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 20th, 2005

Dear Friend,

This day ended with a meeting with two representatives from an organisation called The Bereaved Parents Association. The Association is a platform for those who have lost a relative and choose to use their pain and loss to achieve peace.

The Israeli man Rami told us how, as young men, he fought in the 1967 war and lost many of his friends. That after the War he closed himself off from the World and had only interest in himself, his family and his job. He shared with us the pleasure of watching his daughter grow up. He also told us about the despair and pain he went through when at the age of 14, she was killed in a suicide bombing. As a result he had the urge to go out and carry out an act of reprisal. He also shared the struggle he went through when he realised that an aggressive response was not the only option but that using the pain, the tears to break down walls was a far better alternative.

On the other hand, The Palestinian man, Aziz, told us how he was raised and aspects about his upbringing; for example he was an avid soccer player. He wanted to share with us the smaller details of his home, for example, how he shared a room with three of his brothers.

One night, when he was 14 years old, Israeli soldiers came to search his house but found nothing. Because they didn't find anything, they then accused his elder brother of throwing stones and arrested him. His brother was taken to a prison and interrogated which also meant he was tortured. Because of the torture he confessed throwing stones after a few days. And as a result he was sentenced to prison for a year. I cannot recall if he told his brother actually stayed in prison the whole year or was sent home earlier. But when he got home he was throwing up blood and was taken to hospital. He died there after two days as a result of the torturing.

Aziz, too, went through this phase of anger. He became a member of Al Fatah and was an editor for a magazine of that organisation. And for a few years his life was dominated by anger and aggression until he realised that he was trapped in this circle of anger. He felt that he was de-humanising himself as he got caught up carrying out acts of aggression as a result of being so hurt and angry. He eventually realised too that there must be another way. Rami's and Aziz's paths soon crossed thanks to this organisation and a close friendship between them soon blossomed based on a mutual experience of deep pain. They work as a team for the Bereaved Parents Organisation.

This organisation has been involved in approximately one thousand meetings a year, similar to the one we had. In this way, they have spoken to so many people and have therefore succeeded in getting their point across. The organisation also has a chat line that enables Israelis and Palestinians to talk to one another. They have had a great success rate and they estimated that half a million of people have used this line in the past two years. And tonight their first of a twice-weekly radio programme will be aired.

Their common belief they have is that pain and tears can break down walls. However, they mentioned that concrete walls are the easiest to break and cultural walls are the most difficult but they should practice their belief somehow. Halfway during the meeting, they showed us a video about children that have lost a relative spending a vacation together in a summer camp. These children played together, prepared food together and were generally having a good time. And while they were there, the news of a terrible event came through: another horrible suicide bombing had taken place. The killer happened to be a family member of one of the children there. The child's comment was blatant but true: "you do not choose your family so I do not feel guilty."

This video (amongst other things) will be taken home by most of the internationals here. So if you are interested, contact the one of the internationals living close to you.

What else happened today? The last day of Compassionate Listening took place and it went very well (hurray for Martin!). Two thousand trees arrived today waiting to be planted as of tomorrow.

And we, the organising team, had some disagreements over some things. I really think we came out a better team. It was a long and intense day and a good one.

Salaam, shalom,

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