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.
“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.”
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.
“We all have a sun inside, we all have a light.” The idea of an inner light is reflected in “Beit Ashams,” the appropriately named yoga studio and community center which translates to “House of the Sun.” In episode three, listeners meet co-owner and yoga teacher Eilda Zaghmout, a Palestinian Christian who believes that strengthening the mind-body connection is essential for developing resilience and she pours this belief into her work.
On this episode, Eilda discusses the shadow of the occupation and how that affects a person. “When you live under constant trauma, you are disconnected from your body, from your emotions, and also your thoughts.”
On March 29, 2002, the Israeli military rolled into northern Bethlehem on a mission inside the occupied West Bank city. Two days prior, a suicide bomber killed 30 Israelis and injured 160 during a Passover Seder dinner nearly 100 kilometers away in the northern Israeli town of Netanya [Times of Israel]. Men fleeing the military invasion took refuge in the Church of the Nativity, joining 46 clergymen and 200 civilians sheltering in the church at the time. Amira, a Christian Palestinian from Bethlehem was in sixth grade when the scenes unfolded during the 40-day siege.
In episode three of Women behind the Wall podcast, Amira, now age 26, recalls how the violence and occupation impacted her daily life. The army incursions were not limited to the church or directed solely at armed militants but reached into her neighborhood and even her own house. At one point, soldiers came in the middle of the night going door-to-door and ordered all of the males, including the young boys, out of their homes, where they were to stay all night outside. Movement restrictions were imposed so strictly that she and other children were unable to go to school regularly during that period. Her mother worked as a nurse and would stay at the hospital for days at a time because, otherwise, she would not be able to get to work. “It wasn’t like a normal life,” Amira remembers.
Layali is an eleven-year-old girl who in many ways, sounds like a typical sixth-grader anywhere in the world. She likes painting, drawing, and swimming. However, as a Palestinian child from the West Bank, she has experienced life beyond her years and has grown up knowing she had limited rights compared to others. She expresses sadness about not being able to jump in the car and go to the ocean to swim as easily as Israelis or other common activities due to the occupation. “I can’t go to the zoo, and to the ocean, and to my aunt’s house.”
Layali’s experience, along with her mother’s, Hind, is featured on the first, full-length podcast episode of Women behind the Wall. Listeners are introduced to the mother and daughter who live in Bethlehem, and as a Christian Palestinian family, long for the situation on the ground to change. This episode introduces listeners to movement restrictions created by the system of checkpoints, walls, and permits for those in the West Bank and how that interrupts everyday life.
Research suggests that standard peace and security processes routinely overlook the inclusion of women, even though a growing body of analysis shows that higher levels of gender equality are associated with a lower propensity for conflict, both between and within states [Council on Foreign Relations, 10/2016]. With that in mind, the Women behind the Wall podcast not only highlights female voices from the Holy Land but is hosted and produced solely by women who live and work in Jerusalem. The podcast seeks to amplify minority voices and perspectives, especially women’s experiences in the private sphere as it is affected by the public sphere.
One of the most stunning things to me about living here is that despite the injustice, oppression, and hardship the people face, there is still so much life. Life goes on, in spite of the occupation. There is joy, and love, and laughter, and dance, and music, and celebration. And make no mistake about it: Palestinians know how to have a good time.
Last weekend, I was invited to come along with my host family to one of these celebrations: the baptism of the youngest member of the family, Zain. I have to admit, part of the reason I was so excited about this invitation was that many Greek Orthodox families still practice full immersion baptism of infants, something we Lutherans don’t do much of. My spirits were cowed only the slightest bit when I learned “just his hair” would be dipped.
I asked where this baptism would take place – in the Greek Orthodox Church in Beit Sahour, near where my host family lives? My host mom looked at me like I was a little crazy. “No,” she responded, “in the Church of the Nativity.” Her tone indicated that this was an obvious and totally unremarkable fact. In my head I thought, oh of course, just going to go baptize cousin Zain at the church that stands on the location of Jesus’ birth, no biggie.
This past Thursday, a few of the Jerusalem/West Bank Young Adults in Global Mission (JWB YAGM) and I were invited to gather at the Tent of Nations, a 100 acre farm just outside Bethlehem owned by the Nassar family. That night, the family received the 2017 World Methodist Peace Award, honoring their creativity, consistency, and courage in peacemaking and non-violent resistance.
The 100 acres of land that comprises the Tent of Nations farm was purchased by the Nassar family in 1916 and since then has been used to grow grapes, olives, almonds, and many other crops. The land remained in the Nassar family’s possession throughout the rule of the Ottomans, the British, and the Israelis. In 1991, however, the Israeli government declared the Nassar farm and the land surrounding it “Israeli State Land,” and began their efforts to confiscate the land. Since then, the family has continuously struggled to maintain possession of their familial land. (You can read more about their legal struggles here.) Today, the farm is surrounded by the Gush Etzion Settlement Bloc. You can see Israeli settlements from almost every vista on the farm. According to the Geneva Convention and the United Nations, these settlements were built in contradiction to international law.
Thank you for the work of individuals like Sara Aurorae and the energy they invest in sharing the lives of people living in challenging situations around the world. Please touch the hearts and minds of everyone who sees this documentary and encourage them to work towards justice and peace in their own lives and in the lives of others.
CMEP is very thankful for the writers who contribute Spiritual Resources. However, CMEP does not necessarily agree with all the positions of our writers, and they do not speak on CMEP’s behalf.