Bethlehem week 2-Thoughts from a long distance poster

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Dear All,
As I settle in Bethlehem issues emerge. This week my accommodation focussed me on the dilemma from what to do about problems where I’m staying and how it’s affecting me. Earlier in the week I had problems with having my laundry returned which left me short of clean clothes. I emailed my daughter on Tuesday, telling her,” Today I almost threw the toys out of the cot (with staff) where I’m staying because laundry they’d told me was going to be ready yesterday isn’t done”. With this issue a straight polite (very English!) approach worked and I had my washing the next day. More concerning for me has been that I’ve had no water supply in my room for 6 days now which has made it hard washing and using the loo! There are regular water supply problems in Bethlehem for everyone, a technician has worked the whole week with the supply here, none of the rooms yet have water. It’s now 9pm Palestine time, I’ve returned home, no water yet in my room.

Staff are very apologetic and have provided me with buckets to assist but no solution seems near. I’m losing the wish to even ask what’s happening because I no longer feel the water supply will resume. I’m only going to be here for 2 months, I wonder how Bethlehem residents feel about the problem, do they also feel defeated like me, or get angry, I don’t know. With the regular negative experience that have with Israeli’s is the water problem another sign to them how powerless they are with the water supply which as far as I know doesn’t affect Israeli settlements in the area. Bethlehem now governs itself, I wonder whether the problem affects how they feel about their freedom. I wonder whether it’s just another effect of continued Israeli dominance in Palestine.
I’m starting to consider moving to other accommodation and have made an enquiry about a home stay which will also address an issue about feeling lonely at times because the tariff is Bed, Breakfast and Evening meal. Alternative Tour Group according to my Palestine guide book has been doing home stays since 1990, all the homes they use are paid the same rate and one family member is required to be fluent in English. The Bethlehem Peace Centre starts Arabic classes tomorrow which I’d like to attend, a home stay will give me a chance to practice the language and has the chance of a closer involvement with a palestinian family in more comfortable accommodation than where I am at present. My dilemma is whether seeking such an option questions my commitment to Palestine itself, as I write it my feeling is that I’m realising as I write that I can change arrangements if I want. Issa, with whom I’ve discussed problems where I stay has been clear if I want to move somewhere I’ll feel more comfortable I should do so. Where I had a soup tonight the Casa Nova restaurant their receptionist told me he knows someone who rents out a flat so I’ll consider a home stay and renting.
I’ve had a really social weekend, really touched that Issa and Raed invited me to a meal with their family. I went up to Al Quds (Jerusalem) on Friday morning and while waiting to meet Issa I had a quick walk along an alley just east of Damascus gate along the side of the wall, really pretty in the late winter early morning warmth. When Issa fetched me he drove us onto the Mount of Olives to a Lutheran Church with a high steeple which we climbed to get a view. The Church grounds are already threatened by Israeli expropriation, from the steeple we could see how housing developments east of the Old City are now starting to encircle it and cut it off from Palestine, I was shocked how this can be happening while the USA Secretary of State John Kerry is negotiating what he hopes will be a final Palestine Israeli two state agreement, from the vantage point I can’t imagine there’s any reason for Mahmoud Abbas to agree the plan. On our way towards Jerusalem we stopped at the Mount of Olives viewpoint where I asked Issa to photograph me there because of a picture in the Mendel family album of my father in 1942 on leave from South African Army in Egypt, looking West towards the Old City. From there we visited a suburb called Bethany, probably less than a mile away where Israeli restrictions made the journey take 30 minutes for about 5 miles by road! Before we went to his home for lunch Issa then took me to Jericho to have the experience of being below sea level in a desert like environment, warmer than Al Quds. He wanted to buy Jericho oranges and dates which are the best, unfortunately there weren’t any for sale, he was told they’re mostly sold for export.
After Issa showed me some land he and others he knows have recently bought in Jericho we returned to Al Quds and his home. I’d posed his wife a challenge with what to cook for me because I’m vegetarian, however she made us a delicious feast! While she finished last preparations I gave their oldest child a chance to practice his English with me and he was excellent. I have to write that even though I was hungry there was food left and I was given a food parcel to take home with me which’ll last me a few days. I was impressed the children hadn’t finished the Quality Street chocolates I gave Issa the previous week and I was able to indulge my ‘sweet tooth’ with one chocolate, really moderate for me! I had a great day, returning to where I live appreciating the generosity I’d experienced with Issa and his family.
Think I’ve written enough, will have to write another post about my interesting weekend, more will be revealed about the meal with Raed and other events! It’s 10pm here, I’m really tired after a busy work day. I’ve been listening to a Pete Seeger tribute on BBC Radio 6 which finished with him singing ‘We shall Overcome,’ I remember him singing the song in the late 1960’s, those were the times!
Lastly I’ve put some photo’s to the Add Media function, try it by looking at the Gallery for photos from Palestine, please contact me if you can’t find them.

Regards,

Steve.

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