A Good Walk
Fridays have sucked for CPT recently. While the soldiers have been relatively benign toward the Palestinians on Fridays (which we are thrilled about), they have not been so lax with us (which we are less then thrilled about). Fridays have mostly consisted of us going on Mosque patrol, us getting yelled at by soldiers there, and us leaving afraid of getting arrested. A few weeks ago they told us we couldn’t be in the area with our hats and vest. Then they told us we weren’t allowed in the area at all on Fridays. Today a soldier (he was older with a very funny looking salt and pepper muttonchopish beard) approached us saying we were not allowed there at all. He didn’t mention anything about just Fridays, or when wearing our vests, we weren’t allowed there at all. We had a long and rigorous discussion in which he asked why we don’t go to Syria, if I think I’m a wise guy, why we insisted on blabbing instead of leaving, if we read our Bible, why we thought we were strong (this reminded me of this post), why we asked so many questions when the command was ‘obvious’, and finally if we would like him to bring out some more soldiers and force us out. So eventually we left. I was discouraged.
It seems like in recent years CPT has carved out a space where we could challenge the occupation and do our work without being arrested. Now it seems like we are being squeezed out of that space. I worry about what is going to happen next, especially with me leaving to the States so soon with so much uncertainty. All this was racing through my head through the afternoon.
Every Friday evening we do what we call the “prayer’s road patrol.” There is a long road that connects the huge settlement just outside Hebron (Kriyat Arba) to the Tomb of Abraham (Ibrahimi Mosque). For the start of Shabbat settlers walk down the road. Since Palestinians live on the road there are always Israeli soldiers stationed along the road, and sometimes Palestinians are denied access to the road or are attacked by settlers.
So on Friday nights we do a patrol along that road, just a walk up and down to see if anything is happening. In order to get to that road we must pass in front of the Ibrahimi Mosque (Tomb of Abraham), where Muttonchops had just told we were not allowed to be. We walked through the checkpoint and down the thoroughfare, and no one said a thing. We continued up the road without any occurrences.
There was one soldier who said hi to us as we walked by, an odd occurrence, but we didn’t pay him much mind. On our way back the soldier stopped us politely to ask what organization we were with. I said we were from CPT, and expounded what it stood for. He asked what we do and I explained that we go to conflict zones around the world to foster peace. He nodded in agreement, and something in his look seemed to be asking for more. I explained to him that as people working for peace we saw the Israeli settlements in the area as… He stopped me there saying, “Yeah the settlements are a big problem. I hope you all continue doing good work, good luck.” He said it so genuinly we were stupefied. We stumbled away, half in shock, as I said, “Hey look us up, you can join us when your done.” He explained that that would be a while, but he didn’t reject the idea.
We continued our return journey energized, talking about how refreshing that interaction was, how we need to remember to humanize everyone we meet, and strategies we used to ‘love all our neighbors’ in this situation. We chatted all the way up the walkway to the Ibrihimi Mosque. Then we were called over by a border-police (branch of the Israeli military) woman.
She again explained to us that we are not allowed to wear the vests and hats there. We again asked why, and explained that there is no law that says we are not allowed. She courteously translated our inquiry to the police (not part of the military, but still Israeli) men behind her. Then they chatted for about five minutes in Hebrew. The border-police woman continued to say, “Just hold on a second we’re fighting about it right now.” Eventually she said, “I’m sorry…” I started thinking I know where this is going, “I’m sorry but you have to take them off.” But she actually said, “I’m sorry… You can go.” Again we were flabbergasted. We walked through the checkpoint, smiles on our faces, vests on our chests, and hats on our heads. One of the border-police men asked us sternly, “Do you understand?” To which we answered, “Yes! We’re allowed.” as we hurried through.
I don’t know what the soldiers will be like tomorrow, but tonight we had a soldier encourage us in our work, while another actually apologized to us, allowing us to do something we have been denied for weeks. It was a great walk, and totally redeemed my Friday.
Pray that I am able to humanize and love everyone here (especially Muttonchops).
Pray that CPT can continue to creatively carve a space to do our work with rigor.
Pray that soldiers critically think about what they are doing here.
Pray for peace.