Today we visited Yad Vashem, the museum of the holocaust in West Jerusalem, a good place to end our pilgrimage and give us a different perspective, to appreciate where others have been in the stories of their own lives, their families and their people. For our stories are all we have. Out of our stories we create our lives, our reality. My reality has been shaped by the people I have met and the stories I have heard on this pilgrimage. They have become part of my story and now yours....
Yesterday we began at Efrat, where Jewish settler Ardie Geldman told us his story of coming from Chicago to Israel, where he and his wife felt called to live out their story -- on the land sacred to Jews, given to them in the Bible (his words). Efrat is built on a hill above the olive groves of Palestinian farmers. The road to Efrat cuts across these groves, separating one half of a grove from the other. As our bus travels this highway I wonder how the Arab farmers get to their lands to care for their trees now. Is it like up north in Jayous, where we watched and waved back as the farmers went through the checkpoint? Every day they drive through this checkpoint in their fields below their village, driving their tractors through the gate, showing the Israeli soldiers their IDs and papers to pass. Ardie Geldman referred to the land where he lives in his settlement on the West Bank as "disputed" (not "occupied") territory. The settlement, Efrat, is beautifully landscaped with green grass and even a hundreds-of-years-old olive tree, dug up from one of the ancient olive groves and planted in the central entrance to the city.
As I write this in the internet cafe, I hear the Franciscans chanting, as they lead their Friday walk along the Via Dolorosa, the 14 stations of the cross. The internet cafe is adjacent to the 8th station and the pilgrims are praying as I prayed last week when I walked with them...."he was despised....a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief." I'm sure he weeps over Jerusalem today, where Christians fight over the real estate that is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the three Abrahamic religions fight over the land of the Old City and beyond.
Back to yesterday -- we traveled from the lush greenery of Efrat a few miles along the settlers' road to Hebron. Because more settlements are being built and Israel is completing its plan to connect them with "secure" roads, this road will soon be closed to all Palestinians and they will have to drive many kilometers around this area, through all the small Arab villages, to reach Hebron. Hebron is heavily militarized because the Jewish settlers here are quite militant in their claim to this land where Abraham, Sarah, Isaac and Rebekkah, Jacob and Leah are said to be buried. Most of the shops in the once-bustling market are now closed because most people think it is too dangerous to come to Hebron. One shop owner begged us to purchase something from his shop. The suq (market) is open air, on an old narrow road in the Old City. This shopkeeper had stretched chickenwire above his shop to catch the garbage that settlers throw from their windows above the street. Sometimes they pour water or bleach on him and his goods.
We visited with the Christian Peacemaker Team (CPT) in Hebron, who showed us the city and talked about their work. They escort children to school to try to protect them from the settlers, who sometimes attack them with rocks. Some of you remember when Heidi Schramm showed us her slides and told us about her work with CPT in the rural part of this region in the small village of At-Tuwani. Recently some of the residents were given cameras to document what happens to them. A woman who was attacked was able to use her photos to prove that she was attacked. The police were glad to use her photos as evidence. (When I return I'll provide a link to the story.)
The main street of Hebron, where the market was busiest, is now closed -- all the shops shuttered, their doors welded shut and stars of David spray-painted on the doors--the settlers have marked this Arab market as their territory. So many people in Hebron have lost their source of income - little tourism and no place to sell their goods. But the shopkeeper who works under the settlers' garbage told us, "I will not leave. This is my shop and my land. I will not let them drive me away. Please buy my goods and help me to stay here."
Life here is so complicated -- survival is difficult and emotions are strong. Everyone wants a safe place to raise their children, sometimes at great cost to others. And every Friday, as the Franciscans pray the stations, Jesus still carries his cross and I imagine God weeping for the children of this holy land.