Interfaith Peace-Builders, June 1, 2009
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Psalms—Preparation for a Journey
In preparation for this trip I've been praying with Psalms revised by Nan Merrill. As we waited in New York, this "psalm" came--
Psalm for Renewal, yet again
Light of forgiveness
Breeze of easy motion
Meet us in the cold cave of vengeance
Where bitter ashes imprison possibility.
Come past annoyance and resentment
past angry words and shiny weapons
To the curved wall of stone
Turn us back then Holy One
To face what has been and what will be
in the same breath, with fresh warmth.
Viewing Zion from Nof Zion
Planted into a patch of earth like a flag claiming its territory, a huge sign advertised luxury apartments, Nof Zion, on one of the newest illegal settlements in East Jerusalem. Developed by Jewish American entrepreneurs, the settlement would be one of many to encircle Jerusalem, which Israelis call their “eternal Jewish capital.” Nof Zion promised special shopping centers, entertainment areas, and bus service leading to Jewish West Jerusalem. As our delegation stopped to inspect the area, we came across a map detailing the spectacular view of the Old City that Nof Zion offered. Sadly, the map left off any references to the Arab presence which could also be seen from the hill, including the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Palestinian neighborhoods below and to the East. As our Israeli tour guide Yahav from the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions exclaimed, “These places are like non-places. They are off our mental map completely.” To Israelis, the majority of Palestinians are invisible.
Control and Consequences
Our drive out of Bethlehem follows the 30 foot high Separation Wall that slices through a neighborhood of lovely old Arab homes, their gardens resplendent with red and yellow roses, separating parents from their adult children, sisters, brothers and cousins from one another, grandparents from grandchildren and extended family.
We arrive at the Israeli-controlled checkpoint, the only exit for foreigners from Bethlehem. Ahead of us are four tourist buses. Our one and a half hour wait gives us time to view the wall on either side of the checkpoint in all its horror, complete with watchtower, barbed wire, and a sign that says “Welcome to Israel.” An Israeli soldier climbs onboard our bus. She checks all sixteen passports, all of which are American, her M-16 clinking against the metal arm rests as she makes her way toward the back of the bus. Inspection complete, she returns to the front of the bus. Our driver, a Palestinian, asks why it is necessary to make these tourists wait such a long time.
“Because it is fun,” she responds.
Zoughbi Zoughbi, a Bethlehem City Council Member and director of Wi’am, a Palestinian Conflict Resolution Center, faces, on a daily basis, seemingly insurmountable challenges. An example was an invitation to meet recently with Pope Benedict to discuss interfaith dialogue.
In order to exit Bethlehem, Zoughbi, as is the case with any Palestinian who wants to leave his or her town, needed to obtain a travel permit from Israeli officials. Zoughbi was denied the permit. As a result, Pope Benedict met, not with a cross-section of Israeli and Palestinian interfaith groups but with one that was three-quarters Israeli.
We were in Jerusalem for the Jewish holiday of Shavuot on May 28th. It celebrates the giving of the Torah and the Book of Ruth is often read to supplement commandments with compassion and kindness. I had the pleasure of participating in a family feast of delicious dairy foods with British and American immigrants with Israel-born children.
The following day we met Arieh Zimmerman at Kibbutz Zikim, a traditional rural kibbutz near Gaza that raises cattle. Arieh told us he immigrated from the US more than 40 years ago in order to live a life that didn’t cause harm to others. He is glad everything is owned amongst kibbutz members.
We also met Nomika Zion who had been raised on a traditional kibbutz. Once grown, she wanted to expand to a more inclusive kibbutz and to include neighbors and Palestinians in her care. The neighborhood/urban kibbutz in Sderot developed Other Voice, which seeks dialogue and relationship with Palestinians even as Qassam rockets fall on their town.
It has been said that the ultimate religious question is: “How big is your world?” This Shavuot, I appreciated a variety of world sizes.
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