Sunday, November 7, 2010

A Day of Contrasts

After breakfast this (Sunday) morning, I left Jenin with three Sabeel colleagues from Boston for Zababdeh and the liturgy at St. Matthew's Anglican Church. Following Fadi Diab at St. Matthew's, Abuna Rahmoun and his wife, Mira (now nine months pregnant), have been in Zababdeh about three years. As before, the pews are full and the number of young people impressive. Nael (Rahmoun) told me there were 50 in the Sunday School and 14 in the junior high group. The liturgy was lovely, and Abuna and the congregation welcomed us warmly. Following the liturgy, we joined them for an olive harvest festival of their own featuring fresh virgin olive oil from Zababdeh farms.

What continues to impress me here is the graciousness of the Palestinian people. They are generous, kind and steadfast in the face of systemic oppression. Given any kind of relief from this dreadful occupation, I am convinced they will create a flourishing and peaceful state.

So having enjoyed three days of Palestinian hospitality, we drove from Zababdeh to Tel Aviv, which is where the contrast between the two societies became apparent. From Zababdeh to Nablus to Tappuah Junction, where we turned east on Rt. 5 toward the Mediterranean. I realized we would be passing the Ariel settlement but was totally unprepared for what I saw there. It's enormous, much like a medium-sized town with an industrial park a few kilometers distant. Stretching for many kilometers along a ridge, on land confiscated from the Palestinians, Ariel is green with plantings made possible only by water drawn from West Bank aquifers which Israel claims as its own. As we drove along a major route into Ariel (with its center green strip irrigated the entire distance) we came upon a prominent building named in honor of John Hagee whose funds undoubtedly provided for its construction. And as we turned in for a closer look, we discovered the road to the Center was similarly named. John Hagee and his Christian Zionist followers have been most generous to their Israeli friends.

As the sheer size of Ariel and the thousands of Israelis who live there sank in, I realized again how futile these "peace" negotiations seem to me. A continuing Israeli Ariel smack in the middle of the West Bank makes a Palestinian state damn near impossible. And the political possibility of any Israeli Prime Minister removing those residents seems equally remote. For years Israel has been creating "facts on the ground" as the international community stood mutely by. Continuing talk of a two state solution - at least one which envisions a viable Palestinian state - seems based on a healthy quotient of denial.

Continuing on Rt. 5 from Ariel, we came to an Israeli checkpoint which turned out to be anything but routine. Although we were driving a car with a yellow Israeli license plate, the fact that we spoke no Hebrew, came from the West Bank and were driving a Palestinian rental car made us suspect. Passports now in the hands of the soldiers, we were told to drive "over there," open all the car doors, trunk and hood. "Now take all your luggage out of the car to the building where it will be examined." "Why were you in the West Bank?" "Because we have friends there." "There is a book and a plate in your bag; take it out and show it to me." "Take the lens off your camera." This was a very thorough security check. And of course my bionic hips made the screening machine sound repeatedly. My explanation would not do, nor would a wanding suffice. "Why did you have your hips replaced?" "Because I'm an old guy, and they gave out." "Both of them?" "Yes, both of them." "Show me." "Sure." So there I was displaying my scarred hips and butt to two Israeli soldiers. When we were finally cleared and told to repack our car (they declined our request to help with the bags), I asked if I could take their pictures. To no one's surprise, this request was denied as well.

On reflection, we realized we were not stopped entering or leaving Ariel. If we had meant harm to Israelis, Ariel would surely have been an easy target.

Based on the Israeli assumption that Palestinians in general are a threat, and those in the northern part of the West Bank particularly so, it's reasonable that those who travel among them and then want to enter Israel are given careful scrutiny. Fair enough. What is unreasonable is for Israel to confiscate the Palestinian's land, steal their water (and then sell it back to them an inflated prices), demolish their homes, limit their travel, restrict their economy and then label the entire Palestinian population terrorists and declare the occupation justified on the grounds of "security". The many forms of enforced separation which guarantee that Israelis will never get to know their neighbors feed a paranoia which, finally, will undermine the Israel they are so determined to defend.

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