I’ll be living in a refugee camp for the next month. It’s not what you may consider a refugee camp. Structurally, it is about the size of six American city blocks (2×3), with one main street, a little larger than the width of a car, cutting down the middle. There is a maze of 3-foot-wide alleyways cutting through thirty-foot concrete homes. The concrete is as overwhelming as it sounds, and it is very possible to lose your place within the world, or even within the little city of Bethlehem, when wandering through alleyways decorated with graffiti.
Why is the camp like this? When the people currently living here were forced from their homes in Israel in 1948, they set up this camp. Over the years, the camp has expanded upwards, rather than outwards, due to a lack of land. So my host family’s home was just one story when they first built it, but now it looms over the alleyways, three stories high.
The people are so loving here. The first night, they said, “We have eight people in our family. With you, we now have nine.” But there is a cloud of gloom looming over the household, as my host father’s brother passed away last week.
And this sadness, which is so palpable in our household, lies in the heart of the majority of people here. We laugh anyways. But eight years ago, seven years ago, and even two years ago, there has been war in this place. Children have been killed. Homes destroyed. There are bullet holes on the main street in the camp, and damage from shrapnel dots the storage barrels on our rooftop. The people living here are not permitted to travel beyond the land controlled by Palestine, so they are sequestered to a small portion of the West Bank.
I am sad here. And this will be reflected in my writing. But I challenge you to come with me, and to learn about this remarkable place. Do not avert your eyes and your ears. Listen, ask, know, and love. I hope that you’ll keep in touch with me. I will certainly need your love and support.
PS Please comment and let me know what you would like to hear more about. Tonight I’ll be meeting with a whole gaggle of internationals volunteering for the Summer here in Bethlehem as I am, sharing dinner and having a good night out. Then tomorrow we will have a tour of the Old City of Jerusalem. And on Monday I will start a volunteer placement at the Holy Land Trust (www.holylandtrust.org).
I also have pictures of tanks and troops coming into Bethlehem in 2003, and much to share about my host family. So let me know what you would like to hear about.