[an error occurred while processing this directive]
The first evening in Beit Sahour, Nathan and I walked into our host family's house and found four generations of lively activity. When I found out that they are part of the Qumsieh family - one of the largest families in Beit Sahour, numbering around 2000 - I knew I had better start learning names. Beit Sahour is a mostly Christian town (neighboring Bethlehem) made up of five large families - everyone is related to each other (reminding me of the Mennonites). Every evening members of the extended family come over to Abu Hasam and Im Hasam's house (father and mother of Hasam - they are called by their eldest son's name) for a rowdy game of Spades and loud conversation.
Each morning Nathan and I wake up to a wonderful breakfast of flatbread, hummus, jelly, scrambled eggs, cheese, and hot tea. Im Hasam, our host mom, smiles and asks "Zaki?" (delicious?). We walk 5 minutes to ATG (Alternative Tourism Group) for group reflection, followed by Arabic lessons and lectures ranging from the history of Palestinian literature to Women's Issues.
Although life is much more than the political situation, living under occupation and the recent elections are major topics of conversation and affect the life of those in the Bethehem area. I talked with a man who for 5 years has dreamed of taking his children to the Dead Sea, but as of yet has been prevented. He asked me, "Why do you have more rights than I do in my own country? Are you human and I'm an animal?" The situation is complicated. I talked with two Christian Arab students at the University of Bethlehem who are from Jerusalem. Although Arab, they identify more with their Israeli identity and even support Israeli occupation and U.S. policy. We traveled to Hebron, where settlements are being build on top of Palestinian houses, and like a leech have sucked life from the city and people. Palestinians now walk through a cemetery because they are not allowed on the settlers' road. Even our group faced the possibility of being harassed by settlers if we traveled on that road. However, we had a friendly encounter with some 19 year old Israeli soldiers who were patroling from rooftops across from the CPT roof. As we walked through a Hebron market, many people asked if we were from Denmark. Ironically, we were comforted and welcomed by quickly saying, No, we're American.
Our first day in Beit Sahour we toured the city, visiting the huge cement wall that is almost completed, which divides the land and makes travel nearly impossible for Palestinians. Settlements stand on many hilltops in the surrounding area. After touring the area and seeing irony, complexity, and frustration, I responded by writing several poems:
Wandering hills and valley, groves of
olive trees, rocks, and grass in sparse supply,
cold concrete, gray and bare, electric fence,
"mortal danger" when approached.
A winding road, like serpent snakes
up the valley, cuts in two the olive grove,
divorcing people from the land, and
land from land. Yet kids laugh,
play, call "Marhaba, hello, hello!"
by the cage of steel in backyard playground.
These kids find delight, children of light;
the kingdom of Christ is for such as these.
Imprisoned playground, nativity besieged.
O Little Town shrinks as walls divide,
O Israel, Thou Shall not steal. Peace
on Earth, good will to all, my house
a house of prayer for all, the bread of life
in house of bread is Bet-lehem.
The Lord is my shepherd,
but where are the sheep?
I lie down in green pasture
pierced by a cold gray facade.
He leads beside still waters
that are bought in short supply.
Where is the soul restored
where heart and body mourn?
He leads in paths of goodness,
through booths with guns and guards.
Though I walk through darkest valleys,
you were born in such a state.
With rod and staff came outcasts,
who bowed for your name's sake.
You prepare for me a table,
with enemies across the wall.
You bless my head with oil
from olives now destroyed.
Goodness and mercy follow
but seeds of hope lie fallow.
I dwell in the house of God
if the permit will allow.
What land is this, that tumult never dies,
Where in the hearts of people, death is realized?
But is that really so, or is it only I
Who have a broken heart
as I see the sparkling eyes?
So here I stand in the land where tumult never dies,
But let me hope a wishful dream,
and may life be realized.
- Timothy Shenk