Waiting on Saturday

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This note will be in two parts. A section written in the morning and a section later.

Part 1
Today is the day between. A day throughout which I am never sure how I am to feel – for it is the day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

I am on a small bus headed from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. It is a short ride, probably less than 20 minutes. I am scheduled to take the day off but there will be a major protest at the check point about 100 yards away from our house.

Today is land day, the day Palestinians remember the land they have lost. A day to raise their voices over injustice. Last year, the protest was large in Bethlehem and one Palestinian claimed a small victory. Somehow, he climbed the 25 foot concrete wall at the check point and planted a Palestinian flag. The victory was short lived. An Israeli soldier fired a tear gas canister that struck him in the head.

Our landlord George, who takes wonderful care of us, seems anxious. I guess there is much for him to be anxious about. If any protestors come onto his property he is sure there will be retaliation by the soldiers. If not immediately then later. He is worried about the long term poisonous effects of tear gas and will any of it make it into the house we share.

He has been denied a permit to go to Jerusalem to attend Easter services. His wife and daughter have permits go but this 70 year old retired school teacher doesn’t. Why? I don’t know.

Not being at the house during the demonstration feels in some strange way like I would be abandoning him. So, I have decided I should be there.

My own anxiety is running much higher than normal for this protest. I know the area where we will be. I know where I can head for safety and the places I should avoid. Still, I am nervous. All I can do is wait – and pray.

Part 2
The protest is officially over. There were about 20 men this year versus 100 last year. It was all pretty typical. Guys walk up to the closed gate. Guys pound on the closed gate. Guys yell at the soldiers. Guys do a couple of chants. Guys get interviewed by the press. Guys start to walk away. Two guys each throw a rock at the 20′ tall steel gate. Guards fire two tear gas canisters. Guys all run. EA’s and another international person run too! (Everyone runs except the press because they have the cool gas masks.) One guy was gassed quite badly. Everyone else seems okay. Everything calms down. It all seems pretty typical.

But something different did happen, one of the tear gas canisters was fired into a field with olive trees between our house and the house above us. This canister was about 15 yards beyond the first. It hasn’t rained here in a couple of weeks so when the the canister ignited to release the tear gas it also set fire to the ground cover. A couple of first responders made it over the fence to fight the fire. I couldn’t from where I was so I brought them water. They quickly put out the flames.

Then three teenage boys started throwing rocks. Then more tear gas. One canister lands exactly where one of my teammates had just moved away from. Then an adult sent the boys away. Then everything quiets down in the hood.

I went to the field a couple of hours later and doused the area again. There were still a couple of hot spots. One olive tree was pretty much burned up. One more reason not to like tear gas. Then I caught a bus back into Jerusalem.

Easter Saturday, a day of wondering. Did the soldiers intend to fire the canister into the field or in the spot where my friend stood harmlessly taking pictures? Was there a message for us? Two nights before I stood about 50 yards away from the gate and got into a discussion with an Israeli bus driver who turned a guard on me while I timed how long an ambulance was delayed at the Check Point (12 minutes)? Was there a message for George and his family about offering housing to us? Are we causing problems for someone who is generous and kind to us? Was his permit to go to Jerusalem denied because of us or just because the new practice is not to give permits to all family members?

Easter Saturday, a day of wondering about what the next dawn will bring. Will something change to bring justice into unjust situations? Will new hope arise out of a new day? Will the tomb be empty?

What I do know is that wherever the tomb is found to be empty people will wonder and perhaps in the midst of their questioning they will might find new insight – they might also find hope.

What I also know is that whenever the tomb is found empty the story will continue.

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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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4 Responses to Waiting on Saturday

  1. Paul Burns says:

    Hi Steve. I really look forward to your posts. It brings a whole new perspective to what’s happening over there. I think there needs to be a book come out of this trip.

  2. Rodd LeBlanc says:

    This Easter was a different season for me as a friend is in an area that has always looked for peace but has never had it. God be with you and keep you safe.

  3. Yvette Swan says:

    Hi Steve, We are still hoping for peace. But when? However we keep on hoping

  4. Carol Mullin says:

    Thanks so much for this Steve….it is difficult to imagine how people manage to live their lives amidst such conflict, sadness and loss.

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