Parties cling to old hatreds in ancient land
Posted June 23, 2015
JERICHO, The West Bank —
Land of hope and holy
Unclinch your fists
Let your children play
"Play" is the title of that poem. Raleigh poet Doug Kenyon penned it during the 2014 Gaza War.
Just yesterday, the United Nations declared that both sides committed war crimes last summer.
Both sides say the report is wrong. They did not. They are innocent. Sounds as if their teeth are now as clenched as their fists.
On Sunday, Rabbi Eric Solomon and I made our way to Jericho, the oldest city of earth. Our guide is Husam Jubran, a Palestinian Muslim who lives in Bethlehem. Husam has quite a history of activism for the Palestinian cause. Decades ago, he served time in jail where he was beaten during 50 days of interrogation. His defiance was rock throwing and hiding from Israeli authorities. Years later, this man, who told me he would have been labeled a terrorist by today's terminology, remains passionate, but his fists are no longer clenched. He does not throw stones anymore. Literally or metaphorically.
Husam drives us in a borrowed car with the proper license plates on bypass roads. He is not allowed to drive on a more direct route. He takes us to an abandoned refugee camp and other sites. All along the way the rabbi and I pepper him with questions. He answers each in great detail.
I listen intently as Jew and Palestinian talk, spar, try to comprehend each other. It's fascinating.
Jericho is remarkable. Scorching sun. Intoxicating.
Ancient ruins reveal the oldest known man-made structure in the world. "This is 10,000 years old," Jubran explains. There may be older discoveries on the planet. "But not made with human hands."
We overlook the valley beneath us. An amazing, deep spring provides water for the lush farms in the area. Banana trees, fruits and vegetables are a strong reminder that this is the land of milk and honey. The spring also provides plenty of water for those who live nearby. We will soon be told why that's not the case for many who live in the West Bank.
Before we begin our journey down the hillside, I ask Rabbi Solomon to pray. We lock arms at our shoulders. Chills fill my spine when I hear, "Dear God, as I look out over this region, to the mountain, to the Dead Sea, I don't see any borders. No walls. No barriers to your love and to the possibility of peace. Bless your land. Bless Israel. Bless us all."
Back to the water. We visit an Eco-Peace center, partially funded by the USAID. We are lectured over how the Palestinians view the water issue. Many are without water when they want it: Water cut off. Water not supplied. Water supplied to Israel by Palestinians without compensation. "Is it fair?" he asks, already knowing his answer.
In nearby new Jewish settlements, there are homes with green lawns, even swimming pools.
"And we don't know when we can drink, bathe," the Palestinian says. "You tell me what is fair."
We leave, negotiating checkpoints. They are more than a nuisance to those who maneuver them daily. Some of the checkpoints are humiliating and can cause great delays for Palestinians simply trying to leave their "zone" and earn a living.
Why are the fists still clenched?
"It's always just under the surface, David," My friend Marcie Lenk reminded me. "We try, but it's hard to escape."
Another friend says, "I am compassionate, liberal on this issue. But we won the war! We won the war, David. What do we do?"
Another, a learned Jew, says, "There are two sides to this story. But it's clear, one side is much stronger than the other. The scales are not balanced."
As we drive back toward a checkpoint in Ramallah where I will find a taxi to Jerusalem, I ask Husam, "Can there ever be peace in your lifetime?"
After a long silence, from behind glistening eyes, he says, "I don't know. I hope so. I hope we can teach peace to our children. They may have it."
He ends his answer, "The land doesn't belong to us. We all belong to the land. All."
Let your children play.
A great irony in this Sunday. As we are in the desert of Judea listening to stories of war and peace, an Israeli officer is stabbed in the neck while working at the Damascus Gate of the Old City of Jerusalem. He survives. His assailant, believed to be 18 or so is still on the run