Holy Land Diary (i) refugee camp by Bethlehem

Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem

Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem

A Pax Christi delegation from England is visiting the Holy Land this week. Pat Gaffney, General Secretary has sent this letter from Bethhelem.

The checkpoint gate was closed when we arrived at Bethlehem on Monday evening.  After our drive from Tel Aviv, this should have been the last part of our journey, through the tourist gate of the huge terminal/checkpoint that divides Bethlehem from Israel.  But the gate was closed - no one could come in or out.  So, like many Palestinians we had to make a detour, luckily for us not too far, and enter Bethlehem from another route via Bet Sahour.  This is the reality for many Palestinians who try to make this daily journey, a welcome to our party of 25 Pax Christi members who are spending eight days in the West Bank visiting communities, NGOs and projects throughout the region.

Our first full day began with a visit to the Holy Land Trust to hear their dynamic leader, Sami Awad speak about their efforts in nonviolent peacemaking and training.  Then a tour of the outskirts of Bethlehem so see the layout of settlements, the separation wall and bypass roads that are gradually enclosing the town of Bethlehem.  

The Aidia Refugee Camp was our afternoon visit.  Established in 1948 with refugees from 27 Palestinian villages that were destroyed in the Nabka, this is now home to 5,000 people.  We were show the area where they had hoped to 'host' the Pope on his visit last year... an area near the wall where he was due to celebrate Mass and speak... but the Israeli authorities, afraid that the Wall as a backdrop to this event would attract adverse publicity, refused permission and the event was moved to a UN school.  We were hosted by a youth group in the camp run by the Lagee centre.  An inspiring place that is open to children and young people offering creative opportunities for them to express themselves through art, photography, drama and writing.. giving opportunities not found elsewhere in a camp that is crowded and limited in resources.  

At the end of the afternoon we feel as though we have been here for weeks we have seen and heard so much and as one of our number said, everyone we meet has a story and every story has such history and depth... how can we do justice to them all.  but this is what we must try to do. to listen and to take away the stories and the demands they make of those of us who have the freedom to move and speak whenever we wish.

tomorrow, Hebron.

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