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.
We pass by quickly, all of us eager to get through the checkpoint and on our way, but the image of this man kneeling on the cold cement sticks with me as I pass through one, two, three, four turnstiles and cross the street to the second half of the checkpoint.
Coming around another corner in the hallways that so eerily resemble those used to channel cattle at a fairground, I encounter a group of 25 or so men standing in 3 neat lines. They stand shoulder to shoulder, arms crossed right over left, a visible symbol of community and connectedness. As I approach they bend down, their backs at right angles from their legs, hands on their knees. “Allahu Akbar,” they murmur in unison, straightening, God is greatest.
The men kneel on the cold, wet pavement. They’re dressed plainly in work clothes – these are the day laborers who cross through the checkpoint every day in order to make a living for their families. Their hands and faces are as clean as they could make them before prayer, but it’s clear they’re on their way home from a hard, long day’s work.
“God is greatest,” they pray, pressing their foreheads into the ground. Sit. Stand, Bend. Stand. Kneel.
“God is greatest,” they pray, surrounded by other workers returning home through a checkpoint installed by an occupying force.
“God is greatest,” they pray, in the midst of this great, ugly symbol of oppression and powerlessness.
I find myself caught, tears welling in my eyes. I want to stay, to watch, to pray, but it feels as though I’m infringing on something sacred here, something that is not for or about me. I continue on my way, their prayers still ringing in my ears.
Do they realize how radical this simple prayer is, this declaration that amidst all of the evil and injustice in the world God is truly greatest?
I believe they do.
You are greatest. Thank you for being more than we know in all of our lives. Help us to remember this simple prayer as we move throughout the day. As we find ourselves responding to situations, come to us and help us respond more like you. Thank you for faith and for the simple act of prayer that allows us to connect to you whenever and wherever we find ourselves.
Hannah J. is a Young Adults in Global Mission volunteer serving in Jerusalem and the West Bank! Hannah arrived to her placement in Jerusalem and the West Bank in August 2018, along with 6 other young adults from Young Adults in Global Mission, a program of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). YAGM sends 70 young people from ages 21 – 29 to nearly a dozen country placements, including to Jerusalem and the West Bank. Volunteers with the YAGM program serve for one year and focus on living in accompaniment with the ELCA’s companion churches. You can read more from Hannah on her blog, Yalla, Hannah. 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.