Palestine Summer Encounter 2013 - Register today.
Our first group for the summer arrived in trickles and finally descended upon the little town of Bethlehem in time to orient to their adopted home for one, two or three months. The participants in this session hail from across the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. They are students, professionals, ex pats and even include a retiree. They are living with families in Bethlehem, Beit Jala and in Beit Sahour, and have been exposed to the primacy of food here!
After introducing participants to the practical overview of Bethlehem on Friday, we had a social event on Saturday to get participants together and to learn more about each other. We spent an entire day on Sunday exploring Jerusalem. We started on the Mount of Olives, worked our way to the Garden of Gethsemane, and entered the Old City. We entered the Temple Mount and were exposed to the historical, religious and political perspectives of this place. We then were led through the Via Dolorosa, traditionally celebrated as the path that Jesus walked through Jerusalem on his way to be crucified. On our way, we visited St Anne’s, visited the Convent of the Sisters of Zion and walked down to the cisterns and the streets of an older Jerusalem. Our walk along the Via Dolorosa culminated at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where tradition holds is the place of Jesus’ crucifixion and burial place. We toured the Armenian, Jewish, Christian and Muslim quarters, and thankfully didn’t lose anyone through the Old City’s narrow passages! We ended our tour at the Western Wall, sacred in Judaism as a sole remnant of the Holy Temple which once stood above on the Temple Mount.
Our week then began in Bethlehem! Participants began their volunteer placements and Arabic classes. There are absolute beginners as well as more advanced students. As the week progressed, we had a class on non-violence with Professor Mazin Qumsiyeh, an afternoon with Sami Awad, executive director of Holy Land Trust, an Introduction to Christianity with Reverend Alex Awad, and an introduction to the Theology of the Land with PhD candidate Munther Isaac.
On Saturday, we explored Bethlehem, the wall, two refugee camps, the surrounding villages, the Shepherds’ Fields, and the military roads and areas around Bethlehem that have been or are prone to annexation by the Israeli government. Aside from the historical sights, it was important to take in the current political realities. The military zones and associated roads cut through Palestinian lands, revoke Palestinian access to agricultural lands, and isolate Palestinians from Palestinians – they are not separating simply Palestinians from illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank. These lands have been annexed to Jerusalem, but the people remain Palestinians with only West Bank permissions and no right to enter Jerusalem.
After lunch, we were taken to the wall, where we walked along the half of the road that the wall cuts through, around Rachel’s Tomb, observing the home surrounded on three sides by the wall. There is a lot to take in – from the sheer monstrosity of the structure, to the graffiti and art on the wall, to the military towers, the closed businesses victim to the wall. We also went to Aida camp, and climbed to the top of a building so we could see the agricultural lands that have been annexed to Jerusalem through the simple act of putting up a wall and revoking access of farmers to these olive trees. There was even a home left on its own – its land annexed to Jerusalem, its residents not. What this means is that the people have to go through the checkpoint day in and day out into Bethlehem for school, work, shopping, socializing. They are not allowed to Jerusalem, unless given a rare permission to enter. It’s an unwelcoming scenario.
We also walked through Dheisheh refugee camp, home to more than 13,000 people on a 1 km2 plot of land. It was initially intended as a temporary refuge for 3,400 residents of 45 villages from areas west of Jerusalem and south toward Hebron fleeing from the violence of the 1948 war. It is a tight squeeze, to say the least. We ended our walk through Dheisheh when we met a young man wearing a shirt that was a gift from a Jewish friend that read: “Pro Human.” We think she should keep making them – she has a market!
We ended the week with a gathering at a restaurant in Beit Sahour with our guests and staff of HLT to enjoy dinner and a football match between Barcelona and Manchester United. For some, this was not only exposure to the passion that Palestinians have for football, but football itself! In addition to celebrating Barcelona’s win, we also celebrated the birthdays of two of our participants over some very zaaki cake!
We’ve been very busy, but there is so much more to come!