A Bethlehem Peacemaker part ii

A Bethlehem Peacemaker part ii
Please see part i for Introduction and background
Although the Israeli occupation has a severely negative affect on people’s everyday lives, the warmth and beauty of Palestinian culture was still very much in evidence.  Bethlehem had a calm and welcoming atmosphere, despite the very obvious presence of armed police and military.  From delicious food, especially fresh felafel cooked on the streets, to a gentle respect between generations, we encountered a friendly and open culture.  But we also heard many tragic stories: a brother executed, a son in prison, women abused at checkpoints, homes demolished while the family looks on and sometimes family members, even children, arrested and taken away. 1
The land designated for Palestinians is being steadily reduced by the combined effect of the separation wall, the Israeli settlements, military checkpoints and restricted access to green space.  In addition, land designated for military purposes further diminishes the area granted to them in 1948. Communities are separated; subsistence farmers have to apply for permits to work the land that they and their families have farmed for generations - but permits are rarely granted.
Photo: the huge key marks the entrance to Aida refugee camp.
In 1948, when the new state of Israel was established, many Palestinian families were evicted from their land, homes and communities.  Since then, many families, who had lost their entire livelihoods have remained in refugee camps, new generations being born and growing up there.  They keep the keys to their former homes as a symbol of hope that one day they will return - as they were promised in 1948.
Daoud’s family had some land on which they grew olive trees, making a living from selling the olives, oil and timber.  But more than fifty of his grandfather’s mature olive trees were bulldozed for the construction of the wall. Olive trees live for centuries, a mature tree may produce 800kg olives in a year.  It became harder and harder to make a living, and one by one Daoud’s family members decided to emigrate.  “I can’t blame them.  Life here holds little and is tough.”
Photo: A watchtower and the separation wall block what used to be the main route south from Jerusalem to Hebron, through Bethlehem.  Sixty four shops were forcibly closed and much Palestinian land was lost, including the access to Rachel’s tomb.
Daoud accompanied our group to a project near Hebron, where a Jewish rabbi, a settler 2, told the story of his own realisation that Palestinians are subject to great oppression from Israelis.  This rabbi is now part of a small team who offer activities such as photography classes to small groups of Palestinians and Israelis together, taking some valuable steps in breaking down barriers and enabling understanding between the people groups.  As he listened, the pain of the long haul showed on Daoud’s face.  He spoke up calmly, but with the grim truth that it will take much more than this to achieve justice for Palestinians.  

We were deeply impressed by Daoud’s commitment to building peace.  He, along with the other Christian Palestinians we met, has chosen the path of non-violent resistance, rather than revenge or retaliation.  We visited a farmer whose legal battle to keep his land has been going on for over thirty years, during which time he has suffered violence and many death threats; at the entrance to his farm is a large sign, “We refuse to be enemies.”

We were humbled and challenged to meet these brothers and sisters who respond to the brutality of the occupation by treating everyone with dignity, including Israeli soldiers.  Palestinians are telling their stories to people, like us, who will speak up about injustice and ask our governments to challenge oppressive Israeli policy.

Daoud is clinging to glimmers of hope, believing that change will come because God is good.  We join him in praying, hoping, believing “Surely the Judge of all the earth will do right” - Genesis 18: 25
- Catherine Horton
2 According to The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, https://www.btselem.org/about_btselem there are more than 600,000 Israeli settlers living in the West Bank. The settlements are illegal under international law, but they continue.
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