Friday, February 1, 2008

Bethlehem and the Wall, part 3 (too many thoughts and emotions)

Another reflection written by my father, who is currently in Bethlehem, Palestine. He's there with a D.Min. cohort from Bethel University, looking at issues of global and contextual Christian leadership, especially in the contexts of Islam and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. They were (are) being hosted by Salim Munayer from Musalaha ("reconciliation") and Bethlehem Bible College:

Feb. 1, 2008

What to say? What to think? What to feel?

This afternoon we toured Bethlehem. Saw the massive Israeli settlement on an opposite hill, built beginning in the late 90s (when they were not supposed to build any more settlements, after Oslo), encroaching on Palestinian land (built on occupied Palestinian land), part of the building growth to cut off Jerusalem from the rest of Palestinian populations in the West Bank.

We saw, in the shadow of the settlements, a Palestinian (Christian) housing development, built smack in the middle of Palestinian land, started a few years before the (illegal) Israeli settlement, and yet threatened by the Israeli government with demolition, because it is “too close” to the security fence (“protecting” Israelis from the Palestinians), and too close to the (illegal) Israeli settlement. What made it more poignant was, we were being guided by a Palestinian Christian (Elias Gharib), who happens to live in that threatened housing.

We toured a Palestinian refugee camp, which lays in the shadow of the Wall. Heard of the regular nightly Israeli incursions (they come through the big blue gate in their wall, in jeeps and other military vehicles), sometimes looking for Palestinian youth (older teens) they consider dangerous. How they will cordon off an area and go house to house through the walls of houses – they bang holes in walls, and go right in, searching for and sometimes finding and seizing teen boys. How the families sleep in fear that this will happen. If the boys are seized, they are taken off to prison, and held for 3 months (or more) without charge, and not to return home for 6 months (if things go well for the anxious family; it could be longer). We talked with Khulud, a 20 year old Palestinian refugee who is studying English Lit. at Bethlehem U., who when she was younger, went through this fear in regard to her 3 older brothers. She works as a volunteer at a center (Lagee Center) to work with refugee kids, teaching art and English and computer, giving them skills and a chance to process their experience with others. We saw some powerful pictures they took, expressing their dreams and also their nightmares. It was so moving.

We saw maps, too, of the West Bank over time, shrinking, the Israelis carving away more and more territory for their settlements and safe zones, leaving less and less to the Palestinians, and those scattered bits and pieces not continguous (what the Palestinians now have is down to only something like 40% of the West Bank).

Apartheid? An apt description – a wall surrounding people from people, creating cantons, in some cases running right through the middle of Palestinian areas (seemingly with the intent to drive the Palestinians completely out of one of the sides, the side too near to the Israeli population). To tell you the truth, Israeli treatment of the Palestinians seems like a mix of apartheid, the Warsaw ghetto, and American treatment of both Natives and African Americans. It’s shocking, distressing, and getting worse all the time.

And hearing from Palestinian Christians, like Salim Munayer and Alex Awad, brave and hopeful men who are patiently working in the midst of such a tough situation. And how Palestinian Christians feel abandoned or worse, by Christians in the West (who in their Christian Zionism often are or seem to be against all Palestinians, even Christians).

In searching for hope in this situation, I found myself asking, wrestling, what can I (we) do? What must I (we) do? There must be something, some action that can be taken...

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