Questions, beauty and hope in occupied Beit Sahour

Today is our last day in Beit Sahour, Palestine. We’ve been exploringGroup with Arabic teacher, Abdullah the differences between “cold-culture” America and “hot-culture” Palestine, with a few mistakes and a lot of learning. Palestinians are an ideal model of how community should be lived out. We are all a little sad to say goodbye to our host families, but we are ready for the next adventure. Over the past three weeks, we all became familiar with our host families, the little town here and somehow managed to pass our Arabic classes. We heard many different lectures about Palestinian history, literature, culture. We heard from a Hamas representative in Palestinian Parliament, an expert in nonviolent resistance to the Occupation, an expert on the “Arab Spring” and an expert on Muslim-Christian relations. We have heard many stories from Palestinians of all ages and these stories will stay with us for the rest of our lives. We have truly been touched by the hospitality here and the laughter and hope Palestinians can still find while living under such oppressive conditions.

Hike at Wadi Qelt Our group has also enjoyed many field trips. We spent some time at nearby Bethlehem University, touring the university, hearing a lecture about Palestinian Women’s Issues, and later enjoying a barbecue with the students. We also visited the city of Nablus and the largest university in the West Bank there. We toured Deheisha Refugee Camp and heard about refugee issues from an expert at Badil Center for Reguees. One of the favorite activities for most of us was hiking through the beautiful Wadi Kilt (Qelt) valley to the city of Jericho. Along the way, we explored a monastery and ancient Herodian ruins. Later we visited the castle Herodion and walked through the tunnels underneath the castle. We also explored Solomon’s Pools, enjoyed a lecture from the Applied Research Institute and enjoyed one final hike in Palestine named an “eco-hike” from Beit Jalla to Bettir.

Our time here has left us with many new stories to tell as well as an infinite amount of questions, frustrations and hopes. Our three weeks here in Palestine has only given us a glimpse of what it is like to live under military occupation with a nation of Israelis constantly trying to push you from your home. We haven’t answered all of our questions or frustrations, and we maybe never will, but we have all learned the power and comfort of prayer, communion with one another and the gift of laughter.

Here are two poems that I (Nicole) wrote. The first was after spending a day in Hebron, with Israeli soldiers all around, and tons of checkpoints surrounding markets and people’s homes. Some soldiers were standing on top of abandoned houses, just watching people walk through their streets. There are 500 settlers living in this Palestinian city and 3000 Israeli soldiers.

The Israeli Soldier 

Green uniform. Green hat. Gun.

Dark or white skin. Blue, brown, or green eyes.

Soldier, do you believe in what you hold your gun for?

I see you. I try to see your humanity and

I wonder if you see mine.

And if you can see my humanity, do you see the humanity in the Palestinian man, woman, child, and grandparent walking beside me?

Under your green hat, I see your dark eyes.

Behind your big gun, You have a heart.

I pray to God for you. For your heart.

I pray that He grants you compassion.

What would that mean for you?

Why do you pretend to be so mean and tough?

Is there guilt in what you do? There must be.

Do you think it’s right for 3,000 of you soldiers to be in this Palestinian town?

Are you really just protecting these 500 Israeli settlers?

Security reasons. But this “security” scares and encroaches into people’s livelihoods.

Soldier, ask why. I beg you.

Please see with your eyes.

I see you up at your look out. Looking down

at people in the street. The few people left

in this ghost-town that your people caused.

Soldier, these people don’t need you here. I pray that you will see

with the eyes of compassion such as Christ.

It seems you are blinded by the militaristic values of your nation.

Please, Soldier, see People.

-Nicole Groff

This next poem is from a demonstration that Amanda Chandler, Michael Bodner, Andrew Nafziger and I went to. We were invited to go with a man named Dr. Qumsiyeh, who gave us a lecture on non-violent resistance. The demonstration was very interesting and sad. These farmers’ land has been declared a military zone by the Israeli government, so we went to show our support of the farmers. We witnessed many injustices and arrests. We also helped look for flowers because Dr. Qumsiyeh is collecting flora and fauna for a natural museum he wants to make. It was ironic to be looking for flowers while Israeli soldiers meanwhile were Lily of the Valley arresting innocent people for being on their own farmland.

Find the Flowers 

Find the flowers

of this land.

My land, our land. 80 villagers and others.

My land. 10 Israeli jeeps.

Find the flowers

of this land.

From the land comes demonstration.

Crushed beneath the soldier’s boot.

Resistance! say the flowers.

Arrests, orders, skunkwater

replies the blindness of the powers.

Find the anger of the land.

Find the struggle of the land.

Find the people of this land,

full of strength, growth, BEAUTY.

-Nicole Groff

Now we prepare to do something no EMU Middle East group has done before: we are staying three days with host families in a Jewish settlement built on illegally confiscated land. Settlements have become a symbol of all the oppression of the Palestinians; settlers are notorious for being the most extreme of Zionists. We are praying that we may connect with these people and see the common humanity in all just as Jesus did.

-Amanda Chandler and Nicole Groff