(from an email a week ago, the update on the last week and a half to come soon!)
I thought India was impossible to write about, but I am finding that this experience will be just as difficult in so many ways. One day here and I feel like I have been through a month's worth of experiences. I spent yesterday morning at the ministry of the interior, trying to find out if it was a big deal that my passport has
no entry stamp, no visa, no proof of my being here. I waited in long
lines, got screamed at for no reason, wandered from one office to the next to be told it was my fault for wanting my stamp on a piece of paper and I would have to face the consequences. It was wild and frustrating, but I started to realize this was just one small frustration that many Palestinians and Jews have to deal with here all the time-- except that the Palestinian ministry of interior is an
overnight wait instead of a few hours...
In the afternoon we made our way (rabbi jeremy and I) into the Bedouin village in the Judea desert, right across where the wall is supposed to be built in the west bank. The story of this group of Bedouins, known as the Jahalin Bedouin is extremely tragic. In the early 1950's, they were displaced from their land in the Negev by the Israeli army, a land which they had herded livestock on for hundreds
and hundreds of years in peace. This group of 3000 bedouins were moved near Jerusalem, where they lived in the Palestinian side in the Judea desert for the next nearly fifty years. As one of the largest Jewish settlements (called Ma'ale Adumim) began to be built and extended into their area (this settlement is the reason that the wall is planned to extend well into the West Bank, incorporating even more palestinian territory into Israel), the Bedouins were again evicted from their homes and their land, told that they could only move into an area right next to the
largest garbage dump in the jerusalem area, an area called unfit to live in by environmental groups. After fighting it in court, they were forced onto this enclosed small land between this enormous jewish settlement and a garbage dump, only a few miles from their old land. Most can no longer herd livestock and practice their traditional lifestyles because of their tiny, unfit land, so now they are mostly working for Israeli's living in the settlement on the land that was
theirs. It was fascinating to hear these stories from the rabbi I am staying with who has been working with the bedouin for 13 years, especially a day after getting an earfull from a lady who told me that the bedouins are increasing desertification and are overpopulating and that the only way to fix it is to move them from the land and force them out of their traditional way of life. Well, I guess that is not
only her thinking...
We drove into the area as I began hearing these stories, and I could see the trash dump only hundreds of yards away on one side, sending a stench whenever the hot desert wind blew. on the other two sides were huge, wealthy jewish settlements. It was an odd feeling as we entered the village. Not trying to draw some intellectual
comparison, but honestly my first feeling was that this first village we visited felt just like the the poorest townships I visited last summer-- tiny shacks, maybe larger concrete ones for the rich, so close to a beautiful city but cut off from it in every real way. It was an odd first day to enter because just the day before the village had lost a 14 year old kid-- the child had been scavenging and been
killed by a garbage truck. As if there were not already enough struggles for this community... so Jeremy took me into one of the larger concrete houses with around 20 men sitting around on small mattresses on the dirt floor, the air blowing into the openings, windows without the windows. They were in their second day of mourning (the entire community spends three days in mourning with the family), and sat around together drinking tea and coffee, talking some and sitting some in silence. We
sat with them, and of course I wished more than anything I had known some consoling words in Arabic. but words would not have been able to do it justice.
Jeremy and I left after a time, shaking the hands of the father and grandfather, me nodding my head hoping that it would somehow translate. Then we headed towards another village just a little ways away to give them space and see if we could hook up with kids in another area. We grabbed some incredible humus on the way and made up with a man named Younis, who helped organize a soccer game with the kids for me to play right outside of his shack on the the rocky desert hills overlooking mountainous jordan in the distance, the settlement in the foreground. Jeremy dropped me off and told me to get back to his house by bus. I didn't know what I was doing, but I decided I might as well loosen up and play some soccer. We played a small game of five v five in the desert heat, mostly younger kids but a few my
age as well, dribbling the rocky sand, pouring water over our heads, and clapping in celebration of goals here or there. It was an odd feeling-- for moments, i got so caught up in the smiles, the faces the kids made back at me for my crazy faces, the competitiveness of the game and enjoyment of the company that I could even forget the jewish settlement looming in the background and the fact that this particular
village would soon be forced to join the other a few miles closer to the garbage dump. Ah, it was great to play soccer, but I sure do wish I could do more, take part in more than enjoying their hospitality, just as great as that of the rural villages in India and the wonderful women of sweethome farm south africa I would visit last summer.
I found my way back and took palestinian transportation into
jerusalem, an experience most israelis have never taken part in and
oddly so for its convenience and price. I experienced my first
security check and my passport got a nod much more easily than the id
cards around me. Then came another adventure-- wandering aimlessly
through the old city of jerusalem, weaving through the colorful
markets, not that different from the many Indian markets we explored only days before. I found the via dolorosa somehow, explored the church of the holy sepulchre for a few minutes, though plan on going back for a much more significant amount of time, and then wandered back for an hour walk to jeremy's place, south of the
city down a beautiful road with old arabic houses lining the roads (though ones Israelis now live in).
After that, I went with Jeremy to visit 43 Sudanese refugees who are camping out right outside of the government building here-- the knesset. It is a fascinating thing-- these refugees, from all over sudan wandered through egypt and eventually into israel illegally, hoping to find refuge here. Now all these human rights
groups are standing up for them and raising all kinds of stuff about them, thus currently they have a camping spot in the park on government property, fully visible to the government workers. For a while it seemed they would relocate them to the negev, where the bedouins were originally from (ironic), but now they are thinking
about putting them near to the border completely isolated and eventually possibly to be deported back to egypt, where they fled torture and persecution.
This group of sudanese were extremely welcoming, and I enjoyed playing with the kids and talking with some of the volunteers, a few of which are from America and have worked with STAND. It is funny that my Sudan knowledge would come in handy here-- I am just about to head over and tell the volunteers about the different conflicts in the area to give them some background. It was really interesting though, thinking about the way that Israel is struggling with whether or not to be a haven for this
refugees (hopefully it will decide to and come through), yet there are well over two million palestinian refugees who have no such hopes. I kept thinking of America-- of our country being a haven for certain groups of international refugees (albeit very particularly and stereotypically) over the years yet never
recognizing the displacement of the native americans. I know this all sounds
pretty critical of israel, but these are really just gut feelings from
my experiences yesterday, firsthand stuff that I haven't really fully
processed. I certainly think israel is great for trying to figure out
how to welcome the sudanese. I just think it is ironic how we
powerhouses respond so differently to different groups of people.
I then ended the night in a bizarre way, joining
greer (family friend) with her friends from hebrew university to go downtown and
celebrate her birthday. I got to catch up some with her but more than
that have some fascinating conversations, first with an American who
has been here a few months living in a Jewish settlement and is about
to be a soldier here. He says he is a die-hard zionist, and spent a
long time telling me all kinds of arab conspiracies and how the jews
would move out of the settlement areas immediately if they knew it
would mean peace. he then went on to talk about hamas being the
problem in every way-- saying the corruption in hamas and palestinian
leaders was the reason the problems had persisted so long and the
reason for the suffering of the palestinians. I mainly just listened,
really interested from his experiences in Hebron, where he admitted
terrible things were happening but also said that when soldiers have
rocks thrown at them, it is understandable to beat the shit out of
people. we talked a lot about terrorism, and it was so interesting to
hear his views and fears of palestinians, some of whom I had spent the
afternoon with drinking tea and coffee and riding a bus around the
city. the divide here is so insane; greer said at the university,
most of her friends who live here in israel don't even believe people
like Chacour's stories of displacement-- they think it is all made up.
It is so hard to figure out what is happening here because all the
people we were with last night talked of how scewed the media all over
the world is towards the palestinians and how it portrays israelis as
the evil ones. It just seems like people are so hurt inside, that
dignity on all sides has been so injured over the course of years that
the other is not even noticed anymore. maybe it is that people can't
recognize the humanity because their own has been injured far too
much. oppression has been internalized over years on all sides to such an extent that it is almost impossible to talk about their even being a different narrative, another part of the story.
But then a met josh, a bartender who talked to me for a good
while about so many refreshing things-- his views on the call for
justice in the scriptures, his struggles to challenge other Jews to
remember the call toward the oppressed. He is about to join in an
interfaith effort for peace and go to rabbinical school, so we discussed our similarities and he invited me to shabbat with his friends tomorrow, a week before he heads off to rabbinical school in america.
Anywho, that is a way drawn out version of my experiences
yesterday. today has been much more quiet, except that I caught a
palestinian bus that heads to bethlehem to get dropped off south of
jerusalem and watched as the bus got pulled over randomly so everybody
could get their id checked, except me who they didn't worry about.
Meanwhile, they pulled off one man for not having his id with him,
harrassed another for talking back. It is the first time I have
experienced this kind of discrimination before-- with id cards and
security like crazy. it is disturbing, shocking. And more than that,
frightening to me when I experienced it; even though I knew I would be
fine, I still shook when those soldiers walked on the bus. I thought
of the stories of the demeaning pass cards in South Africa, the id's
in Germany-- the way that Tutu always said it was the little things
that hurt most. Watching the demeaning and discriminatory process, I
could only wonder how much pain must be inside of the Israeli soldiers
to be able to carry out something that was so demeaning to many of
their own histories.
I think the only thing that really helped today is that I found this random beautiful church that was empty and spent almost an hour in prayer and
reflection to start my day, one of the advantages to a place like
this. Truly, with all that I am seeing and experiencing, I am finding
that I have to have plenty of time to remember that I am loved, that
there must also be peace in me. I am also realizing how much of the
pain I am internalizing, how angering it can be to me and how bitter I
can get. All of it needs to be a part of prayer, but it sure is hard
to get it out sometimes. honesty with myself is not easy when there
is one thing after another affecting me.
Anywho, but the last part is also refreshing. I spent tonight back
with the Sudanese, organizing a soccer game with all the men in the
camp after we played some volleyball and juggled a bit. We had a
great game out on the slopes of the park-- Israelis, Sudanese, and me.
Again, with my lack of language, soccer becomes my mode of
communication. And tonight, it was quite a way to connect...