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Friday, October 23, 2015

Day in Palestinian Cities: Bethlehem, Ramallah and Rawabi

Sat, Oct. 17:  Our day in the West Bank: Three Palestinian cities, Bethleham, Ramallah and Rawabi - Post by Christina.

Today is Shabbat and things are so very quiet. Whether you keep the Sabbath or not, everything slows down and you must alter your behavior. No paper, no cappuccino, different elevators....this is not a complaint, far from it, I wish there was a day with a slower pace in the US, a day when things are different.   No paper, no cappuccino, different elevators....this is not a complaint, far from it, I wish there was a day with a slower pace in the US, a day when things are different.

After a quiet breakfast we got on a different bus with a different driver and a new guide to take us to Bethlehem. They are East Jerusalem residents and the bus is not an Israeli Company. Riman, a Palestinian Muslim woman, was our guide for the day. She and the Palestinian driver Khalid were able to just drive us through the check point at the border of Israel and the West Bank. 

In Bethlehem, we walked to the Church of the Nativity, which is historically interesting and the restorations are moving along, much more extensively.  The Greek Orthodox and Armenian Orthodox sections are as they were, the Roman Catholic section is neat and clean and shiny with a well-fed Franciscan at the entrance.  I lit a candle  and reminded myself that any place where people find themselves closer to God is a good place.

I learned from our driver and guide what it means to be Palestinian living with the separation wall.  There are several hundred thousand and they live in a political limbo without passports (they have travel documents from Israel and Jordan.), they have more freedom of movement within Israel, Israeli healthcare and social support, but the area has been neglected in terms of infrastructure and schooling (though the current Palestinian administration is slightly better I am told). They have dual legal systems and can either use Jordanian courts or the Sharia courts in Israel.

We left the West Bank back to Israel to return again though a settlers checkpoint heading toward Ramallah. My geography at this point us a little sketchy but we met quite a few people including a young Palestinian Christianwoman (Katia), with several restaurant and catering businesses and Samir Huleileh, a Palestinian Muslim businessman, Director of Padico, a holding company for multiple businesses.  We joined them for lunch and dialogue at the Executive Club.

Our next destination was Rawabi, a new Palestinian city being built from the ground up. There we met with Amir Dajani, the project manager and the CFO for a huge planned city in the desert. 

Our long day ended back in Ramallah for a meeting with a high ranking Palestinian official, Nabil Shaath who was involved in negotiating the Oslo accords and others,

All of the Palestinian leaders were very articulate, none of them especially religious. We talked of the occupation and its effects on economics, travel, education, and the future.  The business people spoke of the difficulties they faced but clearly were doing things to have a positive effect.  And that point was not lost, but we were all astounded by the insistence on horrible things being done to  Al-Aqsa mosque, and a lack of understanding of how things really were on the other side of the wall. I was deeply moved by the pain in everyone's voices, but particularly theirs as they told a story of victimization and powerlessness.  They see only strength on the Israeli side and they do not accept as valid the deep sense of vulnerability on the Israeli side.  We often used the word "complex" on this trip, but I would offer up the word "deep".  In everyone's stories I hear deep generational sorrows, grieving and loss.  If these were to people instead of societies I would diagnose PTSD and unresolved grief,  yet how do you treat the psyche of a people?  And it is foolish to say, let's wait for the next generations since we know trauma of this depth echoes for many generations. My answer is clear but unacceptable to either side, I am sure, and that would be the approach of Desmond Tutu and his truth and reconciliation in South Africa.  There can be no righting of the wrongs that both side has suffered or has perpetrated on the other, there must be an acceptance of injustice and then a mutual agreement to turn together toward another path.

While I can share the details of the meetings and my profound gratefulness for those who arranged them, it is the images that remain, a project manager proud of his new buildings, a CFO trying to make a better place for his people and not lose money, an aging politician clinging to his dream despite the failure of many peace agreements.  And the clear affirmation, echoed by Palestinian and Israelis alike, that religion is NOT the issue here and that making this a religious struggle would make it worse.

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