A New Hope

This week has been hard. A friend had settlers come onto his property and destroy his gardens (twice); I witnessed a five year being held by soldiers; also an 8 year old was detained; settlers marched through H1 (area of Hebron under Palestinian Authority) with soldiers protection, and an international was arrested and will probably be deported for refusing to take off her ‘Press’ vest near the Tomb of Abraham (same issue CPT is dealing with).

A question I often get is what gives you hope. Last week I got to participate in a hope giving event.

Last week (July 1-7) I had the pleasure of volunteering at Sabeel’s Global Young Adult Festival. Sabeel is a Palestinian ecumenical liberation theology resource center. (more info here)

The conference (ok they call it a festival but lets be real) was amazing. There were nearly 150 people between the ages of 18 and 35 from all over the world. I mean all over. There were over thirty countries represented. Every continent (not including Antarctica) was represented. This diversity was not always easy to deal with. For example English was the language of the festival, but was most people’s secondary language. People trying to understand things in their second language that were being spoken in someone else’s second language causes a lot of miscommunication. Also there were hundreds of different perspectives on what “Be on time” means, a cause of much frustration to the organizers.


Our attempt at making a Palestinian flag on the last day.

While diversity is hard it is worth it. In most of my experience in Palestine I hear perspectives from Western internationals (white people) and from Palestinians. So many great perspectives were missing. For example both Palestinians and Internationals call what’s happening in Palestine ‘Apartheid’, comparing it to South Africa. But when a South African starts learning about the situation and says, “I’m amazed at how identical this is to apartheid,” and with hope adds “We overcame apartheid, and I know you can too,” it has a whole new weight behind it. People compared and contrasted the situation here to situations in their communities a lot. White Australians compared Israel’s policies toward Palestinians to their governments policies towards aboriginal peoples. Malians compared the pillaging of water to pillaging of natural resources by colonial powers in Africa. People could relate to the issues both as oppressor and as oppressed.

The diversity went much further then just nationality. I had a conversation with someone studying ecology who were interested in the environmental impact of the Israeli occupation. I had a conversations with someone doing doctoral research about the occupation, masculinity, and violence against women. I had a conversation with someone interested in liberation theology within the context of Palestine, but also in his context in Zimbabwe.

The conference itself had people speaking on a variety of topics from a variety of perspectives. A Palestinian woman spoke of her personal story of losing her home in 1948; a UN representative gave a report on international law and the situation in the occupied territories; Rev. Dr. Naim Ateek (founder of Sabeel) spoke about Palestinian Liberation Theology; two experts spoke about the devastating environmental impact of the current situation; a lawyer shared the experience of Palestinian children who are arrested by Israeli soldiers; an Israeli woman who refused to join the military talked about militarism within Israeli society; and a Palestinian-American businessman and Palestinian technology expert shared their hopes for Palestine’s economy.

The speakers were great, but were not the main focus of the conference. Within liberation theology there is a strong push toward engagement, and this push was felt within the conference as well. On the second day everyone had visited a refugee camp, and had dinner with a Palestinian family. By the third day the speeches had ended and in their place we did volunteer work. I was one of the volunteers in charge of digging a water cistern at Tent of Nations. Tent of Nations is a farm at the top of a hill surrounded by settlements. For years Israel has been trying to kick the Palestinian farmers off that land. The owners have papers form the Ottomans, British, and Jordanians saying that they are the owners, and have jumped through all Israel’s hoops in order to keep the land. Unfortunately this family is basically under siege from Israel, they are not able to connect to the water system, or to electricity. So they got solar panels and dug cisterns. I was helping with the latest cistern. The other group (150 is too many people for one volunteer project) rebuilt a home that had been demolished by Israel 6 times (That’s right built a home in 3 days. You can watch a video about it here.) The group had a nice Extreme Makeover Home Edition at the end of the week.

The whole festival ended with us doing a flash mob in the middle of Damascus Gate, the main gate to the old city of Jerusalem. Our group of 150 did a debke (traditional Arabic style dance) in front of the crowds of tourists.

It was an amazing hope-filled week. The most hopeful thing was seeing 150 young people leave with a deeper understanding and deeper passion for peace, justice, and the plight of the Palestinian people. It reminds me that Palestine is not alone, people from all over the world passionately care about this place.

Pray for continual hope in this place
Pray for peace