Don and I spent all morning since 5 at the North Gate of the village of Jayyous waiting for soldiers. Don is a retired university chaplain from the U.S. The sun was already high by 7 and the temperature soared to 38C. This was September in Palestine. There was no warning about the closure. By 10 am, it is too hot to work in the field. So most of the farmers, about 60 of them, just gave up and went home. But Ahmed stayed on. Someone in the field who stayed the nigh was waiting for him to bring food. There was an old man with a donkey on the other side of the fence. The donkey was loaded with tomatoes and guava. I guess he harvested at night, just in case the gate would not open. Ahmed collected all water in our canteens into a kettle, and started fire with dead branches to make tea. Boy! It was good! There is nothing like sweet hot tea laced with plenty of sage on a scorching hot day. We sipped it in the cool shade of an olive tree. There was sharp loud, “Hee, Hoo.” Donkey protested. I don’t blame him. It’s over 40 degrees! He wants to go down on his back and have a good rub on the sand. We threw some bread soaked in olive oil to the man on the other side and smuggled a tea through the wire fence. He threw some guava back to us. There was a picnic on both sides of the fence.
At 4 P.M., Don and I gave up. There will be no soldiers coming today. It’s one of those unannounced closures. We started back, a forty minutes climb. About a half way up, we ran into another old man on a donkey heading down. He looked like ready to spend the night in the field, so he could start tending tomatoes before sunrise. Don with his elementary Arabic tried to tell him that the gate was closed for good. There would be no Israelis coming to open the gate for you. He stared at us for a long time. “What the hell am I supposed to do?” expression needed no translation. Then he looked up the sky and said, “Inshaala – God willing.” He started to continue the descent anyway. I guess he would not give up. He would wait all night to save his crop. We hadn’t known then that there was a suicide bomber attack in Tel Aviv the day before. We had no radio nor TV. The gate was closed for good. It’s collective punishment.
Don and I started to climb up again. I could not hold back tears. I tried to hide it. Men don’t cry, in Canada anyway. I noticed Don looking up. He too was trying hard to hold back tears. We looked at each other, and had a good cry together. God willing, indeed. What else can we say?
“Where do you see signs of hope?” is the most frequently asked question since I came back after three month stint in Israel and Palestine. I know in theory the word ‘despair’ should not be in the Christian vocabulary. But it is hard to hope, where there is so much hatred and suspicion between peoples. Two peoples in despair.
In October again, the gates on the separation fence was completely closed for a few weeks after a female suicide bomber blew herself up in Haifa. That was the fourth attack since I arrived in the Middle East. It was the beginning of olive harvest and a few weeks before the month of Ramadan. Farmers watched helplessly their most valuable crop wilt on the trees. I could see bottled up anger swell. People were ready to explode. Tension was so thick, and walking into the streets of the village was like walking into thick hot humid air from a cool building. I spoke to a reservist Israeli soldier who wore a grey hair ponytail obviously hating every minute. “Don’t you see what you are doing? You are making terrorists out of these gentle farmers who just want to make a living.” “I know.” he said. “But it’s order. What can I do?” And he looked at me almost on the verge of tears. I didn’t see any sign of hope at the gate.
Where is a sign of hope in this? I don’t see it. Do we still dare to hope? Yes, only in faith where there is no sign of hope. What sustains my faith is my South African experience. When I was in Southern Africa during the seventies’, it was time of despair. Many friends died fighting Apartheid. One of them was Steve Biko; they beat him to death. Four years later, a friend turned out to be a spy – Craig Williamson who had informed on Steve. I then really despaired. I saw no hope. South Africa would never be free in my life time, I felt. How wrong I was!! Miracle happens, God willing – Inshaala. That’s where I get strength to hold on to faith that enables me to dare to hope. Not the visible sign. I can’t see it, but I have hope.