Now in Bethlehem

by ray goodlass

Now in Bethlehem, I made my first visit to the Alrowwad Culture Centre at the Aida Refugee Camp, where I will be teaching drama. Everyone is very welcoming and I have a stack of drama games, creative drama activities and play building projects, so hopefully it will all go well.
The Centre seems quite well endowed, with a drama room / small theatre, small library / computer room, a multimedia room for TV , film and radio. They even have an online radio station. I think it is largely funded by EU donor nations, plus its own fundraising from supporters.
The camp itself, which was established by the UN in 1950, is a poor place, with apartment blocks cheek by jowl and most in a very bad state of repair, naturally enough, I guess. Looming over it all is the Israeli Separation Wall, built right alongside the camp as Israel built it well over the 1948 Green Line, taking land from Palestine as it did so. More on the wall below.
I’ve rented a small low budget flat for the two weeks I’ll be here. Its a bit shabby but clean, and I have a fridge, kettle, free Wi-Fi, air conditioning, a huge double bed and a functional bathroom – and a fabulous view over large swathes of Bethlehem.
Its about a 15 walk to the camp, but the dominant feature here in the north of Bethlehem is the Israel Separation Wall, complete with gun towers and observation points. It is everywhere, looming over everything, at least 6 metres high. Built of grey concrete, but enlivened by fabulous graffiti and Banksy type political illustrations. I’ve even found a Banksy Shop, but have yet to find it open.  
A small but telling point: during an early morning (6.30 am) walk I found a traffic jam on the local main road near my flat. Walking along a bit I could see up ahead the flashing lights of ambulances and what looked like police type cars. Back home in Australia it would have indicated an traffic accident, but here it could have been an Israeli military incursion. Though Bethlehem is in Area A, which is supposed to mean 100% Palestinian control, the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) moves in at will. A couple of weeks ago, for example, they killed two Palestinians.
One final point. The name of the IDF is pure propaganda, for it is a tool of expansionist aggression, and so has little to do with defence.