Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Finding Hope 3

This past Saturday our team decided to visit a remote place we had heard of from our Arabic teacher, Mary. Mary is a successful Palestinian Christian woman who measures her success by that of the children she has raised. She is a very happy grandmother. While she would love to have all of her grandchildren nearby she understands why some of her children have chosen to seek a new life outside of Palestine. One of her daughters lives in West Bloomfield Michigan very near my office. We have already decided to get together the next time she comes to Michigan.

Mary’s story is an interesting one. She grew up in a cave, living like Palestinians have for centuries. She grew up south of Bethlehem on 100 acres of land that her family bought during the period of the Ottoman rule of Palestine. Unlike most Palestinians, her father had the foresight to carefully document their ownership of the land and as the rule of the country changed, they re-documented their ownership. Mary’s brothers, Daoud and Daher, now own the property and they are thankful to have documents proving their ownership from the Ottoman Period, the British Mandate period, and the time of Jordanian Rule. While you would think that with all of this documentation they could live quietly on their land and raise their olives and grow wine grapes as their family has for centuries, perhaps somewhere else, but not here. The state of Israel and the seven illegal settler communities that completely surround them have been trying for decades to take the land by any means possible.

Daoud has spent over $100,000 on lawyers to defend various legal actions, some from the settlers and some from the government of Israel. They are still going on. He is restricted from improving the land or the buildings in any way. He has no water or electricity in spite of the fact that power for the settlements is all around them. The Israeli army has bulldozed his road and put huge rocks in the road to prevent him from getting to his property, all in an effort to make it so miserable for him that he will agree to sell the land or abandon it even for a day. If he does they will take it under one of many pretenses that have been used to expropriate the land of all of the families around him. Because of this they have homes in nearby Bethlehem, but one of them, and their international friends, must stay on the property at all times. The latest effort has been to offer to buy the property. They brought him a blank check and told him to fill in any amount he wanted. They would quietly pay any amount he named for the land. He refused.

You might think that the family would be bitter and angry about their situation but these are amazing people. Daoud and his family truly live their Christian values. Daoud’s motto is, “we refuse to be enemies”. A sign at the gate says exactly that to all visitors. He went to a university in Germany and returned to Palestine to take up the cause of saving the family land. He is a very creative and resourceful guy. He is protecting his property by developing it into an international retreat center called the Tent of Nations (www.tentofnations.org). He has converted the caves into classrooms for summer schools for Palestinian children. He has converted one of the old buildings into a group kitchen for international guests who stay in tents on the property as well as the caves throughout the year. Last year 3,500 people came to Tent of Nations to help plant olive trees, dig more caves, tend the grapes and learn about life under occupation. He is trying to, “keep it simple and focus on the land”. They have built underground cisterns to collect rain water and they have a diesel generator to provide electricity. He has even figured out how to install wireless internet in the caves. They have built several outdoor worship spaces that look out across the beautiful landscape. One of them features a large platform that has their logo in a stone mosaic so the army will know who they are when they take their pictures from the air.
Daoud speaks many languages which allow him to tell his story to many people. He is very articulate; one of those people who you could listen to for hours. His goal is to build bridges between people and land, and people and people. He said, “We do not give up hope because the problem is complicated. The sun of justice will rise again. For our part, we are creating our own ‘facts on the ground’ by planting trees. We want to create a new prospective for people. Peace will never come from the top down. A state will never come as a gift from God. We need to build it together.”
Daoud has invited all of his settler neighbors to come to the Tent of Nations to discuss reconciliation and peaceful co-existence. Some have come. He is thankful for them. Some have said that the never realized they had neighbors and were very upset that Israel has refused them electricity and water. They said, “We have swimming pools and you have no water at all!” In his calm peaceful way he is convincing Israelis, one at a time, that Palestinians are not terrorists and that there is a possibility for co-existence if they (Israeli's) will choose that path.
In Daoud I find hope.

60 Minutes - Is Peace Out of Reach?