My Trip to Palestine: Peace Can Happen
By Kathy G., Companion in Mercy
The following is captured from daily writings prepared by Kathy G., a Companion in Mercy, during her recent three-week stay in Palestine. She journeyed there with an interfaith group to witness and learn about the tense situation that continues to escalate there among the all of the people seeking to call that land ‘home.’
We began our time by touring all different parts of Old Jerusalem. We heard how the Israeli government is trying to get rid of all Palestinians living near the border of Israel. We stood on a hill and could see a number of Jewish settlements and the wall that the Israelis have built to separate them from the Palestinians. A very passionate young Israeli woman spent about two hours explaining the situation. We then drove around one of the settlements and the Palestinian community that was right next to it. The settlement has water piped up in, but the Palestinians are told that it is impossible to get them water even though sometimes they are right next to a settlement. The Palestinians have no garbage pickup but the settlers do even though they pay the same taxes. We also saw homes that were taken from Palestinian families.
If that wasn’t enough to make my heart heavier than I thought I could take, we visited with a family who had been evicted from their home at five in the morning in a way that caused degradation to the women as Muslims, and involved beating and a great deal of harm. Within a half an hour of them being thrown out of their house, a settler family from New York was moved into their home. They were left on the street. This particular family had also been thrown out of their home in 1948 and returned when the UN and Jordan, which at this time was a part of Jerusalem, offered to give the family property if they would move back. They did. They built their home and then were evicted, living in a tent for six months through the winter. They are still in court trying to fight this injustice. The grandmother, the couple and their children were there with their lawyer to tell the story. They spoke for a couple of hours and there were times when I wanted to run out of the room because I felt I couldn’t hear anymore.
Well it was a great day… Today we spent a glorious morning at a place called ‘Tent of Nations’ which is an olive and grape vineyard owned since 1916 by a Palestinian family where they provide amazing programs for women and children along with harvesting over 1000 olive trees, fig trees and grapes. Their farm is surrounded on every side by five Israeli settlement camps and we had to walk in about half of a mile because the settlers had big boulders moved to block the street leading to their farm. It was wonderful. They have had trials that none of us can imagine, but they are hopeful. The quote of the day was when they shared that a settler offered to write them a blank check to buy their land and they responded “The land is my mother and you don’t sell your mother.”
We spent the rest of the day at a Palestinian refugee camp near Bethlehem. Oh my God the stories. These folks have been in a refugee camp for the past 65 years. Their property or their family’s property may only be five miles away but they can’t go there. We saw homes that have been demolished in the middle of the night by the Israeli army. Their electricity and water is controlled. They just got electricity recently. It was very sad but the people were amazing and full of hope. “We cannot be individuals, we have to be a community” said one of the refugees.
We then went to this interesting kibbutz* that has been in existence since the 1940s, and met with a Jewish woman from the organization called Another Voice. She talked not about what it was like to live in a place that could be hit by a rocket but instead about how she is committed to peace and living together in one country. She has been there for 40 years. She came from the United States and although she lives in the kibbutz, her fellow residents don’t all agree with her. She was inspiring and yet you also could understand how tired she must have been from living in fear. To read a personal sharing from this Jewish woman living in the kibbutz, feel free to take a look at her blog post, ‘This craziness has got to stop’ from her personal blog.
I guess from my perspective the difficulty is finding the words to make people here understand what is happening there. As I traveled, unlike many Palestinians who can’t travel in their own country, I saw people being treated as if there were no laws or no rights in a country that calls itself a democracy. I also saw what seemed from every way I looked at it to be experiencing systematic ethnic cleansing. It felt that whatever view we looked through the picture was the same. Yet I still believe there can be peace. So how do I share the urgency of the situation and still help people to believe that peace can happen. All I hear back here is that it has always been that way and it will always be that way. Not only is that not true, it doesn’t have to be the future.
*A kibbutz is a unique community dedicated to mutual aid and social justice.
Kathy G. is a Companion in Mercy, a relationship with Mercy in which you live a life of service and prayer following the mission of the Sisters of Mercy.