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Thursday, August 29, 2013

Rally...Clash

I loved the years I taught at an all-boys high school, but there was one event each year that I dreaded more than any other: the pep rally.

As one of the few females in a crowd of 1300 or so screaming boys, I always felt extremely uncomfortable.  While I know that the event was meant to unleash school spirit, to it felt like an unleashing of undiluted testosterone, which, to me, felt a lot like aggression.  As I stood in the crowd, trying to pretend that I wanted to be there, my imagination took me to places where the power of collective masculine energy was not focused on winning a game, but on far more ominous pursuits.  Those places were not pretty. Over the last couple of days my reality has included scenes like those I had imagined.

On Monday morning, Israeli soldiers raided the Qalandia refugee camp to make an arrest.  As the soldiers moved through the camp, crowds gathered, and protests, which included stone-throwing, began. In response, the Israeli military killed three Palestinians and injured 15.  In a place of constant stress (to put it mildly), it doesn't take much for the tide to turn from calm (relatively speaking) to turbulent.  The events in Qalandia created waves throughout the West Bank, and particularly here in Hebron.

Monday afternoon as I was clicking "save" for my last blog post, a teammate told me we needed to go out, that clashes had begun in response to the Qalandia deaths.  How did I feel about going out?

I said I was ready.  So the three of us on team left the house, unsure of what we'd encounter or when we'd return home.  We walked through the Old City (which is in H2, the part of Hebron under full Israeli control), into H1 (the part of Hebron under full Palestinian control) and crowds of men and boys had gathered near a checkpoint.  Stone-throwing had already started.  Israeli soldiers were stationed on roofs.

A few blocks from the checkpoint, (and in H1,where Israeli soldiers are not allowed to be), soldiers had set off sound bombs.  As we approached and observed, they were retreating back towards the checkpoint; while most of the soldiers seemed relatively calm, one soldier was clearly agitated and momentarily focused his anger towards us.  Only for a moment; his companions urged him on and they continued their retreat back towards H2.

With this going on, businesses were open, women and children walked in the streets, cab drivers vied for our business, and "welcome" was shouted to us as we surveyed the goings-on.  However, as the scene got more contentious, taxis and collective taxis left the area, some businesses closed, vendors packed up their carts and rolled them away, and the number of women and young children in the streets dwindled.

The reaction of Palestinians to our presence was mixed.  Whereas we are well-known in H2, many don't know us in H1.  Some people were curious, others mistrustful.  Without the personal benefit of Arabic (though one of our teammate is Arabic-speaking), sometimes it was difficult to interpret their reactions.  Our team stuck together and our Arabic-speaking teammate moved us when she didn't get a good vibe from those near us. Intermittently, we also checked in or gathered with internationals from other NGOs.

Israeli soldiers on the roof and on the street in H1
Stone- and sometimes firecracker-throwing.  Sound bombs. Tear gas.  From time to time soldiers came into the streets, shot sound bombs or tear gas near the protesters, and retreated.  Protesters burned boxes in the streets, then tires. Taking advantage of the open streets, several men sped their cars through the area, tires squealing.   A few drove in tight circles before speeding off. Such displays of bravado looked a lot like those of my teenage students. Later, some of the protesters brought water tanks into the streets to form a barricade. We watched.

That morning, I had used the Mumford and Sons song "Timshel" to begin worship. As we observed the clashes, the song, particularly the line, "You are not alone in this," ran through my head. I found myself humming the song as we monitored the clashes.  It served both as a reminder for me and a prayer for those who were expressing their grief and anger over the Qalandia deaths.

Teargas
After a few hours of monitoring, we went home to eat dinner and take a break, knowing that the night ahead might be a long one.  When we went back out, the streets were emptier, but not completely empty, things were still burning in the streets, the water tanks had been moved into a pyramid formation.  Soldiers continued to shoot sound bombs and tear gas.  I went back to the house after about an hour.  My teammates came home within an hour of that.  The clashes had stopped for the night.


Palestinian police
On Tuesday afternoon, there were clashes again.  Stone-throwing began in H1 and within one minute of the first air-born stone, a sound bomb went off.   This time Palestinian police in riot gear and Palestinian Authority (PA) officials intervened. With their presence in the streets, the crowd moved into H2, where the PA is not allowed. There clashes were not as volatile as the previous day, nor as long.  However, they still involved rocks, fires, sound bombs and teargas.  During lulls in the action curious boys and young men approached us to talk.

At one point the crowd of protesters retreated for reasons we could not immediately discern.  We found out later that an Israeli settler had fired on the crowd from a rooftop.  Israeli soldiers had stood nearby, doing nothing.

During the retreat back, several young men stopped to talk to me, urgently pointing to my vest pocket and saying something about cigarettes.  I thought they were asking me for cigarettes and told them in my limited Arabic that I didn't have any.  They persisted, saying ,"No," "Cigarette," and pointed at my pocket.  One tried to put his hand in my pocket. With this I looked in my pocket and discovered a lit cigarette there.  It had burned two holes in the vest. The young men, including one with face covered and stone in hand, apologized profusely multiple times about the cigarette.  I have no idea how the cigarette got there, but appreciated the warning (and quite frankly, the comic relief) they gave me in the moment.  The incident served as a reminder of the complexity of people - at once fierce and gentle, angry and caring, abrasive and polite.

Slowly, the clashes moved back into H1, where eventually the PA dispersed the remnants of the crowd.

On Wednesday afternoon without provocation Israeli soldiers set off a sound bomb in H1.  PA authorities were again present there. Clashes again erupted, but only in H2, and still less volatile than the previous days. Israeli soldiers were stationed on rooftops.  When the stone-throwing began, some soldiers came out into the streets.  They closed some streets to foot and vehicle traffic for about 3 hours.  We observed the back and forth of stones and sound bombs for several hours.  No tear gas was used when we were there, but when we patrolled later in the evening, we noted that the street was littered with used sound bombs and tear gas. We felt a sting in our noses from the bit of gas lingering in the air.

Today the city has been blissfully quiet.

Watching the events of the last few days, particularly as they are juxtaposed against the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, has given me reason to consider the potential, for good or bad, of a collective mindset. My thoughts and feelings are complicated and conflicted.

As I write, I realize that I am still unable to put many words to them.  I have written and deleted sentence after sentence.  Perhaps after more time has passed the words will sort themselves out.  I won't force them now.  What I do know is that watching the (generally young) stone-throwers in action, often without the intervention of adults, elicited in me a similar reaction as I'd had to pep rallies.  I know that the actions happen within the context of the occupation, a context of limited rights and stifled freedom. Given my own frustration after three and a half weeks here, I cannot imagine the burden of living one's entire life in this context.  I know that the show of Israeli power is exponentially larger than that of the boys with stones.  What I don't know is how things will change here.

However, I hold onto hope.  I hold onto a thoroughly unexpected scene currently making world news, a scene of Israeli soldiers dancing with Palestinians, a scene that was filmed here in Hebron the same night the clashes began.  (The soldiers were disciplined for their actions.  However, abuses generally go undisciplined - a story for another day.) I hold onto hope that someday Israeli/Palestinian interactions will not involve undiluted testosterone, stones and teargas, but rather undiluted joy and music. 

Monday, August 26, 2013

School Begins

Maybe it's because I'm a teacher or maybe it's because I'm human, but there are few things that bring joy to my heart faster and more fully than watching a bunch of kids on their way to or from school.

Boys watch as a film crew documents the first day of school.
Yesterday, the day I look forward to every year for as long as I can remember, was the first day of school.  As a child I went to school,  ready with brand new crayons, pencils, notebooks (as the year dictated) and filled with excitement for whatever the year might bring.  As a teacher new school supplies continued to thrill me.  Even more, I looked forward to meeting students, beginning to put names to faces, and setting the tone for a new year of (if I did my job right) mind-opening.

Here, out of the role of student and teacher (at least in a formal sense), I still looked forward to the first day of school.  I looked forward to new routines, as morning school patrols are now part of our daily work.  I looked forward to seeing the same faces each day and getting to know some of the children.  Most of all I looked forward to experiencing the sense of joy and resilience that children seem to embody so easily.

Thankfully, our first and second days of school patrols have gone well.  No children have been stopped as they've passed through checkpoints.  No children (but many adults) have had to open a backpack or bag to be searched.

Yesterday morning near one checkpoint a settler harassed CPTers, but not children.  In the afternoon near the same checkpoint a different settler took it upon herself to take pictures of us as we waited to make sure all children were able to make their way safely home; we took some of her, too.  Today I watched the same woman drive her car through a pack of children, honking angrily (every time I see her, she looks angry, so I feel that attaching the sentiment to her horn honking is fair) so they would move out of her way.  They moved without being harmed.

Because of several recent incidents not related to children, I felt tired this morning. Even seeing kids during school patrol didn't pep me up as much as I'd hoped.

This afternoon I patrolled again.  Little boys and girls passed by, many with whiskers and cat noses drawn on their faces, and I felt the smile on my face grow.  A few children approached me and boldly stuck their hands out for me to shake.  I gladly returned the greeting.  Others asked me, in Arabic or English, my name or how I was doing.  I answered in the language they used. They asked me other questions in Arabic, too, but my limited skills did not serve me then.

A group of boys decided to give me things.  One tried to give me a shekel (the money here), but I declined. One gave me a rock, another some sort of battery, another a piece of metal clasp that used to belong...somewhere.  While I know all of these gifts came from the street where they walked, I was nonetheless delighted to receive them.

As more and more kids passed, I found myself not only smiling, but laughing.  By the end of patrol, I felt relaxed and renewed.  Even the angry honking could not dampen my spirit.

I love the first days of school.




Thursday, August 22, 2013

Why Am I Here?

A few days ago, a friend asked the question, "Why are you in Palestine?"

It was the day before I had my first day off and I was feeling frayed and frazzled, so I told him I'd answer after some rest.

The next day I went to Bethlehem and as I stood in line waiting to enter the grotto where it is said Jesus was born 2000 or so years ago, I thought, in an admittedly accusatory tone, "You are the reason I'm here."  My nerves were still weaving themselves back together.

But if I am to give an honest answer as to why I am in Palestine, that answer must include a child born in a cave, who grew into a man: a man who challenged the unjust structures of the time and place he was born into, who preached forgiveness and love, and who preached repentance and change, even as he honored people where they were.  His way was always in the form of invitation to something better; he did not coerce anyone into accepting what he said.

Only minutes after I made my accusation, I was able to say with wonder and awe, "You are the reason I'm here."  If I did not believe in my depths the power of loving my neighbor and that the term "neighbor" excludes no one, I might not be here.  If I did not believe that the gifts I have, those innate to my being and those freely given to me by others, are best appreciated by using and sharing them, I might  not be here.  If I did not believe that God is love, that I am a member of the body of Christ, and that both being true, I must strive to live a life of integrity, of hope, of faith, of gratitude and, most importantly, of love, I might not be here.  If I did not trust, on more than one occasion, that giving up security to follow an uncertain path was the best way to live that life I seek, I might not be here.  But I do believe.  I do trust.  And so I am here.

To answer the question in another way, I could turn to the principle of the preferential option for the poor, which is not really optional at all, if I take seriously the teachings of Jesus. Matthew 25: 31-46 clearly outlines what this looks like.  If the words of the passage don't immediately come to mind, let this except be a reminder:

34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ 

Looking at what is happening in Israel and Palestine, it is very clear who the poor and vulnerable are.

I am here to be a witness.  I am here to stand in solidarity with those who are suffering.  I am here to bring stories home, stories of real people.  I am here to see all I encounter as children of God and to hold steadfastly to that belief that all of us are children of God, even when I encounter people who seem to have forgotten it, either about themselves or others.

I am here because, as with other times my life has changed drastically,  for reason I didn't and don't understand, a year and a half ago I felt the call to be here.

I am here because if I weren't here, I would be ignoring that very clear call.

I am here because I accepted an invitation to follow a sometimes difficult, but infinitely rewarding path.

I have only been here two weeks.  I know that I have already had failures in trying to live what I profess to believe.  I have already stumbled along my path.  But I will keep trying.  I will stand when I fall, and I will keep on walking forward.

I'll end with a little musical interlude.  For anyone who's been to Ft. Benning on a certain weekend in November, this should be pretty familiar:


Sunday, August 18, 2013

Knowing When to Pick My Battles

Today I responded to a post on Facebook about a quote attributed to Patrick Henry.  Because something didn't seem right about the attribution, I decided to do a little research.  What I found were numerous websites which discounted the attribution to Henry.  In a comment on my friend's post, I posted one of the links I'd found. This led to a longer-than-anticipated discussion about evidence, burden of proof, and various comments directed at me that had nothing to do with the topic at hand.  The counter argument to mine was "But you can't prove he didn't say it."  Finally, after spending too much time on the conversation, I chose to leave it.

As I've written previously, as CPTers we are sometimes, but not always, asked to take our vest and hats off when we go through the mosque checkpoint.  Before going through, we decide together (we do patrols in twos) what to do if we receive the order to remove our uniforms: whether or not we will challenge it and if we choose to do so, to what extent we will challenge it.  Depending on our goals for going through the checkpoint, depending on how many people are standing behind us to go through, our decision varies.  

Each time we essentially ask ourselves the question: Is this worth fighting for?  We expect that in many cases, we will "lose" the battle.  In other words, if we want to go through the checkpoint, we will have to take off our vests and/or hats.  I put "lose" in quotes because, while we may have to remove our hats and vests, we are still here. We haven't lost in the way the Israeli government would like us (and Palestinians for that matter) to lose. We haven't gone away. We are still a presence.  We are still, to the best of our abilities, standing in solidarity with those living under oppression.  We are living the values we profess to believe; we are gathering and sharing stories.  That does not feel like a loss at all.  That feels like living (or trying to live) a life of integrity.  

Yesterday, as is our Saturday custom, we followed the settler tour.  This is a tour through the Old City of Hebron for settlers, who are surrounded by 40 to 60 to 80 soldiers.  We and members of other NGOs document the tour.  Soldiers block streets as the tour moves, so that Palestinians have to wait or have to take the long way around to get to wherever they are going.  Sometimes soldiers forcibly go through Palestinian homes to get on their roofs and watch from above.  Sometimes soldiers don't allow people to leave their homes while the tour is going on.  Even if nothing goes "wrong," the presence of settlers and so many soldiers is intimidating.  Thus far, we have been able to do nothing to stop the tour, though it is a goal.

As we follow the soldiers, we - NGOers and soldiers - are often standing in close proximity as the tour stops at one place or another.  This is prime time for me to carry out my spiritual practice.  In the case of the settler tour, I focus my attention on a soldier and as I look at him, I think, "I do not hate you.  What are you doing? What are you doing? What  are you doing?"  I hold no anger as I think this.  It is more a feeling of deep, deep sorrow.  Last night I was telling my fellow CPTers about this practice and one said, "Oh, so you put on your teacher face."   Maybe it's true. Many of the soldiers seem no older, or only barely older, than the young men I used to teach. Despite their uniforms and weapons, they feel very familiar.

I try to look at a soldier until I catch his eyes (most are young men, though the one with the dog always seems to be a young woman).  If I succeed in meeting him eye to eye, I hold his gaze, repeating my internal mantra, until he looks away.  Some will hold the connection for a few seconds.   Thus far, during this practice I have felt no malice directed at me (though I have in other situations).  Some will immediately look away.  Many won't even look a first time.  If I do meet someone's eyes once, he usually won't look at me after that, even if I try to engage him again.  I wonder how our exchange affects him.  


For many reasons, it is very difficult to have a conversation with soldiers in the atmosphere we're living and working in, though I would love to engage with them verbally.  I appreciate the opportunity to talk with my eyes, to express my own humanity - from my heart, through my eyes - and to try to reach theirs.  I could call it a battle, but it doesn't feel like one.

It feels like being human.

As I write this, I realize I don't want to be involved in battles. However, I am more than willing to engage in a struggle: for truth, for justice, for peace, for love, for the well-being of all.  Engaging in a struggle may lead to battles, but it is not the battle that I seek.

The Facebook discussion earlier today became a battle, and an unworthy one at that. Thus my exit.  The struggle I find myself in here in Hebron is difficult, but worthy:  worth my time, worth my energy, worth the battles that may come as a result.

I pray for myself and for all people that we become better at discerning which battles are necessary and important and which merit a humble and graceful release.  I pray that this wisdom leads us into greater reconciliation and communion with one another.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Strings

Last night I was on prayer road patrol.  This is the Friday evening patrol we do as settlers are walking to the synagogue.  Last Friday during this patrol, we had the wonderful conversation with a soldier about CPT and the apology from a soldier about taking off our hats and vest.  Last night's patrol was a mixed bag.

There were many more soldiers out than the previous week.  Many were in the street.  We witnessed a group of soldiers stop two Palestinians on donkeys.  The men were on their way home and apparently their homes were just up the road from where the soldiers stopped them.  The soldiers told them they could not proceed up the hill to their homes.  Instead they had to turn around, go back down the hill, and take a much longer route to their home.

We watched several soldiers scaling the ruins of old demolished Palestinian homes.  The road we walked on went right through where more homes had once stood.  Other soldiers had made their way onto the roofs of inhabited Palestinian homes.  As we were walking, one group of soldiers on a roof called to our backs.  "Come here!"  We turned around and walked back towards them.  "Yes?" They didn't say anything to us, but one took his iPhone out and took some pictures of us.

All during the walk, I felt something tickling my right hand.  It was light, like a strand of a spider web.  With my left hand, I tried over and over to find and remove whatever was brushing against my hand.  Nearly as many times, my left hand failed to find and my eyes failed to see what it was.

This tickling prompted me to consider the strings I wear on my left hand.  I have had strings tied on my left wrist since the end of CPT training in early February.  Each was tied on by a member of our training group, accompanied by words of blessing. Some have broken, but most remain on my wrist.  A few weeks ago, I added one string that a friend gave me.  It had been blessed by the Dalai Lama during his visit to Louisville in May.  The strings on my wrist are constant reminders of my ties to others.

As I repeatedly tried to find what tickled my right hand, I had a thought: Perhaps this feeling is the reminder I need of the ties I have to people here, invisible though they may seem sometimes. This feeling is a reminder of our interconnectedness.  I am tied not only to my friends and family, but to Palestinians and settlers and soldiers.  While I readily acknowledge my connection to Palestinians, I am more hesitant to connect myself to settlers or soldiers.  I want to separate myself from them.

Earlier in the day, I had gone to buy some things for dinner.  I wasn't wearing my CPT vest or hat and a vendor asked me, "Tel Rumeida?" Tel Rumeida is one of the illegal settlements near Hebron. (To be clear, all the settlements in the West Bank are illegal under international law.)

Emphatically I replied, "La (which means 'no' in Arabic), la, Tel Rumeida, la.  Ana CPT ('I am CPT')." I hoped that the look on my face also appropriately conveyed my lack of affinity for Tel Rumeida.

But that evening as I reflected on my ties, I knew that I am connected to Tel Rumeida.  I am connected to the soldiers.  My well-being and theirs are ultimately tied together.  Perhaps our connection feels as tenuous as the spider's silk I thought I felt, but it is there nonetheless.

When I am well, and thankfully I am right now, I am more able to share the blessings I enjoy, the abundance of love I know surrounds me.  My spiritual practice as I go on patrols is to send thoughts of love, peace, and openness to those I meet. I  pray that the love that has been extended to me fill the hearts of those I meet, so that their love may expand beyond the artificial boundaries we create.  While I try to do this with everyone, I particularly focus on soldiers and settlers.   This doesn't mean I excuse the actions I see them take.  It does mean that I allow for the reality that they are more than those actions, just as I hope others see me as more than the sum of  me at my worst.

I could choose instead to send hatred, but doing so would help no one- not myself, not Palestinians, not Israelis, not anyone.  Trying to send love, peace, and openness is not an easy practice, particularly when I struggle to feel them myself, and on nights like last night when there are soldiers seemingly everywhere, it takes a great deal of energy.  I try to catch the eyes of soldiers and if I do, I greet them or give them a nod.  For if they are well, they are less likely to be abusive to others. I pray that someday their hearts will be filled to the point of breaking open.  The image that comes to mind is that of the Grinch, whose heart swelling leads him to repentance and ultimately to reconciliation. While I don't expect this to happen on a systemic level for a very long time, I nonetheless do what I can to maybe bring one person a little closer to that swelling.  It is the best I can do.


On our walk home last night, we took a wrong turn.  From a balcony, a Palestinian guided us in the right direction, but before we moved on, he offered, "Would you like some tea or coffee?"  We'd never me the man before.  I have received many such invitations from strangers here.  We decided to accept the invitation. We ate fruit, drank tea and then coffee and had a conversation that ranged from U.S. presidents to family to religion to politics in Hebron.  However, what stays with me are the words that our host repeated several times. They are the words that started our conversation: "We want peace.  Most Palestinians want peace.  We are the same as Israelis.  Most Israelis also want peace.  We are the same."  The idea of our common humanity came up at various points in the conversation and while our host also discussed some of the differences that Jews, Christians, and Muslims have in belief and practice, he came back to his first point: "We are the same.  We want peace."  When we finally excused ourselves to go home, he told us, "You are family now.  You are my son and daughter.  If you need anything, come to me."  These, too, are words I've heard before.

We are connected.  It is simply a matter of whether we choose to acknowledge it or not.  We are tied together.  We are woven together.

I did finally find the source of the hand tickle.  It was a string from my shirt.  As I pulled it out, I reflected on what happens when we rip people from the fabric of society.  We weaken the cloth.  We make it less beautiful.

And so my prayer today is that we, all of us, see that we are tied together, that our stories are woven together, that we are stronger when we allow the Great Weaver to pull us tightly together into a beautiful tapestry of humanity.  

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Hat and Vest Dance

Palestinians wait to go through the Ibrahimi
Mosque checkpoint
One of the ways that the Israeli soldiers have been making the lives of CPTers less pleasant recently is by (sometimes) requiring, demanding, politely asking (any and all have happened, as I wrote in a previous post) that we take off our CPT hats and vests, our "uniform."  This tends to happen when we are going through the check point to get to the Ibrahimi Mosque.  The check point consists of two sets of turnstiles.

Sometimes, as in the case of the photo to the left, the turnstiles are locked and no one can get through.  Thankfully, two days ago when I took the picture, it was only closed for about 10 minutes.  When it was opened, we followed Palestinians and two tourists through (I wondered if the arrival of the tourists had anything to do with the opening, but I don't know).  After we went through both turnstiles and passed the soldiers stationed there, we heard a male voice, "Hey!  Hello!"  We were ambling through the mosque area and decided that if the voice was directed at us and he really wanted to talk to us, we were walking slowly enough that he could easily catch up.  No one stopped us and we walked through the area and continued our patrol.  When we were in sight of another checkpoint (no more than 5 minutes down the road walking at our slow pace), another soldier, who we'd heard singing as we neared, called out to us, still in a sing-songy voice, "Hey, CPT! Come here"  We had already turned around and were walking back to the mosque.  Again we assumed that if he really wanted to talk to us, he would pursue us.  Our walk went undisturbed.

Mosque/synagogue; area checkpoint is out of sight around the
corner from the farthest tree; the mosque checkpoint is visible;
the guard post is behind where this picture was taken
In the mosque area, there is the checkpoint to get into the area (mentioned above), another to get into the building (which you can see in the photo to the right), and a guard post at the far end of the area.  As we walked back towards home, a soldier at the guard post stopped us.

"You can't wear your hat and vest."

"Why not?"

He paused.  "Ask the soldier up there."

Without taking off our hats and vests, we walked through.  No one at the checkpoint paid us any mind, so we did not stop to inquire about the status of our hats and vests.

Yesterday a different CPTer and I approached the mosque.  After passing through the first turnstile, we were detained between the two.

CPT uniform
"You have to take of your hats and vests."

"Why?"

"You cannot wear them here.  You know."

"We have not seen the order saying this.  We keep asking.  Where can we get a written copy of this order?"

"You have to take off the hat and vest."

"We'd like to see the order saying this. We've never seen the order.  Where can we get it?"

"Talk to TIPH."  TIPH is Temporary International Presence in Hebron, an  NGO begun in 1997 that "monitors the situation in Hebron and reports on breaches of the agreements on Hebron between the Israeli and the Palestinian side, as well as international humanitarian law and international recognised human rights standards."  TIPH does not release its reports to the public, but rather to the Israeli Defense Forces, the Palestinian Police Forces, and the governments of its six member countries.

"TIPH?"  This was an answer I hadn't heard before.

"Yes, talk to TIPH. You cannot come through with your hats and vests."

We were pretty sure that TIPH has nothing to do with whether we wear our hats and vests, but because there were Palestinians waiting behind us, we chose not to prolong the conversation, took off our hats and vests and walked through.  After we passed the guard post on the far end of the area, we put them back on.  We went a different way home, and though we passed more soldiers, none commented on our uniforms.

This morning at the beginning of our patrol, yet another CPTer and I happened to run into some TIPH folks.  We recounted the conversation from yesterday and asked if they had anything to say about our hats and vests.

"Wear them. They are just saying that to annoy you, make it more difficult for you, and hope that you go away."  None of this was news.

"So TIPH says it's OK to wear our hats and vests?"

"Yes."

We passed through the mosque checkpoint minutes later.  We had chosen to only wear vests (no hats) and experienced no hassles.  Later as we walked back through, I noticed that one of the soldiers on duty was the young woman who had held us between the turnstiles yesterday.

"I talked to TIPH, as you said.  They said it's OK to wear our hats and vests."

"I will have to check on the orders."

"You told us yesterday that we should ask TIPH.  We talked to them this morning and they said we can wear them."

No comment from the solider. We continued walking.

And so the hat and vest dance continues.  

Five hours after writing the above:  We did another patrol right after I posted this.  Wearing our vests, we went through the checkpoint, no problems.

A few minutes ago, we went again. At least one of the soldiers at the checkpoint had been there earlier in the day when we walked through.  Nevertheless, this time we were not allowed through wearing our vests.  We turned around and came home.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Carving Out

In my last blog post, I made a statement that the incidents I described - children being detained, CPTers being told to leave areas we monitor or take off our vests and hats - were minor examples of the problems caused by the Occupation.

I have thought more about that statement and would like to amend it. If any of them happened infrequently, perhaps they could qualify as minor.  However, they are common occurrences.  Because they happen so frequently, they become more than minor incidents.  They become central strategies of systematic oppression.

Anyone can get detained for any reason at any age.  As I mentioned yesterday, soldiers have detained children as young as 3 years old.  Palestinian access to water, electricity, and all basic infrastructure is contingent upon permission from Israel, permission that is often denied.  Just last month the Israeli military denied access to a well near the village of Umm al Kheir.  During the dry months of summer, the well was the village's primary  water source (the 2-minute video below is quite powerful). When villagers and activists from Ta'ayush (a wonderful Israeli-Palestinian solidarity group) went to the land, some were arrested.


Constant worrying about what may or may not happen when one walks down the street, when one tries to go to the family or community lands, when one wants to go somewhere outside the West Bank, when wants to do so many things that make up normal daily life, takes its toll. Because it is constant. It is unavoidable. I voiced this idea to a fellow CPTer whose comment was this:

The Grand Canyon was formed by drops of water passing through the same space over and over again.

Subtle forces (and sometimes not-so-subtle forces) carve their way through, deepening their impact through their unyielding presence.  This is what the Occupation is about.  Israel (I'll speak of the state and not of individuals, since these are often two very different notions) is trying to force Palestinians out of these lands through constant pressure, creating a space for Israelis only.

Last night I had the privilege of hearing Miko Peled, author of The General's Son, son of a prominent Israeli general during Israel's early years as a state, and grandson of one of the signers of Israel's declaration of independence.  He spoke of the idea of the "right of return."  The idea is that anyone who is Jewish has the right to return to what is now Israel because of ties from 2,000 or 3,000 years ago.  He pointed out that those claiming right of return cannot actually trace their heritage back to this land.  However, he said, while "right of return" is used as an argument for Jews to come live here, Palestinians, many of whom still have the keys from the houses they fled 65 years ago, who still have the deeds to their houses and lands, are supposed to "forget the past."  There is no discussion of their right to return to the lands to which they are deeply tied.

Miko Peled, speaking at Jerusalem's
Educational Bookstore


Peled spoke of the inequalities between Israelis and Palestinians, that there are two sets of rules that are part of Israel's "brutal racist regime." He referred to the Israeli military as a "horrific terrorist organization."  This is coming from a man whose father had been a high-ranking Israeli military officer.  Incidentally, his father began to question the actions of Israel when he saw how Israel treated Palestinians. Writes Alice Walker in the foreword to The General's Son, "The aftermath of a massacre of Palestinian civilians by Israeli soldiers made a deep impression on him, and caused him to believe that an army of occupation kept in place indefinitely would ultimately lead to the most hideous violence, and demoralization not only of the Palestinian oppressed but of the Israeli oppressors as well."  He left the army, became a professor of Arabic Literature, and also became a peace activist.

Peled talked about his own transformation of heart.  He said it happened after his niece was killed by a suicide bomber in Jerusalem and as a result of talking to Palestinians he met in the U.S.  "It was the first time we were talking as equals.  That is impossible in Israel." When he listened to the stories of Palestinians, he began to understand their reality.  During the presentation I saw, a member of the audience asked if Peled could have had such a change of heart if he'd stayed in Israel.  "I don't think so, because there is no way to be together as equals here."

When another person asked if Peled believes another war will happen to bring about change, he said no.  He believes that it will not be violence that changes things here, but rather popular resistance, a resistance many people outside of this area don't know about.  Resistance that happens every week and every day.  Tireless activists (Palestinians, Israelis, internationals) hold weekly demonstrations to protest the infringement of Israeli settlements on Palestinian lands in Bil'in, Ni'lin, Beit Ummar, and many other villages.  Some of these have happened every week since 2005.  Bloggers share the stories of Palestinian oppression and of Israeli brutality, stories of setbacks and successes, stories of loss and of hope. "They will not stop," said Peled.

Peled believes that it is these unyielding forces that will ultimately create change.  These pressures, not the ones I see as I walk the streets of Hebron, will ultimately carve out a society that benefits both Israelis and Palestinians.  I pray that he is correct.

May the forces of love and justice carve out a canyon of hope and beauty, a canyon of peace.

Friday, August 9, 2013

In the News

A couple of days ago I received an article from a friend about Israeli doctors who are tending to Syrians. I don't remember all the details, but essentially Israeli soldiers are getting some of the more seriously injured Syrians to Israeli hospitals near the border and the Israeli doctors are taking care of the Syrians.  My friend's preface to the article was about how the story was a different perspective from mine and equally real.  It was a heart-warming story, there is no doubt about that. I am so glad that some Syrians are receiving life-saving  care they couldn't get in Syria, thanks to the benevolence of some nearby Israelis.

Nevertheless, I was troubled by the article and the preface.  I was troubled by the article, because it showed Israelis in one of the two ways Israelis are most often portrayed in the mainstream media in the US - as heroes or as victims.  Heroes as "the only democracy in the Middle East" or victims of Palestinian violence; in this case, they were heroes.  I was troubled by the preface, because it implied that somehow my perspective does not allow for any positive impressions of Israelis.  I replied to my friend that I know some great Israelis and am sure to meet more, but that while the article was wonderful and the actions described in it are real, they in no way change the structural injustice, aka the Occupation, that is going on here.

"Apartheid is a crime against humanity. Israel has deprived millions of Palestinians of their liberty and property. It has perpetuated a system of gross racial discrimination and inequality. It has systematically incarcerated and tortured thousands of Palestinians, contrary to the rules of international law. It has, in particular, waged a war against a civilian population, in particular children.
The responses made by South Africa to human rights abuses emanating from the removal policies and Apartheid policies respectively, shed light on what Israeli society must necessarily go through before one can speak of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East and an end to its Apartheid policies."  

Last week CPTers intervened when Israeli soldiers tried to detain a 3-year old and a 4-year old for throwing rocks (who may or may not have actually thrown rocks).  In the last few days we have witnessed soldiers detaining other children, older this time - around the ripe old age of 7 or 8.  One child had a small knife. A soldier commented on the danger of the knife.  As if the large weapons they carry are benign.

Today another CPTer and I stood outside the Ibrahimi Mosque, which stands above the Tomb of the Patriarchs (where it is said Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, and Leah are buried) as Palestinians were entering for Friday prayers.  Before I go on, let me give some background information:  To enter the area near the mosque, which  is actually half mosque/half synagogue, one must go through an Israeli checkpoint.   To enter the building, whether the Muslim or Jewish side, there is further security. Sometimes Palestinians are detained and/or harassed going through the checkpoint or as they enter or leave the mosque. Part of our normal work as CPTers is to stand near the checkpoint/mosque entrance and monitor to make sure that those who pass through the checkpoint are not mistreated.

We had stood in this area for about an hour.  We were having a nice conversation with two Palestinian teens (I was excited I understood a little of what they said and even managed to speak a sentence or two!) when a border policeman told us we were not allowed to stand there.  More background:  The job of the border policemen is to deal with settlers when they cause problems.  More often than not, border policemen do nothing when settlers cause problems.  They do, however, sometimes intervene when CPTers or people from other NGOs exhibit such threatening behaviors as standing outside the mosque. That is what happened to us today.  We asked for clarification as to why we had to leave: Under what order?  Could we get a written copy of the order?  Why were we not allowed to be there?  Where exactly were we not allowed to be?

The border policeman said he just got the order.  He said we should know where to get a copy of the order.  We responded that we keep asking where to get a copy of the order (this is not the first time such a conversation has happened), but have never gotten a straight answer.  He randomly inserted into the conversation that we should go work in Syria where there's real trouble.  He told us that we should stop asking questions and just leave (though he didn't say it so nicely).  We said we were simply trying to understand why we were being told to leave.  We sought clarification. When we asked where we couldn't be he said, "Here."  We asked where exactly "here" was.  His response, "I don't know."  "Does it include that area over there?" we asked while pointing across the street.  "I don't know.  Just leave."  We wondered aloud how we could know where we supposedly could and couldn't be when he didn't seem to have the answer.  He finally pointed us down the road past another Israeli guard post and we left and visited a friend in a shop past that post.

After visiting with our friend, we walked back through the mosque area to return to our house.  The border policeman showed up again and told us we couldn't be there.  We told him we needed to go through to get to our home.  This time, after repeating some of what he'd said before, he asked if we read the Bible.  When we said yes, he said that we should know that this land is their land. In other words: This land is our land, not yours.  So much for the Biblical notion of welcoming the stranger. As we walked away, he said, "God bless." I was not convinced of his sincerity.

These examples are only very minor examples of what goes on daily in Palestine. I struggle to finish this post because I want to say so much more- about water control, about home demolitions, about the firing zone- but the words aren't with me yet. Perhaps I'll close with this:  I told the CPTer who was with me at the mosque that I'd write my first Hebron blog about being kicked out of the area.  He's here with CPT for the third time and his response to me was, "I don't write in my blog anymore about Israeli soldiers kicking me out of places.  It happens too often for it to be news."  So begins the beginning of my non-news news.

Addendum:  This evening we again went on patrol, this time up the road that the settlers take to get to the synagogue (which, as noted above, is the same building as the mosque- it is divided into two parts, a story for another day).  During our walk, two wonderful exchanges happened:

A soldier politely stopped us and asked us about CPT.  When we told him both the general ideals of CPT and the work we do in Hebron, he commended us for the work we are doing and wished us success.  We told him he should come join us.  He replied that he still has a lot of time left in his military service.  We told him we'd probably still be here when he got out.

When we walked back through the mosque area on our way home, another soldier stopped us. "You can't wear your hats and vests here."  We asked why not and where we could find the written order saying so.  She translated our questions to the five policemen standing behind her.  A lively discussion commenced.  Her comment while it went on was, "They're fighting."

After a few minutes, she waved us off.  "Sorry," she said.

"What?"

"You can go."

When we walked through the actual checkpoint seconds later, still wearing our hats and vests, the soldier there asked, "Did you understand?"

"Yes, we understand we can wear our vests and hats."

Comment by fellow CPTer: "That was the best walk EVER." 

Monday, August 5, 2013

Clearing the Path

After learning that two CPTers were denied entry into Israel, I started to worry a lot about my own entry.  I worried A LOT.  In a reflection from The Book of Awakening, Mark Nepo writes about the "many hours I have spent weaving storylines that never came true until, like weeds, they covered my heart."  This describes well the process of my brain for the last month.

I took whatever measures I could to help ensure my own passage, but I still worried.  My mind created a scene of a thicket of thistles and thorns I'd have to make my way through at passport control and though I felt temporary relief when I received blessings (at church, at work, at the CPT office, so many many blessings), the thicket remained. During my last week, as so many friends and family members told me they had been and would be praying for me, I'd say, "I feel very blessed and know I am enveloped in love.  Please pray for the immigration officer I meet, so that he or she may feel welcoming towards me when I come."

Even with these added prayers, I worried.  I thought of the disappointment I'd feel, the disappointment of my CPT teammates, the disappointment of anyone who'd given money to support my work. It was unbearable, even though I knew that any disappointment would not be directed at me but rather in empathy for me.  

My worry was for naught.  Or perhaps my preparation and all the prayers worked.  Maybe both are true.

While I wasn't worried about TSA in the States, I don't love going through the security check.  I had the most pleasant TSA experience of my life in Chicago.  The TSA agent asked where in Kentucky I'm from and when I told him Louisville, he proceeded to tell me about his interest in the paranormal and his recent visit to the Waverly Hills Sanatarium in Louisville. He also told me about his less exciting visit to a place in Wisconsin. I finally had to excuse myself from the conversation to get in line to have my bags checked.  "A good omen," I thought.  Then the thicket intruded again.

My 14 hours in the Netherlands included walking around Amsterdam with a friend.  We took a boat ride in the canals,  watched part of the Gay Pride parade as it traveled down the canals, and finally we happened upon a restaurant owned by a Palestinian.  He offered us mint tea, a sweet, and wonderful conversation.  "Another good omen."  And then the thistles crept back in.

In Schiphol airport, the usual extra security check for going to Israel was fast and easy, and still I felt the prickle of thorns. I slept fitfully on the plane.

When I arrived in Tel Aviv, I didn't have to wait in line.  I walked right up to the passport control booth and spent no more than two minutes standing in front of the young blonde girl (she looked too young for me to refer to her as a woman) sitting there.  She didn't ask the questions I'd dreaded; she didn't ask for the name of my friend in Tel Aviv (sometimes they call the person to verify information); she didn't have the tone of disdain I've heard before.  My mantra walking from the plane to her booth had been, "Love and welcome, clear my path."

My path feels clear, open for me to walk where I need to go. Perhaps it always has been, but for the obstacles I myself created.

When I got to my room early yesterday morning, I opened my curtains and window.  Two doves were cooing from my window sill.  I bent down to greet them and they flew off, but they've been back a number of times.  Certainly not a bad sign.  Maybe even the sweeper at the wall was there to give me yet another physical sign that my path is clear.

I pray tonight that I continue to release the thorns and thistles in my mind, that I instead nourish and accept nourishment from the love that so clearly guides and protects me.  I pray that I allow that same love to flow freely from me and help clear the path, whatever that path to goodness may look like, for others. 

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Sweeping at the Wall

"What happens to them once you put them in the wall?"  A friend asked this question in reference to the prayers people stuff into the cracks and crevices of the Western Wall in Jerusalem each day.

"I don't know," I replied.

This morning after a 29-hour journey between Chicago and here, I arrived in Jerusalem, just as the skies were starting to get light.  I immediately crawled into bed and neither the growing street noise outside of the convent guesthouse nor the brightening light kept me from sleeping soundly for a few blissful hours.  When I woke, I had a few priorities: 1) bathe; 2) visit St. Anne's Church, my favorite church in Jerusalem, conveniently located just down the road from where I'm staying; 3) get something to eat; and 4) visit the Western Wall.

After the long journey, including a 14-hour layover in Amsterdam where I spent some time with a friend, bathing was a necessity.  I got myself cleaned up and headed for St. Anne's.  It was closed.  I walked through the Old City in search of food.  Because of Ramadan fasting, many restaurants were either closed or only served food to be carried home for the evening meal.  I got a container of hummus and some bread. Ah, to be in the land of fresh hummus again! I sat myself down on some steps near the security entrance to the Western Wall and scarfed down some of my food. I watched as tour groups passed through security, waited until the line was short, and entered myself.

So many people, perhaps even you reading this, gave me prayers to carry to the wall.  Because I'd received so many, I had decided I'd make multiple trips to the wall, to ensure that I give proper attention to each prayer.  Before approaching the women's section of the wall, I sat down on a plastic chair in the glorious shade, and pulled a few prayers from the box.  When I was ready, I covered my head, walked to the wall and found an open space to stand.  Conveniently, at that spot I'd chosen there was a hole so large I could reach my arm in to about mid-forearm.  The hole wasn't full.  I began my ritual: with my hand on the wall, I read a prayer slowly, folded it, and placed it in the hole.  I had placed several in when there was an interruption to my left.  I looked over and saw a man brushing the wall's crevices and pulling prayers out of a hole similar to the one in front of me.  Then he swept whatever fell to the ground.  This jarred me at first - he was headed my way! Would the prayers I had just put in the wall be removed so quickly?

Even more jarring was the plastic trash bag behind him, the ready receptacle for the hopes, dreams, and gratitude of so many people.  Were these prayers worthless?

I moved out of the way as the sweeper reached into "my" hole, pulled the prayers out and swept them away.  "There they go..."

The sweeper's matter-of-fact way seemed quite mundane and thoroughly unacceptable in this sacred space.

Then I thought some more.  Maybe it was OK that the man was sweeping away the prayers, cleaning up the "mess" in such an ordinary way in this holy place.

What are our prayers anyway? We invite the holy into the ordinary (messes) of life.  God, why are things such a mess?  God, please clean up the mess.  God, please don't let that turn into a mess.  God, if it is a mess, please help me clean up after it.  God, help me to be less of a mess.  God, help me to be one of your mess cleaner-uppers.

We thank God for the holiness of the ordinary.  God, thank you for cleaning up that mess.  God thank you for my life not being a mess right now.  And sometimes, God, thank you for this blessed messy thing we call life.

Messiness is the stuff of life.  We can count on its constant entry into and exit from our lives.  Sometimes we ourselves create it; sometimes we don't.  However, it is precisely because of the messes that we have the opportunity to become closer to God, to ask God to come and sweep things up. The  sacred and the mundane, as it turns out, are one and the same. Every mess and every clean-up are at once both, if we choose to recognize them as such.  

When we deal with our ordinary breaks, spills, and leaks, sometimes someone cleans up for us.  Sometimes we are the cleaner-uppers.  Thank goodness God's got some cleaner-uppers to do some of the work.  Thank goodness the cleaner-uppers take (some of) the mess away.  Thank goodness they (sometimes) work quickly.  What would we do without them?

Thank God for being with us in the mundane, for showing us that sweeping, or washing, or fixing things is sacred work and ordinary work for ordinary people.  I pray that we all become better at cleaning and carrying away the messes of our world.