Pardes Student Visits Bethlehem

Partially out of laziness and also because I found her thoughts worth sharing, I’m including a guest entry from Rebecca Krasner, a Pardes student, about visiting Bethlehem with a group called Project Encounter.

Reflections on travels to Bethlehem

Posted by: “Rebecca Krasner”

Sun Oct 28, 2007 10:42 am (PST)

Looking out from my parents beautiful and serene porch in Talpiyot one gets
a great view of parts of Jerusalem. If you look really hard you can even
see the Old City. Looking to your right however one sees a part of the city
that looks desolate, quiet, and abandoned. Cutting through this one empty
patch of land is a grey wall. Some people call this wall a Security Fence,
others a Separation Barrier, and I am sure still others would refer to it as
something akin to The Wall of Oppression. I never really thought about this
wall other than the time my brother pointed it out to me and my parents 2
years ago saying something snide about it and the Israeli government. At
that moment I thought about how sad it was that violence has escalated to
such a degree that such a wall was necessary and was not sure how I felt
about what it meant for those living on the other side. Honestly though I
had probably thought about this wall maybe two or three times since that
moment. When I looked out from my parents porch I mostly ignored the wall
looking to the left-toward the pretty view. After all, there wasn’t much to
look at to the right.

A few weeks ago, however Abe and I decided that it was important for us
both to pay more attention to this wall. We decided to join a group of
American Jews traveling together to the other side of the wall.

We began our trip at wonderful school just over the Bethlehem border called
The Hope Flowers School. This school’s mission is to teach its students
about peace, coexistence, and democracy. The school has both Christian and
Muslim students and before the wall was built had Jewish students as well.
While the Jewish Israeli students can no longer cross the border into
Bethlehem the school still has some programs with Israeli schools. Like in
other progressive schools around the world, children are taught the
importance of expressing themselves in healthy and productive ways. No
graduates of this school have ever been involved with violent acts of
resistance and many are actively involved with non-violent resistance groups
and organizations. During the second intifada the schools director’s house
was demolished. Apparently the Israeli military suspected him. Despite the
destruction of his home, Ibrahim continues his quest for a resolution to the
conflict and dedicates his life to seeking peace through educating young
people. Vising this school, meeting its director, staff, and some students
was inspiring. I see this school as a haven for the young people who
innocently dragged into this conflict. The Hope Flowers School provides
them not only with a valuable life long education of facing challenges in a
constructive way, but also provides hope for these children. If you would
like more information I encourage you to visit their website:
http://www.mideastw eb.org/hopeflowe rs/

From the Hope Flowers School we began our tour of the Separation Barrier.
Our tour was done by foot and we were lead by a woman named Leila. Leila
is a beautiful Palestinian woman who is eloquent and well educated. She has
spend much of her adult life away from her home in Bethlehem traveling and
living in Paris, England, and Russia. She is a documentary film maker who
is married to an English novelist.
Leila decided to move back to Bethlehem after the second Intifada. Since
then she was been working for an organization called Open Bethlehem that is
fighting to keep Bethlehem open to all and to keep it a unified
city-undivided by the wall. I was struck by Leila’s commitment to her
people and her city. Would I have left a fulfilling life abroad to live in
the dirty and depressing city? Would I choose to make my own life
harder day to day in order to fight for something I believe in? What
motivates some people to sacrifice for a greater good?

Leila walked along the wall with us, explaining to us as we walked how the
wall has effected her life and the lives of the people in Bethlehem. She
showed us how the wall divides the city, keeping the villages that are
equivalent to Bethlehem suburbs apart from the rest of the city. Leila
also brought us to Beit Jalla, pointing out a forest where she and her
friends used to play. This forest is similar to the Central Park of
Bethlehem. Everyone used this land for picnics, walking, and other
recreational activities. According to the current plan the wall is slated
to put the forest outside of the wall, cutting it off from Bethlehem and its
residence. Leila showed us other pieces of land that are going to be cut
off by the wall. Pieces of land that belong to people in Bethlehem and are
well within the ’67 border. Pieces of land that as far as she is concerned
are being stolen from their owners. Walking along the wall with Leila it
became clear that in Bethlehem the wall is not being built along the ’67
borders and is encroaching upon people’s daily lives. Being on the other
side of the wall one realizes that it is not just a drab concrete wall.
This wall has a profound effect upon the residence of Bethlehem. They are
faced with a grim reality and for them the wall represents a loss of
autonomy over their time, their homes, and their day to day lives.

After our tour of the wall we heard stories of three individuals who work
for peace through non-violent resistance. One of whom is named Bassam.
Bassam spent 11 years in an Israeli prison and his 10 year old daughter was
shot in front of her school. Today Bassam is the co-founder of an
organization called Combatants for Peace & Bereaved Parents Circle. His
organization brings together Israeli soldiers and parents who have lost
children as a result of the conflict. Bassam’s ideas about Israel are wholly
different than my own. However, to meet a man who has known hardship that I
can not even fathom, who has endured torture in prison and has lost a child
and still works for a resolution through non-violent means was a testament
to the strength of the human spirit. While I disagreed with things that
Bassam said I learned a valuable lesson from him: that giving up is simply
not an option.

There were many other aspects to our 2 day stay in Bethlehem. Some of
them included home hospitality which included some delicious homemade
apricot jam and an offer of chicken livers that our hostess made especially
“for a healthy baby”. We met some teenagers that are involved with a youth
movement that teaches about non-violent resistance, heard other people’s
personal narratives, visited a home that has been destroyed twice by Israeli
bulldozers and heard from its owners about their situation living in a
village that is completely surrounded by the wall. We met a woman whose
anger and frustration is so real and palpable that it moved me tears. We met
with and heard a political presentation from Dr. Nabil Abuznaid, Deputy Head
of PLO Mission to the US who told us that when he gets discouraged he reads
Rabin’s speech that he gave the night he was killed. Dr. Abuznaid told that
we all lost a great leader in Rabin.

The name of the organization that runs this trip is called Encounters. We
did not go to Bethlehem to dialogue, debate, or reconcile. We went to
Bethlehem simply to Encounter the city and people of Bethlehem. We went to
see their lives and hear their stories. Sadly today it is harder and harder
for Israelis and Palestinians to simply “encounter” one another since
crossing from one side of the wall to the other is illegal for Israelis and
almost impossible for many Palestinians.

I left these days with myriad questions, conflicted feelings, feelings of
hope and despair, and confusion.

The Jewish tradition teaches us that often times questions are more
important than answers. People are drawn to Judaism because we have a long
tradition of asking questions and are encouraged to do so. However, I think
that we often forget to or are afraid to ask the hard questions when it
comes to Israel. I think we forget that we are able to love a land and what
it stands for while still being critical of it.

The most important part of this trip for me was that it opened my eyes wide
enough to be able to see past myself, my community, and my side of the wall.
Now when I look out at the Separation Barrier from my parent’s porch I have
an idea of what it looks like on the other side and I wonder about the
people who live there. That wall and all that it stands for has important
implications for those of us living on both sides of it and I think we do
ourselves and the country we care about so deeply a disservice by not
thinking about what that wall really means.

Hope you all are happy and healthy,
Rebecca Krasner

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