Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Getting Acclimated

!صبح لاخير (Good morning!). Greetings from Bethlehem. Life is beginning to become more routine, but very slowly. I have loved every minute of being here, though it has required lots of energy and input. Being around Arabic most of the day without understanding a lot of it wears on you.

On Saturday we toured East Jerusalem (which is largely Palestinian)and met up with B'tselem (www.btselem.org) and the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions (www.icahd.org). These are both organizations that are fighting for Palestinian issues. We saw a Palestinian home that was demolished by Israel becuase it didn't have a building permit. This is a very common thing in East Jerusalem, where Israel largely refuses to give building permits to Palestinians who are growing rapidly, basically forcing them to build illegally. We also toured some Israeli settlements, which housing complexes built within what is internationally considered the Palestinian West Bank. These are illegal by international law and threaten to divide up the West Bank into small Palestinian bantustans (thin South African apartheid). Seeing all this was a very heavy experience.

I have been able to have several eye opening conversations with some of the kids from the camp that speak good english. One kid, Mohammed, was telling me how in this month alone 7 people from the camp will be getting out of Israeli jails.This is from a camp of only 2000 people. Many more are in jail and won't be coming out soon. Mohammed's own brother, who they haven't seen in 2 1/2 years, will be getting out this next week. It will be a big occasion. Palestinians in the West Bank are taken to prison in Israel proper, thus seperating them from family and friends who can visit them. It is difficult for Palestinians to get permits to visit them (West Bank Palestinians can't cross into Israel without a special permit which is difficult to get. Many in Bethlehem, who live 15 minutes from Jerusalem, haven't been able to go.).

Yesterday, began both the Arabic lessons and my volunteering with the NGO (non-governmental organization, think non-profit). I am not sure if this NGO is going to be a good fit and it doesn't really fit with my schedule well. We are trying to see if we can find another place where I can volunteer. Please be in prayer for this as this will be a large part of my experience here.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

I am writing now, partly because of drinking so much coffee, partly because this is the first time I have been able to be alone today. These last two days have been great, but definitely a blur. I haven’t hardly had a chance to process it all it has come so fast. On Thursday I met my group and came to Bethlehem, Palestine (AKA west bank, occupied territory, etc) driving through a big checkpoint in what’s famously called the “seperation barrier” or "wal"l that Israel is building, effecting cutting off Palestine.

After arriving in Bethlehem I met my host family and they took me to their home. I am staying on the third floor of a building in the ‘Azza refugee camp. Most of the families, if not all, (including my host family) are originally refugees from the 1948 war. This camp is also called Beyt Jibrill because that is the city where they all used to live in what is now Israel.

My family is a Muslim family, with 6 kids (I think). There is Lu’ay, who is 25, and Hameed, who is maybe 11. They are the one’s who I have spent most of my time with. The first night here we all went to play some soccer , allowing me to effectively meet seemingly half the kids from the camp, it was great. My family has been extremely welcoming and hospitable, following the Arab way. They have basically shoved mounds of food (extremely tasty, of course) down my throat and cup after cup of Arabic tea and coffee (w/ mint).

I requested a family that doesn't speak anyEnglish so that I would be forced to use my Arabic everyday. PSE granted my request and my family speaks no english, which is somewhat unusual for Bethlehem. Conversation, thus, has been sparse for the last couple days, but I have already learned a lot of new Arabic since arriving. It is humbling (and often frustrating) because even the simplest of requests becomes very arduous and it is easyto embarass yourself. Still, I LOVE it! :)

Bethlehem is a very quiet and safe place. On the news tonight there was trouble in Gaza, in Ramallah and in Nablus, but Bethlehem usually avoids this, thus making it a great place to begin to dive into Palestinian life.

The other people who are here doing the PSE program with me are great. Tonight we went out to eat and just chat and I had a blast. They are very interesting people with many backgrounds. One guy, who I think I’ll get along well with is, from Switzerland. Some of the PSE participants are Christian, many not. This allows for some fun conversations about faith, justice, etc.

It seems that one challenge will be to find some quiet and solitude time, not because there isn’t enough time, but because here at my house it is impossible to be alone. I know that I will really need regular time to pray and process. Please pray that I will find a regular way to do this. Finding spiritual community with other believers and going to church is going to be a challenge too.

Thank you for your thoughts and prayers. I have really needed them and continue to do so. Time to sleep!


Thursday, May 24, 2007

From Jerusalem!

I'm here! After a LONG trip I made it all in once piece to my hostel in Jerusalem were I spent the night. The trip went very smoothly, and thank the Lord, I had no problems at all in customs.

It was all very overwhelming getting here last night. All of a sudden I was in the heart of the old city of Jerusalem ( in front of Davids tower) surrounded by orthodox jews, palestinians, russian orthodox, germans, americans, etc etc. Whew! This morning I took a walk around the old city and saw the Wailing wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and some other sites. In many ways being here is somewhat anti-climactic. Jerusalem is supposed to be this magical city, but in many ways it's just another place. The Wailing wall, for example, is pretty small and very un-impressive. I know that from a historical perspective everything here is important, but still it doesn't move me. Really, I didn't come to see the archaelogical sites, or to "walk where Jesus walked." That's all interesting, but in the end unimportant since we worship a Living Christ (hallelujah!) who walks the streets of all our cities alongside us.

The reason I came here was to live and work with Palestinians and I can't wait to begin. Today I am meeting my group and heading down to Bethlehem to meet my host family. The adventure begins!


Friday, May 11, 2007

Getting Ready

As I mentioned in my email, I am getting the last details ready before taking off soon to the West Bank on May 22nd. Once arriving I will meet my host family in Bethlehem whom I will be staying with for nearly three months. During this time I will be studying Arabic intensively and will be volunteering with an NGO, most likely teaching English.

Most people have a vague idea of what Israel and Palestine is and what's going on presently. To help you understand what the situation is presently I've added some links on the side here. First, it would be helpful to look at the map. Look for Bethlehem which is in the West Bank and is south of Jerusalem. Next, click on the link that gives a synopsis of the present situation in Palestine (known as the occupied territories), which is pretty bleak. In short, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza live under military occupation, do not have their own state, and their economy is in shambles. Israel is building what they call a "security fence" (also called "the wall" by those who oppose it) which is cutting off the West Bank and further isolating it. Click on the Wall link for more info. on that. Lastly, for most people palestinian is synonomous with terrorist and with Muslim. This simply is not the case on many levels, but especially since there are many Palestinian Christians, many of whom are descendents of the earliest Christians. Check out the link to learn more about them.