For Our Children
I start writing at 3 AM. I needed and hoped for a good night’s sleep. Late last night after a long day of travel I arrived home very late and didn’t get the sleep I needed. Tonight I slept three solid hours and now have been up for two. I hope that sleep will come again before the sun comes up. Since before I left Hebron, I have been fighting some sort of respiratory muck that finally seems to have won the battle with my body.
I am grateful that it is only now that I am feeling bad. Now that I am in my comfortable home. Now that I am somewhere with indoor heating (though with the warm weather, I don’t much need it). Now that I don’t have to be ready to respond to an emergency at a moment’s notice. Now that the likelihood of encountering teargas or harassment or violence has dramatically decreased.
While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
Luke 2: 6-7
Schools are closed today in Palestine because of Christmas, so the chances that the Palestinian children of Hebron inhaled teargas this morning is lower. Like me, they may not encounter teargas or harassment or violence today. If they avoid checkpoints. If the Israel military doesn’t arrest them from the streets or their homes. If Israeli forces don’t raid their homes.
Today the children of Qortuba school don’t have to walk the rocky path to school. A few weeks ago the Israeli military blocked the paved walk with razor wire. The day they did this, they blocked all entrances to the school grounds with razor wire and caution tape, forcing the school to close for the day. Principal, teachers, and students only found out when they tried to go to school. That day as they waited in the street below the school, hoping they’d be able to pass, an Israeli settler woman yelled at them and tried to attack them. Ultimately, principal, teachers, and students, denied a day of learning, turned around and went home. Now each day the Israeli soldiers move some of the razor wire out of the way during school hours, but the main entrance to the school remains blocked.
Today the boys from Ziad Jaber school won’t have to walk past two soldiers who might stop them to check their bags or bodies…
...and 30 seconds later six more soldiers who could do the same.
They won’t have to witness the humiliation of their teachers, stopped and frisked in front of them.
Today the boys who escort their wheelchair-bound friend down and back up a very steep hill to get to school may rest. Every day they do so with great care and good humor and are a joy to watch. However, though I know they are learning great lessons about caring for others, I wish they didn’t have to do this task. They live in an area where Palestinians may walk, but not drive. Israeli settlers may walk and drive freely.
Today the girls of Al-Fayha school won’t have to walk past settlers, who spit at them or insult them or threaten them.
Today the boys of Ibrihamiya school won’t have to run towards the checkpoint to avoid getting caught in the middle of clashes between other boys and Israeli forces.
The plane for my 12-hour flight from Tel Aviv to Newark was nearly empty. Many of us had whole rows to ourselves. I stretched across three seats and tried to sleep, but the images of children, the scenes of their daily lives, played in my head. Tears that did not come while I was in Palestine streamed down my face. I wiped them away with a shawl a friend had given me. Like this night, I gave up trying to sleep.
It is Christmas Eve and I am so grateful to be home. I am grateful that I will be with my family tonight and tomorrow. I look forward to seeing my grandma who said a special prayer each day I was away. She has said it so many times she can recite it by heart. I look forward to congratulating my cousin who just got engaged and to seeing the little ones in my family who seem to be growing so fast. I am grateful that I’ll be with my family, because while I was away, we lost my uncle. It was expected; he was in a lot of pain in the months leading to his death. Though he is now at peace, the grief of the family is still fresh. I am grateful simply that I’ll be able to hug my relatives instead of only talking to them on the phone.
Because I have so recently returned, family members, out of love for me, will ask questions about my experiences. And while I desperately want to talk about Palestine and what I’ve seen, I also fear their reactions. I fear my feelings of inadequacy because my witness and ability to change anything in any immediate sense is so limited. I know that what I’ve done is important and necessary. I know that I could not have done otherwise because I was called to go, but when people express their incomprehension of that call, it sometimes rattles me. I fear the possibility of tears in their presence. I fear the possibility of breaking their hearts open wider…or worse, saying something that might instead harden their hearts.
While I want to tell them, my stories, I just as desperately want to simply enjoy the goodness of their presence, to listen to their stories, to watch the children of my family laugh and play. Because this goodness, too, is part of life. It is, in fact, the greater part of life, but we must choose to pay attention. Love, care, and joy surround the sorrow and give us a container in which to hold it. Being in the presence of people I love and who love me gives me the energy to go where I must. It fills me with gratitude and helps me to seek gratitude wherever I go, especially in places like Palestine, where the the reasons for gratitude are less obvious.
Amir lives in a house near where we stood each morning to monitor an Israeli checkpoint as Palestinian children went to school. On my first days monitoring, Amir would wave from inside the house. By my last few weeks, he would come out to greet us, to play, maybe to get a piece of candy. He always had a big, perhaps mischievous, grin on his face.
Amir is not in school yet. As I think of him and all of the other children whose faces are etched in my mind and heart, I think of Amy Grant’s song, “Grown-up Christmas List”:
No more lives torn apart,
that wars would never start,
and time would heal all hearts.
Everyone would have a friend,
and right would always win,
and love would never end.
This is my grown-up Christmas list.
May we relish the reasons to be grateful and also remember the places of darkness. May we bring our light to those dark places we are called to go.
Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord."
Luke 2: 9-10
May we heed the words of the angel: “Do not be afraid.” May we live so that no more lives are torn apart and no more wars will start. May we allow time to heal our hearts and may we be a friend to those who need us. May we help right to win and love to never end. May we live this way for our children, the ones we have blood connections to and the ones we are connected to in our shared humanity. May we do so, perhaps not without fear, but willing to walk through it. May those of us who are Christian do so in the name of good news of great joy for all people.
Blessings to you and all this day. May the day commemorating the birth of the embodiment of Love renew us so we may live into the ways we ourselves can embody love.
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace.”
May we sing God’s praise through our lives and, in so doing, move towards peace.
Let us do it for our children.