Friday, August 17, 2007

Summary and Conclusions

Jonathan: “Do you think there will ever be peace here?”

Fadi: “If you have a home and you sleep in this home, you and your family. And some people come and break [down] your door. And tell you: “this is my home, this is not your home.” But… [you] built this home and you lived in this home, you and your family. And the people come… and tell you, ‘this home [is for] us, [but] we can give you this room…’ What would you do? Tell me, I ask you!”

“…if you go and tell the police and the police do nothing. What do you do? You tell the world, all the world? And all the world don’t do anything. What do you do? And these people come and take your kids because your kids say “no, this is my home, you can’t take my home!” and [they] put your kids in prison…What do you do? And they say ‘We want peace’ but the truth is, they come and kill you and [then] go to the media and say we want peace… Now who is the terrorist: the Palestinian terrorist or the Israeli, the Israeli government? Tell me.”

Hossam: “I will do the peace with the Israeli soldier who killed my brother in 1988? Should I do the peace the Israeli soldier whom arrested my father for 5 years or my cousin for 3 years? I will do peace with the Israeli soldier whom didn’t [let] me pass from Bethlehem to Ramallah? With whom will I do the peace??”

(from a personal interview with Fadi and Hossam, 18 and 17, refugees in the camp where I lived. The interview was in english and was edited for grammare and clarity)

Returning Home: A Privilege

Last Friday, August 9th, at 2AM, I returned home to Waxhaw, North Carolina, after spending 11 weeks in the Occupied West Bank. Shaky is the best way I can describe my condition after getting back. 15 pounds skinnier, I felt 100 pounds heavier with the weight of 3 months of accumulated Palestinian stories of pain and suffering. Faces, names, places, memories, all swim around in my head as I try to nail down, to understand, all that I experienced this summer and how it is to affect my life from now on. I struggle to summarize it on paper.

I lived with a Muslim Palestinian host family in the ’Azza refugee camp in the city of Bethlehem. Those in the camp are refugees or descendents of refugees from the 1948 war (known to Palestinians as “the Nakba,” meaning “the catastrophe”). They were forced to flee their homes in the village of Beyt Jibreen when Jewish militias overtook their village. Although less than an hour’s drive away, they have never been able to return.

Bethlehem: Occupied

The city of Bethlehem, including its 3 refugee camps, is one of the central cities in the West Bank with a population of 60,000. Of these, 80% are Muslim and 20% are Palestinian Christian (mainly Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox). Many of which claim ancestry from the earliest of Christians. Here Muslims and Christians largely live together in peace. Bethlehem and the other cities of the West Bank have been under a harsh military occupation since 1967, when Israel took it from Jordan. For these 40 years Palestinians have not been granted Israeli citizenship nor have they been granted their own state. They have remained in a state of limbo.

Bethlehem today is severely affected by the Israeli military occupation. From the north it is surrounded by what is called variously the “separation barrier” or the “apartheid wall.” This wall cuts off Bethlehem from its sister city, Jerusalem, upon which it has been dependent economically, culturally and religiously and it cuts off the West Bank from Israel proper. Today, Israel does not allow Palestinians into Jerusalem (or outside the W. Bank at all), only 30 minutes by car, without a difficult-to-get permit. Most citizens of Bethlehem have never met an Israeli personally or been outside the West Bank.

Bethlehem is also affected by neighboring Israeli settlements, one of which looks down from a hilltop onto Bethlehem from the east . Slowly Bethlehem is being squeezed from all sides. One result of this (and just a sign of the how difficult it is to live under occupation) is the ever growing rate of emigration to the West, especially by Palestinian Christians for whom it is easier to get visas to the West.

Life in a Refugee Camp

Living in a refugee camp was a unique opportunity and experience. Within this closed community, I quickly became another one of the “guys from the camp” and was participated in elements of daily Palestinian life including: weddings, inter-family fights, parties for prisoners released from Israeli jails, “hair-cut Fridays“, soccer games, and lots of hanging out. I also experienced the wide ranging effects of the Israeli occupation including: lack of adequate medical care, water cuts for weeks at a time, Israeli military incursions, the fear of Israeli informants, the 70% unemployment rate, and the overarching sense of hopelessness. The occupation affects every aspect of Palestinian life. Nothing is left untouched.

Learning Arabic, Teaching English

Much of my time was spent learning Arabic. By choice I lived with a family that spoke no English and I was surrounded by Arabic every day. Thanks to this my Arabic ability grew rapidly and by the end of my trip I could understand much of daily conversation and was comfortable maintaining an hour or so of basic conversation about myself, what I was doing in Palestine, and, of course, the basics of my political views (a must for the Middle East J). Arabic acquisition was one of my main goals for the trip, and for this I am very, very thankful.

I also spent most mornings teaching English at a center for college students from the Bethlehem area called the Student’s Forum. My English teaching was generally very rewarding as well, though it is now fairly clear to me that this is not something I would like to do vocationally. The best part was building relationships with the students and getting invited to their homes. I built strong a strong friendship with three students in particular, one brother and his two sisters, who were very motivated to learn English, visiting their home four or five times.
A Difficult Trip, Much Learned

Overall, this was an very difficult trip for me, more so than I had expected. It was difficult on several levels. First, it was very challenging culturally and linguistically. In an all Arabic environment the possibilities for miscommunication and cultural faux paus were endless. Simply communicating involved seemingly infinite effort and strain.

Second, the enormity of the suffering and the harsh political conditions were hard to handle. Every day I was flooded with stories and sights and sounds of suffering, pain and death. For three months I absorbed these, day after day after day. Slowly they wore and weighed on me.

Third, and most importantly, I realize now how alone I really was. I was almost completely on my own. Knowing that this was not a Christian program, I had hoped to find a community on arriving by attending local churches. This did not work out as planned. Really for most of the trip, I was without any kind of spiritual community and this proved very unhealthy. Under these kinds of circumstances, spiritual community is more essential than ever. By the end of the trip I was hanging on a thread spiritually. It was too much for me to take alone. I have learned much from this.

1) I learned the necessity of a spiritual community wherever I am, but especially in the M.E. I have largely decided to not return to the Middle East alone or without an assurance of community before getting there.
2) I built a solid foundation in Arabic upon which I can continue to build in the future! This is a foundation for future effectiveness in the region.
3) I gained a first hand understanding of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and of the state of the Church in Israel/Palestine.
4) I built relationships with: Muslims, Christians, and Jews; Israelis and Palestinians.
5) I now feel the responsibility of sharing the Palestinian story that is largely not being told in the West.

Now What?

So here I am, back in plush and comfortable USA trying to put this all together in my head, trying to make sense of it all. What I know is that I have more questions than answers, more questions than before I left on the trip. Questions about what is to be done in Israel/Palestine, questions about who I am, questions about my future and questions about what God wants me to do with my life.

In a week I head back to Wheaton to finish up my last semester there. With few commitments and extra credits to spare it will be a light semester. The main thing planned is to live in downtown Chicago with three of my friends and to commute to Wheaton three or four times a week. We desire to learn more about the inner-city and issues such as poverty and racial diversity.

After this semester I will probably stay in the Chicago area and work while my friends finish up their time at Wheaton. I plan to then head back to the Middle East for a year or so, to complete my Arabic studies. This is still quite tentative. I appreciate your continued prayers (and any advice you would like to send my way) for my processing of the trip, for this coming semester and for decisions about the future.

Saying “thank you” again sounds somewhat trite, but I am thankful for you all. I hung in there this summer thanks to your prayers. I am very, very sure of it. Of course, the fact that this trip happened at all is thanks to those of you who were so generous in providing my way. God provided for me once again. I pray that your investment in me will have been worthwhile.

Praise be to God who faithfully stands with us! Praise to God whose joy it is to bring light to the most hopeless of situations. Praise to God who leads us in right paths, bringing honor to his name.

!لا اسمو نشكر
(To his name be thanks),

Jonathan Kindberg

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