Sunday, November 8, 2009

A friend's voice of anguish

My friend Amal Othman lives in Madison and is a U.S. citizen, but she was born in Jordan and her parents are Palestinian refugees whose home was near East Jerusalem. At the same time our group was in Israel and Palestine, she was with a group called Interfaith Peace-Builders visiting many of the same places we were. One of the places she went was to her parents' home town. This is her compelling account of that visit.

We walked the streets of the old city in East Jerusalem. The Jewish presence is clear: soldiers with guns, settlers with the Torah, the Star of David on doors, and the Israeli flag on roofs and balconies. Surveillance cameras in every corner ensure the Israeli control and dominance. “Help Us Build Jewish Life in the Old City” says one sign printed on a metal sheet in Hebrew and English mounted in a busy alley for everyone passing by to see.

A Palestinian woman selling vegetables on the street shared her grief with me. “We live a miserable life. We’re threatened everyday and no one cares.” My heart ached for I have felt her broken spirit and had nothing to say to comfort her. Waves of tourists passed her. Some acknowledged her presence and others ignored it, celebrating Israel and the distorted history. Since when an illegal occupation has become a tourist attraction!

Then we went to Jabel Al Mukaber , a small town near Jerusalem where my mother was born. We drove by the 27 foot high wall that separates, in some areas, Palestinian towns from Palestinian towns slicing through the lives of families and friends, farmers and their land, students and their schools. I’ve read about it. I’ve seen pictures of it. And now I have no words to describe it after seeing it with my own eyes. It’s a beast; a devastating reality that prevents any kind of dialogue between the two peoples to achieve a just peace.

The wall on the Israeli side is hidden by trees and cleverly planned landscapes just like some destroyed Palestinian villages are hidden under forests. And the wall on the Palestinian side is just across the street, blocking the air they breathe.

There is nothing holy about the Holy land. It’s divided, broken, and strangled with injustice.

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