Begin and Never Cease

It's amazing how you can sing words a hundred times, almost without understanding, then suddenly they take on new meaning. That's what happened as we sat in one of the caves overlooking the Shepherds' Fields singing 'While Shepherds Watched.' Peace and goodwill - begin and never cease. But then we look out over the once empty fields rolling down the hill from Bethlehem to Beit Sahour (Home of the Shepherds) and see the separation wall snaking cross-country. And on Palestinian land, another Israeli Settlement. Said the guide gives a little more political history and all we can do is shake our heads and take photos.
We'd spent the first two hours in Beit Sahour at the 450-student Evangelical Lutheran School. Both the headmistress and the Director of Education explain the philosophy and administration of this high standard private school, aiming to preserve Palestinian identity, yet helping students to live in the real world, modelling a united nation, learning mediation and reconciliation skills, cultivating the arts (we watch a dance troupe and see some of their arts and crafts), forging links with the rest of the world, even if that means they end up emigrating. They have a long-term view of the benefit of the education they're providing: 'We want to educate good leaders for the future if this country.'
Though 'private' and with not a shekel from government, fees are unbelievably low, with scholarships and international subsidy a significant factor in enabling any deserving student to be admitted. I wonder how the Lutherans manage to do so well financially and hear they are in receipt of significant contributions from state tax systems in Germany and Scandinavia. But will that last forever? 
The deputy head did all his schooling here, and he shows us round, though effectively a prisoner in Palestine - the biggest open air jail in the world, they call it. 'I'm on the black list,' he tells us, 'I'm not sure why - probably too outspoken in my criticism of Israel.' How do they know we wonder? There must be informants or spies around.
Beit Sahour started off the first intafada with effective non-violent civil disobedience which included non-payment of taxes. They didn't get very far with their action, but two of her citizens did get nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006. I doubt it was the angels who gave them the message or who made the nomination. 
But of the school staff we might say: 'And there were teachers, working in the school nearby,  keeping watch over their students by day, .... and the glory of the Lord shone around them, but they were afraid. Then the visitors said to them: Do not be afraid, we will carry the good news of great joy that should be heard by all people. For here in the city of David you continue to do what the Messiah began. 
All glory be to God on high, 
And to the earth be peace,
Goodwill henceforth from heaven to men
Begin and never cease.
The trip rounds off with a visit to Diyar (home) of which the guest house is part. Using culture and art forms to cultivate a fuller life for Palestinians. (The Eoan Group in Cape Town had the same vision); drama and other arts, not religion! (Too much religion and not enough faith here, says the communications manager!) 
And then a farewell meal at the Grotto Restaurant, Bedouin tent style, back at the Shepherds Fields; and the final debrief, this time in candlelight, and a closing song Ubi Caritas?  Where Charity and love prevail.... begin and never cease.