I have now been home for several months, minus a 3-week trip to Europe including a 14-day Baltic Cruise. I still do not feel like I've returned to any kind of normalcy. What is normal about what I have witnessed? How can I re-enter when I've experienced the things I have and still cannot make sense of them. The two weeks on a luxury cruise line was wonderful, but I felt incredibly indulgent, decadent, and relaxed. Too relaxed. I admit to enjoying every moment, and having Jim keep me away from email and text messages helped me start clearing away some of the intertwining webs that had been criss-crossing my brain from my experiences in the villages on the outskirts of Bethlehem. I can tell you that I feel so blessed--so humbled to have been able to be in Palestine for 3 months, and so overjoyed to be home.
Part of the vacation was spent making contact with my Bethlehem teammate Hannah in London. I was extremely glad to hear that she is struggling as I with reentry. It was reassuring to me, but disconcerting to both of us. I also met up with Jorma in Helsinki who was still gratefully on sabbatical and was also grappling with the enormity of our experiences. The de-briefing was helpful.
I return to the United States, the easiest place on earth to live. Easy because we can flip switches and get results. Open your tap and unlimited water flows. We can pull up to the gas pumps and get gasoline at a reasonable price in comparison to the rest of the world. We can drive on all roads, although we may have to pay toll on some of them. We do have the choice to pay the toll or not, but we can still reach our destination. For the most part our highways are paved and in reasonable shape, although as our local governments have fewer resources we do notice more potholes. We can post a letter one day and for the most part be guaranteed it will be delivered if not tomorrow then the next day. We can go to the grocery store and load up our carts and haul away all we can put in the trunks of our car instead of carrying it home, or if living in places like New York City, your groceries will be delivered to your door steps, or can be ordered on line. We can dine out under the stars in almost any restaurant not having to worry about curfews or rockets being launched at us. I seldom carry ID and I don't need a special pass to get to work, nor do I have to pass through metal detectors unless I am at the airport.
I was recently browsing through my Facebook contacts, looking at the faces of my classmates from Ballard High from the class of 1965. Some haven't changed. Some have gained weight. Some have lost weight. All look young--much younger at 65 than any 50 year old woman in Palestine. Our life is easy while their life is so much harder and it is evident with every line, wrinkle, and sag. For the most part they are hunched over from years of hard work lifting and carrying, preparing fires for their bread, washing clothing by hand, scrubbing floors and keeping homes spotless. The hours spent in the fields or tending sheep, milking the goats and sheep, making cheese, and plowing have left their skin weathered and old. Their eyes are sparkling and there is something earthy and human about the smiles and laughter. But they are physically years older than we are.
As I speak to groups I can see in their eyes that they can't possibly understand what I saw. There are not enough words to describe everything. I have been verbally scorned for taking sides, although I can tell you honestly that I understand the Israeli point of view much better now, and I have more difficulty trying to figure out exactly what is what. Where is the truth? I only know what I saw and heard. And that was enough to tell anyone that being occupied is extremely difficult. This occupation has robbed people of their human dignity. It has attempted to deaden the soul. The goal is ethnic cleansing. We can say that the Israelis are justified because all along, from the 1880's forward, they believed they were being promised a Jewish state where all Jewish people could live in harmony and peace.; a theocracy where Judaic law would prevail, and where all would be from the same branch. Instead they inherited a land well populated by Moslems and Christians. You cannot expect them to permit a Moslem or Christian to vote for the leaders of the Jewish nation, can you? So they have been carrying out ethnic cleansing for many years, and this will continue. It continues because we are silent.
Our silence happens because our nation is joined with Israel in a partnership. They are two powerful nations who need each other and who support one another. We give Israel lots of support building their army, in think tanks developing science fiction weaponry, and in assisting Israel in the building of Israeli only roads. Israel through fund raising activities here and abroad funds our politicians. Every senator is virtually bought by the Jewish lobby who will insure their re-election or the election of their successor depending on where they put their vote.
Israel funded the formation of Hamas. It didn't turn out the way expected, but in some ways it was more successful because the beliefs and actions of Hamas keep the world believing that Israel is the victim of the terrorist Hamas organization. When we view Israel as the victim, they do not have to be held accountable for their actions. They do not have to take responsibility for robbing the Palestinians of their sources of water, polluting their most fertile farmland, taking their sheep, taking their land, arresting their teenaged children in the middle of the night, poisoning the grass the sheep graze on, beating up farmers, shooting them, and then stealing their crops and livestock, digging up the olive trees, razing crops and then planting their own. As of a week ago Palestinians can no longer bring law suits in Israeli courts. This means that whenever the Women in Green go in and dig up olive trees and re-plant the land with their crops there is no recourse for the Palestinian. If the Palestinian land owner then goes back onto his land to tear out the newly planted Settler's crops to replant olive trees the military will stop them. They used to be able to seek justice in court, but this has now been taken away as a place to resolve issues.
What can we do? We can ask Secretary of State Clinton to reject the Levy Report and to press Israel to reject this report which states that Israel is not an "occupier." If Israel accepts this report it is carte blanche to take all of the land in what is known by them as Judea and Samaria, and what we know as the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and to move all of the Palestinians out.
We can follow web sites like Mondoweiss and the Electronic Intifada, sign petitions like the one Sydney Levy of the Jewish Voice for Peace just delivered to the Romney Campaign asking for an apology for the disparaging comments made about the nature of Palestinians. Yes, a Jewish voice trying to make our politicians accountable to the Palestinian people. Bravo, Mr. Levy!!
Read books like Mark Braverman's Fatal Embrace: Christians, Jews, and the Search for Peace in the Holy Land, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine by Ilan Pappe, The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East by Sandy Tolan, Palestine Peace Not Apartheid, by Jimmy Carter.
I'm back, I'm adjusting to this wonderful life, and I have been blessed with an abundance of riches in experiences, in having a supportive family, and in life in general.