After just ten days in Palestine, it’s hard to put words to many of the things that I have seen and heard. The stories will work their way out, when and how I can. For now, this is a report that my CPT delegation wrote together, and it gives a glimpse into some of our experiences.
In our journey to understand the reality of life in present day Palestine / Israel, two themes have captured us: memory and steadfast resistance–or samood (Arabic).
During our first days in Jerusalem, we visited Yad Vashem–the Holocaust museum that attempts to reconstruct the daily lives and suffering of the Jewish people murdered in Nazi death camps. The museum ‘re-membered’ those lost lives and communities, while calling on all the world to witness what occurred.
Our Jewish tour guide, Tamar, who accompanied us to Yad Vashem, took us that same day to Lifta. This 800 year-old Palestinian town has been abandoned since 1948 when a Zionist assassination squad killed several villagers and frightened the inhabitants into a ‘temporary’ flight from which they never returned. Tamar told us that her 15 years of work recovering the memories of the Holocaust for Yad Vashem gave her the eyes to see that all memories of the history of the Israeli return to Palestine need to be preserved.
Another day we visited Sabeel, an ecumenical Palestinian Liberation Theology centre. There we heard from Christian Palestinians about both the personal and social disintegration of the Nakba, or ‘Catastrophe’ of the 1948 Zionist invasion that drove Palestinians from their homes. We also learned about the theological disruption that came from their understanding that in the Zionist [both Jewish and Christian] reading of the Bible, Palestine is a land given by God to the Jews. Our host, Cedar, raised the questions ‘How do I, a Palestinian Christian, read the Bible in the face of my family’s displacement? What do I pray for?’ Remembering their own losses to the Zionist attacks of 1948, these Palestinian Christians call us to an open and accepting reading of God’s intention for all people and religions to live together in the Holy Land.
The theme of resistance, perseverance, and steadfastness was underlined for us in our visits later in the week. We traveled to Al-Arakib, a Bedouin town in the Negev desert that has been demolished again and again by Israeli authorities, as part of Israel’s attempt to force Bedouin people from their traditional homes and way of life. Al-Arakib has been destroyed so often that the site of the village has been bulldozed completely flat, and only a persistent reconstruction of symbolic shelters and repeated legal challenges have kept the Jewish National Fund [JNF] from planting a forest to completely eradicate the village. We were introduced to this Bedouin community by Amos, a self-described Israeli ‘professional traitor’ who continually pressed on us his conviction that when legal action leads to immoral acts, a citizen must resist in the name of morality.
We also visited the house of Salim in Anata, within sight of the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. His terraced home site has been destroyed by Israeli authorities six times since 1998. Salim is working with the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions [ICAHD], turning his land into an exhibition site to show international visitors the reality of living under fear of demolition. He says, ‘As long as I live, I will not sell or abandon this land. I will be a bone in their throats–they can’t swallow me down, and they can’t cough me up.’
This same samood,or steadfastness, is present in the ancient city of Hebron. Here, Israeli settlers, supported by constant patrols of Israeli soldiers, have literally inhabited buildings in Palestinian territory. In many parts of the Old City, Israeli settlers live in the upper floors of historic structures while the ground level houses the stalls of the local Palestinian market. The shopkeepers have had to install a haphazard network of wire netting to protect themselves, their customers, and their goods from garbage and stones thrown down on them from above. This daily threat and the random insistent patrols of the Israeli Defense Force have all but destroyed the business of the market. Despite this occupation, we walked through the tunnel-like streets of the Old City with Walid, a Palestinian working to physically restore the market and encourage business people to stay. For every time a Palestinian abandons a house, a market stall or a plot of land, Israel confiscates it.
In hearing the stories of our Israeli and Palestinian sisters and brothers, Tamar showed us that it’s important we remember. But the memories themselves aren’t enough–how we remember is also critical, as well as what becomes of our memories.
In our own families we tell the stories of our ancestors. We pass down mementos–jewelry, furniture, or pictures–to help construct the memories that make us who we are. These memories impact the way we live our lives–they change us. In the same way, the stories of our Palestinian friends are changing us. Inspired by their samood, we commit to remembering and telling their stories when we return. And we commit to remembering that our friends’ lives are impacted by our governments–everyone from Walid to Salim, from the Bedouins in the Negev to the shepherds in the hills of South Hebron, from the Palestinians in refugee camps in Bethlehem to the Palestinians in Hebron and Jerusalem–they all are impacted by our complicity with our governments’ actions.
Let us together remember the steadfastness of the Palestinian people, and be moved to act for peace with justice.