[January 2005] I'm temporarily living near Bethlehem. What best describes my host is a "typical Palestinian" family. They have four children -- three are adults -- the youngest is a teenager, Ghassan, who lives in the house with his parents. Ghassan has physical limitations, but he is included in every part of family life including, helping in the woodshop (the family's business.)
Being devote Christians, they attend church services regularly and, they produce hand-carved Christian icons to sell to tourists. Unfortunately, due to the onset of the Israel's intifada against Palestine, there have been few tourists for the family business to survive.
Their home is built, like most in this part of the world, with cinder blocks -- local materials, strong and lasting. None of the homes are built with wood -- it's too impractical in this climate. The living room is spacious with an adjoining dining room.
Most Palestinian homes I have visited share one common feature for socializing; comfortable places to sit. Even the most modest homes adorn the living areas with sofas and cushions to create a comfortable atmosphere for friends to gather and enjoy each other's company.
Most television shows broadcast from Lebanon, Kuwait, or Saudi Arabia and are primarily soap operas, comedies or news programs.
My host family cares for their grandson during the morning hours -- while their daughter works. He's a active child and loves exploring and getting into things.
We share bread with olive oil and thyme for our breakfast, and then I meet with my co-worker, a nephew of my host family, who lives next door.
Extended families often take-up entire neighborhoods. Everyone knows each other. Fortuneatly for us, and as is customary each morning, we often require the help of someone to assist in starting-up his jalopy, sometimes using a recruit to help push (reminds me of my days in high school, driving my dad's 1973 Dodge Dart.)
Residential yards in Bethlehem have vegetable gardens -- people grow what they can in the arid climate -- spinach, greens, cabbage, potatoes, and okra are common, and many families have olive trees.
Water conservation is a part of life -- people don't use more than what is necessary for washing up -- the toilet handles have two flush handles, which give less or more water as needed, so you don't have to use five gallons every time you flush. Rainwater collection barrels are common in the villages, and virtually every home is built with a solar hot-water system on the roof. Water runs through pipes under glass casing to heat, then it is piped into the house.
Residents only use the electric hot water heaters during winter months when solar heating system doesn't provide enough hot water. The average Palestinian uses ten times less water than the average Israeli -- and it shows. From the time Israel was formed in 1948, the Sea of Galilee -- the area's greatest water resource -- has dropped five feet. As would be expected, water is a hot political issue, and control of water sources and underground wells is something the Israeli government is scrambling to control by building the annexation wall in the West Bank.
The local Internet service provider (ISP) is a resident who bought a high-speed line from Israel, and then he attached it to a wireless transmitter on his roof. The neighborhoods can receive signals at one house (preferably high on a hill,) then connect the other homes on cable wires. Since families cluster in this part of the world, they organize their Internet access and share the expense across the community.
Unlike other towns in the West Bank and Gaza strip, Bethlehem isn't undergoing daily invasions or weeklong curfews imposed by Israel. But Israeli occupation is still very visible in a number of ways.
First, tourists are scarce. There were visitors for Christmas, but the streets are eerily empty, in a town that was described as 'bustling with activity,' for both tourists and pilgrims only four years ago.
Second, the Israeli checkpoints guarding every entrance into town -- menacing and foreboding -- intimidate even the bravest of tourists from entering, and forbid Palestinians from movement.
Few Palestinians are permitted to enter Jerusalem, and if you are denied permission once, you will not be allowed a second try. Whole families are denied, for no other reason then their surname -- and if you know anything about how Palestinian family names work -- which eliminates most applications.
Third, Israeli military invasions have occurred several times during my stay. The method of making an arrest is to invade the town with 30 or more vehicles, surround the home of the person who is 'wanted' (no warrants are necessary,) and administrate detention without charge or trial. Should a suspect not exit his home upon demand, loudspeakers blast noise and commands at the home and soldiers fire into the building until the 'wanted' man surrenders. Women are not chased in this fashion. During the second week in December 2004, in Nablus, Israeli soldiers shot up a building with a wanted man inside until the building collapsed, crushing and killing the man.
Teenage boys will come out against Israel's military and, in their own expression of masculine bravado, think they are somehow an equal match for the Israeli tanks and armored Hum-Vs. Boys throw stones and shout "get out!" at the Israeli soldiers, who only respond with gunfire. I witnessed a young man shot in the leg from this activity.
Fourth, the Israeli occupation is visible in the form of encroachment -- most notably on the mountain known as Abu Ghneim.
The mountain has changed during the past few years and it has turned from a forested mountain top into a stack of fortress dwellings for Israelis.
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