Monday, April 23, 2012

Bethlehem - Day 3

by Dave Urban

Today started with the incongruity of sitting in a totally German Lutheran church worshiping in Arabic. Christmas Lutheran Church was founded by the German Lutherans in the mid 1800s and in the late 1800's built the church. The stained glass (which is beautiful- and has survived both the 1967 war and two Intefadas) has German looking angels, Jesus and other biblical characters and verses in German. The only thing is the local congregation has painted some beautiful Arabic calligraphy in certain parts. I did  not take pictures of the inside, because I was coming to worship.

We hung out at coffee hour (sweet Arabic coffee in little mugs- definitely sipping stuff and VERY good) and talked to a bunch of folk. I got the impression that many folks had been there for generations. Once again the difference between a group of people tied to a place verses us Americans really stood out to me. Once again I heard stories of how Israel is making life difficult to travel, to repair stuff, to maintain a sense of living. I was also struck by the double minority status of these folks- Palestinian in a land in which Israel is working to get them out, and Christian in a Muslim community. Life on the street was a normal life- It is easy to tell the Muslim women from the Christian women, in that the Muslims wear headscarfs. The ratio of Muslim to Christians is easily 100:1 if not greater. 

Later that day we went to the farm of the Nassar family. They have started something called Tent of Nations- www. Basically they are Palestinian Christians who have owned a farm outside of Bethlehem since 1916. They evidently have title papers and ownership records going continuously back to that time. Over the last 20 years they have been fighting in the Israeli courts to keep there land, as it is in a zone called the "C" zone, which evidently is a zone where Israel is confiscating (or forced payment for) Palestinian land. The land is surrounded on 3 sides by subsidized Israeli settlements ( the ones the UN has declared illegal) and the Israeli government is trying to have the Nassars leave. They have offered money, taken them to court, cut of the road, water and electricity to the farm, and at one time had it surrounded by bulldozers and tanks. It was only because a Danish film crew happened to come by that kept the bulldozers from tearing it apart. This Tent of Nations has become a  place where people from all over (primarily Europe- I met a German guy who was with the German version of  Mennonite Central committee) come and offer help to maintain the land while these folk work through the court system. This is not an isolated case, but is one of a bunch of actions all over the place. The thing I was most struck by was Amal Nassar kept talking about how she was making this a place of peace, and her big desire was to work for peace. She had amazing stories of peaceful encounters with soldiers and settlers, 

Once again I am struck by the land ethic. We are not rooted to the land, and in some ways I wonder if the rootedness to the land is a millstone about their neck. But it seems that somebody has to be rooted to the land, otherwise it gets misused. Looking at the settlements, it is clear that the settlement builders do not think about natural resources and how to husband them. What they are building is ultimately unsustainable. Since what I do for a profession is land stewardship I think I understand in a way why they are so tied to the land. I also see that they really have nothing else, and no where else to go to. That to me is one of the issues between the Palestinians and the Israelis- they both want the same pieces of land, and they both cant have it.

Later on I eat dinner with another member of Christmas Lutheran (the Nassars are members) who it turns out is actually Armenian and has a Jordanian passport and lives currently in Amman.  We got talking about this land ethic, and he says that he does not have the same feelings, that they are more like the ones I know, he has owned land and sold it, and moved around over time. But he once again pointed out how the Isreali's are squeezing the Palestinians in so many ways that they are dying inside, and that the Palestinians are seeking to preserve themselves in any way they can, and if they are landholders who are being threatened with eviction, they will fight on that front.  Overall I think I am pretty depressed about the whole situation, and don't feel like there is anything that can be done. 

Amal Nassar told a story about how she is trying to work with the local Palestinian Village which lies at the bottom of the hill, because the women there are traditional , ill educated, Muslim women who only make babies and take care of the house. The rates of depression and suicide among these women is huge, and she has been working to get them to talk to each other,to get them some education and to meet the folks who come to the farm so that they can work out their frustrations at the untenable situations in a different manner. 

Jeannie from our group and I were talking while walking back to the guest house about trying to understand what the Isreali's want and if there is a solution to this issue. We understand that all is not clean on both sides of the fence, and that the Palestinians have done aweful things to the Isreali's. But we also understand that when you get down to this level, we are talking about people- who are real and not abstract, and bad things are happening to them. They all seem so glad that we have come to learn what they are going through. I don't know what else to do right now.
This is the photo that I will leave you with. This sits at the gate of the Nassar's farm, and is a testament to their faith and their understanding of what Jesus calls them to be. May I be half as  able to be this grace filled. 

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