Saturday, August 21, 2010

The West Bank - Bethlehem - Beit Sahour

the peace fountain of bethlehem...

It's been a busy 2 days, lots of listening, lots of talking, learning about the Israeli-Palestinian issue, for me a reopening of something I used to pay a lot more attention to, for Micah something to become exposed to... the conundrum of peace in the middle east. It started on thursday morning, when the van picked us up and took us to Bethlehem and Beit Shahour where we met our guide for the day, Rafat, a Palestinian Christian who spoke very good english, a handsome dark skinned educated owner of an olive wood factory. He started by taking us to the Shepherd's Field, the Roman Catholic site (there is a Greek Orthodox site as well). This is an archaeological site which shepherds definitely lived at within the natural caves of the hillsides and where it said an angel came to them and told them of the birth of Christ to the east. He also pointed out the security road - and the borders of Palestinian villages, and jewish settlements, he spoke of land his family owned near the jewish settlements, land that his family would probably never be able to live on, he pointed out Jerusalem and Bethlehem, and the barbed wire fence lines.
And then we moved on, driving by the refugee camps of Arabs that were displaced in 1948 and 1967 who still live in the camps still expecting to return to their homes in East Jerusalem. He drove us along the security wall , took us to a dead end road that had a very nice and large Palestinian Christian home that was now surrounded by the wall on three sides, cutting off all it's beautiful views, he almost drove off the road a few times as he noticed what he said were some very bad words graffitied onto the wall, it was very reminiscent for me of the Berlin Wall which I had visited in 1982, that wall you could easily walk along for the most part, it was a tourist site as well as a divider, this one has no walk ways near it, but it is very full of graffiti.
Then Rafat took us to the Church of Nativity, built over the spot where Mary gave birth to Jesus and placed him in a manger. This church has shared control between the greek orthodox, the roman catholic, and I think it was the armenians, I'm not sure. It is the place of many a christian pilgrimage, most noticeably to me was an African Family, very well dressed in colorful garb that was at the church at the same time.
Outside the church was the Bethlehem Peace Center, the Old City of Bethlehem and the market, and the Palestinian Authority local Municipality Building. Rafat asked my permission to go inside the municipality, he had a land question, and he explained to me how in the days of old Palestinian families would lie about what land they owned, telling the municipality less than the truth because they didn't want to pay taxes, now he wants to make sure the land is in the right names so that it is known that the land is his or his brothers or both, this is land in his older father's name or his uncle's name and it will be passed on to him and his brothers or something like that. In any case we walked into the empty white walled halls of the city building, he found a woman in the land office and he asked his questions, it was all in arabic so I really do not know what he was asking her, but he was grateful to me to have let him go and ask.
We then wandered through the old city market, with beautiful fruits and vegetables and men and women dressed in traditional muslim dress. We visited the museum of the olive press, a small place with the giant stone wheel that you would tie to the back of a donkey (or a slave?) like a wheel barrow works and they would walk in circles, crushing the olives with this ton that weighed at least one ton.
Afterwards we drove by the largest Arab Refugee camp where Rafat pointed out the old single entrance/exit to the camp and the metal cage that acted as a checkpoint for the comings and goings of the refugees especially during the times of the uprisings, at the present the camp is open at all points and is basically right off the main road in Bethlehem.
After lunch Rafat gave us a tour of his own home town, Beit Sahour, the only town with an Arab Christian majority. He showed us an abandoned ancient home with an animal pen beneath it, a small door, just there at the end of an alley. He took us to Mary's Well - where supposedly different locals have seen apparitions of the Virgin Mary, one which a barron woman was told to stop drinking the water from this well and she listened and then she became pregnant. Rafat says he knows the family (they all know each other in this town) that this story is about, but he doesn't have the nerve to ask to confirm the story (gossip).
And then around 3 pm which in Palestine because of Ramadan it is now already winter it was an hour earlier than Jerusalem, we went to the SRJA Center, the Palestinian Center for the Rapprochement Between People, the organization that arranged our trip and we met George who asked me what I would like to talk about, and I said something like the conflict over the West Bank between the Israelis and the Palestinians and he then took out a map that showed me the green line, the security fence, the jewish developments, the security checkpoints, the water sources and we talked and talked, he showed me pictures of the signs showing that farmers live on one side of the fence and their fields are on the other and they can only go back and forth during three different 30 minute periods per day, and we just talked and talked and discussed solutions and the Palestinian Christians place in the conflict. The whole time I was with George so was his friend Johnny who was also our host for the evening. He was a super friendly man who made jokes for everything because if you can't laugh at things then why bother living. It was a great conversation - we only talked for a little more than an hour, but it was very informative, and gave me a great entrance back into the conflict, the different possible solutions, and the impossibilities of an easy solution.
And we talked of the heat, it was 42 degrees celcius, very very hot, almost unbearably hot. And then we said goodbye to George and Johnny took us to his house which was just 2 minutes away from the offices, and we sat and met his wife and his mother and had coffee. It was kind of like we all knew each other right away. I kept looking at Johnny thinking he looked so familiar who did he look like? And then when his wife Mnra came down and said hello, she immediately said,"you look familiar to me" and we all just sat and talked for awhile. Eventually Micah and I went to our small apartment and took a nap for an hour or so, resting from all that talking...
and then around 6 Johnny came by and picked us up for dinner. Johnny was a super personable guy. Laughed, spoke english absolutely fluently - they basically have a small guest house here - it's one of the ways they make money. Johnny also made granite kitchen counters for a living and we just talked about everything, our families, our work, our friends, our religion and once in a while we talked about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. It was a great visit, just sitting out at his marble table in the courtyard. And a cultural experience as well, seeing how Arab christians live, their relationships with their family, the relationships between husband and wife, a glimpse into another world, not really that different from our own... Johnny kept telling Micah to eat, eat, finish your plate, I am your host father, you listen to me, Micah why don't you stay here for longer...
In the morning they served us breakfast and then we went back up into the courtyard for more discussions and just hanging out as we waited for our taxi back to Jerusalem...
Micah and I got back to Jerusalem around 10:30 or so showered and rested a little and then headed out for our day with the Chertok family stopping in downtown jerusalem at P'Naiti Hummus for some really good hummus and then meeting david's sister at her house to meet David and his kids at the Abu Gosh swimming pool. It was basically the opposite of Montana, the pool was like 80 degrees and the outside temperature was like 104...
It was hot hot hot. Everyone is complaining that is the hottest ever - Our family in Beit Sahour had just purchased their first air condioner for 5000 NIS, about $1250 !!! but it has been sooooooo hot!

the orange juice man
old dark skinned small man with gray mustache running a juice kiosk
cuts the oranges in half and squeezes them with the hand lever
of the juicer, slowly he takes them from the fridge, cuts, squeezes,
I try to take his picture and he waves me off, then invites Micah
to use the juicer and have me take a picture of Micah only.
He finishes squeezing the juice and places a cup of juice on an uneven ledge
and it spills all over the floor
so he laughs and makes another one

After swimming we head back to Susan's for Shabbat dinner, a wonderful meal of barbecue, a feast, boneless breast of chicken, chicken livers, tofu, chicken wings, salad, beets, grilled vegetables, challah, like I said a feast, and the discussion was great, telling about my day in Beit Sahour, and talking about the conflict, the conundrum, it was a wonderful evening, spent with my good college friend David, his sister and niece, his wife, his son, his daughter and my son, Micah. On our way home, I explained to David the way to not overeat at dinner is to talk a lot - you can't talk and eat a lot... Micah paid attention to a lot of our discussion about the Palestinian - Israeli Conflict - he said it was really interesting until we started agreeing about things... and oh yeah, Noam calculated that in 5 years he would be done with high school, will have done his 3 years in the army and that's not that long and then he's going to get a dog. Micah and Noam were looking through a coffee table dog book looking for our dogs and what kind of dog Noam would like to have, he was very disappointed when he realized the dogs whose pictures he liked the most were big dogs because he wants a small dog...

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