A Christian in Bethlehem

We approached Claire’s place. A lone building. On one side rubble and rubbish littered the space. The building was shadowed on three sides by the occupation wall.

ImageApparently once this was a thriving street, full of tourist shops and trade was good, now the street has little passing trade. What is there for a tourist to see there, other than the wall? There is no route a tourist need go along this way, so this shop, which is open most days, lives on prayers and wishes that people like ourselves would take the time out to hear the owner’s story of her shop, her house and her life since the wall(s) had been built.

Claire was a slim attractive brunette with an excellent grasp of English. She invited us into her roomy, air conditioned shop and handed us all a cool cup of water, well needed after walking in the intense heat. She invited us to sit and we all found space on the clean, shiny tiled floor to sit and listen to Claire’s story.

It was 2003 and the wall went up around the house. Abuse started and shots were fired at the house and the family….the army wanted them out. Nightly raids on their house started, verbal and physical abuse was endured and cameras were put up on the wall which were positioned directly into their bedroom. If they drew the curtains the army would come and demand that they open them. Now bear in mind that Claire had 3 children, who were subject to this abuse and terrorisation on a daily/nightly basis.

She spoke about not being allowed to go into her own garden to tend it (Remember a similar story I wrote about in Hebron) This is what is left of her garden today.

ImageThis woman spoke with a calm dignity about how the occupation has affected her and her family. Other family members had moved away such was the abuse, but Claire remained steadfast, this was her cross to bear. She was adamant that no-one from her family had been killed or even seriously injured with all the bullets that had been aimed at them and the constant ‘bullying’ for want of a better word, because her faith in God was so strong. She relayed a story about her husband narrowly missing a bullet as his daughter called him at the exact second that a gun had been fired at him. His reaction to his daughter calling out to him, in her sleep, made him turn as the bullet brushed past him. Had she not called out, he wouldn’t have moved and would probably be dead.

This extract is taken from a book I bought in Claires shop called Sumud. Soul of the Palestinian People.

The soldiers would come and beat at the door with their guns. I had to go down. It was always me. if my husband had gone, they might have shot him. It was too tense. I went down the stairs with my knees shaking and I let them in. Upstairs my children would be crying, “Now is the time for shooting.”

Like many local people, Claire and her family slept on the floors for safety. Often they would be corralled into a corner of the living room while the soldiers shot from their windows. Because the area was under direct military control, the army searched houses on a regular basis, and inhabitants were severely restricted in their freedom of movement, even in entering and leaving their homes. Claire remembers waiting at the military barrier in front of her house for nearly six hours before the commander finally announced that she would be allowed to cross the 20 yards to her doorstep. It was past midnight. She had to hurry through the deathly silent streets to a relative’s house, praying not to meet a military patrol.

This was only my second full day in Palestine. This was the first ‘human’ story I had heard of how the soldiers and the occupation affected ordinary people. These aren’t fanatical maniacs as is the justification from the side of Israel, this family was just like every family up and down the land who is trying to raise their kids as best they can and make a living for a good life for the family. These people are treated worse than animals and are all part of what seems to be a game of humiliation and bullying to the soldiers who ‘guarded’ around this house.

Claire decided things needed to be done. People still needed to earn a living, they still needed a purpose to exist. She set up women’s co-operatives where they made handicrafts and embroidery. They have a women’s group who held a small vigil next to the wall. They sang songs. Initially the soldiers pointed their guns, but eventually lay them down and danced in their watchtower, enjoying the music and the spectacle. A concert and a festival then followed, with people BOTH sides of the wall taking part…united in music and song.

She decided to try and sell things over the internet, coming up with innovative designs , such as the traditional nativity scene, but with an occupation wall cutting through it. This is removable, just in case this wall ever falls as the Berlin Wall did.

Her house is now open as a bed and breakfast. Thankfully the abuse and harassment has stopped for now. I mean I know I saw things on my trip I didn’t expect to see, but putting myself into that situation as it was with the soldiers shooting and banging to be let in, wouldn’t be my kind of place to stay. However, she does have guests now, who want to see what it is like surrounded by 3 walls and the occupation. Sadly there are only 2 reviews on TripAdvisor, but both are fully positive.

http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/ShowUserReviews-g293978-d2219032-r121386364-Anastas_House-Bethlehem.html

She was such a warm, welcoming person, that I would imagine you would be well looked after stopping there with her family.

We all had a look around the shop and I think we all spent money in there on some souvenir or another. I stepped outside into the heat of the day to take in the surroundings of the wall and it’s barbed wire top and colourful graffitti. And there on a wall at the side of the shop was this painting her family had done. I think it says it all really.

To find out more about Claire’s plight, she was featured on a 60 Minutes programme in America about Christians in the Holy Land.

http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7406228n

And for more information about the shop where you can order online or about the B and B, please take a look at

http://www.anastas-bethlehem.com/

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About shakingtheshadowsfromtheolivetrees

I have a massive case of wanderlust and plan to see as much of this beautiful planet as I can before I die. I love Egypt, which gave me my first taster of Arabic culture, since then I have travelled to a few Arabic-speaking countries. My idea of a nightmare is an all inclusive 5* hotel resort. I much prefer to stay in basic accommodation in amongst the locals. Some of the best food I have eaten has been street food...and incidentally some of the worst has been in a 5*hotel. This year has given me the opportunity to visit Palestine, a place I loved to read about when I was younger in my children's bible. I am sure it isn't going to disappoint.
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2 Responses to A Christian in Bethlehem

  1. Harrowing but at least there us hope, if which the Trip Advisor reviews are surely a sign.

  2. Pingback: Rachel’s Tomb | shaking the shadows from the olive tree

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