Hello! We are now in East Jerusalem at our guesthouse, St. George's Cathedral. East Jerusalem is the Palestinian side with West Jerusalem being the Israeli side. More on that later.
Let's start with our orientation in D.C. What an amazing group of people I am traveling with! We have folks from Palestine, people who have lived in Israel before, North Ireland, New York, Alabama, Georgia, Texas, California, Olympia (yeah!) and so many more places.
What is truly inspiring already is the variety of social justice efforts everyone is involved in. We have retired and active ministers who have been on political delegations for decades and having discussions between the difference of charity and justice, Aaron Dixon who helped start the Seattle chapter of the Black Panther Party (he is speaking at Evergreen about his recently published book in late November!), someone who works with youth and media around empowerment in LA (shoutout to Celi!), another works for the LA Dept of Public Health doing analysis around urban transportation policies and their impact on health, someone from the Highlander Center in TN (!!!!!), clergy apart of resistance and peace movements in Northern Ireland, social workers, mental health workers, community organizers in Chicago, teachers, students studying law, Arabic, and Intl Affairs, the list goes on! You'll hear more of their amazing stories over the next few weeks. I have already learned so much from all of them and challenged
Another thing that is also becoming very clear, very quickly is the reality of racism all over the world. During our orientation, we had a huge discussion on privilege and broke out in small groups to discuss 1) what privileges do we have as individuals and as a group 2) how is it a privilege 3) how can these impact our experience as individuals and as a group
Of course people has different ideas around what is a privilege and our debate centered around "choice". Does choice come from certain privileges (like race, class, gender etc) or is it the privilege itself? We finally began to agree that it is more helpful to connect choice to certain privileges in order to see how "choice" manifest differently depending on the context and your own personal identity. We talked about relative- privilege, such as the fact that as a white-American-female, I have more privilege than a female of color or a female of color who isn't American and that brings up important considerations around my approach to observation and analysis of the situation. What lens am I looking through? Whose perspective may I be using that I am not acknowledging? What might I be blind to?
This came up really strongly as we tried to go through immigration services, which in Israel is called "passport control". Everyone was fine going through. All the white folks that is. The officers pulled aside for further questioning three of our individuals who are people of color: one wearing a head turban, another female in a hijab, and a third. They were questioned for 2 hours and in most of our opinions, completely unnecessarily. You might be wondering about the two Palestinians...well one has an American passport and the other has dual U.S.-Israel citizenship. Amazing the difference a U.S. passport makes in an individual's experience in the world, doesn't it?
As we left the airport, we learned about the surrounding areas we were passing through. We saw how the Green Line (the border agreed upon in the 1993 Oslo Agreements) was illegally extended by evacuating Palestinians from their homes due to armed conflict and saying that they would be able to return once the fighting died down. Those families are still awaiting return but now their villages have been destroyed and a national park put in its place. The original names of those towns are no where to be found. Any visitor wouldn't even know what had happened. This is how history and lives are actively being erased.
We immediately connected it back to land confiscation and appropriation of Native American land in the U.S. I remembered today how I never knew the names of the tribes that lived Texas until I was 19. Until I was 19. Nothing in my public k-12 education took the time to tell us even just the names of peoples who lived their before us, and probably were still in surrounding communities. I also realized that the frustration that I was feeling in that moment that many Israeli schoolchildren are not taught this or don't ask or wonder, mirrors my own experience. I didn't ask. I was maybe wondering...but the sweet lure of ignorance often keeps us from asking deeper questions that would bring up questions of the ethical nature of our presence in our own communities. There is a fear in not belonging anywhere. Where is my home? The Czech republic or Scotland or Whales or Great Britain? I don't even know distant relatives I'm sure we have there. I have no idea how to get a hold of them. Does the fact that the U.S. government encouraged immigration of Czech families to Texas make it ok that we did come and buy land (or in many cases, flat out given land). This was land that was stolen. These were "treaties" that were manipulated and promises still unfulfilled.
So where does that leave me and my relationship to the U.S. and communities who called it home way before I did? This brings up the question of how I should act in relationship with them.
Then we have the issue of transportation restriction. The highways we drove on tonight to get from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem...Palestinians are not allowed to drive on. There are huge concrete walls on either side. The highways cuts through certain Palestinian towns where Palestinians have to drive miles out of the way to even just get to family and friends a few yards across the highway. WHAT !?!
They had to fight all the way to the Israeli Supreme Court and it was only in 2010 that they were finally allowed to use a certain part of the main highway because it was illegal under intl. law. However, most Palestinians don't use the highways cause the government set up multiple checkpoints and it can take up to 2 hours at a checkpoint for your car to be searched. It's humiliating. You are always searched if you are Palestinian, just like how you are always searched if you are Mexican or a person of color crossing the U.S. border.
And all this from just being here since 2:30pm and it's 11pm now. I can imagine what a full day will be like because of my time in Venezuela on a kind of political-social justice delegation with Evergreen students as well....very full days with alot of information to process. So if my entries seem lacking in complete analysis, please forgive me for I am literally trying to process as a I type.
A favorite quote from today: While we were learning that our tourguide doesn't usually give tours of political nature, when he gives pilgramige tours he is often told to specifically NOT talk about politics. He actually got shouted at one time by a passenger who said, " STOP TALKING POLITICS! We are hear to learn about Christ's land and the land of Abrahamic religions."
One of the women near me gave one of those scoff-laughs ad said, " Well then he obviously didn't know what Jesus was all about".
Cause that's right. Jesus was all about politics. I don't think you can care about and not be political. Opening up our hearts, mind and greater consciousness compels us to be challenged by conflicts of justice. To struggle with the conviction of having worth and dignity and respect for ALL human beings. That is the first principle of my faith as a Unitarian Universalist,. Having a feel good feelings is nice, but the lesson from the life of Jesus (or any other spiritual figure(s)) wasn't for me to just sit around and pray for peace. We gotta do something about it. Charity is easy, justice is hard.