"I See John Lewis"
Bethlehem and Beyond
April 9 - 10, 2008
April 9, 2008
Church of the Nativity with floor tiles from the 6th century . . . A Greek Orthodox Mass in progress . . . Reminders of the Christmas story in all kinds of goods for sale, hotel rooms to rent, and restaurant meals to purchase . . .
Reminders of what happened after the Birth in Bethlehem can be seen right outside town. The Phoenix Center was our host for a delicious dinner and overnight at their conference facilities across the road from the Dheisheh Refugee Camp. In 1948 the camp was a tent city; in the early 1950’s the United Nations built small concrete buildings that housed two families each. There was one bathroom for an entire area. (Naji, founder of the Center and our guide, was born in the area of the camp called “peace neighborhood.”)
Now the 12,000 residents of the Camp who live on just 100 acres of land are building multi-story homes for extended families as they acquire funds. With an unemployment rate that hovers around 55 percent, and restriction of movement, life is difficult. In the past few days there have been general strikes by camp residents who are desperate for adequate services.
Yet as we walked up and down the narrow and steep pathways, we witnessed the pride of community. Children out playing at dusk giggled “hello.” People greeted one another. Our guides were proud of the clinic and school, built with international aid but maintained and expanded by the residents themselves.
Suher, Naji’s wife had come home from a long day as hospital dietician and waiting at checkpoints and greeted us with mint tea. While she hesitated to use her rusty English, she held us motionless as she recounted her work with women of the Camp, her fear for Naji and their two young adult sons as soldiers patrol the Camp almost every midnight, and her dreams of returning to her ancestral village.
I wonder if the pilgrims in long lines waiting to touch the “cave of Jesus’ nativity”, and hearing once again the story of the Flight into Egypt, the Holy Family as Refugee, realize that there are three refugee camps – still crowded after 60 years – that surround Bethlehem.
-- Bev Williams
April 10, 2008
The spirit of the Palestinian people is so strong. Today, the delegation visited Daoud Nassar, whose family owns a vineyard outside of Bethlehem. He works the land with his family and volunteers. He is surrounded on all sides by Israeli settlements and outposts. He is not allowed to add or change his buildings without special permits. He does not have any electricity or water into his farm therefore he suffers from a few inconveniences.
He must maintain the land in good condition or it can be seized by the Israeli government. His father and uncle started the farm and asked him to continue the family tradition. Now, after many court sessions Daoud is nearing his final court step to prove ownership of his land. The land is also used for cultural events. Oh, just to add to his challenge, the Israeli government has provided a road block (piles of rocks and dirt 3 feet tall) on the main road to the vineyard.
Daoud feels he must protect his land and culture as his father wished. Oh, he also has demolition orders on the three tents he uses for some of his presentations.
Daoud is determined in spite of the roadblocks he encounters. And he is lucky--he does not have the checkpoints or barbwire yet. When or how he will overcome these is the next chapter!!!!
-- Gene Smith
I See John Lewis
Before leaving the States I had the privilege of listening to US Congressional Representative John Lewis, leader of the Black Caucus in the US Congress. During an interview at the Washington Cathedral, which was part of a week-long event commemorating Martin Luther King, Congressman Lewis was asked how, in the face of the violence and persecution he suffered during the civil rights movement, he was able to practice non-violent resistance. He responded, “For me, non-violence resistance was never a technique I pulled out of my pocket when I needed it. Rather, it is something I have adopted as a way of life.”
Over the past nine days in the West Bank I have thought often of this incredible man who, despite being imprisoned and severely beaten, decided that hatred was too heavy a burden to carry. Visiting the cities in the West Bank under Israeli occupation, I see John Lewis in the Palestinian who is obliged to walk through a checkpoint, the one who is forbidden to drive on major highways because he is not an Israeli citizen or is separated from his family by a Separation Wall and has now to drive several hours over tortuous, unpaved roads to visit them.
I see John Lewis in every Palestinian who has been thrown off his land, has had his house demolished and his three hundred year old olive trees uprooted to make room for an illegal Israeli settlement. I see John Lewis in every Palestinian because these people who have lived under occupation for the past forty-one years, have somehow managed to adopt non-violent resistance as a way of life all the while maintaining their dignity, their humanity and, more importantly, their sense of humor.
When I went through the checkpoint at Qalandia two days ago and encountered an angry Israeli soldier who demanded my papers in the harshest manner possible and refused to understand that it was the metal in my knees that made the alarm go off, I felt intense anger at this person.
I have a long road to travel if I want the privilege of walking on the path of non-violent resistance with John Lewis and the Palestinian people who decided many years ago that hatred was too heavy a burden to carry.
-- Cathy Sultan
My Head is Spinning
The delegation is now nearly over and I’ve seen and heard enough to make my head spin:
The Jewish National Fund “Plant A Tree For Israel” donations that have been used for decades to eradicate the memory of expelled Palestinians by planting pine forests over their destroyed towns and villages.
A Palestinian boy prevented from moving through his own country not because he’s a security risk – after all, he had already been through the checkpoint’s X-ray and metal detecting station – but because he didn’t have the right identification.
Our Palestinian host in Hebron, unable to visit his father’s grave for eight years (since shortly after the burial) because he’s unable to walk down that street in his hometown without being detained by Israeli soldiers or attacked by Jewish colonizers who have set up near the Muslim cemetery. We escorted him and he was able to touch the grave stone and say a prayer, protected this one time by our presence which represents the eyes of the outside world. Whether they realize it or not, Israelis are ashamed of their appalling behavior in this occupied country and they don’t act so outrageously if they sense that the world is watching.
The no-man’s-land in Hebron and other towns, the checkpoints, the enormous separation wall running across the landscape and through towns and neighborhoods: they all remind me vividly of my visits to East Germany and Eastern Europe during the Soviet era.
And most of all, most heart-wrenching of all for me, is to see Jews doing unto the Palestinians crimes that had been done unto them not so very long ago. Restriction of economic activity. Restriction of movement. Confinement in ghetto cities. Seizure of land and goods. Degradation at every turn. A culture of violence with impunity. I’ve studied the Third Reich as ancient history and as a family tragedy. I shudder to realize that Israeli generals have studied it as a playbook.
-- Robert Rosenbaum
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