By now the three of us were feeling really tetchy and ready to leave the area, but Manal had other plans and led us upwards towards another house.
“this must be it” she muttered to herself as we scrambled up a dirt bank and along a path. this led into a lush garden with a pergola with grave vines entwined. A nervous looking woman greeted us with her 3 children and we were ushered up to the verandah overlooking the garden. It was cool up here. The breeze drifted through the wire mesh windows. The family had long given up trying to keep any glass in the house. It had all been shot out too many times.
Manal explained to us that she had come here and stopped at this house a few years before on a peace mission. It was whilst they were sitting up here, sipping tea that a bullet flew past their heads. I think our eyes grew wider in shock at that tale then the woman of the house pointed out the settler’s houses surrounding them. It wasn’t the soldiers who were shooting it was the settlers. We went downstairs to the garden and she pointed out bullet holes in the wall of her lovely home. These holes pock marked the entire outside of the house. She told us that her children can not play outside for fear of them being shot pelted with something or abused in some way by her neighbours who want her out. “Where can I go? What can I do?” she said with pain behind her eyes. I had no answer but to squeeze her hand in sorrow.
At the end of the garden is a large metal gate. Locked for the past 8 years. For this last 8 years she and her family are not allowed to leave their own house via this gate they have to walk about a mile around to get anywhere. Even when her mother died, they gate was not unlocked. Cars can’t get near the house, so the coffin had to be carried along the rough uneven path we had scrambled up to get to the house. As there is no dignity for the living there is none in death either there.
In the garden are piles of rubbish, all thrown over by the settlers an a daily basis. “This is mild” she says, “we usually get excrement thrown over”. In a brave move she and her children stood as near to the gate as they dare. Usually they don’t in case they are abused or injured.
She then looked whistfully at the leaden grapevines. She is not allowed to touch this part of her garden, is she does she will be shot. These ancient vines can no longer be tended and the fruits have to go to waste. She said she was glad her parents could no longer see this.
She then led us around the other side of her house, pointing out the bullet holes…..not that they needed to be pointed out, they were glaringly obvious. It was then I heard voices and saw through the greenery the four soldiers that had caught up with us earlier. I knew that if they saw us we and the family would be in big trouble. My heart was in my throat as I walked backwards away from them as fast as I could into the ‘safety’ of the garden surrounded by settlers. Rock and hard place sprang to mind. My heart was pounding and I didn’t feel any better when we were then told that we were the first internationals that had made it to her house in the last year without being arrested or attacked. I can honestly say at that point I feared for my life!
I and the others wanted out of there. The eldest daughter who was 12 offered to show us the safest route back out of the area. Imagine a 12 year old girl willing to run the gauntlet of the soldiers to allow us to leave in safety, putting herself on the line. We all refused. We got ourselves into this we would have to hopefully get ourselves out of it. We hugged our hostess, knowing that we would probably never see her again. She and her family will probably be thrown out of their home soon to go where, who knows? And what for the children? Living in the middle of such hatred and violence. What will become of them? So many questions left to hang in the air.
We found our way back to the Olive grove and made our way through until it became an Olive Tree graveyard. These ancient trees needlessly destroyed in the name of the Occupation.
The first question I asked when we made it to the main road was “Is this Israel or Palestine?” My mind had been messed up with where we were supposed to be. “Palestine, of course,” said Manal. “Do you think we would be greeted like this if it was Israel?” as she swept her hands to show the kids and adults on the other side of the road. It was then I was pelted with a plum which splattered on my leg. It is funny now but in hindsight, had we had been in the Settlers area, it may have been something much worse.
We caught a taxi to take us to meet the rest of our group who were on the way to Bethlehem for Chris’s Baptism. We duly loaded ourselves onto the minibus where the happy bunch who had had a fun morning and a large lunch were in high spirits. We sat on the back seat of the bus and wept. My heart felt as if it wanted to rip out of my chest and I so wanted to scream until my throat bled. Tears ran down my cheeks. Flic handed me her shirt to wipe away my tears…..but I wanted to feel them, I wanted to taste their saltiness, I wanted to needed to cry.
Our driver, oblivious to the feelings of us at the back shoved on some music. Firstly some Arabic music then came Rihanna
We Found Love in a Hopeless Place. The tears flowed, racking now from my body. I still wanted to scream. We drew nearer to Bethlehem. I sat with all sorts of thoughts racing through my head, the most predominant was, How could I sit inside a church and listen to stuff about God after all I had seen and heard today? The home we had visited that morning, not 4 hours before seemed a lifetime away. I honestly didn’t know if I would be able to sit there and listen to a sermon and be able to keep my mouth shut. I had honestly never felt such pain in my heart and in my head.
We alighted the bus in Manger Square. I wondered off and stood, lost. Flic gently took my arm and told me to go and get a drink in the cafe away from the others and she would get me when we were ready for the baptism. I wandered aimlessly across the square, pulling at my own hair, tears still streaming down my face. Elaine who had been with us that morning, saw me and walked towards me. We hugged each other through racking tears and the pain of what we had seen and heard. None of us who went through that morning made it to the baptism.
Writing these posts about this day has not been easy. It is still hard to talk about or to think about. I have never wanted to scream so much, or wanted to rip my hair out as I did that day. I realize that if I had to go though what these people have to go through day in day out I would have serious mental health issues.
The day also highlighted to me how little any of us can change the situation there. Yes, I can write about it and Elaine will photograph it and we can tell our stories and enlighten others…but will it change the abuse? Will it make people stop wanting another’s land? No!
It all seems so hopeless!