I have been living with a family in the small Christian town of Beit Jala for over a month now and I have become a fully integrated member of the family. My experience here so far has been extraordinary, the family has kind of adopted me, my host father now introduces me as his son whenever we meet people and my “brothers” and sister all show the same kind of care and affection.
Tonight, as a part of my program’s weekly “cultural” experience, our group spent the evening in Azzeh Refugee Camp. A man named Mashour took us for a tour of the camp, fed us dinner, and then took us to meet with a 1948 survivor who was herded into the camp in 1948 as a part of the Diaspora of the Palestinians. The man, Abu Ahmid, described life as a refugee, the events of ‘48 from his personal experience, and his hopes for the future.
I’ll be living in a refugee camp for the next month. It’s not what you may consider a refugee camp. It’s certainly not what I consider a refugee camp, and I wouldn’t consider the people living there to be refugees. Structurally, it is about the size of six American city blocks (2×3), with one main street, a little larger than the width of a car, cutting down the middle. There is a maze of 3-foot-wide alleyways cutting through thirty-foot concrete homes.
It was our last weekend trip on Sunday, and it was a great reminder of what I should be taking away from this trip in relation to the conflict here. We all got up very early in the morning to head down to southern Israel... right next to the Gaza Strip. We visited the cities of Ashkelon and Sderot, the cities that are in constant threat of Kassam rockets. There, we met a few people who each had very different opinions about the conflict.
From the Holy Land Trust website: Tuesday, 06 July 2010
How Palestine Summer Encounter led to a photoblog and new fabric designs for an artistic pair of travelers.
After having heard about the Palestine Summer Encounter program through friends, Jonathan and Amanda Apgar knew that they wanted to try coming to Bethlehem for a summer.
“Time flies when you’re having fun,” as they say, and this second session of Palestine Summer Encounter 2010 is certainly representative of that old aphorism. Somehow we have already completed the first half of the second session, which also means PSE 2010 is more than half complete!
Another week has just breezed by, full of constant programming, exposing PSE participants to the Palestinian culture and to the diversity of perspectives that occupy the minds of people living in the region.
In addition to learning about politics, religion, the language – we also learn about culture… probably my favorite part- staying with the family, learning about the foods, traditions and yes, dance.
I don't dance. At all. I will normally find anyway I can to get out of a dancing, but I was willing to give it a try.
Even before arriving in Israel/Palestine I was excited about visiting certain cities like Hebron, Bethlehem, Tel Aviv, and Jerusalem. I have now well and truly settled myself into the pace of Palestinian life in Bethlehem for the last 12 days through working with a local refugee youth centre, living with a local family, attempting to learn Arabic, and interacting at a more personal level with locals in Bethlehem. So I guess you could say I have chosen "my side,” and I am very satisfied with it—although I do not like the idea of being boxed into a particular side and what it implies.
The second session of the seventh Palestine Summer Encounter program has had an exciting and energetic beginning. This session, 22 new participants have joined the program, and with those remaining from Session 1, the total number of participants has reached a new high: 35. This session brings in new participants from the United States, Canada, England, Ireland, and Australia in addition to the nationalities already represented within the group, adding another dimension to the international experience of the program.
I breathe in Bethlehem. Stacked staggered hills etched into a hillside; dry, but not dry enough to choke out the roots of the olive trees whose rich fruit and oil blankets the food I eat every day. While there are over 100,000 people in the area, I feel like I'm in a small town with the familiarity and warmth of the locals. I don't know why I'm here yet--the excitement of danger, the chance to do something good, moreover the opportunity to open my eyes bigger than I've ever been able to manage and breathe in all that the lungs of my brain and heart can handle.