Thinking of Biblical History in Bethlehem & Refugee Issues at the Aida Camp
The second morning of Trip 21 began in the Old City of Bethlehem with our tour guide, Salwa. We drove through the town of Beit Jala on the way, learning that it means "House of Gardens". It is likely that the Canaanites settled in the area about the same time as in neighboring Bethlehem, around 3,000 BCE. Beit Jala is thought to be one of several possible locations of the biblical city of Gilo, mentioned in Joshua 15:51 and II Samuel 15:12. Salwa suggests that the story of Naomi, for example, backs up these biblical claims and that the Jews returned here after the Babylonian exile. The oldest remaining ruins of a substantial community, however, date to the early Christian period of the 3rd-4th century CE, when monks such as St. Nicolas came to reside nearby the site of Jesus’s birth. At the Church of Nativity learned that many Christians left Bethlehem to avoid forced army enlistment under the Ottoman Empire.
Leaving Manger Square, the group continues to the Aida Refugee camp, whose name derives from a famous coffeehouse (maqhah) located on the site in the early 1940s. We learn that the camp was established in 1950 by refugees mostly from the Jerusalem and Hebron areas. Some 700.000 Palestinians left Palestine leading up and during the 1948 war. Who bears responsibility for this mass flight? Some suggest it is Israel, and back Palestinians’ claim to the “right of return.” Others argue that because Palestinians largely fled voluntarily, as ordered by their leaders, Israel has no obligation to compensate them. The Palestinian narrative counters that the Zionist armies expelled Palestinians deliberately. These issues are discussed by Tiyul-Rihla participants at great length.
What many agree is that both sides were wrong at points in the course of the conflict and often led each other directly or indirectly to act violently in response. The refugee issue remains a challenge until today, especially for the refugees themselves still residing in host countries or in places such as the Aida Camp where living conditions are poor. Refugee status and entitlement is ever-present in conflict negotiation. Exploring the various narratives of what happened helps to address this issue by pointing towards a solution that satisfies the needs of both the refugees and many Jewish Israelis to have a place to live in security and prosper.
Trip 21 concluded as the group unpacked the many issues raised over our two day program in a final discussion at the Everest Hotel. The experience brought us a step closer to mutual understanding, made possible by seeing history through the eyes of the other.
We appreciate the generous support of our donors, partners, and friends. Please consider donating to our project online or by post through our host 501(c) (3) NGO at: