The plan for today was to bring together groups of young people from the north and south of the West Bank and also from Jerusalem, meeting in Abu Dis for induction to the project and a visit to some parts of Abu Dis. The young people from the north and from Jerusalem made it, and by all reports the day went very well for them.
The young people from the south didn’t make it however. They were collected from their towns and set off north via Bethlehem and the Container Checkpoint towards Abu Dis. But there was a long queue at the Container checkpoint and after their bus had been held up for two hours (they sent us video of the queue), the driver turned the bus around and headed for home.
It got worse. Word came that the city of Hebron was closed in front of them and Bethlehem was in turmoil. The Israeli army was shooting. To look after the children, the driver stopped near a mosque and all of them went inside. It did not occur to them that a mosque was anything other than a safe place to be. They stayed there about an hour. But then the Israeli army came in, told everyone to leave the mosque – and arrested two people. One of them they didn’t know and the other was the group leader of the youth group from Hebron.
This left his group sitting outside the mosque in a town that was not their own with the driver (who was a stranger) and worrying about their leader, for hours. Eventually the driver was able to return the children to their homes in Hebron, but without the leader. From Abu Dis, the northern groups went home full of trepidation as word was that there were angry Israeli settlers on every main road. But they got home OK.
By the time of writing and after several hours, the youth leader has finally been released.
What a difficult reminder of the context of the project and the dangerous reality beyond the checkpoints in Palestine.
We hope that, next time, the kids are actually all able to get beyond the checkpoints and to meet.