Pilgrimage 3: Sabeel, ICAHD and Mordechai Vanunu
We begin the day with a bus ride to the headquarters of Sabeel, a Palestinian organization that seeks peace and justice through liberation theology. Sabeel means the Way, and Water, because traditionally Palestinians left clay urns full of water out by the road for passersby. We sit in a circle in a bright friendly room and Omar, a young Christian Palestinian tells us what it is like to find out you are a descendant of Goliath, and to realize the bible has always been interpreted for you through the eyes of other peoples. He talks about reclaiming the biblical stories from the perspective of Palestinians. He tells us of the struggles of his family to maintain citizenship, and the right to live in their ancestral home of Jerusalem. His sister married a man from the West Bank and her children cannot come to Jerusalem. Neither can her husband. Many Palestinians live in Jerusalem secretly with their spouses, dreading the day they will be discovered as illegals. The penalty can include detention without charges for up to six months. Love and marriage is no excuse.
Cedar Daybuis reminds me of a grandmother, as she sips water and talks with us about the history of this land, and the need to speak for peace, to find a solution. She speaks of the hope when Israel declared itself a nation that would care for all its citizens. Then the terror that followed. She tells us of fleeing Haifa in 1948 at age 12, after other homes on her street have been destroyed, and after petrol was run down her street and lit on fire. Those who tried to stop the fire were shot. Loudspeakers in the night announced that anyone who stayed would be massacred as had happened in a nearby village. So they fled with nothing to refugee camps and the homes of relatives. She speaks of families that have never been reunited. I am overwhelmed.
We follow with a eucharist led by a Methodist minister. We pray and experience fellowship of spirit, then of body with lunch.
Israel Coalition Against Home Demolition
In the afternoon we take a tour with Chaska Katz of the Israeli Coalition Against Home Demolition, or ICAHD. Standing on a hill overlooking Jerusalem she shows us how the wall snakes along dividing the city, making life miserable for Palestinians. A walk across the street to the university now becomes a two hour journey to the checkpoint and back. We visit the wall up close, see its threatening presence for ourselves. But the graffiti gives hope. 'We are all human' someone has proclaimed. 'Freedom for all'. We head up to see a gorgeous settlement, with fountains and flowers in the desert. The homes have running water and garbage pick up. The Palestinian homes (Muslim or Christian) right next door have neither, although all pay the same taxes. This deliberately makes life difficult for the Palestinians, encouraging them to leave as refuse inevitably piles up or burn piles smolder. The water delivered to them once a week must be rationed carefully in containers on the roof. This feeds into a stereotype for tourists of 'dirty Arabs' . It's a strategic move on the part of the government because who in the world is going to get excited about municipal services? But day to day it makes life miserable.
That evening we sit on our rooftop terrace with Mordechai Vanunu who had blown the whistle on the Israeli nuclear program in 1983. He tells us his story - immigration to Israel from Morocco as a child, growing up in a devout Jewish family, military service, the realization that militarization was wrong, his growing horror at the bomb, conversion to Christianity, of sneaking pictures of the plutonium producing facility where he worked, his search in Europe and Australia for a newspaper to print his store. Then the Sunday Times agreeing to it, and the Daily Mirror finding out and trying to subvert it, then the wait while the Times checked him out, exposing him to Israeli authorities.
As he speaks, fire crackers go off repeatedly celebrating high school graduation in the Palestinian quarter where we are located. The light dims to dark and a cool breeze helps us slip into his story. He tells us of the woman he met who was so friendly, and who invited him to Rome where he was kidnapped, drugged and shipped to Tel Aviv. Eighteen years in prison, twelve in solitary confinement. Lights on at night, harassment, authorities refuse to let him talk to a priest or his girlfriend. And now, released in 2004, telling his story to people like us. He breaks the conditions of his release in doing so - he recently spent 3 more months in prison for speaking with CNN. He has been nominated 9 times for a Nobel Peace Prize, has support from people over the world, but still struggles with loneliness. His story moves me in ways I cannot yet express.