Accepted Paper:

Bethlehem past and present: memories of a lost community  


Bard Kartveit (University of Oslo)

Paper short abstract:

This paper will focus on conceptions of social change, identity and belonging in the town of Bethlehem, Palestine. These issues will be explored by looking at how experiences of social change, trust and community relations are expressed in people’s personal narratives.

Paper long abstract:

Personal narratives can provide valuable insights on how dramatic social changes are experienced by individuals. This paper explores local conceptions of social change and community relations in Bethlehem in the recent past. The West Bank town of Bethlehem has faced dramatic changes over the last fifty years. Once a predominantly Christian village in, Bethlehem has evolved into a mixed town with a Muslim majority, and a shrinking community of local Christians. After more than a century of emigration, mainly to the Americas, the old families of Bethlehem have dwindled in numbers, gradually being replaced by internal migrants from rural areas around Bethlehem and from Hebron. In Bethlehem, where identities are highly localized, and social boundaries are based on family ties and long term co-residence, these are seen as dramatic changes. In this paper, I want to explore how these changes are conceptualized through individual narratives of Bethlehem-residents. I will use examples to illustrate how descriptions of a community of the past marked by intimate and lasting social relations and mutual trust, are contrasted with more recent experiences of social fragmentation and alienation, as well as deprivation and insecurity under an ongoing Israeli occupation. Through narratives of Bethlehem past and present, I will look at how social and cultural boundaries are negotiated along regional, sectarian and family lines. Taking in a wider picture, I will comment on how individuals - through their narratives - connect experiences of social change with political processes at a national and regional level.

Panel W024
Mutuality and memory: encounters in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cities