BETHLEHEM — The dining table featured a display of golden-spiced rice with toasted almonds, tomatoes and cucumbers marinated in vinegar, fresh olives grown by our host Nataly, and glasses of freshly-squeezed lemonade – from her home-grown lemons. On this evening, Nataly and her husband, George, welcomed Vildana, Galie and me into their home in Bethlehem. The walls of the apartment were adorned with framed Catholic paintings and family portraits with the couple and their two sons, Muha and Maher, and two daughters, Michline and Majd.

The evening, arranged by Holy Land Trust, was a chance to spend a night with a Palestinian family living under Israeli occupation. There was delicious food, comfortable beds and much conversation on everything from faith and school to the hardships of checkpoints and travel permits.

Majd, the youngest of the children, greeted us enthusiastically in the living room. She is a senior in high school and had just finished a chemistry exam that day. Majd told us that her sister Michline is busy studying for a test; Michline is in her first year at dentistry school. Her work done for the day, Majd shared her love for Turkish and Brazilian TV series.

Nataly politely waved us into the dining room when the food was prepared, and she and George joined the table. A few bites into the meal, Nataly started to share her perspective on life in Bethlehem. Bethlehem is a city located in the West Bank, a territory for the most part either under Israeli control or joint Israeli-Palestinian Authority control. “The situation is not what we want,” Nataly said. “Here, it’s a beautiful place, but the fauda is the problem.” We learned that “fauda” is the word for “chaos” in Arabic.

She explained the difficulty of moving within the West Bank for Palestinians. “We want to go to Ramallah, it’s near,” Nataly said of the city in central West Bank. “But sometimes they put a checkpoint and say, ‘Give me identity.’ Especially for young boys.”

The checkpoints Nataly speaks of are barriers set up by the Israeli Defense Forces throughout the West Bank. Palestinians crossing the checkpoints regularly have their identity cards inspected by Israeli soldiers. “If I’m in the line, if I see a soldier, I’m scared and I walk like a robot, not like a normal person,” Nataly said. “You can’t put your hands in pockets.”

Nataly added that visiting Jerusalem, located around six miles north of Bethlehem, is difficult because a permit is required.

She said that some of her family members have left the country. A few of her siblings, for instance, moved to El Salvador and Honduras. Nataly also has a brother who now lives in Spain. “He went to study there, he liked it and stayed,” she explained.

Nataly shared that for the most part, people who have money are no longer in Bethlehem. “If they’re normal people, they can’t leave,” she said of families with average income.

Our conversation turned to Catholic life in Bethlehem. Nataly, George and their family attend weekly services at the Church of the Nativity, the basilica that is built on what is considered to be the birthplace of Jesus. Nataly had recently returned from a trip to the desert around Jericho.

“It’s our fasting period, so people go,” Nataly explained. The desert around Jericho is significant to Christian tradition because it’s believed to be where Jesus fasted for 40 days and was tempted by the Devil. Nataly proudly showed us photos of her recent trip. She and her sister-in-law smiled up at us from her phone screen.

The evening ended with us swiping through the photos and enjoying warm cups of chamomile tea and slices of homemade chocolate cake. We were met with the same hospitality the next morning – with a table full of breakfast foods – before leaving the home.