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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.  

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