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 28th, 2005

Dear Friend,

After the tragedy yesterday, the demolition of houses, there was a rumour that the Israelis would be back again today. That did not happen. They will be back though, at a later time. There are at least another eight houses to go and the school's cafeteria.

What happened today and what did I do? The regular programme was tree planting in the morning and there was a tour to Jerusalem in the afternoon. The aim of the tour was to meet 'refusenik': people who do not want to serve in the army. Funny such word, it shows how strong the Russian culture is becoming in Israel.

What did I do? I helped a bit with getting trees to the road again. And then I had my little tour with Ibrahim to moneychangers and the bank. It was time to close the participant fee administration and hand over the money.

What I knew that would happen from the start is now very dominatingly true: there is a huge problem with the cash flow. The sponsor money we collected hasn't been transferred to the school's bank yet and the amount of money we get from the fees is limited. And the school just doesn't have any reserves. But I should not forget that this is a common situation here.

There are so many lessons we can learn from this whole enterprise, the gathering and the Peace Trees project. The first one for me is: we need a quiet and easy gathering next year! I would love to go to Steyerberg again.

After my bank tour I was back at the school, just in time to hook up with the group leaving for Jerusalem. They were travelling with public transportation, something I wanted to do as well. A new adventure!

I will start with a bit of information on the system so you will know what I am talking about. Five NIS (the currency) is about one Euro. And roadblocks usually prevent cars to pass from one area to another (checkpoints can be passed).

To get from the school to where the Palestinian bus number 21 starts for Jerusalem you can travel by taxi. There are two versions: the private one, meaning you hire it and it will bring you wherever you want to go, and the public ones (the large Mercedes variety) which you share. The first sort would cost say 15 NIS, the second one 1,5 NIS per person.

The roadblock at Al Khader is a large taxi and bus and market area. In the middle are concrete blocks that you just walk over (on regular days, not on days the Israelis feel should be closure days).

The number 21 bus will be on the other side waiting at irregular intervals. This as a result of their departure system: when the bus is full, it leaves. This time it left directly after we arrived: a small bus and a larger group of people!

The road is Israeli and new. It was build to connect settlement south of Jerusalem. And it must have been a huge investment: tunnels under Bethlehem areas and huge bridges over it. And there is a checkpoint. Cars with Israeli plates just pass but a bus with Palestinian plates is checked. It is mainly a passport and work permit check. So internationals wave with their passport, the documents of Palestinians are checked and checked again. I recall reading about similar things happening in the Netherlands in the middle of the twentieth century. It is sad and humiliating.

Bus 21 passes Jaffa gate and ends at Damascus gate (both are gates into the Old City of Jerusalem). So a great bus service!

I met my new friend Anna (remember her from yesterday's letter) and a friend of hers at Damascus gate. After walking around for a bit (getting lost basically) we drove by taxi to the Hebrew University. The arts department organises a yearly exhibition of work by its students. It was video and animation and photographs and more. It was a huge exhibition and I had so little time.

I drove back on an Israeli bus to Damascus gate (5,5 NIS for a short ride) and got on the bus 21 again.

No need to tell you about what happened when the passport and permits were checked at a bus stop. I think you can imagine it.

This is all for now. Time to go to sleep!


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