I have an embarrassing confession: I have a fear of revolving doors. I hate them. I hate them. I do anything I can to not walk through them because I’ve always worried about getting caught in it (or something? Who even knows; irrational fears are irrational, after all). I have freedom of choice between a door and a revolving door just about everywhere I go that has a revolving door. I have freedom of movement. I can choose not to do what I fear and even hate.
There are certain places in the world where this freedom is not an option. There are certain places in the world where your freedom of movement is highly limited, if not nearly nonexistent. The borders between Israel and Occupied Palestinian Territories are some of those places, the liminal space of the 9-meter-high walls and the checkpoints that separate people from where they need to go, and they’re made worse if you’re holding a certain kind of ID card and not another. There are certain neighborhoods that Israelis cannot go into (Area A of the West Bank because it’s dangerous to their lives, according to signs that demarcate the borders), and there are certain neighborhoods that Palestinians cannot (and many more that they have restricted access to because of their ID cards).
Today, we walked through a lot of checkpoints, revolving doors, and terribly ugly shreds of evidence of the deep bitterness between the people groups. We took what’s called a dual-narrative tour. We visited neighborhoods with an Israeli settler and with a Palestinian. They passed us off like hot potatoes between each other.
I hope that this post makes sense. It’s a jumble of thoughts in my mind and heart.
We walked through Hebron, which is a flashpoint in this fight. Maybe it’s the equivalent of whatever inner city you might fear going if you live in a suburb. Our tour guides gave us their individual/communal narratives while the other wasn’t there, for the most part, and sometimes, they were together, which was even more grating on our hearts. To watch their facial expressions as they listened to one another hurt from the inside out. The contrasts were stark and the pains held among us and all of the people who live there (or used to live there) were heavy. The two narrators of our tour are friends, and their words were charitable of one another, but their narratives still make you wonder how they’re compatible at all. Everyone we talk to encourages us to be pro-peace rather than pro-Israel or pro-Palestine, but how possible is it to walk the world’s thinnest line? The words written on the walls are unkind here – is it easier to just hate than to keep fighting to see the other as more than the other?
This neighborhood is a terrible mix of stories. There are nets that need to be put up between the first and second floors of buildings because people (read: Israeli settlers on the higher parts of the buildings) throw trash down. The tour guides’ stories were so different from one another that I just have no idea why things are the way they are. My head is spinning.
Hebron represents so much fear and loathing. It was once so bustling. So beautiful. Now it is an area that represents the worst of this fight.
In between our time in Hebron and a refugee camp, we visited both our tour guides’ homes and heard their communal narrative of why things are the way they are. First, the Israeli settler, then the Palestinian. Later, the Palestinian snuck into the settlement; the Israeli settler did not sneak into the Palestinian neighborhood. It felt symbolic.
I wanted to hate the Israeli settler. I hate the enterprise he is a face of. Settlements stand in the way of peace and the two-state solution. But he is an okay human being who made a decision I disagree with. He moved to a settlement to “vote with his feet to keep Israel secure” from its neighboring Arab countries whose hatred for Israel is known. There are countries with militaries that would love to see Israel off the map. I don’t have a clue what the solution is, but I don’t think it’s settlements. But he is a human being. One that made a decision that I disagree with, but a human being nonetheless. And that’s hard. It’s easier to hate people than to listen, sometimes, especially when narratives don’t match and words can hurt. How often do we hate people who are different from us here in America, too? People who voted differently from us? Do we blame them for the current situation? I know I have. I’m trying to figure out what to do better. But this is exhausting.
Then we went to the Palestinian’s home and ate with him and his sister. They cooked us a traditional Arabic meal (which takes HOURS). It was so delicious I forgot to take a picture of it. They amazed me with their hospitality, as well as their hope and resilience. He works as a tour guide, trying to get out the Palestinian story, and she works as a trauma therapist. They’re trying to make this place better, brighter, and less hopeless (because hopelessness leads to violence).
Then we went to a refugee camp. I didn’t realize that refugee camps are still a thing here; the last official wars were decades ago. But in 1948, some Palestinians locked their homes and took the keys, thinking they’d be back in just a few weeks. They were never given that right to return. The Aida refugee camp is run by the United Nations, and now some families have had 3 generations since they moved in. Though there’s help from the UN, this camp is far from perfect. There’s a lot of breakthrough fights between the residents and the Israeli soldiers.
These weapons have been used against the people living in the refugee camp by the IDF. The ones saying “made in the USA” made my heart sink. Do people realize that when they take a side without examining all the viewpoints, writing the side they pick a blank check, that there are real people hurt in the process? That real people, even just teenagers, get shot, thrown in jail, or killed for little to no reason because their group has been labeled as “terrorists”?
That’s the point of the wall with the numbers of murders on it. To starkly remind people of the truth of no sides having their hands clean in this.
And yet… the youngest generation learns to dance. They keep going. One of my classmates bawled while watching these kids with the greatest hardships trying to keep going through the release of dancing. It was all too much. I am a crier; I have not cried. I’m too overwhelmed. I wonder if the tears will someday fall without stopping.
There are certain moments I wish I could write “this page intentionally left blank” because it would be easier than grappling with what I’ve seen.
But there are people whose lives are these things that I have the privilege to walk away from, but the inability to forget. They cannot walk away. They cannot forget. And I am determined to tell their stories.
To bring us even a millimeter closer to the day that Israelis can feel safe without a wall, and Palestinians no longer get collective punishment.
To make their lives, in any way I can, even a centimeter closer to the Garden of Eden.
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.
Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our ancestors trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried, and were saved; in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.
But I am a worm, and not human; scorned by others, and despised by the people.
All who see me mock at me; they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;
“Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver— let him rescue the one in whom he delights!”
Yet it was you who took me from the womb; you kept me safe on my mother’s breast.
On you I was cast from my birth, and since my mother bore me you have been my God.
Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.
Many bulls encircle me, strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
they open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion.
I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast;
my mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.
For dogs are all around me; a company of evildoers encircles me. My hands and feet have shriveled;
I can count all my bones. They stare and gloat over me;
they divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.
But you, O Lord, do not be far away! O my help, come quickly to my aid!
Deliver my soul from the sword, my life from the power of the dog!
Save me from the mouth of the lion! From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued me.
I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him; stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him.
From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will pay before those who fear him.
The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the Lord. May your hearts live forever!
All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him.
For dominion belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations.
To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, and I shall live for him.
Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord,
and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.
– Psalm 22 (NRSV)