Well, life surely isn’t getting less complicated as we go along . . . . We listened to two alternative narratives today, one from Zoughbi Zoughbi, the Founder/Director of Wi’am Palestinian Conflict Resolution Center in Bethlehem, and the other from Rabbi Yehiel Grenimann from Rabbis for Human Rights.
Early this morning we hiked down to and through the Wall into Bethlehem and on down to Wi’am, directly below the section of the Wall that surrounds Rachel’s Tomb, a Jewish “holy site” on the north edge of Bethlehem. The Wi’am property looks directly onto a segment of the Wall, one well-covered with graffiti expressing sentiments against the Occupation. One statement (from Polish Jew in the 1930’s) reads, “A nation is not only what it does. It is also what it tolerates.” This statement has been “copped,” as it were, from Yad VaShem, the Israeli Holocaust Museum, where it obviously refers to a very different nation . . . .
We shared our visit there with a large group of tourists/pilgrims from Canadian Mennonite University (CMU). And I was delighted to see the leaders of this group, Gerald Gerbrandt and Sheila Klassen-Wiebe, both friends of mine. There at Wi’am we heard from Zoughbi about the vision and the activities of this
“Conflict Resolution Center.” Most of their staff have attended the Summer Peacebuilding Institute at EMU at one time or another. And their work is multi-faceted. They carry out mediations for people in dispute, run summer camps for kids, hold training sessions in nonviolent approaches, and other such things. They are attempting to meet the people of Bethlehem and beyond at their profound places of need due to the stress and anxieties of life under Occupation. And they do so on a budget that begs for much greater resources than they currently have . . . . Following our presentation and the view from the roof (Aida Refugee Camp next door, the Wall and an Israeli guard tower right across the courtyard, and an Israeli settlement on the horizon), we then walked through the Aida Refugee Camp and saw a bit of everyday life going on there. We had a “grassroots lunch” of pitas, hummus, falafel, and fresh plums from a tree right there in the Wi’am courtyard. And then we headed on . . . .
Our second visit for the day was at the offices of Rabbis for Human Rights, an organization of some 150 Jewish rabbis who do not necessarily share the same political visions of what “peace” should look like here in Israel/Palestine, but who share an equal passion for seeing that human rights are attended to not only for low-income Israeli citizens, but also and just as prominently, for the Palestinians of the Occupied Palestinian Territories. These are rabbis with significant personal courage, folks who have put their bodies “on the line” at the sites of Palestinian home demolitions, demonstrations at sites where the Wall is being resisted by Palestinians, and locations where Palestinians are harvesting olives or such, to ensure, if they can, that these harvesting operations will proceed without undue violence from local Israeli settlers. Yehiel spoke to us about these activities. And while he did so, another prominent member of RHR came through the office, Arik Aschermann, who has been beaten up and arrested on multiple occasions (who knows how many) at just such operations.
But at the same time Yehiel also spoke to us of the Zionist narrative, which views the circumstances here in this land from the standpoint of the Israeli search for security. And he was robustly supportive of that narrative, as he himself acknowledged in our discussion. And when I asked, near the end of our conversation, what he thought the Palestinians should be doing, he simply said, “I don’t know!” and acknowledged that he was glad he was an Israeli and not a Palestinian. I told him that we would be meeting with a spokesperson at the Dheisheh Refugee Camp tomorrow and wondered out loud what he, Yehiel, would say if he were talking with Raji . . . .
Life is complicated. And the stories we are hearing reflect that complexity. Keep us in prayer as we listen and reflect and seek to understand widely differing narratives and hold widely differing people in our hearts at the same time . . . .
Dorothy Jean (for the Jerusalem/Bethlehem Seminar Group)