Jerusalem is raining like there is no tomorrow (including some hail) and is matched by chilly temperatures ... hard on the driving and those without winter jackets, but good for the land and its produce. Sun and more warmth promised for next week.
As always when I visit Is/Pal, I encounter remarkably encouraging signs for the future together with unmistakable indicators of a worsening conflict. In the former category is a British pediatrician I met at breakfast Friday who just spent a week in Gaza and a week in Ramallah creating teaching modules for young physicians. Asked what gave her hope she said, "It's the relationships with these young doctors; they're bright, committed and, given the conditions under which they work, most creative." At breakfast this morning I talked with an Australian woman with CARE who is helping link markets in Ramallah and Nablus to women in Jenin who are producing excellent cheeses and other dairy products. Travel is difficult for the women in Jenin, so instead of having them take their produce south, she is working to bring the market to them.
After breakfast yesterday we joined Estephan and Laurie Salameh and three month old Luca ... who is a sign of hope all by himself. We drove to Jifna for lunch with Estephan's family whose generous hospitality is so characteristic of the Palestinian people. Part of my mission with my friend, Kathy Matsushima, is to look in on the Seraj Library Project's children's library in the Christian village of Jifna and the space now furnished and ready for books in the Muslim village of Al-Itihhad. Estephan, Kathy and I will meet with a resource person in Ramallah today whom we hope may become a resource for more children's books and consultant services to the women the villages provide to manage the libraries. A hopeful sign for the civil society Palestinians are building is the dramatic increase in reading among young Palestinians.
At the same time it appears that every policy of the Israeli government is directed toward appropriating as much of the West Bank as possible and encouraging as many Palestinians as possible to emigrate. In Beit Hanin, an Arab section of greater Jerusalem where Estephan lives, city services are noticeably absent. No sidewalks, streets badly in need of repair, no postoffice; and yet these people pay the same taxes as other Jerusalemites. The contrast with West Jerusalem neighborhoods could not be more dramatic. On our way to Al-Itihhad we passed a new Jewish settlement on Palestinian land. They begin as a group of trailers suddenly positioned and occupied by settlers. Although declared illegal by the Israeli government, they are defended by the IDF and supplied with electricity and water by the government. The positioning of trailers is followed by the construction of permanent homes ... and suddenly another "fact on the ground". This particular group of trailers lies on land in Area C (60% of the West Bank) as specified in the Oslo Accords over which Israel has both civil and military authority. Permission for Palestinians to build in Area C must be obtained from the appropriate Israeli authority and is in practice nearly impossible to obtain. The list of ways Israeli words desiring a negotiated peace do not match their actions is endless. The eviction of Palestinians in the Sheik Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem just a few blocks from St. George's where I am staying is testimony to the Israeli intent to take over all of Jerusalem and, so far as possible, push out Palestinians. A new policy which denies work visas for internationals employed by NGO's in Jerusalem will effectively push these organizations out of Jerusalem into Ramallah. Netanyahu's recent declaration including the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron and Rachel's tomb in Bethlehem as national heritage sites is, as the US stated, a provocation and another insult to the Palestinian people. Yet US administrations have been and remain unwilling to take any stronger action to stop a movement which has continued uninterrupted by every Israeli government, both liberal and conservative.
The signs of hope are sometimes small and few compared to seemingly unrelenting signs to the contrary. But so it has always been. Particularly during this season, it is the fidelity, courage and perseverance of the few that is the content of our hope.