With the Bethlehem team
Today I met a merchant in Bethlehem. He lives close to the wall. At one time he had a factory employing ten people and would travel regularly to Nazareth and Jerusalem. Now he has a shop – no factory. He is able to make a living just for himself. He can no longer travel to Jerusalem or Nazareth – he cannot get a permit.
He is confident that God will not allow such injustices to go on and that in his time, things will change. Israelis and Palestinians will someday live together with the same rights and privileges as equal citizens. He says Palestinians are a peaceable people. I found this to be true. I do not sense hatred among the people I have met. He knows too that many Israelis are ignorant of the situation here.
He also has seen a change in the international community. More and more tourists are coming to the West Bank and expressing solidarity.
He offered me coffee which I was glad to accept.
He also spoke about his Christian neighbours – how Christians and Muslims live side-by-side and how God sent Mohammad and Jesus into the world to teach us how to live. He says when his Christian neighbours have a birth or wedding in their family, that his family is invited to share in the celebration and visa-versa. There are no problems between Christians and Muslims here despite what the outside world may think. He also says that some people are surprised that Palestinians are not terrorists. A few Palestinians who have committed a violent act should not reflect on the whole population. No more than the violence committed by some in the Israeli army or settlers means the whole population are murderers.
This morning too, I went to the checkpoint from 9 to 10 am. It is Friday and people want to go to the mosque in Jerusalem but only those over 60 seem to be able to go. Strange, Bethlehem and East Jerusalem are both in the West Bank but people must go through the humiliation of Checkpoint 300 (you can see images online – I managed to sneak a few pictures too trying to avoid being seen by the everywhere present watchtowers).
I also went through the checkpoint with a colleague. You have to go through a narrow corridor with bars on each side and through turnstiles that stop every so often as it did with me. Then your stuff is put through an x-ray machine and you go through something like what you have at airports. Then finally you get to booths that check your documents. The Palestinians put their finger on a scanner and then I see their picture comes up on the computer manned by soldiers in the booths. One lady had papers but was denied since she was only 56 but her husband could go since he was 60.
EAs take down the names and ID numbers of all those rejected and pass the information on to the Israeli women of Machsom Watch. These women also monitor checkpoints and speak to other Israelis about the oppression and discrimination. They have helped many Palestinians with their security permits by writing letters to authorities and providing legal aid.
I am in the placement house in Bethlehem and enjoying the company of the EAs here. Also of Tear Gas (TG for short) and Smoke Bomb (SB). They are two very young cats that greet you when you go out the door or when you come back. The one especially does not look too healthy and they are undernourished. Boiled an extra egg for them this morning and may buy some food later today. (I did get some tuna late this afternoon.)
Now I will go to interview a Christian couple whose home is enclosed on three sides by the Wall. The man described his home as a coffin without a lid. I plan then to write an article about the challenges this family has had because of the Wall and of their resilience.
Just got back from the interview. Very difficult and emotional. ( I will write an article about this.) Then walking back to the placement house, I met a lady picking lemons from the tree in front of her home. I asked if I could take a picture. She gave me some lemons and invited me into her home. She spoke some English. I am always taken aback at how people invite total strangers to their homes. We can learn a lot from the people here about having time to connect and showing hospitality without expecting anything in return.
But my day was not over yet. We took a taxi to an area by the Cremisan monastery where there is an outdoor mass on Fridays because the monastery is under threat since Israel wants to sever the land for a separation wall. They are in a legal fight. However, the time for the mass apparently changed with the winter and was an hour earlier. There were two other ladies there and one is a United Methodist minister. So we had a prayer service.
On the way back, a former EA and I got out of the taxi in an area where there had been some clashes with soldiers and young boys. You could still feel the tear gas a bit in your throat but the clashes appeared to be over. We cut through a cemetery and went to the entrance of Aida refugee camp. At the entrance of the camp is a large key (see picture). It symbolizes the keys people had in hope of one day returning to their homes. I picked up a spent tear gas canister and walked back through the cemetery and along the wall and the area where Pope Francis stood.
Shortly after getting back to the placement house, we were off again to join a group of nuns, priests, and others walking along the wall, praying and chanting in different languages. They do this every Friday.
So this was my day. I learned a lot and hope to come back to Bethlehem on one of my days off.