Lots has happened in the past two weeks in Beit Jala and Jerusalem
Saturday (3/16): Rockets from Gaza and violence in Bethlehem
There were rockets fired from Gaza that hit Tel Aviv yesterday. Israel retaliated with bombs aimed at 100 Hamas targets. I am unclear how many bombs were dropped or how many civilians killed, but the presence of fear is present in my body. The conflict feels much more alive here in Beit Jala: there is no Iron Dome protecting us and we’re technically under the auspices of the Palestinian Authority, whatever it does. I feel mostly safe in this basement apartment, but am not sure about the border crossing back into Jerusalem. I anticipate more security at the checkpoint and fear for the Palestinians crossing borders.
I know Israelis and foreigners with ties to Gaza: one Israeli boy patrols the Gazan border as an army officer, another is a journalist, yet another group hosts a coding program there. I am worried for their safety too. Last night, Joann mentioned that the United States is purchasing the Iron Dome technology from Israel to prevent missiles from North Korea. No place is safe. Safety is an illusion that helps me sleep at night.
I am going to face eighteen Palestinian students in a few hours. How to pretend that everything is normal? We are living in a war zone and that much is suddenly clear. It dawns on me that they must already know, the trauma is ever-present in their lives and this is nothing new.
Two days ago, a man stabbed his wife to death not too far from Odait’s tailor shop in a Bethlehem mall. The mall was on lockdown. Najah thought about canceling our third meeting with the young girls in Schwarwa. We saw remnants of the tragedy as we taxied to the village: policemen in riot gear, helmets and shields, sirens. Later, Najah would tell us that violence is not an individual matter here in Palestine: when a man kills his wife, the wife’s family is allowed to retaliate at will for twenty-four hours. In this Palestinian custom, the injured party often enacts revenge by killing the wisest person from the offending party’s village. And this goes on and on.
The villages go to war for these twenty-four hours. Nothing is safe during this time: there is indiscriminate violence in the streets. It is chilling that one isolated incident, a man killing his wife, becomes not so isolated after all… shifting society into a downwards spiral of anger and revenge.
Indiscriminate violence cannot be the answer to tragedy. It perpetuates a cycle of anger, pain, and hurt that ripples into an entire society, creating cumulative trauma. This pain becomes the legacy of generations.
Najah mentions that not every Palestinian village has this custom, just a few; it is lucky that her village doesn’t participate in such retribution. She is an old wise woman, and perhaps she would be in danger if it did.
My fear of being alone arose this morning very viscerally in the body. Dread, doubt about waking up… the kind of dread that usually only resides when I’ve had an unresolved conflict with a friend or family member. Yet today, that dread came from fear of war, not something I can resolve with a mindful and loving conversation. Not just one, anyways.
I shared this fear of being alone after our sit today, and during breakfast Joann reminded me that Mariposa will always be home for me. I am welcome there at any time. It was a great relief to hear this: Mariposa does feel like my second home in the states, and it fits with my aspiration to live in shared spiritual community. At Mariposa, my needs and cultural expectations are met without question: honesty, space, timeliness, even the ability to speak my own native language — things not necessarily valued here.
There is a comfort and familiarity to being back in the United States, and I cannot say that I do not belong there. So many of my needs are based in my upbringing there, and in the upbringing of my parents and my parents’ parents. In that way, I am not separate from Japan or China or Hawaii either… I am a unity of many cultures, and I will never stop belonging to them, whether I like it or not. Whether I claim them as part of my heritage or identity or not.
A new dream: Imagination Summer Camp
During our resiliency trainings, I fell in love with the 10–12 year old girls from Schwarwa. The girls were helpful, enthusiastic, and bright; just seeing them on the first day softened my heart and renewed my energy. We gave backwards high-fives, ran through fields of flowers, made silly faces. They were pure joy to be with, and I was a child with them.
On our first day there, Joann guided us through an imaginary island.
If you can, imagine walking through a forest to a clearing. There, you find a paddle boat with your name on it. The boat magically weaves through the water with rainbow fish dancing beside you, and soon you arrive at your very own island. This island is safe and friendly, and nothing you find there will be scary. You may find a furry animal, or a beach, or a little house in the woods with a warm bed.
On our second day, we explored our islands by foot.
What might you have missed on your first visit? What could you do there? Who might you invite to join you?
In my mind, I saw fields of wildflowers, an olive grove with never-ending harvest, and a little house with a fridge full of fruits and home-cooked meals. I explored caves, and hidden waterfalls, and then, I suddenly found myself in a Hall of Elders: a place of many caves where I could talk to the spirits of my loved ones. I saw my parents, Lisa, Joann, and a long thread of ancestors that have come before me. Their presence soothed me. No matter where I may go, my elders will always be with me.
Najah said that this was the first time that the girls had used their imaginations. In school, they are constantly directed to follow instructions and do work, but never to let their minds run free and wild with possibility. They marveled in it, and I marveled at their marveling.
A new dream of mine: starting “Imagination Summer Camp” for the girls in September. Camp can be a combination of fantasy and problem-solving based on the imagination. Who knows how this dream will manifest? I will return to Schwarwa to facilitate another workshop for 8–10 year olds in April.
Friday (3/22): Two different worlds
This morning, Lisa messaged me to ask if I had heard the situation in Bethlehem. A Palestinian man driving with his wife and two daughters was shot near the checkpoint Wednesday. He had gotten out of his car because his car was rear-ended by another vehicle, and an Israeli guard opened fire, severely injuring him. A passerby stopped to take the man to the hospital and returned to confirm the family was safe. This second man too was shot, and he died. In response, Palestinians in Bethlehem have declared Friday a “Day of Rage”. Businesses will strike, people may throw rocks and shoot in the streets. Will anywhere in Bethlehem be safe?
I arrived in Jerusalem on Thursday to explore the Old City with the Plum Village monastics, and my reality feels like a world away from the violence right across the wall. David’s apartment is sturdy and warm, there is hot water and electricity, and the only loud noises or commotion outside is related to Purim, a religious holiday celebrating salvation of the Jews from the Persian opposition. Israelis are walking by in onesies and Disney costumes, and loud music is blaring in the Old City. There is nothing to indicate the danger just a few kilometers away.
The violence in the West Bank is invisible to me while in Jerusalem. Is this how it is possible to ignore war and violence around the world from the relative safety of the United States? I am here in Israel/Palestine and I can barely believe that violence is occurring here. How can others read of violence and truly know it?
P.S. The “Day of Rage” written about in the media never transpired. Instead, on Friday, the Bethlehem Marathon attracted 7,000 runners, including my TA Mahd, who ran 36 kilometers.
Today (3/24): Coloring in the daruma
This morning I woke as Joann does, early, and started doing the dishes. I felt her presence as I scrubbed the bowls and rinsed the cutting board, and began to prepare the breakfast meal. I started with a base of eggplant, tomatoes, and garlic from yesterday’s dinner, and sauteed it with extra spinach to top it off. My hands, as Joann’s hands, threw the spinach into the pan with abundance.
She’s here now in my writing, reminding me not to edit too much, that striving for perfection in words can limit their flow entirely. I sit in her seat at the breakfast table, remembering.
Yesterday (Saturday morning), Joann departed for Nablus, a town north of Tel Aviv, for a series of twenty workshops in two weeks. I will stay here in Beit Jala, teaching my coding class, participating in a retreat with the Plum Village monastics, visiting Lisa’s school in Beit Hanina, settling into a new home near the Nativity Church.
In the early morning on Saturday, we crossed from Jerusalem into Bethlehem together, stopping to pick up zaatar bread from the local bakery next to the olive grove. The young man at the counter remembered that we are from California and prepared our bread just as we like: plain dough with powder zaatar for Joann, pizza bread with cheese, tomato, and olive for me. Last time we were here, this same man pointed to the two of us and asked if Joann is my mother. She confirmed yes without hesitation, so this day he calls her “mom”.
At the apartment, we prepare breakfast together. Joann has finished her bread already, and is eating a raw orange bell pepper from the fridge. I am cooking something or another. The energy is calm and familiar, and it is strange to think that our individual realities will soon diverge. I will be teaching a coding class at the American school just a short walk away; she will be on a sherut to Nablus, headed to different friends in a new city. My mind can barely imagine a reality that differs from this one in front of me.
And yet I know the truth of impermanence: this moment too will change. She is here, and then she will leave. I am here, and then I too will leave. We will discover new realities that we attach to as truth, and then those too will change.
After breakfast, I place two candles on the little altar in the living room, along with our “I love Palestine” olive wood hearts and the two red daruma dolls I purchased in Tokyo in September. The daruma are a Japanese tradition, purchased with two blank eyes from Buddhist temples or souvenir shops. When making a wish, the owner colors in the left eye; when the wish comes true, the right eye is colored in.
In January, I brought the smaller of the two daruma dolls to Joann’s house in the trees of Mariposa. Together, we shaded in the first eye, the left one, drawing eyelashes and curves for the lid. Our wish was for safe passage to Israel/Palestine, mutual support and growth in our togetherness, and for our work to be of benefit to all beings.
Yesterday, we shaded in the second eye. We drew a pupil first, because I am her student, and then colored in the rest, leaving gaps for our own shortcomings.
Our work in Israel/Palestine together is complete. We’ve facilitated four workshops across three cities: Haifa, Jerusalem, and Bethlehem. We’ve lived together in harmony and difficulty for two months, exploring our individual narratives and arriving at greater openness and curiosity. We’ve planned and documented too many agendas to count (and edited one slideshow with 94 slides). We even wrote an essay together about narrative and tree planting in Israel.
I will remember the many good people we’ve met: the director of the Community Center in the Arab neighborhood of Halisa in Haifa, the taxi driver who returned to Battir to give Joann the phone she forgot in the car. The woman in Halisa who had her hand disfigured by a bomb, who later found refuge and joy in dance. The organizers in Bethlehem, Najah and Odait, with a shared goal of bringing Christian and Muslim Palestinians together. All of the women and men who said yes to attending our workshops and opened their hearts and homes to us.
After we shaded in the second eye of the daruma, we bowed to each other until our heads touched. Joann invited the Japanese bell with clear sound, once, twice, then a crescendo of bells, sounding the end of our time together in Palestine. I brought my attention to the second daruma doll on the altar, the one that represents my dream of building strength and joy in Palestinian communities here. Perhaps it is also my journey towards strength and joy in my own heart. I filled in a small sliver.
I turned to Joann and said: “Maybe when this daruma is colored in, I’ll be ready to return home.”
She looked at me and responded. “Maybe by then you’ll know where your home is.”