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This past Friday, Scott and I departed Mt. Scopus for a weekend spent in the West Bank. Specifically, we were going to visit and work at the Tent of Nations, an organization mentioned to me by my friend Tyler Haugar from LWF. I had called ahead and requested the opportunity to stay for one night and work there, and experience the difficulties of life therein. As a bit of background, the current owner of the land is named Dohar, and his grandfather Bishara purchased the hill and surrounding 100 acres of land decades ago. Like, he purchased the land so long ago, and they loved the land so much that the original ownership papers are from the Ottoman Empire; they got their ownership verified by the Palestinian Mandate, and thus have British ownership paper; they even got their ownership validated by Jordan during its control of the area, and thus have Jordanian ownership papers as well. All of that said, one of the hills on that plot of land is now a Jewish settlement, and there are 3 other settlements around Dohar’s hill, slowly encroaching on his land (and other Palestinian land as well). Beyond merely taking part of his land without asking, paying, or even mentioning it to him, the Jewish settlers have successfully petitioned the Israeli government to forbid Dohar from building any structure (including tents or greenhouses) on his hill, citing “security reasons.” Being the peaceful, law-abiding citizen type, Dohar and his extended family took this matter to court, bringing three generations and three ruling governments’ worth of ownership papers.

Their case has been in the Israeli court system for 17 years, and the settlements have all grown quite large in the intermediate time.

The introduction to the situation aside, Scott and I arrived in Bethlehem and took a sherut (shared taxi) towards Hebron, as I had been told to do. We asked the driver to let us off at Kilo 17, to which he looked slightly incredulous but agreed to do so. We drove for a little while, and eventually I noticed a bunch of brand-new Israeli flags hanging from some of the light posts, hung in celebration of Independence Day (although since we were in the Palestinian West Bank, an odd and grating sight). Just as it dawned on me that the exit on the right must be settlements, the driver pulled over and told us we had arrived. We got out, and went up onto the older, beat-up asphalt road (the one not leading to a Patriarch’s Way settlement, which was our first clue). Check out the photos for a comparative look at the quality of the roads (a seemingly small detail, but very indicative of the differing economic situations there).

We walked through some settler-imposed roadblocks (huge stones), and eventually walked up an incline to the white gate I had been told to expect. I called Dihan, the sister-in-law of Dohar, the owner of the land, and he came down to let us in. He greeted us as though we were well-known and close friends, and led us inside onto his lands for the tour.

The Tour
Dohar then proceeded to take us all over his land, showing us the various caves, the few buildings, and everything in between. As I took the time to carefully label the photographs, they do a great job of showing off the area (all of them labeled “Getting to know the area” are what I am referring to here).

One of my favorite parts of the tour was coming to a small area planted with wheat. Dohar explained that he plants it to feed his goats, and therefore doesn’t have to weed the area – they eat all of it. This short explanation instantly reminded me of one of my favorite sermons from St. Paul’s, by Pastor Tom Omholt. The sermon was on the Parable of the Wheat Field, and discussed the fact that the weeds mentioned in the parable aren’t the usual American connotation of “weeds.” In Palestine and Israel, there is a species of pesky weeds which happen to look exactly like wheat, and so what Jesus has to say makes a bunch more sense; one truly cannot judge other people effectively, as every person essentially will seem the same to human eyes (the good and the bad, all hidden together). It was a neat experience to see what Pastor Tom had mentioned on a winter Sunday in Washington, DC in real life, on a hill in Palestine.

Dohar is an incredibly nice man, and had two very short but very meaningful and powerful statements among the rest of his explanation during the tour. First, he told us an anecdote of the time when the Israeli government began constructing the Wall between Israel and the West Bank. He was by one of the construction sites, and asked one of the workers “why are you building this huge wall??” The answer given was “the [Israeli] government told us we have to, so we are building it.” Dohar isn’t the revolutionary type, as you may have already gathered, so his response is so telling of his world view: he merely requested “that you leave a small window in the wall right here, so I can keep talking to my Israeli friends sometimes.” Unfortunately for everyone involved, that suggested small window was left out of the final implementation of the wall. The other story he told us was when he finally convinced some of the Orthodox Jewish men from the 20,000-person settlement to come visit his hill and see how hard his life is when he is forbidden to improve his land further with additional buildings. He explained to them truthfully that he “has ownership papers for his land from three successive governments,” and would like to be able to work on it in peace. The response his neighbors gave him is the most concise summary of the situation in Israel/Palestine I have ever heard; one of the Orthodox Jews responded “yes that is true, but we have papers from God.” One begins to see just how deeply-rooted this conflict is, with people’s formative, religious world views coming into conflict with other people’s legal and traditional understanding of the area.

Service Project 1 – Uncovering the Grape Vines
We were given gloves and some spades, and set off for our first project: we had to go into a fairly overgrown field, find the grape vines amidst the brush, and then clear the land around them, encouraging them to live and thrive. We started working, and the field must have sensed this; my eyes started to burn, my sinuses starting working overtime, and my legs and arms had a bunch of hives all over them; I was seriously allergic to something on that hill. Nevertheless, being the Simply Push Onwards type, we kept working and talking and joking. We eventually cleared a lot of the brush away, removing the bigger rocks that we found, and cleaned up the area. That was one of the first places I have been where rocks are so plentiful that they simply sit in a broken state above the ground, waiting to twist one’s ankle 😛

Early to Bed…
Having worked hard and enjoyed the sights on and around Dohar’s land, we sat down for a delicious dinner. We had the quintessential Palestinian fresh tea (because after a few hours of hard labor in the sun, nothing spells refreshing like Hot Tea, right?), and then a vegetable stew over rice and salad. It was all delicious, and by 7 PM Scott and I were already really tired. On the other hand, we knew that we didn’t want to be awake at 4 AM due to sleeping too early, so we played a couple of card games (including War, which was 1) ironic given our location; and 2) an awful choice, as that infernal game never ends). We eventually went to sleep, anticipating a thoroughly busy day on the morrow.

…Early to Rise
We got up nice and early on Saturday, with my allergy-induced inability to breath/snoring waking Scott at about 5:15 AM and keeping me in and out of sleep all night long, so I was awake at something like 6 AM. We had a fresh hard-boiled egg (like, an egg laid during the night and boiled in the morning, and by far the BEST egg I have ever eaten) and then the requisite pita and hot tea. We went over by the underground barn and prepared ourselves for…

Service Project 2 – Installing the Drainage System
We were given THE BOSCH-HAMMER (always capitalized as it is the name brand jackhammer that utterly destroyed my wrists and fingers over the course of 7 hours) and brief instruction as to the ideal method for breaking and then clearing the stone-laden dirt. We started working… and we continued working, and working, and working. Eventually, we got to celebrate what is officially my first tea time ever – hot tea, cane sugar, and cold corn on the cob under the shade of a tree, on a hill in Bethlehem **cue Disney movie**.

In between working on the drainage system, we also had lunch (more of the leftovers from dinner, which was still quite tasty), and then helped with the tractor. Specifically, we pushed it up a 15 degree incline, with trailer attached, in order to allow it to roll downhill slightly, starting the manual transmission motor. THAT was hard work, especially as our “warm-up” for it was jackhammering for 3 hours. We climbed into the trailer, and rode over to one of the fields for another first… we went rock harvesting. We simply climbed down from the trailer and picked up any number of reddish rocks, on the ground as if strewn there by God and left until Saturday. The rocks were then used by Dohar’s friend Abdun to line the sides of the underground barn (to see all of this, check out the photographs).

Near the end of the day, Dohar’s son Bishara (named for his great-grandfather) came by and visited us. He is a student at Bethlehem University, and is studying Information Technology. He asked to film Scott and I as part of a video project highlighting the role of volunteers in helping to protect Palestinian land from settlers; I am not the jump in on any side with words type (I prefer using actions to help those people who need it, and avoiding the mire of ill-informed political “sides”), so I was filmed explaining the drainage system we were doing, and Scott gave the more political explanation of why he was there (that is his specialty, after all). At some point, there may be a Youtube video posted here of said video, and I am also invited to tour the campus of Bethlehem University with Bishara, which I will probably do (and later post here about).

After a thoroughly satisfying, exhausting, enjoyable, and informative weekend experience, Scott and I trudged our way back to the highway. 2 of Dohar’s dogs followed us most of the way, until we started to wonder when they would turn back. In fact, they started to follow us across the multi-lane highway, and even though they are old and tired, 1) cars stopped and didn’t hit them; and 2) they eventually turned around and returned to their home. Having avoided the deaths of those dogs, we achingly climbed into a sherut and started home.

Finally, before the photograph gallery (which took me forever to caption, so please enjoy all of it), I just want to encourage you to check out the website run for Dohar, here. He personally asked that I pass the word on to other people, and I am doing do by posting my own reactions, plus the link to his blog. Please let me know if you’re interested in going, and I will do whatever I can to answer your questions about a potential visit.


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