Our next stop does not appear on any tour guide’s list of recommended stops. But we are not a group of sight-seers. We are pilgrims looking for the holy people and the holy places of this land. Tucked inside Bethlehem’s oldest refugee area, Ida Camp, we found both. Ida Camp once had the main road connecting Jerusalem and Hebron as it ran through Bethlehem. Today, the annexation fence, a stone wall towering ten meters high, has sealed in the Palestinians like a modern day Warsaw Ghetto, an irony not lost on the locals, whose beautiful graffiti adorns their side of the wall with messages critical of the Israeli government’s treatment of the people. One message, scrawled in simple black font, reads: “You Survived The Holocaust To Do This?”
The wall itself follows no practical border, but instead, gerrymanders in such a way that it seals off the most Palestinians in the smallest possible area. One area of the wall speaks to the ridiculousness of the route, where the stone surrounds a Palestinian home on three sides. The house, also a pair of shops, is home to two families. Their front doors open onto what used to be the main street. Now, the only view is the graffiti on the wall and the puzzled looks of tourists as they wonder what dead end they’ve come to. But inside one store, thirteen year old Danny and twenty-two year old Christine happily run back and forth inside the small shop, checking prices, selling hand-carved figurines, postcards and garments. They have adapted to the suppression and in many ways, risen higher than the walls that encircle them.
The group walked through Ida Camp and made their way through the same checkpoint that every day, thousands of Palestinians must go through to get into Israel, a humiliating stretch of crowded walkways where the guide rails look like the paths of a cattle pen. After snaking our way through the metal maze and passing through turnstiles, one by one, we approached heavy bullet-proof glass where Israeli troops waved us through a metal detector while our belongings went through an X-ray machine. Above us, on catwalks, guards armed with machine guns patrolled, scanning the Palestinians below. Children looked up but were not surprised by what they saw. This was just another day for them.
After making it through the checkpoints, which took the group 37 minutes (one-third the time it normally takes since it was not the early morning when thousands head to work), we headed North on the bus to Galilee. It was a solemn, sad drive for most. We watched the streets become cleaner, the store fronts become more elegant, and an entire society ignoring one of the most atrocious violations of human rights of the Twenty-first Century.
The two hour drive brought a change in elevation, terrain and vegetation. We watched the desert bloom, as Date Palm farms and lush greenery burst by the windows, and finally arriving in the city of Nazareth, we found a bustling city-center.