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 19th, 2005

Dear Friend,

Today was the second day of the Compassionate Listening Workshop. Martin had, with the cooperation of a few others, worked on some changes to accommodate the diverse group. This resulted in the possibility to really do something more meaningful. Well, at least I believed we did.

So I sit here with the tears in my eyes not really knowing where to start or how to give a full account of what happened or how it touched me. But hey, I'll try.

In the morning, Martin's ideas about changes hadn't yet been implemented. So for an exercise for which we were split up in groups of four, I sat with four Palestinians, ages 13 to 34, of which one could speak a little English. We shared stories and practised listening to Facts, Feelings and Values. The eagerness to do the exercise was great but the getting into grip with the essence of the exercise was somewhat slower. But the stories shared were impressive; the willingness to share them was courageous. To me, the patience bear with this one individual who couldn't speak Arabic, to me, was so beautiful.

In the afternoon all practicalities of the suggested changes were solved and we did two exercises, one in pairs and the other one involved talking in a circle. For the first exercise, I worked with a young lady whom I assumed to be fully Japanese. But in fact, I learnt that her mother is Japanese and her father is Russian. She has lived in both Tokyo and Moscow and is in the Al Khader area to work on her thesis on Palestine. For the exercise we were all asked to share something about any conflicts in our lives and in the second round we were asked to look at that same conflict again but then from the perspective of the person we have that conflict with. It proved to be a quick and effective way to change one's own perspective on the conflict. And it was impressive to see how it helps to define next steps, how it helps to progress the steps on the path of resolution.

Then we sat in a circle for our last exercise of the day: the Talking Circle. The only one allowed to speak was the one holding a token (in this case a beautiful piece of cloth). And stories, feelings, emotions were shared.

One young Palestinian shared with us his feelings about what he called being dehumanised. He felt that other people in the world did not see the Palestinians as human beings (the Israeli, The Americans, the Europeans). To illustrate his point, he mentioned the Wall: the Wall prevents young men going up in the mountains to camp, to sit around a campfire, the Wall (and all it stands for) that allows others to come in, frighten them and bully them, the Wall that stands in the way if they want to visit family or friends, the Wall that puts them under this constant pressure, the Wall that imprisons then in their own land.

He thanked the young Israeli man in the room for being here. This was a way of showing the Israeli man that he recognised not all of them are actively involved or responsible for the dehumanisation. He equally thanked the Americans and Europeans for their cooperation. He asked us to spread the word about their pain when we return to our respective regions; to tell others about the situation here and his desire (and that of many others) to be allowed to feel human again and most importantly, to be free. His outcry mirrored that of the others in the circle as they all shared something with us.

On my little computer I have a collection some of the music I like (haven't I mentioned this already?). One of the albums on it is by Bruce Springsteen called 'Born in the USA'. I am listening to the song 'My Hometown' right now. When you are done reading this, try getting hold of the lyrics and listen to the song for a minute. It's a sentimental song for sure. But isn't this song about something we would all like to be able to do: tell our children, with pride in our hearts, that the place they are in (sitting on your lap while driving through town) is their hometown. I know that the song wouldn't have the same meaning here.

One member of the group I worked with in the morning is a social worker at the Hope Flowers School. She lives in Hebron, which isn't far from here. But in terms of cultural differences it is the complete opposite of what the school stands for, I was told. She invited me over to her home on Friday for afternoon tea. And I can meet her husband and three year old child. I feel greatly honoured!


PS. There was a shooting incident in the old centre of Bethlehem while a group of us were there. No one (of them but I do not know about others!) got hurt, so I feel no real urge to tell you about it in detail. Because you know, it is just one of so many of these incidents.

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