The "official" focus of our trip to Palestine and Israel was on strong women of the holy lands - stories of women from the old testament and living women whose strength is evident in the way they serve their people and their communities. The less official but more pressing business was in finding the places where peace is being carved out of the stones, where people are affected in their everyday lives by injustice, where we could see the lay of the land with our own eyes.
We sat in a cool, dark cave, listening to an impassioned Palestinian Christian farmer, engaged in non-violent resistance to the occupation encroaching upon his family's land, tell his story, and his message was clear: "Please, come and see. And then, go and tell. Don't tell what you've heard or what you've read. Tell what you have seen."
I am overwhelmed about where to begin with the telling. There is so much, and I am bound to get some of it wrong, but it all feels so important on so many levels. So, I will start with simply telling you what I saw. It is selective, because it was my experience, afterall. And it is a place to begin.
When we approached Bethlehem on our first night, I saw the wall. They call it the separation wall. The apartheid wall. It keeps the Palestinians out of the rest of their country. Passing through the checkpoint to Bethlehem, we were now in the West Bank.
I am not telling you how I felt. I am not telling you what to feel. I am showing you what I saw.
We traveled to Hebron, also in the West Bank, and south of Bethlehem. Several Israeli settlements have been built in and around the city, which, again, lies on Palestinian land, in the West Bank. Our small bus had trouble with the narrow, winding streets, and stopped when we saw that several of the roads had been "temporarily" blockaded.
We saw checkpoints for pedestrians traveling through the old city of Hebron, towards the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, or the Ibrahimi Mosque. We saw how the small turnstiles did not accomodate a man attempting to travel with his small cart of goods to sell. We saw no soldiers attending this particular checkpoint, but heard them through a loudspeaker, over the loud beeping of the turnstiles.
We passed through a second checkpoint as we got closer, and we saw soldiers all around the mosque. We saw bullet-proof glass around the tomb of Abraham. We saw separate entrances for Jews and Muslims. Our articulate, knowledgeable Palestinian guide was not allowed to accompany us to the synagogue side of the tombs.
We saw something I wish we could all erase from our memories. Enjoying a small glass of coffee outside a shop on the other side of the mosque, we saw, with our own eyes, a car speeding up the street hit a small Palestinian boy, knocking him to the side, where he lay, minus his shoe which was still under the car. The woman who jumped from the car, yelling, was a settler, and we watched as she tried to engage the nearby Israeli soldiers, who sauntered over to the scene. We watched as the Palestinian shopkeepers gathered around the boy, yelling at him and each other. (We later learned - I'm veering here from what I saw, because I can't leave these bits out - this same woman has had four such accidents involving children, and she has not nor will be prosecuted. The boy thankfully "only" suffered a leg fracture.) In all the chaos, I could not stop looking at his shoe.
We saw barbed wire everywhere, and wire netting over the busiest market street left open. We saw garbage, glass bottles, large stones, and a crow bar laying on the netting.
We saw people living their lives, selling things, buying things.
|Class in session on the Temple Mount, Jerusalem|
|Picking grapes on a rooftop, Jerusalem|
This is a country of stones. Stone walls, separating farmers' fields. Old stones of temples and tombs. A monastery carved out of stone, in the middle of the desert.
|Monastery in the Judean wilderness|
We saw stones set to block the road to a village where Palestinians live.
We saw the Israeli settlements - on Palestinian land - that surround the village on all sides.
|Continuing by foot|
We saw the most beautiful roses...
...and the most beguiling treats...
I can't forget to mention that I saw camels...
I saw Bedouin encampments by the side of the highway. Their sheep roam land that looks barren and dry.
|The Wailing Wall, Jerusalem|
I wished I could see what people were praying for.