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 26th, 2005

Dear Friend,

Just looking at the programme of today would give you the impression that this would be just a routine day. We had scheduled tree planting in the morning, the second part of the workshop on Gender for Boys and girls and a presentation in the evening. It was to be a routine day in the greater scheme of the Peace Trees project. And because we are here, in Palestine, some disturbances were to be expected.

But for me this became a day that had a new, strange and worrying dimension. I can't remember to have been so tired, so exhausted ever before. And that exhaustion was there right at the start of the day and only became worse. So it was difficult for me to focus, to concentrate or to find the strength to continue if something didn't go so well.

So I had a day with a different, sometimes funny but mostly ghastly perspective. And I am afraid it will show in this letter.

Well, time to start my report of the day. We planted trees and we did well again. Looking at the small plants that are still standing at the school I guess we have planted at least 1200 hundred of them in total. Twelve hundred holes were dug in the middle of the road, two rows one on each side, about 50 cm metres apart, so we must have covered about 300 hundred metres of road. I will check this tomorrow.

And again the television crew was there: have you seen anything on television about a bunch of crazy people planting trees along a road on the West Bank? The people living and working around helped us with watering the plants and by giving us coffee or tea.

One thing was worrying though. Someone told me the expectation of the people there is that within one year the plants will be destroyed. They think that when there will be tanks in the street again, one of them will drive over the plants.

Well, I can just hope that this horrible image will not keep them from taking care of the plants. In the afternoon I hopped in and out of the workshop. My lack of concentration and my low tolerance level just made it too hard for me. And by doing so I gave my friends who were struggling to keep 25 young people involved an even harder time.

Around dinnertime something beautiful happened. I have decided sometime in the last 24 hours that I will travel back home in two steps. I want to spend one night in Israel. I am hoping to meet a few Israelis. What I am hoping for is that this will help me shift my perspective on the situation here. Right now I know I am biased towards the Palestinian point of view and I do not want to see Israeli as aggressors only. And what happened? We got company again; a young Israeli woman just came to visit us. And she is not afraid, just curious. She struggles with all the Big Questions here but accepts that there is no easy answer. Zohar, I am happy you came along!

In the evening Amer gave a presentation. Amer is connected to the school working with the kids on for instance Art projects. The reason we asked him to come was that Amer is the brother of a suicide bomber. He brought along a video made during the start of the second Intifada by a Japanese camera crew he worked for. We saw tanks in the streets of the Dheisha refugee camp and as a contras young people working at an Art project on the UN premises next to the camp. What we saw of the fighting was an unequal battle between children throwing stones and tanks and soldiers shooting.

After Amer's brother had killed himself (and others) nothing happened for two years. But then the Israelis came and destroyed the house in which Amer's family lived.

An incident ended the day. Suddenly it became clear that one of the international youngsters was missing. And it took awhile to find the adult that actually knew where she was. And she was back here half an hour later. Happy end!


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