Monday, May 18

Normal, like Everyone Else

It's hot today in Bethlehem; really hot. It's not even 9am and we're already dreading the afternoon heat. Things don't open in Bethlehem until around 10am or so, so running errands this early isn't an option. We decide to go out and visit some friends.

We stop by to visit Tarik and his wife, Yasmine. They have 3 children. As we pull up, Tarik comes out to greet us. "Where have you been?" This is the question you're asked whether it's been 2 days or 2 months since you've last seen him. "Remember, this is the house of your brother," he says to me, "come visit whenever you like." After having soda and tea with him and Yasmine inside the house, we're invited outside to see their fruit tree.

"Eat, eat," we're told. We don't know what kind of berries these are, but Tarik's father and mother are there eating, as well as several neighbors. We sit down in the shade of the tree. Tarik's father has been sitting here all morning and jumps right in with his insights into life. "The land will always be here. Look at what happened before, with the Herodian," he says, gesturing to the mountain a few kilometers away that's roughly 2,000 years old, named after the kind so famous for the construction he oversaw in this land. "Herod gave speeches from there, and he's gone, and all the soldiers and people that were with him. The British were here for years, and they're gone. The Ottomans too."

I tell him he's right; they are gone. "The land will always be here. Life is life. Whether you live in China, America, or here, you'll eventually die." A slighly grim observation considering it's not afternoon yet, but I hear him out. "Life is life. Look at this little guy," he says as he gestures to one of his grandsons, not yet 2 years old. "He'll be here, inshallah (God willing), long after I'm gone, but the land will be here even longer than him."

We sit and talk like this for a while, me waiting for Tarik's father to make some grand point, him enjoying the shade of the fruit tree. Finally, we decide that it's time to go.

"Thanks so much for having us," we tell them. As we stand to leave, Tarik's father tells me again, "Life is the same for everyone. Only the land stays here. It doesn't matter where you're from."

I wonder why he's so insistent on relaying this message..."Life is life." "The land will always be here." I'm not sure...

A few weeks ago we met with a group from Eastern Mennonite Seminary in Virginia. Aya, a Palestinian friend of ours, came with us. The group enjoyed having the chance to talk with her, and one of the questions they asked was, "What's one thing you wish people in North America could know about what's happening here?" Aya answered, "I want people to know that we're normal, like everyone else. I know that on TV and in movies Palestinians and Arabs are portrayed as violent or terrorists, but I want people to know that we enjoy life like everyone else, that we're mostly like everyone else."

"Life is life, the land will always be here," Tarik's father tells us.

"We're normal, like everyone else," says our neighbor Aya.

This is one of the things that we believe that allows us to keep advocating for peace here. The people that live here - Israelis and Palestinians, Jews, Christians, Muslims - are more alike than they even realize; when we see people walking with their children, eating in restaurants, visiting friends, we are reminded of the hope we have that instead of being treated as one of 'them', as a representative of the 'other', people here will be treated as fellow human beings, as fellow residents of the same place.

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