Saturday, January 9, 2010

O little town of bethlehem

the other day i was chatting online with my friend rebecca and she told me about an interesting situation near our neighboring town of bethlehem. she then sent me the following e-mail: 

You are invited to a painting party at Osh Grab/Shdema (as the Women in Green like to call it).  OshGrab is a hill overlooking Beit Sahour, a Palestinian town that is next to Bethlehem.  When the Jordanians were in charge of the West Bank, the hill at OshGrab had a small military outpost on it.  In 1971 the Israeli's also decided to use the hill top as a military outpost.  They also decided to seize all the private land surrounding the outpost.  That land has been unavailable for development by its owners since that time.  Four years ago the Israeli military decided to pull out of Osh Grab and to no longer use the site for military needs.  However, the seizure order was never canceled, even though the military no longer has a use for the site.  Three years ago the mayor of Beit Sahour was approached by Cure International, an NGO that builds hospitals in needy places around the world.  Cure wanted to build a children's hospital in Beit Sahour.  Unfortunately most of Beit Sahour's historic municipal lands (ie the places where the town can grow into and use for development in general) have been annexed to Jerusalem, including what is now the "neighborhood" of Har Homa.  Beit Sahour is becoming hemmed in, leaving very few options for development.  One of the remaining options is developing the area around and on top of OshGrab.  The mayor spent several years trying to get planning permission from the Israeli army for the building of a hospital at the site.  But he did not succeed.  During that time he did get verbal permission to build a park on part of the hill.  The park is now threatened with demolition if the settlers get their way.

When the Women in Green learned that Beit Sahour had submitted plans for developing the land at OshGrab they decided that the land belonged to Israel and Israel should not give it up.  They have launched a campaign for the hill top to become a Zionist Cultural Center (on the edge of a Palestinian village and partially on land seized from local towns people).  Their campaign has been libelous against the local community, rude and threatening, and occasionally violent both towards locals and the Israeli military.  If you want to see the tenor of the campaign you can visit their website at  The video they have produced accuses the local population of terrorism.  Beit Sahour is an 80% Christian village with a history of non-violent protest against the military occupation.  Its citizens have stood up against oppression courageously a number of times.  During the first intifada the community decided to refuse to pay taxes to the Israeli military.  They ran their campaign under the slogan, "No taxation without representation."  Unfortunately the military came and confiscated property in leu of the taxes but this example shows the kind of approach taken by the community.

So my plan.  There are abandoned buildings at OshGrab that the settlers are using for by-monthly art shows and concerts and speeches by Israeli Knesset members and Rabbis from Efrat and other surrounding settlements.  I want us to paint quotes from Jewish sources that speak about the Jewish values that the settlers are failing to live by.  I want us to remind them of their obligations as Jews to live in ways that will promote peace and are in line with justice.  I have some texts that I have collected.  I would love it if you all wanted to bring texts that you want to write on the walls.  I think we should write in English, Hebrew and Arabic (if we can).  Please bring the texts that you have to contribute with you.

so, we did!

 well, we made our way to bethlehem and when we arrived, we found out that the settlers had gathered at the site, making it not a safe place for us to go paint peaceful torah messages. ironic. neither derek nor i had ever been to bethlehem before, so we decided to do some touristing in order to not waste the day away and in hopes that the settlers would leave and we would still have time to paint before heading back to jerusalem for shabbat.first we went to the church of the nativity. it reminded me (quite logically) or the church of the holy sepulchre. i love going to other religions' holy sites and seeing how they move people.

then we went to the milk grotto, where crusaders set up in the spot they claim mary spilled some breast milk while she was suckling baby jesus. we loving called this the boob church. it was also beautiful.

we met up with bethany and steve who took us back to the church of the nativity to show and explain some more, and to take us to the cell where jerome translated the vulgate and coined the term apocrypha, but there were some franciscans processing so we got to see them instead.

en route to lunch, we got word that the settlers were gone, so we switched courses, bought some food and paint, and headed up the hill. this is what we found:

so we got to painting:

this was my first act of graffiti not on the Wash U underpass, and I mostly did white paint over things the settler folk had painted. things like "we are freedom fighters for israel!" and "kahane was right!" while my friends painted biblical and rabbinic texts.

and then my camera died, so no more pictures. we also don't know what the reaction of the settlers will be, but we're hoping that the words of peace that we painted in hebrew, english, and arabic will be understood by both the settlers and the surrounding arab villages.


Sarah C Weinberg said...

It would be interesting to see their reaction to what you wrote because you wrote out the name of G-d rather than abbreviating it. I wonder when/if they paint over this how they'd handle it.

JAS said...

thanks for noticing sarah! that was intentional on our part. we're interested to see as well...