After the bombing (September 19)

Jayyous Letter: After the Bombing

On [August 9] when the suicide bombers struck, we were at a farewell party for a colleague who was returning to the UK. Someone at the party said there had been a bombing today somewhere. Nobody knew anything more. We have no radio nor TV. Our only source of news is street talk. We wondered what kind of retaliatory actions the Israelis would take. But we had a nice party. It is amazing that Muslims can have so much fun and noise without booze. We all went to bed happy affirming our friendship.

Next morning, I was on the noon gate watch with my American colleague, Don. There was an unusual number of jet planes and helicopters buzzing all morning, but we did not take too much notice of it. This is a quiet and peaceful farming village. As we climbed down a dusty, rocky, twisting path between olive trees, a 4 km hike, we noticed a dozen young men lying under the olive trees waiting for the gate to open. "Why not", I said. "It”s hot. Might as well take a nap. You never know when they will show up." But this was an unusually large number of people who would take food to the field for the workers. We didn”t think too much of it and joined them under the tree. I often take a nap in this way, waiting for the jeep”s arrival. We waited and waited, and at 2 pm we decided that there was something funny going on, and phoned the Center for the Defense of Individuals–an Israeli Human Rights organization, that helps Palestinians with information about check points and gates.

We were told that all the check points and gates were closed until further notice. They never give any notice about the gates opening time; you just have to wait. I phoned the EAPPI Jerusalem office to get a bigger picture of the situation. We got the picture, and it was frightening. With the news about an extensive military action everywhere, we decided that it was hopeless to wait and told the farmers so. They started to climb 4 km uphill. Apparently, they were there at the 5:30 a.m. opening, but the military allowed only the older men through. So they were waiting under the tree hoping that they could still work in the afternoon and earn some money. Jesus didn”t speak about those who never showed up in the vineyard, so there was no biblical reference about how much they should be paid! Then a group of workers showed up on the other side of the fence and started to install speed limit signs and no entry signs. A young farmer who was still hanging around trying to learn English from us went and helped them from this side. It was the funniest sight you could imagine. But as soon as those workers disappeared over the horizon, he tore apart the signs he just helped to install. I didn”t know what to do. If he is found, he could be shot: a warning sign says so.

Fast forward three days. Don and I were on the way to Jerusalem. Per Einer, our Norwegian colleague, didn”t want to come because the news sounded too scary to travel. Besides, being a pastor from a country church, he didn”t find Jerusalem attractive. I had a meeting of WCC-EAPPI to attend for the Canadian churches. We reserved a taxi to come at 5 a.m. We thought it was early enough to get to the 9 a.m. meeting since it is only 80 km. But no, I didn”t make it. It was nearly noon when I got there.

There were two check points we knew about. But there were a few more mobile check points that were set up at random. And the checking was thorough. They took a long time to search every vehicle and asked many questions looking at ID. Crying babies, or sick persons, didn”t make any difference. Soldiers looked scared and were more rude than usual. And there was absolutely no respect. Young men treating older persons in such a rude manner is not allowed in any culture, but especially in the Middle East. What amazes me every time I go through the check points in the Occupied Territories is the stoic way people endure such ill treatment. I would lose my temper much sooner than these people, and I am not known for my short temper. I can also imagine how much anger they are piling up inside. And this has been going on for how many years?

Jerusalem was chaotic. Cars and people were bottled up on every street corner in East Jerusalem. I didn”t have time to go to West Jerusalem, so I didn”t see what the atmosphere was like. The German Colony section where the second bomber struck is an area I often visited. This is because, ironically, it is where many Israeli peace groups have their offices and they are sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.

I was glad to be back in Jayyous. But how long can peace last under such abusive conditions with the fence and the gates? I wonder what will happen when olive harvest time comes? They need hundreds of day workers to pick olives. Can they go through the gate? How long would it take to check that many IDs? Or do the Israelis intend to let the crop fail? The Palestinians have already been told that from yesterday on anyone who stays in the field overnight will be arrested. Is this a signal that the harvest is not going to happen? We decided to test their will by having some of us to stay overnight with the farmers. Tonight, Per Einer is out there. I wonder what will happen? Olive harvest is in the middle of October.

Till next time, peace, salaam, shalom!

Tad Mitsui

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