The children of Al-Khalil are unlike any I’ve met in my travels. Each of them divinely beautiful, as curious as tiny birds and uniquely friendly to strangers – often as I walk the streets they cry out a greeting, “Marhaba!” and rush toward me, hand extended to give me a handshake. Something about the hands – the softness of the palm, the youthful plumpness of the fingers – utterly disarms my heart and I find myself falling into easy conversation with them.
This little one was no different.
“Marhaba!” he called out to me, his sing song voice echoing off the stone streets, bouncing after me like a new rubber ball.
“Marhaba, keef halek?” (Hello, how are you?)
“Ilhamdula. Where are you going?” he asked, his head cocked to the side like an inquisitive bird.
“I’m going to visit with a friend,” I responded vaguely which caused his eyes to narrow in a way which told me he was on to me.
“How long you stay?” he ventured.
“Ah… A month,” I laughed as a Cheshire grin spread across his face, causing his eyes to crinkle at the corners like an overripe plum.
“Where you stay?” I responded with the street name, and it was as if fireworks went off. “You’re CPT?” I nodded in response. “You’re CPT!” he clapped his hands to emphasize his point, or simply celebrate that he cracked the mystery.
An instant later he grabbed my arm, yanking my to his level and kissed me on both cheeks. “Ahlan wa sahlan. Welcome!”
As an American who is conscious of our neo-colonialism, and of the damage that our military industrial complex has wrought in this part of the world, it is always surprising to recieve such a welcome. I share this little interlude with you not to brag about being here, but rather to emphasize that God’s love rains down upon us everywhere we find ourselves to be – even here, in one of the most heavily militarized (by the Israeli Occupation) cities in the West Bank. Even here where racism, oppression and violence are the norm, Palestinians still show kindness to strangers and love for their neighbor.
And I wonder why we cannot do the same…
I wonder why we – those of us who live in the global north – do not exhibit the same kindness, compassion, and welcome to strangers as the Palestinians do. We have everything that we could ever want, every blessing that God could give us – health, a long and peaceful life, money, unlimited access to fresh food and clean water. Yet, rather than being hospitable, like our Palestinian sisters and brothers, we are miserly with our gifts.
Rather than welcoming the stranger into our homes, we build walls on our borders and around our hearts to ensure that they never enter either. Rather than offering the weary traveller a comfortable chair and some tea or water, we shove them into detention centers and starve them of food, love, and human connection. Rather than listening to each other’s stories with an attentive ear, we stuff our ears with cotten and deny the humanity of the person who may seem different than ourselves. Rather than sharing what makes us rich, we horde our food and possessions believing that they define us and that the loss of them equates to the loss of self.
Friends, we think that we are advancing in our humanity but really we have been turned around and are now so lost in the darkness that we need God’s light to show us back to the path that leads to the Narrow Gate. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is that we widen our hearts to allow the whole world inside – we have shut each other out long enough, and it has not made ourselves any better. The only way to have peace, the only way to unite ourselves with God is to open our hearts, to allow the stranger inside, to listen to each other’s stories, to feed and clothe and water those who need it and recognize that no matter what – no matter what color, religion, gender, etc. – we are, we are truly each other’s brothers and sisters.
It’s time we started acting as siblings to each other.