We have reached the end of our stay in Palestine, or the Occupied Territories, or the West Bank, or the Disputed Territories, or Occupied Palestine. Many names for the same small strip of land. I have spent the last week in Beit Sahour, a Christian village near Bethlehem. The group has scattered, for evenings at least, into separate host families; I stayed with the Qumsieh family. It is rather nice to be in a home rather than a hotel. The group still reconvenes for daily escapades. We have been working with the Alternative Tourism Group, and they planned a “nice” week for us.
I use nice in a loose sense, because here in the West Bank, the fact of occupation and the forces of conflict simply cannot be ignored. On Monday, we went to Dheisha refugee camp outside Beit Sahour, and met with a man who had spent most his life within that small arena, wanting to return to his family’s land. Then we walked through the crowded streets to meet with the camps Imam, who spoke to us about Islam, and how he viewed the situation. On Tuesday, we met with the Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem (Arij) which supplied figures and proof of land confiscations and methods of demographic dominance. That same day we went to the town of Hebron, where settlers occupy the city center, and thereby throw the entire city into chaos. Walking through the souq, our heads were covered by a net put in place to keep settlers from tossing items down on the heads of Palestinians below. As we came out of the souq and headed to the tombs of Abraham and Sarah, we passed through three checkpoints and three additional security screenings. We ate lunch in Hebron with Hashim Al Aza, a man whose house is almost surrounded by settlements, is in a part of the city controlled by the Israeli Defense Force, and who is under constant attack. His house is attacked, his trees are chopped down, his children are attacked on the way to school and he and his wife have both been assaulted multiple times.
But despite the signs of brutality, the picture is not without hope. Hashim Al Aza is an advocate for non-violent resistance. The farm we visited on Thursday, Tent of Nations, might be the brightest beacon. The farm is situated on a hilltop; the only one in the area not controlled by settlers, and has been in the family since the Ottoman rule. The farm came under physical attack, but when that failed, the settlers switched to legal harassment. But yet they run a farm, and serve as a witness for peace. Every summer, they hold a children’s camp and teach them the way of peace. The rock by the entrance, painted in three different languages, says their message best: “We refuse to be enemies.” There is hope.
In addition to our emotion-bending trips, we also have been honored with lectures relating to Palestine. The topics have ranged from the history of modern Palestine to the Palestinian woman. They were given either at the Alternative Tourism Group’s study center, Bethlehem University, or Bethlehem Bible College. Regardless of subject or location, they were all informative and interesting.
This is not to say that our stay has been all work. We have visited most of the tourist sites: the Church of the Nativity and the Shepherd’s Field. We also saw several craft workshops, several olive wood factories and one of the Hebron glass factories. ATG also treated us to a night of Palestinian music. Beyond that, there was getting to know our hosts, which was a pleasure. As a side note, my Arabic is about on par with my four year old host cousin. Next comes two weeks of study at Jerusalem University College.
– Joel Nofziger