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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

From "You" and "I" to "We"

Recently articles on marriage and committed relationships have been popping up more than usual in my Facebook Newsfeed. I'm not in a long-term relationship, at least not the kind the articles are referring to, but curious, I've read a few. I hoped that they'd have something to offer to my other committed relationships: to my family, to my friends, to my writing, to my work, to justice, to peacemaking. I was not disappointed.

The Huffington Post article lists as one of its "8 Surprising (And Scientifically Proven) Things That Lead to a Lasting Marriage" "using the word 'we' during arguments." Couples who use "we" and "us" more than "I," "me," and "you" tend to have more successful marriages. This felt very familiar to me.

During my first stint last year with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) in Palestine, I wrote about my spiritual practice of looking people in the eye and, often silently, wishing them well. For a number of reasons I concentrated particularly on Israeli soldiers, who I saw on a daily basis:

1) I had made a commitment to nonviolence and, having done so, I tried to embody it. I cannot tell you how often I have wished I hadn't made that commitment.  But I did. I believe in the power of nonviolence, even though it's hard, and it stretches me very often beyond comfort, and I very often fail at living it. But I'm we (me and nonviolence) are in this for the long haul, so I may as well make the best of it.

2) Wishing for the well-being of soldiers did not come naturally, given that I often witnessed them in less than loving, less than common good-inspired (by my definition, though many of them would probably disagree with my definition of "common good") actions. Often my first reaction to seeing them disrespect, harass, or attack Palestinians was, and still is, anger. Try pulling "I wish you well" out of that feeling. Not easy. And so I practice. Practice. Practice. Practice makes perfect, so they say, but I doubt I'll get to perfection.

3) Wishing for anything but their well-being simply didn't seem useful. If I wish harm on them, how does that help Palestinians? The work of peacemaking? My soul? In all likelihood, harm to an Israeli soldier would only exacerbate already volatile circumstances. When I am in a bad mood, I don't always treat people well.  When someone with power and serious weaponry isn't at his or her best, imagine what might happen. You don't even need to imagine - just read the news. The well-being of one person ripples out to others. The reverse is also true.

4) When I was able to look into the eyes of those young men (young women never met my gaze), silently telling them I didn't hate them and that I wished them love, I could not deny their humanity. When I was able to look them in the eyes with compassion, not anger, I think they also, albeit briefly, recognized my humanity and our connection as children of God. My hope was always that our exchange might somehow lead them to a similar recognition towards Palestinians.

           -         -         -         -         -         -         -         -         -         -         -         -         -         -

During my second stint with CPT, my practice changed. It occurred to me that it was presumptuous to think that I had figured out the whole expansive love thing that I was wishing on others. That I had mastered mercy, forgiveness, understanding, compassion, and loving my neighbor was laughable. That I was simply imparting my wisdom to those unfortunate others who hadn't - Really? That could not be farther from the truth.

So I changed my pronouns,  from "you" to "we."

I can't say that I really wanted to change them. I'm more comfortable with the distance that "you" and "I" puts between me and the soldiers, even while my actions purport to close the distance. I appreciate the gulf between "us" and "them" that allows me to claim some sense of moral superiority. But how real is that superiority? I'd like to think that in similar circumstances to those of the soldiers, I would act differently than they do, that I would not shoot teargas at children, that I would not kick or beat people, or that I would not raid homes in the middle of the night, terrorizing and traumatizing families. I'd like to think I'd see all people, Israeli, Palestinian, international, as my brothers and sisters. But those are mere hypotheticals. To be honest, I suspect that I would be prone to the strong influences around me that encouraged "us vs them" black and white interpretations of the context in which I lived. Even the circumstances I live in now, I have a long way to go to move beyond binaries and simple interpretations.

I am deeply grateful for the strong influences that currently surround me: people pursuing expansive love, redemptive justice, creative transformation.  They inspire me to pursue those same ideals and to delve into complexities. They help me to think in terms of "we."

The separation of "you" and "I" is a human construct. My faith, and increasingly, scientific research, points to the fact that we are all interconnected.  We are all made from atoms that emerged into the universe 14 billion years ago. In all likelihood, my atoms have mingled with yours at some point over those billions of years. That's a pretty intimate connection. It's a good argument for "we."

Our actions ripple through the world, influencing people we know and in ways we're aware of, and people we don't know and will never know. Remembering that I am part of a much greater "we" helps me to consider how my acts might vibrate out. And so I try to think, to act, to feel, to embrace "we."

When I embrace "we," I know that I am not alone. When I embrace "we," I recognize my complicity in the problems that surround us. When I embrace "we," I seek to work with,  not for, not against, others in addressing those problems. I am part of a larger force. If I unite my power with that of others, what can we do? How can we be in the world? Who can we be together, bringing our gifts, our sorrows, and our joys? Who can we be together when we tenderly care for vulnerabilities in each other and accept the strength and healing offered to us, filling our gaps? Who can we be together? 



Each Soul Completes Me

My
Beloved said,

"My name is not complete without
yours."

I thought:
How could a human's worth ever be such?

And God, knowing all our thoughts - and all our
thoughts are innocent steps on the path -
then addressed my 
heart,

God revealed
a sublime truth to the world,
when He 
sang,

"I am made whole by your life. Each soul,
each soul completes
me." 

- Hafiz


May we find our completeness in the souls of each other. Blessings on this eve of a new year. 



Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Celebrating an Endless Calling

Since I've been home, actually since I left Hebron, I've been searching for the right words.  I've found plenty of emotion, but words elude me. I am going to try anyway to put some together.

I am happy to be home, to sit by my Christmas tree lovingly assembled by friends and family before I came home. I am happy to see friends and family, to experience the warmth of their physical embrace. The reach of their prayers, love, and support extended to me across thousands of miles, but I would be lying if I said I didn't miss being with them. At church the day after I arrived home, I swam into a sea of welcome and care.

I am relieved that I no longer have to make sure I have alcohol pads in my pocket to counter the effects of teargas; I no longer have to be quite so aware of my inability to protect others from burning eyes, nose, throat. I am relieved that I do not have to watch up close Palestinian children shaking in fear, Palestinian adults shaking in anger, or both deflated by circumstances over which they have no control. I am relieved that I do not have to witness young Israeli soldiers puffed with power or shrinking in shame as they attempt to seize the dignity of Palestinians. I am relieved that these scenes do not fill my physical space, though they  enter my mind, my heart, my dreams with frequency.

Even as I am happy and relieved to be here, I want to go back to Hebron. I am afraid that I will too easily forget, that I will become complacent in the ease of life I live in the U.S. I want to be in Hebron with my Christian Peacemaker Teams teammates who understand this feeling, who care passionately, who speak eloquently and share widely the truth we have witnessed together. I want to be with my teammates who tire of the reality faced daily, yet remain committed to justice, to peace, to truth, to compassion in a way that inspires me to do the same.

I went back to work for just a few hours on Monday. During prayer we heard Joan Chittister's words about commitment and enthusiasm:

Commitment and enthusiasm are two concepts that are, unfortunately, often confused. Commitment is that quality of life that depends more on the ability to wait for something to come to fulfillment—through good days and bad—than it does on being able to sustain an emotional extreme for it over a long period of time. Enthusiasm is excitement fed by satisfaction. The tangle of the two ideas, however, is exactly what leads so many people to fall off in the middle of a project.
When the work ceases to feel good, when praying for peace gets nowhere, when the marriage counseling fails to reinvigorate the marriage, when the projects and the plans and the hopes worse than fail, they fizzle, that’s when the commitment really starts. . .
When we feel most discouraged, most fatigued, most alone is precisely the time we must not quit.

I want to live a committed life. Yesterday when I was out, I saw a simple yard decoration: two giant - maybe 2-feet tall - ornaments. In between the ornaments, just as tall as they were, the word PEACE. I wish the words were in the yard all year long. These words of Parker Palmer express my reaction to the yard decorations and the life I aspire to:

As I celebrate Christmas with my family, I think about the fact that the early Quakers—my 17th Century spiritual ancestors—refused to set aside Dec. 25 as a special day.
They feared that doing so would lead them to forget that every day is holy—that peace and justice are moral imperatives all year long—that hope is always ready to be born in our hearts—that we are never free to ignore the needs of the least among us.
Memo to self: Celebrate Christmas with a full heart on Dec. 25. But understand that you're celebrating an endless calling, and keep your heart open to the world's needs 365 days a year.

We must commit ourselves to peace, to love, to each other, to the rest of the glorious creation we live in all year long. This is what God asks of us, what God invites us to do. We must display our commitment like a yard sign and we must use our bodies to live it. God - Love - asks for our commitment, but will never force it. We make the choice to commit.

As we consider God's invitation, we may wonder how we could possibly change our world, what we possibly have to offer. The beautiful thing about being created in God's divine image is that each of us has something to offer the world. Each of us has gifts uniquely suited to bringing our world to the fulfillment of God's vision. God invites us to share those gifts. It is up to us to accept the ever-open invitation.

Mary was a poor teenage girl in Galilee and reminds us that transfiguration of our world comes from even the most unlikely places and people. You are the indispensable agent of change. You should not be daunted by the magnitude of the task before you. Your contribution can inspire others, embolden others who are timid, to stand up for the truth in the midst of a welter of distortion, propaganda, and deceit; stand up for human rights where these are being violated with impunity; stand up for justice, freedom, and love where they are trampled underfoot by injustice, oppression, hatred, and harsh cruelty; stand up for human dignity and decency at times when these are in desperately short supply. 

-Desmond Tutu, God Has a Dream

As those of us who are Christians welcome the birth of the Prince of Peace, the full embodiment of Love, may we openly accept the gift and example of his life. And may all of us, regardless of our beliefs, our backgrounds, or our present reality come to know the gift that we are, the ways we, too, may embody Love.  May we recognize ourselves as indispensable agents of change. May we embrace YES as Mary did. May we respond to the endless calling of our world - to bring it closer to one in which all are treated with dignity, where mercy, forgiveness, and love guide us. May we commit ourselves to keeping our hearts open. May we never quit.

Blessings to you, your friends, your family, your enemies, to strangers, to all this holiday season. 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Common, Not Normal

I wanted to write this a few days ago, Thursday, December 11. I started. I realized quickly I didn't have the energy to write what was pulsing from my heart. Friday was also a hard day. Saturday was strangely quiet, so I began to write. Today I will try to finish.

After two days off I arrived back at the office on Wednesday morning to news about the day's school run, the hour during which CPTers stand at Israeli military checkpoints to monitor the passage of Palestinian children and teachers through them. Members of a visiting CPT delegation told me, "The teargas was really bad this morning." Delegation members had gone with us on all our school runs while visiting. Wednesday morning was not their first exposure to teargas. It was their fourth time in four days to witness school-run teargas.

After hearing that, I also heard that two CPTers were at the Ibrahimi School (the school closest to the main checkpoint we monitor), waiting with a 12 year-old boy who'd been so affected by the gas that he needed to be taken to the hospital. It took the ambulance about a 1/2 hour to arrive because it had to navigate the checkpoints and permanent road closures (closed to Palestinians only) that make up the landscape of Hebron. My teammate sat with her arm around the boy, trying to comfort him. She has said multiple times since Wednesday morning, "I just keep thinking of that little body leaning into me. It was so awful." The Ibrahimi School had to close that day because the wind carried teargas fumes into the school. The gas that stung the eyes, noses, and throats of students and teachers alike eliminated the possibility of conducting classes.


The next day two pairs of us went out to different checkpoints for the school run. Around 7:30, halfway through the monitoring, my partner and I heard teargas being fired nearby, though not at our checkpoint. That was the first of seven canisters that teammates at the other checkpoint witnessed. They had to leave after seven because the fumes were so strong.  One teammate's chest was tightening, making it difficult for her to breathe, and when we saw her, her eyes were still red and watery. It took a few hours for her to fully recover.

At our checkpoint the teargas started after two stones were thrown. When the gas started, two teachers from the Ibrahimi School came out to wait for students as they came through the gas and checkpoint. The teachers hoped their presence would help the kids get to school without further problems. After three canisters were fired at our checkpoint, we and the teachers felt such strong burning in our eyes, noses, and mouths that we had to leave our post.

Students at Ibrahimi School recover from
teargas exposure.
We all went into the Ibrahimi School where the office's couches were full of boys with onions or alcohol-soaked pads under their noses. The teachers with us and several others were also recovering from the gas. We stayed in the office for several minutes. The boy who'd been hospitalized the previous day appeared, suffering again from the effects of the gas. Thankfully, he did not have to be hospitalized that day.

A teacher took us to a room where he was conducting his first grade class. His classroom was on the first floor, but the fumes had entered it; teargas displaced the class for at least part of the day.

Thankfully, the Ibrahimi School didn't have to close for a second day, but two other schools did.

Al-Khalil School, an elementary boys school with 270 students dismissed students before 8:30 because four teargas canisters landed in the schoolyard.  We arrived just as an ambulance was pulling in to pick up a boy who'd been hit on the thigh by one of the canisters.  Three teachers were also treated for teargas exposure.

Students from Khadeayeh School try to both leave school
and avoid teargas exposure. 
Khadeayeh School, an elementary boys school with 400 students, closed at 8:30.  Three canisters of teargas landed near the school's entrance.  As we arrived, the boys were leaving.  Teachers shepherded them into the street, but some boys came running back since the Israeli border police were still lobbing gas. Let me be clear: these were little boys. Scared little boys without a safe haven.

At Tarek Ben Zyad School, a boys high school with 473 students, we learned that a student had been hit in the arm with a rubber-coated steel bullet. He was hospitalized. We didn't know before that point that the border police had been using rubber-coated steel bullets.

We visited four other schools in the area that day. The rest, thankfully, reported no other injuries requiring professional medical attention, though the principals at all schools reported that  many students had come to school with the tell-tale drippy noses and watery eyes of teargas exposure. In all, the student population of the schools we visited is about 2,500 students. Two thousand five hundred children who on a nearly daily basis may be exposed to teargas - most commonly - sound grenades, and rubber-coated steel bullets - less commonly.

Two boys watch at teargas explodes on the other side of the
checkpoint, while another boy runs through the checkpoint to
escape the gas. 
Even if they don't have to walk through teargas, many have to walk through at least one Israeli military checkpoint. They have to walk past heavily-armed soldiers. And none can escape the sounds of teargas and sound grenades being shot nearby.

And those are just the kids at those seven schools. Many other kids in Hebron and throughout Palestine have similar experiences.



Sunday begins the school week. This morning, there was again teargas as we monitored. A young boy stood near us, watching both stone-throwing older boys and Israeli border police firing teargas. Our boy was trying to get to school. He was already late. He was clearly scared. We stood next to him. We ran with him when the teargas landed within a few yards of us. When we got a safe distance away, I put my arm around him, expecting him to wriggle away. He didn't. Using our limited Arabic and gestures, my teammate and I offered to walk him to school. Together the three of us watched the clashes and waited for a time when we might be able to safely move beyond the checkpoint.

During that time we watched a father walking hand in hand with his little daughter through the checkpoint, as he does every day. Things were quiet right then. No teargas was visible on the other side. After passing the checkpoint, they walked about 100 meters and all of a sudden the father scooped up his little girl and ran. Clearly the gas still lingered in the air.

As we continued to wait and watch with the boy, the principal and several teachers of Ibrahimi School, as well as students pushing a grocery cart, approached the checkpoint. Without a word, our little friend started walking with them, away from us. He walked through the checkpoint and off he went, finally, to school.

Given the morning's circumstances, the appearance of the principal, teachers, and students surprised us. Then we saw that a car had pulled up to the other side of the checkpoint with reams of paper and boxes of other school supplies. Palestinians cannot drive on the road next to Ibrahimi School, so this is how they have to get their supplies.  Boys and teachers loaded the grocery cart, walked it to school, unloaded it, and came back for more. They were just finishing up when the lull in clashes ended.

Teargas and more teargas
In just over an hour this morning, the Israeli border police set off 23 teargas canisters. At children.

My heart breaks for the Palestinian children for whom this is so common. Common, but not normal. I refuse to call this normal.

My heart breaks for the parents, teachers, and administrators trying to protect their kids. I cannot imagine trying to teach under these conditions. Below is an excerpt of the CPT blogpost I wrote about the two school closures:

Education is a fundamental human right. The context of the Israeli military occupation threatens Palestinian children’s access to this right on a daily basis. Facing the threat and reality of teargas (and sometimes sound grenades and rubber-coated steel bullets) fired at their children on a nearly daily basis, Palestinian parents, teachers, and administrators have to make difficult decisions every day about how best to protect their children from these and other physical and emotional effects of living under military occupation: Should they send their children to school or keep them at home? What time should they send the children or walk with children to school to avoid these threats? How can schools address both the physical and emotional needs of students in this volatile context? On a given day, at what point do the physical and emotional effects make teaching impossible? How can students be kept safe if they need to be released from school due to untenable circumstances? Imagine having to answer these questions every day. Imagine trying to keep your children and students safe and not being able to do so because of the arbitrary nature of the Israeli military’s use of force.

What I have written here is only a small portion of the difficulty Palestinian children and adults living under military occupation face. I had intended to write about more than the school run, but unfortunately, there are too many stories to tell from that daily hour of work.

As in my last blogpost, I beg of you: Notice this. It is not OK. We must do something.

If these stories move you, I ask you to share them. Share them with parents and teachers. Share them with government representatives and people who can influence the fate of Palestinian children. Share them with anyone who will read this or listen to you.

These stories must be known because no child deserves to live in a world where fear is a part of daily life or where collective punishment is the response to the few who dare act out against an oppressive system under which all live.

I pray to God who created every single one of us to have mercy on us, on Palestinian children, on Israeli soldiers who carry out violence against them. May we together create a world in which  violence against children is neither common nor "normal."


Sunday, December 7, 2014

Why Do You Have Your Hand on Him?

Two days ago I witnessed a 10-year old child while he was under arrest by the Israeli military. When we arrived on the scene, he was sitting with his mother at Checkpoint 56 where he'd been brought after being forcibly removed from his home.

Why was a 10-year old child arrested? My quick answer would be because that's what happens here in Hebron. My longer answer would be because in Hebron children are arrested or detained or abused or harassed on a regular basis by Israeli soldiers, border police, or police. More accurately, throughout Palestine these are common childhood experiences. Common, but I refuse to say it is normal.

The H2 area of Hebron is governed by Israeli military law. Hebron is not the only place in Palestine where this is true, but Hebron is the place I know best so I'll limit my focus. According to the definitions in Israeli Military Order 1651, childhood ends at age 12; legally no child under the age of 12 can be arrested.  Kids aged 12-13 are considered "juveniles" and can be imprisoned for a maximum of 6 months. By age 14, the classification is young adult, subject to 12 months maximum imprisonment if convicted, unless the offense carries a maximum penalty of 5 years or more...

"Throwing an object, including a stone, at a person or property with the intent to harm the person or property carries a maximum penalty of 10 years' imprisonment." People who, by standards of international law, are considered children could be imprisoned for a maximum of 10 years for stone-throwing. And just yesterday the Knesset approved a law that increases the maximum sentence for stone-throwing to 20 years, depending on the circumstances.

The most common reason we hear given for the arrest of a child (when a reason is given): stone-throwing.

The reason given for the 10-year old Montaser Al- Zaatari's arrest: stone-throwing. Don't get me wrong, I am not a fan of stone-throwing.  I don't condone it or any other use of violence, for that matter. But a possible 10-20 years in prison?

The soldier who was holding Montaser helpfully offered this explanation for the arrest: the soldier saw Montaser throwing stones a week or so ago and asked him to stop. At the same time (the soldier said) he talked to the boy's father or uncle who promised him that Montaser would not throw stones again and that if he did, the soldier could arrest him. Of course, it is questionable whether Montaser was actually throwing stones. It is questionable whether the solider saw him doing it. It is questionable whether the soldier talked to Montaser's family member. And even assuming that everything that the soldier said was true, it was illegal, even under Israeli military law, for him to arrest a 10-year old.

But there was Montaser awaiting his fate at the checkpoint. Thankfully, at least his mother was there with him, which is often not the case, particularly for children arrested outside of their homes. They have no one with them to advocate for them, to hold their hand, to calm their fears.

While Montaser was being held at the checkpoint, small clashes were happening on the other side of it.  The Israeli military shot tear gas and the wind sent fumes to where Montaser and his mom were sitting. Mother and child started to move away from the sting of the gas, wiping their watering eyes, but the soldiers told them they weren't allowed to move away.  Montaser's mom was able to argue and stall long enough for the fumes to dissipate and they moved back down near the checkpoint.

CPT was one of numerous monitoring organizations present.  The soldiers seemed to think it would be cute to pose in front of Montaser and his mom. Maybe they were having fun?

Thankfully, Montaser was released while we were present. Nevertheless, two days later my mind returns and returns to that scene and the many parts of it that were troubling: the arrest itself, the teargas and response to it, the soldiers posing for cheesy pictures, the soldiers' rationale for the arrest. After the boy was released, the story continued, but I simply don't have the energy to write about it. However, I will at least say this: Montaser was not a character in that part of the story.  As far as I know, he and his mom got home safely and didn't have further problems that day.

And then there was today. I was with the CPT delegation on a tour of the Old City of Hebron. As the group was preparing to go into the Ibrahimi Mosque, I saw that two men were being detained at the mosque checkpoint. As the rest of the delegation entered the building, a delegate and I stayed outside to monitor what happened with the men. One was released shortly after our arrival; the other continued to wait to get his ID back, so he could leave. A couple of young boys whom I've seen around on numerous occasions were hanging around the area. As we were standing there, they were talking to us and to the man being detained. We exchanged some high fives and fist bumps, smiles and laughter. At some point the boys redirected their attention, the delegate and I did, too.

When I turned my head to check on the situation of the man being detained, I saw that a border policeman had the smaller of the two boys by the cuff of his sweatshirt. The man being detained was also part of the scene. As I was turning on my camera to document what was happening, the border policeman let the boy go, but they were still in a proximity that made me uncomfortable. I took a picture. Then the soldier grabbed the boy again.

I started filming, hoping that would be a deterrent for the border policeman. It wasn't. The boy was trying to get out of his grasp. Crap.

The border policeman looked up and noticed I was filming.  He said something to me that I didn't understand. I needed to do something more. I moved closer, considering my options.

"Why do you have your hand on him?"

"Because..." He let the boy go.

I will admit that I didn't and don't understand all the dynamics that were going on. What I do know is that a man with a gun and a lot of power had a young boy by the scruff of his shirt and was manhandling him, that the boy was trying to get away, that another man was trying to pull the boy out of his grasp. I know that the man with the gun and power let go of the boy when he was questioned about his behavior.

I don't want to think about what might have happened if there had been no one present with a camera or a voice that could wield power. I don't want to think about what might happen another time when there's no one around to intervene.

I don't want to think about how many times children in Palestine are arrested or manhandled or worse and the world misses that it's happening. It makes me want to scream, "NOTICE THIS! IT IS NOT OK! WE MUST DO SOMETHING!"

Instead I write, hoping that people, that you, will remember the story of Montaser and the boy whose name I need to learn. That you will share their stories, that you will shout with me, "NOTICE THIS! IT IS NOT OK! WE MUST DO SOMETHING!" until all children can have a childhood in which they get to be kids.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vI6yfuM2kaw&feature=youtu.be

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Dangerous Ducks

We stepped out of our building and there surrounding the chicken man and his cart piled high with cages of pigeons were four Israeli soldiers in full military gear. We stood for a moment observing, too surprised to think to take a picture. I turned to my teammate, "Those must be some very dangerous birds!"  We laughed and kept watching from our doorway. Were the soldiers actually surrounding the birds?  We still couldn't tell, but we thought it couldn't possibly be true. Surely it was just coincidence that they happened to be standing around the birds. They must have stopped there while doing something else.

The bird man moved forward with the cart, headed towards his place around the corner where he sold the birds. The soldiers moved forward.  We thought there must be more going on than we had seen.  But as the cart moved, so did the soldiers. They looked at us.  We continued watching and following.  Finally, the bird man reached his spot in the market and the soldiers moved on.  We asked the bird man what had happened.

"They told me to move the birds!"

Our apartment is across from an Israeli military base. To the left of our door is a fence put up by the Israeli military, about 15 feet of ground, and a tall concrete barrier also courtesy of Israel.  The barrier blocks access to Shuhada Street, the street that was the main commercial area for Palestinians until 1994 when the Israeli military closed over 300 shops following a massacre in the Ibrahimi Mosque by Jewish extremist Baruch Goldstein.  The Palestinian shops along Shuhada Street were closed to protect Israeli settlers after 29 Palestinians were killed by a right-wing extremist settler. Despite numerous Israeli court cases rulings in favor of reopening Shuhada Street over the years, the shops have never been reopened. Palestinians cannot drive on Shuhada Street. Palestinians cannot even walk on most of Shuhada Street. As as international, I am allowed to walk on Shuhada Street. It makes my heart ache to see the metal bars that the Israeli military welded across shop doors; no shops, no way even to access the wares in them. The street is called a ghost town for good reason.

When Shuhada Street was closed down and later when the concrete walls were put up, many nearby Palestinian businesses were unable to survive  Our street used to be the main chicken market.  Now there's only one bird man left in the area, our neighbor.

Every day, he lets his ducks, quails, maybe a rooster or turkey, maybe some chickens or geese, and currently two bunnies out into the street. Since our street is blocked and mostly deserted, there is little to disturb the animals and little they can disturb.  They often waddle, walk, or hop to the area between the fence and the concrete wall, where they are even more sheltered from unwanted attention.  They forage, seemingly contentedly, through the weeds and trash.

Today, for not the first time, the soldiers told the chicken man his birds cannot enter the mini-No Man's Land; as far as I know, they said nothing about the bunnies. I guess that means it's supposed to be a No Man's/No Bird's Land (Bunnies OK).

Why the Israeli military would send four soldiers in full gear to issue orders restricting bird movement is beyond my comprehension. These kinds of actions point to the lighter side (if there is one) of the absurdity of the Israeli Occupation. Something we can laugh about.

The heavier side of absurdity happens most mornings when tear gas or sound bombs are launched at children. We don't laugh about that. Today, when a sound bomb exploded on the other side of the checkpoint we monitor, we watched both a mother with two young boys and a father with two young girls, stop.  Could they walk their children safely to school? The father waited a few moments and went forward.  The mother waited a few moments, turned around, then turned back again and finished walking her boys to school. These are not decisions parents, or unaccompanied children, should have to make on the way to school...or ever. Here in Hebron these are decision some parents, and unaccompanied children, have to make on an almost daily basis.

I wish I could say that the military attention given to the ducks meant that less attention was given to throwing tear gas or sound bombs at kids. But it's not the case. Thankfully, today during our hour-long school run, we witnessed only one sound bomb, though we heard 3 other bangs from somewhere else. I am not thankful that "only one sound bomb" is good news.

It is nice to be able to laugh sometimes at the craziness of what happens here.  Too often the situations here merit tears. Today I will continue to laugh about the subversive and dangerous ducks in the neighborhood.

May tomorrow bring reasons to laugh not out of cynicism, but out of sheer joy.