The bittersweet lives of Palestine's children

At the teacher workshop about diary writing the participants say that nowadays Palestinians here are less strict in observing customs like not holding, for a period of up to one year, a wedding party after somebody in the family has passed away. In the past it was unthinkable not to comply but the negative events are so frequent and overwhelming these days that it is simply too unpractical to let one’s social life be prescribed by them. As Mary says, one has to live. Toine van Teeffelen writes from occupied Bethlehem. 

Journey into prison

My family’s costs for the journey from Bethlehem to Amman and the return trip almost equalled a flight trip, per person about $200, including the costs of special taxis, border taxes, the entry authorization from Jordan, and a hotel in Amman. Not for poor people. “Back to the abnormal life,” Mary is used to saying upon entering Palestine. It was raining heavily. The taxi driver was nervous about soldiers checking the car, as he is not allowed to carry passengers without the relevant permits, and wanted to drop my family somewhere before ‘Azzariyyeh (Biblical Bethany). Toine van Teeffelen writes from Bethlehem. 

Children in Bethlehem under siege

When his alarm clock goes off every day at 6am, Saif, my 11-year-old son, barely moves his body out of his bed. His mother and I must go to extraordinary lengths to get him up and ready to go to school. This was never the case before. Saif studies in the Lutheran Church School in Beit Sahour, which is also known as the “Shepherds Field” according to the Bible. Located east of Bethlehem, Beit Sahour is the last Christian majority town in Palestine and used to enjoy the reputation of having the smallest percentage of immigration. This is also not the case any more. 

Song of the Land

Our house is located close to the mosque of ‘Azza refugee camp and so we hear the muezzin or call to prayer five times a day. Even though the sound is loud, you get used to it and we usually sleep through it in the early morning. During the day Tamer enthusiastically shouts “Akka, Akka,” after hearing the sound of “Allahu Akbar!” He then listens to his own echo. Here in Bethlehem, the prayer calls somewhat differ in time from mosque to mosque. This has the effect that the songs “wave” across the land. Toine van Teeffelen writes about the song of the land. 

Shadow of home

The Palestinian home also lacks something else typical of a normal home: basic safety. Lately Mary had a terrible dream. She dreamt about herself running in the oldest street of Bethlehem with Tamer on her arm away from an aircraft threatening to bomb her and the town. Like in a cover drawing of a war novel. 

The Waiting Game

Waiting happens everywhere in the world. Waiting in Palestine, however, is not just a routine and bothersome phenomenon that can better be neglected because there is nothing to do about it. It happens so frequently, and it is so testing and influential, that it often dominates people’s lives. Toine van Teeffelen writes from Bethlehem. 


“Don’t remind me,” says Mary. “I’ll go if I have the courage.” I asked her about visiting Etzion, the office near the Gush Etzion settlement between Bethlehem and Hebron where the Israeli ‘Civil Administration’ is located and where Bethlehemites have to ask for their tasreeyeh (“permit”). We are preparing ourselves for a holiday to Cyprus together with the kids and Imm Hannah and Janet, Mary’s mother and sister. Jara and Tamer have Dutch passports, Mary and her family however not and they therefore need a permit to enter Tel Aviv airport. 


Mabrouk (“blessings to you”) is an Arabic expression to congratulate people. You not only use it on occasions like a birthday but also when something new has been bought, like clothes, or in the case somebody has moved to another house. Saying mabrouk confirms that your interlocutor made the right choice. Arab culture has more of such customary expressions. They are not just polite ways of showing that you know the rules of address - like in the West - but they are said in an often quite enthusiastic and involved manner showing that the speaker has been alert and has detected something new or special. Toine van Teefelen writes from Bethlehem. 

This is the Israeli 'cease fire,' the Israeli 'goodwill'

I ask him why the Israelis are building more checkpoints at a time when they should be dismantling them. He replies, “When they want to show the would that they are implementing the Road Map, they will show pictures of themselves on the news removing these new checkpoints and the regular ones will remain. They want to trick the world as usual.” Kristen Ess writes from Bethlehem. 

As war rages to the east of us, we continue to bury the dead here

“Early last evening I was on the phone to a friend in the US, when gunfire erupted nearby. It was loud enough that my friend on the other end of the line could hear it. A few seconds later another loud round went off. Moments later I could hear the sound of an ambulance approaching.” Rev. Sandra Olewine writes from Bethlehem.