Jenna Rubie – from our current Learning Community – offers a moving reflection on our time diving deep into the narrative and history of Palestinians in Israel and the West Bank.
Today we set out to immerse ourselves in the Palestinian narrative by exploring some of the realities for Palestinians living in the Israeli occupied West Bank, Palestine. Our guide for the day was Husam, a Muslim Palestinian man who was imprisoned for his activism against the occupation and his involvement in the first intifada who now works to educate people in non-violence and reconciliation practices concerning the Palestinian and Israeli conflict.
As we sat and listened to Husam share his personal story and the stories of his people, one phrase continued to rise to the surface of his explanations, “it’s complicated.” As we explored the historical and present day realities for Palestinians, the interweaving’s of pain, politics, and perceptions would prove just how complicated this narrative was.
Husam led us outside the old city walls of Jerusalem as we came to the remains of a Palestinian village called Lufta, which was destroyed in 1948 by Israeli soldiers who pushed Palestinians out of their community in order to gain access to their perceived promised land. As we climbed down the remains of old homes I felt a deep sadness and anger at the injustice against the people of Lufta and the many, many more Palestinians, who up until that point were living side by side, peacefully with their Jewish neighbors. I ached for their families who are now refugees, many of them still holding the keys to their homes in hopes of returning one day to claim their land and the life they once had. I wrestled with a small fraction of the pain they must feel as a people who, from their refugee camp look up to see a separation wall and Israeli settlements on all sides of them, a constant reminder that even the land upon which they are refugees isn’t their own.
As we continued to descend to what would have been the center gathering place of the village, my inner wrestling’s were interrupted by a beautiful sight. Fresh water was filling an old stone pool, and seeking to cool off from the hot sun, local Jewish and Muslim children were hard at play. At the center of a destroyed city, in the middle of deep inner questioning, was a moment of joy and shared life.
It hard for us as Westerners to fully understand a people whose nationality is “to be determined”, a people with no proof of any rights, a people completely without freedom in the land their ancestors have been living for centuries. It’s often complicated as we discuss how to bring justice to this people, how to take steps towards healing from the past and peace for the future, and quite honestly I often get overwhelmed just thinking about the hopelessness of these realities. But amidst the complexities of the Palestinian narrative I watched as children of different race and religion, who’s people and land are embedded in deep conflict, were playing peacefully together, not as Arabs and Jews but as humans. Instead of seeing their differences, they celebrated their shared humanity as fellow playmates near a source of cold water, and in so doing challenged us all to be human in the very place where people have been stripped of their humanity. In my confusion and anger, these children helped me understand, that while the complexities remain, until we are able to see each other as humans first, there is no hope for peace for this region.
My prayer is that we would be a people who recognize injustice around us and who replace the fears of the complexity with the human response of sharing life so that barriers, boundaries, and walls that stand between us may be brought down.