There are ten of us who are now starting our summer journey in Bethlehem. We met on June 4, a sweltering summer day, just outside of the Old City of Jerusalem (or in Arabic, Il-Quds). We clambered onto a small bus with all our suitcases, and rode over the Green Line into Bethlehem, where our host families greeted us in the multi-story, open-air courtyard of the Holy Land Trust offices in the Old City. Since then, in less than two weeks, we have toured Bethlehem and its two neighboring cities, Beit Jala and Beit Sahour; we have started work at our volunteer placements, which are scattered throughout the three cities and the three refugee camps in their midst (Aida, Dheisha, and Al-azza); we have begun (or continued) our study of Arabic; we have hiked to the ancient village of Battir (Betar); we have spent seven hours touring Hebron and encountering multiple perspectives on its complex political realities; and much, much more.
I feel grateful to be here. Coming here feels like scratching an itch that I've had since first visiting the West Bank in 2010. I am grateful for the incredible hospitality I have encountered here so far, not only from my host family, but also from the staff at my volunteer placement (Jemima in Beit Jala); from the Holy Land Trust staff, who have clearly put an incredible amount of thought and heart (and an amazing local network!) into planning the program; and from all of our guest lecturers, tour guides, Arabic teachers, and all of the other folks whom we have met here so far. It is a great privilege to be here, and, while I know there is no way that we guests can earn our keep, the best thing I know to do with my gratitude is to dedicate myself as deeply as I can to learning Arabic, in the hopes that that will, one day in the not-so-distant future, enable me to be of service.