First impressions of Bethlehem and more

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Hi There,

I wasn’t really have prepared me for my move to Bethlehem on Tuesday night of this week after arrangements for being based in Jerusalem for the practice supervision project fell through. I’ve felt shocked, disorientated and out of comfort zone by what it’s like here. Israel feels very powerful, the separation wall which surrounds Bethlehem demonstrates it’s extent. Close up the wall feels really oppressive, sinister, at places it’s so high that it dominates the area which made me feel claustrophobic, possibly like being in prison. As the author Tom Sharpe might have said ‘It’s a blot on the landscape’. When I visited one of the city’s camps called Aida on Wednesday afternoon our guide said he thinks the city had been ‘punished’ more by the wall than elsewhere in Palestine because of continued protects while it was being built. There’d been trouble the previous day with confrontations between Israeli troops and protesters. There was an strong smell in the area, Faisal said a spray had been used by troops which I thought smelt like ‘cow poo.’ He told me the substance has been used elsewhere by the Israeli army and one opinion is that it’s been chemically made for which there’s no current evidence. I heard shots on Friday after midday prayers.
The area where I live has been affected by a 6 week strike by UNWRA (United Nations Work and Rehabilitation Agency for Palestine) workers, with piles of uncollected rubbish on the roadsides. Some nights the rubbish is burnt, at these times there’s an acrid smell of plastic and other substances. Smoke and fires at night make the areas look like an image from hell. The local environment where I’m staying on the Hebron Road in East Bethlehem is degraded, with rubble on vacant plots, some street lights not working road side areas in places not having pavements, high pollution levels and refugee camps which can no longer expand being very crowded. I’m not sure whether road surface improvements paid for by USAID in my area will make a difference because of the high road usage. I’ve found myself frightened crossing roads by dangerous car speeds on the dual carriageway in a crowded urban environment. This impression of the area contrasts with the beauty of the old city which includes the religious sites where roads, pavements and the buildings are well maintained, like different countries.
I’m not sure what the effect of overseas support for the Palestinian cause has over here where Israel is so dominant. It’d be easy to romanticise the friendliness of local people who tell me frequently ‘You’re welcome,’ as if my presence makes a difference. I don’t know how palestinians cope with daily life, maintaining their dignity against Israeli power which humiliates them. There is a chance that continued protests against Israel after Friday prayers are affecting conscript soldiers doing military service in the occupied territories because their training doesn’t prepare them for combat with protestors.
I remember apartheid South Africa where the squalor, deprivation and the environment in what used to be the homelands was similar to Palestine today. I think restrictions on where people lived in South Africa at that time are replicated in Palestine and the occupied territories by permits which restrict people to living in particular areas. What I think is different is the rigour with which Israel punishes harshly anyone for being in an area not covered by their permit. Israel is a much smaller country than South Africa, the separation wall and internal barriers in Palestine enable the above restrictions to be more effective. Pappe in his book refers to Plan Dalet in preparation for clearing large areas of Israel of palestinian communities when it was established. My Guide book, ‘Palestine, the Bradt Guide’ by Sarah Irving suggests that the Zionist ideology created Israel’s current borders. My view is zionism continues to plan and implement continued expansion of Israel into East Jerusalem and Palestine with the dream of re-establishing ‘Eretz Yisrael’ with the same borders as biblical Israel. Events like this on the ground make a two state solution to the conflict more unlikely.
In South Africa a tipping point came when students in Soweto decided in June 1976 that they were no longer willing to accept an inferior education system and apartheid. Their withdrawal from cooperation with a racist system eventually lead to majority rule which may be the way forward for Palestine. There’s a chance that as the oppression levels to maintain the current system increase that more Israeli’s will start to actively oppose the system and see themselves as having joint interests with Palestinian activists in opposing zionism. A ‘Mandela’ like leader may emerge in Palestine to lead negotiations with a more equal power to Israel. Yuri Avneri has campaigned over a long period for a secular Israel with which I agree, I think once zionism loses it’s power over negotiations the potential for peace in Israel and Palestine can increase. The other options to a just peace are more frightening, commentary is easy, action is much more problematic!
I’ve now had 5 responses to my post, one critical of what I’ve written, signing as ‘an Israeli’ I want to adopt an even handed approach to all responses, my general sense is that the response shows as Avneri suggests there’s no agreed account about events before and after the 1948 war, quoting again ‘Many Israeli’s still believe the Palestinians want to throw us into the sea. And many Palestinians think that the Israeli’s want to throw them into the desert’. The responses influence my postings, please continue!
Last but not least I’m feeling more settled in Bethlehem now. I had a great day yesterday in East Jerusalem, El Quds for palestinians with Issa from the Palestine Union of Social Workers and Psychologists which is hosting me here. He gave me a political tour of the area, very interesting with the position of palestinians in East Jerusalem under threat by settler encroachment encouraged by the Israeli government.
Time passes slowly here after work, today I found a palestinian pizza restaurant where I could ‘hang out’ as an ex partner now good friend described it which succeeded. Most of my time there was spent last changes and additions to the post. My practice supervision project is progressing with my first presentation in Hebron, Bethlehem and Jerusalem. I emailed Guy and Rupert in the Palestinian-UK Social Work Network today, describing my supervision model being based on Maoist principles similar to ‘barefoot doctors’ in 1973 when I visited Zambia which had devolved health care provision to village clinics to surgeries where nursing staff were being trained to perform simple surgery like appendectomies. More can be revealed about this supervision approach later, watch this space. Time to send the post, ‘let the good times roll!

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2 thoughts on “First impressions of Bethlehem and more

  1. John Logan

    If you want something to do, call in at the Arab Women’s Union Centre on the corner of Star Street – a museum of the home set 60 or so years ago and also a centre where women earn money for needlework.

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