Last night was my first in the apartment in which I will be staying as home base. It is much nicer than I had expected. Daniel, my host and the coordinator of the Bethlehem Study Center, bought this abandoned, 100 year old stone house and made it into classrooms, a 2 bedroom apartment and coffee shop. Last night as usual, adults of various ages came for a book club discussion, to play cards (imagine that) and to chat.
I finally enjoyed getting organised, doing laundry and shopping. Five pounds of a variety of vegetables was only 10 shekels, about $2.75! The simple pleasures of having cereal, yogurt and good coffee, the way I like them, can not be overstated. Everything the Palestinians buy is taxed by the Israelis, and because they are not allowed resources to produce much themselves, food is costly. The average wage in Palestine is about $4,800/yr and though the cost of living is lower, not enough for them to be kept at a level where they can advance. Not only are their taxes higher than Israel’s, their goods cost more. The wholesale price for a 3 kilo bag of coffee in Israel is 75 shekels and in Palestine, 95. So they are hammered from all sides. The benefits received from Israel in return for these taxes and tariffs are nearly non-existent and what they are, they are often cut off in punishment, for instance when Palestine applied for status with the UN. There are calls by some in the US to invest in Palestine, and some of that may work, but it is like filling a bucket with too many holes in the bottom.
I heard tonight from one of the young baristas that an acquaintance of his was nearly kidnapped at around 2am this morning, here by Israeli settlers, about a mile down from us. The settlers drove into town, but the boy was able to run away. Things seem to be heating up. And now tonight parents are worried and have contacted their kids to come home, as there is gun fire between Bethlehem and the settlement Gilo (about 5 miles away – on the map below, I am in B. Sahur, in the grey area just to the right of Bethlehem), separated by a valley which offers clear targets.