Throughout our time in the Land, we’ve met some amazing organizations, academics, and people who are trying to change the narrative here. Last night, we talked to Rabbis for Human Rights, who work to share about the way that the Jewish faith supports treating others with dignity and kindness, and the faith simply cannot support the realities of the occupation. From sending volunteers to be with Palestinian farmers as they pick fruit from their trees in occupied territory to educating schoolchildren about tolerance, they’re yet another wonderful grassroots organization that works toward peace in the land. This morning, we got to talk to Parents Circle – Family Forum, an organization of bereaved families that fight for peace and reconciliation by using their stories.
A Palestinian Muslim and an Israeli Jew stood up in front of us and told us that they were brothers united by a common pain – the death of a child – and a common enemy – the occupation. Instead of letting bitterness and apathy or anger and violence overtake their minds and lives, they’ve come together to share their stories with schools, religious groups, and so on in order to make sure that more children aren’t lost in this fight. All of us were stunned into silence by their sheer resilience, grace, and determination to keep going, despite how much their hearts hurt by the losses of their young daughters. I didn’t take notes during the presentation because I wanted to give all my attention to them – to hold their grief in my active listening and presence – so I don’t have written down any of the incredible things they said except one: “Some laws are meant to be broken.” They break laws constantly in order to be able to meet together in various places in the Land. If the laws are unjust, resist. Sound familiar?
In the afternoon, three of us went back to Bethlehem to do a little bit more souvenir shopping. It was a great afternoon, but things were quite different without one of our local friends with us. I felt like we were more obviously foreigners, outsiders. And there was a moment at the checkpoint when that was made even more obvious, not by our choice: the Israeli soldier watching the line let us skip the line because we were Americans.
I’ve never been so ashamed to have privilege. I was made complicit in a moment of further dehumanization for the Palestinians crossing through, people who have places to go and deadlines to meet in ways that we did not while we were visiting. We were yet another moment in their day that told them, “Others are more important than you. We do not care about your rights.” It made me so frustrated and saddened that I almost said “no thank you” to the soldier’s offer, but I was afraid of making a scene. His gun scared me, just as it likely scares the Palestinians in line – or are they just desensitized to it at this point? People wonder where dangerous ideologies come from, but when you treat someone as sub-human, some people are going to snap. It’s no excuse for terrorism, but can you not imagine it happening to at least one person who goes through experiences like that multiple times a week or even a day?
Once we got back, we packed carefully for the airport, knowing that we had to hide away our Palestinian trinkets to make sure that they wouldn’t be taken away or cause the airport security staff to become suspicious of our motives and worry that we’re planning something against the state of Israel. I can’t blame them, but it’s sad to know that even just having something from Palestine seems “suspicious.” After packing, we met to process our feelings as a group about our trip (our heads and hearts are SO jumbled), which I’ll write about someday, and we got to enjoy a beautiful goodbye dinner and a special treat after – music from a classical Arabic music trio! They were absolutely incredible. Two of them played instruments I’d never seen before, and the drummer made sounds that I had never heard before. What a joy, and what a great way to end our trip. Thank you, Tantur, for setting up this fun experience – just one of a countless they did for us.
Tantur Ecumenical Institute has been the most amazing place to stay. I haven’t talked about them much yet simply because of how full each day has been, but I wanted to dedicate some of this post to them. Because of them, we’ve had a comfy place to stay, delicious meals (including with freshly-baked bread, as well as plentiful gluten-free options and other dietary restriction friendly options), chapel services and other interdenominational and interfaith resources, and the best and most nuanced educational opportunities I’ve ever had on tours. I couldn’t be more grateful for them. We got to hear all perspectives through them because they are determined to help people get a deeper perspective on the religions and conflict of the Land. If you’re ever looking for a place to stay in Jerusalem (and even do a sabbatical, which some of our colleagues there were doing!), I couldn’t recommend this more highly. I’m so grateful for Tantur and all that they’ve done for us.
I can’t believe we leave tomorrow. In some ways, it feels like we’ve been here forever and have seen way too much for our hearts and minds to handle, and we’ve had so few breaks, but at the same time, I can’t help but think we’ve only scratched the surface. I feel like I’d need to spend months more here to really grasp what I’m starting to. But for now, I need to go home. I need to be with my people as we face a new president and a bold new reality. I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.