May 17 th I left Jerusalem en route home to Canada. The EAPPI* program has finished for group 39.
It is hard to leave after 3 months of living in Hebron in the West Bank of Palestine.
Tears, goodbyes, parties, gifts, hugs and many, many good wishes and handshakes. And many memories.
Our taxi driver, Arafat, who lives closeby, waits for us in the morning as we leave the apartment on our way to Cordoba School. He smiles as we get in. The good mornings, how are you. We use our limited Arabic. Sabah ilher, kief halick, shukran, good morning, how are you, and thank you.
Part of our accompaniment work is to walk with children going to Cordoba School. Their school is right across the street from an Israeli settlement named Beit Hadassah. There have been attacks on the children, their parents and teachers in the past. Israeli soldiers protect the settlers; international volunteers protect all the children, both Israeli and Palestinian.
As we make our way toward the school, he asks, coffee? yes, please. He stops at the turnaround, where a man is carrying a large metal pot. Plastic cups are in his pockets. Three coffees, one for my colleague and I, and one Arafat. We try to pay: no way. This does not happen in Canada, the taxi driver buying us a good morning coffee. Arafat, I will miss you and your hospitality.
Later that morning we patrol the old city. Abed is opening his shop. He is one of 3 shopkeepers left on Shuhada Street, which used to be the busiest street in Hebron. Today Shuhada Street is a ghost town. Those shops are located on a street where Palestinians are no longer able to walk. Sounds crazy, but true.
The reasons are complicated. Partly it is due to the 1994 killing of 29 Palestinians at the Ibrahimi Mosque. Israeli settler, Dr. Baruch Goldstein, walked into the Mosque, shooting men at prayer. He was subsequently killed, then riots broke out in Hebron. Due to the riots, part of the busy market street was closed. Six years later in 2000 the Palestinian uprising called the second intifada occurs and the remainder of the street is completely closed.
With no Palestinians allowed on the street, there is little commerce. These shopkeepers sell to the occasional Israeli settler, to international or Israeli tours that come through. Sometimes Palestinians call to Abed across the army-manned checkpoint asking him to bring something over for them to look at. As you can imagine business is down, remarkably, from earlier days.
We stop to say sabah ilher, good morning, and how are things going. How is your family? Abed asks if we would like tea. Of course. He puts on the kettle, while we take a seat. Tea, with mint, nana. He knows internationals do not use as much sugar as Palestinians. He agreeably adds the half a spoon of sugar I request. His comment is why bother with so little.
One morning several internationals who are volunteering in Hebron are having tea with Abed. As usual it is a time to joke as well as a time to catch up on news. As there are many of us, some of the chairs are on the street right next to the shop. Just then a car pulls up. Close to us, very close. So close that it almost hits the back of my chair.
We all look to see what is happening. Out come 2 Israeli settlers who make their way to an Israeli store across the street. As they cross the street, we start to laugh, and laugh and laugh. Abed is laughing the hardest. He tells us that this happens quite often. But today he is able to laugh because he has a group of friends and supporters with him, who know his situation. And he laughs because some days when this happens, he is crying inside for the cruelty his neighbours express.
But today we are all laughing at the silliness of the 2 men . They cannot accept others, that is, Palestinians, living and working beside them. They cannot accept that Palestinians have any right to be here. Radical settlers, living here illegally as all settlements are illegal, due to the 4th Geneva Convention, and with the tacit approval of the government of Israel.
We are laughing to help Abed deal with the occupation that causes most Palestinians untold indignities and humiliation in an effort to get them to leave their land and property.
Today I decide to buy something from the shop: some camel wind chimes for my family. And everytime I see them I will see Abed laughing.
I am home in Canada but my memories and cherished moments bring Palestinians with me.
Thank you to all who made this experience so special. Please know that I am home yet my heart is with you all. And one day I hope to return. Inshallah, God willing.
*EAPPI Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine/Israel www.eappi.org