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The Place of Miracles, in Need of One

9 June 2010 2 Comments


Patricia with Palestinian comedian Ihsan Turkieh

- by Patricia Smith Melton
Founder, Peace X Peace
Editor, Sixty Years, Sixty Voices: Israeli and Palestinian Women

“You are here to help us, and, therefore, I must help you. I tell my people there are people everywhere in the world watching and wanting to help.”

The only solution to the conflict between the Palestinians, specifically those in the West Bank and Gaza, and the Israelis is with civil society. The people themselves have to want to seek—and find, and implement—an answer. Too few Israelis choose to look at the people (so similar to themselves) on the other side of the Wall, or to test their assumptions about those people. Too few Palestinians have the expertise and resources to build the infrastructure required for societal healing and strength.

Yet, 6000 Israelis protested in Tel Aviv last Saturday against the commando raid on the humanitarian flotilla and against Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, charging their government of “drowning Israel.” This demonstration was echoed in other Israeli cities.

Yet, nonviolence as a citizens’ movement of public resistance is gaining strength inside the West Bank in Budrus, Belin, Nabi Salah, Al-Masara, and Bethlehem, and in East Jerusalem at Shiekh Jarrah, where Palestinians, some internationals, and some Jews protest against the settlements and the Wall, and for water rights. 

And the West Bank financial and governmental infrastructure is growing, with notable successes in self-policing by the Palestinian security forces.

I returned here three days ago, staying in East Jerusalem, which is mostly Palestinian. Today at 7:30 am I went with a small film crew to Ramallah, the capital of Palestine in the West Bank. To get from Jerusalem to Ramallah would take 12 minutes if it weren’t for checkpoints. But we must always allow more than an hour because there are checkpoints. And we are the lucky ones. As “third parties” with passports from France and the US, we can actually get into the West Bank legally. It is illegal for Israeli citizens to go to the West Bank; and, of course, maddeningly difficult—that is, impossible—for the majority of the residents of the West Bank to get Israeli permits to enter Israel.

Being here is an emotional marathon, best done by people who have been in training. Amateurs can be wiped out. It is for people with fortitude and great powers of psychological regeneration. If you don’t have these, you may be of little good in bridging the gap between what is, and what is needed.

And that is for people who are “third parties,” those of us who don’t actually live here—the do-gooders, the internationals, the people on ships with supplies.

For the people who live here, the marathon takes no breaks. This is, I believe, why I have seen a self-protective lethargy set in for the majority of the people over the past five years on both sides of the Wall. Those who protest, those who do nonviolent marches are working against the inertia of apathy. They are heroines and heroes.

Israeli leftist journalist Gideon Levy, author of the newly-published The Punishment of Gaza, spoke to a standing-room-only crowd last night, here in East Jerusalem. He told us that in Tel Aviv or West Jerusalem (mostly Jewish), only a handful of people would have come to hear him. He said the Israelis are too “pleased with themselves” and that the debate on what to do about the occupation, so intense and continuous a decade ago, is now hardly a topic of discussion. Perhaps he is too cynical … but I, too, feel the turning away. 

Levy said, “It will take a miracle” to reach a solution. A dear Israeli woman friend who works with interfaith groups said, “It will take a miracle.” A Palestinian stranger in front of the Damascus Gate told me, “It will take a miracle.”

Yesterday I walked with a mere eight other adults through the Old City of Jerusalem, carrying a banner that said in Hebrew, Arabic, and English “Freedom March.” The organizer had a loudspeaker, and as we walked a number of adolescent boys joined us, and together they shouted in Arabic and Hebrew, “One God, One People.” 

With us was a Muslim imam dressed in street clothes so as not to draw attention to himself on the streets in his daily life. He asked me, “In your heart does it hurt that there are so few of us?” As it wasn’t really my march, I had some detachment, but his question hit home. I realized I had felt small, even somewhat ashamed perhaps, and I heard myself say, “Yes.”

He said, “Please to know there are cameras up there.  See, on these buildings? That is why the people do not come out.”

“Israeli cameras?”

“Yes, they may come to get me tonight. But you are here to help us, and, therefore, I must help you. I tell my people there are people everywhere in the world watching and wanting to help.”

Our little march may or may not have been effective, but families opened their doors to the sounds and lit up as we passed. And when we walked by the Israeli soldiers, they looked away. Maybe that was a small miracle.

Today in the West Bank our crew filmed a Palestinian comedian, and then a Russian-Israeli settler who makes a mean apple pie. I found more small miracles—a raucous laugh, a child wearing a plastic gladiator vest maneuvering one of his first bicycle rides, a Jew who moved his family into a Bedouin tent. I am not apathetic. But it’s easier for me; I get to leave.

I will try to write every day or two. Please keep watching and wanting to help.

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2 Comments to “The Place of Miracles, in Need of One”
  1. Pam says:

    I am new to PeacexPeace after seeing you in a recent magazine article. Thank you for expanding my thoughts and (tiny) understanding of this heartbreaking conflict. I will be back and will use this site to help me figure out how I will help to create peaceful interactions with others and myself.

  2. Mares Hirchert says:

    I applaud you for taking the walk and doing the filming and the writing. I am reminded of “each one teach one.” I am appreciative and hope you realize that you inspire others.

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