Friday, August 20, 2010

Compassionate Listening in Bethlehem

A typical website has a bar across the top of the page with tabs you click on to find out what you need to know—often these look like the tabs on a file folder, familiar to most Americans. On the website for the Holy Land Trust, these tabs are the sections of Israel’s security wall. Take a look:

It’s really quite creative and it illustrates a Palestinian attitude toward the wall, an attitude we found everywhere we went in the West Bank. It seems to be a fundamental tenet of Palestinian nonviolence that compells the people to transform the wall—from prison to liberation for the Palestinian people.

Returning from my trip to Israel/Palestine with the Compassionate Listening Project in June, I found it hard not to be depressed about the possibilities for peace and justice for the Palestinian people. It’s been difficult to write about the experiences because, although we met well-meaning Israelis and hopeful, energetic Palestinians getting to know one another throughout Israel and the West Bank, the progress toward change in the daily lives of Palestinians is very slow. In the five years I have been visiting the area, I have seen only increasing restrictions on travel. While peace talks meander on, the daily lives of Palestinians are filled with problems getting permits, humiliation at the checkpoints, and the stress of dealing with Israeli soldiers who are still uprooting olive trees for the building of the wall today. For example, every activity dealing with the world outside Palestine requires an Israeli permit because, although the Palestinian Authority has nominal control in metropolitan areas like Bethlehem, Israel controls its borders and everything that comes in or goes out.(This is also the problem in Gaza.)

The Palestinians we met—in Hebron, Al-Aroub refugee camp, Bethlehem, Beit Jala, and everywhere—do not let checkpoint humiliation and fear control their lives. They live as if there is a future of peace and justice. They live their lives as if one day there will be justice for them. They live their lives as if the world will one day turn their mourning into laughter.

And they live each day busily turning their sorrow into a brighter future for their people, especially the young people. So, they form oganizations like the Holy Land Trust (and the Diyar Consortium of the Lutherans in Bethlehem) to make that future a reality. Photo is Sami Awad, Executive Director of the Holy Land Trust, speaking to our delegation.

Over the past five years, I have watched Bethlehem become a walled enclave. In 2005, only small sections of the wall had been completed. One afternoon we walked through a gap in the wall, over a small hill, and caught the bus to Jerusalem without ever encountering a soldier. If we tried that in June, we would have put our lives in danger. The settlements, like Gilo and Har Homa, that were built between Jerusalem and Bethlehem on lands that were taken from Palestinian olive growers, now demand security—they fear the people whose land they have stolen.

If they met these Palestinians, they would learn that most Palestinians bear them no ill will. The Palestinians we met simply want an end to the confiscation of land and the building of the wall. They want Israeli troops out of the West Bank and Gaza and they want to live without fear that soldiers will shoot them for doing ????? (whatever—they never know) at the checkpoint. They want to live in a country where Israel does not control everything they do. Rafat, who spoke to us at the Holy Land Trust said something we heard over and over again from Palestinians everywhere: “Everyone is welcome here, but everyone must have equal rights. Face to face encounter is what will lead to peace.” He told us he was happy to have the settlers stay. The Palestinians I have met are amazing in their hospitality—they welcome even the people who oppress them, certain that if they get to know one another, life will be better.

This is a snapshot of the hope of the gospel—the good news that Jesus brought to this land two millenia ago is still being preached today.

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