by Bob Cooke
Pax Christi Metro D.C.-Baltimore co-coordinator
Our pilgrimage saw, and experienced, a variety of things today that unfortunately are all too common to many Palestinians–but certainly not for middle class Americans.
Our day started at the Aida Refugee Camp, one of the three refugee camps for Palestinians in Bethlehem and one of nineteen in the West Bank with 741,409 registered refugees (not counting the eight refugee camps and 1,221,110 registered refugees in Gaza and the numerous Palestinian refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria with millions more Palestinian refugees).
While we were near the entrance of the Aida refugee camp, marked by a large “key of return” hanging over it–a symbol of hope for the refugees there–we heard and saw tear gas canisters explode about 150 yards from us. About 15 or so young boys had gathered there and were apparently being disbursed by the Israeli authorities.
As the children ran away and the smoke dissipated beyond them, we wondered why the tear gas canisters were tossed at them and were glad we were not closer. But that feeling did not last long as eyes started tearing and our throats tightened from the invisible gas that had now caught up to us. As we quickly left the area, we were no longer observers of Palestinian life; we were now, at least to a very small extent, participants.
After we toured the narrow streets of this decades-old camp filled with much expected anger just beneath the surface but also with hope for a better life for the children, we went to the Tent of Nations.
At the Tent of Nations (http://www.tentofnations.org/ and http://fotonna.org/), we were greeted by Daoud Nassar and his family, whose motto is, “We Refuse To Be Enemies”, despite many worldly reasons to do so with their occupiers. We learned of the Nassar family’s many struggles to hold onto their land after almost 25 years of legal battles with the Israeli military courts and Supreme Court, and of their many ministries to their neighbors, who are mostly Muslim, in areas of peacemaking, women’s empowerment and practical living skills, to name only a few. Their perseverance, while being faced with many obstacles, shows it is possible, with God’s help, to love your enemies and live a life of faith, hope, love and peace despite tremendous obstacles to such a life.
Our final stop of the day, after visiting the tombs of the patriarchs in Hebron, was to visit the Christian Peacemaker Teams (http://www.cpt.org/category/cptnet-categories/palestine) living there. Chloe, a young English woman who has been in Hebron for about six months, talked with us while her teammates were out in the field. We learned of the great accompaniment work that they do with school children and some of the other work they do in walking with their Palestinian brothers and sisters while trying to reach out in love to the young Israeli soldiers, many of whom make life very difficult, to say the least, for those Palestinians living in Hebron among some of the most ideological settlers in the West Bank.
Our day ended by going to the opening ceremonies of the Pax Christi International World Assembly in Bethlehem, where hundreds of peacemakers around the world gathered to mark the 70th anniversary of Pax Christi International. We hope to learn much more from our brothers and sisters around the world on how they follow the nonviolent Jesus and work for a much more just world from Bethlehem to Baltimore and beyond.