Everyday Life in the Holy Land

Bethlehem, literally translated “the house of bread”, is known for the birth of Jesus from Nazareth. A man whom Christians regard as their saviour, Muslims as a prophet and Jews as someone who thought he was the messiah, but was not quite so.

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The birth of Jesus from Nazareth is said to have taken place 2000 years ago. No matter what one believes, his birth has marked the beginning of a calendar most of the world follows in one way or another.

Today Bethlehem is a city of approximately 30 000 inhabitants. It is located in the same place as it was before, but things have changed. Today Bethlehem is under military occupation.

I spent the whole of March in Bethlehem teaching photography at the University of Bethlehem as part of a project of the Finnish Lifelong Learning Foundation. As I was exploring the town, several Bethlehemites told me, that thanks to Jesus Christ, Bethlehem is known as the city of peace. Jesus from Nazareth was born to bring forgiveness and peace to the world.

To be honest, I did not quite get what the people meant. A thought that was in my mind on several occasions was, that this was not how it was supposed to be. This was not what the city of peace was supposed to look like.

There was not supposed to be a military checkpoint surveying everyone coming in and out of the city. There was not supposed to be a wall separating and imprisoning people. The town was not supposed to be overlooked by the watchtowers of military bases. There was not supposed to be teargas on the streets every Friday.

Bethlehem was not supposed to be a town where parents fear for the lives of their children and children grow with a dream of freedom, though not quite knowing what freedom means. Still. That is how it is.

In spite of the occupation, Bethlehem is beautiful. It is calm, friendly and alive. Bethlehem is like any other city with its small shops, traffic jams and yellow lit evenings. Bethlehem is ordinary. The only thing lacking is peace.

Here are some small windows to everyday life in the Holy Land.

 

Copyright: Anna Tervahartiala 2016

Apartment buildings and olive trees.

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Copyright: Anna Tervahartiala 2016

Two men, a cigarette, a discussion and a car.

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Morris : ” I was very young when I went to Peru for work. It took me one month to get there by boat. One month. Can you imagine? Now you come from Europe and how long does it take?”
Me: “About four hours.”
Morris: “Four hours or one day, but imagine. One month.”
Me: “So what did you do on the boat?”
Morris: “I looked for girls of course. I was young.”

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On the market street.

 

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A small pillow factory.

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Moving.

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Anna Tervahartiala 2016

Mohammad sells cotton candy in front of the Nativity Church, the place Jesus Christ is said to have been born.

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A girl who was hanging out with her cousins quite close to a check point.

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A man crosses the Hebron road on a rainy day.

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A construction site.

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Copyright: Anna Tervahartiala 2016

A scene on the way to the Aida Refugee Camp. There are approximately 20 000 Palestinian refugees living in refugee camps on the outskirts of Bethlehem. Most of the refugees are the children and grandchildren of the Palestinians who left their homes in 1948 due to the first Arab-Israel war sparked by the independence declaration of Israel. In the 1950’s UNRWA, an UN organization founded to address the needs of the Palestinian refugees, was responding to the needs of 750 000 Palestinian refugees. Today the number of refugees has risen to 5 million.  

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A girl at the Dhehisheh Refugee Camp. The following night the army raided the camp searching for children who had allegedly thrown stones at soldiers. Even though I was staying relatively close to the camp, I slept all through the night. The next day I talked with a man living in the camp and he said that it was only good, that I did not wake up. “You wake up and you think that it is the war starting all over again. But don’t worry. After some time, you get used to these things. You have to get used to them. Otherwise you cannot live,” he said.

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Nael.

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Copyright: Anna Tervahartiala 2016

Nael the mechanic and his little brother.

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Copyright: Anna Tervahartiala 2016

A man prays on the market street of Bethlehem.

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Copyright: Anna Tervahartiala 2016

A barber’s shop in the old town of Bethlehem.

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Copyright: Anna Tervahartiala 2016

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A Palestinian wedding.

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Copyright: Anna Tervahartiala 2016

Pull up’s in Beit Jala, west of Bethlehem.
I did one.

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Copyright: Anna Tervahartiala 2016

A view from Beit Sahur, east of Bethlehem.

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Copyright: Anna Tervahartiala 2016

Mazin Qumsiyeh, human rights activist, professor of biology and the founder and head of the Natural History Museum of Palestine.
When I asked Qumsiyeh how he got involved in human rights and activism he looked at me and said: “Everybody here is involved. When I was a child I sat in our car and I watched the soldiers beat my father because he would not clean the road for them. After such things, you can not live your life without trying to act for change.”

COPYRIGHT: ANNA TERVAHARTIALA

 

 

Sources:

UNWRA: http://www.unrwa.org/palestine-refugees
OCHA: http://www.ochaopt.org/documents/opt_campprof_unrwa_deheishe_oct_2008.pdf 
and http://www.ochaopt.org/documents/opt_campprof_unrwa_aida_oct_2008.pdf
Islam Guide: https://www.islam-guide.com/ch3-10.htm
Aish: http://www.aish.com/jw/s/48892792.html

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