407-645-5933 ext. 236 marisa.west@shalomorlando.org

Having 4 hours to process the day has really helped. What a day it has been. After our session on the different zones, we began walking around Bethlehem, specifically looking at the international graffiti that has been painted on the Security Fence/Wall, Separation Fence/Wall (whatever you want to call it – everybody has a different name for it). I am posting some pictures I took – BEWARE THAT THEY MAY UPSET YOU!

After walking through this graffiti on the wall/fence, we got on our bus to go to a Palestinian village in the Gush Etzion area. There are a number of Jewish neighborhoods/settlements (I call them neighborhoods because of the size and scope of them, others call them settlements) and it has been widely accepted that if/when there is peace, this will become part of Israel with a land swap. The village we went to was in area C. This means that no construction can occur without permission from the Israeli government. This permission is rarely ever given. So, what does this mean in practicality. It means that they can’t fix their roofs when they leak. It means they can’t build new homes or expand their homes when needed. They can’t repair or replace their broken playground equipment. If they do, they get a ‘stop work’ order and ultimately a demolition order. It’s sort of like building in the US without a building permit. Only the permits are rarely issued. It’s a challenge and a problem.

As I watched the children playing, I had a smile on my face. They were just like the children at my JCC. Young, smiling, fun, cute. Only their playground equipment wasn’t safe and I wouldn’t let any of our children go near it. Yet it was all they had.

As we spoke with the head of the village council, he told us he and their village just want to live with dignity. They don’t care if they end up in a Palestinian State or as part of Israel. He looked at the new construction that happened on two sides of him in the Jewish neighborhoods with sadness as he knew his village wasn’t allowed to do that.

Seeing this village today was challenging and difficult. My heart broke for the people there who have severe limitations put on them due to the conflict. These are mainly people who work agriculturally and who aren’t interested in anything beyond their small village. When asked about ideas to solve the conflict, to bring peace, to allow his village to grown, their village council head said, “I’m just a simple man”

Many of you may understand why Israel has to put limitations on building in Area C or agree with this policy. I can only tell you that after visiting this village and listening to this village leader, I was left with a lot of questions and no answers.