Returning to Palestine after an absence of almost two years, many warm, hospitable greetings and loud homecoming shouts of the children brought tears to my eyes. Strangely, at the entrance to Old City Hebron, nothing felt distant from me. In an instant, the thousands of miles from Tiffin evaporated.
Then, as six youthful Israeli soldiers marched in pavement-pounding steps past us, the eyes of one soldier met my eyes. His look seemed to question our delegation with our large suitcases and with many kids huddled around us. I sensed he wondered how he and I could be on such opposite ends in our regard for the Palestinians. Certainly his M16 and marching boots didn't blend into this medley of joy and delightful squeals.
The two days in Hebron and seven days on the ground in other parts of Palestine unfortunately did not show any significant positive changes since I had been in Hebron two years ago. The power of the Israeli occupation over the people's lives still shows in every aspect of the Palestinians' lives.
Children continue to be "swiped" off to jail for allegedly throwing stones. More Palestinian houses in the "Israeli colonial areas of Hebron" now stand like shells, lifeless. The netting over the streets in the Old City, protecting visitors and merchants, still hangs heavy with discarded junk and stones thrown by the colonists living in the building above. The Israeli military and these illegal colonists continue to confiscate one building after the next in a slow, steady and strategic manner, giving growth to a slow-growing cancer, preparing the Old City it seems, for its transfer into the hands of Israel.
Though the small shops lining the streets had been recently painted in a clean pastel pink, they, too, increased my sad feelings, pressed as they are for daily business. Shopkeepers gestured us toward their shops, hoping for business. One friend of mine, a man who "magically" creates sand bottles with magnificent pictures of camels, desert flowers, etc. inside, looked so pale and sick I now worry about him. Perhaps the constant pressures upon him in this volatile area are almost too much for him.
During our trip, the group and I heard at least 15 different speakers ranging from the eloquent Dr. Mazin B. Qumsiyeh, who is Palestine's "most important chronicler of contemporary popular resistance," to Atta and Rodeina, farmers in the South Hebron Hills, to Hani and Issa, Hebron activists resisting the occupation. Each of the speakers brought another layer of the occupation's evil to us, amazing us with their stories of personal, creative nonviolence and pushing our personal resistances toward stronger choices of solidarity and action.
When Hamse from the Dheisheh refugee camp in Bethlehem spoke of his profound sadness in never being allowed - for lack of a permit from Israel - to visit or see his home village again, all of our hearts were quick to feel the personal pain, the injustice of such policies. Hamse, like all people in this camp of 12,000 refugees, is "stuck."
Faced as I am now with Hamse's eyes and heartfelt words begging us to act on his people's behalf, I now reach out to you readers to join with me in working for a just peace in Israel/Palestine. Such a peace, I am convinced, is not impossible. It needs the will and work of each of us to slowly bring about such a peace.
To know more about Palestine and/or Project Peace, contact Sister Paulette to speak to a church or agency by calling (419) 447-0435 ext. 136.