About this Blog

"Ordinary People" is something of an intentional misnomer. I live and work with Palestinians practicing nonviolent resistance to the Israeli occupation. They are doing things that are hardly "ordinary": committing themselves to active nonviolence and to loving their enemies -- following the commands of One who was anything but ordinary. And yet, the Palestinians with whom I work are also very ordinary -- they are not some kind of spiritual superheroes/superheroines who do things most folks can't do. They are simply ordinary people daily committing themselves to living a higher calling -- a calling of love and active nonviolence.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

"This is a New Gift"

Hi, friends. I have written about three or four blog posts in my head in the last week. I need to remember that people who read blogs are not telepathic – they don’t know about posts I write in my head. Either I have to write more, or folks need to learn telepathy. After giving it much thought, it seems the former is perhaps the more practical option. :o) So, here we go:

Last Saturday -- December 8 -- some teammates and I spent an afternoon in Bethlehem. It was supposed to be some time to relax and get away from the ways in which the military occupation of Hebron manifests itself. In Hebron (or Al-Khalil, in Arabic,) the sights of any given day are checkpoints, metal detectors, turnstiles, and Israeli soldiers (who sometimes patrol through the Old City.) And, of course, there are the settlement enclaves, some of which are planted directly on top of Hebron's Old City.

In Bethlehem, the occupation is different. Instead of soldiers and checkpoints, the occupation of the Palestinian territories manifests itself in the wall surrounding the city on three sides and in the settlements perched on the Bethlehem hillside.

So, between a stick in the eye and a stranglehold, a stranglehold is a nice change of pace.

We arrived in Bethlehem and looked around some souvenir shops. One of the store owners was giving us an update on Bethlehem’s situation. Right now, it is a 10 km journey to ship goods (such as olive wood carvings, found in many tourist stores) from Bethlehem to Jerusalem. Here is an oversimplified map of the journey:

(On this map, the line from Bethlehem to Jerusalem is straight. In reality, Palestinians often need to travel on long circuitous routes – there are roads on which Palestinians, if they are able to on them at all, need a special permit on which to travel.)

But, the storeowner told us, this is changing. Israeli authorities are soon going to require goods from Bethlehem to go through the checkpoint at Tarqumiya – southwest of Bethlehem – now making the journey 60 km. Here is the new (again, oversimplified) route that goods will have to take to get to Jerusalem:

Of course, this increases the price of shipping for shops, an added financial burden Palestinians who already bear too much as a result of the occupation. After explaining these new travel restrictions, my teammate commented, "So much for Annapolis [peace summit]." The store owner chuckled and replied, with typical dry Palestinian humor, “This is a new gift.”

This is life here. I wanted to scream (or cry.)

A teammate once told me that Palestinians, after hearing him talk about CPT’s work, would often ask, “Wein salaam?” – “Where is peace?”

That’s what I’m wondering, too.


(The above maps are edited from those produced by UN OCHA – United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. For a the full map, click here.)

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Waiting for rain

Being raised in a part of New York where we get approximately 100 clear, bright, sunny days, I grew up hearing (and saying), "I hope it doesn't rain." Rain meant the cancellation of fun, outdoor events. Rain meant gloomy weather (though, I always found the dark, brooding clouds beautiful in a mysterious, 19th-century novel sort of way.) Rain was undesirable.

Now, living in a dry, dry region, we hope and pray for rain. "Enshallah (‘God willing’), it will rain tomorrow,” we say. Here, rain means new life. Rain means full cisterns. Rain now means the provision of a resource necessary for life. We need the rain now, during the wet season, to sustain us through the months of dry weather that follows.

"I hope it rains." I mean the sentence with all my heart, but it still rings funny in my ears.

I have another reason for wanting rain. Deep in my fanciful, childish heart, I wonder if the rain has cleansing capacities for this land. Water cleanses people; can it cleanse lands, too? Maybe if it rained enough, it could wash away the grief, displacement, and oppression permeating this land. Could torrents of rain sweep away racism? Could a downpour erase enmity? Could a deluge cleanse the land, making it new, readying it for peace?

Will you join me in praying for rain?

Sunday, December 2, 2007

On respectablility and white-washed tombs

One more post on our settler neighbors. There are pictures on their website from their "Hebron Fund" fund raising dinner in NYC recently. I perused the photographs last night. What struck me was how lovely and respectable everything appeared. Everyone looks lovely in their fine attire. The hall in which the dinner looked big and elegantly decorated. There are photos of people giving speeches and the presentation of an ornate glass plaque (speeches and plaques -- the event must be respectable, right?). There are even pictures of people dancing, which looked like a whole lot of fun. I'm sure the folks in attendance had no question that they were contributing to a good and noble cause, because the dinner had all the trappings of respectable, noble events.

Yet this lovely event stands in stark contrast to the reality of the settlements here in Hebron. The economy in the Old City of Hebron (okay, throughout the whole of the occupied Palestinian territories)is very poor. People are afraid to come to the Old City, because of the presence of soldiers that came to "protect" the settlers living literally on top of the Old City. So instead of fine banquets, here most Palestinians get food from the local soup kitchen. Instead of dancing, Palestinians mourn when the Israeli military beat and arrest Palestinian youth for "security." Instead of the privilege of being able to get on a plane and fly from Tel Aviv to NYC, most Palestinians are rarely even allowed permission to travel to Jerusalem, only approximately 20 miles away.

Would people still give money to this cause if they knew the ramifications of these settlements? If they knew what harm comes from them? I honestly don't believe so. But from a distance, it probably all looks so respectable.

I think Jesus had something to say about this. It was something about whitewashed tombs, and how the outside looks beautiful, but inside there is nothing but death(Matthew 23:27).

And, lest I become too proud, I know I am not immune to this failing. Jesus' words are for me, too. As I was looking at these pictures, I wondered how often I was complicit with the workings of the "powers that be," because the powers decked themselves in respectable attire. When have I been blinded to injustice, because of the power I have inherent in my race, class, and (worldly) citizenship? When have I foolishly been taken by the beauty of a whitewashed tomb, ignoring the death within?

More from our settler neighbors

A few posts ago, I quoted one of the articles distributed on the Hebron Israeli settler's mailing list. One of the newest articles is also blog-worthy, I think. The author of the piece wrote about Annapolis. To put this quote in context, he is talking about what would make the Annapolis agreement fall apart (which would be a good thing, in his opinion.) He decides Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, is the necessary piece to this puzzle. He writes:

"But if [Abbas] should disappear from the scene, the deal's off. So, maybe we should pray that Hamas get to him ASAP. They know how to do the job and he's more than likely in their sights. Why should the Jews of Hebron have to be the first sacrifice of Annapolitics?"

Again, I'm speechless.