Bethlehem, West Bank, Palestine, Middle East, Earth
Deheisheh Refugee Camp was established the same year I was born. 1949. I could be one of its resident grandmas.
It was a maze of stone. Narrow pathways and so many homes huddled together. There were also some allowances for cars to pass — not roads exactly, but they suited a need. Our guide Murad, was articulate and passionate and committed to his people who were struggling to making a life there. Wikipedia tells me that as of 2008 there were 13,000 people living in 4/10 of a square mile. I don’t know what the numbers are today.
We were silent as we walked and took in the quiet evidence of a community effectively imprisoned. A handful of young boys bounced along — some on bicycles, some kicking a soccer ball. I saw very few girls. Adults were mostly absent. Someone told me that only the ignorant ones, the visitors from the West, would be outside during the hottest part of the day. Made sense.
The general physical look of the camp itself was sad. 70 year old decaying walls and a colorless view. But the people looked healthy and were well-dressed; I imagined that the interiors of the houses were also nicely furnished. And, as I said, children played. It was difficult to take in the full dichotomy.
So many walls were filled with paintings of people who died at the hands of the oppressors. Our guide spoke: “The children will know who they were. We and they will not forget.”
A cartoon-like character, called Handala, was a common graphic. His back faces us. He is a symbol of the refugees, a 10-year-old boy who was forced to leave Palestine. I read that his back is turned to the world, rejecting so-called “solutions” imposed from outside. I also heard that he will face us when Palestine is free; its people allowed to return.
We paused at a corner as we were taking in the sights and sounds. I looked up and saw a woman standing on a second-floor balcony. She was smiling broadly. Her head nodded. It was a beautiful, wordless welcome. And it enveloped me. Within a couple of minutes, a young man delivered a large disk of bread. It was warm. “That’s my mom; she baked this for you.”
In that moment, with torn bread and big grins, there was no division. There was no Green Line or Separation Wall or Zionism or Terrorists. There were only people, desperate to connect. Open to peace. Wanting Love.
There were only human beings.