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.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Night Sky

Our office/kitchen/living area apartment opens to a lovely patio, with a beautiful view of the city of Hebron. The building continues to either side, framing the view and commanding the observer to look up into the clear blue Middle Eastern sky. At night, I look up to see the constellation of Orion -- brighter and clearer and more prominent than I've ever seen in the States, I think.

The old adage that the stars connect folks who are far away is true, I think. Looking up from our patio, I am connected to folks back in the States. We share the night sky (even if it comes hours later to the States.)

Being in Palestine is wonderful -- I am falling madly in love with this place. If only I could bring all the beautiful people that I know onto the same continent. :o)

Next time you see Orion out at night, say a prayer for me, the team, and Palestine. I'm thinking of and praying for the beautiful folks in the States.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Anything but ordinary

Yesterday, a teammate and I helped Palestinian friends harvest their olives. For the most part, it was all very ordinary (I am speaking from my copious month's experience. :o) ) A group of Palestinians, three international organizations, and a couple of freelancing international activists were present.

It was a beautiful Palestinian "autumn" day: the sun was shining, the sky was beautiful, and the air was pleasantly warm. We got to work, picking the olives out of the trees. They weren't ripe yet, but our friends decided to harvest now, because Israeli settlers, who live on the top of the hill, have begun helping themselves to the olives. A path to the settlement runs through our friend's land, and the olive trees are located on either side of the path.

While we were harvesting, my teammate suggested I intentionally keep an eye out for settlers. I was also the one with the video camera. So I was harvesting olives with one hand and holding a camera ready with another.

We internationals were present because it is not safe for Palestinians to harvest their land, especially when their land happens to be in the shadow of a settlement, as in our friend's case. Settlers may come and attack, or soldiers might arrive and tell them they do not have the right to harvest their crops. Even our presence does not prevent this from happening, though anecdotal evidence suggests that we are a deterrent, as most folks do not want the negative international press.

Though one never knows how one of these actions will go, this harvest was quite ordinary, to my understanding. We harvested in peace for a while. Members of the media arrived. Israeli settlers, Israeli police, and Israeli soldiers arrived, none of whom did much but stand around and watch. A couple of settlers tried to instigate some trouble, but it all fizzled out relatively quickly.

All very ordinary.

And it hit me: it shouldn't be. No one -- regardless of nationality -- should need to be accompanied on their own land. An international presence while one harvests one's own crop on one's own land to possibly reduce the threat of violence or removal -- it should be anything but ordinary.

Friday, October 19, 2007

If I had a shekel for every tourist . . .

The other day, I mentioned my teammates and I took some time off and traveled in Palestine and Israel. Instead of writing about everything we saw and did, I figured I would indulge in a little "show and tell." I'll let the pictures I look tell some of the stories from our time off.
This is in Jerusalem. Camels make me so darn happy.

This is the mouth of a camel that is the descendant of a camel David rode. The camel was sitting on a spot where a biblical event of your choice occurred.

Just kidding. I just took a silly picture.

This is the Church of All Nations, in Jerusalem. I am a sucker for mosaics.

The Mount of Olives. All those grayish stones are grave markers. It is a Jewish cemetery.

A picture of the wall surrounding the Old City Jerusalem.

The Mount of Olives, looking onto Old City Jerusalem. (The huge gold dome is the Dome of the Rock, a holy site for Muslims.) While on the Mount of Olives, we wandered about and found this beautiful little chapel marking the site where (tradition has it) Jesus wept for Jerusalem.

Jesus said, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'" (Luke 13: 34-35.)

After Jerusalem, we went to Qumran, where (or near where) the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. We wanted to hike up to one of the caves (see the one on the right?), but we unfortunately did not have enough time.

After Qumran, we went to Massada. The short story of this place: It is on top of this very high, and very steep, hill/plateau. It was once the palace getaway for King Herod -- the guy in the New Testament. Then, when the Jews revolted against Roman rule, rebels took it over to make it one of the last strongholds of the Jewish rebellion. The Romans held Massada under siege. When it was clear a Roman victory was near at hand, the leader of the Jews urged them to choose death over slavery under the Romans. So folks drew lots, and ten men killed everyone in the community. Then they drew lots again, and one man killed the other nine and then himself. The history of Massada is more fully explained here.

This is a picture of the storehouses -- fit for a king, as it were. They were huge, suiting the purposes of royalty (to cater to a life of luxury) and rebels (to sustain life during a siege) alike.

This is the area which the Jews used as a synagogue during the revolt. It was not a synagogue during the time of Herod -- I want to say it was a stable, or something like that, but now I don't remember. But I was inspired by these folks' creativity in making a sacred space in this complex.

Me in the Dead Sea! I knew all the salt in the water made a person extremely buoyant, but I never guessed how buoyant. I am quite convinced one would have to exert a considerable amount of effort to drown in the Dead Sea -- as in, hold one's head under water and breathe very deeply. Otherwise, I don't know that it is possible, because it is so easy to stay afloat. One does not even have to think about it. Here, treading water is completely superfluous.

And, with all the salt, the water had a bizarre texture. It felt thicker.

On my first visit to Palestine/Israel, I was shocked to see civilians openly carrying guns -- sometimes big ones, too. While we were in Jerusalem, walking from the Mount of Olives to the Old City, we passed what looked like a tour group on the road below us. At first glance, it looked very ordinary.

Then we looked again.

A number of the tour's participants were armed. They were far enough away that I couldn't get a good picture of the group and their guns, but one can see them, if one knows where to look. I've circled in white the two most visible guns in the group.

I live in Hebron. Every day, I pass through turnstiles and metal detectors at checkpoints. On Thursday, I watched Israeli soldiers search the backpacks of twenty Palestinian children over the course of forty minutes. A metal fence, a concrete barrier, and a smattering of razor wire separates the street on which I live -- it used to be part of the bustling marketplace, but it is empty now -- from Shuhada Street, which used to be one of the main roads in Hebron. Now the road is closed to Palestinians, with the exception of a couple of Palestinians who can travel on the road, because they have special permits. Of course, permits don't protect them from Israeli settler harassment.

All this is the fruit of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank/Palestine. This "Go in Peace" sign as one is exiting a beach on the Dead Sea is quaint, and unspeakably ironic.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

"So you're leaving the country."

Two teammates and I took some time off team on Sunday and Monday to spend some time in Jerusalem and the Dead Sea. With our small overnight bags, we walked through the Old City towards the Bab iZaweyya, where we would catch our transportation that would take us to Jerusalem. On our way, we ran into a good friend of the team.

This man is simply lovely. With a smile as bright as day, he always has a warm hello and a friendly Arabic phrase to greet me, and he is patient as I fumble around in my head for the appropriate Arabic response. The other day he appeared in CPT's apartment, as I was in the middle of two or three different tasks (with two or three others in my mental "to do" list) when he greeted me with "marhaba" ("hello".) I stared at him blankly for a few seconds, blurted out something in Arabic (which may or may not have been "marhaba" or "marhabteen" -- both appropriate responses), and muttered something apologetic about my inability to think quickly enough in Arabic. Ever smiling, he accepted my greeting and began chatting with other teammates as I continued about my work. All this is to say, this man is a good friend of the team, and he is one of the many beautiful folks I have met since coming to Palestine.

Back to the story: my teammates and I ran into him on our way to Jerusalem. We exchanged greetings. Seeing our bags he asked, "Are you leaving the country?"

"No," I said, "we're just going up to Jerusalem."

"So you're leaving the country."

At that moment, I felt a pang of grief stab my heart. I remembered: This man -- a beautiful person, father, friend -- cannot go into Jerusalem. He is a Palestinian. He needs a special permit from the Israeli authority -- a very difficult thing to attain -- to enter the city.

Talking about it with my teammates later, one reflected, "I suppose Jerusalem might as well be another country."

But for many Palestinians, the gap between Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank is greater than that of two different countries. For U.S. citizens, there is no comparable equivalent. The travel restrictions between the United States and Cuba is the closest parallel my teammates and I could identify, but most U.S. citizens do not have the same emotional, religious, and/or familial ties to Cuba that many Palestinians have to Jerusalem.

When will Jerusalem cease to be another country for so many of the Palestinians living in the West Bank?

In the words of a friend, "Enshallah bukrah!" ("God willing, tomorrow!")

Friday, October 12, 2007

Playing in Palestine

One of my team members drew my attention to this video filmed by one of the CPTers at our other project in Palestine/the West Bank. I live in Hebron, and the other CPT Palestine team is in At-Tuwani, a small rural village located in the south hills of Hebron. The CPTer filmed the video with At-Tuwani kids dancing to the ring tone on his cell phone. It is great fun -- check it out!

I treasure these moments of play here in Palestine. The presence of the Israeli army and Israeli settlers here is so constant and pervasive. The daily reality of the Occupation-- going through checkpoints, being surrounded by razor wire, and interacting with soldiers -- gets tiring. Yet -- this is one of the things I love about the people I meet here -- folks still play, joke, and laugh. Not even the Israeli occupation of the West Bank/Palestine can stop that.

The other day, one of my teammates and I were walking through the market, and my teammate stopped at a shop to buy a new cane. As she was pulling canes out of their display and examining them, this lovely Palestinian man with a cane, dressed in traditional Arab garb, tapped his cane against the cane she was examining. And there, right in the middle of the souq (Arabic for "market"), they had a brief, playful "duel" with their canes. We were all laughing and enjoying the play.

Thank God for laughter and the strength of the human spirit! It gives me hope and joy.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Welcome to the West Bank!

Came across this article today -- very good. Also thought it was timely (and very good, too), in light of my "Through the Looking Glass" post about land. It talks about an Israeli grab of Palestinian land in the West Bank.

Also, the article says, among other things, "According to a recent UN report, an increasingly separate road system is being built by Israel in the West Bank. About 1,660km of West Bank roads are for mainly for Israeli use, while Palestinian access is restricted by military checkpoints." To clarify: this means there are some roads that are for cars with Israeli license plates only. (Cars have either Israeli or Palestinian license plates.) Some Palestinians do have cars with Israeli license plates, but Palestinians with Palestinian license plates cannot travel on these "bypass" roads (which, compared to Palestinian-only roads, are generally in better condition and take a more direct route from one city or place to the next.)

I comment on this because I have seen (and traveled on) both the bypass roads and the roads for Palestinians. Just think -- segregated roads. They exist here.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

I say Sermon on the Mount, and you say . . .

I discovered this in the CPT apartment today:

"God has asked me to do nine things:
1. To be sincere inwardly, and in outward expressions
2. To do justice in happiness, and in anger
3. To be moderate when rich, and when poor
4. To forgive the one who takes my rights
5. To visit the one who stops visiting me
6. To give to the one who deprives me
7. Whenever I speak, speak as if I were speaking to God
8. Whenever I am silent, be thinking
9. Whenever my eyes are open, be learning."

Made me reflect on the teachings of Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount.

At the top of the page with this writing were the words: "A word from God to Mohammed." This message is posted in the right front corner of the Glassmaker's Mosque in the Old City of Hebron.

Interesting, n'est pas?

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Through the looking glass

I feel as though I have heard a proverb (though I can't remember it exactly) that we see ourselves most clearly by looking at others. If no one has said it before, then someone should have. Coming to Palestine, I see the United States and its history more clearly than I ever have before.

I grew up fed on a diet of quaint European American vocabulary of conquest: "pioneers" and "settlers" filled my history books with paintings of open -- uninhabited, of course -- prairie. Certainly, we learned about the horrendous things done to First Nations people/Native Americans, but the story of genocide was kept tucked safely in the history books. The political climate in which I was raised covertly taught me: "This was a sad chapter of our country's history that -- thank goodness -- is now over. Now, why do the Native Americans get so upset about treaty violations? Why can't they just get over the past?"

I see now that settlement and conquest is not so sterile. I see myself and the United States' history very differently now that I have have spent some time in Palestine. I feel as though I am watching my history unfold in a time warp, in the present day. I see the process of settlement and colonization. I see settlers and settlements as Israelis take more and more land in the West Bank. (This map shows the area to which I am referring -- the West Bank is land on which Israelis are currently settling.) And it is not a quaint, picturesque image of folks moving onto uninhabited land. The land was inhabited, and this process of settlement causes daily and very real pain to people, created in God's image. Many Palestinians have been made refugees and many Palestinians in the West Bank have suffered as a result of the lack of recognition of the fact that people were living on the land prior to the establishment of Israel as a country in 1948.

Slowly, over the last few months (I started to think a bit about this after I was last here in June), I am beginning to think of owning up to my country's history. When I traveled across the United States last month, I saw the hundreds of miles of land stretching on either side of the highway. After being here in Palestine, I couldn't just watch the land pass by anymore. It made me feel sick. I see now I was traveling on stolen land, that was taken through force, genocide, and human rights violations. And I wonder: if this is how the United States gained its land, what spiritual scars has it left on the country? How does such a bloody history shape the spiritual wellness (or lack thereof) of the nation?

It is uncomfortable to see myself and my country in such sharp focus. But, I think as people of faith, we are called to engage this world, in the words of a good friend, "with eyes wide open."

And this is what I see, on this side of the looking glass.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Tower of Babel, Revisited

Greetings from Hebron, the West Bank! The last month has been a whirlwind of activity. Between my last post and today, I have driven clear across the United States (from New York to Washington) and back, moved from one state to another, and moved again from the United States to Israel/Palestine. The road trip was amazing (I'll try to remember to post some pictures when I return to the US), I feel at home in two separate states (which is not anything new), and I am thrilled to be with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) working in Hebron. I joined the team in Hebron this week, and I feel as though my learning curve is through the roof. There is so much to learn: language, culture, friends of CPT, the history of Hebron, the general layout of the city, CPT Hebron team life and work (CPT training prepared me for life on team, in general, but every team is different, given the unique cultural context of each), and so on. I am deeply enjoying my time here; right now I would not want to be anywhere else. I only wish I could somehow take all my beautiful friends and family, living far away, and move them *here*.

Dear friends and family: don't you feel called to work with CPT, particularly the Hebron team? :o)

I miss the wonderful people at home, but I love the people I am meeting and working with here in Hebron. My experience with some wonderful young women last night might give you an idea of the beautiful people here. I met them at a break fast party. Hebron is a predominently Muslim city, and almost all the Muslims here fast during the month of Ramadan. They neither eat nor drink during daylight hours, so after the sun sets, families and friends gather to break the day's fast together. A good friend of CPT decided to organize a huge break fast party -- perhaps roughly the equivalent of a neighborhod block party? Only this was bigger -- for folks in the Hebron community. She invited CPT join in the meal. We went, and I was very excited for an opportunity to talk to some of the women and children from the community.

Well, in my excitement, I had forgotten to calculate my minimal (actually, "non-existent" is a more accurate description) Arabic conversation skills. Yet a fellow teammate, who also does not speak Arabic, and I found ourselves in conversation with three wonderful young women.

I never cease to be amazed at how much conversation one can have with another person, when neither speaks more than a rudimentary level of the other's language. As far as I could tell, we each asked each other for names, and they asked us where we were from. This I was able to manage to answer, very haltingly and with a lot of thought, in Arabic. The next thing I know, the young women were asking me what I was doing in Hebron, what I thought of Israel, who were Christian Peacemaker Teams, and something about the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) -- to which my fellow teammate responded, "Um . . . Jesus?"

It was the Tower of Babel all over again.

One of the three young women was very intent in the conversation, and she was leaning far into our little circle gathering. I, too, was really excited, and I was leaning deeply into the circle. She was speaking Arabic, with a little English, and I was speaking English, with a little . . . well, English.

I still smile to think of our conversation. From our nonverbal communication, we both made it clear that we wanted desperately to communicate with each other. I think, buried in my subconscious, was this desperate belief that if we both wanted badly enough and tried hard enough to speak in our own languages, we would somehow be able to understand each other fully.

Then again, when I think about how much we did communicate to each other, I would say our efforts were not too shabby. I had a friend who would always say, "Care and compassion transcends every racial and cultural boundary."

Perhaps it applies, on a limited level, to language, as well. In any case, it seems the language of peace and love translates easily to any tongue.