Friday, July 20, 2012

How Can I Keep From Singing? Palestine

A mural at Dehashem Refugee camp. 

Never have I been to a place so profoundly hopeful and devastating. I began my trip to Bethlehem by visiting a refugee camp, which tore apart all the expectations of poverty and hopelessness I hold with this place. Dehashema refugee camp began as a tent city decades ago, and now blends easily in with Bethlehem – a neighborhood decorated with murals and scattered with schools, shops and medical care centers. A cultural center proudly displayed trophies won by the camp sports teams, and advertised social services and psychological care. No where were the starving children scratching in the dust – the camp was not home to victims. As I wandered between apartment buildings and chatted to curious children I was struck by the reality of the place. Everyone here had been through incredible hardship, but supermarkets open, children go to school, people met married. A powerful reminder of the strength of human resilience.

Many of you know I want to work with refugees, hopefully in psychological care. It seems a dream most days, but today I saw a model of my future. It has never been so real.

Then I went to the wall. The wall between Israel and Palestine creeps, ugly and imposing against the edge of town, garages and businesses huddled just yards away from the angry concrete expanse. The amazing thing about the wall is the open gash the graphetti on it show into the soul of Palestine. Slogans of hope blur into images of the dead, bible verses next to commandments to 'burn this wall'. This is Palestine. This odd balance of hope and hatred, the future stalked by a crippling past. A refugee camp that has become a welcoming town. A swastika shakily scrawled on a wall. The smiles and bright eyes of children in my taxi as they play with my bracelets and shyly tell me their names. The furious repetition of the word 'yahud' (Jew) in the Ramadan sermon broadcast over the sleepy town. Bethleham is a mystery, a paradise, a timebomb.

I came to Israel for understanding. I wanted to know why this scrap of sand and stones has caused so much death, so much hatred, and yet is so loved. Every minute in Israel has been amazing, but I leave with more questions than I came with. I only know I want to come back. I want to return to Bethlehem, and walk on the bits of concrete where there once was a wall. I want to tell my children how I saw the wall, and the sinister towers that guard it, but that now – thank god, thank god, thank god, there is peace. Having been to Palestine, I want this future so much it aches. But, having been to Palestine, I do not know if it will ever be.

(Update: I am leaving for Germany tomorrow! I have been adventuring at such a breakneck speed I have not had time to write as much about Israel as I wanted – look for a post about the beautiful Jerusalem in the next few days.)  


  1. Amazing. Thank you for your beautiful, stirring words. Walls go up and walls come down -- as you know, because I have walked on the rubble of a wall just as awful from my young adulthood. What seems static can become fluid, as you know from what you've seen in Egypt in the last 2 years. But this is a tough one. What a blessing it will be for the world when that wall can come down and the two sides embrace reconciliation. May it be in your life time. May it be in mine.

  2. Well done. I to was in europe when there were two sides, I did not make it to the wall, but did see the effects on Prague and Sofia and Yugoslavia. Then the world changed, the change was not all for the better as we dreamed. May people learn to live together in all places.