Local Traveler Tells Story of Palestinian Refugee Camp

Big Blue Marble Bookstore will host a reading by a former Peace Corps volunteer who spent his summer in the West Bank.

Walter Foley, February 18, 2011.  Mount Airy Patch: http://mtairy.patch.com/articles/local-traveler-tells-story-of-palestinian-refugee-camp

“How often, whether in your love life, family life, or with strangers, have you been absolutely unable to express yourself with words?” writes Matthew Graber, then 25, in a travelogue during his 2010 summer in Palestine. “The essence of life–the juice and the pulp, the sweetness of the fruit–doesn’t lie in words, but in action.”

Reflections such as this are compiled into Graber’s 34-page zine “Summertime in Palestine,” which he will present at 3 p.m Saturday at Big Blue Marble Bookstore.

One day during his time in Bethlehem, in the West Bank, he asked his host father how to say “peace” in Arabic. The father told him, “Salaam,” but added that the word means more than just “not war.”

Salaam means something more positive than the conventional idea of “peace” in the Middle East, “where peace agreements often preserve and establish control for one people over another,” he writes.

Graber’s travelogue, which documents his time as a volunteer for Holy Land Trust, offers glimpses into this concept of serenity. He attends presentations on nonviolent protesting and at one point spends a day wandering through the lush Husan Village amid ancient Roman architecture to find a group of children washing their flock of sheep in a spring.

“When you’re living in a country that averages 15 cm of rainfall a year,” Graber writes, “it’s pretty spectacular to see a freshwater spring flowing into a pool.”

Although there was no violence in surrounding areas during his visit, there was, of course tension, thanks in part to the separation of people.

“They don’t interact with Israelis on a daily basis. … Their interactions with Israelis are only with soldiers,” he said. “So when there were tanks coming through the refugee camp, they just saw Israel as a military that attacks Palestine.”

Graber and his host family were without running water for 23 days because of Israel’s rationing policies, he said. He offers a link in his zine to an Amnesty International study explaining this issue, and guides the reader to other sources of information that are meant to shine light on the troubles that face an area of the world that Americans hear about constantly but, for the most part, don’t know much about.

Graber grew up in Blue Bell and now lives in Mt. Airy while he works at a coffee shop in Center City. He’s been to Moldova, Romania, Bulgaria and Istanbul and he taught English to kids in Kazakhstan from 2007 to 2009 with the Peace Corps.

Maleka Fruean, events coordinator for Big Blue Marble Bookstore, scheduled Graber’s reading because she has respect for the Peace Corps. She also liked Graber’s do-it-yourself approach.

“I’m really interested in supporting local authors who are working around the basic, mainstream way of publishing books,” Fruean said.

Graber said the experience with his host family showed him the beauty of a compassionate community.

“The people are so loving here,” he writes in Bethlehem. “The first night, they said, ‘We have eight people in our family. With you, we now have nine.’”