I am in Palestine with the Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) this year from Christmas until the beginning of Lent. By the time you read this, you will be observing the Lenten season. Being in this place at this time of year when we follow Jesus’ footsteps through his life has given rise to some thoughts. First we think of Jesus’ life journey, of the decisions he made, of how he confronted the situation of human violence and alienation, and of how through him we are reconciled to God. Then we are led to think of our own life journey as we seek to follow him. Then we may think of our part in the whole human story, and especially, for someone in Palestine, of the faith journey of the three Abrahamic communities. Jews, Christians, and Muslims share a story, recorded in the Bible and the Qur’an, which has been a source of blessing, but which has also included much violence. We need to learn how to deal with this.
I enjoy being in Hebron, where the CPT team is based. I like greeting people and being greeted by them, meeting old friends and making new ones. This is a beautiful old city and it is good to be part of the life here. But there is a darker side to life here. There are the ongoing hardships of living under the Israeli occupation. These have been intensified by the economic boycott imposed by western governments, including that of Canada, because they disapproved of the choices the Palestinian people made in a democratic election last January. Schools and hospitals struggle to survive, and economic life is affected. There is an atmosphere of discouragement and sometimes even of despair. Both Palestinians and Israelis have suffered from violence.
However, even in the midst of discouragement, one sees signs of hope. On Dec. 26 we received a call from the Israeli Committee against Home Demolitions informing us that the Israeli military was demolishing grape vines in the rural community of Umm Salamuna near Hebron. We set out right away but when we arrived the soldiers had left. They had destroyed fifty vines but when local people and outsiders stood in the way, they left and said they would return to continue the destruction. This is part of an ongoing plan to confiscate Palestinian land near the Jewish settlement of Efrat. The Israeli High Court has confirmed that this is Palestinian land, but now the army says it needs it for the wall and for a road to be used by Jewish settlers only. An appeal before the High Court was scheduled to be heard Jan. 14 and it appears that the army wants to remove evidence of Palestinian agriculture before the appeal date. This is part of the ongoing, and terribly depressing, story here but, as so often happens, there was much to inspire us. We were a band of Israeli Jews, internationals and Palestinians waiting in a fields in case the soldiers returned. The local farmers greeted us warmly and provided us with a fire in the field. The olive trees and grape vines, both of which soldiers and settlers are destroying, are their only source of livelihood, and both take years to grow before they can produce a harvest, but they showed a cheerful resolve as we enjoyed one another’s company. A lovely French family joined us. The daughter is with Medecins sans Frontieres and her parents are visiting her on their holidays. The mother said of the farmers, “Ils souffrent.” I said, “Oui, ils souffrents mais ils sont forts.” She replied, “Oui, ils sont forts.” – They are strong.
Rev. Bill Baldwin, a priest living in Ottawa, is a member of the Christian Peacemaker Teams, an ecumenical initiative to support violence reduction efforts around the world.