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Holy Land Trust

January 21, 2008 - Monday morning. Osama is a young man who is 23 and lives with his mother. They are my host family; feeding me and seeing to all my needs. He took me to the office of Holy Land Trust, the organization that has coordinated my time here. (See Shannon Lemmons went with me to Poland and after seeing the string at work, contacted her friend Elias here in Palestine. Elias #1 (Elias Ghareeb) is director of Holy Land Trust, a non profit organization whose purpose is to get the Palestinian story out to the world. He gave Elias#2 (Elias Deis) the job of organizing my time here.

We spent the morning going over my schedule adding some of the contacts that I have made with the dancers, relatives and at the restaurant. These people want me to also go to their school in another city, boy scouts, a woman’s shelter and a Catholic youth group.

We looked at a map of where the wall is being built and where there are settlements and checkpoints. All on Palestinian land. Since Israel was formed in 1948 and then after the 1976 war and the first Intifada in 1989 and the second Interfada in 2001, Palestinian lands have been shrinking.

I’m home for a nap and supper; also some computer work. This evening we are going to an Uncles’ home; the brother of Osama’s father. Family is so important here.


Dar Al-Kalima College, Bethlehem

January 24, 2008 - Wednesday night we had a supper of fried fish, deep fried cauliflower and French fries…all healthy because they were fried in olive oil. We also had tomatoes and pita bread. They had been fixed during Lydia’s 2 hour lunch break so they were room temperature…cold. That is something different from home. I then worked on the computer writing up my day.

About 8, a friend and fellow worker with Osama, George Canawati and his wife and little daughter came over. The daughter was about 1 ½ and every time she looked at me she cried and ran to her mother. By the end of the evening she did wave bye-bye…rather happily. Her mother was very quick to see how each of the string things were made and enjoyed them. George was on the computer and phone. Everyone here has at least one phone and often two; one for Palestine itself and one that covers Israel and the adjoining countries. That one, the Orange one, (Named for the company) is cheaper to use, and they use them. Everyone also has a MyFace internet site and they spend a lot of time checking their own or others. I am talking about the younger generation. The older ones are watching the Arabian soaps.

This morning a taxi picked me up and then picked up Elias to go to the school. Elias left me at the school and I worked with grades 7, 8, 9, and 10 today. They were great. They already knew what to expect and were very anxious to learn. We had a lot of fun. I saved two of my best figures for the 11 and 12th grades but they had exams today and could not come. Oh well, they will learn them from cousins at another school.

Went back to Holy Land Trust and had coffee and checked email. I then went for a walk. It is impossible to keep on the sidewalk because of all the cars and trucks parking there; a lot of walking in the street. Since it was lunch time, I was looking for somewhere to get a sandwich. I saw a version of the word "Subway" and went in. Not the original but a copy.

Inside I saw Elias and his friend Said Zarzar eating. I had met Sareed on the trip to Jericho and at the restaurant. He is a fun loving person, always happy. We ate and then they arranged for me to come home.

Let me talk a minute about Settlements as I see it. From the news, I thought they were a few houses with a fence around them. Actually there are about 28 that are enormous. One, Jabal Abu Bhnem or Har Homa in Hebrew, is on the top of a mountain right next to Bethlehem; modern apartments and buildings of many stories high. There must be 10,000 people living in it. They expect 40,000. A great gated community. It is built on Palestinian land and the Israelis say that to protect it, they build the wall to include it into Jerusalem territory and destroyed all the Palestinian homes near the wall. This one is populated mostly with Russian Jews who get free apartments and a stipend for living there.

When you sit in Bethlehem looking northeast, it is always prominent in your view. Always in their face reminding them of land lost. I have met many Palestinians by now and they all talk of the situation, but I have seen no militants. No one is trying to be a threat or a problem; just people very sad and confused about their situation, trying to go on with their daily life.





Tear Gas

January 25, 2008 - Friday morning. I went to a peaceful demonstration here in Bethlehem to protest the building of the wall; on the Bethlehem side of the barrier.

There were about 400 people and they were carrying signs and chanting. Most of them were Muslim and had a talk by the Imam and prayers. Then we all walked to the line of soldiers and tanks. Things were very controlled. There was one man who was trying to start trouble and get in the face of the soldiers and the Palestinians corralled him quickly and moved him to the back.

We had been there about 45 minutes and were starting to disperse…but not fast enough for the Israeli troops.

They started shooting and throwing tear gas canisters, noise grenades and shock grenades. I was caught in the middle and got a big dose of tear gas. I could not see or breathe. One starts to run just to get away; wherever you can go. You fall and hope you don’t get trampled; running and holding your ears because the noise grenades are so loud.

You try to see and vomit because you can’t breathe. It was horrifying. I made it out of the melee and stopped to try to catch my breath. Then I was running again, because there was more tear gas. I thought that I was a safe distance away and then there was another one behind me.

I am safe now but my eyes still burn and my throat hurts. They told me not to use any water on my face because it will make it blister and burn; wait until tonight. My clothes smell and my Adrenalin is very high. I’m back at the office with a cup of Nescafe now.
It did not seem to me that there was any threat as we were leaving. I don’t understand these tactics. At the line of soldiers there was one who stood on a tank taking video. I held up my sign for him to photograph. Later they are telling me that he was taking photos of people to use later at checkpoints or the airport. Suspected terrorist, I guess.
Well, off to the SOS orphanage to do a program. I feel like I have put in a full day already. I understand a little more just what these people go through in their own land.

Friday evening. I went to SOS Children’s Village-Bethlehem. (  It is an orphanage for 97 children. The organization also runs a school and social services to a number of area families in stress. The kids were great. I did learn that after I showed them something a couple of times to only help the ones that were sitting down. When I wouldn’t help one pulling on my arm, they sat down so Elias or I could help. The administrator that was helping gave them directions in Arabic even though he couldn’t speak English.

I came home for another round of tea. When Osama and Lydia came home they started cooking sabaneh. They are raised dough with either a filling of spinach and green onion with oregano or filled with a tomato and mushroom mixture. Their oven is on the back patio and when they came out they were delicious. We had cut up tomatoes, bread, feta cheese and olives (green and black).

Osama was waiting for a call from a friend so we could go out and visit but he couldn’t find him. Just as well as I am exhausted. I need to get up early to be at a school at 8:00. Osama had to go to the radio station to take care of a problem there for a short time. He just returned and I am going to bed.

Last night, after a good supper of Chicken roast with lots of garlic and rice with a thin soup of spinach and spices to put over the rice, we went to the uncle’s home. Uncle Shareek Ghareeb and aunt Noha have 4 girls and one boy. He owns the restaurant that we ate at the first day and met with friends one evening. He is a very Type A person and to add to that he just quit smoking.

We arrived at the second floor flat just as they were finishing eating. What a lively discussion and lots of try this; homemade bread, hummus, hot dogs and a number of other things that I did not know, but tried. Oh yes, I did recognize the French fries. Then hot sweet tea and lots of talk.

We moved to the living area to watch American wrestling on TV. The women had been embroidering scarves for the church and were giving them the final touches. One of the girls was on the internet and Uncle was back and fourth and into everything. Then he got on the exercise machine…for about 2 minutes. Then we had a sweet mint tea. I was told it is very healthy. We had fruit and then pastries of course. I came home about 10:30. Boy was I tired.


Gunshots in Bethlehem 

January 28, 2008 - Monday morning the taxi picked me up and took me to the Greek Catholic Patriarchate School. I met with 6 classes of 5th to 11th graders. They were lively and one teacher seemed to stir them up more than settle them, but I am a stranger and do not know all of what is going on. It was a good time. I go back to that school again tomorrow and Wednesday. The Principal said that the teachers wanted to meet with me about the string programs. We met during the morning break for about 10 minutes and talked about all the educational benefits that were involved in this activity. They were very appreciative of the programs that I was giving.

I went back to Holy Land Trust for lunch and to settle part of my expenses. Had an Egyptian staple of Spaghetti pasta and elbow macaroni with rice and lentils; very starchy.

At 3:30 we went to Azzah Refugee camp. There are three camps in Bethlehem. This one has about 2,000 people, 48% are children. Boy, were they excited to have something to do. Some of their families have been in this camp since 1948. They are in block housing but it seemed very dingy. The kids loved the string and some of the older ones hung around to learn more and more. Ahmad Al’azzah lives at the camp and works at Holy Land Trust. He took me with him. He was really good with children, getting them together and settled so I could work with them. A taxi then took me home.

Osama, my host, works for PNN the Palestine News Network and came in about 5:30 to tell me there were Israeli soldiers in Bethlehem who had shot at the PNN photographers. They didn’t seem to know why the soldiers were there. Two people were in the hospital. (We later learned that one person was killed.) I thought I had heard shots earlier and have heard some since. I think I will keep a very low profile.

It is sad to think of the children that are in the midst of this. Everyone I have met here seems to be just trying to live out their lives with family and friends.


Greek Catholic Patriarchate School

January 29, 2008 - I started out with a class at 7:50. Actually it was two classes; they put the second grades together. Then I had a 12th grade and then two third grades together then two separate 8th grades. It is a challenge when a teacher does not have control. I can’t override him. The other classes were very eager to learn more and more. When I entered each class in the Jr/Sr High they cheered. They had heard of the "String Man" and were very excited when it was their turn.

The teachers were especially interested in the Bible stories and concepts that were portrayed. A couple of the cousins are in this school and knew many things. They were a "big man on campus". One of the cousins teaches there and Aunt Linda is a social worker that comes every Tuesday. We had a good visit during break time.

I came straight home. They are supposed to have the funeral for the 17 year old that was killed at noon and I thought it prudent to stay away. I will walk to the little store a short ways away and get a snack for lunch.

The rain seems to have stopped and the snow is not here yet. Everyone is expecting to stay home tomorrow because of snow; an event that happens, once every 10 years, or so. We will see.


Beit Fejjar

February 4, 2008 - Monday morning I went back to the Greek Catholic Patriarchate School to do the classes that I missed because of the snow day. They were expecting me and very happy that I could make it. It is so nice to go to a school that I have been to before, because I know where the teacher’s lounge is for tea, and where the toilet is. When there is a language barrier these things are a must. One of the cousins that teach there bought me a very good spinach pastry for morning break No meat because Orthodox lent started today.

Went to Holy Land Trust for lunch; we had chicken sandwiches. They are not Orthodox. Then Elias and Marwan Al’Fararjeh, the HLT field coordinator and I went to Beit Fajjar village. It is the largest village in the Bethlehem district; about 12,000 people. We went to a Center for the community. They have special programs for people young and old. They had gathered some children for me to work with. The kids kept coming in. We ended up with about 60 children and a few adults.

The children in the parochial schools seem more entitled to learning. They are respectful but do have an arrogance, if you will, that seems to say that I am paying for this. Maybe arrogance is too harsh a word. Maybe assurance would be a better term. The children in the village do not have any "attitude". They are so excited to have something new. When I would say, "Quiet", they immediately were ready. They seemed a little better with their hands. Maybe village life gives them more opportunity to use their hands.

Wow, did I have a good time. This is what I came to do. These are the minds that need it the most. They were so eager in such an open way. It is hard to explain, but I loved it.

After over an hour we stopped for tea. Sent the children out and the adults poured in. About 30 in their 20’s and 30’s who work with the children as teachers and aids. They wanted some of this also. I did some new ones with them. I could do some stories with them and we worked through Creation with the strings. It works for the Muslim as well as the Christian and does not step on any toes. They, also, had that openness that is almost able to be touched. We went on and on. They also showed me a couple of their string figures.

I left much richer than I came. I would love to come back and just go to the villages. Marwan seemed to think that would be a great idea. He works with 19 of the villages in the district and can make it happen. What a great thing to look forward to.

The drive back was marred by the view of so many settlements and the presence of the "Wall". There is nowhere you can look and only see Palestine.

The evening was a quiet time at home. Lydia fixed a good dish of noodles and lentils with a plate of fresh onions covered in a great spice combination to eat with it. I went back for seconds. Of course, olives are always on the table.

Well, my time here is closing in. Tomorrow is my last day. Dave