February 9, 2008
Ben concluded his entry saying that the group was preparing for the transition into Israel. We (mainly our fearless leaders Linford and Janet) had to decide how little we would say about our Israel/West Bank agenda in order to be allowed through border control, but still feel that we had maintained our integrity. We also prepared emotionally for entry into this situation which raises strong opinions internationally and incites daily, sometimes violent, conflict in the region. And so, I offer you a look into the past 11 days in the West Bank.
We live in Beit Sahour, "House of the Night Watch", and our host families are literal or traditional descendants of the blessed shepherds who received the good news of Jesus' birth one night outside of Bethlehem. The locals joke that Beit Sahour was a logical choice for the angels because this community of 15,000 has the feeling of a small town in which any news spreads very quickly. My four sisters, ages 3-12, share with Julian and me their welcoming parents, comfortable house, delicious food, and ceaseless attention in the form of card games, piggy-back rides, and dancing. Our homes themselves are part of our learning and are places that many of us can ask questions and begin to process what we are seeing in the West Bank.
Like most tourists and Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land we visited the traditional sites of the Shepherds' Field, Church of the Nativity, and the Mount of Olives. However, our stay organized by the Alternative Tourism Group is additionally intended to teach us about the current political situation and the life of Palestinians. From our base near Bethlehem we have visited Hebron and spoken with members of the Christian Peacemaker Team about their work to be a honest presence in one of the centers of conflict in the region. We also visited the West Bank political capital Ramallah where we saw the tomb of Yasser Arafat and spoke with members of the Palestinian Legislative Council about the recent political developments among the Palestinian Authority. From Ramallah we continued to Nablus, the Biblical city of Shechem. There we drank from Jacob's well where Jesus offered the Samaritan woman the living water. We also had our own encounter with the Samaritans on Mount Gerizim and learned about the history of one of the worlds most famous and smallest sects.
An occupied territory of Israel, the West Bank is home to hundreds of checkpoints, outposts, security fences, settlements, watch towers, and walls that are daily reminders of the political hierarchy. In our lectures on Palestinian history, literature, political structure, and Islam and on our trips to West Bank sites we have been impressed with the complexity and gravity of the situation on the ground. The wonderful humanity of the Palestinians and the harsh reality of occupation have set heavily on much of our group, and many discussions have begun to explore our response as American Christians.
Today we were given both an outlet for some frustration and a wonderful testament to hope. At an organization called the Tent of Nations we planted about 80 almond and fig trees in the world's rockiest soil. Daoud Nassar, the director of the organization, described the legal struggle his family has had to prove ownership of their land and prevent Israeli governmental confiscation. They have endured harassment by the legal system and local settlers but have maintained this center. Groups from Israel, Europe, America, and Palestine have come to rest, talk, and dream concerning the conflict. They have hosted children's camps with art, theater and music, interfaith vigils for peace, and international groups like ours interested in learning. Daoud's philosophy of hope based in his Christian faith and around his family was a welcomed encouragement to our group.
My host father Samer is calling us for dinner, and planting trees develops and appetite, so I must conclude. I will offer the introduction to the next entry that Ben offered me; our group is anticipating our coming interactions with MCC in the area and our move to Jerusalem where we will begin to hear about the situation from Israelis.
Blessings from the Holy Land,
- David S.