This is part two of my weekend adventures, so be sure to read part one below.
With no class today because of the holiday, we continued our weekend of traveling. Jason and I met a guy at the University the other week who has been wanting to take us on a trip to Bethelehem and to his village, yet it kept getting put off until today because of the rain. Not really knowing what was on the agenda for today, we met our friend in downtown Ramallah at 7 in the morning. From there, we (me, Jason, our friend from the University, and a few of his friends) took a service taxi to Bethlehem. The quickest way from Ramallah to Bethlehem is to go through Jerusalem, which probably would take around half an hour. Palestinians, however, cannot go into Jerusalem so instead they take a road which winds and zig zags in every possible direction, up and down and left and right. Having to go around Jerusalem and through two checkpoints on this road, the trip takes around an hour and 20 minutes instead of half an hour. This highlights how transportation is yet another issue for Palestinians.
We got to Bethlehem and walked around the city some, going to the Church of the Nativity (where Jesus was born) and walking around the market and some of the downtown areas. I had been to Bethlehem over the summer, but only to the church, so it was fun to get to see some more of the city. It has a very different feel than Ramallah, but like Ramallah it is a great place to walk around.
From Bethlehem, our friend’s brother picked us up and we drove to his village of Artas, which is a village of about 5,000 people outside of Bethlehem. It was a great experience to be there because I had never really witnessed the village life or atmosphere in my time in Palestine. Here is Artas, which is around 6,000 years old and has played a significant role with its agriculture and water resources throughout its history:
Walking around a village like this is such a different feeling than being in a city like Ramallah or Bethlehem. The roads are incredibly narrow and since the village is on a hill, the roads are very steep and at one point I wasn’t sure if the old car we were in was going to make it up. Like most of Palestine, Artas is facing many difficulties due to the occupation, specifically through the loss of land. Our friend explained that his family used to have a lot more land but they have now lost it to Israeli control, and that there is no room for the village to expand because Israel controls all the land around it and they do not want it to grow. The entire hill across from the village used to be part of it, but now it is controlled by Israel. It is incredibly green and beautiful, but our friend explained to us that they can no longer go there. At the very top you can see an Israeli watchtower, which has a view of the entire valley below it. This land all used to be part of Artas:
Although the village has lost a lot of land, there is still some agriculture in the valley at the bottom of the hill. In addition to losing land, water is also a major issue however. Artas used to have five canals, but now all but one are gone. This is due both to natural processes of drying up, but also because Israel has taken a lot of water in the region to provide to the settlers. Just above the village of Artas is an Israel settlement, which eventually could be built all the way along the hilltop, passing right by Artas. You can see Artas in the front in this picture, and behind and above it is the settlement:
From taking resources such as water and land, to giving Israel strategic location due to its position at the top of the hill, the settlement has made things very difficult for Artas. We walked around the village for a while and visited the beautiful monastery which sits at the bottom of the hill. Here you can see the villages mosque in the front, then the agricultural fields, and the monastery behind them:
We then met with a man who seemed to be the village elder, or at least an incredibly well respected member of Artas. He took us to his old home, which he has turned into a small cultural center, and told us stories about “how things used to be.” He told us of weddings that lasted for weeks at a time, and how now weddings are all about listening to a DJ for 4 or 5 hours. He told us about how the village has switched its agricultural system to greenhouses for increased productivity, but the lettuce just doesn’t taste the same. “With respect to the younger generation,” he told us, “things used to be much simpler and easier.”
We then left the residential area of Artas and walked up the road to Solomon’s Pools, which are three giant pools (each can fit around 200 million liters of water). After walking around this nature area for a bit, our friend’s brother met us with the car and we prepared a big barbecue. We sat around and ate and talked for a few hours, and it was great to spend a day with a group of Palestinians, rather than just foreigners. We’ll definitely have more trips with them soon.
After our barbecue we explored the area a bit more, before taking a service back to Ramallah. We didn’t have any problems at either of the checkpoints going there or coming back, but I found it interesting how they took all our IDs/passports and then quickly returned our foreign passports and the ID cards of the women, but spent much more time checking the men. There area bunch more pics from the day, but I don’t want to flood the blog, so if you are interested click on the link here: http://picasaweb.google.com/RamallahReflections/Bethlehem#