Saturday, February 05, 2005

Bethlehem: Barriers, and Voices of Hope

By Ann Hafften

In Bethlehem we saw the future in the faces of the children of “Bright Stars” and the Dar al Kalima school. So bright and open, they seem eager for every opportunity and they will be equipped through these fine programs.

We saw the present, too, in the Separation Barrier, a great hulk stalking through Bethlehem’s streets and gardens, cutting the little town off from fields and neighbors and hope. It is painful to see the Bethlehem area so encircled by the grey walls, its people so entrapped by its ugliness, immobilized by its perpetual tread through the land.

Did I say the Barrier cuts off hope? Not so! We hear voices of hope everywhere we go as the people of Palestine scan the horizon for new possibilities, political solutions, fresh starts for civil society, and more opportunities for families. But while we hear these we are watching the walls approach, aware that building has not ceased and that new roads and tunnels are planned every day that will further separate the peoples of this land.

We visited a family near Bethlehem whose lands were confiscated, first for a major highway that serves only Israeli settlers and others with a permit, now for the extension of the Barrier that is relentlessly moving their way. The walls will surround on three sides the home they built in what was a lovely valley before the highway came. The walls will be so close to that no natural light will reach the house. They will cut the children off from their swing set.

And the olive trees are marked for removal. The ancient olive trees surrounding this home bear red spray-painted numbers, their meaning unclear. These trees have witnessed much in their lives in the valley – they saw the coming of this family, they felt the earth movers that built the highway and the tunnel, but they will not know the coming of the Barrier. They will be gone by the time the walls, heavy feet reach this part of the Bethlehem area.

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