I thought it was about time, or four weeks late, that I got around to writing a few words down about what it’s like in Palestine and especially in Bethlehem and Beit Sahour where I am.
Beit Sahour, (place of the night watch) shares a ridge of the Judean Mountains with Bethlehem (house of meat) and over looks the plateau of shepherd’s fields, where many years ago, as they were tending their flocks by night, an angel announced to the shepherds the birth of Jesus.
Beit Sahour is known for the Shepherds’ fields, production of olive wood tourist souvenirs and as a center of Palestinian Resistance against the Israeli Occupation. During the first and second Intifada activists pioneered non-violent resistance techniques, including refusing to pay tax to Israel in 1989. This led to a 42-day curfew put in place by the Israeli Military authority. The ‘curfew’ amounted essentially to a siege. Food shipments were blocked, telephone lines cut, reporters and international representatives were prevented from visiting to investigate conditions and houses were raided and millions of dollars worth of money and property were taken. The UN considered a resolution demanding the return of Palestinian property confiscated by Israel, but the US vetoed it, despite the resolution having the support of the 11 other security council members.
So, yes, by the way, there is an occupation on. This means that Palestinians can’t leave the West Bank without express permission by the Israel military authority. It has been difficult to fight the overwhelming dislike of Israel, Israelis, and IDF and try to remain not neutral, but remembering that not all Israelis/Jews are as bad as what we encounter. But some of the stories I've heard, the most common being that "my family was from the outskirts of Jerusalem, we had a lovely big farm, olive trees, sheep, goats, and then in '67 the Israeli's evicted us and we had to move here and start over. The Palestinian/Arab family is the nucleus of all social life. Many homes are build on the foundations laid by grandparents or great-grandparents, with younger generations building another floor or two to accommodate the next generation. The family is the main social support structure as well. If a home is overlooked by an Israeli watchtower for example and tensions are high, Palestinians go and stay with their cousins, sleeping 6,7,8+ to a small room to avoid being shot by jumpy IDF as they walk past a window in their kitchen. Sometimes for years.
Pertaining to recent Middle Eastern events in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, here’s a good article explaining the Palestinian position.
I’ve been working on construction projects at Paidia’s new center. Check out Paidia website to see what they’re all about.
The constructing the new center has been an interesting experience; I’ve learned a great deal of Arabic working with local dialect speaking construction crews. Especially from the Boss, Khalid, who is a jack of all trades, and owns and runs a wood oven pizza parlor that sends a third of their profits to help Palestinian children get heart surgery in Israel. Khalid works 12+ hour days, half doing manual labor, 6 days a week if not more. He's very kindly called me a good worker, but its difficult not to feel lazy thinking about his work week.
Otherwise, it’s been cool through February, the buildings are all made to dispel heat, so waking up in the morning, layers of clothing on before heading outside where the temperature is considerably warmer, and the layers are removed.
It's a funny old place but I'm happy to be here, everyday I'm learning something new about the Palestinian national personality. For a people without a "country" they're making due with the merest of resources, and working with super human effort to ensure that they can afford to give their children, and their extended family the best chance they can provide to take their futures and improve their situations. Very inspiring.