Middle East: Bethlehem University, authors, the wall, Herodian

Feb 16, 2019

Hello friends! Since our last post we’ve enjoyed another week in beautiful Beit Sahour. Week 2 in Palestine has included more bonding with our host families, several trips to local sites, and  – you guessed it – many more falafel sandwiches.

We have continued to enjoy lectures from professors from the local Bethlehem University on various topics including Palestinian literature and history, women’s issues, and Christians in the area. My favorite part of our lectures so far has been reading poetry from prominent Palestinian poets Mahmoud Darwish, Jamal Assadi and others. Poetry has a way of conveying concepts and ideas in a way unlike any other. My reading list has nearly doubled from Dr. Shomali’s recommendations and I look forward to getting started on some new novels soon!

Alongside these lectures our Arabic courses add more valuable learning to our days. We’ve learned a lot of helpful phrases and vocabulary over the past two weeks that we’ve been excitedly using with shopkeepers and taxi drivers around town whenever we can. Rachael and I have had a great time practicing with our host mom Suha, who is an English teacher. She provides helpful corrections as we go and we in turn provide entertainment to the rest of the family with our wacky pronunciations and at times questionable sentence structure. They particularly enjoyed when Rachael asked me in Arabic “Is the coffee hot?” And I replied “No, I’m a student.”

Our first trip of the week was to the Applied Research Institute Jerusalem where we learned more about the separation wall, occupation, and water issues within the West Bank. We had an engaging conversation about the role of the United States within the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The presentation was very helpful in gaining understanding of different aspects of the situation as our group continues to engage and process all that we are hearing.

We also enjoyed a visit to the impressive archaeological site of Herodion. Situated on a hilltop overlooking Jerusalem and the surrounding towns the summer palace and fortress built by King Herod, the ruler of Judea, later became his final resting place. The site is an architectural marvel that includes an amphitheater, palace, and a series of underground tunnels. The king’s tomb lies somewhere within the site but remains unfound due to erosion. The view from the top of the mountain had birds-eye views of the lush valley below including the glimmering gold Dome of the Rock and the dark green Mount of Olives.

Our final visit of the week was to the Talita Kumi School in the neighboring town of Beit Jala. The grounds serve as both a Lutheran school and an environmental center. The center does important research regarding birds who are native to the area and who migrate through Palestine through bird tagging and other environmental initiatives. The center welcomes students from surrounding towns and helps educate them about local wildlife and how to help preserve and protect the natural beauty of their home.

It’s hard to believe that we have just one more week in Beit Sahour. It has been such a valuable experience to live with, speak with, and learn from Palestinians from all walks of life. This has easily been my favorite part of the trip so far and I look forward to what this next and final week will bring!

-Erin Beidler

Middle East 2019 group at Giza