A Bethlehem Peacemaker

Daoud  lives in Bethlehem with his wife and family.  He grew up there and has attended the Greek Orthodox Church since childhood.  After leaving school he studied at Bethlehem Bible College, graduating in Biblical Theology and also gaining the Diploma in Tour Guiding.  Groups visiting the Holy Land are required by law to use the services of a guide - the Bible College ensures that their graduates are very well grounded in scripture, church history and local knowledge.

Daoud is ideally suited for this calling, bringing the gospel to life as he walks with tourists through the bustling streets and crowded markets.  He also works as a coach for a youth basketball team and kept us at a good pace!  He led our group of Peace Studies students on a fascinating walking tour of Bethlehem, then a few days later guided us around the troubled city of Hebron.  

On meeting a tour group for the first time, Daoud immediately asks questions to establish rapport and to discover people’s interests and reasons for coming to Bethlehem.  Conversation comes easily with this young man who is amiable and a mine of information.  

As he led us through the steep streets of the old city, Daoud turned through an archway into a family hosh - a beautiful outdoor space for gathering and conversation situated between a group of family homes.  It was quiet away from the traffic of the street and Daoud told us of a favourite childhood memory:  listening to his grandmother tell stories as the extended family gathered in the hosh.  He asked us, “Do you know why I listened to the same story a thousand times?  It seemed new every time and always about Jesus.”

At the Church of the Nativity, the focal point for most visitors to Bethlehem, Daoud impressed upon us that the key purpose was for each of us to spend time and space in God’s presence: “Being here is your fifth gospel.”  They were holy moments as we came to the fourteen-point silver star in the floor, said to mark the location of Jesus’ birth.  
Stooping to enter through the low door seemed appropriate. However, Daoud explained, the doorway had been lowered not for reverence, but to prevent a repeat of a violent military attack launched on the church in the twelfth century.  Nowadays the premises are run jointly by Greek Orthodox, Syriac Orthodox, Armenian, Roman Catholic, and Coptic churches.

Bethlehem has been Daoud’s family home for generations, but now he has no relatives remaining in the city.  He and his wife have chosen to stay and bring up their four young children there, but life is hard.  Palestinian families have restricted access to water, education, health care, green space and are rarely permitted to travel outside their cities.   Job opportunities are limited throughout the Occupied Territories.  Before the occupation, Bethlehem traders used to sell their wares in Jerusalem, but they are now forbidden to access the city and have to make living from far fewer customers in Bethlehem.  The pandemic has meant they are hit doubly hard. In the market, Daoud stopped and spoke with an elderly lady who sat beside large piles of vine leaves she was selling.  Her faded dress was beautiful with traditional Palestinian embroidery.  She has known much easier days and Daoud stops to talk with her in his gentle, encouraging manner whenever he passes.

Please see Part ii for Daily Life in the West Bank and Building Peace.

* Not his real name.
- Catherine Horton
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