Friendship, Meals and Hope

Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany the home of Lazarus, whom he raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for Jesus. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. John 12: 1-2.

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This is a different week in the program. We are on the road for our midterm break. Currently, we are in Haifa and staying at a convent.

Wed. night, the Sisters were beside themselves as they waited anxiously for the new Pope to emerge. It was such a treat to watch them and then to hear the surprise in their voices and their thankfulness for Francis 1.

I too am holding on to great hope for this man who seems to have a different approach to living faithfully. He has eschewed the regular trappings of being a Cardinal by living in an apartment, taking the bus to work and cooking for himself. Taking on the name of Francis of Assisi perhaps means he will try to emulate Francis by standing in solidarity with the least, the last and the lost.

I suspect last night someone else prepared the celebratory meal for Francis and his colleagues. I hope it was a great celebration.

Someone else has been preparing our meals this week and I suspect we are all thankful so we can focus on spending time with one another. We have quickly become friends even though we are spread out across the West Bank. This small group have helped me maintain my sanity in a land where insanity reigns. Eating together usually comes with gales of laughter and it builds bonds of friendship and understanding.

For me, it was difficult to leave Bethlehem. Some of you might remember in last weeks blog I described a humanitarian disaster at the check point. The problems resumed on Sunday. 600 men, women and children squeezed into a cage that is a about a hundred yards long and four feet wide. Another 500 or so were madly pushing and shoving at the bottom of the line hoping to somehow squeeze in. To describe it as horrible is a massive understatement. To say it was frightening is a simplification. To describe it as a humanitarian disaster caused by the Israeli military operating the check point is entirely accurate.

At 5:30 am I went down the exit line to join the incoming line and check the time it would take to pass through. As I approached the bottom, I realized I would never get out. I was surprised to meet two young German university students trapped in the exit area. Somehow they were swept into that line and now they were unable to escape because of the crowd pushing and shoving to get in the main line. I assured them they were safe and if they waited for a few minutes I would help them get out safely.

To make matters worse the humanitarian gate was still broken and the military didn’t open an alternate gate to deal with the women, children and older men. Today, these groups were forced to join the main line. Call after call to the Humanitarian Hotline made no difference in opening an alternative entrance for those eligible to use the humanitarian gate. Our pleas to do something about the main line also fell on deaf ears.

The young German’s stood and watched in total shock and disbelief. One said we would never allow farm animals to be treated this way. I simply agreed. Both promised to go home and share what they witnessed.

I wanted to return on Monday to see if anything had changed but I couldn’t. because of the break and needing to join the rest of the group in Jerusalem before Sunday night.

On Tuesday, Jan McIntyre and I travelled to Tel Aviv to meet with a couple of members of the Canadian embassy staff. The meeting went well. But will it have any real effect? I realize they are powerless to change governmental policies – that is up to the politicians. I would be pleasantly surprised if they were able to exert any influence on a couple of minor issues we hoped they might be able to influence.

Later, Jan and I along with another member went to a hospital in Jerusalem to visit a couple of younger men who had been shot.

The first was the young man who was shot in Qusar the day of my visit there. He finally had enough strength to share his story. He told us about how settlers had come into the village that morning accompanied by Israeli military. One of the settlers shot him from a distance of about 25 feet. The bullet fragmented into at least 11 pieces when it pierced his abdomen causing multiple injuries to many of his organs. This damage will have life long effects. He also told us the police came and spoke to him for a few minutes. He knows from their history this means nothing. We thanked him for his willingness to share the details of the incident and he asked us to share them with the world.

We then visited Odi Salah the 16 year old from Bethlehem who had been shot in the head by the Israeli military. He is still clinging to life. But, the neurological damage appears to be massive.

What makes his situation even more outrageous is that his Mother and Grandmother are forced to sleep on the floor or in a chair in the waiting room. There has been no provision to house them in the hospital hostile. Also, the family only have eight day permits to be in Jerusalem which forces them to go through the bureaucracy of renewing their permits.

It is hard to let go of the image of his Grandmother so troubled and helpless. It is harder still to let go of the image of Odi.

The situation here is incredibly complex. Many hold a belief that President Obama will be able to make a real difference as he gathers around dinner tables with people of influence. But he appears to be just the next in a long line of American Presidents who have visited the region.

Based on the last four years, Obama doesn’t appear to have a magic wand that he can wave and solve many of the problems in Palestine and Israel. What would help the situation here is if he could get the Israeli government to obey International Humanitarian Law and the Geneva Conventions. Hell, I just wish he could fix the problems at the check point or stop the Israeli military and settlers from shooting young men and boys. But, I am beginning to believe he would have better luck raising Lazarus from the dead rather than furthering the peace process.

Tonight, I will gather with some new found friends. We will eat and laugh and offer one another support. The picture on this post is of one of our drivers in Bethlehem, Abu Iyad and one of his grandsons having cake. Tonight, Abu Iyad will join with about 1,000 others to celebrate the wedding of his son.

In gatherings around the world bread will be broken, food and laughter and compassion will all be shared. People will tell stories from the past and share in the joy and love that surrounds each of us. As you gather with family or friends around the table may you also speak a little about the future and try to offer to others some hope. In order to survive we need to lift one another with some hope in this complicated world and life.

May peace prevail upon the earth.

About Steve Berube

I am a team minister at St. Paul's United Church in Riverview, NB, Canada. I served as a human rights observer in Bethlehem while on sabbatical in the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) of the World Council of Churches.
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7 Responses to Friendship, Meals and Hope

  1. Catherine MacDonald says:

    Thank you Steve for these reflections.

  2. Sylvia Fitzgerald says:

    Hi Steve;
    Blessings on your journey, you are truly on a Lenten Journey, the heartbreak, the outrage, and the hopelessness of the people there. I felt that when I was there, but we were kept from most of it. our guide was very guarded in his talks, but we could feel his pain.
    may God bless them and you with hope.
    be safe my friend
    Sylvia

  3. Paul Burns says:

    I always marvel how “normal” things like weddings and sharing cake can go on amid such chaos. However, if chaos is all you know then it becomes your normal and life must go on. Looking forward to having you back so I can buy you an extra large double-double. Keep yer chin up (and your head down).

  4. Yvette Swan says:

    Steve, there are some who are born in this chaos who know how they have to live in it, even when they are disadvantaged in it. The powerful usually enjoy these “bullying” tactics, and the others continue to suffer. I pray that you will be aware of your surroundings at all times. That will be your survival mode.

  5. Thank you Steve for sharing these realities. My heart breaks for the people you have written about. I will be keeping you and all of them in my thoughts and prayers. Take care.
    Lorna

  6. Andrew says:

    Have a wonderful Easter week in the holy land

  7. Peter and Joyce says:

    God’s abundant Grace to you and the team, Steve. Still waiting for our paperwork…

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