From the hilltop location of the Talitha Kumi School in Beit Jala, the view across to Bethlehem and beyond is both stunning (the panorama) and sobering (the separation wall, barbed wire, etc.). But nothing could have been more compelling than the sight in the school’s pleasant, spacious courtyard where the HWB khafla was in full swing: children waving giant soap bubbles into the air or busy at arts and crafts with volunteers from Jerusalem’s bilingual (Arabic-Hebrew) Hand-In-Hand School, tables with home-made cakes and freshly picked cherries brought by HWB volunteers, two clowns who cajoled and teased until even the shyest children joined in their games, and all to exuberant rhythms from East Jerusalem musicians Rasan and Aidel.
For the 55 chronically sick West Bank children regularly transported by HWB volunteers from check-points to hospital appointments in Israel, and – not least – for their families, the HWB fun days are a highlight in the year. The ongoing, exhausting shuttle between home, check-points and hospital treatment for kidney failure or cancer leaves little time or energy (not to mention budget) for the kind of pure, unstinting enjoyment these parties offer. One volunteer quietly noted it was the first time since the last fun day that she had seen a smile on the face of one young boy. Indeed, for anyone watching them, there was a sense of these ailing children, deprived of so much in their young lives, being – for that day – released back into childhood.
Not everyone could speak the other’s Arabic or Hebrew, but as the volunteers and the Palestinian families greeted each other, milled about and later shared tables at lunch, the evident warmth and delight, the hugs and handshakes, made up for missing words. After speaking of her three sick children, the youngest cradled in her arms, one tired-looking mother told a volunteer: “As long as one is alive, everything is possible”. It was the sort of day that reinforces such optimism. As did the fact, unnoticed by some, that the popular, smiling musicians were both blind. Few will forget the young girl in a wheelchair who raced whooping after a huge soap bubble as it wobbled away between the trees.
Warm thanks to the Prelude Foundation for making the event possible.