Trip Start Apr 01, 2013
Trip End Apr 11, 2013

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Where I stayed
Anastas House Bethlehem
Read my review - 5/5 stars

Flag of Palestinian Territory  ,
Wednesday, April 3, 2013

We were up and had breakfast, an experience in itself. There were hard boiled eggs, some kind of lunch meat, hummus, pita bread, avocado, oranges, coffee, tea and some other things I didn't know what they were.  We were off in good time and caught the bus to Bethlehem.  However, we missed our stop and got to the end of the line at Bethlehem University where there were three taxis who took us to the checkpoint at Rachel's Tomb, which by the way you can't go see unless you are a pious Jew.  Our bus came there shortly after we arrived.  Our guide, Rafat Salsa, a Palestinian Christia,n joined us with our driver, Nichola.  Rafat spoke very good English and was full of information and stories about what we saw.  One thing I remember is that Bethlehem means "house of war."

First we went to the Rapprochement Centre, one of the main centers for nonviolent resistance during the intifidas (uprisings) where we met with Dr. Mazin Qumsiyeh, who has a doctorate in Bio-Genetics and who up until two years ago taught the same in the US at Duke and Yale.  Since returning to Bethlehem he has written two books. He is an American Citizen.  Even so, he is not allowed to go to Jerusalem, which is only 8 km from here, because he is a Palestinian. 

Here is Josie's summary of our time with him:  (Since Josie wasn't able to get to this while we are there, I will summarize my notes.)  Mazin asked us not to confuse symptoms with the diagnosis of the Palestinian problems.  Different religions lived together here for thousands of years.  The problems here started in Europe with the creation of nation states who discriminate against minorities like the Jews.  The reaction to this discrimination is usually fight or flight.  European Jews are genetically European from conversions that took place in the 9th century around the Black Sea.

There 12 million Palestinians in the world.  7 million of them are refugees, the largest group of refugees in the world.

Zionism was and idea to establish a Political Jewish state that began in the 18890s.  Rabbis were sent to look over Palestine and there telegram back to Europe read, "The bride is beaufitufl but she is married to another man."  So they concluded that they would have to get rid of the Palestinians which meant colonization by force.  They couldn't have religious Zionism without Political Zionism.  Political Zionism came to dominate.  In 1897 Hertzel said it would take 50 years.  They didn't have political power but they had money so they bargained with the Ottoman Empire who gave them unregistered land that belonged to Palestinians for generations. 

The center of the Zionist movement had been in Vienna but was moved to London about the time of WW!.  The Zionists negotiated a deal with the foreign minister, Balfour to bring the U.S. into the war and in return they wanted a public declaration that they would get Palestiine.  It was called the Balfour Declaration in England and in France it was called the Jules Cambon Declaration.  Non-Jews retained civil and religious rights.  Most Jews were against Zionism then.  Britain was put in charge and they put the Zionists in charge in 1921.  It was called the British Mandate.

Herbert Samuels transformed Palestine to a Jewish state and people called him "king."  He segregated the public schools.  Jewish schools were funded from taxes on everyone and Zionism was taught.  They transferred land ownership to the Jews using old laws from the Ottoman Empire and forced Palestinians off their land.  They ethnically cleansed some villages.  Some Jews opposed Zionism and they were killed.

In 1947 the UN General Assembly recommended partition of Palestine.  In 1948 and 1949 another ethnic cleansing took place and over 500 Palestinian towns were cleared of Palestinians.  This is known as the Nakba which means catastrophe in Arabic.  Refugees went to the West Bank and other surrounding countries.  (Some of these refugees still live in refugee camps within the West Bank.  We saw two of them in Bethlehem.)

Masin also told us about the non-violent resistance.  Resistors need media and strategy to get across simple messages.  The message that was getting out to the world was how wonderful the Jewish pioneers were in defending themselves against savages.  (This sounded very familiar to the way we characterized the Native Americans in our country.)  We are shielded from this movement of non-violent resistance in the west as is middle eastern media.  So we don't hear about the non-violent resistance.  (We only hear about Palestinian terrorists and Hamas.  The first non-violent demonstrations were in 1881 and some were successful.  The center of Zionism was moved from Vienna to London in part because of this non-violent resistance.  There were many uprisings but they were mainly non-violent.  The first armed resistance was in the 1930s.  They used innovative methods and were the first in the world to use cars.  This was a demonstration organized by women who drove 120 cars through the streets of Jerusalem honking their horns.  Women also went to London and lobbied and worte letters to the London Times.

In 1988 there was a Tax Revolt in Beit Sahour.  The Israelis surrounded the town and stripped the town of everything, furniture, food, even medicine.  The siege lasted a long time and it was Internationals who helped break the siege.

There are 650,000 Jews in the West Bank, which was meant for Palestinians.  There have been four intifadas or uprisings since the Six Day War in 1967.  Masin told us of an incident about cows.  Israel controls the production of milk so Palestinians had to buy their milk from Israel.  To protest this some Palestinians in Beit Sahour bought their own cows.  In 1988 the Israelis started to look for the cows in operation "Fugitive Cows."  Can you imagine sending soldiers to confiscate the cows?  There is a u-tube video on the fugitive cows of Beit Sahour.

In conclusion, Masin asked, "What are the conditions that will make a durable peace?"  He said the use of Human Rights and International Law.  (I kept thinking about how the Zionists wanted a country of their own, but to have it they have deprived the Palestinians of their homeland.  How would I react if this happened to me?)

Next we went to Manger Square and the Church of the Nativity.  Rafat gave us a great summary of the history leading up to the Birth of Christ and the history of the building and rebuilding of the Church including St. Helena who "found the true cross" and championed the cause for building churches over the traditional holy sites in Palestine.  He told us about Justinian, Constantine and the influence of the Crusaders.  He explained the short doorway to go in, because they didn't want animals in the church.  Inside it had been ruined by fire and deliberate destruction over the years.  It was partially restored and there was a section of the original mosaic floor that was exposed.  Most of the floor had been ruined by the destruction.  Instead of removing the destruction, Justinian decided to raise the floor.  The Church is decorated in Greek Orthodox fashion with lots of icons.  The highlight was waiting in line to go down under the altar to the spot in a small cave where Jesus was born.  From the Church of the Nativity we went out to the courtyard where the Franciscan Monastery is attached.  The Church of St. Catherine, Virgin and Martyr, and statues of her and St. Hieronymus, Jerome.  The Church was closed.  While out there Rafat pointed out the places on the outside of the Church of the Nativity where Israeli soldiers fired on the church.  This took place during a  40 day siege of the church when there were 200 people fleeing from the Israelis who took refuge in the Church.  Next we walked through the streets of the Old City.  Most of the shops were closed as a strike in protest of the Palestinian man who died of cancer while in prison.  We ended our tour walking through the one gate that led into the Old City, the one through which Joseph and Mary would have walked when they traveled there 2000 years ago.

Upon returning to the bus we headed for WIAM which is a Palestinian Conflict Resolution Center.  In Arabic, WIAM means agape or the love with which God love us.  First we had lunch outside with the wall only  several yards away.  The wall is a concrete barrier over 700 km long which walls the Palestinians away from the Israelis.  It is over 20 feet tall with another 5 feet of electrifed barbed wire on top and lots of cameras and guard towers.  For lunch we had a wonderful salad of fresh vegetables served with a dish called maqluba which means upside down.  It was in a bundt type pan which they turned upside down onto a platter and it kept its shape.  It had almonds on top, then ground beef and then very tasty rice.  There was also a good strong yogurt to add to the mixture if you liked.  We enjoyed the meal and the conversation.  After lunch we met with Zoughbi Zoughbi along with a group of people from Canada.  I love his saying, "We choose hope when hope has not yet chosen us."  Here is Paulette's summary of that encounter:  The dream for reconciliation and peace captivates Zoughbi, a Palestinian peace activist just like the dream always stays with us no matter how hopeless the situation looks.  Zoughbi spoke of the trauma which plagues so many people in Palestine especially the children for whom he  wants to provide a  decent future. Zoughbi spoke of people being hostages to trauma. He as well as others whom we've interviewed wants to "build bridges rather than walls."

After the WIAM center we went to Deheishe (die-ee-shah) refuge camp.  Our guide, Hamzeh, took us through this experience.  He is a 25 year old man who was born in this camp and still lives there with his parents.  He attended university and became a social worker.  He works with children who have psychosocial difficulties.  From what I can tell, that is all of the Palestinian children.  The camp which began in 1948 when 531 Palestinians cities were leveled by the Israelis, originally had 3000+ and now has 13,000+.  We found out that there are more Palestinian refuges than any other nationality in the world.  The first 6 years were in tents and then in houses 3 meters by 9 meters.  Now there are more houses and more stories on top of old ones.  We saw a picture of a martyr, a young boy, 17 who was killed.  The kids in the refuge camp loved posing for pictures and the treats Phung and Josie had brought for them.  Upon leaving we had a conversation with another young man who had lived and worked in Brooklyn, NY for a year.  He talked about the many homeless he saw in NYC.  He said, "That would never happen in my country.  We take care of each other."  I told him, "We can learn a lot from you."
After leaving the refuge camp we to a drive to see Al Walaja, a small village that is in danger of being divided in two by the wall.  On the way we drove right by an Israeli settlement and could see how beautiful the wall is on the Israeli side.  On the Palestinian side it is just a big concrete slab, manufactured in the US.  We drove a very bad road near a very good road because Palestinians aren't aloud on the good road.  At one point we drove through a tunnel under the good road.  The road wound around past several places where houses had been bull dozed by the Israelis.  Because the land they were built on had not been registered during the time of the Ottoman Empire and even though the land had been in the same family for generations, the Israelis claimed it as their own.  We drove by a Convent where they make wine and then stopped for a look at the valley that will soon have Israeli settlements instead of groves of olive and almond trees. 

We arrived at Anastas House about 6:00.  She had supper ready for us and we ate on the terrace on the 3rd floor.  The meal was all home made with baked chicken in a very tasty sauce, rice, peas and carrots and tabouli salad.  The best part was the home made lemonade with fresh mint.
During supper Claire told us the story of how their home came to be surrounded on three sides by the wall.  They wanted to tear it down but they had registered the title properly so they couldn't.  She is still having to fight them and there are difficulties within the family in trying to continue to fight.  There are security cameras trained directed into the master bathroom and bedroom.  They are not allowed  to go on their own roof without prior permission because they can see over the wall from there.  Claire has defied them to fix leaks etc. and has had laser cross hairs on her forehead more than once.  She is a very brave woman.  The constant trauma has taken a toll on them physically and emotionally.  We went down to the shops after supper and bought some things from Claire and her sister-in-law.   When we all came back upstairs we had some time to share our experiences and Claire and two women from Germany joined us.  Our son, Derek, skyped us in the middle of the meeting so we skyped back later.  Then we went to bed.

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Deb Johnson on

How awesome. Thanks for sharing. Enjoying your updates and pictures.

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