Team Bethlehem would like to offer a profound, collective apology for taking so long to update the World Deputation blog. We assure you, however, that this lateness is due almost entirely to our preoccupation with many adventures.
In last trip of Session 2 we went to Jenin and Tulkarm. In Tulkarm we talked to the Palestinian Authority (PA) governor. Initially we were excited but the whole thing was basically a press conference, and none of us felt like he was honest with his answers to our questions. It was all very political. In Tulkarm we also saw how the economy of a city can be effected by the wall. A once bustling city next to Tulkarm had been decimated once the wall was put up in the middle of it. Jenin was famous for suicide bombers and heavy resistance to Israel during the Second Intifada. It was the site of one of the bloodiest and longest lasting battles during the struggle. Many Israelis and Palestinians lost their lives. We heard horrific stories of kids staying next to their dead parents for days. Jenin was interesting because it gave us a different perspective to the Second Intifada ...it was all very real.
One significant happening that has occurred here during the past couple weeks is the change in the PSE group from Session 2 to Session 3. We said goodbye to around 10 people that we spent our first month with as they prepared to return to their homes around the world (Hawaii, Chile, Great Britain, Washington, D.C, etc) and we've started incorporating about 10 new individuals into our group. To commemorate the end of Session 2, we had a huge hefla (party) which most of our host families attended, along with PSE participants, HLT staff, and representatives from our volunteer organizations. the evening included a number of speakers, one of the msot powerful being a Muslim woman whose family is having their house rebuilt by HLT after having it torn down by the Israeli government twice already. In addition, a number of PSEers, including L, performed 'dabkeh' (traditional Palestinian dance), despite their fears of completely desecrating Palestinian culture with their performance. It was tough saying goodbye to the first group since we've experienced and processed a lot of this place with them, but we're looking forward to getting to know the newcomers.
This last Wednesday through Saturday, during a break between PSE sessions, the four of us travelled with 2 other members of our program (Joey and Alex) to Eilat and En Gedi. C was particularly grateful to get out of Bethlehem for a while, since the entire female population of this town and its surrounding villages has discovered that he is an exact look-a-like of Haliil, the male lead of a very popular Turkish soap opera that people watch here called "Mirna and Haliil" (we think it has something to do with C's fledgling beard look, though the same look on Johnny gets people around here mistaking him for a member of Hamas). Eilat is beach town located at the tip of the Red Sea by both Egypt and Jordan and feels a lot like Hawaii (minus the humidity, plus 10 degrees of dry, desert heat). During the couple of days we were there, we laid on the beach, snorkelled around the Red Sea's coral reef, and enjoyed Eilat's vibrant night life. We also got our fill of American movies (Transformers 2 and Harry Potter) at Eilat's theatre, though we were a bit put off by the intermissions that came halfway through both films. Ironically, half of Transformers 2 was set right between Egypt and Jordan, at the tip fo the Red Sea (sound familiar?), though in our time there we saw neither Megan Fox (much to Johnny's chagrine) nor Shia LeBeouf saving the world from the Deceptacons. Bummer.
On Friday, we headed to En Gedi where we stayed in a youth hostel overlooking the Dead Sea. After a float in the saltiest water on earth (which was quite possibly the moment in time that the boys complained about their chafing woes the most on our trip so far), several of of us covered oruselves witht he mineral-rich mud found on the shore. The next day, we hiked En Gedi, which has been the most refreshing excursion on our trip thus far. All the way up the dry, red hillside we were able to jump into 3 or 4 freshwater springs with waterfalls, which made for excellent swimming.
One sobering element of our mini-vacation, however, is the fact that our host families cannot travel to the places we visited without the documented permission of the Israeli government. In fact, our Palestinian host families are not allowed to go to Eilat under any circum stances. We're all dealing with the fact that we can be here for onen month and travel easily to these beautiful places, but our Palestinian friends who have spent their lives here cannot. Just one of the many ways we are witnessing manifestations of this unjust reality.
In addition to our trip to Eilat and En Gedi, we've taken 2 trips to Jerusalem with the entire PSE program to see religious sights and meet with Israeli groups that are combatting injustice against the Palestinians. We went to the Dome of the Rock, though because we aren't Muslims, we couldn't enter the mosque building itself. We also walked the Via Dolorosa (the path jesus took to the cross) and toured the various holy sites on the Mount of Olives (where Jesus wept for Jerusalem, the garden of Gethsemane, Mary's tomb). In addition, we met with Rabbis for Human Rights and the Israeli Coalition Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) to learn more about what Israeli groups ar doing to combat the human rights abuses that Palestinians are experiencing at the hands of the Israeli government. It was encouraging to meet with Israelis that are responding to these human rights violations and it gave us hope to witness with our own eyes the ways that members of Israeli society are committed to changing the situation of the Palestinian people.
All of us are having trouble believing that we have a mere 3 weeks left in this beautiful and overwhelming place. We are continually learning what it means to surrender our anger, despair, and confusion regarding this situation to God, trusting that His heart is infinitely more broken by what is happening here than our hearts are. Pray that we'd have the energy and continued courage to take advantage of the remaining opportunities God gives us to invest in and receive from the relationships we've established with our Palestinian brothers and sisters here.