Second last day in Palestine
I am sitting in the Garden of Gethsemane.
The olive trees that Jesus banged his head upon that night (I am imagining), beside himself with fear, are a stones throw away from where I stand. I couldn’t bear the gilded church sited where he was supposed to have been crucified and then transcended to heaven full of pilgrims queuing to pay homage and all of that – but this I’ll take.
This is a beautiful place. There is …surprise surprise…a church here, built by people of many nations. Under the gorgeous roof set within quite a simple archway, is a large and uneven slab of rock – it rises from the ground and seems to break through the marble all around it. It is supposedly the ground where Jesus lay on that night in the garden, where he prayed.
Of course I can’t help but make a few derisory comments to my companions about the absurdity of believing a slab of rock that has been and continues to be touched by Gzillions of pilgrims every year has any relationship to where Jesus lay head once upon a time. Everyone shrugs. Believing in something is sometimes all you need to make it true for yourself, I am reminded.
This is certainly apparent in this torn country. The Palestinians belief that a just future is possible is beating strongly in some – despite the oppression people live with day in and out. They believe that Ala will, in all his greatness, sort this mess out one day.
The Israelis (or rather the Jewish and Christian Zionist believe that God has decreed this land to be theirs, and believe it is right to propagate in the beliefs of others terror of the Palestinians. That terror legitimises that. settlers security has to be reliant entirely on a massive concrete wall and electric fencing cutting off Palestinian villages and refugee camps from life feeding roads and their own sprawling, manicured, Floridaesque settlements which are growing dail, gobbling up the houses and land taken illegally from the indigenous people.
Huge red DANGER signs at the top of roads leading to Palestinians villages and refugee camps declare the illegality of Israeli attempts to visit these areas, to actually speak with the people – this is for their own security. If they should harbour any thoughts of actually seeing for themselves who Palestinians are and how they are living, they run the danger of being killed by the Palestinian, so to do so is strictly against the law.
There is so much more of course, all of which by International law is illegal. Mika, our Grassroots Jerusalem guide moved me greatly when he said he was a proud Jew but an embarrassed Israeli. He works from grassroots up for change. He believes the only way forward is for everyone to create new language, new solutions. He believes that that the Palestinians displaced in their own land and the refugees now scattered across the world will never be able to claim their right of return. There is no longer any hope of a two state solution.
He believes that the answer lies in opening the eyes of Israelis to the systematic ethnic cleansing and clearances of whole villages, towns and regions of Palestinians being calmly undertaken in their name, legitimised by the need to – at all costs – protect the Jewish people from any harm and deliver their ‘right’ to a Jewish homeland.
He has no faith in the International Community – within the context of our global human rights systems, frameworks and law – international duty bearers – all of them – are looking the other way, refusing to call the Israeli Government to account. Happy though to provide aid to the displaced which in the words of the most important man in village, feeds the ‘victim’ in and hopelessness of his people. “We don’t want charity, we want to work in a just partnership with the world to claim our rights and to live with dignity, justice and peace.”
There is so much more to tell you. So many more people whose stories have been given to us all here to carry home and tell again, again and again.
I am overcome with a massive pull towards that slab of stone at the front of the church, which I try to resist. But now I know it’s nearly time to go I simply have to do it. With embarrassment, I declare my intention to my companions. Again they just shrug and tell me to do what I want to do. I move forward and kneel down on the cold marble floor, stretching out and placing my hand on the cold and bumpy stone. It feels powerful and emotional and I say a prayer – just in case – for my loved ones back in our homeland and for the house and its survival, and for peace.