Tuesday, March 17

People make Peace, Not Nations

We just had a learning tour here from Alberta, Canada. Our group ranged in age from 18-68, and came from all over Alberta. They were able to spend almost two weeks here visiting Israel/Palestine. While here they met with Muslims, Christians, and Jews; Israelis and Palestinians; those who want peace and those who don't; people who can't move freely from place to place to visit friends and family, who live in fear of violence on a daily basis; we learned about Muslim-Christian relations, met with former soldiers and those willing to carry out violence who now agree that talking to each other is the only way forward, and heard stories from people who have lost family members to violence but still believe that talking to each other is a better way than repaying the 'enemy'. We walked in places where Jesus, David, and Abraham walked, and saw how some of the people who call this place home are unable to do so because of what is written in their identity card...

One of these places is Hebron, the 'City of the Patriarchs'. It is in Hebron that Abraham, the first Jew, bought the first piece of land to be owned by a Jew in this region. It holds special significance for the Jewish community here. It also holds special significance for the Muslim community. Hebron is home to about 120,000 Palestinians; at the same time, roughly 500 Jewish citizens of Israel live there. The Israeli military has set up checkpoints throughout Hebron and limited the movement of its non-Jewish residents. The division in the city is a kind of shrunk-down version of the conflict here, a microcosm of what the Palestinians see as occupation and what some Israeli Jews see as necessary security measures.

In Hebron there is a building that as once a mosque; now, it is both a mosque and a synagogue, the building having been divided between the Muslim and Jewish worshippers. While visiting Hebron on our tour, we visited this building. On our way into the mosque we had to go through three separate Israeli checkpoints.

Empty your pockets.

Take off your belt.

Where are you from?

What's in your bag?

You're Christians? Muslims? Not Jews.

On the way into the mosque each Muslim visitor must go through the same process, often more difficult for them considering the fact that they're not part of a group of Westerners with foreign passports. As we entered the mosque, the women were given shawls to use to cover their heads; everyone removed their shoes, something done by all worshippers and visitors to the mosque out of respect.
This is the same mosque where, in 1994, a right-wing member of an extreme Zionist political movement opened fire and killed 30 Muslim worshippers. It's a very politically charged place, where your religion matters, how you dress matters, which language you speak matters. Everything carries a message heard loudly by the local communities.

As we entered the prayer hall of the mosque, on the Muslim side of the building (we visited the synagogue afterwards), there was a group of Israeli soldiers standing there. They were beginning their military service and were dressed accordingly: military green uniforms, escorted by two armed guards. One thing that stood out was the fact that they were all wearing their boots; visitors must remove their shoes, but as part of their orientation to the city they would be patrolling, they were entering the mosque not as visitors, but as part of a military. There was a Palestinian Muslim man there who was laying down a mat specifically for the soldiers to walk on. Their orientation was in Hebrew, and while their guide was speaking there was a Muslim guide in the next room giving a lesson in Arabic. And then I noticed something interesting...

One of the soldiers had his camera with him; here we were, a group of tourists, and I felt like we stood out. Yet here was an Israeli soldier, escorted by other soldiers who had brought their weapons in with them, boots on, trying to snap a photo of what for him was a new experience: a lesson on Islam, kind of 'Sunday school' for Muslims. As he leaned over to get his shot, his friend quickly cautioned him, "Careful, careful. Don't step on the carpet." "I know, I know," he shot back. Absent was a sense of arrogance, a sense of, "I'm part of this group and can do what I want, and besides, I'll only have one foot off the mat." This Israeli soldier was willing to be respectful of the place he was in, respectful of the customs and traditions of the Muslim mosque, run by Palestinians, he was visiting. As part of a group, he's one of many bringing weapons into a sanctuary, disrespectfully having his shoes on so that special arrangements have to be made for the group he is with to move through the mosque. At the same time, as an individual, he's respectful of the fact that shoes should be off, respectful of the Palestinian Muslims around him.

How desparately there is a need in this place for us living here to stop being part of groups; how significant the fact that we as people still have the capacity to see each other as people, not only as 'them' or 'us'. Continue to pray that those living here will see the humanness of their neighbors, whether they worship in synagogues, churches or mosques, regardless of what language they speak, where they are born, or how they dress. The groups people here are divided into will never make peace with each other; the individuals who make up those groups are the ones that will one day say 'Enough!' and decide that the price of peace is less costly that continuing to live lives of violence and the misuse of power.

1 comment:

Elli said...

What do you think of the American organization "Brit Tzedek v Shalom"?