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 18th, 2005

Dear Friend,

Today we had our official Opening Day. Let me start with saying that it went well and we got what we wanted. And it was not the sort of day that provided me with any interesting stories to tell compared with my previous newsletters. So this is going to be a sort of straightforward report of the day. Just bear with me please.

The early morning was filled with running around completing all these things that still had to be done, for example, we made sure that enough olive trees were available at the spot where the ceremonial tree planting would take place and one of the new banners was put up for everyone to see, etc.

Then the group of youngsters showed up and filled the place with their presence. Suddenly there was movement and sound everywhere. For me, that was the moment that marked the beginning of the project. But more was still to come!

Then at about a quarter to ten we were standing in front of the school waiting for the officials to arrive and quite a few of them showed up. So the governor was there and even the Ambassador of South Africa was there. Being officials, it automatically meant that we had a long line of cars standing in front of the gate and bored drivers standing in the corridor of the school building. And to make all of this even more real there was this bodyguard.

After a drink we had the official speeches. Ibrahim welcomed everyone and gave an overview of the schools situation, Ursel talked about the relationship between the School and the Earthstewards and about the Peace Trees Project. She ended by expressing what issues were unresolved (basically who is going to be responsible for the trees after we have planted them). And then it was the governor's turn. He gave his speech twice: once in Arabic and then English. The first one lasted longer but I was told it was more or less similar to the English version. He outlined a lot of things but the main three elements I considered important were:

  1. That terrorism as an official means to accomplish the goals of the Palestinians has been a mistake. The justified goal of creating a free and independent Palestinian state will not be achieved by terrorist acts.
  2. That there should be peace and safety for all countries and people involved so certainly for both the Palestinians and Israelis.
  3. That we shouldn't be surprised if the trees that are planted might be destroyed or die and would be replaced if that were the case. Therefore we shouldn't be surprised if they were growing gracefully! The force of life is stronger then any attempt to destroy.

After the speeches we went outside and the governor planted the first tree. From then on the scenery became surreal. The journalist and cameramen from the local television station that we invited used the opportunity to interview the governor. That happened amidst all other activities. And by doing so, all attention and focus was on them. And at the same time more trees were planted (some even dug more holes so in total about 15 trees were planted).

After the interview the governor just disappeared which, in a way, brought things back to normal.

The afternoon turned out to be the stage of my old hero of EarthStewards: Martin Kammann. He facilitated the first afternoon of the compassionate listening workshop with 50 people in the room. Fifty people of a diverse age group (14-60 year old,) and diverse when it came to gender, cultural background, religion and their ability to understand and speak English. To just give you an example of what occurred I'll tell you about something I experienced.

During an exercise we had to pair up with somebody from a different background and age group. This resulted in me sitting with a Palestinian girl who seemed to be in her early teens. The exercise involved taking turns to speak; someone was A and someone was B. One spoke about a topic while the other listened. One of the topics was 'what we found challenging about being there'. My young partner, judging by the expression on her face, followed every word I said in English but when it was her turn she couldn't manage to get a word out as her English was very much limited. But again, I felt we had a great start with the Compassionate Listening workshop. And based on the discussion that followed in the evening about how to better the workshop to suit everybody's needs. I think we will have a great time even though our group will be larger tomorrow.

Salaam, Shalom

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