‘I thought they stopped building that thing?’

When I came back into town all sweaty and dusty from flying a kite up by the separation wall, my kite-flying compatriot and I ran into an acquaintance, who had been to Bethlehem before, and was relatively well informed about the whole thing. When we said we’d been flying a kite at the wall construction site though, he said:

“I thought they stopped building that thing?”

So, as I finally get back to posting, I thought this would be a good place to start. Because the wall continues to be built, as rather a blight on those beautiful beautiful hills.

Since I left, the construction has further encroached on the lives of friends there, cutting off access to spots we had picnicked or gone for evening barbecues. Since the spring of 2011, the wall has crept along the hillsides.

The first time I went to the village of Walaja, just over the hill from Bethlehem, was in the spring of 2009, before the wall. I’d heard stories of the oldest olive tree in the world and was curious to explore. Between that and my second visit two years later, Israel had continued its construction of the separation wall, continuing south from Jerusalem, until it finally reached the village.

This is what it looked like that first spring.

When I left Bethlehem this part was being “excavated” to see if there was anything of historical value before it was bulldozed for the wall.

Just around the hill on the right, this is what it looked like.

A large swath had been dug out of the hills, flattened, then planted with about 8-foot-high concrete blocks. They didn’t seem quite as tall as the ones in the center of Bethlehem. Having never seen Bethlehem without the wall though, the effect of walking over the hill and seeing a white scar on its side, was breathtaking. And not in the good way. More winded really.

The effect was not much less powerful on my walking buddy. After standing and just surveying the scene for a few minutes, we decided that the very spot where the concrete stopped was a good place for a bit of a thumbing of noses at the wall.

Having just purchased a kite for 15 shekels ($4 us dollars) we unraveled the string…

And we set to work trying to make the kite fly.

Its quite a job getting it up in the air. And it was mid-summer and h.o.t.

It felt like a bit of a memorial for things lost. Alongside a bit of a hope for life amid the ugly.

Turning right from where we flew the kite, you can see where the concrete blocks will be installed. What’s on the left, the Palestinians can farm, live and play on. Not likely build, since things too close to the wall are generally kaiboshed as “security threats.” There are at least three homes on the wrong side of the wall that will be confiscated or demolished.

I own a pen made from one of the olive trees that was uprooted. Some were re-planted. Most on the other side of the wall will be effectively annexed as settlement property. The red-roofed houses off in the far hilltop? Settlements. All that land used to be farmed and lived on by Walaja and Jerusalem residents.

Just past that curve in the road the preparations were at an even earlier stage.

Looked like a retaining wall was being built so the hillside wouldn’t give way under the construction equipment, wall segments and later military patrols that would run along it.

Its really easy to be cowed by the wall, and the checkpoints, and the guns. Its easy to be afraid and stay away. There were weekly protests for a while, near where we were walking, but almost each week the organizer was arrested. He’s a professor at one of the universities here. Balancing life, the importance of education and the drive to challenge this wall mean protests are a bit more intermittent now. I think recently someone has organized church services every Friday just over the hill from where the first images were taken. At a vineyard that is set to be taken away from Bethlehem residents by the wall.

Climbing the wall makes you see it as just what it is. Man made. Just a bit of concrete poured in wood.

Being able to walk on both sides of what will soon be divided was pretty powerful for me. I’d not long after venture into Rachel’s Tomb to see what was inside the concrete monstrosity that carves out a chunk of the main road in Bethlehem. Its a wall I’d walk past a few times a week on the way to Jerusalem, or to get groceries, or to get to the dentist. I always wondered what it looked like as a whole, before it was sliced and puzzled.

Walking through Walaja I got to take in the village as a whole, and at the same time understand what it will be when it is walled-in.

Once we got a bit farther along the hillside, the bulldozed sections gave way to just the regular walking path. I think I breathed a bit of a sigh of relief. The construction site is rather oppressive.

But then I noticed that trees along the hill were marked with orange ribbons. After a while it became clear that the ribbons marked the path the wall was set to take.

Can you imagine that stark white construction site slicing through these bits of terraced hill?

Finding the next ribbon was rather a sad game to play.

But finally, after rounding the hill, we came to the tree. The olive tree. The OLDEST olive tree alive. Its name is Bedouie.

When we got there, a kids camp was visiting the site. Back in 2003 they say French and Japanese tree experts came and dated it between 3-5,000 years old.

That’s older than the human race.

The wall will run about 15 feet on the far side of the tree.

So the summer camp kids will still be able to visit, assuming the construction doesn’t harm its root system. But they’ll be in the shade of 30 feet of concrete.

One of the sons of the family that owns the land Bedouie lives on has been named by the Palestinian Authority to look after the tree, to host the kids camps and to tell them the story of the ancient olives.

He worries about what the construction will do to the tree. He also worries about the land that will be taken from his family. And wonders whether the kids will still come and enjoy the hillside just the same when the wall comes.

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