February 16, 2010

Just Trying to Live

I have been staying with George and Najla Azar in Beit Sahour for the last couple of weeks. They have been good hosts, providing Hannah and I with delicious breakfasts and traditional Palestinian dinners!

Most of our days have been spent in lecture and traveling around the area to various cities somehow involving Scripture as well as historical and recent issues. Hebron was probably the hardest place to be in so far but there have also been a number of lectures, movies and conversations that were really challenging to experience.  There is an overwhelming amount of emotions along with the many things I have learned in just a short time. I find myself constantly caught between wanting to help in this situation and not knowing how and hurting for the people and recognizing that the United States government has had a lot to do with the present state of Palestine. I have not yet figured out what my role is and where I stand in all of this. As an American I often am confused why people everywhere are so excited to see Americans when it was our country that got them into this mess in the first place. But I guess they realize that it is the government not the people involved just as they realize that it is not all Israelis but the government that continues this oppression.

I am continuously amazed at the strength of the people here. So many have hope and refuse to leave because they are confident that the occupation will pass; that eventually the occupiers will realize what they have been doing for so many years. Some of the occupation tactics from the Israelis are, to be blunt, stupid. So much of it is just child's instigation. I can't imagine that they enjoy the effort it takes to make other people's lives miserable anymore than the Palestinians enjoy this lifestyle.

Sunday we all went hiking in a Wadi down to Jericho. However, on our a way to the trail head we had to pass through a checkpoint at the top of a ridge commonly known as the "container." We had been through the checkpoint the day before with no issues but Sunday was quite a different story. As we drove down the valley and began to rise up towards the checkpoint we could see a line stretching more than half way down the valley. The checkpoint had been closed just long enough to create a massive line (maybe 15 min)... We waited in line for more than an hour before we got to the check point. As the bus waited in line half of us got out and walked up about a kilometer to play hacky sack to pass the time. Fortunately when we reached the check point we had no issues and simply continued on our way.
However on our way home the same thing happened only right around dinner time and a much longer line. We waited for probably 2.5 hours before we reached the checkpoint. There was a vehicle with a family heading the same place we were who had been waiting since 3:30p and it was then about 7p! Our leader, Samir was telling us that they will not open the check point and quickly let people through no matter the circumstances. Women have given birth or people with medical emergencies have had to sit there no matter if death is on line and wait. Wait.

These people have done nothing and are not even trying to enter Israel from the West Bank. Even though the lines were frustrating for us, it gave us a bit of insight and perspective into what these people live with. They are just trying to carry out daily life but for them it takes much more of an effort than is necessary. But I have to have hope, if they do then I can....

February 13, 2010

Oh The Stories We Hear... Lord Have Mercy On Us, Sinners

From my journal: February 9th

"Welcome to Hebron!" everyone we met shouted over and over again, all but the solemn looking Israeli soldiers who stood at their numerous posts and just watched. I wonder how many of those soldiers dread waking up in the morning because they have to go be a presence that lends so many people fear. Do they enjoy their daily work or are too many so numb that they can't feel the emotions attached to their positions? How do two groups of people reach a place like this? I understand and yet it continues to boggle my mind. Hebron has the Mosque of Abraham where the patriachs and their wives are buried, all accept Rachel. However half the building is also a synagogue! I never thought such a place could exist but in fact it does and it isn't about to change. Hebron is now the area of the most extreme settlers and the most traumatic violence between Arabs and the Jews.

We could easily decipher which area of Hebron was occupied by Israelis and which by Arab Palestinians; we were walking through the old marketplace. At first it seemed like any other crowded s'suk we'd ever been to. There were shops left and right though it was a little less hectic than the markets in Egypt. But as we kept walking the open shops became scarce and there were more doors welded shut until finally we were walking down a completely deserted marketplace with closed pink and purple doors the only things left to remember the liveliness of days past. This was our first experience of the divides throughout the city of Hebron, and one of the smallest is seems. However the number of shops that had to close in Hebron was something like 650 out of 900.

Afterwards we met a Palestinian Muslim ("John") living near a settlement in Hebron. He looked like a perfectly normal gentleman from the outside but as he spoke his tone and expression were matter of fact but sorrowful and full of experience. He shared some of the most traumatic stories I have ever heard come out of one person's mouth. He invited our whole group to his home and during the 45 minute walk there, he described story after story of what the settlers in Hebron have done to Palestinians. We passed a sign that had appeared various places on walls. It had pictures of children with Arabic and Hebrew writing. In the top left corner there was a picture of a man, an Israeli or Jewish leader. The sign was talking about establishing a policy or warrant of some kind that would allow or order Israeli soldiers to kill Palestinian children so that there wouldn't be another generation of Arabs to threaten their hope of controlling the whole country.

"John" told us a number of stories but I'll just quickly describe two...

One about his niece who is still a small child. She was going to or from school, walking up a long stone stair way when a group of settler children attacked her and the other children she was with. She was pushed down the stairs and broke her arms in more than one place. He told us that this has happened on several occasions up to now.

The other was a situation with his nephew who is now 13 years old. When he was just 9 years old, some settlers put a stone between the nephew's teeth and they smashed all of them.

These are just a few of the things, these people have to live with every single day. And something I have continued to ask myself is what piece of land is more important than the life or well being of a person. But that is not how anyone in the Middle East thinks and so there will always be a certain barrier of understanding simply because of mindset and culture. Sometimes I am encouraged that yes, the situation here will change. Someone the other day said that yes of course the occupation will stop sometime. We have been occupied for several hundred years by various empires and eventually they always leave. This can't last forever. But then I talk to other people and they have so little hope left if any at all. One college student said no there is no hope for either people group here. We have reached a stale mate and nothing will change, it will simply stay the way it is. Neither side wants to give anything so as long as they will only take and receive there is no way there will be peace. And our cultures are too attached to the land to let it go just like that.

The Israelis and the Palestinians need prayer, so much prayer. As we prayed together the other evening, one of us said simply, Lord have mercy on us, sinners. And that pretty much said it all. With God, mountains can be moved.

February 7, 2010

Here There and Everywhere

So, the last 2 weeks have been absolutely crazy! First of all we've been in Egypt, Jordan, Israel, and West Bank/Palestine.

Our last days in Egypt were made up of two mostly traveling days, one to the Sinai which is an incredibly beautiful portion of the desert. For a long time now I have wanted to see the Red Sea and even though I didn't get up close, much of our drive to the Sinai was along the coast after crossing the Suez. The Red Sea is quite possibly the most beautiful body of water I have ever seen! Its blue and occasional palm trees show a great source of life to the area. We drove through the desert for 6 hours and watched it change from the Sahara to the Sinai (which are quite different I might add). But we were driving along one bank of sand and rock on one side and the aqua to blue waters to the other. It seems so random that such seas are in the middle of the desert but without them, no life could easily survive. Anyway we arrived in the early afternoon and started hiking Mt Sinai nearly right away. St Catherine's monastery, the oldest in the Middle East, was at its base; the "burning bush" of Moses is kept in full life at the monastery. The hike up the Sinai was magnificent, the mountains there are like nothing I have ever seen; massive, rugged mountains that rise orange and red into the pure blue sky. When we reached the summit just before sunset and looked out the mountainous desert stretched out for thousands and thousands of miles. It was here as the setting sun turned the mountains magnificent colors that I saw the Israelites' wanderings from a completely different perspective and experienced God's awesomeness. How thousands of people wandered around in the desert for years and survived is beyond me. I absolutely love the desert but having a small understanding of what life was like for them was really eye opening. We left for Jordan early the next morning and arrived in Aqaba after dark.

I was a bit sad to leave Egypt because for all my fears of being there for 10 days, by the time it came for us to leave I wished we were there longer. Yet I was not to be disappointed by moving on to the next country and what experiences would come my way... Most in our group would say that Jordan was just a crazy 5 days, enough said. But even though parts of it were perhaps slightly less than ideal, the vast majority was awesome. Once we docked in Aqaba we continued on to Petra with our new tour guide, Sam, and our security guard Mohammad. We stayed in the nicest hotel I had ever been in; the dining room area had an entire wall of just windows so we could look out at the lights of the town. The next morning I took a hot shower which until this time hadn't happened and we off to Petra. The Treasury and other tombs and structures are tucked miles back into the mountains of Wadi Musa, the Valley of Moses. I didn't realize that the Treasury, though the most impressive structure, is only a small portion of the whole place. We spent an entire day walking around the area.

The next day we left early again for Wadi Rum where we stayed at a camp in the desert; we stayed in tents and spent a lot of time in the huge gathering tent! The first day we were there, the group went out into wide open sand and mountains in jeeps. We divided between six jeeps and we all raced through the sand. But in fact you can't drive very fast in a foot or so of loose sand. We went dune jumping (really hard actually) and hiked up to a natural bridge in the mountains. That evening we ate dinner in the tents and then gathered outside around a massive fire ring and danced with the Bedouins!! It was great! Despite dancing for an hour I was freezing with three layers on, just to give you taste of how cold the desert is at night..... (During the day I had my pants rolled up and a t-shirt on!) Anyway, the next morning we gathered and rode into the open desert on more than 33 camels!! They aren't as uncomfortable as I had prepared myself for however I did not prepare myself at all for the diarrhea I would have all day! Not fun but it didn't dampen the day whatsoever. Some of the camels were bigger than others and there even a couple of babies tagging along. One camel in particular was a large male who kept making large guttural noises and spitting his pouch thing out his mouth. Apparently it shows that he is strong and fertile but it made many of us laugh and repulsed others who got slimed. We were on camels for about 8 hours apart from stopping to make tin foil dinners! Us camp people were a bit excited!

The next morning I had great plans to get up early to make sure I would have plenty of hot water but nope! Yet again I experienced some of the coldest water ever thus I was going to go another four days without showering! We left for Amman, a much more westernized city where we met up with some MCC workers from the States. I know this isn't so exciting for you all reading this but at dinner that evening, we had cheese cake for dessert!!!!!!!!!!!

I didn't really get a lot out of being in Amman other than a good place to have time to process our time in the desert and in Egypt and to wash my clothes in the shower. I tell you being in the desert puts so many things in perspective. Heat, water and a shelter are just a few things I have truly come to value. I simply can't imagine wandering around in the desert for days much less years as the Israelites did. Reading their story of constant complaining doesn't seem so annoying or unjustified now. They had to keep moving if there was no water because otherwise they would have no chance of surviving and I'm sure they went days on very little water. I often found myself wondering how many people were ill or died because they couldn't find water soon enough. It truly is a miracle that God lead them through the desert for 40 years and their faith in Him was just that strong that they kept on going to Promised Land which for your information doesn't look at all like it's flowing with milk and honey but still it was a place they could call theirs without fear.