Having grown up with the Nativity story, I find it difficult to deal with the present day reality of Bethlehem. Saturday we met our guide, Faraj, a deacon of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, at a spot called “Mt. Everest,” looking down into Bethlehem and its surroundings. From there we could see much of the town itself, its houses old, new, and half-built, the separation wall snaking its way across the valley, the settlements, the road for settlers with the overhang to protect their cars from rock throwing.
We were invited into the Omar Mosque at Manger Square, where the mua’zzin, who calls the people to prayer five times daily, explained the rituals of the mosque. We bent low as one must do to enter the Nativity Church. Why is the door so low? Is it a sign of piety or because the Ottomans didn’t want animals to enter?
We waited with others in the church, which is Greek Orthodox, heard the Franciscans chant as they began their daily walk through the Nativity Grotto, and after a long wait descended into that famous grotto. This is part of the Bethlehem of today and the one we tourists know best.
Earlier on this blog I wrote about Palestinian refugees. So not surprisingly, for me, it was Abdelfattah Abusrour, founder of Alrowwad (http://alrowwadusa.org/), a cultural and theatre training center at the Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem, who gave life to the Palestinian narrative.
Aida in Arabic means “the one who shall return.” To enter the camp, you drive under an arch
with a huge key overhead – the symbol of the refugees’ desire to return to the homes from which they were evicted during and after the 1948 war. It is this “naqba” – catastrophe – that is essential to the Palestinian narrative.
Aida is one of 58 Palestinian refugee camps. This one in the shadow of the security wall. Two-thirds of the 6,000 inhabitants, living in just 10 acres, are under 18. Abusrour wanted to build a place “where children could grow up and be proud.” He did not want to walk in children’s funerals. In our time with him, he did not refer to non-violent resistance, but instead to a “beautiful resistance” wherein young people through the arts can find peace within and so can make peace outside. His program is impressive, very much so, but as long as the Occupation continues, as education is limited and opportunities are few for these young people, he will need all the help he can get.
As we walked to our bus, teenagers were throwing stones at the separation wall – a hopeless act against a concrete wall that is 25 feet high. When we got to the bus, the Palestinian police had arrived.