We left Bethlehem this morning for Hebron. On the way there, we stopped at the village of al-Tuwani. There we walked through a small rural village with no running water, electricity for 4 hours a day provided by a generator and a settlement just over the hill from them. A settlement whose occupants will try anything to make life so unpleasant for the villagers in hopes they will leave. There are still about twenty families left. However, al-Tuwani also has the only school in the area, so children from other villages go to school there. There have been many incidents, many confrontations, but the village remains. We met with a representative of the Women’s Cooperative, which was formed to supplement the income of the men of the village. They produce needlework and jewelry for sale. The women had to ask for permission from the men in order to form the cooperative. After an initial reluctance, the men agreed. This cooperative has been very empowering for them – a feeling of contribution and partnership for survival.

While in al-Tuwani, a member of our group fell on the uneven terrain and cut his forehead. As a precaution, we stopped by a hospital in Hebron for a doctor to take a look at him. Examination, X-Rays, stitches and a prescription – $20.00!

In Hebron, we took a walking tour of the old city. This is another example (such as old city of Jerusalem), where the settlers are building on top of the Palestinian homes, taking any little inch of land/space they can. There are places where the merchants have had to set up nets across the streets – string them from their shop canopies, to catch the stones, trash and debris the settlers try to throw down upon them.

Part of our walk through the Old City included a tour through the Ibrahimi Mosque. Once inside, all the women had to wear a hooded cloak provided by the mosque, making sure that all of our hair was covered. It was very beautiful – memorials to the tombs of Isaac, Rachel and, of course, Abraham. The room that the Abraham tomb was in had windows on both ends, so that the people of the mosque might see it as well as the people of the synagogue on the other side of the mosque.

From there we toured a Palestinian refugee camp in Jerusalem. When I first read about this stop on our itinerary, I was a bit confused. My perception of a refugee camp is tents, no electricity, etc. This camp, Deheishe Camp, has been in existence since 1948. It was first populated by about 3000 refugees. It now holds over 12,000. The original housing was concrete and cinderblock structures to hold 10 people provided by the UN. Over the years, the inhabitants of the camp have built homes upward over the original structures. They have created a community – but one which is hanging on by a thread. Unemployment runs about 80% – food is scarce and hope is in very short supply. The desperation of these people was hanging in the air.

We returned for an evening at a hotel in Bethlehem. The exhaustion of our group, both mentally and physically was in our body language and in our silence as a group. I feel fortunate that I have this blog as a way of getting some of these feelings out. It allows me to process what I am seeing and begin to understand how I feel about it. Being with a group from Earlham College, my alma mater, gives the concept of a trip through the Holy Land a whole new spin. Being a Quaker school, the focus of this journey is peace, what peace means in this land today, how to achieve peace amidst this conflict and asking the question – will it be possible to ever achieve a lasting peace here. The questions are complex, with many different perspectives to consider, emotions to validate and work to be done.

News Muse note: Beth Sullivan is the bookkeeper for DisciplesWorld and has served as board member of the United Christian Missionary Society and the Disciples Divinity House at the University of Chicago. Sullivan is visiting Middle Eastern holy sites on a trip with her alma mater, Earlham College, located in Richmond, Ind.