January 31, 2013
Marhaba from Palestine! We arrived in Beit Sahour, Palestine about a week and a half ago after a lovely stay in Jordan. After a long time waiting to cross the Jordan-Israel border, we came into town late at night to be greeted by the Alternative Tourism Group and gracious host families that have taken us in with much hospitality and kindness. We spend our days visiting Biblical sites, seeing and hearing about life under occupation, and learning Arabic. And all three mix together in our thoughts and reflections. One of our first days out and about we spent in Bethlehem. We visited Shepherd’s Field where the angel appeared to the shepherds to tell them about the coming of baby Jesus and then we moved to the Church of the Nativity which is the traditional sight where Christ was born. Later that day, we went over to the Apartheid Wall which is the looming construction that sets the West Bank of Palestine apart from Israel. It was a shocking sight for all members of our group looking upon a 10 meter tall concrete barrier that was covered with barbed-wire and spray painted pictures and sayings, speaking out against the Israeli occupation and of hope for the future.
Later on that week we went to the town of Hebron where 500-600 Israeli settlers have moved, trying to reclaim “their” land. They are protected by about 2,000 soldiers stationed in Hebron, “minimizing” violence. We walked through the Palestinian part of town hidden out of view from the settlers by walls, segregated streets, and sealed doors. To get to the Tomb of the Patriarch, where Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob and Leah are all buried we had to walk through checkpoints that the Israelis have set up to keep the settlers “safe” from the Palestinians. We were able to go into the mosque which held the tombs of Isaac and Rebekah, and the center portion that holds Abraham and Sarah’s tombs. However, we were not able to view the tombs of Jacob and Leah as their tombs are in the synagogue and we were there on Shabbat, and were not allowed in. We were also able to walk through the suq, or market, in Hebron as well as view a qiffeya factory and glass blowing.
This past week was filled with Arabic lessons, lectures on Palestinian culture and history, falafel, and discussions about all that we are seeing and learning. We have been enjoying exploring Beit Sahour, and getting to know all the wonderful people who reside here. We have also been fortunate enough to be able to see 314 feral cats, 4 burning dumpsters, 1 quite relentless and adamant street vendor, 2 objects thrown at members of the groups by small children, 3 different marriage proposals by the same man, 21 plus hours of Turkish soap operas, and an uncountable number of churches dedicated to Saint George. (Apparently, slaying a dragon gets you a lot of fame).
The first day when we here in the Shepherd’s Caves, we sang ‘Oh little Town of Bethlehem’ and Linford shared with us some reflections on the words of that song about how the hopes and fears of the world are meeting in Bethlehem. This song has new meaning to us all now, as we have been able to see the places and context for which it was written. We have seen many aspects of this part of the world that are fears for many people, including us, but we have also been able to see many hopes in the people here, the future, and ourselves.
- Nate Bailey, Jeni Heishman, Hilary Short