We shared lunch with Gosayna Karam in the ancient village of Nazareth, remembered as the town where Jesus grew up, and heard her talk about her worries for her children’s education in a country where there is huge disparity in funding between Jewish and Arab students.
We sat in the living room of Hani Abu Haikal, a Muslim living right next door to hostile Jewish settlers in Hebron, a city where both Muslims and Jews revere a site where they believe their common ancestor Abraham is buried. We heard how Hani is trying to create non-violent responses to the oppression of occupation.
We walked with Shadi through the Dheisheh Refugee Camp in Bethlehem, where 13,000 Palestinians live – the original refugees of the creation of Israel in 1948 and generations of their descendants, people without a country. We watched sewer water draining onto the narrow road we trod through the densely-populated camp.
We listened as Naila Kharroub, the principal of the Dar al-Kalima school in Bethlehem told about the work she does with her 300 Christian and Muslim students from kindergarten through high school to create a sense of understanding of each other’s faith traditions as well as those of the Jewish people who share their land.
And we drank coffee with Ed Rettig as this rabbi who leads the American Jewish Committee in Israel told us how he and his family now feel so much safer because of the high levels of security Israel has put in place – the same security measures that makes life so difficult for the Palestinians.
These are a few of the voices telling of lives today in Israel and Palestine, the tinderbox of global politics, a land holy to three great faith traditions and a land torn by heartache. I was there for two weeks earlier this month with a group of seven friends from the United Church of Christ and Presbyterian churches. We heard the stories of a wide range of people trying to fashion lives caught in the swirl of so many larger forces.
There are no definitive statements one can make after a short time in such a complex place. But there are vivid images that remain.
At Augusta Victoria Hospital, Mark Brown from Lutheran World Services took us out back to look across a grove of olive trees to the area where his group hopes to build new housing to help keep the dwindling number of Palestinian Christians in Jerusalem.
Farther out, we could see the separation barrier – the 24-foot high concrete wall that the Israelis have put in place snaking through West Bank land. And beyond that, we could see one of the large Jewish settlements housing 35,000 residents on land that is in the West Bank.
Voices. Images. Glimmers of hope breaking through an overriding sense of pessimism. It’s a tough place these days, Israel and Palestine. It’s a place that needs its many voices to be heard.