Hello, Yella blog readers! My name is Riley Bauman and I am a spry little gap year student fresh from the congregation of Elmira Mennonite in Southern Ontario. Already, my highest hopes for our adventure have been achieved through our historic and cultural learning. Yesterday, however, the team flipped over a new page in the reality of the conflict, as we began staying with our Palestinian host families.
After a long drive (and surviving more than a few crazy local drivers), our massive tour bus was waved swiftly through the check point and safely into the West Bank. We were then whisked away in small groups to our incredibly hospitable host families throughout Beit Sahur, a village of Bethlehem. Though each family is Palestinian Christian and living in the same general radius, we soon discovered that there is quite a spectrum. One family has an indoor swimming pool while another goes without water for days. One family consists of young children and a single mom while another is elderly and alone. One family has roots in Beit Sahur centuries deep while another arrived as a result of recent displacement.
Nevertheless, each home is feeling the effects of Israeli occupation and has far too many stories of suffering to prove it. We hear of women who fear that reaching down to calm her children before crossing a checkpoint invites gunfire. We hear of teenage boys’ cars being unfairly impounded for supposedly crossing a white line. Yet we remember that we are visiting and we can leave whenever we please. This is the reality for our host families. We are filled with an intense cocktail of emotions but are inspired by the sense of hope that seems to prevail. We have already laughed along to some universally hilarious “dad” jokes, played wild games with the children and drank way too much tea. Indescribable gratitude.
Today (May 15), businesses, schools and attractions are all closed due to the local Palestinian strike. The streets are eerily quiet as the community commemorates 70 years of occupation and watches as the US embassy is moved to Jerusalem. It is incomprehensible that we are witnessing history being made. What social implications are to follow?
Though we practiced our flexibility a little with the closures, the team still got some great sight-seeing in as we visited Bethlehem, the Nativity Church and Herodion. We have yet to lose interest in seeing good ol’ first century cisterns or impressively bedazzled churches. It always goes down well with a healthy dose of wise words from Derek!
Finally, our minds and hearts were thoroughly challenged as we were presented with two very contrasting views of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Both individuals were evidently passionate, well-educated leaders. Already we have more questions than answers, but, together we are trying our best to unpack the perspectives.
Thank you for following along! We are so thankful for your continual support, prayer and conversation!