I love the ocean! The sound of waves; the smell of salt; seagulls riding the air currents; a horizon that appears endless; intricate shells scattered in abundance on the sand. For me it is both relaxing and rejuvinating. And so it is during our midterm break that I find myself on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. I take off my shoes; I am on holy ground ~ the warm, wet sand between my toes ~ waves swirling around my ankles ~ I walk the beach ~ I am grateful for this short reprieve, for a chance to unwind ~ to let go of the intensity of the previous weeks ~ to let the sea do its work within me.
I also love Jerusalem! Jerusalem with its ancient walls, narrow winding alleys, and colourful souks (markets). Older women flank the stone paths with their baskets of fresh produce; black-clad orthodox Jews hurry along on their way to the Western Wall; the golden Dome of the Rock shines in the sun; the Moslem call to prayer vies with church bells. Jerusalem ~ city of Peace (salem) ~ I relish a carefree afternoon, absorbing the sights and smells of this mystical, storied place ~ I wander ~ I get lost ~ Magically I find my way to a known landmark ~ It’s all part of the Jerusalem experience ~ Midterm takes me to this ancient city too!
Back home in Bethlehem ~ on the “other side” of the separation wall, I am in a world apart. We have come to the Women’s Centre in the village of Nahhalin to offer classes to a group of young Muslim girls, ages 20-30, on how to crochet things with plastic bags. The director is taking us on a tour of the centre. I see a string of cloud shaped, colourful cut-outs hanging from nails and draped around the room. When I ask Jihen about this she says, “These represent the hopes and dreams of these young women.” I take one of the cloud shapes in my hand, and I read what is on their hearts: “I want to be a teacher.” Another: “I want to go to university.” And another: “I want to have a job.” ~ On and on ~ in some ways they are typical hopes, dreams and longings, and yet against the backdrop of the separation wall, the restriction of movement, and the illegal occupation of their lands and their lives, one wonders if these dreams will ever be realized ~ I continue to read, and then I am stopped in my tracks. My eyes fill with tears ~ “I want to go to Jerusalem;” and another one, “I want to go to the sea.”
It was bittersweet. The memorable, meaningful experiences I had had the week before paled and stood in stark contrast to what is possible for these young women. They live 10 kilometers from Jerusalem and an hour’s drive from the sea, but they have never been there. They are not allowed to go. It is a small request. It is a huge injustice. And for them this is what dreams are made of ~ May our stand for a just peace be instrumental in making their dreams a reality.