It is really a joy to have a day with no schedule, to walk and get lost – just to wander. Every taxi honks at me thinking I am a lost, dumb tourist. Well I may be both, but I love letting the town determine what I see, hear and smell. I headed for Solomon’s Pools, about a 2 hour walk, meandering through the Bethlehem area. On the way I passed the Dheisheh Refugee Camp, the largest of three camps in the Bethlehem area. Established in 1949 following the Nakba (catastrophe), after being forced from their homes by Israel’s 1948 war, it now has 13,000 refugees from 45 villages. Many still have the key to their former home, thus the image of a key symbolized the longing to return.
Like other camps, Dheisheh is maintained by the UN. 15% of the shelters use latrines with percolation pits. 1/3 are unemployed, restricted by inaccessibility to Israeli labor market. Unemployed people often open small businesses, such as roadside stands. Palestine refugees are “persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948, and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict.” In 1950, there were about 750,000 Palestine refugees and today there are some 5 million. After the 1967 war and the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, ten camps were established to accommodate a new wave of displaced persons. Nearly 1/3 of registered Palestine refugees, more than 1.5 million individuals, live in 58 recognized Palestine refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, the Syrian Arab Republic, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.
On to Solomon’s Pool’s, which turn out to be not as old as he – only since Herod the Great. They supplied water from the Bethlehem hills, through a system of pipes and aqueducts built by Pontius Pilate, to Jerusalem 12 kilometers away up until this last century. A major engineering feat, the 3 pools hold .34 million cubic meters of water.
As a reward for my long walk, I decided to treat myself to meat for dinner. I chatted with the shop owner selling roasted chickens. He said, “We are disabled here. It is a beautiful place with wonderful people, the occupation prevents us from living, but we love our land.” What I find amazing is that he and so many others say this without contempt or anger, but with humility, determination, acceptance and patient. I wonder what my attitude would be under similar circumstances.