Last Thursday I attended communion at Sabeel, an ecumenical Liberation Theology Centre in Jerusalem. Actually, I missed most of the service.
Traveling in an occupied territory takes a long time. One member who regularly attends communion says it takes him an hour and a half to travel the five miles to reach the communion. As anywhere, some of the delay is due to traffic. Unlike most other places though, checkpoints are a big factor. The bus from Bethlehem goes through a checkpoint before entering Jerusalem. The last few times I have undertaken this journey no one was required to leave the bus. So yesterday I was not expecting people to leave the bus and I was not quick enough. I stayed on the bus as soldiers came through to check the passports of the elderly and pregnant who had not left the bus. In front of me sat a developmentally disabled man. A soldier shouted at him and asked him why he hadn’t got off the bus. The bus driver had to intervene and explain that he was developmentally disabled.
I arrived five minutes before the communion ended. Afterwards a man introduced himself as a Quaker from London. He explained that on Sunday he would be starting a tour of Palestine/Israel with four other Quakers and five Jews. The Quakers had decided to support the boycott of settlement goods, a move that elicited a strong Jewish backlash. Because of this the Quakers invited Jews to come and speak with them. The Quakers described how for the first three meetings they just listened to people’s anger and hurt. By the fourth meeting humour was introduced and by the fifth the Quakers were able to share their point of view as well as listen.
Now, two years after the first meeting, four Orthodox Jews and one Liberal have joined the group of Quakers on a fact-finding mission to Israel and Palestine to see things for themselves. People at Sabeel praised the Quakers for their effort and for not giving up the boycott and caving in to the opposition as so many Christian groups do. The Quakers talked about the importance of seeing that of God inside everyone and connecting with people. They said they appreciated how far their Jewish friends had come over the past two years.
I sympathized with this point of view, but had a rude awakening when a Palestinian woman said that if the Jews take another two years to move on further and change their minds about the situation, then there will be no land left for the Palestinians. How valid are our liberal opinions and the view that everyone moves at their own pace and must be listened to, when every day children are being arrested, people killed, houses demolished and land seized? I can offer no answers. Dialogue is vital, yet who should be involved in it and what else has to be done?