Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Finding Hope

Over the last several weeks I have found myself getting increasingly angry about the occupation. As I have thought through it, my anger is seated in an increasing sense of hopelessness. As I stand at the checkpoint early in the morning with 800 sad faces looking to me for some kind of solution to their daily misery, I cannot help but get very frustrated by the fact that there is little I can do but feel their pain. It is easy for me to see how they have slipped in and out of hopelessness over the last 40 years of the occupation.
I now have only three weeks left here. It is amazing to me how fast my time here has gone. The next team will arrive this week and we will begin the long handover process, so that they can carry on the work that was handed to us eight weeks ago. We are the 30th EAPPI team. With our team, there have been over 500 people from around the world who have participated here to try to make life better for those caught in this struggle, but more importantly, to share what we learn here with our friends, neighbors, associates, church members, political leaders, and the wider public upon our return to our home countries. In many ways the work we have begun here is just getting started. With that in mind, I have made the choice to focus my remaining time here on finding the little pockets of hope for a solution to this deep and abiding crisis. I have found many points of light that give rise to the potential of a better future for both Israelis and Palestinians. Over the next three weeks I will focus on the people and organizations that embody hope.
Last week our team went to visit Beit Arabeia (Arabeia’s house), in Anatta, another nearby village that has been cut of by the wall. We meet Salim, the owner of the house. Salim grew up in the nearby Shofat refugee camp that is literally the slum of Jerusalem. He learned the building trades and worked 10 years in Saudi Arabia. He supported the rest of his family back in the refugee camp during this time, but also was able to save enough money to buy a nice piece of land in Anatta to build his own house. He returned to Palestine to get married and raise a family. He had by this time saved enough money to build a home for his new family. He applied for a permit to build a house and paid the $5,000 application fee. After a year, he was turned down. He was told to try again, but he needed to pay another $5,000 fee. He applied again. After another year he was denied again. He was prepared now to build the house without a permit because he now had three children and needed a home for them. When he talked to the local building supervisor he was told that he would receive support for his permit if he tried again. This time he would get the permit for sure…but…he need to pay the $5,000 application fee one more time. He applied again. A year later he was turned down because he was missing two signatures of some people in Anatta but he was not told who they were. He literally got the signatures of every person in Anatta and took them to the housing authority and asked them to pick out the ones they needed. All he got was silence. He proceeded to build a home for his family on the land he had now owned for a decade.
In 1994 after living in his home for 4 ½ years, now with 6 children, the army came one day waving a demolition order, forced him out of his home and demolished it. For the next four years he lived in a tent next to his demolished home. Over that time he developed a relationship with Jeff Halper, the founder of the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions ( www.icahd.org ). Together Israelis and the Palestinians rebuilt Salim’s home. They started it on July 9th 1998. On August 2nd the family moved into the unfinished house. At 4 am on August 3rd the army came again to demolish it. When he refused to leave, he was dragged from the house and beaten by the IDF soldiers. His wife Arabeia, locked the door. The army shot tear gas through the windows of the house. Arabeia and the children were forced out of the house. The army promptly demolished the house for a second time.
The home was rebuilt a third time…..this time with the help of over 600 Israeli, Palestinian, and international volunteers. It was finished on April 3rd 2001. On April 4th with many of the volunteers who had built it watching the IDF came and destroyed it for a third time. They thought they had squashed this fledgling partnership. Not the case. The group can together again and rebuilt the house for a fourth time. This time the family was able live in it for a while, but in 2003 the army came in the night once again and destroyed the house for the fourth time.
Salim and his Israeli friends were committed. This time they decided to rebuild the house as a peace center where Palestinians and Israelis could come together to fight the demolition of homes and to provide a place to stay for volunteers who want to come to help rebuild demolished homes. They rebuilt Beit Arabeia, over a two week period in 2003 with a huge international volunteer group, in the memory of Rechel Korry, the American woman who was run over by a bulldozer by the IDF while defending a home they were demolishing, and a Palestinian woman who also lost her life in this cause.
The house has been the temporary home to hundreds of volunteers who have come from around the world to work together with Israelis and Palestinians to rebuild destroyed lives. Each year they host a two week summer camp from the 15th to the 29th of July. During the two weeks they have built two homes each year since. This year they will host two camps because of the popularity and demand. The government of Spain will build a home for one displaced family. A few years ago they received a donation from a wealth Jewish American family that has allowed them to rebuild 120 homes. To date they have rebuilt 162 homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, 13 of those in Salim’s little village of Anatta. His building trade experience has now been put to use rebuilding lives as he now leads the rebuilding effort as an employee of ICAHD. His kids are now in college.
Beit Arabeia still has a demolition order hanging over it. It has been standing now since 2003 as a monument to peaceful resistance to the occupation. They and I hope the wall that is being completed just below the house will stop and the occupation will end. Salim, Jeff and their thousands of friends around the world are working every day to that see that day and they will keep rebuilding this house until it does.

60 Minutes - Is Peace Out of Reach?