I went for a long walk tonight.
Earlier today, we were in a conversation with Dr. Nabael Shaath who is Palestine’s Hillary Clinton. Currently, his work is to travel around the world in an effort to garner support for Palestine as a distinct nation. In September, Palestine will go before the U.N. in order to declare unilateral independence.
A distinct nation, according to Dr. Shaath, is:
a country with clear boarders;
a country that is no longer occupied by Israel and has no more settlements;
a country filled with citizens who have the internationally agreed upon human rights.
As he talked about the injustices of the occupation, he mentioned that just last night (11pm), three Israeli bulldozers, 2 trucks, and 20 Israeli officials entered a 12th Century Muslim cemetery in East Jerusalem and bulldozed 100 graves. The cemetery was called Mamilla.
I am in East Jerusalem right now. I’ve heard stories of Israeli’s bulldozing Palestinian homes (places of the living), but never had I heard of them desecrating Muslim cemeteries (places of the dead). Why the bulldozers? Two reasons: First, they seem to want to wipe out the memory of the Palestinian from the land; Second, they want a playground for their kids.
Later this afternoon, upon our return to our hotel, I noticed that I had received an email from a friend in Bethlehem letting me know that the cemetery bulldozing had occurred. I Googled the location to find that it was no more than a 20 minute walk. I grabbed my camera and left. I needed to see what this kind of hatred looked like: hatred that causes one group of people to attempt to wipe out the evidence and memory of another.
I didn’t know what it was that I would see or if I would see anything at all. What I knew was that a community of oppressed people had just been humiliated and insulted again. If nothing else, I wanted to communicate my solidarity with the oppressed, humiliated, and insulted.
As I walked, I considered the writings of the Prophet Jeremiah who repeatedly called Israel to walk in the way of justice with the nations. I recited the lines of Psalm 87 where the Psalmist envisioned YHWH standing at the gates of Jerusalem inviting the Babylonians, the Philistines, and the Egyptians (Israel’s greatest enemies) into the City because it belonged to them. I observed the artificially lit city walls and the sunset reflecting off the rolling Judean countryside.
“Beautiful.” I thought to myself
I walked by one Israeli police SUV…and then another. 18-19 year old “officials” manned the vehicles and watched me, a solitary, tall, Scandinavian American, with more than a little suspicion. As I neared the cemetery I heard laughter…not necessarily the sound I was expecting. I rounded a corner and looked up at where the cemetery was located to find 17 Israeli troops around its perimeter. They were 25 meters up a hill and looked as though they expected trouble.
“Loaded automatic killing machines carried by 18 year-olds.” I thought to myself. “This is what hatred looks like.” The place was suddenly far from beautiful.
I leaned against a rock fence, looked up the hill, and made an observation about myself. My heart did not break for these 17 kids. My heart has broken over and over again in the last 7 days…but it did not break for these 17 kids. Naturally, I was troubled by that so, in the ancient tradition of the people with whom I now shared company, I asked YHWH a question:
“Why does my heart not break?”
In the silence that followed I began to recognize these 17 kids for what they were…kids that happened to be in the grip of a senseless cycle of violence. Then, my heart started to break.
I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to get any closer so I entered into another ancient practice of the diverse peoples of this land: I prayed for them. In my prayers, I blessed them and asked that God would stir a crisis in them on this night that would move them from the cycle of violence and into His embrace.
It was time to go. I smiled, put my right hand over my heart, and bowed my head ever so slightly. None of them responded.
It was dark by then so I began my return journey, my soul filled with questions…and one request: “I need to see the goodness of these people. Will You help me see the goodness of these people?”
My journey took me through Muslim and Jewish neighborhoods, a theater district, and a park.
And then I heard music…Jewish music.
I was drawn by the rhythm and unique sound of music and laughter. The closer I got the more intrigued I became about the source of the sounds…and then I saw them…Jews from around the world singing and dancing the same songs and dances they’ve sung and danced for thousands of years. It drew me…they drew me. It was good.
And there was beauty again.
As I drifted into the shadows, I looked up at a sign above the very alive, dancing community. The sign read: “Mamilla Plaza”.