Journey to the Holy Land – Day 15

November 7, 2010

Sunday in Birzeit dawned with a beautiful sunrise and the promise of a pleasant, warm and sunny day.  My planned activities for today are to attend Mass at Ave Maria Latin Catholic Church.

I think I may have forgotten to mention that my housing during my time here is graciously provided by this church and I was told that I would have a room in the convent.  When I arrived, the pastor took me to my room which is in what I would consider to be the rectory—a large area with offices for the two priests, a small and large conference room, a kitchen and bedrooms for the priests, I assume.  My room was isolated at the far end of the building away from the other day-to-day church business rooms.  It has a bedroom with the usual amenities and a private bathroom.  I found out yesterday that my concept of a convent (where nuns reside) and the Palestinian definition of a convent are entirely different.  The Palestinians call their entire church complex which includes all buildings—church, rectory, nuns’ residence, and school buildings –the convent.  I finally understood why I was not housed with the nuns!

It seems that I also have a communication problem with the local folks when it comes to time.  There is only one Mass celebrated on Sunday and Jamilah told me it is at 9:45 a.m. and that we would meet in the alcove and sit together for the service.  I had a couple of hours to spend writing in my journal before going to meet her as I tend to rise early (and don’t get me started on the barking dogs that enjoy disturbing my sleep!).

I headed over to the church at 9:40 and there didn’t seem to be anyone around as I would have expected.  I peered into the church and saw only one nun.  I went in and asked her what time Mass started and she said 10 o’clock!  So I sat in the back pew and continued my journal entry.  Ten o’clock came and the only people in sight were a group of young school children who began to pray the rosary with this Sister.

I walked outside and sat at the edge of the veranda and continued my writing while awaiting Jamilah.  Within a few minutes the Parochial Vicar for the parish came up the steps so I decided that surely HE would know what time Mass started.  He said 10:15!  Perhaps there was a ‘slight’ communication barrier regarding time between me and other Palestinian church-goers!  Many people had been gathering on the veranda for conversation starting around 10:00.  I recognized and greeted several people from the Senior Center and then Jamilah arrived a few minutes before the REAL time for Mass to begin.

Jamilah likes to sit near the front which is usually my choice but not the best idea for me on this particular day.  Their liturgy includes the abundant use of incense.  It brought back bad memories of elementary school days and my passing out from the smell.  I did manage to maintain my dignity and stay upright during the entire Mass!

After Mass I was introduced to Khalil Sayej in whose home I was to be a guest for the afternoon.  After driving to his home, only a short distance from the church, I met his lovely wife and children.  Khalil is an engineer who received his education in Russia.  He is experienced in all types of engineering and works on many local projects, mainly focusing on rebuilding the Palestinian infrastructure, especially the roads which have been damaged many times due to the on-going conflict with Israel.  As I drove to Birzeit last week, I noticed a sign that US AID is providing assistance in this rebuilding project and that made me very proud of my country.  Khalil believes that rebuilding the infrastructure of Palestine is the key to moving the Palestinians towards the peaceful declaration of their statehood.  Once the infrastructure is repaired, economic development can begin in earnest to support the livelihood of the people.  

Perhaps the following statement may seem simplified to many of my readers but he believes that the crux of the conflict could be resolved in 24 hours if the Israelis would withdraw their military from Palestinian territories in the West Bank.  I have witnessed how disruptive the military presence is to the daily lives of these people.  I can’t imagine living under the conditions that I have witnessed first hand.  As Khalil said, “If you want to live in peace with your neighbors, you don’t build a 20-foot-high wall between you.  You build bridges of understanding instead.”  It is difficult for me to comprehend how the people who I have met and talked to at length about their challenges can be a security threat to Israel with its powerful military arsenal.  Keep in mind that what the media chooses to report regarding this conflict may not be a complete picture.  As I read recently, conflict makes the news instantly but few news agencies will cover a demonstration for peace.

Palestinian President Abbas, who does not come from a military background as many of the Israeli leaders do, has put together a two-year plan to rebuild the infrastructure and draw economic developers to the area.  In the meantime, for peace to succeed it will require the “people on the ground” both in Israel and Palestine to stand up and let their voices be heard by their leaders.  They are all tired of the conflict and want to see it brought to an end with a just solution and humanitarian needs provided for all people.

Both Khalil and Jamilah related situations that involve family members who live in Jerusalem.  Jamilah’s daughter has lived there with her husband and two children for the past 11 years. However, they are not permitted to begin air travel together.  Her husband and children are Palestinian Israeli citizens and therefore can fly from the Tel Aviv airport in Israel.  Her daughter, who only has a one-year Israeli ID and must reapply for the ID each year, must travel to Jordan and fly from the airport in Amman.  Can you imagine having to do this with your family?

Khalil’s mother-in-law lives in Jerusalem with one of her daughters.  They have Israeli IDs and are permitted to travel to Birzeit to visit family.  However, no one in Khalil’s family, other than his wife who has an Israeli ID, can go to visit his mother and sister-in-law in Jerusalem.  Sometimes for holidays such as Christmas and Easter, the Israelis will give one day permits for travel to Jerusalem.  On the other hand, Khalil’s doctor is Jewish and practices in Jerusalem and he writes a pass for Khalil to come to Jerusalem for his doctor visits every two months.  It really is a shame that some of these “rules” cannot be relaxed in the interest of moving toward a lasting peace. 

I want to say that I do not pretend to understand the complexities of the situation here but after 62 years of living under occupation, there must be some brightness on the horizon for the Palestinians and the Israelis.  Many people believe that if peace can be brought to these two cultures and nationalities, then a peaceful co-existence between Israel and the other Arab nations will result as well.  The Middle East would lose its status as a “hot spot” in the world and wouldn’t that be a wonderful thing! 

I never expected to see the end of the Soviet Union in my lifetime but I did.  I never expected to witness the Berlin Wall come down in my lifetime but I did.  Now my expectations are set higher and I DO expect to see a peaceful resolution in Palestine and Israel in my lifetime, and since I plan on living a lot more years, let’s make it happen sooner than later!

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Published in: on November 8, 2010 at 12:44 pm  Leave a Comment  

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