Thursday, July 8, 2010


I am writing this at Bet She’an, which is a small town in the Jordan River Valley with a long history and also a huge archaeological site. I left Bethlehem and rejoined the professor yesterday, but I still have a few things to write about to complete the time spent in Bethlehem. The professor and the group of other professors are off looking at the archaeological site and I am sitting in the shade writing. My first observation is the change in the atmosphere. There is no dust. I didn’t realize how dusty everything was in Bethlehem. Most of the time my hands felt dirty and there was no use cleaning my computer screen because it would just be dusty again in a few minutes. Bet She’an is at a higher elevation and not near the desert. It is also not as dry.

Monday, July 5 was my ‘second to last’ day in Bethlehem and it seems like we did more things than usual because of the lack of time. I wrote in my last blog post about growing up in Bethlehem because I had a chance to listen to a group of about 15 young people (high school aged?). I asked questions and they talked about their lives and hopes for the future.

One story that really stuck with me was the story of one of the teenagers. Her mother was the one who took us on the driving tour I describe below. She has Jerusalem residency. It is where she grew up and her family lives there. Her husband is from Bethlehem and is a resident of the West Bank. When they were first married that was no problem and they lived together and had six children. But in the last 10 years or so they have not been able to live together because she has to stay in Jerusalem or she will lose her residency there. With residency she has permission to travel back and forth in both Jerusalem and Bethlehem, but she can only be in Bethlehem during the day. Her husband and children have to get permission to go to Jerusalem and it is a hassle to get it. Sometimes it is turned down. They have spent years in court trying to get Jerusalem residency for the children so that at least they can stay with their mother. Recently they were very happy that the two youngest of the six were given residency. I cannot imagine trying to raise a family from two cities and not being able to go back and forth easily. The easiest thing would be for the mother to give up her Jerusalem residency, but that seems so wrong to me. Only a 15 -20 minute drive separate the family, but they are a world apart.

My friend took us on a driving tour of several settlements around Bethlehem. A settlement is a place where Israel is building apartments and houses and moving people into them.  The issue is that many of the settlements are taking land from the West Bank, especially around Jerusalem. There are 23 settlements around Bethlehem and 121 settlements in all of the West Bank (according to Wikipedia I am posting a few pictures here so you can see what they are like. They are permanent structures where very nice people live. There are schools and playgrounds. They are affordable for people to move into and Jerusalem is very crowded. The pictures show the Taxis at the Bethlehem side of the wall.

The problem is that they are built on land that does not belong to Israel. The land they are building on usually was Palestinian pastureland for their goats or agricultural area where they had olive trees or other crops. The rule (reported to me as coming from Israel) is that if the land has not been used in 3 years it is up for grabs and Israel can build on it.  However, shepherds are hassled and arrested and the water is controlled, so farmers are not able to water their crops. People have to get permits to build and most of them are denied. There was a lot of new construction in the settlements I saw. Sometimes Palestinians are compensated for their land, but most often it is just declared unused and built on. 

More people means more demand for the scarce resource of water.  I noticed that in the settlements there are no water tanks on the roofs. Water can be counted on and so there is no need to have a back up tank on the roof. I can feel how frustrating it is for people in Bethlehem to see these settlements beginning to surround the city when they are losing their livelihoods and their land and regularly have problems with the lack of water.

I hope you understand that I am writing this from the perspective of someone who has many friends on the West Bank and not for political reasons. The issues seem so obvious and yet I know that there are two sides to everything. If you are reading this and have some comments to make about other sides of the issue they are welcome. Please help me understand what is happening. 

I never felt in danger when in Bethlehem (except maybe from crazy drivers and I have felt that in many cities!). If you have a chance you should come visit and see for yourself. There are a lot of beautiful and interesting things in the West Bank cities and people are so hospitable and welcoming. It is also hard to understand the situation without seeing it.

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