This weekend was a weekend of hearing from youth-which I always like.
We went to a village outside of Bethlehem, Beit Jala, looking forward to seeing the beautiful terraces and sites described in a little tour book we had.
Of course, a lot had changed since that book came out.[settlement and new settler-only road & tunnel in Beit Jala]
As soon as we got out of the taxi, we met a very nice man who owns a coffee shop; he made us accept cups of coffee and water (which I desperately needed by then) and talked to us in Spanish. (He had travelled all around South America).His sons were kind enough to walk us around the whole town, and to tell us stories the whole way. They even invited us into their mosque, which was an enormous honor. These guys were pretty young, but they knew everything about their town, and generously shared stories about family members (a picture of a small monument to a child is below) and town leaders who had been killed during various Intifadas (Palestinian uprisings).
[our tour guides] They told us about times when Israeli soldiers shot and killed someone from their mosque. [these are photos of the mosque where they shot from].
They told us about the new settlement and walls, and about the Israeli army shooting from the settlement into the town, destroying several areas of town so much that the UN had and still has many projects rebuilding historic areas and homes. They took us into a huge house that had been destroyed and occupied by the Israeli army, a house that is now abandoned. The Israeli army shot down into the town from the house.
Beit Jala was beautiful; not easy-beautiful, but beautiful in the midst of turmoil from a painful history (in which, despite the pain, people-like these youth- also understandably have a great deal of pride) and an ongoing occupation.[A sun sets over the new settlements on tops of the terraces of Beit Jala]
After Beit Jala, we joined new friends who work for youth development organizations at their summer camp for youth at the YMCA. (It was oddly familiar to me, having spent way too much time as a camp counselor...) There was going to be music from bands, but it feel through, so what we ended up seeing was amazing poetry, hip hop and traditional music playing from youth-talking about occupation, re-drawn borders, identity and of course, love.
The ride back, through Wadi Nar-a huge and hot valley that ends with a terrible checkpoint-was long, and full of humiliation and hassle for the male passengers in our taxi and the one ahead of us. In these pictures, you can see the Israeli soldier opening each door of the taxi, and then making the men get out-and finally letting them get back in.