Journey with us through our blog during our three week trip throughout Israel and Palestine. Each of us will be blogging about a new place along the way.
In Palestine, today marks the anniversary of the day that Palestinians call the "Nakba", or the "Day of Catastrophe", and that Israelis call "Israeli Independence Day". It was around this time in 1948 that the State of Israel was created, forcing hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to flee their homes and become refugees in different parts of the world. In our conversations with both Israelis and Palestinians, we have learned of the complex emotional ties that the people have to this land.
This morning we visited a refugee camp near Bethlehem, which was not at all like what I was expecting. Some Palestinian refugee camps have been established for so long that many of them have "permanent" housing (that is technically illegal) and a variety of social services such as weekly doctor visits, libraries, community centres and food banks. However, the residents of the camps are under continuous threat of eviction, as many have been.
In the afternoon we visited the Church of the Nativity, the oldest church in Christianity. It's been interesting to see the various peoples that have lived in this land reflected in the architecture; many structures are Ottoman built on top of Crusader built on top of Byzantine built on top of Roman, as the Church of the Nativity is. Sites that are said to be holy are especially contested, as different groups lay their claims to the holy land. To complete our Nativity pilgrimage, we waited in line for 15 minutes to descend into a crowded, damp grotto that is said to be the birthplace of Jesus. Some of us entertained ourselves by singing "The Virgin Mary Had A Baby Boy" as we waited.
Many of us have been disappointed about the lack of women featured in the biblical sites we've visited, and because of this it has long been the ambition of many to visit the famed "Milk Grotto", right around the corner from the church of the Nativity. (For some reason, a high percentage of biblical events occurred in grottos. What even is a grotto anyway?!) Legend has it that Mary's milk fell on the stone, turning it white, and thus many have come to believe that the white stone of the grotto has special powers of fertility. A few hopefuls among us took the opportunity to really jump in to the mythic powers of the grotto. While there, we witnessed the Holy Sisters as they sang their prayers in Latin. Grottos have amazing acoustics.
To continue the milk theme, some of us finished our day with coffee at Starbucks Bethlehem, a completely legal branch of the popular coffee shop.
As we continue to live and learn in the West Bank, we strive to understand how the different groups of people negotiate living in this very small piece of land, and how some are brave enough to imagine peace and speak out in the midst of high tension. - Emily