Monday, January 12, 2009

People Aren't So Different In The West Bank, A Guest Post

I mentioned in my last post that I think I have the most awesome parents in the world. At the end of 2007, my parents traveled to Israel and the West Bank. They have huge hearts for those in Muslim countries and have been very involved with distributing the Jesus Film to the Muslims. In their travels they have met some wonderful people, had some adventures (involving the police and arrest) and been willing to put themselves at risk in order to share the love of Christ. When I express concern, my mom usually comes back with 'this is what we love doing and if we die doing this then I'm OK with that.' Wow.

I asked my dad if he would be willing to share some of the stories from his trip to the West Bank, especially in light of all that is going on in Palestine and Gaza. He was thrilled at the opportunity, especially because they were able to immerse themselves in the lives of some Palestinians and saw a very different side of them than what we might think. They are not all Hamas and terrorists. They are just like you and me. They long for freedom, peace and a safe place to raise their children.

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When Loretta, my caring wife of 45 years, and I went to Israel, we ventured into the Palestinian city of Ramallah, which is in the West Bank and through several checkpoints, both Israeli and Palestinian. Of the hotels we stayed in while visiting Israel, this was the best. What impressed Loretta, right away, was the fruit basket in the room. The other hotels didn’t offer this amenity. This picture was taken in Ramallah. You'll notice a Stars & Bucks in the picture. They do not sell coffee here.

Also in the hotel was a restaurant. The first time we entered it, there were no other patrons. The background music was Middle Eastern, which was blaring. I asked the waiter if he could turn down the volume. He did, but not very much. One of our travel mates asked him to turn it down more. Instead, he changed the CD to one that I liked; something soft that was conducive to conversation. I’d never heard it before and thought it was Gregorian chant. I got up from the table and went to the waiter’s station where three men were standing. I told them that I liked the CD and wanted to know the name of it so that I could buy one. The waiter who spoke the best English, in his Palestinian accent, told me that a friend of his burned it for him, that it didn’t have a label and that if I wanted, he’d burn one for me. I told him I’d pay him for it. “No problem.”

The next evening, we went back to the hotel’s restaurant. Again, there were no customers and Middle Eastern music was being played. By the time we were seated, the soft CD from last night was on. The waiters, apparently, remembered us and our request from the night before. I went over to the station and thanked them. “No problem.” When it came time to settle the bill, I was presented with the CD. I reached into my pocket and pulled out money but was given an open-hand gesture and told, “No problem.” I knew the Arabic word for “Thank you” and said it many times, smiling the whole while. I asked my wife to take a photo of the waiter and me. He liked that. As we were leaving the restaurant, I went to the waiter’s station, shook hands with all of them and told them thank you. As I write this, I am listening to the CD. It’s Masters of Chant.

When we were in Jericho, we stopped at Zacchaeus’s sycamore-fig tree, which is mentioned in Luke 19:1-9. Near the tree was a short, balding, elderly man selling postcards. He asked where we were from. After we told him, he said, “Tell America we want peace,” and with that he gave us postcards. We tried to pay him for them but he wouldn’t take our money. That, too, is a lasting memory.

We were in a village outside of Hebron distributing clothing and goods to homes of handicapped people in conjunction with a Palestinian organization. This way, we were able to go into the homes to see first-hand how some of the Palestinians lived. The village had one main street. It was dirt. School was letting out. Young, back-pack-laden children were walking home. They were very skeptical of us, eyed us warily and they kept their distance. They had probably never before seen or encountered Americans, so I began high-fiving some of the braver boys. Others, I guess, wanted to say that they had touched an American so the crowd of kids began enlarging. Pretty soon it was like the Pied Piper of Hamlin with high-fives all around. We don’t know where all of these kids were coming from, but come they did. They followed us the length of the street and when we went into homes, they waited for us to come out. Then the parade resumed. But the kids didn’t seem to care because they hung in the whole time. Even after we loaded up to leave, some of them followed our van on the dusty road to the edge of the village. We felt good about the life-long memories those kids will have about cementing relationships between Palestinian youngsters and Americans.

We met a 13-year-old Palestinian Christian girl who wanted to practice her English on us. She introduced us to her father, who had not been out of the West Bank in 18 years. The girl and Loretta exchanged e-mail addresses. When we arrived home, Loretta began corresponding with her. Now, we do Instant Messaging and Annie’s daughter, McKenzie, instant messages her as well.

While in Bethlehem, we met a family of five. They have explicitly told us that the next time we go to Israel, we are to stay with them. Isn’t that neat??? This is the wall that divides The West Bank from Bethlehem that the Israeli's built. This is looking at it from the West Bank side.
Mount of Temptation in Jericho where Jesus was tempted by Satan.

Graffiti on a wall in Ramallah. Notice the boot crushing the dove (peace).

What we have found in our travels, no matter where we are in the world, is that by actually visiting in the homes of people and in coffee shops, the regular citizens are all-right persons. They are friendly, warm, hospitable and caring. In many respects, they are just like us. They want peace and goodwill with their fellow man. In every home we went into, except for the deeply impoverished, we were offered food, drink and conversation. Frequently, the languages had to be translated, but the warmth and caring shone through. And that says a lot.

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On a side note, my brother (the one with 12 kids!) has entered the wonderful world of blogging. I would love it if you would welcome Matt by visiting 12 Kids...And Counting? and leaving a comment (yes, Katdish, he has a gift for sarcasm so he's cool).

3 comments:

Steph at The Red Clay Diaries said...

Great post. :) Thank your dad for all of us.

Charlie and I got to go to Israel in spring of 2007. It was a generic "Holy Land" tour, so very little venturing into the West Bank. But I vividly remember the wall we had to pass through to enter Bethlehem. It really did look more like a prison than a town. Very sad.

Helen said...

Tell your dad thanks for sharing this experience.

Mare said...

Yes, yes thank your dad! What a great experience they were able to have.

Our cultures make us look so different on the outside, but it's true that we're all built the same on the inside!