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June 19, 2011


Apparently, I allowed this entry to fall deep into the black hole of half-post-drafts. Never mind that I wrote most of it and made my cute little collages the week after I returned…in November. But better late than never, right? Right? [That should totally be my life motto at this point.] Journey back with me to the breezes of late fall, will you…

In mid-November, I took advantage of a week-long break thanks to Eid al-Adha to go “across the river” (i.e. to Israel/Palestine) with some friends. It was actually my second time over there, but the first was a whirlwind tour with a fairly large group several years ago. This time I got to travel in my preferred style–exploring at an easy pace with only the vaguest sense of agenda. I saw some of the sites, but much more selectively and with no formal guiding. Mostly I just wandered and ate my way through Jerusalem, talked to strangers, made use of my camera, and soaked in the sounds and smells. I also got to know some friends better, shared in lots of great conversations, and had a chance to breathe. Really breathe.

Still, my week ended up being one of complex emotions. If there’s one thing I can say about Jerusalem, it’s this: the city is an absolute jumble of cultures and faiths and contradictions. I felt like I was constantly wrestling with my reactions to everything I encountered. There was almost too much going on for me: I felt so gloriously free walking around in a relatively more Western, secular environment even as I bumped shoulders with religious pilgrims and Orthodox Jews; I chatted in Arabic with strangers on the street in the Old City but stayed on guard so I wouldn’t slip up and say “shukran kteer” instead of “toda rabbah” at the bagel shop in the New City. That was in its own way complicated–I am a firm believer in learning to say “thank you” in the native tongue of any country I visit, but in an area rife with tension and conflict, even the languages we choose to voice become a tiny way of staking ground.

In fact, amidst all our other conversations, I had a vigorous discussion with a friend about conflicting narratives, untold perspectives, and how we put our feelings about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into practice. In the end, we realized that we were coming from very different places…we hold the same views, but push in opposite directions because of what we’re used to resisting. It was kind of a fascinating revelation.

One major highlight of my trip was crossing over into Bethlehem for a day. Even though I came in at a relatively slow hour and there wasn’t too much of a crowd at the checkpoint, filing through the narrow, cage-like passageway only to be waved through without a second glance when I revealed my American passport–while the old Arab lady behind me got detained with a long, brusque questioning–was more than a little unsettling. (Let’s not even talk about how it took us a traumatic 9 hours to make a 40mi journey when crossing the border in the first place…)

Once we crossed over, we walked along the concrete, graffiti-covered wall (or “security fence“) separating the West Bank from Israel until we arrived at the nonprofit community center where we’d made an appointment to speak with one of the employees. He explained a bit about their work there before taking us on a tour of one of Bethlehem’s refugee camps. As we walked, he told us story after story of injustice colliding with hope–from his own life as well as from the lives of others in that community. And it was that hope lacing his voice, free of bitterness but full of yearning, that renewed my faith in the possibility of peace in this land…it’s the long and violent journey that might be required to bring us there that disturbs me.

Afterwards, one of my friends and I made the walk over to the Church of the Nativity, which we checked out ever-so-briefly before leaving. (I’ve been before, and it’s overall quite disappointing anyway.) But there was one, persistent thought that plagued me all day up to that point: I wish this was required for every tour group passing through Bethlehem. Because there are hundreds (thousands?) each year. And they slide in via tour bus, bypassing the checkpoint, oblivious to the story written into the wall–literally!–around them. I wish they were all required to take a break between souvenir shopping and shrine visiting to get a good, hard look at what surrounds them.

And then, I wish they’d hold that thought as they enter the church to pray. That as they kneel at the supposed birthplace of the Prince of Peace, they’d remember he came to “proclaim good news to the poor [and] freedom for the prisoners.” And not just the financially poor and physically imprisoned, but also the poor in spirit and prisoners to hate. That he came to reconcile…and not just us to God, but also us to one another.

In the end, there were so many little moments that colored my experiences as a whole, that drove me to think and pray about the conflict in/over this land even more than before. But there’s a reason this post isn’t going up until now, a good seven months after my visit–I came home feeling like I hadn’t yet digested them myself, and every time I came here to finish writing up this post, I couldn’t find the words. But then I realized recently that this post was still sitting here, unfinished. And that just seemed ridiculous. So here you go, imperfect words and all.

P.S. Oh, and I must admit…I didn’t exactly hate the easy access to amazing food that week, either. I took full advantage.

As always, photos got fuzzy when re-sized…click to enlarge/sharpen.


4 Comments leave one →
  1. June 20, 2011 12:08 am

    Asalamu Alaykom,

    I’m facing the same problem as you. This chunk of time for me is ending yet I have things left unsaid. I feel like if I leave them for once I’m “home” in the U.S. I will never find the right words for my unfinished entries. This could have something to do with Giza being “The Throat Chakrah of the World.” Whatever the case, I want to tie up loose ends …and hanging participles…before I go.

    I have a very good friend who was in Bethlehem during the last bombing. She was there on a peace-making trip. She too envisions a time of peace for people who are more simmilar than dissimilar. Inshahallah. If we all keep envisioning, praying and working towards it then it’s possible.

    I do want to tell you my favorite fact about the Church of the Nativity: there are differing factions who argued amongst themselves regarding the key. Who was going to hold the key to the church. They fought. Finally, they came up with a solution. It wouldn’t be that group or the other one; it would be the Muslim family next door. Yep, the Muslims hold the key to the Church of the Nativity. We rever Jesus, peace be upon him, so it really is us taking care of our holy site as well.

    I’m so glad you’ve had a chance to see more, do more and be more than if you would have stayed “home”. I keep putting that in quotes because there’s really no denying that you and I are citizens of the world.

    Keep the faith!

    • June 25, 2011 2:29 am

      Yeah, you so put into words what I’m feeling–wanting to tie up all the loose ends and hanging participles before I go. 🙂 Also, love your fun fact about the Church of the Nativity. Thanks for sharing! Grace and peace.

  2. July 2, 2011 8:13 am

    These are awesome.

    • July 2, 2011 9:39 am

      no they’re not!! they’re just snapshots. but thanks. 🙂

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