Wednesday, January 22, 2014

New Perspectives on the Way to Jericho

The other day, in order to get from Jerusalem in Jericho, Emily, Megan, and I had a cab called from the hotel we were staying. Because it was Friday, we were having some trouble finding a cab, but the hotel receptionist found us someone who would drive us (and it appeared worked at least some as a cabbie, even if his car was not a cab). So we climbed into his nondescript 1990-something toyota corolla and headed for Jericho.

Our driver knew little English, and spent most of the first 15 minutes of the drive alternating between phone calls on the two cell phones he had (one personal, I think, and the other work related). But as the drive continued, I was shocked by what I experienced as his passenger.

For one, our driver was nervous and possibly a bit scared. Every time we passed by a police officer on the side of the road, or came near the entrance to a settlement, he visibly tensed and slowed down to well under the speed limit. At one point, as we passed a traffic camera, he pointed over at it and mimicked a camera's shutter sound, letting me know why he had slowed down so much. I tried to ask if he was worried about the speed limit or something else, but the language barrier prevented much of a conversation.

When we reached Vered Jericho (yes, a settlement, which we unfortunately didn't know when we booked the hostel) he pulled up to the gate as an armed guard came out to the car. Our driver quickly started explaining the situation as best he could, and even called our hostel owner on the phone (which he passed to the guard) to shed some light on the situation. The guard took our driver's ID (which I assumed to be Jerusalemite) and examined it thoroughly before handing it back. When he looked over at me in the passenger seat, he said, “United States?” When I said “Yes,” he said, “California?” I've gotten a lot of folks assuming I'm from California when I tell them I'm from the United States (apparently I fit the beach bum vibe), so I laughed, and said, “No, but close.” Instead of waiting for me to even provide my passport as he'd asked, he laughed and after a bit more conversation with our driver, opened up the gate and let us through.

Finally, when our driver pulled up at the hostel, he had to stay and wait for the hostel owner to provide proof that he had in fact brought us to the hostel. After receiving a couple business cards to show to the armed guard, our cabbie left us to return to Jerusalem.

The whole experience made my skin crawl. When we'd booked the hostel, we didn't know it was on a settlement. After we found out, we'd decided that we'd stay one night there, cancel the second night, and make a new plan, but we also were curious as to what it might be like to stay in a hostel on a settlement. The way our driver was fearful on the road, the way he was treated with suspicion at the settlement gate in a position we put him wasn't right. And our treatment as Americans, given more freedom in our cab driver's country than he was--it makes you wonder what kind of democracy this really is.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Understanding the Beatitudes

I have never much cared for the Beatitudes of Matthew, specifically that first one: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." What does that even mean? I far prefer the pragmatic, action-based physical reality of Luke, "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God." Blessed are the poor. Jesus is turning the world upside down. It makes perfect sense to a middle-class white straight aspiring peace and social justice activist.

But poor in spirit? This is much harder to define. It requires more latitude in qualification, more grace in its breadth. It's a lot harder to judge who is "poor in spirit."

But today, as I thought on many of the historical events that led to the state of modern-day Israel and Palestine, I was struck by one of the phrases I saw written on the separation wall yesterday.

"One wall, two jails."

For one of these oppressed people, that jail is that of poverty, of inequality, of injustice, and of occupation. It's easy. "Blessed are the poor."

The other people are oppressed by fear. They have been hurt. They have been killed in horrific ways that make your heart break. They are a people who have felt the terror of occupation. But now they live in a jail of fear. They've locked themselves in without a way to get out. "Blessed are the poor in spirit."

We often see the world how we choose to see it, so I've been able to ignore Matthew's Beatitudes in order to see my own beliefs and justifications become the lens through which I see the world. Today, my eyes were opened to a different understanding.

Let us pray to the God that breaks down barriers that we might be freed from each of our prisons.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

David and Goliath

The young boy stood in the center of the road, his slingshot in his hand. Above him loomed the giant, a power that had defeated the boy's fathers and grandfathers. Everyone else fell back behind the boy, fearful and scared to draw too close to the giant. Yet the boy stood his ground, calling out and jeering at his enemy.

Sound familiar?

David and Goliath, anyone? 

I was struck by the role reversal. The funny thing is, it is modern day Palestinians that are referred to as Philistines in the David and Goliath story of the Old Testament. And today, while in the Aida Refugee camp outside Bethlehem, I watched from a roof as a young Palestinian boy played with a sling, aiming at telephone poles and streetlights, yelling out loud as he released stones at his targets. His actions gained the attention of the watchtower at the nearby security wall, and we watched as the gate was rolled open and an armored jeep began to roll out. The boy's friends gained courage, still yelling and jeering at the Israeli Defense Force manning the jeep.

Our group was quickly herded to the bus, as our hosts were worried about our safety.

I worry for that boy. For Palestinians in occupied territories, resistance is life, and I applaud that young boy's courage. Yet that boy will likely live his entire life in that refugee camp with no opportunity to leave, and in that situation, that frustration could turn into hatred. His heart could turn hard. How can he still have hope?

And what of those 19 and 20 year old young men and women of the Israeli Defense Force that are supposed to patrol that security wall and control the children? What about their hearts as they are charged with orders they may or may not want to carry out? How much of their fear turns into posturing with their guns and armored vehicles? What is happening to their hearts and their humanity?

The Old Testament David and Goliath had a clear winner. The modern-day story I saw today does not.  

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Sea of Galilee

There is something about a body of water
that remains unchanged
buildings, cathedrals
come and go
yet the sea remains the same
waves rolling in
over my toes
chilly and cold
I can dig my feet in
to the sand and shells
feeling the grit of the land.

Look out on the water
picture the storm
clouds overhead
wind whistling past your ears
and the world spins and your heart worries
and you are reprimanded
“Ye of little faith! Why are you scared?”
And then
“Peace, be still.”
And then, steady as the waves,

peace rolls in.  

Sunday, January 12, 2014

I Awake in Fear

This is not my story, and I cannot speak FOR those who share this experience. But I do want to create an opportunity to learn their story and advocate on their behalf.

It IS real.

I awake in fear.
Each morning, every morning
I wake up
with that dull kind of chill
that reminds me that even in my sleep,
I am afraid.

I awake in fear
at the sound of voices outside
at the notion that they may be
accompanied by the fiery
engine roar of a dozer or tractor

I awake in fear
that they've finally come.

I am scared for my children
for their safety
for their future
I am scared
for how I might respond to their danger.

The stress, the worry
it tears me down
tears me apart
that short stop in my heartbeat
every time I hear the steps of boots
coming down the street.

I awake in fear
and while it has been
days, months, years
since I got the notice

I cannot let the fear go.

(There are thousands of Palestinian homes scheduled for demolition by the Israeli government. They never know when or if government workers or the military will show up at their home and forcibly evict them and charge them fines for their own eviction...) Read more at

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Raise the Wall

How do you raise a wall?
How do you raise that security blanket
pulled up right under your chin
so you can sleep better at night?

How do you raise a policy that
safety is the top priority?
How do you raise that fear,
that idea that you need to be protected?

How do you raise a wall
that separates
the haves from the have-nots
the powerful from the powerless
the oppressor from the oppressed?

How do you raise an idea?
How do you raise the notion
that humanity is not created equally?
That in order to have and be let be
you must look and sound like me?

How can you raise that wall
of apartheid and power?
How can you raise a barrier
that prevents conversations
that limits opportunities?

How can we raze the wall?

Monday, January 6, 2014

my eyes were hungry

My eyes were hungry
as they searched the dark skies
and countrysides
with the innocent joy
and eagerness
of a pilgrim
new in the holy land

my eyes were hungry
sharing the low groans and growls
of my churning stomach
searching for food
both body and soul

my eyes were hungry
for vision.
what's out there in the darkness?
what's out there beyond the realm of my knowledge
or even my imagination
that I have yet to learn?

my eyes grow ravenous
as they desperately seek
hope hidden in the hills.