As a child growing up in the Roman Catholic tradition, I was always excited to see my parents bring out the Advent wreath and place it in the center of our dinner table. With its arrival, I knew that Christmas was coming soon. Set with four candles, three purple and one pink, to be lit in a particular order, one for each Sunday leading up to Christmas, I understood that the Advent Season is a special time of waiting and preparing for the coming birth of Jesus in Bethlehem on Christmas Day.
My parents made sure I also understood that Christian families around the world were gathering in their homes, just like my family, to light candles on their Advent wreaths and read the same Scripture passages about hope, peace, joy, and love. The spirit of unity and solidarity made a deep impression on my heart.
Noor Society is a group of mothers of children with developmental disabilities advocating for each other and their children in Aida Camp, a refugee camp of over 5,000 people started in 1948 after the Nakba. To raise money for the care of their children, the women of Noor offer tourists homestays, teach cooking classes, and have a small gift shop. Noor is just nine years old, but its founders and volunteers have seen a dramatic increase of children with developmental disabilities over the past 15 years, from 15 or 20 in the mid-2000s to over 300 children now.
Multiple mothers at Noor told me that when pregnant women are exposed to tear gas, their children are significantly more likely to have disabilities. I have yet to find a scientific study that shows this, but it has been noted that little to no research on tear gas considers its long term effects. A recent study by UC-Berkeley interviewed over 200 hundred residents of Aida Camp and found that 100% of them were exposed to tear gas in the past year. In fact, Aida Camp has been declared the “tear gas capital of the world,” so it isn’t surprising that some of its residents would be noticing the long term effects of tear gas.
Dear CMEP friends and family,
“Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.” Romans 14:19
Last night, like many of you and millions of people in the US and around the world, I watched as results streamed-in for the 2020 US Presidential Election. As we await the final official results, the question that is certain to emerge is: Where do we go from here? Will the nation be able to come together despite such deep partisan divides? While many questions remain, we at Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) want to make clear that regardless of who is in the White House or Congress, we are committed to working for peace and justice for all in the Middle East.
While uncertainty and divisions remain in the country, we pray for leaders from both sides of the aisle to work together to ensure there is a peaceful outcome–whether that be a transfer of power or a second term for the President. Our hope, whomever is in the highest office in our nation, is that the U.S. government and the Administration will play a constructive role in the Middle East. Our prayer? That U.S. Middle East foreign policy would be based on principles of equality, liberty, and human rights for all people.
“Can we take a moment to realize where we are and appreciate how we got here?”
At the end of my question the eight of us quietly split, each finding a spot to reflect. Peering through the dark, I notice a place at the base of a nearby dune and amble over to it, feeling my feet displace the sand beneath them with each step. Here, at the base of the dune, I remind myself of where I am– on top of a phenomenally massive mound of sand, at night, in the middle of Oman. As I stand, I hear grains of sand blow along the surface of the dune, carried by the cool nighttime breeze, and I wonder if ripples are forming around my feet. Am I becoming part of the desert? Read more
My recent vacation travels took me to northern England, where a friend and I walked a substantial portion of the route of Hadrian’s Wall, and then on to Berlin, where the Berlin Wall lives on – in spite of having been torn down 30 years ago. Both experiences awakened memories of the time I spent in Palestine, looking at the “Separation Barrier” from a number of different perspectives, passing through its numerous checkpoints and monitoring those same checkpoints as a human rights observer.
The Roman Emperor Hadrian ordered his soldiers to build a wall, intended to keep the “marauding barbarians” from the north from invading Roman-occupied Britain in the south. Construction on the Wall was begun in 122 AD, and it was completed some seven years later. It stretches just over 70 miles (we walked about 50 of those miles on our week’s visit!), and was a masterpiece of engineering. Parts of the Wall were as high as 20 feet (including ramparts) and the route also included lookout towers (every 1/3 mile), mile castles (every mile!) and Roman forts (about every five miles). Read more
Have you ever walked into a place and immediately became aware of its sacredness? I remember standing outside Seville Cathedral in Spain a year ago; it was nine in the morning and I was waiting to enter the doors amongst a mass of people. The city was alive and buzzing around me as I stood. Thanks to a little luck and good planning, I was able to be one of the first people into the cathedral. The second I walked through the doors I could think, breathe, and be. My face turned towards the heavens, following the sound of my footfalls as they echoed up into the highest arches. I could smell the remnants of incense that had been carried through the grand halls, welcoming the Divine to this place. At this moment I understood why these places are called sanctuaries. I understood the desire to be shielded from the world in its strong walls, surrounded by reminders of the holy.
Yet, sanctuary, this sacred and peaceful word comes with baggage. It implies that these holy places are confined, restricted, and separate. I think this does a disservice to both our world and its Creator. I believe that holy spaces surround us… Read more
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
“I finally understand the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.” – Mother Theresa
This is the hardest it has ever been for me to board a plane. I usually run towards the metal bird, eager to begin my journey, but this time my feet drag, slowed by the tear my heart furthered with every step… Step. Remember the bustling souq. Step. Remember the warmth of the hugs from Mom and Dad and Bubba. Step. Remember the depth of the conversations I had here. Step. Remember the laughter of friends in the States. Step. Remember the spontaneity of life in the Middle East. Step. Remember the joys of going to school at Calvin. Step. Remember the amazing smells of spices, incense, and perfumes. Step. Remember vegetables? Step. Remember the sheer class of the abaya and dishdasha. Step. Remember the comfort of jeans. Step. Remember the ways this place helped you grow. Step. Remember that learning is not limited to places or spaces; now it’s your turn to share what you learned with others. Step.
Our classroom is hot. It’s hard to focus. We’ve begun to notice the increasing temperatures outside that hint at the impending heat of summer. Our professor, Ustaadha Latifa, senses our drifting thoughts and makes her way across the whitewashed room and to the window. Her black abaya sways with each step, creating the illusion of floating, which, when paired with her petite frame, is easy to believe. She unlocks the window and allows fresh air into the room. As the breeze flows in, it brings with it the distant sound of the call for prayer, a welcome melody that has been too far from my hearing for too long. I close my eyes for a brief moment and simply listen. I feel the air involuntarily leave my lungs in a satisfied exhale, the kind that only happens in moments of deep contentment. This moment, hearing the call for prayer for the first time since I moved to Ibri, reminds me of our group’s week of prayer back in Muscat…
The sound of devoted believers raises me to consciousness. I don’t have to open my eyes to know it’s 5:30 am and dark outside. I am informed of these facts simply by listening to both my internal clock and the calls for prayer echoing throughout the city. What would it be like to be one of the devoted who wake up every day before 5:30 and make their way to the mosque; those who turn towards Mecca again at mid-morning, noon, mid-day, and sunset? Read more