Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Each of Us Has a Part

On Monday, I saw news of the settler attack on a mosque in Beit Fajjar, near Bethlehem. As usual, I looked up Beit Fajjar on my Israel map and discovered that it is next to Beit Ummar and the al Arroub refugee camp, two places I visited with the Compassionate Listening Project in May.

Palestine News Network reported some details of the attack: “Mahmoud Taqataqa, a witness, said that he awoke in the early morning, approximately 2:45 am, when he heard the settlers taking off the door of the mosque. He approached them asking the settlers to leave the area, but they forced him away at gunpoint at which time he went to other houses to awaken the other citizens of Beit Fajar.

Mahmoud, also said that the settlers had the protection of the Israeli occupation forces. They did not intervene nor did they try to stop the settlers form doing this heinous crime. He indicated that the Israeli occupation forces only stepped in when the citizens of the village approached the mosque and started clashing with the settlers who had collected copies of the Quran and started to burn them in the center of the mosque.”

This is a story I have heard from many of the people I’ve met in Palestine. On Monday I remembered the story told to our Compasionate Listening delegation by Ibrahim’s parents, Mohammad and Sulha who live in Beit Ummar, only a few kilometers from the now-burned-out mosque.

Our delegation had been invited to meet with a group of Israelis and Palestinians who had been meeting to get to know one another. Their organization is called Wounded Crossing Borders, made up of people who have been wounded in the conflict and who are now reaching out to “cross borders,” and meet people on the other side. One of the leaders (an Israeli) told us they are not a political group, but they are friends. “It is not easy,” he said, but they want to get to know one another across the divide of the conflict and the wounding. They are working on a paper which will state the principles they share.

We were all sitting outside late in the afternoon on a beautiful Palestinian summer day, sipping cool drinks. It had been a hot day, but Palestinian families make the dry, arid climate cool and inviting by planting shade trees, fruit orchards and grape arbors. So we were sitting comfortably in the shade on Jammal and Saddiya’s patio.

Jammal’s brother Mohammad and his wife Sulha were part of the group, and, as we sat in the cool shade, Mohammad told us about Ibrahim’s arrest. (Sulha and Mohammad are the couple at the right in the photo-thanks to Ellen Greene, our photographer on the trip)

Shortly after midnight a few days earlier, they were awakened when soldiers surrounded their house. The soldiers woke up the whole family, including all of their ten children, ages 1-18, and made everyone go outside. Ibrahim was wearing only his shorts and a shirt; they blindfolded him and tied his hands behind him. The soldiers beat Ibrahim in front of the whole family, including his little brothers and sisters. They arrested him and took him to jail at the nearby settlement, accusing him of throwing stones. Mohammad went to the Red Cross and then heard that his son would be in court the next day. Mohammad waited from 5:30 am to 2 pm, but Ibrahim’s case was not ready. Mohammad returned the next day and when they brought Ibrahim in, Mohammad could see his hands tied, his legs bruised from the shackles. They had used electric shock on his hands. Mohammad was sad that he could not talk to his son, could not hug him. Ibrahim had confessed to stone-throwing, but when his lawyer told him to tell the judge what happened, he said, “I didn’t throw stones. I said it because they threatened me.”

The family asked the Israelis in the group, “Can anyone come to the court with us next week?” The Israelis responded that it is “complicated.” They said, “We will do our best…but the macro and micro levels are complicated.”

I was skeptical—the Israelis in the group seemed mostly interested in maintaining their powerlessness, their victimhood…they seemed to be saying, we have no choice…this is simply what happens when children throw stones….after all, we must protect ourselves.

But I was wrong—sort of. A few days later Jammal emailed that the Israelis had written a letter to the court and that Ibrahim had been freed. He still faces a trial for the charges, but he is out of prison (after his uncle paid the $400 bail money). And we heard that his family and the whole village threw a big party to welcome him home.

This is not all I would have wished for Ibrahim, but it is a start—a way to begin to merge the micro and macro levels.

People often say to me, “the Israeli/Palestinian situation is so complicated.” I disagree. It is simple. Each of us needs to figure out what our part is……and do it.

Read more about Ibrahim from Leah Green, our Compassionate Listening leader, on her blog.

Read more about the burning of the mosque here…and here]

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