We met with our Palestinian speakers of the day and their family’s for Iftar. Iftar is the meal that breaks the fast for Muslims observing Ramadan. Ramadan is for a month every year in which Muslims practice charity. They fast to remember those who are starving. This means that at 4:50am they start fasting. 3 of our religious Muslim students would wake up at 4:30 every morning to have breakfast and go to the Al-Aqsa mosque to pray, which is the 2nd most important site in their religion, second only to Mecca. This mosque is where their Prophet Mohammed is said to have risen to heaven. They pray 5 times a day. And at dusk, they break their fast, often with dates, or something sweet, as the prophet did, and then they may eat. This evening meal is called Iftar. If a Muslim does not fast, he may feed a hungry person instead. Also, Muslims must give 1/3 of whatever money they have to charity during that month and live particularly holy- do not lie or cheat, etc. I have so much respect for the Muslim students on our trip who wake up so early every morning to eat and pray, don’t eat- or drink (even water!), or smoke or chew gum, every day while we run from meeting to meeting in the desert sun. It was an honor to break fast with them. Some of our guests had joined us from Aida refugee camp, which we visited after dinner. The camp was such an experience. These people had left their homes during the first Intifada (meaning disaster) in 1948. They expected to only be away from their homes for a couple of days. 60 years later they still clung to the keys of their houses, horrified that some strange Israeli was living in the house that their family had lived in for generations. Often Israeli’s say that bc the Aras attached the Jews and lost, that they didn’t deserve it back. So they remained in this refuge camp, literally blocks away from their former homes.
The camp was tiny, 1 kilometer by 1 kilometer (1.6 mi) and held 5,000 residents. It was pushed right up against the wall, which was covered with graffiti that expressed the feelings of the Palestinians there. Pictures of the US Statue of Liberty as a skeleton, statements of anger, distress and frustration, quotes from Nelson Mandela and other revolutionaries and UN resolutions decorated the tall grey wall. Children followed us up the street through the city. Screaming and running after us, posing for pictures. One Palestinian girl, who didn’t speak English, ran around begging the women of our group to talk pictures with her. She hugged my legs and grinned. I felt like in a movie- I couldn’t even right moments like this. Young boys took immediately to Ali, one of our group who spoke Arabic. The boys eagerly told him their names and inquired about us. Teenage boys from the camp took us to an old building that housed families; we climbed, somewhat literally, to the roof to see over the wall to an empty plot of land just over the wall. They explained how they used to play soccer there but no longer could. I felt like in a movie and was so glad to be there at that moment, to see these peoples story and felt blessed to be able to take that with me.