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 15th, 2005

Dear Friend,

A couple of days ago I already told you about the Israelian watchtower (snipers nest as it is called here). This tower is a few hundred metres away from the school on the west side. From where I'm sitting right now (a meeting room on the fourth floor), I can see it through the window. From that tower there is a road that goes to a settlement southbound. And to the southwest of my current positioning, yet another Israeli military post is situated on a hilltop and it is very much perceptible! Therefore, I guess we're all so 'protected' by the military around us. We were shown an illustration of the geographical situation here that I'm hoping hope to include in my mail today. This will elucidate things for you so you have a better understanding of what is happening here. This illustration includes the future route of the Wall.

I am telling you all of this because the presence of the Israelian military is a constant yet distant factor. They are constantly there but they don't seem to influence daily lives unless you get irritated. Irritated by the fact that the settlement looks like a Christmas tree at night (and electricity is scarce here) and that the road to the settlement is brand new (and the one to the school is still badly damaged as a result of a roadblock installed and removed by the Israeli a couple of years ago), etc. This all makes it hard not to be judgemental and not place the blame on only one side for all that is wrong and the result of the conflict here. Furthermore, I'm still not able to really understand the purpose of the A, B, C classification system for the occupied territories (A = fully under Palestinian authority control, C = under full Israelian control). This is a C area.

Before lunch one of us went out to buy bread. Seeing as there was no bread in the corner shop, the owner sent his 8-year-old son, Suleyman, to get some from what we assume is the bakery. But at the corner he decided it would be a good idea to ask the son of the shopkeeper there (they do not sell bread) to walk to the village and get the bread for us. Little Suleyman happily agreed. Strangely enough he hadn't returned after an hour and we were beginning to wonder what could have happened.

Robert, a fellow volunteer here went back to the shop to check on him as they promised to bring the bread up to the school. What had happened was that he was 'arrested' by Israeli soldiers who were suddenly there on our not-so-beautiful road. They detained the boy for about an hour, questioning him.

It is known that incidents similar to this happen on Fridays (Fridays being a sacred day for Muslims especially here as they are the majority there). A certain nervousness spread through the group of internationals at the school because of him not getting back. After an hour we walked down the road to see if there was any military presence that could affect the arrival of our new guests but there was no sign of them.

Later that day some of the Internationals paid a visit to the boy and his family. They were invited in and enjoyed the sincere hospitality they had to offer. They listened to the family stories, for instance, about the loss of a family member as a result of the conflict or houses being destroyed. Though it was emotionally hard for those who paid the visit, I was told that the visit was somehow a blessing in disguise. They had a chance to connect with those involved in this plight. Most importantly, it was the element of sharing that took place there.

This kind of incident however is not the norm around here but the Israelis are probably being very vigilant due to a suspected recent regiment change. Also, the very current situation in the Gaza strip confirms their reaction today.

Our new guests and friends arrived at about six without any delays. About ten of us are here now and we are expecting another fifteen to show up tomorrow or the day after.

We were all tired at the end of the day and opted to go out for dinner instead of doing all the cooking ourselves. So we all (yes you can get into the schools minibus with 12 adults without much trouble) and drove into Bethlehem. Ibrahim drove us to a pizza restaurant where we, on a joyful, warm summer night, enjoyed pizza and salads.

I have to admit that I'm sad. Sad because of what happened today. Sad because at the end of all this, I'll be on the plane homebound knowing that those who live here can't, as this is their reality no matter how crazy it seems. Sad because something is wrong with the ingenious water system of the school and I can't have the much longed for shower. And I feel so small, so powerless and so incongruous. I am like a child who innocently agrees to something without questioning little knowing that there are consequences to what he or she is agreeing to. As a result of this, children then seem lost, not knowing what to do or who to turn to which is what I can relate to right now. Additional to all this, it was a day full of little tasks that needed be done and decisions that needed to be made before we can start with the gathering and the project.

Thankfully, these tasks were all carried out in good time. We even reached a point when Menno, this wonderful guy that has been working on this project for so long, couldn't think of anything else to do! Just two more days to go until the opening ceremony and two more weeks until this tiny area of Our planet will be a thousand trees richer! I have managed to survive this day and tomorrow is another day.

One more thing I like to say: I now have a wonderful young lady, Saira, helping me with this letter. She happens to be a great editor.


PS: I listen to cantatas by Bach while writing. The following text says it all, I guess (sorry but Bach wrote them in German and I just can't translate Bach):
"Zu Tanze, zu Sprunge so wackelt das Hertz".

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