I can only imagine how many announcers had rehearsed over and over again (in case they needed it) the following lines: "After 108 years, the Chicago Cubs have won the World Series!" It was an amazing game. A script for a movie begging to be made. I was living in New England when the Red Sox broke their 86 year losing streak and I am now living in Chicago to witness the Cubs' triumph. I was in Newport, Rhode Island the day the Australians won the Holy Grail of boat racing, The America's Cup. The Aussies came back from a 3 to 1 deficit in a best of 7 series and broke the 130 year winning streak of the USA. (Keep in mind I was still an Australian citizen at the time.) I am beginning to think I might carry some influence. :)
Ok...on to the business at hand. Another engaging day of encounters. Our schedule consisted of three different conversations on the contemporary Israeli/Palestinian conflict.
Our first conversation took place in Ramallah (just north of Jerusalem in the West Bank) in the administrative offices of the Palestinian Authority. There we met with Estephan Salameh who works as a policy and planning advisor to the Prime Minister. Among many other things, he talked of how his whole life has been shaped by this conflict and of the ways he has dedicated his life to being a force for change. He helped us see the complexities of the conflict on both the Palestinian and Israeli sides, how the situation has deteriorated over the past few decades, and why the current reality of life and fear cannot continue indefinitely.
From there we drove south of Jerusalem to Bethlehem to meet with the Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb. Mitri is the Senior Minister the Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem and is a highly respected community leader in that region. He also serves as President of Dar ak-Kalima University College of Arts and Culture in Bethlehem. Mitri shared with us his perspective of how the military occupation of the West Bank (which is where Bethlehem is located) negatively impacts the lives of Palestinians. It was a somber reflection. He also shared the incredible work being done through the University and cultural center.
After a stop for lunch, we boarded our bus for the 40 minute drive to visit the site of Roots--a local Palestinian /Israeli initiative for understanding, non-violence, and transformation. This is the organization begun a few years ago by Ali Abu Awwad and Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger (they both spoke at GUC last month) and is dedicated to reconciliation. Shaul Judelman and Noor Hashem Atallah A'Wad shared their stories with us of how they became involved in efforts to bring together Israelis and Palestinians to meet face to face. They are working to create the conditions for personal stories to be shared and heard in such a way that they do not compete or conflict--instead these encounters become the context for mutual understanding and recognition. They know their progress will be slow. They know even more that it is absolutely essential.
Since yesterday afternoon we have been learning just how complicated, confusing, and conflicted daily life on the ground is for Palestinians. Both Mitri and Estephan are working through their respective institutional roles and community leadership to bring about a just, peaceful, and lasting change. There was something uniquely captivating about the work of Roots--it felt very simple, direct, and full of hope.
Throughout the day, I was reminded of something I read years ago by a theologian about optimism and despair: they both claim to know too much about what will (or will not) be. Hope, on the other hand, is different. Hope, on the other hand, admits a certain ignorance about what could be and sets about taking the next step in that direction. Mitri, Estephan, Shaul, and Noor were not optimists, they are certainly not strangers to despair--but each of them in their own way are full of hope. We all came away honored to be in their company.