This evening Mahmoud Abbas gave his speech to the United Nations while, amazingly, we sat in the living room of a Palestinian family who had invited us to dinner. We sat on cushions around a common plate of amazing maklouba and sipped tea. As we observed them sitting glued to the TV screen, watching this speech with great pride and longing for their sovereignty, I couldn’t help but be struck with the immense hospitality of this people. We introduce ourselves by name and nationality here, and eyebrows are always raised when I say I am from the USA. It’s natural I should have to hear comments about President Obama’s refusal to support this UN bid. But what really strikes me is constantly repeated refrain, “You are welcome, you are welcome here.” Despite their natural bitter disappointment and anger at the US plan to veto their bid for statehood, they make a distinction between governments and individual people, and welcome to strangers is embedded in their nature. Living in the desert as they do, they know the necessity of sharing life together. And they deeply appreciate the solidarity that the World Council of Churches shows them in EAPPI. It has been said to me, “I know you are part of the peace process.”
This people needs to be seen and heard. They need their voice to be raised up and they long for the US to hear what they have to say. After the speech, there was a long discussion. Many comments from our friends here stand out. I’ll just share one, from a young adult who essentially said, “They talk about 1948 and 1967. What about yesterday? What about today? You have to know this.” His frustration and pain were evident. He means that the removal of Palestinians from their land is an issue now. The people are living it now. They are being harassed and pushed off their land now.
When we left Jerusalem this morning, it was swarming with Israeli soldiers preparing for demonstrations. As we watched demonstrators in Bethlehem and Jerusalem and in other Arab countries in support of the UN bid on TV, it was obvious that the will of the people here in the West Bank is strongly moved toward self-determination, a right guaranteed them by international law. Although there are other views about this bid, as Al Jazeera reports, particularly from the Palestinian diaspora whose concerns are related to the right of return, among other things, I couldn’t help but be moved by the mass of people asking the international community for support, and the fireworks here in Yatta right after the speech. It’s a strange and humbling thing to be here just now and to watch the actions at the UN from this perspective.