On Saturday we had a day that proved really difficult for me. In the afternoon, as I left a community centre in a Palestinian neighborhood just outside the Old City Walls in Jerusalem called Silwan, I could have sat on the curb and wept. I felt I had walked into a version of apartheid-era South Africa. My heart was torn to realize how much past pain could not change even if, by some miracle, the present and future were to change right then and there. The lives of youth, routinely interrogated, shaped by violence and turning to violence. The emasculation of men threatened in every possible way. The fabric of an age-old society systematically eroded by a state that doesn’t afford them the rights due citizens and humans.
The day had begun with a visit to Lifta, one of the few Palestinian towns (where the inhabitants were forcibly deported in the Nakba) – actually I think the only – where the ruins haven’t yet been covered up. It was hauntingly beautiful. Then we went to the Mt of Olives and had a talk, ate a picnic lunch overlooking the Kidron Valley, the Temple Mt and Jerusalem. Interestingly, the Mount was not what I expected at all – it looked different (perhaps I imagine it through the lens of Scripture forgetting that that was 2,000 years ago!)
That said, Lifta and the Mount were my most spiritual experiences thus far… by far. Can’t wait to share my photos with you!
Then, after visiting Silwan, we drove to Bethlehem to visit a refugee camp there. It is one of three that are now within the city limits. Each cannot expand space-wise and people are assigned to it. Originally residents were told it would be temporary yet this one, which started with 8,000 now has 30,000 (if I remember correctly). This means that in order to cope they have had to build new buildings between others. It is very cramped, smells bad, and has trash everywhere (little to no municipal services). We happened to run into the man there, a resident, who was part of last month’s prisoner exchange. He had been a political prisoner for 6 years during which time he’d had his right hand cut off. It was moving to hear him talk and see him with his sons.
The day’s programs ended with a visit to a Christian Palestinian shop in Bethlehem. It is a cooperative of families who, for hundreds of years, have engaged in crafts like Olive wood carving. The family, who were actually off celebrating Orthodox Christmas, were kind enough to come and open the shop. Judging by our groups enthusiasm, it seemed to be retail therapy – of the best kind!
View from the Mount of Olives.
Me standing on the Mount of Olives with Dome of the Rock in rear, Kidron Valley between.
The ANTS group.
Spring that still gives living waters in Lifta (there is an eeriness to the beauty of nature amidst the ruins).