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.



Miracle needed !

Dear Friend,

This time I am not sending you a report about my adventures over here. This time I need your help.

The Hope Flowers School is, as you know, a four-story building. And it stands on a hill. The playground is lower then the fist floor. So are quite a few of the classrooms.

I mentioned to you that we have one disabled participant in the group. But I know that among the school kids there will be more since it is the schools policy to integrated disabled children as well.

And although the first floor and playground area are made accessible for people in wheelchairs, the rest of the building is not. Everyone just has to use the stairs. That does not feel right.

I think it would be a great improvement if the school would have an elevator. A thought that of course has came up before. So it was easy to put a price tag on this, it is $40.000.

Now this is what I need your help for. What ideas do you have to get that sum of money for the Hope Flowers School? As you know I will greatly appreciate your ideas on this.

Greetings,
Harry

July 27th, 2005

Wednesday and I have been here now for two weeks. It is all going so fast! The schedule says we are going to have a sort of routine day again today. New is that the touristy tours for Earthstewards start today as well. Many of the internationals will go to Hebron today, sightseeing.

So at eight thirty the place is almost deserted, the touring group is gone and a few others went to the Al Khader road with the youngsters to start digging holes. Just three internationals, two volunteers and an Israeli young woman, Anne*, that stayed for two nights are waiting here for Ibrahim to come with the mini-bus so we can transport plants to the road.

And then a row of Israeli military vehicles showed up on the settler's road behind the school. Most cars were personal vehicles. And there were two huge trucks: transporting a bulldozer and a huge demolition machine (a motorized sledge hammer).

From the roof we watched how the soldiers made sure the people there had left their home and took their belongings with them. Then the machine drove towards the house and started its work. The house that was destroyed in maybe ten minutes. Later its inhabitants told me they had lived there for thirty years, always improving the place when money was available.

From then on all happened at the same time and at several places in synchronicity. So I am not sure my report will be fully accurate. But my Friend, I think you will get a good feeling what happened.

Ibrahim appeared. After a short conversation with him I went to pick up the people working on the road. It was there I learned only five youngsters had come this morning. We saw all others later protesting.

I went up the roof again with the internationals I had picked up. New was that soldiers were trying to stop people to walk from Al Khader to where the houses were being destroyed.

The two who went with me to the roof were still there, one of them being Anne. I found her hiding in a corner, crying. The reality of what is going on here is so much harder then the stories, newspaper or television reports. And witnessing soldiers of your own country destroying homes of innocent people you care for must be incredibly painful. Anne proved to be brave and capable of giving support to a young Palestinian woman that had just lost her house. She was my hero of this sad day.

We (Ibrahim and all internationals at the school) decided we would walk to where the demolition was going on. So we climbed the roadblock and at first joined a large group of Palestinians watching from a distance. Then we moved closer to where the soldiers were still stopping Palestinians from walking to the place of the demolition. The tension there was at moments high. But after a while, because nothing changed, most Palestinians moved back and so did we. Ibrahim said he would even go back to school.

While I walked from the distant onlookers to the soldiers and back a few times (sometimes trying to get internationals or youngsters of our group to get away there), Anne kept her distance. She didn't want to get too close to the soldiers not knowing what the response would be if an Israeli would be. She hid within a large group of Palestinians. Being scared at the same time (I would have been terrified if I had been an Israeli).

So things were quiet on the road while at a distance the preparations for the demolition of the next house progressed.

And then a large Palestinian group (officials, a flag) was formed and walked down towards the soldiers blocking the road. The intention was clearly to just walk through. Military activity everywhere, additional vehicles moved towards the group. And although it looked as if the blockade was 'over-walked', it didn't happen. The blockade was strengthened and stayed there strong until all was over.

Later I learned that four or five of our group were actually at the scene of the houses. They were there when a seventy-year-old woman, after being physically harassed by the soldiers, threw a stone. An action that was taken over by kids immediately. Soldiers responding by armouring their guns. Some of the internationals stepped in the middle, helping mothers to stop the kids throwing stones and preventing the soldiers from shooting. Again, the incident quieted down.

And so the demolition was finished. A job executed efficiently. A reality created before the Supreme Court can decide about the legality of it in September. Again the western notion of ownership and its legal consequences won over the tribal notion of land, handed over from generation to generation to take care for. A western victory based on force.

It was incredible to see how many peace activists arrived at the scene during the day (the morning to be precise). A good and important thing because something like this has to be witnessed. I found it shocking to hear (it was only verbal) how aggressive peace activists can be.

The individual Israeli soldiers (there seemed to be only soldiers there, no officers) restrained themselves very well. These men must be trained very well. If only there government would give them something else to do.

After everyone was gone I walked over to the demolished houses together with Anne. At the first house we were invited to sit on the remains of the house with the whole family. A man, his two wives and twelve children used to live there. They were all there, in shock. The asked us to tell what happened in the USA and Europe. I didn't really know what to say or to do.

We walked over to the other house. A young couple was, in the middle of this large pile of rubbish, washing clothes. They welcomed us and told us that they have four children (ages 6 months to 6 years). And they told us that he had been out of a job for three years (his permit to work in the settlement was taken from him).

This conversation was in Arabic I think. Although I heard Anne say she was Israeli and so it could have been Hebrew to. She and the Palestinian woman were standing there, holding each other's hand, looking each other in the eyes, sometimes smiling, both crying.

As I said, Anne was my hero of the day.

Harry

*Anne is not her real name. Israeli are not supposed to be here, so I just used Anne

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