The Senseless Drought

This last Sunday was the final day of Sabeel’s 6th annual young adult conference. For 12 days, my fellow Sabeel staff members and I facilitated an introduction to Palestine and Israel for 45 young Christians from South Africa, the Netherlands, France, Great Britain, Sweden, Norway, Puerto Rico, the United States, Canada, Palestine, and Israel. As a leader, activist, and the conference chaplain, it was a fascinating and challenging experience the whole way through. The conference attempted to bring to light many of the faces of occupation while also focusing on the particular situation of the Palestinian Christian community. By the end of the 12 days, I was tired– physically, emotionally, and spiritually exhausted–and simultaneously more heartbroken and more in love with this land and its people than ever.

At least twice a day during the conference, the bus would stop at a corner store, and we staff members would jump out to purchase a dozen cases of bottled water, ripping them open and passing them down the aisles to the participants. This was partially just to keep them hydrated in the midst of the hot Middle Eastern summer and partially to account for the fact that water in the West Bank is often of questionable quality (I’ve been drinking it all summer with no problem, but we didn’t want a bus full of sick people). Securing water was a daily task…a task that didn’t end when the twelve days were over.

Following the last day of the conference last Sunday, I came to Bethlehem to spend a few days with Linnea, a longterm volunteer at Sabeel from Sweden, and a few of her Swedish friends who had participated in the conference. Linnea lives in Bethlehem; her apartment is about a 15 minute walk from downtown Bethlehem and Manger Square. At the beginning of the conference, I remember Linnea saying that the water was running out in her building and she didn’t know if she would have any after the conference ended. When we arrived at her place, we tested the faucets; a trickle of water came out…for about five minutes, and then it was gone. In anticipation of this, we had purchased a case of drinking water and carried it with us, but we didn’t have any for cooking, showers, washing clothes, or flushing the toilet. Now, we’re a flexible bunch, but we were in serious need of showers after a couple of days, so we went to a Swedish Christian volunteer house in another part of the city to use the showers. Three of us managed to take very brief showers before the water ran out there as well.

Although it’s inconvenient to live without running water, we view our situation in relation to our Palestinian neighbors to keep things in perspective. Linnea’s building has been without sufficient water all summer but only completely without water for about a week. The refugee camp across the street from Linnea’s place has been without water for 40 days. 40 days. The old city of Bethlehem just got water again a few days ago after being without for 45 days. There’s no doubt that there is a water crisis in Israel and Palestine as a whole…but the crazy thing is that the Israeli settlement with a population of over 30,000 people that sits on the hill facing Linnea’s apartment has water 24/7. No interruptions, no water rations. The settlers have swimming pools and fountains in a thoroughly western-style city and, yet, just a kilometer or two away, the refugees haven’t been able to flush their toilets for over a month.

It’s true that there is a water shortage in this land…but you wouldn’t know it from within the Israeli cities. Israeli citizens have not been asked to cut down on their water usage; they have not even been asked to avoid watering their lawns in the heat of the day. What’s more is that, when Palestinians are able to get water, they are charged 6 shekels (nearly 2 dollars) per unit while Israelis are charged 1/2 shekel per unit. The route of the separation wall that I wrote about recently has been used to annex and/or control nearly all of the major Palestinian water resources. The Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem reports that the route of the wall has already annexed 29 major Palestinian wells and 32 Palestinian springs. In addition, Palestinians must request a permit to drill for water. These requests are hardly ever approved and, when they are, Palestinians are permitted to drill only 1/10 as deep as Israeli settlers on the same land. Palestine is not a third world country. It is a fully developed society that is not allowed to access its own natural resources. And someone–a human being–is making a conscious choice to deny water to other human beings. Every day.

Yesterday, my Swedish friend Gustaf and I were waiting in line at the main checkpoint from Bethlehem to Jerusalem. The border guards were giving a Vatican nun a hard time about her passport for nearly a half hour, so we had a good long time to look around. At one point, Gustaf stopped walking and pointed at the ground. I looked to where he was pointing and we both just stood there, dumbfounded. A water hose had broken loose from something and water was freely flowing across the checkpoint line and into a gutter. Puddled on the pathway alone was more water than the five of us had used in three days.

The prophet Amos declared, “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like and ever-flowing stream “(5:24). As I turn toward my last days here and reflect all I have seen and heard and felt, I see a land and a people for whom justice is a slow trickle from a kitchen sink in Bethlehem that is drying up far too quickly.

What will happen when even that trickle is gone?

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Istanbul (not Constantinople)

After a very adventurous (and somewhat stressful!) trip to Ben Gurion airport yesterday morning, I made it to Istanbul without a hitch.  I’m here traveling in Turkey for two weeks with my best friend in the word, Jaci, after which I will return to Israel and Palestine for another three weeks. 

Jaci and I with the Blue Mosque in the background

I had mixed feelings about leaving on vacation in the middle of my time in Palestine and Israel.  Many of my Palestinian friends can’t just pick up and travel when they want; some will never be able to leave the West Bank as long as the current situation continues.  At the same time, I was getting worn out.  For the most part, I felt like I was doing fine; processing what I was experiencing and having up and down days, to be sure, but doing fine.  On occasion, I would have a day when the constancy of the occupation would really get to me, but then the next day would be better and life moved on.  Arriving here in Istanbul, though, I felt…lighter.  Much lighter.  Jaci and I found each other without a problem in the airport and made our way to our hostel, happily chatting the whole way.  After dropping off our things, we decided to take a walk to get the lay of the land.  Our hostel is about two blocks from Hagia Sophia (the reason I initially wanted to come here) and the Blue Mosque.  We looked around the outside of Hagia Sophia, near the beautiful fountain nearby, and on to the Blue Mosque.  We only intended to check it out briefly and come back another day, but we got sucked in and spent two hours there. 

Walking into the Blue Mosque itself, I was at first overwhelmed by the colored light and busy patterns.  There were also so many people walking around the visitors’ section.  Prior to coming to Istanbul, a number of people told me to take some time to just sit and meditate in the Blue Mosque but, seeing all of the busyness inside, I thought that wouldn’t be possible.  Soon, Jaci and I settled on the carpet and started looking around us slowly.  I was amazed by the artistry of the windows and arches.  Almost every surface is covered with some kind of adornment…yet, the patterns don’t compete with eachother and no one feature stands out more than the others.  I found that my eyes would be drawn in by a certain window or detail I hadn’t noticed and I would feel like I was sinking into it and then, without effort, my attention would move to another feature, and another…slowly, calmly, with little awareness of all of the activity around me.  The lines of the windows feed into one another easily, and the layered domes make the ceiling seem so light that I commented to Jaci that I felt like we were cloud gazing. 

Inside the Blue Mosque

After leaving the mosque, we spend another hour or so in the courtyard, mostly just sitting and looking just like we had inside.  The outside is a totally different atmosphere…and, yet, the same.  The courtyard has little decoration but the construction of the space creates a similar atmosphere of calm proportionality in which I felt like there were far fewer people around than there were in reality, and yet, it felt almost cozy at the same time. 

Jaci in the mosque courtyard

Today, Jacs and I spent almost the entire day in Hagia Sophia.  The 6th Century marvel began as a church, then became a mosque after the conquest in the 15th Century, and then a museum in the 1930s, which it remains today.  Ever since hearing my art and religion professor’s description of her experience in Hagia Sophia, I knew I wanted to see it for myself.  Hagia Sophia is so different than the Blue Mosque and, yet again, it had such a similar feel to it once we had been there for a while.  The color is much more subtle with its wavy earth-toned marble panels than the bright blues of the mosque, but the structure of the apses and layered domes juxtapose those same feelings of groundedness and disorientation, the sensation of proportionality of the building to your own body along side a sense of limitless expansion.   Jaci and I spent six hours there today.  Six hours in what is essentially one gigantic room. 

The ceiling of Hagia Sophia

Jacs and I were reflecting on some of the possible reasons for the immediate sense of relief I have had since arriving here.  We talked about how it probably comes from being reunited with someone who gets me so well, from the beautiful use of space and acoustics that exudes calm and stands in stark contrast to the anxious energy of Jerusalem, from fulfilling a dream.  I think all of those things are true but, as we talked, a much more basic reason hit me:  for the first time in over a month, I had gone a full day without seeing a single firearm or checkpoint.  Not one machine gun on the bus, or at the mall, or guarding the doors of houses of worship.  Not one barricade with soldiers checking IDs before people can pray.  Not a one.  And I breathe and sleep deeply…and I remember my friends who have never known such a reality as this.

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Walls and Fences

This weekend, I decided to come down to Hebron because CPT (Christian Peacemaker Teams) was welcoming three new team members and only one full-time CPTer, Sister Paulette, was left to orient them.  My motivation was partially selfish, though, because this was my last chance to spend some time with Sister Paulette before her 3-year commitment ends and she heads back to the States.  So, after work on Friday, I headed to the bus station near Damascus Gate, stopping on the way to search for an English-language newspaper and a few other goodies for Paulette that are hard to come by in Hebron.

Even though Hebron is a major city, I can’t get here directly from Jerusalem.  As is often the case for even close-by West Bank destinations, I have to go through a primary checkpoint in a major city like Bethlehem and then catch a different bus or shuttle to my destination.  This time, the bus to Bethlehem was totally full, and the only three other apparent non-locals were crammed in right next to me.  About twenty minutes in, my seat mate made a sound like she was impressed and gestured for her friends to look out the window.  “Check it out! That’s an impressive sound barrier wall for that neighborhood.” I looked to see what she was talking about.  Sound barrier wall?  Not quite.

View of the Separation Wall from the bus to Bethlehem

We were driving near one of the highest sections of Israel’s separation wall, called the “security fence” by the Israeli government.  Looking at the huge concrete structure–three times higher than the Berlin Wall–it’s almost laughable to call it a fence.  Israel began its unilateral building of the wall around much of the West Bank in 2002.  Since 2002, several changes have been made to the original plan, almost all to accommodate Israeli settlements within the West Bank, effectively annexing them and a surrounding “buffer zone” into Israel.  The wall and its buffer zones have been built entirely on Palestinian land, reducing the total area of the West Bank by a significant percentage, and the wall is being used to cut off major Palestinian water sources for Israel.  In 2004, the International Court of Justice at the Hague issued an opinion calling the separation wall an “illegal and unlawful attempt” to establish the borders between Israel and Palestine unilaterally and also holding Israel in violation of humanitarian law for the route and means of construction of the barrier (http://www.icj-cij.org/docket/index.php?pr=71&code=mwp&p1=3&p2=4&p3=6&case=131&k=5a).  The ICJ ordered that construction must stop immediately, the existing structure must be destroyed, and reparations made for all harm and destruction caused by its construction, including over 1000 Palestinian homes and more than 250,000 fruit trees.

Israel opted to ignore the opinion.

Several Palestinian villages are now entirely encircled by the wall, many more are cut off from their major centers of commerce, education, and agriculture.

Double-layer fence section of the separation wall near Hebron; this farmer can only access his orchard across the road two days per year

On Thursday, I interviewed another rabbi for my project.  At the end of the interview, I asked Aharon (as I’ll call him) if there was anything else he wished to share with me.  He said that he grew up in a small Israeli town that is now cut off from its Palestinian neighbors by the wall.  When Jimmy Carter visited Israel and Palestine several years ago, he visited Aharon’s town and asked Aharon to speak about the security fence.  In response, he shared a teaching from the Talmud, which he believes is the most important Jewish text.

The Talmud teaches that, when you build a house, it is your responsibility to build a fence around the roof top.  Aharon explained that roof tops here are traditionally flat and are used for sleeping in the summer, eating, and communal gathering space.  When you build a house, you are responsible for the safety of all the people who will use it.  So, if it is for security reasons, you are not only permitted to build the fence but you must build the fence.  However, he said, your responsibility does not end there.  In order to decide what kind of fence you will build, how you will build it, and where it will be, you must consult the broader laws and teachings of the Torah and Talmud.

From Aharon’s point of view, a security fence is right if it actually there for security reasons and not for prematurely defining borders, illegally grabbing land, or de facto confiscation of resources.  But even if those conditions are met, which is not the case in this situation, there are still higher requirements that must be met.  That is, the fence would have to be built in an ethical way that does not divide villages, separate people from their land and wells, and create undo hardship for people to travel from one part of their country to another part.

The magic word “security” is used to blanket all kinds of policies and laws here, both those that make sense and those that seem completely inexcusable…not so different than my post 9/11 homeland.  I’m not totally naive about the need for security…when the measures are legitimately for security…but, even then, at what cost?  How much of a humane life is a fair price these days?

"WHEN IGNORANCE REIGNS LIVES ARE LOST". This section of the separation wall cuts right though East Jerusalem, cutting off this neighborhood from a major Arab university just on the other side of the wall.

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The Other

The view from my blogging spot today on the Promenade

Three weeks have gone by since I finished with the Christian Peacemaker Team (CPT) delegation, moved into a small apartment in the Christian Quarter in Jerusalem, and began volunteering at the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in East Jerusalem. In that time, I have become strangely accustomed to being here, so much so that, every now and then–as I navigate the ancient Old City streets that used to leave me hopelessly confused, ducking around awnings and vendors, evading soccer balls that always seem to be directed right at my ankles, and saying hello to friends and neighbors–I have to stop and remind myself of where I am.

These three weeks have been full. Full of work days trying to prepare worship services and devotion times for forty Christian young adults from around the world who will arrive in Jerusalem three weeks from now, full of side trips to visit friends and accompany educational delegations, full of new acquaintances and perspectives.

As I wrote in the e-mails that preceded the launching of this blog, I am here in Palestine and Israel as a part of a fellowship through the Fund for Theological Education. I developed a project for this summer studying how peacemaker/activists use narrative in their work; I left the exact substance of the interviews and subject pool intentionally broad so that I could select my specific focus after having some time to be here myself.  CPT did an excellent job of exposing us to important voices of Palestinians, Jewish Israelis, and a few Christian Palestinians. Even so, after witnessing the attempts at intimidation by settlers in the West Bank, going through numerous checkpoints run by the IDF and border police, and hearing story after story that you couldn’t possibly believe, I became aware of internal feelings that I wasn’t proud of–an angry visceral reaction whenever I saw obviously orthodox Jewish people on the street. I know better than that. I know that individuals are different than systems. I know that a faith identity and nationalistic policy, as intertwined and complicated as they are in places like Israel, are nonetheless not one and the same. And still.

So, in response to my discomfort with my own reactions, I decided to focus my study on religious Jewish approaches to Palestinian human rights. There are lots of great Israeli human rights organizations doing great work, but most of them are secular and, because of my encounters the narratives of extremist Zionism and because of my own interests as a seminarian, I wanted to talk to religiously observant Jews. It took a while to get started but I finally found an “in” and, for the last two weeks, I have been interviewing religious Jewish activists/advocates for Palestinian human rights about how they think and talk about their activism in relation to the Biblical narrative, Zionism, and the Israeli national narrative about what it means to be Jewish. It has been a fascinating, sometimes challenging, and often inspiring journey.

Thus far, I have interviewed five rabbis from various streams of Judaism–orthodox, conservative, and reform. They have been generous with their time and more than willing to thoughtfully engage my questions and, more often than not, we end up sitting together an additional hour after the interview ends so I can answer their questions! I hope to find time to write about more of my reflections as we go along, but for now, I’ll just share what I’ve been thinking about since my last interview ended an hour ago.

Every person I have interviewed has said that the Hebrew Bible unequivocally values people over land. ALL people. And, if that weren’t enough, protection of the stranger is particularly emphasized and elevated in the Law. In this last interview with a conservative rabbi I will call Yosef, we talked about what is meant by “stranger”. He said that using this word to refer to Palestinians in no way claims that Palestinians do not belong on the land. The Hebrew word might be better translated as “other”. We talked about the natural human tendency to “other” those who are different or who have different interests than ours. The Bible does not justify this tendency but acknowledges it and seeks protection for the other in our midst. In addition to much conversation about what this means for Israeli-Palestinian relations, the end of our conversation turned toward Jewish-Christian relations. Yosef talked about his work with Christians and his struggle with their understandable but frustrating need to identify the “other” in relation to Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He named a pattern I have noticed myself–both among international and Palestinian Christians here as well as at home in the US. The pattern is that Christians, no matter their denomination, seem to fall in to one of three camps. The first seeks to “other” the Palestinians; these include the Christian Zionists who believe that the Second Coming will be brought about by the Jews’ return to Israel, but also those who simply hear and accept the dominant narrative about Israel’s need for security as presented by the Israeli and US governments. The second camp is on the other extreme and seeks to “other” the Israeli Jews. These are often well-intentioned activists and Palestinian supporters who rightly see the reality of Israeli occupation but, no differently than those on the other extreme, lump an entire people together in their judgement of the situation. This extreme also can show a surprising lack of sensitivity to the concerns of non-extremist Jewish Israeli people (not the government). The third camp is that which sees itself as neutral. In this camp, people “other” either Palestinians or Jewish Israelis or both and somehow believe it is possible to remain in the middle. Perhaps a neutral position would be possible if both parties had even roughly equivalent agency and power of self-determination; however, this is not the case and taking no action is an action in support of those in power. This position often seems to be at least partially driven by anxiety about appearing anti-Semitic. Okay, so this assessment is definitely overly simplified, but the point is this: Christians (and others) in each of these camps are giving in to that very “othering” tendency that the Torah seeks to combat. The Jewish and Christian call to protect and value the stranger–the other–calls for a much more complicated relationship with our neighbors.

And there’s a reason why it was written into the Law. Being here, it’s easy to see how it’s easier and even natural for all parties to dehumanize the other. Right now, I am about to board a bus from this overlook near Yosef’s West Jerusalem neighborhood and journey just a few kilometers to the East Jerusalem neighborhood where I work.
Holding the faith, values, dreams, and nightmares of these communities in tension–recognizing that each person is equally valued by God and yet does not have equal power on earth–is not easy or comfortable. I’m not even sure it’s possible, but I’m sure
we’re supposed to try.

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On the Road to Emmaus

I’m currently volunteering for the Sabeel Palestinian Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem.  Last evening, Sabeel sponsored one of its periodic outings to a place called Canada Park.  Two busloads of Palestinian Christians ranging in age from 3 to 80 drove the half hour journey to a large wooded area with nice picnic tables and playgrounds.  “I have to admit this would be nice,” my friend Rafa commented, “if I didn’t know what we were standing on.”  We were standing on the ruins of three Palestinian villages.

 

Entrance to Canada Park

 

In 1967, during the Six Days War that ended with the annexation of East Jerusalem and the occupation of the Palestinian territories, the Israeli Army removed or “depopulated” the three villages that used to be were Canada Park is today.  The people were simply told that they must leave.  Now.  Some of the soldiers who were part of that operation recall hearing children wailing and finding the bodies of elderly and sick people who died during the long march away from their homes.  Many people still have the keys to their homes; keys to doors that no longer exist.

This story of depopulated villages was the story of over four hundred Palestinian villages in 1948, but it was less common in 1967.  It seems that these particular villages were targeted because they were the site of a humiliating defeat of the Israeli army in 1948.  So, even though all eye witness reports indicate that the Israelis met no violent resistance from these villages in 1967, the villages were emptied of their former life and demolished.  Just like all of the other displaced Palestinians, these refugees were never allowed to return to their land–yet another violation of international law.  The villages were bulldozed and the land given or sold to the Jewish National Fund, a nonprofit that works closely with the government to “reforest and improve” the land.  The government claims that, because the land is forested, it is in use by the Israeli people and therefore cannot be returned to its Palestinian owners.  This particular park is named “Canada Park” in honor of the lengthy list of Canadian donors who funded its “rehabilitation”.

The trees are now tall and well established in the park, but signs of this land’s former life do not disappear easily.  As we walked down the road through the park, we walked past crumbling stone walls and two old Palestinian graveyards.  We stopped at two large wells, one of which is at least a thousand years old.  Tall non-native cacti that the villagers used to fence in their fields betray the borders of what used to be.

Dema, a Sabeel staff person, walks through the ruins of the graveyard

The area of these three villages is also remembered for something else.  It is one of four sites that the Church chooses to remember as Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35).  As the Sabeel director Naim Ateek said today, “No one can know which, if any, of these places really was Emmaus but, since we are here now, let’s say that it was here.”    And, walking along that road, out where the lights of Tel Aviv are only flickers far in the distance, it was easy to imagine. 

Walking down the road at sundown through one of the places thought to be Emmaus

With the shadows past lives hovering about as we discussed what had happened there, it was easy to imagine an apparent stranger appearing at our side and walking with us, listening in on our conversation.  “What are you discussing with each other as you walk along?”  There are so many new faces in the crowd and we assume he is one of us.  My walking companion (was his name Rafa or was it Cleopas?) responds, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place in these days?”  This stranger may be clueless about the pain suffered by these people for the last 63 years but, as is only right in Palestinian culture, we insist that he stay with us as night falls and join us in our picnic of grilled hotdogs and Coca Cola.  So, we bring this stranger along as we return to the campsite and gather around the picnic tables to laugh, pray, sing, and break bread together…and, conscious that we are standing on the skeletons of broken homes, we look around and cannot help but see the face of Christ.

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Swords into Ploughshares

On Saturday I visited the Israel Museum with two friends from the CPT delegation who were still in Jerusalem. I had mixed feelings about going. The museum is a huge beautiful complex set atop of a hill in the middle of West Jerusalem. The wide perfectly paved streets with clearly marked crosswalks and manicured medians were a stark contrast to narrow, broken, unmarked streets East Jerusalem. The Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem pay 60% of the city’s taxes but only 8% of the city budget goes back to them. East Jerusalem is still functioning (sort of) on same deteriorating infrastructure that was in place in 1967 when Israel annexed it from Jordan. The streets of West Jerusalem, however, rival the wealthy suburbs of any North American city. In addition to the museum’s location, I was also nervous about the highly nationalistic nature of the museum.

So, I had my misgivings…but the museum also holds something I very much wanted to see. The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Aleppo Codex. So we went. We got our audio guides and made our way toward the Shrine of the Book, the structure that houses the manuscripts and mimics the shape of the jar lids in which the scrolls were found. We adjusted our audio guide settings and began our journey through the story of the scrolls discovery and the ongoing research about them. I was immediately struck by the date of the scrolls’ discovery. 1947. The recorded guide voice didn’t miss it either, noting that the discovery of the scrolls on the eve of what Israelis call the War of Independence seemed to “confirm the righteous return of the Jewish people to her land”. I noted grimly that the guide neglected any mention of the Palestinian people and the fact that the Palestinians call that same war the Catastrophe.

Shrine of the Book, Israel Museum

As I entered the Shrine’s dome, I saw the scrolls themselves. All around the perimeter of the room were pieces of the actual scrolls. Incredible. I couldn’t read the scrolls themselves, but it was amazing to see them. At one point, the route of the tour directed me downstairs to view the Aleppo Codex. This text–not one of the Dead Sea Scrolls–I could read a little because it contains the Masoritic vowel markings and because it happened to be open to one of the texts that was on my Hebrew final exam last summer! The tour next took me upstairs to the display in the center of the Shrine dome, a lithograph of the great Isaiah scroll stretches around the central cylinder. After listening to the informational clip, I punched in a code to hear a reading from the scroll. As I walked around the cold air conditioned space, taking in this beautiful but sanitized piece of history, I listened to the selection,

In days to come

the mountain of the Lord ’s house

shall be established as the highest of the mountains,

and shall be raised above the hills;

all the nations shall stream to it.

Many peoples shall come and say,

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,

to the house of the God of Jacob;

that he may teach us his ways

and that we may walk in his paths. ”

For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,

and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

He shall judge between the nations,

and shall arbitrate for many peoples;

they shall beat their swords into plowshares,

and their spears into pruning hooks;

nation shall not lift up sword against nation,

neither shall they learn war any more.
[Isaiah 2:1-4]

I stood listening there in that cold, dark, too-clean space–that space filled with ancient history and carefully void of recent history–and I cried.

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Birthday Blessings

Sabeel Prayer Service at the Dominican church near the Old City

My birthday was last Wednesday; I had nothing special planned (besides, ahem, spending it in Jerusalem).  It was my first day volunteering at Sabeel.  That evening, Sabeel organized an ecumenical prayer service near the Old City and, after the service, I was stacking candles with another volunteer when Omar, the Sabeel young adult director, called out to me, “Yo, Staci!”  He point to a young Palestinian woman who was also helping, “You two study the same thing.”  With that, Omar walked off and the young woman and I looked at each other.  “I guess that means we’re supposed to talk,” I said and we laughed.  Her name is Claudin and she studies religion at Bethlehem University but lives in the Old City like me, which is unusual.  We ended up talking so long that we didn’t notice everyone else had left and the priest had to ask us to leave so he could lock up.  We walked back to the Old City together and, on the way, ran into another volunteer who invited us to a potluck on the Mount of Olives at the Lutheran World Federation.  I decided to go along, so I exchanged phone numbers with Claudin, caught a service (pronounced “serveese”, a 15 passenger van/unofficial taxi) and joined the group of international activists and clergy for dinner.  Afterward, one of the pastors dropped me off at Damascus Gate.  As I walked down the nearly deserted main street of the Muslim Quarter, I passed Rimon’s Cafe and, to my surprise, saw two CPTers from Hebron sitting there drinking glasses of wine.  They greeted me joyfully, explained that one of them was also celebrating a birthday, and invited me to join them.  Before long, the owner Rimon discovered the double birthday celebration and insisted on treating us to generous glasses of Palestinian brandy and chocolate.  Just then, two members from my CPT delegation who were still in Jerusalem happened to walk by and spotted us.  It was one of strange moments when nearly all of the people I know in Jerusalem happened to show up in the same place.  It was great…plus, they helped me drink my brandy, which pleased Rimon to no end!  I went to bed that evening grateful for another year, for the embrace of new friends close by, and for the love and prayers of old friends far away.

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