light up the streets of the Sicilian town for a festival that now enfolds a Palestinian connection. This is how the story begins: the feast of the patron saint of the town of Sambuca in Sicily is the biggest event of the year. The festival is that of the Madonna dell'Udienza and it commemorates a miracle that saved the town from a plague that was ravaging the whole of Sicily in the year 1575. On the third Sunday of May each year, the marble statue of the Madonna with Infant is taken from its usual place in the Chiesa del Carmine to be borne in procession throughout the town: a procession that lasts the entire night, concluding with the statue's return to the Church on the following morning. This festival involves the whole of the township and many people who have emigrated from Sambuca return there for the occasion. Indeed, it was these émigrés who, 120 years ago, financed the 'Venice-style illumination' of the town using glass globes that were blown in Murano, to decorate the arcades erected along the procession route. The cost of these glass globes was covered by the Sambuca communities living in Chicago, Rockford, Kansas City, Brooklyn, Newark and New Orleans, in a collection of funds that maintained the bond between the US immigrants and the town of their birth.
But over the years, this tradition died: many of the original glass globes were broken, with just a few rare examples surviving the ravages of time. Added to which, the antique wooden arcades of the procession route fell into disrepair. So, why not try and renovate the whole thing? This is exactly what was started last autumn. The first funds were collected by means of a lottery, then through a door-to-door campaign that lasted months. In the meantime, carpenters and electricians, blacksmiths, students and office workers have been spending their winter evenings in a sports hall, refurbishing the wooden posts, electric cables and renovating the ''tambours'' and ''trees'', the Triumphal Arch and the smaller arcades. But what about the globes of glass? Well, Murano had to be ruled out: an initial probe soon showed that the cost would be prohibitive, and the glass blowers of the Venetian lagoon were no longer much interested in a job done 120 years ago in very different times. But on the other side of the Mediterranean, in Hebron, there is a living tradition of glass manufacture.
Indeed, there are those who claim that the Venetians themselves imported the tradition of glass blowing from Palestine when they ruled the Mediterranean. A visit by the most important glass maker in Hebron, Fares Natsche, last autumn, opened up this possibility. Hundreds of glass globes by next spring? Why not? The deal was struck in the course of a few weeks. And the number of balls to be blown grew to total one thousand. An order for one thousand blown glass globes from a small town in Sicily to adorn its religious festival: a heartfelt Catholic tradition.
One thousand glass globes created by a team of Muslim Palestinians in one of the most devout and conservative cities of the Palestinian Territories. One thousand globes of glass delivered by an Israeli forwarding company, who personally took charge of collecting the goods, dispatch and transportation. If all of those involved in this story were the ones to decide, peace would have broken out long since. Perhaps this is because religion can be a force for unification, rather than for division; perhaps because Hebron and Zabut are neither so distant, nor so different, from each other.