The Hospitality of a Stranger

Service Taxis in Bethlehem Photo Credit: Public Domain

Service Taxis ~ Bethlehem Checkpoint
Photo Credit: Public Domain

I walk through the checkpoint complex in the wall separating my home on the outskirts of Jerusalem from Bethlehem. Among all the “vendors” shouting out their destinations, I find a service (pronounced: serveece), going to Hebron. I climb in and take a seat next to a Hajji (a term of respect for an older Palestinian woman.)

The experience of using this shared van form of public transportation in Palestine is unique and difficult to describe. If you happen to be the last passenger, it departs within seconds of your arrival. However, if you happen to be passenger number one, you could wait 30 minutes to an hour for all seven seats to fill. While some journeys are taken in relative silence, this is not generally the case. There is often news or music blaring from the radio ~ some engage in animated discussion, some eat, some smoke, some are on their cell phones, some visit with those next to them or in front of them ~ people are getting off and on at various “stops” ~ fares are passed forward and change passed backwards ~ it becomes a mini community on wheels.

Stuck in Traffic Photo Credit: Public Domain

Stuck in Traffic
Photo Credit: Public Domain

On this particular morning, I am the next to the last passenger to board. We wait five minutes. The last seat fills and we are off. Traffic travelling south out of Bethlehem city is especially slow this morning. About ten minutes after our departure, our driver is stopped by the Palestinian police and asked to exit the van. A few minutes pass and passengers begin checking their watches, anxiety mounting as they anticipate being late for work or school. Some disembark and unsuccessfully try to hail other modes of transportation. The Hajji next to me gets off, saying, “Eat,” and proceeds to enter the closest restaurant. After about 10-12 minutes, the unhappy driver climbs back into the van with a piece of paper, which I assume is a ticket for something. But the Hajji is now missing. The man in the front seat approaches the restaurant yelling, “Hajji, Hajji.” Soon she emerges with her little bag of food and climbs back into the waiting van of frustrated passengers.

We are off again. Some 10 minutes later, the Hajji pulls her shawarma sandwich from her little bag and offers me the first bite. I decline gracefully (I hope) and point to my own bag, indicating that I too have a sandwich. She smiles, nods and takes a bite. I retrieve my sandwich from my bag and do the same. As we eat, we share conversation ~ a bit of English on her part, very little Arabic on my part, and lots of hand gestures. Before long she is writing her name in my little notebook and inviting me to her home, which it turns out is in the neighborhood next to mine.

Shared Transportation ~ Hebron Photo Credit: Jan

Shared Transportation ~ Hebron
Photo Credit: Jan

The time has passed quickly and the van has reached the small village which is her destination. With a big smile and a pat on my knee, she wraps the remainder of her sandwich, gathers up her various bags and is gone ~ her final words are: “You come to my home.” As I finish my sandwich, I reflect on the richness of my morning experience with the Hajji ~ A complete stranger offers me the first bite of her sandwich and invites me to her home ~ I wonder if this would ever happen in our western insular society ~ I ponder the real meaning of what it is to welcome the stranger.

In the texts of our tradition, we are reminded: “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers for in so doing some have entertained angels without knowing it…” However, today I sense it was I, the stranger, who experienced the angel. Thank you, Hajji, for this lesson in true hospitality.

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“Casualties” of the Occupation ~ Stories that Break Your Heart

Tragic and heart breaking ~ so many stories that rarely reach mainstream western media ~ stories often reported here as just another casualty in a long string of casualties. Two EAs from our Bethlehem team recently submitted first-hand details of the following heart breaking story…

Tear Gas ~ Photo Credit" Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

Tear Gas ~ Photo Credit: Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

“On Tuesday, November 3, we visited the village of Beit Fajjar where ‘clashes’ had taken place the previous Friday, October 30, about 4:00 PM. [Note: ‘Clashes’ are generally defined as a confrontation between stone throwing youth and heavily armed Israeli soldiers.] The villagers told us that the military had been present in the village prior to the clashes and estimated the number of military personnel to have been around 50. Teargas, sound bombs, ‘rubber’ [-coated steel] bullets, and live ammunition were all witnessed. Six people were injured, two with live ammunition. One person was killed ~ a baby …

“We visited the family of little Ramadan Mohammad Faisal Thawabta, the 8-month old baby boy who had died, in order to offer our condolences and report on the case. We spoke to the women of the family as well as the father and mother of the baby. The grandfather had been present and witnessed the tragic unfolding of events. He told us the following account.”

A Mother's Grief Photo Credit: Reuters

A Mother’s Grief
Photo Credit: Reuters

“On Friday clashes broke out in our village of Bait Fajjar. Much teargas was fired at the main road located less than 100 metres from our family house. A teargas canister was fired near our neighbour’s house, where eight people were inside. A young girl had climbed onto the roof and was shouting for help as the people inside the house were suffocating from the gas. My family rushed out from our house, leaving the front door open, in order to go help our neighbours. We managed to break the neighbours’ door and helped all eight of them to safety. However, when we returned home we found our baby, whom we had left in the house, lifeless, due to the tear gas which had spread from the neighbours’ house into the street and into our house. The baby was taken first to King Husain Hospital in Bethlehem and then to a hospital in Hebron for investigation. The investigation said the cause of the baby’s death was gas.” [Note: On Saturday, the Israeli military authorities denied these claims, saying that no tear gas was fired in the vicinity of the house and that the baby had a prior health condition. But even if the latter is true, this does not mean that tear gas inhalation did not contribute to the baby’s death.]

Israeli Military Issuing Threats in Aida Refugee Camp Photo Credit: Middle East Eye

Israeli Military Issues Death Threats
Aida Refugee Camp ~ Bethlehem
Photo Credit: Middle East Eye

I think it is worth noting that the previous evening, a military jeep rolled down an empty street in Aida refugee camp in nearby Bethlehem at dusk, a place of frequent clashes, broadcasting in Arabic over a loud speaker, “People of Aida refugee camp, we are the occupation army. You throw stones and we will hit you with gas until you all die. The children, the youth, the old people, you will all die. We won’t leave any of you alive. And we have arrested one of you; he is with us now. We took him from his home and we will slaughter and kill him while you are watching if you keep throwing stones. Go home or we will gas you until you die. Your families, your children, everyone, we will kill you…” (See youtube video.)

Tragic stories need to be told ~ Stories that break our hearts ~ Stories that have the potential to move us to action ~ The words of Bob Dylan come to mind…

…Yes, how many years can some people exist
Before they’re allowed to be free?
Yes, how many times can a man [sic] turn his head
Pretending he just doesn’t see?…

…Yes, how many ears must one man [sic] have
Before he can hear people cry?
Yes, how many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died?…

The answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind.

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Singing Their Longings ~ A Beautiful Sound

Gathering to Sing Our Land ~ Hebron Photo Credit: Dawn

Gathering to Sing of Our Land ~ Hebron
Photo Credit: Dawn

They sing from their hearts ~ waving flags and donning hats, keffiyehs and scarves with green, white, black and red ~ colours of Palestine. Mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers, young people and small children ~ all gathering to sing a haunting melody about the beauty of their county ~ about pride and longing ~ about freedom …

 

My homeland, my homeland
Glory and beauty, sublimity and splendor are in your hills
Life and deliverance, pleasure and hope in your love
Will I see you? Safely comforted and victoriously honored
Will I see you in your eminence, reaching to the stars?
My homeland, my homeland

… The youth will not tire, ’till your independence or they die
We will drink from death, and will not be to our enemies like slaves
We do not want an eternal humiliation, nor a miserable life
But we will bring back our storied glory

My homeland, my homeland …
(Excerpted from Mawtini, based on the poem by Ibrahim Tuqan, circa 1934)

Soldiers Patrolling the Old City of Hebron Photo Credit: Dawn

Soldiers ~ Old City of Hebron ~ H2
Photo Credit: Dawn

For a moment, I forget I am in Hebron ~ Hebron, a microcosm of this inhumane military occupation ~ Hebron, with its division into H1, under full Palestinian control with about 170,000 Palestinian inhabitants ~ and H2, only 20% of the whole, but the heart of the historic old city with its venerated tombs of the patriarchs and matriarchs ~ under full Israeli control with 18 checkpoints and over 120 physical obstacles ~ home to some 40,000 Palestinians and 850 ideological, fanatic Jewish settlers who live in five illegal settlements, protected by more than 1,500 heavily armed soldiers.

It is the H2 area of Hebron that has now become the eye of the current storm. A large percentage of the recent alleged stabbings, resultant shootings, extrajudicial killings, arrests, detentions and raids have taken place here. Palestinians living in certain neighborhoods have had to “register” in order to have access to their own homes and are afraid to leave even to buy food. Internationals have been harassed, attacked, detained and even barred from entering the area. Streets in H2 are eerily empty except for soldiers with automatic weapons and armed illegal settlers.

I had arrived in H1 that morning in a shared taxi from Bethlehem, entering by one of only two entrances to Hebron which remained open. All others are blocked with dirt mounds or cement blocks, a form of collective punishment for the ongoing wave of violence. My friend and colleague, Jan, and I had come to this evening’s “cultural event” with friends ~ a local Palestinian family ~ three generations ~ with whom we had shared a special Palestinian meal. In the course of our late afternoon repast, we talked about some of the most recent incidents in the H2 area and the tightening noose of the occupation.

For Ten Precious Minutes Photo Credit: Dawn

For Ten Precious Minutes
Photo Credit: Dawn

The haunting melody calls me back to the present moment. I reflect. It seems that in singing, the ugliness of the occupation and the resulting despair and hopeless are momentarily displaced. Spirits are lifted on the wings of love and longing ~ longing to live in their land with freedom. And then ~ as quickly as it began ~ it is over. As we file out of the auditorium into the dark, damp night, I am moved to tears. I cannot imagine that in our home countries, people would make the trip across the city, through the traffic, and hassle with parking, to gather at 6pm for ten minutes on a cold, rainy night just to sing our national anthem. For us, singing about our country might be the prelude to an event, but here it is the event ~ For ten precious minutes despair was lifted and hopes raised ~ For ten precious minutes people sang their longings ~ For ten precious minutes they were able to step outside the reality of their lives in this place ~ For ten precious minutes ~ time out of time ~ the caged bird sang of freedom ~ My homeland, my homeland ~ It reflected a longing from deep within their hearts. And it was beautiful to hear.

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“Caged Bird” ~ A Freedom Song

When I received the invitation to come to Palestine for two months, I was immersed in reading Maya Angelou’s articulate and moving 7-volume autobiography. So, naturally, I brought the books with me to provide some diversion. Little did I know how much Maya’s story ~ particularly her involvement as an activist in the US civil rights movement ~ would parallel some of what I see and hear in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory. While her story does not offer the diversion I seek, it offers much more ~ With gratitude for her witness, I quote here her poem which so eloquently portrays the expansiveness of freedom in stark contrast to the imprisonment of a cage ~ May it awaken and strengthen our commitment to freedom for all.

Birds in Flight ~ Photo Credit: Gerry Morgan

Free Birds
Credit: Gerry Morgan

A free bird leaps
on the back of the wind
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wing
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.

Caged Bird ~ Birin Village ~ Occupied Palestine Photo Credit: Jan

Caged Bird
Birin Village ~ Hebron Governorate
Occupied Palestine
Photo Credit: Jan

But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage 
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.

Free Birdsshutterstock.com

Free Birds
Credit: shutterstock.com

The free bird thinks
of another breeze
and the trade winds soft
through the sighing trees

and the fat worms waiting
on a dawn bright lawn

and he names the sky his own.

Caged Bird Occupied East Jerusalem Souk (Market) ~ Old City Photo Credit: Dawn

Caged Birds
Occupied East Jerusalem
Souk (Market) ~ Old City
Photo Credit: Dawn

But a caged bird stands
on the grave of dreams

his shadow shouts
on a nightmare scream

his wings are clipped
and his feet are tied

so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.

 

Maya Angelou, “Caged Bird” from Shaker, Why Don’t You Sing? Copyright © 1983

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Breaking News ~ Freedom of the Press Suppressed

This blog was published today by my colleague and friend, Jan, who is on the ground in Hebron. I am re-blogging sections of her post for my readers. Thank you, Jan, for your witness and for this window on the occupation and its systemic violation of human rights.

Freedom of the Press Suppressed

Posted by A Mosaic For PeaceNovember 4, 2015

The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the UN General Assembly December 10, 1948. It came about in the aftermath of World War 2, and was the result of nations states coming together with the common purpose of affirming human rights for the entire human family, while seeking to avoid the atrocities of war. The drafting committee included Canadian John Humphrey, and was chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt. The document has been ratified by every country in the world and translated into 337 languages. It has been foundational for other declarations and treaties that have been agreed upon since then.  As such, it is one of the most important documents of the 20th century.

The Declaration includes 30 articles, covering a wide range of human rights. Article 19 affirms freedom of expression as a fundamental human right. It reads: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any  media and regardless of frontiers.”

Respect for the freedom of the press and the rights of the residents of Hebron to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media was severely compromised early Tuesday morning, when the Israeli forces entered H1, the fully controlled Palestinian portion of the city of Hebron, at 2:30am. and raided the offices of radio station FM 92.7, HR.PS, carrying a military order that read, in part (translated from Hebrew), “the military commander orders to close the station because it is necessary for public order, for correct governance and for the security of the IDF forces.” According to the order, the station is to cease operation for a period of 6 months. Not only did the IDF close the station, they inflicted serious damage to the office and its equipment.

Radio station FM 92.7 HR.PS

Radio Station FM 92.7 HR.PS Now off Air ~ Offices Raided 2:30 Tuesday Morning

one of several cabinets vandalized in the raid

One of Several Cabinets Vandalized in Raid

equipment was torn off the walls

Equipment Torn off Walls

cords, connectors, etc left in a heap on the floor

Cords, Connectors, etc. Damaged in Raid

a damaged office

One of the Damaged Offices at Radio Station FM 92.7 HR.PS

Freedom of the press is a foundational human right. As the preamble to the UN Declaration of Human Rights so clearly states, “every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive…to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.” Palestinians, as a people under the jurisdiction of Israel (as a result of the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestine) are as deserving of this right as the citizens of the 192 countries that have signed the Declaration.

Peace, Salaam, Shalom,

Jan

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The Road Not Taken ~ What If …

Rabin Square ~ Tel Aviv ~ October 31, 2015 Photo Credit: Oren Ziv, activestills.org

Rabin Square ~ Tel Aviv ~ October 31, 2015
Photo Credit: Oren Ziv ~ Activestills.org

What if Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin had not been gunned down at a Tel Aviv peace rally by a Jewish extremist on that fateful night ~ November 4, 1995? What if Israel’s successive leaders had had the courage to risk peace? What if …

Last night, in the Tel Aviv square that bears Rabin’s name, 100,000 people gathered to remember the 20th anniversary of his assassination ~ against the backdrop of this wave of horrific violence and bloodshed during the past month ~ violence that has been committed by both sides ~ still they gathered. They gathered to remember and to honour the army general turned peacemaker ~ “It is no longer inevitable that we be a people who dwell alone, nor is it true that the whole world is against us. We need to break out of the sense of isolation which held us in its grip for almost fifty years. We must come aboard the great journey towards peace, reconciliation and international cooperation. If we don’t, we will remain alone in an empty station.” (Yitzhak Rabin ~ July 13, 1992)

Caption above Rabin's Photo (right) ~ "Leader" Caption above Netanyahu's Photo (left) ~ "Cowardice" Photo Credit: Oren Ziv ~ Activestills.org

Caption above Rabin’s Photo ~ “Leadership”
Caption above Netanyahu’s Photo ~ “Cowardice”
Photo Credit: Oren Ziv ~ Activestills.org

Chairwoman Zehava Galon of the Meretz political party said at the rally: “Rabin was murdered because he proposed a political vision for the State of Israel. He was murdered because of the politician that he was ~ a politician who wanted to end the occupation and make peace with the Palestinians … We do not agree and we’ll never agree to ever acquiesce to the only future Netanyahu is offering us ~ of living forever by the sword.”

Former President Bill Clinton issued an emotionally charged challenge to the applause of those gathered: “The next step will be determined by whether you decide that Rabin was right ~ that you have to share the future with your neighbours ~ that you have to give their children a chance too ~ that you have to stand for peace ~ that the risks for peace are not as severe as the risk of walking away from it. We are praying that you will make the right decision.”

Some 2,000 years ago, a Jewish teacher in Palestine is said to have wept over Jerusalem ~ Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace! But now they are hid from your eyes ~ Isn’t it time to remove the blinders? ~ What if someone would arise who would risk the road not taken? ~ It could make all the difference!

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A Swing, a Slide, and a Soccer Field ~ Targets of the Occupation

Children's Playground Wadi Fukin, Occupied Palestine Photo Credit: Dawn

Children’s Playground
Wadi Fukin ~ Occupied Palestine
Photo Credit: Dawn

What do a swing, a slide, and a soccer field have in common? It would seem an obvious question ~ these are all things which provide children a safe place to play and simply be children. But in this Palestinian village, the swing, the slide, and the soccer field all share the same fate ~ They have received stop work orders and may well be demolished should anyone have the audacity to complete these playground projects without the required permits ~ permits which are impossible for Palestinians in this village to obtain under a cruel and inhumane military occupation.

It is a Saturday afternoon and I am invited to join a Methodist delegation to the village of Wadi Fukin (Foquin/Fuqeen) ~ one of the villages our Bethlehem EAPPI team monitored in the fall of 2012 (see earlier post, Between a Rock and a Hard Place ~ A Village Surrounded). It has been three years since I was here picking olives, and I am anxious to see what changes have taken place in this small community of 1,300 people.

Map ~ Wadi Fukin Green Area Shows Loss of Land Since 1948 Credit: Mayor's Office

Map ~ Wadi Fukin
Green Area Shows Loss of Land Since 1948
Credit: Mayor’s Office

As we turn off of the main road and make our way down into the lush and fertile valley, I am immediately struck by how narrow the valley has become. The two illegal settlements on the hills above have crept downwards, confiscating more and more village land, building more and more houses, hemming in the village on both sides, and dramatically restricting the arable land. So much has changed ~ and yet so much remains the same. The mayor relays stories of settler violence and harassment ~ sewage from the settlement is regularly released into the valley, contaminating the small plots of agricultural land ~ settlers bathe in the springs, burn wheat fields, and uproot olive and fruit trees. Just four months ago, 1,300 fruit trees were lost to the bulldozers. The ongoing effects of the occupation on this small community are devastating.

Unfinished Soccer Field ~ Wadi Fukin Photo Credit: Dawn

Unfinished Soccer Field ~ Wadi Fukin
Photo Credit: Dawn

Together with village representatives we make our way to the end of the valley as the Methodist delegation has come to see the results of their fundraising efforts through Friends of Wadi Fukin to build a small soccer field for village children. Above the dirt road on the right we spot an area that has been built up and reinforced with a retaining wall to create a level playing field ~ a sign is affixed thanking the Global Ministries of the Methodist Church for their generous support. But we quickly notice that it is clearly unfinished. Rebar and wire hold together the rock retaining wall which awaits its concrete casing. The jumble of rocks on the uphill slope have not yet been transformed into spectator seats. The field is not seeded. The goal posts are missing ~ We are informed that the soccer field, along with the adjacent small playground have all received stop work orders from the Israeli government, the most recent one in July. If the village completes the project it will result in the issuance of a demolition order ~ a demolition order on the only place in the village where children can play.

Stop Work Order ~ Soccer Field Orders Typically Under Rock for Villagers to Find ~ or Not Photo Credit: Friends of Wadi Fukin

Stop Work Order ~ Soccer Field ~ Wadi Fukin
Orders Are Typically Left Under a Rock
for Villagers to Find ~ or Not
Photo Credit: Friends of Wadi Fukin

And this is the story of only one village. Stories of stop work orders and demolition orders can be multiplied by the thousands throughout Area C of the occupied West Bank (see earlier post, The A, B, Cs of Occupation). What would it be like to constantly live in the shadow of the bulldozers? And yet the Israeli government claims that it is the Palestinians who are inciting the current wave of violence. Is not a 48-year military occupation incitement? Is not restriction of movement and an oppressive permit system incitement? Is not land theft and the demolition of playgrounds, homes and livelihoods incitement? An opinion piece published yesterday in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz boldly states: “Israel has created the boy ‘terrorist’… It is a moral indictment” ~ We are reminded that one person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter ~ Has anyone thought of ending the occupation for starters?

 

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