I was overjoyed to visit places I have always wanted to go. The Dead Sea, Qumran – where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, Jericho and the Tell, the Jordan Valley.
I’m a geologist at heart and by training. The thrill of driving down the limestone valley through the Judean Hills was incredible. ‘Anticline, syncline, anticline, syncline….’ Haven’t chanted that for a long time (it’s a rock-lover thing.)
I have now been to the lowest point on land. I didn’t mind that we didn’t have the chance to swim in the Dead Sea because it sounds like a quite painful experience but to see the valley and water, to feel the heat, to breathe the richly oxygenated air – I can now say ‘I’ve done that’.
But, the memories I will carry with me are the stories I have heard. One of these I heard today, I am not even sure I want to tell. But if there is one action that every person has asked of us is that we talk about what we have heard and seen. They’re right, or what is the point in being here.
Embrace partner with the Palestinian Bible Society and fund a project in Jericho. Project actually sounds too big a word, not to belittle the work, but it is 3 people running groups from rooms in a house, the Lazarus House. Christians Samia and Young, a husband and wife came to Jericho after being ejected from Gaza in 2006 when the siege began. They had left the province to renew their visas to stay and were never let back in.
Samia said: “I saw everything as black, but God was generous. I found myself asking where shall we go? What shall we do? Who shall we minister too?”
Who shall we minister to? That was her question. When all they had were the clothes on their back, when they were hearing that their friends and loved ones were being assassinated, they were still asking God to show them who they can serve. I won’t tell of all they do, but through the Palestinian Bible Society in Jericho they run a weekly youth group for 60-80 Muslim kids; a group for women, teaching them their rights, helping them with nutrition and giving them a place to find friendship; they’re working with the local young offenders institute training kids and staff about reconciliation. And loads more.
I talked to Samia after she gave a presentation to our group she told me this: “I pray every day, give us our daily bread, because that’s everything. If there is a mountain in our way, God makes it a valley.”
I have to be somewhat circumspect in how I talk about the next young woman I met and where. This is the one I am not sure to tell but she gave us permission. I’m scared for her and the people she loves. I‘m calling her B.
B lives in a Palestinian village in the Jordan Valley, technically part of Area C of the West Bank. The West Bank is part of the land given the Palestinians but remains under Israeli military control. The village B lives in is barely a village. I counted 20 buildings in various states of repair. It is surrounded by 2 settlements. The entire village is under a demolition order and just 2 weeks ago, four homes were demolished. There’s a school they’ve built themselves from mud. They use mud because it is plentiful, cheap, can be put up quickly and if it is torn down is easily rebuilt. There’s no water – they have to buy it in from Israel. They have no electricity apart from what they buy from Israel at inflated prices or what they can steal – although as there should be no Israelis on the land, they don’t necessarily see it as stealing. There is a lush date tree grove between the edge of the village and the main road that runs parallel to the Jordan River. It is on confiscated land – the trees belong to the settlers.
There were a few sheep, a couple of kids and so much hope my heart nearly burst.
B is educated, she travels to school and designs clothes. She has a higher degree. It’s worth noting here the gross misconception that Palestinians are uneducated. They aren’t. Literacy rates are incredibly high, which is testament to the resilience of the people all things considered.
B is part of a theatre group that teaches kids about non-violence and resistance. They act a play about the occupation, then get the audience to discuss the solution, then the audience have to join in and complete the play with the solution. Resistance through art.
B saw her friend killed. They were at a checkpoint and she heard a male IDF soldier ask a female one is she had the guts to kill a man. The female soldier shot B’s friend in the head. His crime? He was holding a coke can which they thought he would use to attack them. B says they didn’t even try to say it looked like anything other than what it was. they said they knew it was a can of coke.
B has been arrested twice and been imprisoned once. Actually, prison doesn’t describe it. She was held in solitary confinement in an underground chamber, 1m by 2m by 1m for one month then in a cell for 3 more months. Her crime – she didn’t know, she was never told.
B’s been married, 6 months. On their way to honeymoon in Jordan, a place they could legitimately travel, she and her new husband were detained for 8 hours. She was released but her husband was removed and jailed. His crime? She thinks, she doesn’t know because they haven’t been told, that he has been accused of throwing a stone – 2 years ago.
And what does B do about all this. She tells us about non-violent protest. She tells us about theatre, how they build schools (because even though they can, the Palestinian Authority won’t build them).
B tells us to get the message out – tell people the reality. She says:
“This isn’t about an occupation of the land. It is about an occupation of the mind. They want me to be scared and leave. I won’t.”