True and False

When Pastor Mitri Raheb talked about the importance of culture and the humanities, I enthusiastically nodded my head. As an English major in an era of business and engineering degrees, I often find myself defending the importance of the arts. I was happy to hear that Pastor Raheb agreed that culture can play an important part in shifting the narrative of a people and place. As so many have pointed out, our stories and art often allow us to tell a truer story than the one we see in a barrage of statistics.

Later that afternoon we met with two young Palestinians named Elias and Salam. They told us their stories about getting permits, waiting for hours at checkpoints, and other moments from life in the West Bank. We craned our necks and tried not to shift in our chairs, listening to every word.

At dinner we joked about what divides true hummus from imposters. We talked about Elias’ university plans. But the conversation that stands out was our talk about favorite novels and short stories. Because it seems everyone in the world read The Hunger Games, we found common ground there and agreed that we loved them all–movies and books. Elias took it a step further and said, smirk hanging on his lips, “When I see District 12, I see home.” We laughed, embarrassed, and Elias laughed at the absurdity of life. He placed his own stories and the truth he pulled from fiction out on the table, and we listened, in awe at the bravery of both.

-Zoey

Hebron: The Chicken Market

Welcome to the chicken market of Hebron.

We are standing in front of a cement barrier two stories high. The resemblance to the Berlin Wall is unmistakeable; the new wall could be the younger, hipper niece of the iconic separator. This wall bears a depiction of the coming of the Messiah, the return of the Jewish Temple. It was painted by Israeli settlers on this wall between buildings holding homes and shops. Or what used to be homes and shops. Now the wall bars entrance to the street, and the once-bustling chicken market — like many other streets and markets in Hebron — is silent. A ghost town.

The power to destroy economies and self-determination is the power to destroy the very threads of society. Worshippers can revert to secret gatherings when repressed. Families with means can escape occupation. But without the basic ability to trade, barter and support one’s family through a stable marketplace, a city falls apart.

The abandoned chicken market is one of many stories we saw yesterday in Hebron as we toured the once-busy city center, which today is a patchwork of buffer zones and checkpoints to protect Israeli settlers who are expanding their presence in the city. Ownership and origination issues aside, the Hebron of today is a broken place. As a fellow trip member said so eloquently yesterday, “we saw a lot of cramped hearts today.” My heart hurts for both groups vying for a place in this city of their ancestors — but it beats in time with the protestations of the Palestinian people who, here, are subject to double standards and military law and an unpredictable, violent daily existence under occupation. “If you are looking for logic, look somewhere else” said our tour guide, a former Israeli soldier who served in Gaza and the occupied West Bank. Whatever you do, don’t look at the children running around with guns.

Hebron

Today we visited Hebron.
Hebron is a city of great significance to both the Palestinians who have lived here for generations, and to Jewish settlers who strongly believe that the land belongs to them, as they read God’s promises to Abraham as promises that also include them today. Now the harsh reality is that the Palestinians can no longer live or move freely in Hebron.

We had a guide from Break the Silence, which is an Israeli organization of former military members who now speak up against the occupation.

Our guide did his time in the Israeli army, and is now advocating against the illegal occupation of Palestinian Territories. He is not a pacifist, he loves his country, and he believes that loving Israel also means to speak up against its current military policies. It was a painful day, in many ways.

I have been to the Holy land before, and there is nothing new under the sun: our Palestinian sisters and brothers are still hurting under the power of the empire, and it breaks my heart.

It breaks my heart to see kids growing up fearing that they will be the next targets for a random military drill, to see Palestinian parents desperately trying to sell us things at the checkpoint, knowing that they will only have our attention for a brief moment before we enter a city that used to be their home, which they no longer can access. It breaks my heart to hear the Israeli military guard who says “I hate having to be here, carrying this gun. I should be out having fun with my buddies. I’m 21 and this is awful.”

Later in the day, we went back to Jerusalem. As I was sitting outside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, I was overwhelmed with sadness, and right now my heart is too full of impressions to go into more details of what we have seen today. Instead, I will share a piece that I wrote as I was journaling to process the day:

“I laid my head, scarf and hands on the stone where Jesus, according to tradition, was anointed after his death. Today, I need to remember this part of my faith: even when all seems lost, when death has come, the women came to bless and anoint Jesus, creating beauty where there was none.

A place of death became a place of deep care. Not to erase death or suffering, but to find ways to live with it. To still choose goodness and beauty after an act of violence and after having seen the grim face of death in the eyes, refusing to let it blind them. They were still going to anoint and bless.

The women who anointed Jesus did not know that their acts of love would be remembered, and they definitely did not know that Jesus would rise from the dead. And they did it anyway.

I find myself asking if my faith and actions reflect the same love? And do they reflect the end of the story; that after suffering, death and grief, God makes new life?
I want to live out from this faith. I want to trust that the darkness of the world, the evil that our Palestinian sisters and brothers are facing, will end. And in the meantime, we can anoint and bless one another. We can use the gifts that we have been given to look death and evil in the eyes saying: you have no power over me.”
Annette Dreyer

Taybeh and Ramallah

Today was our first full day in the Holy Land. We spent the morning at the first brewery in Palestine call Taybeh Brewery in the town of Taybeh. This is a family owned brewery started by a father and his two sons. Being the first brewery in Palestine came with it’s share of challenges from not being able to find any investors to having to worry about the amount of water they use vs. the amount provided to them. The business today has expanded to a hotel and winery proving that were there is a will there is a way. The wife of one of the son’s shared with us her frustration at the situation and her hope that there one day would be a free Palestine she said that “sometimes it feels as though the whole world is pressing down on us.”

In the afternoon we visited The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hope- Ramallah, and spoke with the Pastor there. The Church of Hope also serves as a school that both Christian and Muslim children attend. They learn side by side and there is hope that this mentality of peaceful co-existence is one that will carry on, to future generations. The Pastor spoke to us about how it is getting harder to encourage the student to come back to live in Ramallah after they have completed university. Without there return some of the work of peaceful co habitation maybe lost.

As an American in a foreign land it was most shocking to me to go through a checkpoint when traveling back into Jerusalem from Ramallah. There were military men and women with AK47s (or something to that effect) milling around stoping cars checking for…who really knows. I can not imagine a life where armored guards become a daily part of life and a “norm.” Unfortunately there are many men, women, and children that have been forced to deal with this type of security their entire life’s. I beginning to discover that what we Americans see on the news is a very very small portion of what is really going.

–Mel