We spent another full day in Bethlehem today. And my mind is on overload even as I’m trying to write this blog post. 

Being back in the Middle East, and specifically back in Palestine and Israel overwhelms me with a sense of contentment, excitement, more curiosity, and maybe even a little bit of nostalgia. After growing up in Beirut, Lebanon for 12 years, I love the simple things and am reminded of the things I have missed. Listening to Arabic being spoken makes me smile. Hearing the Call to Prayer makes me feel at home. Anything you eat here is guaranteed to be delicious. And the people… I love the people here and am constantly intrigued by the stories they tell of their daily lives. 

Today, we met with Elias again, the Palestinian Christian.  Sarina and I also got to meet Rasha, a Palestinian Muslim. We heard more stories about life in Palestine in the middle of this ongoing conflict. 

In the two days we’ve spent in Bethlehem, we have already heard countless stories about the tragedies during the second intifada, which was the Palestinian uprising that began in 2000. As I was hearing stories, I distinctly remember sitting in my 5th grade class watching the news about all the violence just 150 miles south of Beirut, in Israel and Palestine. The images were graphic, and I remember being confused and scared. Today, I was reminded of the images as Elias pointed out his window explaining the constant violence he witnessed right outside his home. I cannot imagine living through that. 

I think I can speak for the whole team when I say that we feel emotionally overwhelmed after listening to their stories of how they lost people close to them, how they saw people die right outside their home during the second intifada, how it’s a daily battle as they look out at the wall that symbolizes their lack of freedom and must choose live life the best way they can.

From a book I read this past year, “Compassion” by Nouwen, one line keeps coming to mind: “The more we pay attention, the emptier we become.” We are only getting a small glimpse of what the Palestinians face daily, but when we allow ourselves to stop and just listen, we can begin to feel compassion. And then we have the responsibility to act in some way. We have to empty ourselves of our own pride, ideas, and ways of wanting to “fix” things. Maybe our role is simply to try to understand the people and walk alongside them as we discover the hope amidst the overwhelming conflict…or at least that is a beginning step.