Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Hello Bethlehem!

Day 1 breakfast. Yum!
In October 2012, I came to Israel/Palestine for the first time. I was with a group of (mostly) Presbyterians from California; our small group joined up with a much larger group of internationals and participated in the fall olive harvest.  This was a wonderful, eye-opening experience, and this blog, “Harvesting Hope Amongst Olives,” was my personal record of that time.

Almost four years later, here I am again. Not to harvest olives – which I would happily do again! – but with three fellow board members of Pal Craftaid – Carol, Sarah, and Ervin (who will arrive Friday) – and Carol’s daughter, Kirsten, who handles Pal Craftaid’s distribution. We are here to meet with our artisan partners and the organizations Pal Craftaid supports. I have decided to revive this blog in order to share experiences from the upcoming week. 

green almond (tastes about as green as it looks)
Getting here was a piece of cake up until my connection in Madrid. I initially wrote a much longer description of this, but suffice it to say that the El Al security staff must have thought I was suspicious, as all my belongings got thoroughly searched and my passport and boarding documents were held while I was questioned in a special room on and off for an hour and a half by five different individuals (at different times). At one point, two gentlemen were questioning me; they'd ask me questions in English, consult one another in Hebrew, and so on. While I had some serious reservations about whether or not they were going to let me on the plane, here I am (in Bethlehem) and I guess we are friends now because they sure do know a lot about me - my dog's name and everything. 


A view of Wi'am Center playground
We spent our first morning here having breakfast with our hosts, Usama and Lorette. Lorette was kind enough to make us fresh falafel and an assortment of other dishes, and this gave us just the energy we needed to walk to the market near Manger Square - only two blocks away but up a big, STEEP hill - and get some breakfast supplies for the upcoming week. We tried something new - green almonds - and made a quick stop at the Church of the Nativity on the way home.

Much of the remainder of the day was spent at the Wi'am Palestinian Conflict Resolution Center. In addition to providing conflict mediation within the community, Wi'am runs all kinds of programming for women, children, unemployed young adults, and more, all with the goal of helping Palestinians cope with and even thrive (as much as possible) in the context of the Occupation. From summer camps with drama and art for kids, to teaching women new skills or about inheritance laws, Wi'am strives to generate and sustain hope. It was sobering to see Wi'am's playground in the shadow of the Wall.

Zoughbi Zoughbi
Over tea and conversation, Wi'am's Founder and Director, Zoughbi Zoughbi, shared with us his gratitude for our presence and for Pal Craftaid's work. "When you come," he said, "you are telling us we aren't alone. You uplift our spirits. You walk our walk. Thank you."

Our final stop for the day was Aida Refugee Camp, located right behind the Wi'am Center. Aida was started in 1950 when just over 1,000 Palestinians from around Jerusalem and Hebron were forced to flee their homes. They lived in tents at Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem, waiting to be able to return to their homes. That never happened, and eventually the tents were replaced with cement block structures. As families grew, there was no room to expand out, so they had to build up. There are currently around 5,000 refugees living at Aida Camp, just one of 19 camps throughout the West Bank. The UN's conservative estimate for the total number of Palestinian refugees in these camps and displaced throughout the world is 4.7 million people.
Our group (minus Ervin) outside Aida Refugee Camp

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