What does it mean to resist? Every Friday our team participates in three very different activities, all of which, for the people here, are forms of resisting the illegal occupation of their lands by Israel. One of the current issues in many communities is the proposed route of sections of the separation barrier, which invariably has to do with illegal land confiscation. Rather than following the “green line” (the 1948 armistice line), this barrier often cuts deep into the occupied Palestinian Territory, separating families, cutting off farmers from their land, uprooting olive trees, imposing travel restrictions, controlling water resources, and leaving many Palestinians in what is called “the seam zone” ~ the land between the barrier and the internationally recognized “green line.”
Travel with me first to the village of Al Ma’sara, about a 20 minute taxi ride south and slightly to the east. At the community cultural centre we meet a few villagers and several internationals. As Friday prayers conclude, around 1:15 PM this past week, we walk toward the mosque where we are joined by others. Now 40-50 strong, including children, we move toward the intersection at the entrance to the village. Forty members of the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) are ready for us. Nearly a one-to-one ratio! Complete with guns, shields, and what appears to be riot gear, they move to prevent the villagers from accessing their land. They are joined by several police jeeps and other army vehicles.
This nonviolent protest includes the usual chanting and slogans plus an impassioned speech about the injustice of the occupation. Many sit on the ground, symbolically chained together. As witnesses and not active participants, EAs stand at the back to monitor and document the situation. Number of soldiers. Number of police. Number of vehicles. Number of demonstrators. Any unusual developments? Stone throwing? Arrest of minors? Escalation by the army?
After about an hour, the demonstrators move away and the army and police close up shop. We visit with villagers before we make our way home … Today was relatively peaceful. Another Friday afternoon in Al Ma’sara ~ a ritual that has been repeated every Friday since 2006 ~ a resistance that speaks its own powerful message ~ perhaps not unlike another day long ago when a radical revolutionary from Nazareth made his way into Jerusalem with his ragtag band ~ only to confront the occupying power of his day.
Our next stop is a beautifully terraced hillside of olive trees about a 15 minute taxi ride due east and a bit north of our home. We join a small mass which is celebrated on this hillside every Friday at 5:00 PM.
Led by Roman Catholic priests together with seminarians from the nearby largely Christian village of Beit Jala, the mass is a form of resistance against the attempt by Israel to illegally annex this valley. The beautiful Cremisan valley is the one of the last remaining green areas in the Bethlehem Governorate. It is a place where families love to picnic. And it is situated between two illegal Israeli settlements, Gilo and Har Gilo. Now Israel wants to illegally annex this valley to what it calls “Greater Jerusalem.” The route of the separation barrier here would not only confiscate this beautiful valley, which belongs to over 50 Beit Jala families, but it would also place both a convent and a monastery on the Jerusalem side of the barrier and cut them off from the families they serve. The convent school enrolls approximately 400 children from the greater Bethlehem area. The nuns and monks have recently joined together to strengthen their case in the Israeli courts. A ruling is expected in October.
But all of this is mere background. Here nothing is said about politics. The wind rustles the leaves of the olive trees. The evening sun is casting its shadows. A peaceful calm pervades the valley … The bread is broken ~ The wine is poured ~ The gifts of the land are shared ~ No one is excluded ~ All are welcome ~ All are fed ~ Everything has a different meaning in this context.
Our final stop on this particular Friday is at the separation barrier just outside one of the car checkpoints between Bethlehem and Jerusalem. It is a 2 minute walk from our home.
We greet the sisters coming up the hill from Caritas Baby Hospital ~ the only pediatrics hospital in the entire West Bank. We greet the La Salle brothers as we approach the wall. A smattering of local Palestinian Christians and a few internationals join the group. The wall towers above us. No words of introduction are spoken. We all know why we are here.
Week after week, the community engages in a walking prayer, rosaries in hand, as they say the “Hail Mary” and pray the Jesus’ prayer in various languages. Up and down the wall we walk, turning and retracing our steps again and again. The guard tower looms ahead. Symbol of the occupation … And I am again reminded of another occupation over 2,000 years ago ~ “Deliver us from evil” ~ We share a sign of peace ~ Can the kin-dom come on earth? ~ If not here, where? ~ If not now, when?