Marie’s Palestine Journal: Damascus Gate to Beit Sahour

Marie Campbell is a retired University of Victoria professor who left on December 12, 2002 to spend a month in Palestine doing observational work with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM). Observers from Europe and North America act not only as witnesses, but also provide a measure of protection and emotional support to Palestinians.

Bethlehem – December 20, 2002

Damascus Gate to Beit Sahour

I left Tel Aviv today in a pouring rain and it hasn’t let up. I arrived in the central Jerusalem bus station, and called for instructions to get into the OT. The instructions were simple “Take a taxi to the Damascus Gate, cross the checkpoint and get a taxi on the other side to Beit Sahour” where our training is to be held.

It didn’t work out quite so easily, although to reassure you, I ran into no official trouble. Rather, it was taxi “business” that intervened. The first taxi either didn’t know, or pretended not to know, where the checkpoint was and dropped me, in the pouring rain, at something he said was the Damascus Gate. I found a taxi driver who spoke English and who explained how to take a bus to the checkpoint, which was quite a way. I disembarked, again in pouring rain, (I am soaked now) and met up on foot with the soldiers, who just wanted to see my passport.

The curfew was lifted all day today in Bethlehem, unusual. Someone told me it was because of the rain. I don’t know the relevance of that, but it means that everyone is out doing things that they haven’t been able to do for days. I’ve learned since that the curfew is being lifted for the Christmas season, presumably because they expect tourists.

I got to the Three Kings Hotel – a nice building but almost totally dead. There was no reception staff, just someone who came and offered me a room key. I heard and saw several other foreigners with backpacks and assume they are my ISM colleagues. But I had another piece of business to do – I was carrying $1000 US to a Palestinian friend of an Israeli, to help buy medicines, etc. So, I made cell phone contact with the man (Christian Palestinian), he picked me up from my hotel and took me to his house in Bethlehem, where I was served roasted chestnuts, German stollen and Turkish coffee.

Then he delivered me into the hands of his friend at a closed Internet café. (Everything is closed here in Bethlehem – the serious economical effect of the incursions). Here in the “closed” Internet cafe, both the operator and his friend, a Mohawk-College-(Hamiton)-trained guy, have been helping me think through the problem with emailing digital pictures from my camera. And as I think you will see, we have solved it. There is just one computer hooked up here and a very slow line, but the issue was the size of files and making sure that we have the capacity.

I’m fine. Haven’t seen the tanks that routinely patrol during curfew, and do other nasty things. Here in Bethlehem, it is post curfew (that is, we are under curfew again) but my hotel is within sight of the Internet cafe, so I can go back when all is quiet outside. There is a surreal feel to my typing this message in this place, with a Christmas tree all decorated and lights winking at me. The operator of the cafe is preparing a Christmas party for the 24th in this currently deserted-looking site.

My friend this afternoon says that he is waiting to see what will happen on the 24th, as the army is demanding to patrol along with the normal Christmas Eve parade of “the faithful” through the streets of Bethlehem to the Church of the Nativity. The clerics are refusing . This may be trouble. (The issue here is that the church is shared by four religious groups or denominations, each walking with their leader at the head.)

There is a big political demonstration in Bethlehem on Christmas day, too. Watch for TV coverage.


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