Tonight, I hear you. I hear your gentle sigh as you spin round and round, the sun shining light on all your shadowy corners. I hear you as the truth stretches out before us, your people who wait for the stars to spell out answers, hoping the hurts will melt away, believing you’ll spin on into eternity and somehow, some way, peace will come.
I hear you, groaning beneath the weight of oppression and I want you to know that you are not alone. From a small hotel room in the middle of Bethlehem, I am wondering and aching.
I am caught in the midst of a conflict years old, fumbling through conversations about Islam, Judaism, misplaced American tax dollars, and machine guns. Through dialogue with my travel friends, I’m realizing the Israel-Palestine conflict is not actually that complex. Do not dismiss it. Do not shrug it off as propaganda filled nonsense. Do not close your mind to the courage in thinking and thinking hard. I implore you.
See, whether or not you know anything about this Holy Land I’m walking, the disunity here is a matter of human dignity, of equality and just how we define freedom. It is important that you realize America has a hand in great and terrible pain. Perhaps it bothers you that not everyone in the States has equal rights, but should you come and speak with Palestinians here, you will know that America doesn’t recognize the humanity of people overseas, either, not always. Please don’t hear me hating on a magnificent nation. America, you are bold, determined, mesmerizing. A local Palestinian told us this afternoon that he hates the American government. He doesn’t blame your people, he likes them, but he is deeply offended by the pro Israeli voice blaring from Capitol Hill.
This same man let us gather above his father’s shop to ask him questions about his life amongst illegal Israeli settlers. He served us heaping plates of chicken and rice, told us his wife cooked it because Middle Eastern men never cook, and laughed at us when we took out our cameras in embarrassing tourist fashion to photograph the little boys hanging around his shop. “Do you not have kids in America?”
I’m getting lost in narrative, but world, this man we met is extraordinary. Extraordinary in his normalcy and extraordinary in his example. He is not the bomb detonating Arab us Westerners have been told of. He has smiling eyes and a baby girl on the way. He watched Israeli soldiers shoot his 11 year old cousin in the leg, just because he refused to give them his football. He has never been to Jerusalem because he is forbidden. He also can’t wear a certain black jacket because the soldiers prohibit it. He isn’t sure why but he’s on the market for a new winter coat. Finding rhyme or reason behind the Israeli military is exhausting and seems impossible.
I have faith in the Israeli hearts beneath those army jackets. I have also been wisely told not to be pro-Palestine or anti-Israeli. We must be pro-justice. Can you do that, world?
An Israeli actually showed us the deserted places of Hebron. A member of Breaking the Silence, he is a repentant soldier who has experienced an awakening of sorts. After ambushing innocent Palestinian homes, working as a sniper and bombing villages upon command, he admits there is no method to the madness. It is a game of intimidation, a power play, and he proclaimed this in front of fellow soldiers who observed our group from their watch posts, casually playing around with their guns and staring at us. They weren’t going to cause us harm, but they were everywhere, monitoring us as we traipsed up the hilly roads of Hebron. We proceeded to learn how Jewish settlers receive water and fertile land while the Palestinians, who are legally the residents of Hebron, enter their home through check points and may lose their water supply at any given moment. Our ex-combatant talked of the settlers’ attempts to clean up & put on a good show. The Israeli flag hangs everywhere, signs declare that Hebron was taken back from violent Arabs. It is now a ghost town, shop keepers can’t make a living and 70% of the population is unemployed.
Yet as we stood looking out over the strangely quiet city-scape, a threesome of Palestinians approached us, wanting to take a photo. They couldn’t believe an Israeli soldier was taking us on a tour of the places he had harassed, speaking in tones of love and grace about the Palestinian people. We gathered together in a moment of solidarity to document a genuine appreciation of forgiveness and the power of storytelling.
That, world, was a shining moment for you, I am sure.
It may sound like I’m on a rant against Israel, but I see the struggle of that slice of the globe, too. Promised a land of milk and honey, almost obliterated by Nazi Germany, consistently attacked as a minority, Jews must harbor pain indescribable. Generational wounds are perpetuated because countless generations have been affected by us, the rest of the world.
Carol, a member of the Christian peacemaking team, is in charge of assisting the Hebron residents. She sometimes stands at check points to ensure children aren’t detained or bullied. She has been spat on by the Israeli military but she said to us that it’s crucial she appeal to their humanity. Somewhere there might be a crack that let’s the light in. “If I want someone to recognize me as a human, then I too need to recognize them as a human being…sometimes you see it in the meeting of eyes.”
There is so much more to dwell on, so much more to share. But the resounding cry of the Palestinians we have encountered is tell our story. Carol reminded us that it doesn’t take a particular kind of person to be a peacemaker. None of us are too insignificant or too small. We do ourselves a disservice when we choose silence over empowerment. The Muslim who fed us lunch dreams of having a life without checkpoints. He focuses on being the “best kind of person in the worst situation.” He will raise his children to fight for justice instead of hate.
We, world, owe it to him to be engaged. Exposing our hearts to human suffering is healthy. We get so immersed in our own lives but the world is growing, breathing, beating, reverberating with the noise and music of other people, places, and things.
Let us not be a culture of timid consumers. Let us explore, wrestle and ponder.
The longer I stay in the Holy Land, I think seeing is not believing. Feeling is believing. World, you are spectacular. I am trusting that God holds you in his big ol hands and hoping that you sleep well tonight. Thank you for spinning on despite the gravity of sorrow. Thank you for allowing me the chance to cross your seas to experience the ground where my Jesus walked. And thank you for all that your people have already done to conquer evil with good.