It's impossible to traipse around Jerusalem, through check points into nearby Palestinian communities without collecting a miscellany of people, images and experiences that gradually become a collage of impressions of the "Holy Land".
SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION I was wandering around hopelessly in Bethlehem this morning trying to find the entrance to the Christmas Lutheran Church of Mitri Raheb and passing it at least once when an attractive Palestinian woman said, "Looking for the church? Follow me." Mitri's sermon exceeded the endurance of this Episcopalian, but the sound of his voice and the Arabic words I find so melodic provided a most satisfying contemplative half hour. During the coffee hour, my just-in-time Palestinian guide identified herself as Amal Nassr, Daoud's sister, at the Tent of Nations. "I recognized you on the street from your visit last March. Good to see you again." I went to Bethlehem to meet Joan Deming, the development director for the Pilgrims of Ibillin who had just met and then introduced me to Dorothy Jean Weaver, a New Testament scholar from Eastern Mennonite Seminary in Virginia who shared her delight at the prospect of having Don Wagner and Mark Braverman as colleagues at EMS. We cemented our friendship over a falafel sandwich and mint lemonade at a nearby restaurant she regularly patronizes.
THE TEDIUM OF CHECKPOINTS I've gone through a lot of checkpoints in my five trips here. Beside their being barbaric, dehumanizing and of questionable use as a security measure, I find them tedious. And, as an American with special privileges, I find them embarrassing. For the second time this week I experienced the Bethlehem checkpoint to get back into Jerusalem. As I moved through the long corridors and the repetitive turnstiles, I got to the place people wait in line, watching for the green light which means a few more may pass through the next-to-last turnstile to x-ray your belongings. Palestinians begin taking off their belts and shoes, emptying their pockets, getting ready to put everything through the machine and they signal to me, "Don't bother. You're American" These are often people who put up with this rigamarole twice a day. And, though my bionic hips set off the alarms, Israeli guards just waved me through. Some security. I am ashamed that the 3+ billion dollars the U.S. ships Israel every year help maintain this system of harassment.
RAYS OF HOPE? So I called my Israeli friend, Gila, to ask her take on things. She and her partner, Judy, had just returned from a week in Cairo where Judy was working. "So, what do you think, Gila? Any chance of a break-through?" Gila is one of those intensely loyal Israelis who is as deeply committed to justice and peace and an end to the occupation as she is to her country. The essence of what Gila said is that because Netanyahu is from the right, because there is an environment favoring peace, he could, if he played his cards right, make a difference. But he's too afraid of losing support, he hasn't the confidence a Sharon had (who pulled out of Gaza - for good or ill - against strong opposition, lost a vote and started a new party), and he's afraid of disappointing his "daddy". If Tzipi Livni were prime minister, could she do it? Sadly, Gila said, in Israel, probably not. Before I leave, I hope to meet with with several young Israelis, not of Gila's persuasion, in Tel Aviv. I'll be interested to hear their take.
I also had lunch with E and Z, two Palestinians who, because of their position and experience, know more of what is going on than most I talk to. After an extended discussion, I concluded they were as cynical as I about the present "negotiations". Within the last couple days they said there had been a giant rally in Gaza featuring the "exterminate Israel" rhetoric. "When hope wanes for justice and peace, the extremists are strengthened; when rays of real hope appear, the extremists are weakened." I suspect some elements of the Israeli right rejoice at such rhetoric; it buttresses their position. What was clear from the conversation, however, is that there is a lot going on that we in the U.S. don't hear about. E commented that a recent statement by the World Bank to the effect that, from their perspective, Palestine is ready - or will soon be - to assume statehood provides significant support for the Palestinian cause. Both observed that the PNA (Palestinian National Authority) has made significant progress in eliminating corruption, strengthening security and building a reliable justice system. AND, they said, with obvious pleasure, that their negotiators were finally becoming as good as the Israelis!
Because this "peace" process, if that is what it is, is so complicated; because there are so many self-defeating human impediments to achieving the justice and peace that will serve both people, we all probably need to dig very deep to discover the hope that will make it possible.