Sunday, September 04, 2005

Article for my Yearly Meeting Publication

Recently, I was able to live out a long-time dream by spending two months living in the West Bank. Besides working with International Women’s Peace Service, a human rights and accompaniment organization. I visited two projects NWYM has participated in: the Ramallah Friends School and Christian Peacemaker Teams. Since I've come home I've been asked a question that we all ask returning travelers: “ was it?” I've been very surprised by how I've answered.

“It was wonderful!” I usually blurt out. “It was one of the happiest times in my life.” This answer, though surprising, is very true. My time in Palestine was clearly a gift from God. From the first day that I was greeted by children at the Friends School, to the last time I accompanied farmers trying to stop Israeli soldiers from uprooting their olive trees, I was blessed. Palestinians offered me tremendous generosity and friendship, despite living under the Israeli military occupation that restricts their lives more and more every day. It’s difficult to describe how heartening the friendship of such warm people can be.

On my last day in Palestine, my friend Fatima insisted that I come to her house for dinner. We ate together, and then brought our tea out to the patio. Fatima showed me her front garden, a small jungle bursting with colorful flowers. “I have more land,” Fatima said sadly. “But, because of the occupation, I cannot farm it. This is all of the land I have now.” Then she laughed and said, “Here, Joy, take this flower. It is a piece of my land. I give it to you.”

I watched my friend Fatima hand me a rose and I could find nothing to say. Faitma may lose her land at any time and she chose to give me a piece of it. I have never given anyone a piece, symbolic or otherwise, of something so important to me. There are hardly words for the magnitude of this gift.

Though the Palestinian people have been God's gift to me, I feel guilty about the way I describe my trip. Many Palestinians have asked me to tell their story and it is hardly a happy one. In fact, it breaks my heart. Palestinians live under a violent Israeli military occupation. I saw Palestinians waiting at checkpoints for hours. I sat with farmers who are losing their land. I met children who have been attacked on their way to school by angry Israeli setters. I feel almost embarrassed by the fact that God has blessed me through a situation fraught with such horrible violence.

Let me tell you about the some of the injustice I saw: I met a Palestinian Christian gentlemen hasn't been able to attend his church in Jerusalem legally for 8 years. The Israeli government gives very few permits to Palestinians who want to travel to Jerusalem. Last year, this gentlemen broke the law and sneaked into Jerusalem for a Palm Sunday service. I visited At-Tuwani, a tiny Palestinian farming village that's struggling to survive. Israeli settlers living illegally in the West Bank poisoned several of At-Tuwani's sheep. Now the villagers can't sell the milk and they worry about feeding their families. These stories have stuck in my mind. Every day, I think of the violence I witnessed, the tremendous injustice. I’m haunted by it.

Yet, as I have explained, my trip to Palestine has been a blessing. Not only was I given the tremendous friendship and generosity of Palestinian people, but God also has provided me with a challenge that is helping me to grow into a more loving person. It's a challenge that I hope you will join me in.

As I witness the injustice and fear that Palestinians live under everyday, it became clear to me that there is a role for Christians to play in this situation. I do not pretend to have a political solution to this conflict, but I know that God is a God of compassion and justice. The daily suffering of the Palestinian people and the violence against Israelis must break God’s heart. I also believe that the violent occupation of Palestine is one of the root causes of violence against Israelis. My experience in Palestine made it clear to me that the vast majority of Palestinian people do not hate Judaism –conflict exists because Palestinians want to live without a terrible, violent occupation disrupting their daily lives. It's clear to me that we as Christians are called to somehow show God’s mercy to the Palestinian people, to call for justice through ending the occupation. But how can we do so?

How can we call for an end to this unjust occupation? Won't we be seen as supporting only one side of this terrible conflict? Can we call for justice in a way that brings comfort to everyone touched by this conflict?

As I sit with these questions, God has whispered to me, “You must learn to love my people.” I think that is the challenge before me, and I hope that you will join me in meeting it. I feel called to find ways of loving both Israeli and Palestinian people and communicating that love to our political leaders, to issue a loving call for justice.

The challenge of lovingly calling for justice is a difficult one. But I can feel God using it to work in my life. I hope that you will join me in this blessing. I hope that we will look at this issue in Sunday School classes and at Yearly Meeting. I hope that we will continue to send people to Israel and Palestine to participate in nonviolent actions. I hope we will forge connections with Jewish and Palestinian people in our communities. And I hope that we will find a way to lobby our elected representatives and consider taking other actions, like divesting from companies that profit from the occupation. As Quakers, we’ve answered God’s call to peacemaking before. I pray our love for our global neighbors will be strong enough for us to do so now. I want us to again be called “children of God.”

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