Thursday, October 11, 2012

peace for our--everyone's--sake

Our trip leader, Will, has posted a fabulous blog with a full recap of yesterdays people, places, and events--including photos! Check it out here.

This saves me the time of repeating ad nauseum what has already been described perfectly well. Instead I would like to elaborate on the most memorable (for me) part of yesterday: meeting with peacemaker Elias Jabbour in his home. Elias is a Palestinian Christian living in Shafer' Am, an Arab village in Galilee. His father, now deceased, was the mayor of Shafer' Am for 36 years, and saw three different regime changes during that time (Ottoman, British, and Israeli). Elias is committed to honoring the legacy of his father and carrying on his father's work of servanthood and peacemaking.

Our group had lunch with Elias in his living room, listening raptly to his stories. Growing up under British rule, he and other children learned English in school, in aspirations of doing higher education in England one day. He remembers very clearly July 14, 1948--the day a Jewish army commander knocked on the door of his home--the one Elias still lives in today--and captured his father. It was surreal to look at the front door; to imagine being a child and hearing such a knock.

Elias spent the majority of our time together talking about peace. "It will not just happen," he said. "We have to intentionally seek it. This requires effort, and education, just like anything else."

Elias travels the world speaking about peace in the Holy Land. He is the founder of House of Hope, the first Arab-initiated International Peace Center in the Galilee area, and is a major proponent of peace education, starting with children as early as preschool.

One of the most difficult parts of Palestinians' current situation, he said, is the feeling of invisibility to the larger world. "Palestine is almost gone from the map. The most difficult thing is to be left alone...We are really afraid of being forgotten. What I want is for people to remember us. Pray for us...we ask for prayer because prayer is safe. When people ask me what side to take, I say, "don't take anyone's side. Take the side of peace and justice, for everyone.'"

"Palestine is almost gone from the map." Some of Elias' words felt hopeless...and yet he spoke them with such hope. It is his opinion that peace in the Holy Land is inevitable--meaning that it's just not possible for the present conflict to go on forever. History, to him, shows that it won't. "We don't want to die for the sake of the problem," he said. "The problem must die for our sake."

At some point, Elias stressed, people have to forgive. Peace will be the eventual outcome, he is sure. The sad qualifier he added, however, was that this may not happen for another 60 years--long after the time he will be alive to see the fruit of his work. In spite of these sad realities, to hear Elias speak is to be in awe of his candor, congenial nature, and joviality. He can express even deep pain with a smile that conveys not only sadness, but wisdom and hope. 

Elias compared the Holy Land to a house, saying, "you live in half the house, and I'll live in the other half." Our tour guide, Sadeek--who is also an old friend of Elias'--was also present for this entire conversation. In response to Elias statement regarding the shared house, Sadeek, somewhat cynically and sarcastically, added, "that would be great." I appreciated Sadeek's comment because I think it reveals the pain and hurt felt by many Palestinians, who are not necessarily content to wait around for 60 years or for eternity for simple things like dignity and equality; who are tired of being promised such things and not receiving them; who are tired of being treated as 'less than'; who want justice now.

"There is no way to peace; peace is the way." -Mahatma Gandhi

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