Do Unto Others focuses on the Middle East, (nonviolent) social movements, and how I make sense of my place in the world. I'm currently based in Cairo, Egypt doing peacebuilding and community development.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Hope: The Reordering of History

I think it’s appropriate to start off a series of posts about my time in Palestine and Israel with a quote. As I was flying over the Atlantic on Delta flight 776, I read something in Shane Claiborne’s new book, Jesus For President, which speaks profoundly to the situation in the West Bank.

“Too often we learn history through the lens of redemptive violence, memorizing dates of wars and battles. We’ve ordered history by the reigns of kings and presidents. But rarely do we remember how nonviolent movements have markers history and how the saints of the church have transformed societies and peoples. And we define news as acts of violence rather than the hidden acts of love that keep hope alive.”

It’s very easy to define the history of this land (the land that is now Israel and Palestine) by the dates of wars and global shifts in power. 1948, the year of Nakba (catastrophe) for Palestinians; yet that same year is the year of independence for the state of Israel. 1967, the Six Day War, when Israel gained more of the holy land including Jerusalem which is their holy city; yet that same here forced more and more Palestinian families from their homes and sent them scurrying as refugees. We can go on with ordering history by the prime ministers that have led Israel and what those prime ministers have meant for Israel.

As important as these dates may be for understanding this land, the stories we heard of people’s resilience, determination, and love, in the face of desperation and frustration was much more definitive for me.

I think of my friend Atta Jaber, a Palestinian man who has had his home demolished twice by the Israeli military. In addition to that devastation, his family’s land has been almost totally confiscated and during that confiscation process their fruit trees were uprooted and their olive trees were chopped at the root. Atta’s brother built an extension onto their parent’s home to add additional room for the children. Predictably, this extension was also bulldozed by the Israeli military. Atta’s brother and his family are now crammed into a 2 bedroom home with more than 7 children.

Atta has rebuilt his home 2 times and continues to face harassment by Israeli military and Jewish settlers who live illegally in the West Bank. These settlers have confiscated his land and harass his children. Atta told us that at numerous times, his life has been a living hell. I ask Atta what he sees in the future, where does he see for his family and for the Palestinian people.

Atta hesitates, takes a few draws on his cigarette and responds, “I must be a man of hope. If I don’t have hope then what do I have? At times this situation seems hopeless, but I must keep hopeful, because if I don’t, then I have nothing.”