Annual Earthstewards Gathering 2005

Harry Troelstra from the Netherlands, one of the key organizers for the PeaceTrees/Gathering in Bethlehem has been keeping a diary since his arrival in Bethlehem. Here are those entries on a daily basis.

Thank you, Harry, for bringing this event home to so many of us who dearly wish we could be there physically, but for many reasons are not able to attend. You know our hearts and prayers are with you all.

July 23th, 2005

Dear Friend,

My computer was safely locked up in the office yesterday so I couldn't write my letter to you last night. So it will be a bit harder to recollect my memories of yet another day full of impressions. The upside of it is that I already have had the opportunity of spending a quiet Sunday morning (I have actually sat down and read a few pages in one of my books!). And I had the time to think about what the day yesterday was all about. It was meals and stories. I will still try and tell it as if it is Saturday.

Dear Friend, I must warn you. The stories that were told during dinner were horrible. I have asked myself if I should write something about it or not. And I feel I need to, I need just to tell them so I can move on… But please, feel free not to read them. Just stop reading after you reach the part of my letter were I tell you about Martin's performance.

But first things first: we started the day with a group of people from ICAHD (Israeli Coalition Against House Demolition, an organisation that rebuilds demolished houses). They helped us planting the first olive trees on the land of a farmer lining next to the school. We now know, from experience that the hills here are almost made of just solid rock. But again we did it, we planted something like 50 trees. And afterwards another 20 in the school garden next to the ones that were planted during the opening ceremony on Monday.

One thing really struck me during that last part of the morning. The ICAHD people, mostly (or all?) Americans, really spent a great amount of energy in photographing or videoing their tree planting. Lengthy and solemn speeches were held and registered so people back home will be able to witness what went on here.

To my main theme of the day: meals. I had four of them during the day—one breakfast, two lunches and a dinner. I am starting to ask myself questions like will the custom officers here in Israel and back home in the Netherlands be able to see the resemblance between the person in my passport and me? I do hope so because I long for a real Dutch rainy day.

Why did I have two lunches? Well that is a complicated story. I had an appointment with a staff member of the school to go and visit her and her family in her home in a village south of Bethlehem and halfway to Hebron. My understanding of it was that it would be an after lunch and before dinner visit. But then others of our group were invited and they discussed lunch with her, all of this without including me in their agreements. But at the time we were supposed to leave to go there (which was after lunch) those others came over to me and said they wouldn't make it. So I travelled alone, that is I was the only one being picked up by her husband at the roadblock next to the school. A quick and fast ride down south brought us to their home were I met their three year old daughter Serena. She is a very happy and joyful child. And the four of us had lunch.

In the Arabic culture it is so that when you invite someone for a meal you make sure there is more food then can possibly be eaten. A good and safe thing to do is make sure you have food for fourteen if you expect seven to sit at the table. We enjoyed a wonderful and very typical meal of rice, a vegetable sauce and chicken. And of course the meal ended with fresh fruit plucked from the trees in the fields around the village. And last but not least there was the tasteful Arabic coffee.

After lunch we drove further south to Hebron. The scenery out there is beautiful with all the vineyards and the many fruit trees. It is such a pity that watchtowers and roadblocks at the entrance of each village or town destroy so much of this beautiful view. In Hebron we paid a short visit at a glass factory where two men were producing handmade glasses with great skill. And then we sat in a café smoking the water pipe and talked. We forgot the time and had to rush out so I would be back in time at the school. Thank you my Palestinian friends, Naisreen and Mohammed, for this beautiful afternoon!

I arrived just in time at the school to go with all others to the square next to the Nativity Church where Martin gave his world famous juggling performance. Many kids were sitting in the front row enjoying and not missing anything that happened.

And then we drove by taxi to Fatem and her family's house. Fatem is a woman who spent the first twenty years of her life in Germany (her parents moved their when she was two months old) and returned to Palestine thirty years ago. She served all of us — the international group — a traditional Couscous meal.

And she told us stories about her life, about how it is to live through two Intifadas, what it means to be a mother when your son of ten wants to go out and throw stones alongside his friends. Or how it is to help your neighbours find what is left of their son after he was hit by a shell from a tank (nothing bigger then a piece of ten centimetres). Or what to say to the parent of another young man who was so unfortunate to loose one arm after being hit by a shell. Or how it is to go on when every night, when you want to sleep, this image of this dead small child that was shot in the belly comes back.

And she shared with us her struggle not to only hate the other for all the injustice done. Injustice like the garden that has been in the family of her husband for many generations (a garden with fruit trees of all kinds, a small paradise of 4,000 square metres) that will be taken from them in the next couple of months to build that horrible Wall.

She asked us: why isn't anyone doing something to stop all this violence and make this injustice come to an end. Because when it continues there will always be young, desperate individuals or groups (from anywhere in the Arabic world) who think that an act of terror is justified. So, please, USA and Europe help make the Middle East a safe place!

Salaam, shalom,

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