I landed in Palestine on November 13th, and spent a month travelling the country meeting with NGOs, activist groups, and Palestinians whose homes were either invaded, demolished or under demolition order. As I returned stateside a friend and mentor asked what it was like, and it’s these impressions I share with you.
Palestine is etched indelibly on my heart. I had no idea what I was in for when I took my first steps into the salty, evening air of Tel Aviv. An hour later I was left on the uneven, rocky desert ground of the Negev. The sun was setting – blue and cold – the land was quiet and the wind of the South Hebron Hills roared in my ear. Unmistakably, God was there – as close as my own breath.
Jerusalem, the Old City, contains a kind of magic that is visceral. It zings through the very cells of your body, electricity as you walk through the narrow streets on stones so ancient they’ve been worn smooth by the thousand years. If you’re there long enough you begin to time your day, your very breaths, by the Adhan. It begins at 4:30am with Fajr; a ghost of a song that teases you awake and in those soft, fuzzy moments between sleep and awareness you hear it. “Allahu Akbar.” (one heart beat) “Allahu Akbar” (one heart beat) “Allahu Akbar” (Four heart beats) “Ash-hadu all ilaha illa-lah” and as the first refrain ends, you drift back in to sleep. Just as it begins your day, it will end it. As the sun sets the call to prayer rings over the limestone buildings and walls, your spirit bursting forth from you and becoming one with everyone.
But behind the façade there is a sinister undercurrent; violence, brutality, oppression and poverty. This is the embodied reality of the Palestinians. There are moments that have made my breath catch in my chest in fear of what would happen next. There are times where you will face your own mortality; M-16, full metal jacket, no safety and a pimply faced 19 year old soldier with a mounting sense of fear and an itchy trigger finger pointing that thing at you. At first, you’re shitting your pants in fear, but after a while you normalize it. If you’re there long enough, eventually you will find that your death has slipped away from you, like some kind of wraith. You’ve shed it like a snake skin and don’t need it anymore. You will confront your mortality and it will no longer have any power over you – you simply accept it, greeting it like a friend. That is where your faith instinctually kicks in. You know that there is something more. There is God.
And yet there is life. Vibrant, sensual and explosive! It is this that you hang your hopes on, and if you’re there long enough it will blossom into a profound, bone deep peace that will be sustained amidst the chaos; spirit meeting bone in a tangible act of resistance against the oppression.