When we arrived in the West Bank on Sunday, our guide – the utterly inimitable Yahav – greeted us in this way:
Welcome to…I don’t know how to finish that sentence. You may have noticed that there is no welcome sign here… Israel, Palestine, the Palestinian territories…whatever it is, you are here, and you are welcome to it!
I’ll admit that, in my case, the people we met and the experiences we have had have done nothing to clear up the confusion. In the last few days we have met with a shocking range of fascinating people. The manager of the Friends of the Earth Center showed us both the depths of the water crisis affecting the Palestinian village of Auja, and his organization’s grass roots efforts to ameliorate the situation for the residents. The director of the Beautiful Resistance program shared his group’s commitment to empower the youth of the Aida refugee camp through training in theater, dance, the visual arts and environmental awareness. Two former adversaries – one a participant in the Intifada, and one a former member of the Israeli armed forces – told their stories, and shared the vision they hoped to promote through the organization to which they are now both committed, Combatants for Peace. An Israeli settler gave us a tour of his community, the Vice Dean of the Bethlehem Bible College gave an amazingly frank presentation on his hopes for Palestinian Christians, and a leader of the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel shared his views on the conflict, and his direct methods to bring people together. Most searing of all, of course, was this morning’s visit to Yad v’Shem, the Israeli Holocaust Museum.
A wise teacher mentioned the other day that one of the goals of her teaching on the conflict is to help students to see that there are a number of coherent understandings of the crisis, and to make them uncomfortable about which one they should adopt. The good news is that I have reached that goal! I now understand Yahav’s confusion, and will need a great deal of time to think through my experiences here.
At the same time, our time here draws my attention to the last bit of Yahav’s unique greeting: whatever the political status of this land, we have surely been warmly welcomed by the people we have met here. I am afraid that, in discussing the political situation, it may be all too easy to think of the issues “merely” in terms of lines on a map. After our time with Rami and Hashem, our intrepid Jordanian guides, or George, the very best jeweler in Bethlehem, I am glad to say that this will be very hard to do!