The HLT is grounded in a philosophy of non-violence. While acknowledging the power imbalance between Israelis and Palestinians and the suffering of Palestinians under the occupation, they believe that all sides suffer while locked in violent struggle, much like Gandhi. HLT believes decades of trauma have conditioned both sides to distrust the other and the current spate of violence has not helped. How do you reach these people?
So using what I know as a psychologist, I have been exploring societal level interventions for healing by working through some of the accumulated trauma of the conflict. I feel like I made a tiny initial contribution to this huge task—but one I can continue from afar and in collaboration with others when I go back. It was difficult for me to say good-bye to all the friends I made at HLT and in Bethlehem.
And so, after 2 months of adventures in volunteering, including meeting some inspirational people and learning a bit of Arabic, I said goodbye to this beautiful and conflicted land by with a hike on my last weekend.
The beautiful Wadi Makhroor between Battir (a UNESCO-protected village) and Beit Jala is breath taking. Wadi in Arabic means “valley” and this one winds under terraced slopes and rocky hillsides for about 4 km, a good trek for me but perhaps easier for my younger companions. It was overcast and sprinkled occasionally and walking across some of the tilled plots caused lots of reddish mud to accumulate on our shoes. “My shoes weigh five pounds each,” one of my hiking companions, Nicola, laughed. Rasha, who hiked in Battir before, said that the wild flowers in the spring make the scene even more beautiful... but I found the stark winter scenery and the solitude and silence welcome and pleasing, a nice break from the crowded conditions in the West Bank.
As a humble outdoorsman, who frequently takes refuge in solitude with nature, I was disappointed to see litter scattered between olive trees and small caves! Apparently, not everyone adheres to the principle of leaving a natural spot cleaner that you found it, the way we did. The girls found a red bucket and squashed as many used bottles and trash as they could into it, in order to carry it out … but it would have taken many hikes with large plastic bags to get it all.
In the final stretch, we put our face to the wind and hiked up the last hill towards Beit Jala. My reward for my efforts was to be an evening at Hosh Jasmin Organic Farm - a funky out-of the way restaurant serving delicious traditional Palestinian food. Arriving off-hour, we were treated to a table by the warm crackling fire and were cheerfully joined by a later arriving group, two young Americans living in Tel Aviv and their friends, an American woman from North Carolina, and an Israeli woman. We admired the Israeli woman, Diana, for venturing into the West Bank and she candidly admitted how frightening it was to come here at first.
We had a lively conversation, over dinner which consisted of fresh-made Stuffed Grape leaves, musakhan (Chicken on bread with sauteed onions and sumac spice), Rabbit, zarb (a dish which is slow-cooked under the ground), and delicious little meat dumplings cooked in a kind of hot yogurt sauce (labane). The owner, who noticed us enjoying ourselves, joined us and supplied us all with a free round of stomach-warming house-made Arak (a clear grape/anise liquor; in Greek it’s called Ouzo, Turkish Raki), and we continued talking around the fireplace into the evening. For me, this was the perfect ending to 2 months volunteering in beautiful Palestine, and I hope to come back… again!
This blog was posted by: Jerry Lawler, an American Clinical Psychologist with a private practice in Baltimore, MD. He has volunteered before at Holy Land Trust and been to the West Bank and Gaza 6 times for extended volunteer stints. He has taught in the US on inter-ethnic conflict and maintains a private practice for adults in Baltimore. You can read more from his blog here.