Today a very different day than we have had so far. Much more listening and not as much walking and moving around. It made for a harder day since listening is tough when there is no discussion more of a lecture. Not that the information was boring or anything but I am not an auditory learner so tough to just listen. Any way here is our day…
Got up and sang Happy Birthday to Glenn! We had a similar breakfast as yesterday but didn’t have to get around and be ready to go until 8:00 instead of 7:30. So not as rushed. Headed out and went first to The Shepherd’s Fields. The fields are pretty much covered by buildings now with an occasional little green field in between. The Shepherd’s Fields covers a large area or at least it used to. They still refer to the area by that name which is rather ironic since it is now covered by buildings. Anyway we did go to the cave where the shepherd’s watched their flocks that night. I was a grotto with a smoke charred ceiling and the little hokey thing was they had cut a star shape in the roof and put a light bulb up in it. But the cave was cool and much more natural than other places so you could image easier what it had been like. There was also a chapel near the cave and we went inside it too. There were 3 large paintings depicting the shepherd’s scene but the one with the nativity had a dog that when I first walk around a saw it, it looked like a kangaroo and my first thought was, “What the heck is a kangaroo doing in a nativity scene?” or something along those lines. I showed it to one of the other women and she agreed. So we now have to all add something a little special to our nativity sets, the Israeli kangaroo. It also bothered us a bit that once again baby Jesus had blue eyes even though our guide said the painter had used locals from the villages as models. Oh well.
After Shepherd’s Fields we went to the East Jerusalem YMCA which is actually located in Bethlehem. I know the name doesn’t make much sense but whatever. Anyway there a man talked to us about the Rehabilitation program that they have going there. It is to help the youth and families suffering from PTSD and also physical handicaps. The room we met in reminded me of the training room for nurses in Mungeli. It was almost an exact replica. Anyway our speaker shared that over 700 Palestinian youth from ages 12-17 are arrested for protesting every year. Many of these youth (he called them children but I really think that is a misnomer) are actually innocent but they are still imprisoned and often tortured for a confession. They remain locked up for usually around 5 months and then are sent home scarred from their ordeal. It is very hard for them to move back into normal life and return to their families and schools. The center provides counselling for them and their families. Our speaker had even been thrown in prison for “Recycling Warriors”. They also helped with families who have members with disabilities. First they started only helping those injured during protests caused from the Israeli broken bones policy of the military. This policy is basically that when confronted with youth protesting or throwing rocks they should break their bones preferably a joint like knees or elbows to put them out of commission for longer. They can actually get in trouble for not doing this. The Y later incorporated any Palestinian that is handicapped. It is an amazing program that helps these families learn to cope with an intolerable situation.
From the Y we headed into the largest of the refugee camps the Aida Refugee Camp. Aida means “the one who returns” so they are hopeful that someday they will get to return to their villages that have been occupied by the Israelis. Here we met with a man who works with kids in the camp teaching what he calls “Beautiful Resistance”. They teach this through the arts. The have a theater troupe, art classes, dance classes, photography classes just to name a few. Through these arts they teach peaceful resistance and give hope to the youth and their families. I was very tired during this presentation and had trouble following and not falling asleep at times. Too much sitting and listening without interaction. But they did have a very good video of the program too. It is amazing that in this camp over 3000 people, I believe, live with more than 65% being children and there is no grassy areas, no playgrounds. They are surrounded by this monstrous wall that has murals on the outside that pay homage to all the communities that were displaced into this camp.
After leaving the camp we stopped for lunch at the Christmas Tree Restaurant. Not sure why it is named that but it was. We have a déjà vu for lunch. I had shawerma and Glenn has Falafel sandwiches. We also had baklava and sang happy birthday to Glenn.
Lunch was followed by us walking through the check point gate as 3000 Palestinians do every work day. They say it is for security but it is a joke during the middle of the day. The metal detectors went off on several people and no one came to check. The girl hardly looked up at we waved our passports in front of the window. But the way was reminiscent of cattle going down the shoot for branding or whatever. No pictures from it since it is a military zone.
Next we went to Yad Vashem Holocaust museum. Unfortunately our guide was rather monotone and I was really tired of listening and really wanted to read the personal stories that were available. The museum with our guide really didn’t make you feel what I would expect to feel in a holocaust museum. I compared it to the Titanic exhibit and the OKC bombing memorial and this fell short. Not near as experiential, it really only hit one sense at a time and that was either seeing or hearing. Nothing to help you to fell the being there experience. Of course no one would want to really “be there” but there was no physical or emotional tie. After I turned my little headset off, which is how our guide was able to communicate with us and not distract others, I read the stories and looked at things and was much more engaged. I was not the only one who did this. After we got back on the bus the guide got on the bus with us and some asked her questions. Ends up she is originally from Germany and converted to Judaism after she moved to Israel. We sort of got her feelings on the wall but it was more of a political correct non statement. She did not see the irony of the Israelis building a wall and moving the Palestinians into camps away from their homes. Her comment was it was not the same at all because they were not trying to kill them all.
We had a few minutes between the museum and dinner to unwind in our rooms. Dinner was at My Grandfather’s House. It was a good restaurant with a very yummy dinner that I can’t remember what its name was but it is Arabic for upside down which consisted of chicken, rice and veggies cooked in a pot and dumped upside down on a plate. Of course we had lots of hummus and pita and such as our salads beforehand.
Normally after dinner our evenings are over except for debriefing. Tonight we had two gentlemen from a group called The Parents Circle come and talk to us. This group consists of Palestinians and Israelis who have lost children to violence during the occupation and decided that revenge is not the answer but forgiveness is. One man’s 10 year old daughter was killed by a Palestinian suicide bomber and the other lost his 6 year old from a rubber bullet fired by an Israeli soldier. It was a very powerful and moving talk. The Israeli had to sneak in to Bethlehem for the talk. It was actually illegal for him to be here. The restrictions placed on each is rather ridiculous and all for the name of safety which is rather false sense of security. The Israeli said two kinds of people can find the gaps in a wall, those bent on destruction and those bent on forgiveness.
It has been a full day! Tomorrow we get an extra 30 minutes and I will take full advantage of it!