Day 31: International Center, Health and Wellness Center, Star Street, Church of the Nativity, Palestinian/Swedish Concert, Refugee Camp
Woke up this morning early to pack and get ready to depart for Bethlehem. As we were leaving, we passed a bunch of police with barricades set up at the entrance of the Lion’s Gate. Immediately I thought, “Okay… did I miss something?”
As it turns out, yesterday was Dome of the Rock day (or maybe today is, I don’t know). Either way, there were a TON of fireworks going off last night all over the city. Considering we are only two blocks away from the Dome of the Rock, and we were right in the middle of the Moslem Corridor, we got to see all the action.
Apparently in response to the Dome of the Rock day and all the fireworks going off, a bunch of Orthodox Jews decided to march and parade around the city at night in honor of rebuilding the Third Temple. (If you don’t know history, the Dome of the Rock is sitting right where the Temple should be.) Obviously, you can see where conflict starts.
Thankfully, there were no confrontations, nothing really happened, but the police were still on guard today just in case. It’s just your average day in Jerusalem.
We just got back from a Swedish and Palestinian concert, which was pretty intense. Today was very eye opening into Palestinian life. We got to see first hand the effects of Israeli oppression on the Palestinian people. Here are a list of some actual things Israel has done or is doing to Palestine:
- Since Israel owns the water, they only allow a certain amount of water into Palestine and charge an ungodly amount for it. One lady said she has gone without water at her house for twenty days now this summer because they simply shut off her water.
- In the 90’s, Israel banned books from Palestine and would perform police searches each night to make sure they didn’t have any books in their houses. One man said he had to hide a book under the dirt outside his house each day so they wouldn’t take his book.
- Certain books are banned from Palestine all together and any Palestinian entering the country with the book has it immediately confiscated.
- Israelis are forbidden from entering Palestinian cities.
- Israel spent $3.3 billion to build a wall around Bethlehem to divide Jerusalem and Bethlehem to keep the Palestinians out.
- Not only do Palestinians have to pay taxes to Palestine to keep it functioning, but because they are currently occupied by Israel, they have to pay taxes to Israel, which happen to be more than twice as much as Palestine.
- Israeli settlers regularly take land under the justification of “it is not being used by you, so it is ours”.
- Refugee Camps have been set up for fleeing refugees from Jerusalem and surrounding areas who have had their land suddenly taken from them by Israelis
- Many more Palestinians have been forced into ghettos by the Israelis
- In the 1940’s, 70% of the population was Christian in Palestine. Because of the oppression by Israel, the current percentage of Christians is 1.2%. Most of them have fled to Europe and America.
Yet despite all of these setbacks, Palestine still survives. In many ways, it thrives. One of our guides today talked about how she refuses to have the victim mindset, but chooses to believe that God wants them to live an abundant life with what they have. Instead of being defeated and depressed by all the oppression all the time, they try to look on the positive and give hope for the future.
That is why they have built a community center and health center for the people, both non-profit. The International Center, as they call it, brings in people from all over the world to each people arts and skills they can use to make a living. It is a college for them here. Tonight, we saw some Swedes and Palestinians perform. The Swedes have been coming in and giving some music lessons to the Palestinians and then been holding jam sessions all week.
Similarly, the people here have built a health center to help with the social and psychological health of the people. Palestinians have enough hospitals. In fact, they have more hospitals here than they do in New York (while they may not be the same quality, they have more than New York, New York). What they needed was a health center so people could burn off the stress they are feeling from the oppression of Israel.
At the center, they offer Yoga, swimming lessons, work out programs, and psychological counseling. All at a VERY low cost. The idea is that people here can just get away and learn healthy habits that will help them in the long run so they are less stressed overall.
What was amazing tonight was seeing how these people release their stress through music. Several songs tonight dealt with the Palestinian-Israeli problem. These songs were not hateful (I could tell because a few of them were in English). They just expressed their turmoil and discomfort with the situation at hand. I mean, if someone came into your land and kicked you off of it you would be upset too.
All I know is that this place is really changing me. In a good way. I am learning more about how the world works and how to better associate with people of all nations. I am learning how to deal with tough problems like this and how to fix them. I am not saying I have a solution, but at least I am informed now and understand the much bigger picture. I just hope I can convey that picture to everyone else.
Following His Call,