Thursday, August 25, 2011
Yesterday morning began with a sobering e-mail. The American Consulate sent a message to all Americans they knew to be travelling in Palestine/Israel. Diplomatic personnel were forbidden to be in the old city of Jerusalem, and tourists were strongly encouraged to stay clear of the city. There were fears that demonstrations and violence could erupt because “of a rally planned for the excavations below the southeast wall of the old city.”
Turns out our dear friend, Glenn Beck, the American rant-show host, was having a rally called “Restoring Courage Jerusalem.” He, and a crowd made up mostly of white, t-shirt wearing, evangelical Christian Americans, were there to shout encouragement to poor little Israel to hang tough against the great swarm of enemies threatening to overwhelm her. Beck chose to have this rally on a spot of land directly below the Al-Aqsa mosque, in Arab east Jerusalem, at the time of afternoon prayers, in the holiest month of the Muslim calendar. What might he have been thinking?
Fortunately, the rally was poorly attended. Fewer than 1000 people filled the 2000 seats set up. Beck’s rally was outnumbered by a throng of Israeli peace activists who chanted throughout his speech. The rally was outright condemned by numerous prominent rabbis, and largely panned by most of the Israeli press. Most importantly, no one threw a single rock from the mosque above (that’s only because I wasn’t there!).
While Beck was making a fool of himself and our country, I was in a tiny village named Yanoun. Set in a breathtakingly beautiful spot in the hills above the Jordan Valley, Yanoun is one of the most bizarre and sad places I have ever been. You will hear much about Yanoun, and places like it, when I return.
I went to visit a group of people in the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), a program of the World Council of Churches. Teams of five folks, picture below, spend terms of three months living in a tiny house in Yanoun. They monitor the outlandish and thuggish behavior of the Israeli settlers who surround this village on three sides. Space and time do not allow me to list here the unbelievable conditions under which the Yanoun villagers live. Suffice to say, these five individuals, and the larger effort of which they are part, try to get the word out about the conditions Palestinians endure under Israeli occupation. These stories never make our nightly news or newspapers. Through such folks as Mahlin, Eva, Christopher, Mairead, and Phumlahpi, however, some of the truth dribbles out. More importantly, this small village of Palestinians is encouraged to struggle on and not lose hope.
Yesterday morning and today have been about finishing up here at the University. What a sadness this is. In the last class today, I played for the class a video of Martin Luther King’s great speech that rocked our nation 48 years ago this Sunday. Though they could only understand about 1/3 of the English, the students nevertheless understood clearly what Dr. King was talking about. It occurred to me in hearing and reading the speech how important Palestine is in it. Twice, Doctor King quotes the Bible in the speech. Both quotes use vivid imagery of the Palestinian countryside.
Two things happen in every conversation I have here. First, I am told “you are welcome.” Second, I am asked, “Why don’t you Americans support our struggle for freedom?” Sadly, the face we present to Palestine and to the world is the face of Glenn Beck. I tell them with all the passion I can muster that Glen Beck is not America, that many Americans feel for the Palestinian cause, including a growing number of Jews. But even after three weeks, I can see in my students’ eyes a weary rejoinder: we’ve heard all this before.
I hope if you are reading this that you will look up EAPPI, and other NGO’s like it (who are, in Beck’s words, “bullying” Israel), and educate yourself further about this situation. Our government is the not-so-indirect funder of these settlements. Do you know what your tax dollars are doing today?