Friday, February 1, 2008

Bethlehem and the Wall, part 1

My father, a university professor and anthropologist, is currently visiting Bethlehem. The following is a reflection he wrote yesterday:

Jan. 31, 2008
We drove today from Amman to Bethlehem (leaving heavy snow, driving through the balmy Jordan Valley, and then back up on the other side through Jerusalem, where there was also snow).

It was eerie, seeing “the Wall." As we passed through Jerusalem we saw it for the first time, from a distance. It threaded through the countryside, looking something like the Great Wall of China (though obviously not so big at that wall). Then we came to the check point to Bethlehem, and I was shocked – the wall, extending in both directions, large, ominous, imposing, separating. As we sat on the Israeli side, there was a banner on the wall, this wall built to separate peoples (of different ethnicity, different language, different religion), that said something about peace. It seemed ironic, to say the least – cheerful, hopefull, on a concrete barrier holding the “enemy” at bay. Is this what “peace” means – build a wall, keep the enemy, the radical “other,” out?

At Bethlehem Bible College we met (President) Bishara Awad, a kind gentleman. In chatting, I asked where he is from. Jerusalem, he said. But they moved here to Bethlehem in the ‘60s. Which was a mistake, he said, because now (that Jerusalem is annexed by Israel, considered part of Israel rather than the West Bank) he cannot visit Jerusalem, and family members in Jerusalem cannot visit Bethlehem. In fact, to travel out (e.g., to the U.S.), he has to travel to Amman (via the West Bank border crossing into Jordan), because he cannot travel out of the West Bank into Israeli territory.

Visiting Palestine is painful. The truth of how the Palestinian people are treated makes my blood churn, my head feel like its going to explode. Bishara said, it’s time for action; we need action. Writing letters to congressmen hasn’t helped. Educating people hasn’t helped. Still Israel steals land and houses, and builds the wall.

Something must be done. But what? God, I feel helpless… Jesus, what would you do, if you were here in Palestine today?

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