Ok… here is what happened in Bethlehem.
I went to Jerusalem, to the Damascus Gate, and took a cab to a side route into Bethlehem because the town was under curfew so no one could enter or leave. I hiked up a small rocky hill and to the other side where the cabs waited to take the people who were sneaking back in to their homes. I was met by the trainers of the group I am working for and not long after went to the house where I was staying. We had made signs at the office announcing that international presence was at the house in hopes that if the military came back they would attempt to evacuate the house before destroying it.
The military had broken into the house at midnight the evening before and tore it apart, broke all the windows and told the family they would be back to demolish it as an extra punishment for one of the sons who had lived there who was now in prison. The family spent the night moving their belongings into neighboring houses and distributing the women and children to other houses in the refugee camp. At this point I would like to point out that it is illegal to punish the families and friends of prisoners and suicide bombers and to come in and destroy their homes to punish someone who has already been punished. I stayed in the home with another observer listening for tanks. The military never showed back up. They often don’t. They come into houses and scare the families and cause them to evacuate and then wait for months to take any action. For the most part when they really intend to tear houses down they just arrive and shoot into the house and give the family a few minutes to leave before they tear it down on the spot. What they did the other night to this family was just for the sake of terrorizing them.
I spent a lot of time with the women and their children. I can’t help but think what it must be like for a child to grow up with this. In a discussion with one of the men of the camp I apologized for my horrible – and I mean horrible – Arabic and he said “they don’t teach Arabic in your schools, they teach English in ours so we should be able to talk to you but half the time our towns were under curfew and we couldn’t go to school and that’s why our English is so bad.” This man was in his late thirties… This has been going on for years. Will the children here ever be able to go to school regularly? I spent a lot of time with the school kids in the house helping them study their English, going through their school books with them.. I wish I had been there long enough to have really helped. I left Bethlehem after two days with the family. They asked me to return before the end of my trip but I doubt I will have time.
I am now in Tulkarem, also in the West Bank. The trip here took a few hours. They had raised curfew in Bethlehem from 10am to 4pm. This is not for the sake of being kind to the people who live there but to give the people they are looking for a chance to return to their homes so when curfew begins again they will have a better chance of catching them.
On the bus ride to Tulkarem we were stopped and all the men had to evacuate the bus and wait in the rain for the military to check their id’s. After they had done that a soldier entered the bus and checked out all the seats and the women. He pointed his gun at all of us as he checked our seats then he left. The path into town was covered in mud, horses and mules splashed mud on everyone in their attempts to get up the hill. One woman fell in a large puddle but as is the custom here everyone stopped and helped her and held her hand the rest of the way.
I will write more about my experiences here in Tulkarem later, but would like to take a second to point out the immense kindness of everyone I have met here. Everyone knows who we are and why we are here and are thankful for it. The economy here is in a horrible state of affairs because people cannot go to work outside of town and often with curfew people cannot open their businesses yet when I go to the market to buy fruit and vegetables they don’t want to accept my money. Anytime I have looked even close to being lost, which has been a lot, yet not as much as I expected, people are rushing to help, to walk me or drive me to where I need to go and oddly enough for what they have to deal with here on a daily basis they are always smiling and laughing.
The mother of the house I stayed at in Bethlehem gave me a pillow covering she embroidered and apologized for not having time to make one personally for me but having to give me one she made months ago. Her daughter embroidered my initial in it and hers as well. I tried to say no but it is rude here to not take what is offered to you. I am unfortunately unable to express the immense effect this kindness has had on me, I am just amazed at the love these people have for anyone not attacking them after generations of violence and abuse.