Besides furthering my education, the most important reason that I am spending a summer on the opposite side of the world from my home is to stand as a witness to the struggle of the Palestinian people. I have to say first that I have never met any people who, in general, are more resilient in the face of adversity, or have more mental fortitude and spiritual constitution than the Palestinian people.
Thinking about this brings to mind an interaction I had recently with Zoughbi’s 15 year old son Rafik.. We were talking about showering and I told him that I hoped our water was not cut off over the summer. (For those who don’t know, precious water is rationed to the Palestinians by the Israelis and it is common over the summer for the water to be cut off to Palestinian cities when it is in high demand in the surrounding Israeli settlements.) Rafik responded, “Oh, come on.. The water has to get cut off.. It’s part of the culture!” Now, most of you reading my blog are Americans, right? Think seriously, how would you react if someone told you getting your running water cut off during the hottest part of the summer was a “normal part of the culture”? Remember, you’re living in a desert climate, with scenery around you like you see in this picture… Just let that one sink in for a second…
Despite the fact that there have been no terrorist attacks since 2008, the Israeli government continues to construct the Annexation Wall, which is already over 700 km long and cuts villages in half in some places. Here is a picture from the Wi’am Center (the place at which I work) showing their playground, which is overshadowed by a section of the Wall surrounding Rachel’s Tomb, a holy site that was once part of Bethlehem.
Because I disagree with these kinds of conditions, I attended three demonstrations against the occupation last week.
Last Tuesday was a special occasion because it was Nakba Day, the day when Palestinians mourn the day their land begun to be annexed, or the Nakba (Arabic for ‘catastrophe’), while Israelis celebrate the day that their nation came into being. While protests in Ramallah escalated into clashes between Palestinian youth and Israeli troops, and 13 Arabs were killed attempting to enter Israel from Lebanon and Syria, the scene in Bethlehem was peaceful as crowds chanted “unity” and prayed for the end of the occupation.
I also attended more regular demonstrations last Friday. One of them was in a village called Ma’asara. The villagers hold a protest every Friday because the land that they have traditionally farmed has been designated for annexation by the Israeli government. There is not yet a wall or checkpoint there, but if they were to simply inhabit the land that was historically part of their village, Israeli soldiers would come to arrest them. Here, one of the villagers stands in front of the line of Israeli soldiers there to keep demonstrators from proceeding along the road.
I like this picture because it demonstrates the senselessness of the force deployed by Israel.. Are all these soldiers really necessary to disrupt a nonviolent demonstration by unarmed villagers?
The other demonstration on Friday was actually in the form of a Catholic Mass at a monastery outside of Bethlehem called Cremisan. As I noted above, there have been no terrorist attacks since 2008, yet the Israeli government continues construction of the Wall. That construction is set to destroy the land on which the Cremisan Monastery is founded, which the Palestinians rely on for olive trees. Every Friday, the monks from the Monastery lead a mass in protest.
Despite the conditions of adversity, the Palestinian people remain strong. Below is a picture that I think really exemplifies this from my trip last year when we visited the Tent of Nations. The ToN is a family farm surrounded by 4 Israeli settlements and besieged with legal attempts by the Israeli government to strip the family of their land for another settlement. The family has held out for years and isn’t going anywhere soon. Even though they waste thousands of dollars and hours per year defending their right to their own property (they have land deeds dating back to when the Ottoman Empire controlled the land), the sign at the entrance reads, “we refuse to be enemies.”
This is my biggest lesson so far. No matter the conditions of adversity, no matter how hard things are and how tempting it is to blame the “other” for your suffering, refuse to be their enemy, hold them in the Light in the tradition of Quakers, and hope for a better tomorrow.
In the meantime, take joy from things in life that are good, like kittens!
For more pictures, see my photobucket, which I am continuing to update: