Today was one of the most difficult days of my life. There was a lump in my throat that never resolved. There was a thump in my heart that sped up and never slowed down. There were tears that simply refused to fall, no matter how much I needed them to stream, healing my soul and adding to the countless tears that have been poured out in this land since the very beginning. This is going to be a long post. Here’s a start:
“Jerusalem is a golden bowl filled with scorpions.”
– al Muqadassi
A quick summary of what we did today because I’m going to write mostly about my observations and emotions: We took what’s called a geopolitical tour, which means that we went to different spots in Jerusalem – different neighborhoods, lookouts, what have you – and talked about how the climate surrounding them was created by the tensions of politics. First, we talked about the history of the conflict from about the time of World War I to give more context to what we were about to see. Then, we went to Rachel’s tomb, a holy site for Jewish people. After that, we went through various neighborhoods in Palestinian territories, including the neighborhood of the terrorist that had rammed into Israeli soldiers with a truck yesterday in the Old City. We also stopped in Jewish settlements. If you don’t know what those are, I suggest you do some research – they’re an extremely important factor in the conflict and perhaps one of the most formidable obstacles to the idea of a two-state solution. 650,000 Israelis live in this kind of housing. After our tour, many of us went to Bethlehem, just over the border into Palestine, to visit a few friends of the staff at Tantur who own souvenir shops and try to make their lives better – livable, even – by selling crafts, offering hospitality, and even pouring us seemingly endless cups of delicious tea.
It’s disturbing to me that Rachel’s Tomb inhabits a fundamentalist and liminal space of pretending that everything is fine while it’s surrounded by concrete walls, Israeli soldiers, and the kind of beauty, awe, and terror that only religion can bring. We separated by sex to visit her likely resting place and it was a lot to handle. There were women just… weeping. Singing in circles. Sitting. It was both holy and casual. We were surrounded, outside the walls that wrapped around the tomb, by walls where no prayers were tucked in the crannies of the walls. Just trash. Just reminders of the different colors of license plates and water tanks that denote Israelis and Palestinians. A bus with young children drove up. I wonder if they know anything about what happens outside the walls. The walls even look nicer on the Israeli side – almost as if they were glorified highway barriers rather than means of manipulation labeled “security measures.”
We drove through the terrorist’s neighborhood and discovered the police were about to demolish his family’s home. Punishing the innocent for the acts of a few seems to be a theme. But at the same time, there are so many areas where Hamas and other fundamentalist narratives reign. We saw a picture hanging of a “martyr” – a terrorist killed in the action of harming Israelis. The original constitution of the Palestinian Liberation Organization talked about throwing Jews in the sea. This is not new. There is plenty that both sides have to be ashamed of and scared of. There were so many other things that we learned on this geopolitical tour – I don’t know if I could possibly try to explain it all. I’m still processing it and the incredible map that we got from the organization Ir Amim (“Nation of Peoples”). This is a map that shows the effects of the different wars and international agreements (and the illegal actions that have happened despite them). Many Israelis have no idea that this is what Jerusalem looks like. Many people have different ideas for how to solve the conflict. It’s interesting to hear exactly what people hope for, but many people have forgotten how to hope.
Later in the afternoon, in order to get into Palestine on foot, we needed to cross through checkpoint 300, a particularly notorious checkpoint. According to what I’ve read, it can take hours to cross through in the morning when everybody is trying to get to work. We went at off hours, so the line was short. The experience was terrifying, to say the least. My anxiety was sky-high as we went through from Bethlehem to Jerusalem, the more difficult direction – on the way to Palestine, it’s easy, but coming back to Israel, it’s a process similar to going through security at an airport. Except there are armed soldiers and if you have the wrong passport (read: not Israeli or American) or permit, or truly, even if you have the right ones but are Palestinian, you can be in serious danger. Even though we had the right passports, the right skin color to be obviously not Palestinian, the right everything to not inspire trouble, I was anxious enough to want to crawl out of my skin to escape this moment. A few of my classmates and I had been separated from the larger group by accident because we had lingered to take pictures of a particularly poignant spot – an icon of an exhausted Mary (“Our Lady of the Wall”) on the 9-meter-high wall that separates Palestinian territories from Israel, surrounded by barbed wire and trash – and I felt like I was in a nightmare. I had to dissociate to get myself through it. I’m still coming back into my body. All I could sing to myself to get through the experience was a lyric from “O Come and Join the Dance” – for Christ the Lord was born in Bethlehem…
I simply cannot imagine what it’s like to feel this on a daily basis as you’re trying to get to work. To get to your family members on the other side of the wall. To feel like a human being in a deeply inhumane, dehumanizing situation. The graffiti on the walls tore my heart into pieces. The Christian owner of one of the shops we visited said that there was simply no future for them here. His store, practically overnight, had been surrounded by a wall on 3 sides; the Israeli army even used his roof at one point as a place to shoot from. I will never be able to get these images out of my mind – the exhausted faces, the soldiers behind darkened glass at the checkpoint or just right in your face with their machine gun hanging casually at their hip, the cries for help and compassion created out of paint and heartache. I don’t want to get these images out of my mind. I want to work for their good for my entire life. If I had found a paintbrush, I would have written, We see you; we love you; we pray for you; we work for you.
God, please show up. Please heal this broken land. This is the last second of the last minute that this can keep going like this and not get worse. The next president of the United States couldn’t care less about Palestinians. Fix it. We need You. We can work on a person-by-person basis to fight for change, but we need You to break through this world and stop these injustices. Both sides are wrong. Both sides are right. I’m pro-Israeli. I’m pro-Palestinian. I’m pro-peace. There simply is no other path to healing without You.
“I believe in the sun
I believe in the sun
Even when, even when it’s not shining
I believe in love
I believe in love
Even when, even when I don’t feel it
I believe in God
I believe in God
Even when, even when God is silent”
“I Believe” by Mark Miller, based on words found on the walls of a concentration camp