Today was a hard day, I have to admit. Bethlehem was not what I expected at all and I’m left feeling a bit sad after being there.

We began our day at Augusta Victoria Hospital, which is a hospital that cares for Palestinian refugees in Jerusalem. The church itself was gorgeous. It was built in 1898 by the emperor of Germany for his wife Victoria.

The hospital has on oncology unit for adults and children, a surgical center and a long-term care/skilled nursing unit. I think there are more units, but those are the units our tour guide from the hospital spoke about the most. William was the hospital administrator who was our tour guide. He said many patients come from the Gaza Strip to receive cancer treatments or other treatments. He also said they suffer from psycho social problems because of the conflict here.

The hospital doesn’t only treat refugees. Palestinians do have Palestinian National Insurance, which is their national health care, and they are treated at the hospital.

While we were taking our tour a child with lymphatic cancer stood in the hallway with his mother. He was so adorable. A nurse said the doctor had given him permission to leave for 10 days and then come back for his next treatment. But his mother was afraid to leave for fear that they wouldn’t be let back into Jerusalem from the Gaza Strip. So she and the child stayed in the hospital while her husband and other child remain in Gaza.

We learned today that it is very difficult for Palestinians to travel throughout Israel. Raed said they have to have many forms of identification and must have special permission, such as a work permit. It can often take hours for them to get to work because of all the check points they must go through.

After the hospital we traveled to Bethlehem. In order to get into Bethlehem we had to go through a check point because it is occupied territory in the West Bank. The huge wall that surrounds Bethlehem and the armed guards at the check point made it feel sort of tense going into the city. I didn’t expect it to feel that way. There just seemed to be a sadness there. I don’t know how to explain it.

We then went to the Dheisheh Refugee Camp. 12,000 people live in the camp, which is less than half a square kilometer (1/3-square mile). People who live there come from 56 different villages that were destroyed.

Refugees have no rights as citizens, they are treated as guests, according to Jihad, the refugee who showed us around and talked to us about the camp.

Walking through the camp it was obvious that the people were living in terrible conditions. The homes are side by side and there was trash in the walkways between the homes. Many don’t have adequate water, sanitation or electricity. Jihad said 64 percent of the people who live there are unemployed. Finding work in Bethlehem is difficult and most of the refugees are not allowed to leave the city. He said some people who were engineers or teachers are forced to find work as taxi drivers or other entry level jobs.

The most devastating part of the visit was seeing the children playing in the trash-littered streets. It was incredibly heartbreaking. They do have a culture center that works to help young people in the camp develop leadership skills and works to educate the public about the Palestinian regugee issue. To learn more or to donate to the refugee camp go to www.ibdaa194.org.

Next we went to the International Center of Bethlehem. Here we learned more about the country’s conflict from the Palestinian perspective from Rev. Mitri Raheb. He said there are five keys to understanding the conflict.

In the holy land there are too many processes for peace and not enough peace, he said. “We have never been as far from peace as we are today,” Raheb said. He discussed the two-state solution that many have supported, including the U.S., and said there is no way it can work.

He also said there is too much politics and not enough care for the cities. “We get politics in the morning, we get politics for lunch and we get politics for dinner,” he said.

The third key to understanding the conflict is that there is too much religion and not enough spirituality in Israel. Everywhere you go in Israel who see religion. You see Muslim women with their heads covered and you see Orthodox Jewish men with there beards, curly hair and black hats. He said these things have nothing to do with spirituality.

Just a side note, there is a lot of tension between everyone and the Orthodox Jews. Orthodox Jews believe the men should dedicate their lives to the Torah. Orthodox Jewish men are the men who wear all black, have beards, have those curly side hair things going on and wear black hats. The women dress very conservatively as well. The men don’t work and they refuse to join the army. “The Torah is their task,” Raed said. The women work to support the household. But they have a lot of children and often have to rely on the government for services. Many consider them to be a burden on society. They also don’t have sex for pleasure, just for reproduction. But men are permitted to seek prostitutes for sexual pleasure.

Anyway, Raheb also said the Holy Land receives too much humanitarian aid and not enough empowering aid. He said the conflict has nothing to do with humanitarian issues, it’s a political crisis. For the past 60 years countries from all over the world have been providing humanitarian aid to Israel and none for empowering the people here. The wall that surrounds Bethlehem cost $3 billion and was paid for in part by U.S. dollars (your tax money).

The last point Raheb made was that there is too much passion in the conflict and not enough compassion for the people here. For more information on the International Center of Bethlehem or to donate to the organization go to www.annadwa.org.

After hearing first hand about both sides of the conflict during this trip I feel more confused.

This was all before lunch! I was mentally exhausted by the time we started our sightseeing in the afternoon.

We spent the afternoon visiting holy sites in Bethlehem but I’m going to have to keep you in suspense. I’m exhausted and need to get some sleep. I will write about seeing the Church of the Nativity, which is the oldest church in the world and the birthplace of Jesus, and Shepherds Fields. Tomorrow we will visit lots of holy sites in Jerusalem so my post tomorrow will cover all the holy stuff.

I do want to mention our amazing dinner at The Tent. The food was delicious and we got a nice dance from Becky and Gary.

  • How sad for the people of Israel, regardless of what you believe.

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