Living in the Shadow of the Wall
by Angleena Keizer, Mission Partner to the Holy Land, Methodist Liaison Office, Jerusalem
I have lived in the holy land for the last five years. While my office is in east Jerusalem my home is in Beit Jala a suburb of Bethlehem. Along with my colleague Samar, we are involved in various projects in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza.
During my time here I have witnessed so many human rights denied to Palestinians. The taking of land for illegal Israeli settlements to be built upon, house demolitions, olive trees uprooted, arrests, and ultimately deaths. I have personally nearly been run over by an Israeli settler in a 4 x 4 while olive picking in the north of the West Bank, alongside Rabbis For Human Rights. Within five minutes the Israeli military army had arrived and the young owner of the land was informed by the army that his land was now declared Area C, under both Israeli military and civil control. He couldn’t harvest his olives due to the settlers declaring they “didn’t like internationals helping him.” We were escorted off the land by the army, the young farmer due to be married the following week was panicking and fearful that the army would arrest him for no reason.
I have witnessed a system that perpetrates fear, oppression, lack of freedom of religious worship and movement, lack of basic human rights, and total disregard for the rights of every human being, committed against both Muslims and Christians alike. Whole communities live in the shadow of an Israeli illegal separation wall, that not only separates movement in Israel but also separates Palestinian communities from one another. The only way a person is able to escape the wall is to be granted a permit from the Government of Israel (GOI), whether it’s from the world’s largest open-air prison, Gaza or the West Bank. I have lived among a people who are so welcoming with open hearts and open arms, offering hospitality, friendship, and help whenever is needed. Never once have I feared living amongst Palestinians, contrary to the large red signs erected by the GOI at every entry point into the West Bank that states for Israelis to enter is a danger to their life and forbidden. I have had the opportunity and honour to walk alongside and hear their stories and be inspired by those who seek a just peace in nonviolent ways. Whose very lives and existence in the shadow of the wall is a resistance in itself. Like anyone of us, Palestinians want peace, to live in harmony with others, have the same human rights and opportunities for themselves and their children. Tourists visit the wall leaving their artwork as a form of solidarity. When all is said and done, they return home leaving a people still living in the shadow of the wall.
Among the many projects we recently visited was the WI’AM Conflict Restoration Centre, which is based literally in the shadow of the wall. We attended the youth summer holiday camp, where the children enjoyed the activities provided. Their bright yellow cheerful T-shirts and smiles were a stark contrast to the Israeli dark grey stone wall and military watchtower hovering over them.
I sat and enjoyed their enthusiasm and joy wondering,
Lord will this wall be dismantled in their lifetime?
How many more generations will continue to face occupation and enforce restrictions upon their lives? The words of one little girl’s T-shirt ‘you are the reason’ is why so many travel and visit Bethlehem, not only to bow down at the star of Bethlehem where the Saviour of the world, the Prince of Peace was born and is a reminder, ‘Emmanuel God with us’.
But to come and see and go and tell the reality that Palestinians face daily, living in the shadow of the wall. They come standing in solidarity speaking out against such violations and continue to pray for an end to occupation. It is both a heavy burden and a joy to live amongst Palestinians in a place of ‘occupation’, to witness their resilience, steadfastness, and desire for peace, seeking to do so in nonviolent ways, and being challenged to do likewise.
Deacon Angleena Keizer is serving at the Methodist Liaison Office in Jerusalem. Prior to this appointment, she served in Sri Lanka (2015 – July 2017) where she worked alongside the English-speaking congregation at the Kollupitiya Methodist Church. However, due to contracting Dengue Fever for the second time in a year and on medical advice, her placement finished a little early.
The Methodist Liaison Office in Jerusalem is a partnership of the World Methodist Council, the Methodist Church of Britain, and The United Methodist Church. Its purpose is to increase international awareness and involvement of the Methodist community in the issues of Israel/Palestine. To find out more, visit their website at https://worldmethodistcouncil.org/methodist-liaison-office-in-jerusalem/.
Any views or opinions contained herein are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP).