Bethlehem, Palestine is the birthplace of Jesus Christ, therefore an amazing pilgrimage for Christians from all over the world. However, instead of Bethlehem being recognized as a peaceful, catholic site, Bethlehem’s reputation is tainted because of the Israeli military occupation. Within Israel, traveling to Bethlehem is almost taboo, as Israelis are indoctrinated to think that Palestine, or the West Bank is a breeding ground for violence and terrorism. Even Tel Aviv University null and voids student health insurance if students travel to Palestinian territories, therefore subliminally informing its students that the territories are dangerous and should be avoided. One can decide to buy into this fearful notion, and stay out of the territories, but by doing so they are missing the reality of Palestinian culture; which from my personal experience is not violent or monstrous, but rather peaceful, beautiful and kind.
On Christmas Day, my father, who is visiting from Canada, traveled with me to Bethlehem. Despite what the media portrays, we were eager to develop our own conclusions of Palestinian people and the so-called violence that apparently exacerbates within the region. We visited the Church of Nativity, and talked to locals in the main streets who were only welcoming and happy to see tourists.
After Christmas mass, we hired a taxi to take us to Aida Camp, where we were greeted by Abdelfattah Abusrour, the Director General of Alrowwad Cultural and Arts Centre for Children. Mr. Abusrour’s efforts are dedicated to using the collaborative arts to empower Palestinian youth and women towards “Beautiful resistance”. Camp Aida is located right beside the controversial Israel “security” wall, and the point of entry in which Israeli soldiers enter the refugee camp, founded in 1950 to house Palestinians that previously lived in what became Israel. On a daily basis, soldiers enter the camp making their presence felt amongst children and adults alike. Often “their presence is felt” with tear gas, and steal coated with rubber bullets.
On Christmas day, instead of Palestinians rejoicing the birth of Christ, people were wearing gas masks and covering their mouths to avoid breathing in toxic tear gas. As I walked through the refugee camp, where children were playing, I noticed empty tear gas containers that were hung up in alleyways, like decoration. The children are constantly exposed to Israeli soldiers, which, as one can understand, would have detrimental psychological effects on the children. In addition, the children have no playgrounds, or football fields to entertain themselves, rather they are left to play within a refugee camp that provides less than adequate means for their own development. The Alrowwad Culture and Arts Centre for Children is a breath of fresh air as it provides an environment for children to productively explore their strengths. As Mr. Abusrour stated, “I want to encourage Palestinian children to live for their country, rather than striving to die for their country.” This kind of “Beautiful Resistance” is what the media should focus on, rather than continuously dehumanizing Palestinians.
My father and I spent the night with Mr. Abusrour and experienced true Palestinian culture and tradition. Mr. Abusrour’s wife, a wonderful mother and teacher prepared an authentic Palestinian dinner for their five beautiful and intelligent children, my father and I, and for a French family of five traveling the world. Their warmth, kindness and hospitality is so profound that it is difficult to find the words to describe such generosity. Palestinian culture is one that is beautiful, kind, and accepting. When one buys into the media portrays of violent Palestinians, they are missing out on the true reality. The Alrowwad center, and Mr. Abusrour’s “Beautiful Resistance” is how Palestinians should be recognized, and one needs to travel to Palestine for themselves to truly understand the “Beautiful Resistance” movement. If we continue to accept media portrayals as truthful, we are only perpetuating ignorance and violence. Only when one takes the time to actually understand a culture, can opportunities for peace flourish.
There is something inherently unsettling about an “occupied Christmas”, and even more problematic is the notion of occupying an entire population. The consequences of a military occupation are vast and detrimental, and can only be truly felt through traveling to the West Bank and spending time with those that are affected by such degradation on a daily basis. The Palestinian people deserve to be recognized for their beautiful and kind culture. If the media fails at demonstrating such, as human beings we have a moral obligation to get to know the Palestinian people. I guarantee that after spending time with Palestinians, such perceptions of fear and violence will perish.