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PALESTINIAN STORIES ON THE WALL IN BETHLEHEM

The Wall Museum


Culture and Palestine Series, Bethlehem ARAB EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTE

Copyright 2012 by AEI-Open Windows All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced without written permission from the publisher.

The Wall Museum


Palestinian stories on the Wall in Bethlehem
Once the area around Rachels Tomb, a pilgrimage place for Moslems, Christians and Jews, was one of the liveliest in Bethlehem. The Hebron Road connected Jerusalem with Bethlehem, and its northern section was in fact the busiest street in town. It was the gate from Jerusalem into Bethlehem. After entering Bethlehem along the main road, visitors either chose the direction to Hebron or the road to the Church of Nativity. The reality now is different. During the 1990s Rachels Tomb developed into an Israeli military stronghold with the Jerusalem-Bethlehem checkpoint close by. As such it became the focus of Palestinian protests, especially during the second Intifada after September 2000. In 2004-5 Israel built Walls near the Tomb and a surrounding enclave, both of which it had already annexed to Jerusalem. The Tomb thus became forbidden territory to inhabitants of Bethlehem. In the course of time no less than 64 shops, garages, and workshops along the Hebron Road closed their gates. This was not just because of the fighting, shootings and shelling going on during the second Intifada, but also because the area became desolate as a result of the Wall. Peo-

Requests for permission to reproduce selections from this book should be mailed to: AEI-Open Windows, aei@p-ol.com Published in Bethlehem, Palestine, by the Arab Educational Institute (AEI-Open Windows) as part of the Culture and Palestine series. The Wall Museum: Palestinian stories on the Wall in Bethlehem Photos: Fadi Abou Akleh The Culture and Palestine series explores expressions of Palestinian culture, including popular customs, arts, traditional and present-day stories, as well as writings and reflections upon Palestinian daily life. www.aeicenter.org Printed in Bethlehem, Palestine

PALESTINIAN STORIES ON THE WALL IN BETHLEHEM

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ple still remember that parents warned their children not to visit the area with its imposing 8-9 meter high concrete Wall almost twice as high as the Wall in Berlin. Those inhabitants who did not want or could not leave the area thought what to do. How to create life in a dead and deadening environment? Among different initiatives, the Arab Educational Institute, member of the international peace movement Pax Christi, was advised by its members in that neighborhood to start up cultural activities. In 2009 AEI opened the Sumud Story House there, in which four women groups, including one made up of women from the neighborhood, came together for weekly meetings and various social activities. Among those activities were cultural events like the formation of a large human Bethlehem star; the singing and playing from roofs and balconies along the streets; a concert from down under a military watchtower; meditative and inter-religious sessions, and the establishment of a womens choir performing next to the Wall. In 2009 AEI launched the modest but annual Sumud Festival in the area. Other Wall-torn cities, like Berlin and Belfast, provided models of inspiration. The Wall Museum is the last stage of those imaginative cultural activities. One side remark about the name: the use of inverted commas around museum is on purpose. The museum is not intended to become permanent. It is in fact our hope that the Wall museum stories contribute to cracks in the Wall, to its breaking down, and in fact to the collapse of all Walls around us and around the Palestinian people in
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particular. In other words, we hope that the Wall Museum by its very success will once destroy itself. In this context human stories shown on the posters cannot have but a very special meaning. The fragile, human, personal stories you read in this book stand in a stark and comprehensive contrast to the concrete Wall. The personal story humanizes, opens up, asks for human understanding, whereas the Wall kills the environment, closes up, takes away the human horizon, warehouses people behind the Wall. By preserving human memory, the human story is a challenge to the Wall. The first two groups of in total 60 stories, collected in this volume, were attached to the Wall at Christmas 2011 and in September 2012. They are stories of Palestinian women from the three neighboring towns, Bethlehem, Beit Jala and Beit Sahour, but also from villages around Bethlehem and other places. The stories express a rejection of the Wall, but show also the womens sumud or steadfastness; and the human longing for the healing of home and the creation and preservation of life over destruction. Moreover, the stories give a sense of history and suggest the possibility of change. Again this is in opposition to the Wall which somehow suggests by its very appearance that change is impossible. Last but not least the display of the human stories points to the will to reclaim the Palestinian story. This story, as we all know, has long been denied by the many stereotypes surrounding Palestinians, in a second layer of seemingly impenetrable walls.

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The Wall Museum

The stories have been partly collected from publications and interviews out of the nearby Sumud Story House. Most of them have been written down by the women groups in the House. In the future, more stories will become part of the museum: youth stories, stories of landowners whose land near Bethlehem has been expropriated or made inaccessible; stories of refugees from nearby Aida camp and elsewhere who lost their land during the Nakba [disaster] in 1948 and afterwards. They together recall the tragic story of the Palestinian people as a whole as well as its story of resilience. The personal stories converge into community stories and into a national story. It is the texts of the stories but also their context which make this museum special. The stories are presently attached to the Wall and some to military blocks. In the future they will be also fixed on barbed wire, or, in smaller format, on the bars of a corridor at the entrance of a checkpoint. By its very setting, the story is a statement of saying no to occupation and all the restrictions on the freedom of movement in ones own country. The Museum is still very much in construction. Its ongoing, with new ideas coming. Some of those ideas will come from the community around the museum which already gave suggestions about the content and place of the posters, and who encourage us to continue. Others come from visitors or volunteers. The Museum is not only embedded in the local community. It is also a community project within an international circle.
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The posters are sponsored by individuals and institutions many of whom are from abroad. We would like to thank Church in Action, Cordaid, and the many individuals and groups who sponsored the posters and whose names are mentioned on the posters themselves. We further thank Sabeel-Netherlands and Dutch individual volunteers for their plan to publish a book in 2013 with the present posters translated in Dutch. We also wish to thank the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program for Peace in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), a project of the World Council of Churches, who helped the museum by the very fact of being present during the fixing of the posters. Arab Educational Institute / Sumud Story House Bethlehem October 2012

P.S. In case you yourself are interested to sponsor one or more future poster(s), please contact aei@p-ol.com with a cc to info@aeicenter.com. Thanks in advance!
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PALESTINIAN STORIES ON THE WALL IN BETHLEHEM

The Wall Museum

During the second Intifada from second Intifada from During the September 2000 on, Rachels Tomb 2000 on, Rachels Tomb September became a focal point of clashes. A wall became a focal point of clashes. A wall and tower were built. In 2003, the Israeli and tower were built. In 2003, the Israeli government ordered the government ordered the de facto de facto annexation of Rachel's annexation of Rachel's Tomb in Tomb in A holy place for Christians, Moslems for Christians, Moslems A holy place violation located violation of and Jews, Rachels Tomband located Rachels Tomb is of international law. The tomb international law. The tomb is Jews, became enclosed Jerusalem inside Bethlehem town inside Bethlehem town along the within thebecame enclosed within the Jerusalem along the municipal boundaries. In summer 2005, municipal boundaries. In summer 2005, traditional Jerusalem-Hebron road. Jerusalem-Hebron road. traditional the illegal 8-10 the illegal Although originally the Oslo Accords Although originally the Oslo Accords meter high Wall was8-10 meter high Wall was built around Rachels Tomb and an Rachels Tomb and an built around included it in Area A (under included it in Area A (under Palestinian Palestinian adjacent military base. The tomb is now adjacent military base. The tomb is now control), Rachels Tomb at the end control), Rachels Tomb at the end by a road became part of Area C (under Israeli of Area connectedIsraeli became part C (under to Jerusalem connected to Jerusalem by a road isolated from the environment. It cannot the environment. It cannot isolated from control). control). be reached from Bethlehem. reached from Bethlehem. be
CONSTRUCTED CONCRETE WALL

CONSTRUCTED CONCRETE WALL

CONSTRUCTED CONCRETE WALL

EXISTING FENCE

SUMUD STORY HOUSE

AIDA CAMP
RACHELS TOMB

Visitors to Rachels Tomb, early 20th century

Sumud Story House, www.aeicenter.org

Sumud Story House, www.aeicenter.org

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During the 1930s, British soldiers making checks

Rachels Tomb after the Israeli occupation in 1967

Rachels Tomb in 1944

During the 1990s

During the 1960s before the Israeli occupation

Rachels Tomb area during the building of the Wall, 2003

Sumud Story House, www.aeicenter.org

Sumud Story House, www.aeicenter.org

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