It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood! The sun is shining brightly…so far we have had perfect weather. By early afternoon we must prepare for the cool of the evening, with long sleeves and sweaters. The hotel breakfast at 7:00am, with visitors from many countries (India, Romania, Greece, Italy and Ireland currently), included some interesting political talk this morning. We get some news here in Bethlehem with CNN and BBC. Chaos in the world continues it seems.
Some in our group are suffering with colds; our pace each day is fast with little time for rest. Our days begin with departure at 8:15 or 8:30 and ending the day at 9:00pm, however this evening we are ending at 10:30, after an important final team meeting.
Many souvenirs have been purchased; especially popular is the Jerusalem Cross (representing Christ and the four apostles) and religious items made from olive wood. We have taken hundreds of photos (some group photos) with the help of our guide holding at least ten cameras (belonging to us) on his arm! Quite a sight!
Today will be a full day with a start at the work site at Wadi Fukin, then a quick change at the hotel followed by a visit to Hebron and Herodian National Park. I wear the same work clothes each day and they are beginning to look very ‘used’ and shabby. In addition, the work days require me to take water, a hat, scarf (to cover my nose to protect from dust…swatting flies too!), camera and money belt (keeping my passport close to my body). Ready to take off now, on the bus, a man is selling necklaces 4 for $10 or 2 for $5 on the street as we climb aboard…and before we know it, Leif is offering these necklaces and prices from the front of the bus for the man on the street! No one bought necklaces this morning. The seller did not want to take ‘no’ for an answer!
Travelling to the work site, we see many mounted donkeys carrying big boxes to market. What a delight to see a step back in time still existing. Most are white donkeys…great means of transport that is inexpensive. There are many taxis carrying Palestinian Arabs to work in the Israeli settlements. They cannot drive into Israel, but they need the jobs therefore the taxis are their only means, and these taxis can’t drive on the same roads as Israelis.
As we arrived at Wadi Fukin, there was not as much work to do on our fourth day here. Adel told us that we needed to clean up the rooms in the center, sweep, wipe dust from chairs and tables, organize tools and equipment, and tackle the cleanup of the kitchen (a bit of a challenge without hot water today). The jobs were finished quickly and we had a chance to rest a bit as we awaited our walk to Adel’s grandparents’ home. (We were proud of ourselves to have accomplished so much…yard free of debris, rocks and dirt moved, chipping and filling with spackle the walls before painting.)
While waiting, Joseph, our bus driver is visiting with us, as he carries his Rosary in hand. We have time to hear about his parents (both deceased) and his children, all of whom live in Nazareth, most in his household. He is Palestinian, and his family has always lived in Israel.
When we arrive at the home of Adel’s grandparents, high on the hill above the village, we are welcomed into a cozy home of cushioned chairs and sofas and rugs. We removed our shoes before entering, and were served Arabic coffee and tea as we settled into our seats and awaited our host. Adel introduced us to Joseph, and Joseph greeted each of us with ‘Mahaba’, meaning ‘hello’ in Arabic. We had seen and heard Joseph in the short documentary that we had viewed on Monday.
Adel translated as we heard 90 year old Joseph tell the stories of his life in this village. He was in the British Army from 1946-1948. In 1948 the British Mandate along with the UN essentially made Israel a state, and at that point all of the weapons that had been used by the British forces became Israel’s. A Palestinian could be jailed for having one. At that time this village’s population was just 500; by this time it is about 1200. Nakba happened in 1948…the Catastrophe for the Palestinians…the moving of populations from their villages, beginning with the villages that are now inside Israel (not West Bank). His village moved to the biggest camp in Bethlehem, which was Jordanian at that time. When the people of Wadi Fukin left their village they were farming 7000 acres, but now have 2000 to farm (the rest is covered in settlements).
The elder men of the village (The Muktar (speaker for the village) being Joseph’s father) pressed the authorities to let them come each day to work in their fields; they weren’t asking to move back, but wanted to tend to their land and provide food for their people. They were granted permission, and although there were skirmishes and plenty of Israeli confrontations and even deadly ones, the villagers made their daily trek, probably on donkeys.
In 1972, Israel needed room in the Dehaisha Refugee Camp, where Wadi Fukin villagers had lived since 1948, and by stroke of luck, the villagers were permitted to move back to their village so that some Gazan refugees could move in to the camp! The villagers began rebuilding and continue to rebuild to this day, in the shadow of the huge Betar Illit settlement.
After a walk back to the Community Center, we enjoyed pita bread warmed with zata’r and olive oil, served with cucumbers and tomatoes, yogurt and hummus! We feasted on this local fare with gusto! The lunch and VIM week at Wadi Fukin ended with Betty making the presentation to Adel of the funding for the youth program and the women’s program at the center. That is after the funds that came with our VIM fee, which will be undesignated for the center’s use.
We rushed up to our hotel rooms to quickly brush teeth, take bathroom breaks and maybe make a quick change in clothing to make a quick turnaround time for the afternoon…only to get the lobby and have a wait of nearly 45 minutes…a chance to sit and chat together and experience this example of ‘Palestinian time’ that we have heard so much about.
Herodian was the first stop when did board our bus and make our way south and east of Bethlehem. Herod was a brutal leader, a converted Jew, who tried to win his Jewish subjects’ favor, but never did. He built awesome structures in several parts of Palestine, probably to provide protection for himself, but they were massive, ornate and beautifully constructed. He was known as Herod the Great because he was a great builder. This was his winter palace, and is his burial site. Herod had only been to this place 3 times in his life and once was to be buried.
The palace is built on a man-made mountain, with layers of construction…the ruins of which are not fully excavated, even after more than 4 years of work. There were plenty of photo opps here; one of the views on the upper level (not the top…too tired to hike to the top today) was a view east to the Judean hills, the Dead Sea and the Jordanian mountains in the far background…the Moab Mountains. The foreground interested us also; it was a trailer park of settlers, which is likely the first outpost of yet another a new settlement. There was a military establishment on the side of the Herodian mountain, and lots of soldiers present to protect the settlements, sprawled over the hillsides in view.
The drive from Herodian, south to Hebron, was through the Wilderness…which is grazing land in this area. We passed several small flocks of sheep and goats; there are herbs, shrubs and small trees in this area, among the rocks that are everywhere. There were acres of lush crops down in the valleys of this region…olive groves bigger than we had seen before, and many vegetable crops. This apparently is the area with the 2nd largest aquifer, therefore an ideal location for irrigated crops and a desirable area for settlements…the Israelis need water. Almonds, grapes, apricots and other nuts are grown here. There are also great stone works here in this area, extracting the huge stones from the ground and then cutting and preparing them for construction…and sold all over the world…beautiful Jerusalem stone.
Every Friday the villages in the area of south Bethlehem demonstrate nonviolently for peace…this has become their tradition.
Soon we enter Hebron, and have the chance to stop in to view glass blowing and painting of pottery at the Hebron Glass Factory. The shopping was fabulous…with good prices and a huge array to choose from. The Old City required a walk through the 2nd oldest city in the world, next to Jericho, to the Tomb of the Patriarchs. The building has become half mosque and half shrine, with soldiers present at every entry. We viewed the place in the mosque where in 1994, one of the extremist settlers, came into the mosque and massacred many Palestinians as they prayed during their holy month of Ramadan. This is a Palestinian city and has been through all of its history, but 400 Jewish settlers have moved into the Old City and have 1200 Israeli soldiers to protect them.
Most of the shops in the Old City are closed; some of them were ordered closed and some closed because of lack of business since the tension with the settlers has begun in these last years. Betty, who was here several years ago, felt as though the city was less tense, fewer shops open and not as much garbage today, as compared to her previous visit.
Hebron is a huge city of 200,000 people. Sometime after the 2nd Intifada (2002 or so) all entrances to Hebron were blocked for hundreds of days at a time…no entry or exit…the people essentially prisoners in their town. This is a huge industrial area with shoe making, glass, stone and pottery to name a few. (We saw camel meat hanging in a butcher shop along the main street as we drove…assured by our guide, Elias, that this is a tasty meat…lean and flavorful…many skeptics on the bus!!)
There were too many street sellers of cheap jewelry on the streets following us wherever we went, even through the dark, ancient streets of the Old City and throughout the religious site entries. They were shooed away by our guide and by police from time to time, but were persistent and some of us bought their wares to appease them…the number of visitors to Hebron has decreased dramatically, and these people are desperate for the business, meager as it is with the inexpensive items. It was wearing to have all of the desperate pleas to buy…it was depressing. Some lovely Palestinian craft items were purchased in a couple of the few shops open in the Old City.
We had a chance to see the outside of the Hebron Rehabilitation Center, and meet the director on the street in passing on our way down to the Mosque/Synagogue. The mission of this organization is to restore the Old City…no small task. The extremist settlers frightened nearly all Palestinians out of their Old City homes, but with the efforts of this Rehabilitation center nearly 85% have moved back into this area. 580 days of curfew were experienced by the Palestinians (maybe all people) in this Old City area because of the tension of the 2nd Intifada and the actions of the militant settlers. There have been difficult times for this community.
Our drive home in the dark was reflective…we were recuperating from the barrage of street merchants, begging for our money…and thankful for the opportunity to experience this place, despite our brief time there.
Dinner and our last team meeting, which included Tina, Jan and Janet as observers, finished out the long, emotional day. It was our task to decide what our VIM team will do in the next 6 weeks, 6 months and 1 year with the information and experience we have had in the areas of ancient sites, work sites and Palestinian political and cultural issues. We made our plan, and you will soon learn about them!