A first hand account of our projects
Eyewitnesses in Bethlehem
We know the Friends of the Holy Land does good work, but there’s nothing like seeing its team in action.I and my wife Maria had that privilege in February when we visited Bethlehem as part of our visit to the Holy Land. We stayed in the charming Gloria Hotel near the Latin Patriarchate and Jaffa Gate in the Holy City of Jerusalem itself. It’s less than a 10 minutes’ walk from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Holy City’s Christian Quarter through Jerusalem’s busy souq. It takes little more than 15 minutes to get to the Western Wall and the Noble Haram, location of the Dome of the Rock shrine and Al-Aqsa Mosque. More than 3m pilgrims from all three Abrahamic faiths visit the Holy City every year.
Thanks to our excellent drive Ronni, it took less than 40 minutes to get to Bethlehem. It was a sobering visit that involved passing through a checkpoint at the separation wall that divides Israel from most of the West Bank. But we took the opportunity to stop off at the adjacent Walled Off Hotel which we were told accommodates the largest number of works by Banksy to be found anywhere in the planet. We arrived early and took the opportunity to visit the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem Square. It was originally built in the fourth century on the site known as the Nativity Grotto which is thought to be the cave in which Jesus was born. It is the oldest large church in the Holy Land.
Our first destination was The School of Joy, which is supported by the FHL and educates children with special needs. There are about 70 pupils and the school would love to accommodate more if it could.We were warmly welcomed by the school’s director Father Mamdouh Abusada and visited each of the four classes where boys and girls were studying English, Arabic and Maths. In one, the children sang Row, Row Row the Boat Gently Down the Stream. In another, we were greeted with a cheery rendition of Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes. Our next stop was two households which the FHL directly supports. Both would be in desperate straits without the charity’s assistance. They were grateful for what the FHL’s doing and delighted to meet supporters from London.
Our final stop was Martha’s House, a drop-in centre for women senior citizens who find companionship and support and a get a nutritious lunch every day. It welcomes more than a dozen guests every day. The FHL’s work in Bethlehem is part of a programme that encompasses communities in the West Bank, Gaza, Israel and Jordan. As we discovered, its impact is direct and effective.
Changes in US policy are resulting in a reduction of financial support to the people of the area. This is compounding chronic economic problems including unemployment and poverty. In February, the weather was exceptionally cold in the Judean Hills. But there were power cuts of several hours most nights which hit people who depend on electric power for heating.In addition, there is a constant feeling of insecurity and uncertainty about the future.
There is little sign there will soon be a positive change in the conditions which weigh so heavily on the people the FHL helps. The incentive for the young, the talented and those with sufficient resources to leave is strong. But we left feeling inspired by everyone we met and grateful to members of the FHL team who are achieving so much in difficult conditions. We would like to express our special thanks to Reem Aburdeneh and Nancy Wahhab of the FHL’s Bethlehem office for their hospitality and kindness during our short visit.
We shall be back!