Although I’ve crossed through Checkpoint 300 many times by now, this is my first time doing it alone. It’s easier, still, to travel in groups. Friends provide emotional support amid the stress of a military checkpoint. At least this time I’m crossing into the West Bank; I shouldn’t have to interact with any Israeli soldiers on my way, since entry into the West Bank is not strictly controlled as entry into Israel is. All I have to do is navigate the winding path through the cement and metal halls.
As I turn the first corner into the checkpoint, following behind a young woman carrying her sleeping toddler in her arms, I’m briefly startled to see a man kneeling face down on the ground. He’s facing away from me, towards the thick metal fencing that encloses us. As he sits back on his heels, I hear him murmur in Arabic, and I realize he is praying. Praying, here, of all places. Read more
A series of vignettes on my experiences at Israeli checkpoints.
Genna and I sit next to each other on the bus. It’s a Friday morning, meaning many Palestinians will be traveling into Jerusalem to pray. Genna and I opted to take the bus through the Tunnels Checkpoint today rather than walking through Checkpoint 300 because of this. We know Checkpoint 300 will be busy, and because of our blue passports we are able to choose the easier route into Israel proper from the West Bank. My host family and hers both are supportive of this choice, although they were not shy about reminding us that this is not a choice they have.
The weight of my privilege, which allows me to travel into and out of Jerusalem whenever I choose, only grows as the bus approaches the checkpoint and pulls up onto the sidewalk. Wordlessly, the younger Palestinians on the bus (those under 60 or so,) stand and exit the bus. Rain or shine, they stand in a line outside the bus to have their papers checked by Israeli soldiers who are likely no more than 19. Genna and I, with our foreign passports, are allowed to stay on the bus with the elderly. Read more
In the Passover Haggadah — a kind of “roadmap” through the Passover story recited at the Seder meal — there is a handwashing ritual at the beginning before the eating of the saltwater-laden greens and the matzah, often referred to as the “bread of affliction.”
At this year’s Seder table, that ritual hand washing will certainly take on new meaning: In this time of pandemic, the entire world now sees such a quotidian act as one that can literally save lives. But even before this year, the act of pouring water over your neighbor’s hands has always been very meaningful to me. Like many of the small acts and Haggadah recitations performed during the Seder, the handwashing ritual reminds me of why this Jewish tradition is the one I find most meaningful. Whether it’s the caring intimacy of washing another’s hands or the reminder that — as the water trickles into the bowl on our bountifully-laden table — limited access to clean water has lead to death in places like Gaza or Flint, on this one night I will be ritually connected with a community that shares my values and vision of the future. Read more
Two weeks ago, the Christian community in the Jerusalem and Bethlehem area gathered together for the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Services were held at many of the different denominations’ churches, including at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Jerusalem. The Jerusalem/West Bank Young Adults in Global Mission (JWB YAGMs) helped to lead the service, in our debut as the “Young Adults in Global Mission Choir.”
Now, to be completely honest, I haven’t thought a whole lot about “Christian Unity” before coming here and serving as a part of YAGM. Before this year, my focus was decidedly more interfaith than ecumenical. As the vice president of the interfaith council at Vanderbilt University, I worked hard to foster dialogue between people of all sorts of different religious and ethical persuasions. My interest in intra-Christian relations, however, extended about as far as my education at a Catholic school and basic understanding of Catholicism. Read more
You might not believe it, since the image of the Middle East most people have in their heads involves sweltering heat and rolling sand, but it gets quite cold here. Not as cold, perhaps, as the -66 windchill the Midwestern United States is experiencing right now, but cold enough. With houses designed to draw heat out during the summer and no indoor heating, the temperature is often the same chilly 50 degrees inside that it is outside, if not cooler.
We’ve entered what Palestinians call “al-muraba’ia,” “the forty days,” the coldest days of the year. Thunderstorms blow in from the Mediterranean, dumping rain and sleet and hail on the hills of Jerusalem before pacifying in the Jordan River Valley. Wind sneaks in through the windows, making candles and electricity alike flicker. From Christmas until the middle of February, we will wear extra layers and huddle around space heaters for warmth, piling thick fleece blankets on our beds. Then, the warmth will return, spring will break out, and we will move on.
It seems particularly fitting that these days number forty, and that they are coming now, of all times. Read more
This is the final entry in our Advent 2019 devotional series. For the four Sundays of Advent and Christmas Day, we released Advent reflections from voices in the Holy Land. Catch up now: Advent I: Hope, Advent II: Peace, Advent III: Joy, and Advent IV: Love.
Christ is Born
As the Christmas season winds to a close my thoughts on my experiences here are finally beginning to settle. Christmas in the Holy Land, especially in the Bethlehem area, is an incredibly busy time, full of old traditions and new. Over the past month, I’ve attended countless parties, decorated Christmas trees, taken pictures with Santa, eaten chestnuts roasted on an open fire (or in a toaster oven) while sipping red wine, gone to parades, and, of course, worshiped at numerous local churches.
I’ve lost count of the number of times that people have exclaimed to me about how amazing it must be to be spending Christmas in Bethlehem. And there are parts of it that certainly have been amazing, though definitely not what I expected. In many ways, I was surprised at how familiar Christmas was here. Read more
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Born and raised in a Muslim family in Galilee, Hanan was 23 years old when she converted to Christianity. In this episode of the Women behind the Wall podcast, listeners get an inside look into the life of a religious convert, and the conversations that happen behind closed doors among family members after this type of cultural taboo becomes known. Religion is more than a belief here, it dictates one’s social interactions, and Hanan embraces that her family name and background is Islamic. “It is not something that I can run from, or delete from my life, and I don’t want [to].” Read more
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After the 1948 war, what Israel calls the war of independence and what Palestinians called the “Nakba,” or catastrophe, some Palestinians remained in their towns and villages inside the newly established State of Israel. Before the 1967 war, Israel gave this particular group of Palestinians Israeli citizenship, and the state officially refers to them as Israeli Arabs. However, many of them reject this term and refer to themselves as Palestinian-Israelis or Palestinians of ‘48, among other terms. Today, there are about two million Palestinians in Israel who hold Israeli citizenship. Some of them are Christian; the vast majority are Muslim. In episode seven of the Women behind the Wall podcast, listeners hear from Shireen, a Palestinian woman from the Galilee with Israeli citizenship who belongs to the minority community of Christians. She shares about her marriage to a West Banker, her reflections on identity, and the conflict. Read more
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“Supporting Israel was actually considered a very social-justice-oriented thing. However, I did not grow up with a great knowledge of the Palestinians.” In the sixth episode of Women behind the Wall, listeners hear from Heather, an American-Israeli who now works on social justice and human rights issues with Palestinian women in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. She explains how her religious upbringing shaped her involvement today.
Heather grew up in North Carolina in a Christian family with Jewish heritage that she considered to be pro-Israel that also focused on social justice. Her first trip to the Holy Land was when she was 16 years old, at the beginning of the Second Intifada, or “uprising” which was a period of intensified Israeli and Palestinian violence. While visiting a family who lived in a settlement, she recalls seeing the building tension but recognized not knowing the context, thinking, “There is more to this that I am not understanding.” Read more
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Some may refer to the wall Israel built as a security fence, but when it segregates people from each other, there is no way to describe it other than by separation; a physical barrier to families, an impediment to freedom of movement. In episode five of Women behind the Wall podcast, listeners are introduced to some of the legal status issues facing Palestinians in East Jerusalem and those in the West Bank. Sara is a Christian Jerusalemite Palestinian with an Israeli identification card and residency status. Her family house ended up 10 meters from the route of the separation wall but was excluded from its previous designation in Jerusalem. So while she has a Jerusalem ID, her children, all of whom were born in Jerusalem, were not granted the ID cards at birth. Read more