25 January 2015
Good evening from Beit Sahour!
On Monday, we spent the morning at the MCC (Mennonite Central Committee) headquarters where we heard from Shareen, a lawyer that works often with abused women, share about her life and work.
And never have I ever been so thankful for my father and opportunities as a woman. In Middle Eastern culture, it is shameful for a woman to go to court against her husband. Verbal abuse is simply something you deal with and physical harm is only serious if you require medical attention. In essence, women’s rights here are only on paper – not in practice. Shareen’s job is to represent these women in court to get divorces and alimony. Not only so, but she also performs awareness sessions for men and women to learn how to better interact and to reveal the wrong, abusive tendencies of fathers and husbands.
Shareen shared her story on how her father did not support her following her true passion to practice law and study in the university. After she applied and was accepted into law school, her father didn’t talk to her for six months. Compare this to my father, who never told me any dream was too big or any bar too high. My gender was not something that defined nor hindered me. “Because you’re a girl” was never an excuse for not completing a task. He taught me through word and action I am a person of great value and also great strength.
I like to think I am the woman I am, largely [because] of my father, so it’s hard to imagine becoming myself in spite of him, like Shareen did. I wish you all could have been there to hear her story with the other 27 of us huddled around her in a small room to listen intently. Some may get annoyed with feminism but I don’t think we should get annoyed with equal rights – because isn’t that what we all should be striving for? Male or female: we are all created in God’s image. Equal rights and equal opportunities only make sense.
But how do you change a culture? Shareen contests we start at the roots. We raise boys who respect their sisters and mothers. We tell little girls they are strong and they have the freedom to be whatever they want to be. That’s what my parents did for me – and I am grateful for that. More than I was before. And I hope that I do the same with my children.
On Tuesday, we crossed the border from Jordan into Israel where our passports saved us from waiting an hour or maybe even more – All because my passport says United States of America.
We were asked very minimal questions and our bags were not scanned. Does anyone spy some inequality there?
We are currently living with host families in Palestine . As I was talking with my host dad, he mentioned how he cannot go to many Arab countries because he is from Palestine. Because he is seen as a threat, someone to be feared. After living with him for a few days, I know he is anything but. And maybe people would take a different opinion if we got to know each other – if we tore down the walls, both literal and metaphorical, that keep us from deep human connection and understanding.
On Wednesday, we had our first glimpse of the wall that divides Palestinians from Israelis. This wall zig- zags through the land, including as many resources as it can, leaving little for the Palestinians. Some have had the wall built straight through their backyards, losing land and livelihood. Many people have olive trees here, but if the trees end up on the other side of the wall, they simply go to waste at the hands of the Israelis.
The wall is covered in graffiti with moving images that will wreck your heart. Some moving thoughts were:
“Repair the world.”
“Warning! This is illegally occupied land.”
“Take one: freedom of movement, water, equality.”
And several scenes done by the artist Banksy. (look him up – he’s awesome)
I found myself fighting back tears as I walked by this wall. I have never been smacked in the face with injustice like this before. Is this really the human reality in 2015? But, may we never forget there is hope. For a little over 2,000 years ago a baby was born into occupation much worse than what we see now. And he rocked this world to its core. And who’s to say something as radical couldn’t happen again?
Just to compare the two sides of the wall:
- Every Palestinian home has a water tank on top of the house and water is a limited resource.
Israeli homes? Water is a non-issue. In fact, I learned Israel takes up to 80% of Palestinian water, leaving the remaining 20% for the rest of the population.
- Palestinians are not free to move among Arab countries.
Israelis? They can travel freely.
- Palestinians have special IDs that forbid them to drive on certain roads.
Israelis? Any road, any time.
Let’s talk more about this wall and inequality:
One of our guides made an astonishing point to us about signs around this wall. In English and Hebrew signs read, “Do not damage the wall or risk your life” or something to that effect. In contrast, in Arabic (the language of Palestinians) the signs say “do not touch.” I think even those of us who aren’t English nuts see a pretty clear distinction between the two. Now this is all to be taken with a grain of salt, because I am currently living the Palestinian reality. In three weeks I will cross to the other side, hear different stories, and be challenged even more to reconcile two sides of that wall.
Thursday was our first Arabic lessons. We will be having nine, three hour sessions these three weeks. We are split into two groups which is helpful. My teacher’s name is Jala, she is a sweet middle aged woman who once taught English at university. She is very relaxed and understands Arabic can be a difficult language to learn but excited for us to be able to interact with our families.
For those of you keeping track here are the Biblical sights of the week:
– Lot’s Cave
– the Dead Sea
– Mt. Nebo (where Moses went before he died)
– the Shepherd’s Field (Luke 2)
– the grotto where Jesus was born (The Church of the Nativity)
Peace on you.
– Lydia Tissue