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Dreaming in Battir

Contributed by Toine Van Teeffelen on 10.10.2013:

Toine van Teeffelen

10 October 2013

While Mary visits the celebrations at Bethlehem University, which has its 40 year anniversary, Tamer (now 11 years) and I leave for a hike in the village of Battir, west of Bethlehem. In his homework he just learned about the ecological value of trees. But the morning paper, Al-Quds (Jerusalem), opens with the story that olive trees in the villages Bourin and Deir Sharif in the Nablous area have been destroyed by settlers. It is presently olive harvest time.

Tamer joins the hike on the condition that he can bring his I Pad. The trip by service or collective taxi is cheap: 11 shekel or just over 2 Euro for two persons. We start near the Hassan Mustafa Center, one of several cultural centers in Battir. Lately I had the chance to meet Nadia Butma, who runs the center (named after a former community leader who protected the village in 1948 and negotiated with the Israelis about the ceasefire line). Nadia is open for cooperation with the Center for Cultural Entrepreneurship which AEI hopes to establish next year, offering a one-year vocational training to youth and women.

Battir has struggled for some years against the building of the Wall which would, if built near the village, not only ruin the lives of local people but also greatly damage the landscape. You can see in the area beautiful terraces with trees, wells, caves, as well as ancient Roman channels, pools and gravetombs. Walking there somehow gives you this sense of loosing time, certainly so when meeting a peasant with a donkey working on the land. Tamer and I put the arms around each other so as to stay warm; the weather is colder than we thought. I explain him the idea of sinsile, the little pittoresque walls which decorate the terraces and are built up from the rough stones found in the environment.

But the sense of timelessness is broken when Tamer spots two military jeeps on a road close to the Har Gilo settlement, and the Wall also emerges on a distance (it is lower though than in Bethlehem, as the settlers do not want to ruin the views from their houses). Tamer imagines that he glides like Batman across the wadis. Maybe that Batman can cross the invisible border with Jerusalem, normal humans cannot. There is an electronical “fence”; when you cross the Battir railway, you will be caught immediately. On my turn, I fantasize about the rock formations in the wadis which take on shapes that resemble animals. In fact, once an old folklore book noted that some rocks in this area represent a passing bridal procession, the members of which apparently “sinned” at that moment – which sin wasn’t mentioned – and who were punished by being transformed into rocks.

No sound around us, except for the wind.

Among the new posters on the Wall, are 15 children’s dreams.

One is Majd’s, from Bethlehem.


A holy city, a place where all kinds of people are welcome.

It’s my hometown, a place where I can relax.

A safe place, a place of religion.

A wonderful place.

A place I want to build my future, my better life.

Finalize my high school education and hopefully become a vegetarian.

Bethlehem is an open prison.

In my future it is a place of freedom.

A place known for its hospitality for everyone, especially tourists.

A place where people bond and talk and be free.

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