Market Encounter: A Different Perspective

Trip Start Jan 03, 2011
Trip End Mar 26, 2011

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Flag of Palestinian Territory  ,
Thursday, January 13, 2011

Yesterday, we had quite an interesting experience in the marketplace near the Church of Nativity.

We had ventured forth into downtown Bethlehem after a 45 walk (mostly uphill…) from our neighborhood into the center of the city. We were in search of the market we saw a couple of days ago next to the Church of Nativity, because we all wanted to find some fun souvenirs. After taking a wrong turn, we found ourselves in a really beautiful part of the city above the main street. There were beautiful cobblestone walkways, white stone buildings, everything was immaculate, it was really beautiful and seemed very old and organic. It was pretty darn cool. We finally found ourselves in A market, not the market we were looking for, but it definitely seemed like not too many international people had ventured into this part of the market. People gawked at us pretty much everywhere we went. But then FINALLY we just popped out at the Church of Nativity! Then an overzealous shop keeper told where to find an ATM and made us promise we would come back to his store. It was pretty hilarious actually. So after getting our cash, we came back to his store and starting chatting with this guy and heard a bit of his story:

Alen is 25 years old and from Bethlehem. He’s received a scholarship to go to school in the US, but he can’t go because he’s not allowed to leave the West Bank. His face looked young, but you could definitely see age beyond his years in his eyes. He said that he’s harassed by Israeli soldiers whenever he tries to go through checkpoints, and from a stereotypical point of view, it was easy to see why. He had broad shoulders, and he was pretty tall. He definitely looks strong, and he’s a young Palestinian Muslim man. He even said himself that they just don’t like the way he looks, “they think every young man is a terrorist.” Then he launched into a rant about terrorism, which was pretty fascinating. “Islam is all about peace, the word ‘Islam’ means peace! No violence! Terrorists ruin everything for the rest of us!” This is what I had learned about Islam in my classes at school, but it was so refreshing to hear it firsthand from a young Muslim man!

He was so kind to us too. When we came in he told us he was a student and then found out we were students. So he would say “Student to student, I’m being honest with you” He told us which of his products were the highest quality, and which of it was made in china. He served us tea, and after we protested he said “No no! This is Arab hospitality!” You could tell he was being very honest with us, even though he was also good at grabbing us and bringing us into his shop.

He then went on to tell us how lucky we were, that we would go on and finish our education, maybe travel more, find a job, have a family. He was convinced that he had no future and that he will be spending the rest of his life keeping his shop and trying to put food on his family’s table. He believes that he will never have the opportunity to leave the West Bank or try and pursue a real career or education. He told us that no one can change anything because the government controls everyone, which of course is partly true. But then we started to explain to him that one person can absolutely change the world. We see it all the time, and that’s why our abroad group is in Israel and Palestine, particularly in Bethlehem, working on these volunteer projects. But of course, he was pretty set in his ways and we weren’t there to argue. But when we were debriefing the experience on our walk home, we discussed that now more than ever is the time when one person really can change the world. With the internet, globalization, and the general shrinking of the world (since communication is so easy now), it is easier than ever to bring people together and really start a world changing movement. But Alen had only seen oppression and occupation in his life. It made sense that he wouldn’t believe it was possible since he had never experienced it.

Needless to say, it was a fascinating conversation. It was also the first time since we’ve been here that we’ve encountered someone who had essentially given up on the idea of a solution and a better life for Palestinians. Everyone we’ve met so far has dedicated his or her life to working towards a higher standard of living for Palestinians and ending the Israeli Occupation. So, even though we didn’t share the same viewpoint, it was great to hear a different opinion.
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