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. The light which shines in Bethlehem salts the wounds of my perspective as I can't comprehend how I could cope living stripped of personal freedoms I take for granted. I'm by no means a biblical expert or even a practicing Christian, but the story of David and Goliath is oddly tweaked in the present situation. While in the story David, the young shepherd, was a young Jew in a land occupied by the Phillistines, who had nothing with which to use as a weapon other than his sling and some stones, now it is the Phillistines who armed only with rocks and their courage can stand up to the neighboring Goliath in the state of Israel. By no means will Goliath be brought to his knees by a precise shot to the forehead, rather it will take a deluge of the truth to flood the world's attention, as without the truth there is no justice, and without justice there cannot be peace. I am strengthened by the people from my program. All of us have hurdled over the criticisms of others, the false fears of terrorists kidnapping us in the night, and the charades and shenanigans in the customs interrogations. The only disappointing thing is that we are a few dozen, and while many Americans and Europeans fully capable (physically and financially) of coming here will remain in their homes watching reality TV shows and downloading the newest Facebook application.
To be here is a blessing. Not just the amazing food my home-stay family makes, the historical gravity of this region in terms of what it means to the world's largest monotheisms, but to wake up and know that "I'm in Palestine," is something not only I never thought I could say to myself, but something which will set me aside for the rest of my life. I am not here only to work, or to learn Arabic, or to enjoy the sweet crisp taste of an ice cold Taybe on a 100 degree afternoon, I am here to witness for those too cowardly or too lazy to witness themselves.
I have not studied the conflict extensively, I can't tell you who's got the best shot in the next elections or what kind of pajamas the leader of Hamas wears to bed. What I can do is write my own current history of what it's like to go through a checkpoint, meet a former leader of a militant group like Zakaria Zubeidi, or how many Palestinians, like many occupied people, fight desperately for normalcy.
I know not what the future holds for this tiny pocket of land, shoved further and further into a corner by policy makers, lobbyists, and fear mongering politicians. While the brave people born who reside here fight their personal struggles through whatever means they choose, I will struggle not to cry, not to give up, not to resist the temptation to cloak myself in apathy. And for once, a cliche ending is appropriate--the writing's on the f***in' wall.
Submitted by: BF