We go to this village twice weekly because the soldiers stand close to the school, bearing arms, and terrifying the children. This school is a Girl's school for kindergarten to 9th grade, and it is also the school for boys up to the age of 10. Up until age 10 school is completely co-Ed, but then the sexes are separated.
The Israeli army presence is to protect the settlers who live on the hill and who travel to Bethlehem or Jerusalem from potential rock throwing by the children. They often bring a jeep with 2-3 soldiers. Today they did not come, and that has been consistent since our team arrived. If we are there the soldiers do not come; if we are not present the soldiers harass and frighten the children.
This morning I was greeted warmly by many of the 900 students. With big smiles they said "Hello" and " what is your name.". They repeated my name with curiosity and then told me their names, after some prodding. Mohammad, Ahmet, Abet, Hamad, and for girls Sihma, Sharn, Qebet. Joyful, happy children. The headmistress told me that on some days the soldiers are present. We decided as a team to vary the days we go to catch them off-guard.
I will admit to you that not all is horrible in Bethlehem. While most of the children walked down the hill from two directions, some came by car or bus. I noted a 7 passenger van with 20 children inside. Four were sitting on the front passenger seat, and the rest crammed in. But there were also many very nice cars like Kia, VW, Subaru, and the occasional Mercedes.
Life in a "cell" of a city still goes on. There are small shops, vegetable vendors, grocery stores, but quite small in comparison to the average supermarket in the US. The hotels are quite nice and clean, there are lots of people on the streets shopping. Most Moslem girls wear a hijab, but with lots of make-up--okay guys, is hair really that sexy? They are all well dressed but conservative whereas the christian women wear western style clothing including a bit of bare midriff. There are theaters, all seem to have big screen LCD TVs in their homes, even in the refugee camps--they may sleep 7 people in a room on the floor on mats, but the flat screen TV is given the prime location. The EAs wear vests that tend to make us stand out. They all know why we are here and they are very cordial. Yesterday I was invited to tea in a small shop and they didn't even try to sell me anything.
Hospitality is the one thing you know-- wherever you are you will be served tea or coffee.