Middle East
spring 08

'Learning to Hope' in Beit Sahour

February 18, 2008

Dear Friends,

Once again I sit down to write an email and I do not even know where to begin. My three weeks in Beit Sahour are drawing to a close. Tomorrow morning at eleven we will leave for Jerusalem, which is about ten miles from here but feels like a completely different world. I will miss my host family a lot. I have gotten very close to my three sisters. We enjoy playing cards, talking, baking cookies, having Arabic dance parties in their room, and just hanging out :)

I have met many incredible people here and heard heart-breaking and hope-filled stories. Beit Sahour is in the West Bank, which is a land filled with sorrow and yet a land where I am learning to see hope. A huge 24 foot wall stands between Bethlehem and Jerusalem, between the West Bank and the State of Israel. It is a wall that snakes for miles and miles from North to South--an ugly, grey "separation barrier" that creates "facts on the ground." Palestinians can no longer go from Bethlehem to visit Jerusalem unless they have a special permit, which is very hard to obtain; the wall separates Palestinians from Palestinians, with the majority of the wall on the East side of the 67 Green Line so that Israel can annex more land. Many farmers have lost precious farm land, no longer able to access their fields. Some Palestinian communities are completely walled in, 360 degrees by the wall. A huge jail.

In the midst of seeing bullet holes in the Church of the Nativity, barbed wire everywhere, roads that only Settlers can drive on, checkpoints where Palestinians wait for hours but a US passport lets us breeze through, and so much pain and bitterness life goes on. I have been amazed by smiling kindergarteners, freshly cooked bread, warm cups of tea, and great conversations....

Let me tell you about three people and three stories that give me hope:

My grandma Emilias: "One day during the occupation, I was sitting down eating soup with my family. My eldest son, Fadi, was with me and his one year old son Hanna was there too. Suddenly, the door was kicked open and an Israeli soldier came in, saying 'Someone threw stones at me! Who threw the stones!?!' I stood up and told him, 'Look, we are eating here as a family. No one threw any stones. We are eating soup. Do you want some soup?' I picked up a bowl of soup and offered it to him. He backed out of the door and went away."

Daoud, fouder of Tent of Nations: He has been in a twelve year legal battle to keep his land. All the land surrounding his family farm is Israeli settlements. We went there to plant almond and fig trees last Saturday and heard some of his incredible story. Now he can keep the land, but he is not allowed to build any buildings on it. In the summer, he runs summer camps for children. He is a strong Christian and his faith is what gives him hope to carry on. He told us this story: "Last summer, a twelve year old girl was at camp. I asked her, 'What do you want to be when you grow up?' She said, "Dead." Can you imagine? A twelve year old girl wants to die because her dad had been killed by the Israelis and she thought that if she died she might see him. She had no purpose in life. He gave her a digital camera and assigned her the task of taking photos all day and in the evening explaining why she took photos of what she did. In the evening, all smiles, she shared. This small act showed her that she did matter, that she did have a purpose, that she did want to live. That she was loved....Every small action matters."

My 16 year old host sister Emili:

"I do not hate Israelis. They are just human beings like me. I hate the policies of Israel,but I do not hate Israelis...soldiers too are just doing what they are ordered. I do not hate them." From this 16 year old comes so much wisdom. When we asked her if she has hope for the future she said, "Yes. I have hope. Whether in a thousand years or for my children, there WILL BE PEACE. because this is the land of Jesus. There will be peace."

I am learning to hope, inspired by people like Emilias, Daoud, and Emili.

There are so many more stories to share and so much information I wish I could help you understand. The more I learn, the more complicated it all seems. We went to an Israeli settlement and talked with Ardie a settler from Chicago. On both sides of the conflict are just human beings with needs, fears, hopes, and dreams. The next two weeks we will be at Jerusalem University College learning about Biblical archeology but after that we will have three weeks of learning more about Judaism and that side of the conflict. I am very sad to leave here, and incredibly grateful for all that God is teaching me along this journey. Thanks for your prayers!