Marhaba, everyone! Hello from Beit Sahour, Palestine, where the group will be staying for the next two and a half weeks. Our time in Beit Sahour will be spent touring Palestine, studying Arabic, listening to lectures from professors at Bethlehem University College, and interacting with our host families. Lucas and I are staying with Adeeb, our host-father, host-mother Hyfah, and brothers Elias and Hosam. The hospitality that we have experienced in just the past few days has been incredible. Everyday after classes we are excitedly greeted by Adeeb who asks us all about our day as we enjoy a feast prepared by Hyfah, usually consisting of pita, rice, tea, homemade lemonade, and some sort of chicken dish. Needless to say, we are by no means going to bed hungry at night!
Today we spent most of the day at Bethlehem University College where we listened to a lecture about Palestinian literature, got a tour of the University campus, and had the chance to interact with students. The students spoke to us about the difficulties they sometimes have just getting to school, mainly due to the Israeli checkpoints. What should be fifteen to twenty minutes drive sometimes takes hours longer and students are often late to class or miss class completely because of these delays. Many students choose to live in Bethlehem away from their families instead of commuting to avoid the hassle of the checkpoints. I have been hearing other stories of how peoples’ everyday lives are affected by the way and the checkpoints, but the students’ stories hit even closer to home. These students have to daily live with the reality of the wall and the Israeli occupation, and to see how the lives of people my own age are impacted made the situation all the more real to me.
Though much of the conversation with these students left me feeling confused and frustrated about their realities, one encouraging sign that I saw was in the relationships between the Christian and Muslim students. I was always under the impression that relations between Christians and Muslims were tense, but what I saw at Bethlehem University proved that impression wrong. The students not only coexist with one another but they accept and form friendships across religious lines. Though this my not be the case everywhere, I saw it as a sign of hope for the peaceful existence between all peoples regardless of race or, as in this case, religion.
– Aaron Clemmer
One theme that seems to be floating on the surface of my mind, here in Palestine is ‘taking thing for granted’. By this, I do not mean the stereotypical cross-cultural inconveniences that one expects from this sort of trip (i.e. unpredictable showers, lack of toilet paper, and perpetually sandy socks). What I’m talking about is simpler than that; at home, I take for granted a level of security that many people simple can’t achieve.
I take for granted that my college campus won’t be set upon by tanks during class. I take for granted that no one will bulldoze my home and steal my family’s land. I take for granted that military officials won’t make me late for school on a weekly basis. Most importantly, I take for granted that, should any of these things occur, there will be dire consequences for the perpetrators. I take for granted that my voice will be heard. In Palestine, however, none of these things can be taken for granted.
My host family has a gorgeous house, two laptop computers, two cars, and three flat-screen televisions. They are clearly well-off and well-educated. Despite all these advantages, they are still under the thumb of the Israeli government. Even though they have worked hard to succeed and establish some sense of permanence, their security is anything but assured.
At any moment, their home and land might be seized by Israeli soldiers. They are not free to leave the country or even their hometown to visit relatives without obtaining a special permit from the Israeli government. They could be attached by Zionist settlers, and no one would raise a hand to save them.
No matter how hard they work, they will never achieve security through their success. Because they are Palestinian, they are second class citizens facing constant uncertainty and vulnerability. Because of their ethnic background, their voices are not heard.
Silent anticipation built as we left Jordan and entered Israel. We curved and climbed and went through a tunnel and then there it was, the old city of Jerusalem. We stopped near the Mt. of Olives and overlooked the land. Olive trees, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Dome of the Rock, palm trees, sheep, the garden of Gethsemane, and in the distance beyond Bethlehem was Beit Sahour. This would be our home for the next few weeks. We loaded the bus again to travel the 4 miles from Jerusalem into Palestine. As we crested a hill our eyes met the wall, a 26 ft high, grey, concrete wall separating states, religions, and cultures. We had a rather effortless entry due to a push for international tourism. But we watched on as the adjacent checkpoint was lined with Palestinians attempting to enter back to their homes by foot.
We arrived and were met with open arms into our host families. I am living in Beit Sahour with a wonderful family that gives a whole new meaning to hospitality. They have 5 girls and life goes on here as usual: homework, sports, laughter, whining, sibling rivalry, meals, bedtimes… I feel so privileged to get a glimpse into something Americans often hold so private. These people would open their house to all of EMU if we could fit.
It’s been less than a week since we’ve arrived, and Beit Sahour has quickly become to me a place of paradox. This land is full of questions and answers, pain and joy, belief and struggle.
Among lectures and Arabic lessons we made a trip to the Church of the Nativity, the traditional site of Jesus’ birth. Speaking of paradox; the creator of the world came to us as a baby! My view on the character of Christ continues to expand. There is something special about this land and there are no easy answers to the conflict that saturates it. The more we learn the more complicated it seems. But I’m reminded of Isaiah 55:8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. My trust is in the Lord and His ability to reconcile all things.