I have a strange ritual when I meet someone and I am “off duty”. On the golf course, I have learned introducing myself as a minister usually results in apologies, bad jokes, bizarre questions and worst of all horrible assumptions. But, introducing myself as a human rights observer can make me a target for a lot of hatred and bigotry. No one has ever threatened to take a swing at me but I have been chased away by a soldier with a gun. – I guess that is probably more serious. So, I have learned to be careful about exactly what I say when I’m asked what I am doing in Palestine.
So here is the reply when the awkward question is asked. First, I say I live in Bethlehem. If they ask what I am doing there I tell them I am a minister doing stuff with the World Council of Churches (WCC). Then if they ask me what my focus is, I tell them that the WCC has human rights observers across the West Bank and we watch for problems between Palestinians and Israelis. Gradually and ever so cautiously I let them in on my secret. I guess this process is something like a strip tease.
The other day in Tiberias, I entered into this strange ritual with an Arab Israeli. I made it safely to the final answer and started to walk away. Then he asked me, “Is it really true that Palestinians have trouble at the Check Points? I stopped dead in my tracks. I immediately thought to myself, “He doesn’t know!” (Actually, that is not what I really thought. I’m a minister and I’m not supposed to use that kind of language.)
So, I answered him, truthfully, sincerely and quietly. I told him a little about the past week. I told him about our friend Mousa who was shot on Monday evening for taking pictures of the Israeli military shooting at youth inside of Aida Camp. I told him five were wounded on Tuesday evening. I said there were clashes in the camp on Thursday and Friday evening but I didn’t have any reliable info on whether anyone was hurt or arrested.
I didn’t tell him about the tear gas canister left in the Tuqu school yard that exploded when a 12 year old picked it up. Nor did I mention the seizure orders from the military in Nahhalin. I didn’t get into the settler violence supported by the Israeli military or any of the other stuff that happened around Bethlehem last week and virtually every week in the area.I guess I didn’t want to overplay what I was telling him.
After all, who would really ____ing believe the ____ that happens here unless you actually witness it yourself. (Sorry about the blanks you will need to fill them in yourself. As for me, I will try to clean up my language before I return to Canada.)
The sad reality is that many people living here do not have the faintest idea of what life is like on this side of the wall.
I guess the hopeful reality for me is that they don’t know. If they did and quietly accepted it and didn’t rage about it – my faith in humanity would be shattered.
The risen Jesus gradually reveals himself to his friends in who were fishing in Tiberias. They in turn gradually begin to recognize the changed reality they must now reevaluate their lives by.
It is my hope that all will come to recognize the reality faced by our brothers and sisters in Palestine. It is my prayer that when people know they will cry out for peace with justice like Isaiah and Jeremiah, like Amos and Hosea.
May we all come to recognize the face of Jesus, a Palestinian by birth, in the faces of those who are unjustly persecuted every day.