Sheikh Jarrah: “Why?”

Ok, so sometimes things don’t go as I planned.  As I was on my way to eat hospital cafeteria food, I met the EAPPI team currently living and working in Jerusalem; they are staying here at AV Guesthouse.  I had been praying about meeting the EAPPI team for some time, and they invited me to eat dinner with them.  This is a courageous and adventurous group of people from around the world who come with the World Council of Churches to stand in solidarity with the suffering people of Palestine.  They come in on a 3 month visa, and stand as visible internationals in conflict areas, their presence alone tending to tone things down a little and reducing incidents of violence. After dinner I joined them as they went back to Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. They had been called there this morning because of a home eviction in progress.  Israeli settlers are forceably removing Palestinians from their homes in this East Jerusalem neighborhood; they have plans to raze the buildings and replace them with 200 new units for Jewish people to live in.

After some soul searching (after all, I haven’t been through their training, I don’t have WCC credentials or the identifiable EAPPI vest, it was night, I don’t know Jerusalem, it was cold out, it was a situation that might escalate) I decided to go with them.  We shared a cab and arrived at a painful scene.  Imagine a street.  Now on one side, imagine a 3 generation family sitting around a cut-off oil drum with scrap wood burning in it to stay warm.  Neighbors, international volunteers, people from the UN, all gathered around.  This is a family that was evicted in August from their home.  They are non-violently protesting this by living in a makeshift tent across the street from their house.  On the other side, we see their house, which their family has owned for 62 years.  It has a number of  apparently religious Jewish men in it; three of them are on the roof watching us, their side curls waving in the breeze.  One of their friends comes up to us and asks us where we are from.  We tell him.  “Why do you care what is happening here in this country?” he asks.  “Why are you standing here?”  One of the EAPPIS responds, “Because these people need our support right now.”

Because one of the elders inside the tent looks cold, her arms crossed seemingly against the chill, I venture tentatively into the tent intending to give her my shawl.  “I’m so sorry,” I said, going up to her.   “I’m so sorry that you have lost your home. ”  “Where are you from?” she asks, and tell her, “America.”  “Why?”, she asks me, her eyes searching my face.  “Why does America support these people?”  I tell her that many of us question this, send letters to our congressmen and Senators and President Obama, and that our discussions are beginning to change; that even though the Zionist lobbyists are strong, we are beginning to hear other points of view.  I tell her that every night I write in my computer to my friends in hopes of showing people what is really happening.  I tell her that I pray that she will soon have justice and receive her home back again.  Inside the tent, another woman cradles a small child who will soon fall asleep.  Perhaps she will be able to sleep in a bed in the home of sympathetic neighbors.  Recently the children of this family were arrested — for riding their bicycles and playing in the street in front of the tent.  Their presence was disturbing the Jewish neighbors.  “People talk of peace,” she says to me.  “If someone took your house would you be able to talk about peace with him?”    Of course we know that sustainable peace, real peace requires justice for the oppressed.

The family that was evicted today does not want to talk to anyone and we did not see them tonight.  Police vans drove by frequently.  Eventually it grew late, and we came back to the quiet of the hospital compound.

(I’m not anti Semitic.  I believe in that of God in all people, and I love the Jewish Scriptures, the Old Testament.  Please don’t get me wrong on that.  This isn’t about that at all.  It’s about human rights.)

Sleep well.

Chris

One thought on “Sheikh Jarrah: “Why?”

  1. I’m very glad you’re sharing this story in real time, even though I can only imagine how painful it is to stand there as an American. Your stories will be that much more powerful when you return, because you’ve been an eye witness. God be with you!

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