I am just waking up in the Bethlehem Hotel, after arriving here last evening from Ben Gurion Airport with 2 Dutch women who are also here for the 100 Year Celebration at Tent of Nations.  A group of perhaps 25 of us “pilgrims” had a buffet dinner together at the hotel, with Meta introducing us and getting us organized for our day trips today.  Some will go to Jericho and surrounding places for a “Desert Spirituality Tour,” and some to Jenin to visit the refugee camp.  I will be on the latter trip and provide a report later today.

Here at 5:30 am in Bethlehem, the city is beginning to wake up. It is just before dawn. Cocks are crowing and the song of many birds is heard over occasional traffic noises below my 11th floor open window.  The smells of the hotel breakfast cooking and breezes of about 55 deg. also come through the window. A few reflections on how I got here, figuratively speaking:

How did I learn about Tent of Nations and decide to come on this journey?  It started with Fakhira, as many things in my life during the past 5 years have done. I met Fakhira in the course of my job as the program manager for several U.S. fellowship programs for Arab activists and democracy reformers from across the Middle East & North Africa.  A group of remarkable individuals fighting for social change in their countries and the region, Fakhira is a 1948 Palestinian and Israeli citizen who has worked with me, taught me, and never stops encouraging me to learn about Palestine and to follow the path of my life, pulling together my unique values, talents and interests to find meaning and contribute to the good of the world.

Last year sometime, Fakhira said, “There is a place in Palestine that brings together many of your interests!  You should go there!”  (She almost always speaks with this type of emphatic enthusiasm and drive.)  How so? I asked.  She said that ToN is a Palestinian family farm near Bethlehem…”  I liked the idea immediately of spending more time in Palestine, where I had traveled twice before and where I can visit 20-25 Palestinian alumni and now friends)…

“… that does organic growing and practices sustainable agriculture and energy usage.”  Hmmm… That caught  my attention.  I do organic growing on a little property in the Finger Lkes of New York State, USA, that I call Cold Comfort Farm.  And in 1997 I traveled to New Zealand/Aotearoa to spend several years as a WWOOFer (Willing Workers on Organic Farms).  In exchange for room and board, I worked and learned on small family farms, in orchards, and in market gardens, and “grew to love” cooperative work on the land, small rural communities, and Kiwis who were committed to sustainable and healthy living.  I ended up staying in Aotearoa/NZ for nearly a decade, but that’s another story.

Then Fakhira said, “At Tent of Nations, they also do educational programs…”  Caught my interest there, too!  I have been a professional educator for 30 years now, in the U.S.   and NZ, as a sociologist and college professor, school teacher, education evaluator, and international trainer.  Lifelong learning and civic education have consumed my last 10 years.

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“… educational programs on nonviolence and peace building.”  My interests in the Israel-Palestine Conflict and Palestinian human and indigenous rights have been steadily growing in the past 5 years, and I am part of a group in my local community called Justice for Palestine, working with other US and international groups to help end the occupation and find a just peace.  This Tent of Nations WAS sounding like a place for me to visit!

I began to explore the ToN website and I discovered that they would be celebrating 100 years of the family being on the land in May 2016.  Visitors and volunteers were welcome, and there is a North American team — FOTONNA — to support TON and help get Americans connected to them.  With the help of Kay and Bill in the DC area, and Meta from the Netherlands, I made my plans online to spend 2 weeks on the Nasser farm/Tent of Nations, joining in the celebrations and making myself useful as a group facilitator and farm worker these next couple weeks, while I learn more about organic growing and sustainable living, and practicing nonviolence by “refusing to be enemies.”

I will meet up with Fakhira and spend time with her and her family after the time at ToN.  Thank you, Fakhira, for once again nudging me along my life’s journey!

Love to all,
Julia
Bethlehem
7 May 2016

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