Friday, April 12, 2013

Conversation in Jean's Kitchen

I actually had a bit of a hard time locating Jean's home in Ramallah, "just across from the Palestinian Legislative Council" (street and # addresses are useless in Palestine).  Just across from what side? She finally made a visual sighting and guided me in.

Hospitality is part of every Palestinian's DNA, but Jean got a double dose. Check out the homemade hummus with pita warmed as it should be on an open burner, fresh French press coffee topped off with sweet delicacies.

Jean is the clerk of the Ramallah Friends Meeting which has a 150 year old history and a ministry as the Friends International Center in Ramallah. She has been a persistent voice for justice and peace for an entire lifetime. Her nonviolent resistance to the Occupation of her people and land is movingly described in her 2008 publication, Occupied with Nonviolence: A Palestinian Woman Speaks.

We talked of many things, mostly revisiting earlier conversations (suggesting that not much has changed since we last talked). Jean had written a powerful letter supporting last fall's call by 15 religious leaders for Congressional hearings to determine Israel's conformity to a U.S. law denying military assistance to any country with repeated human rights violations. We both lamented my (TEC) Presiding Bishop's refusal to add her signature to the courageous 15 - as well as Congress' indifference.

But I understood something new (though obvious now that she described it) from our conversation which seems terribly important. The structure of Palestinian culture has always been anchored in the family. Parents invested heavily in their children - educating them (always a high priority among Palestinians), launching them vocationally, supporting them (often with a new home) when they married. As a result, bonding among Palestinian families has been and still is very strong. Jean and her husband sent one son to ITT (Chicago) to the tune of 50,000 a year. Another son went to Earlham College and was then supported for a Masters degree at Harvard. In return parents expect to be cared for as they age and are unable to support themselves any longer. Remember, there is no Social Security or Medicare available for these people. What Jean pointed out is the slow but significant erosion of that family culture as a result of the Occupation. Employment opportunities are slim in an economy shackled by Israeli controls, and young people make painful decisions to leave their homeland and their families to make a life of their own - often in the U.S., Europe, another Arab country. Even when they remain in the West Bank, walls, checkpoints, permits, and closures limit their ability to visit and support each other. Jean could certainly have left Ramallah and lived with one of her adult children. But she felt it important to remain and not allow the Israelis to drive her out.

Many younger Palestinians still make the decision to remain here, and some return when their parents need them.  I'll be writing about Mo and Elena, Lydia, Hanna, Estephan and Laurie who have or are making decisions based on the needs of their parents. But increasingly, elderly parents are left alone with no health insurance, no pension and, probably hardest of all, missing the comfort only family provides.
The Israeli Occupation of the Palestinian people is devastating, in ways we (observers) don't even recognize.  

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