Bridget Jensen (Houston, Texas)
Just before I left on this trip with Interfaith Peacebuilders, I received the publication "Oneing" that I had ordered from The Center for Action and Contemplation, founded by Fransican priest Richard Rohr. As I was anxious about the trip, I thought bringing something inspirational would bolster me through whatever we might encounter. The latest volume of collected essays happened to have the theme "Transformation."
How appropriate it seemed, since I suspected that this trip might be transformational through what I would see and the people I would meet.
I have also thought about how my thoughts about Palestinians have evolved through my life, starting with the fear and disgust I felt when I was nine years old as I watched images from the Munich Olympics where members of the Black September organization took Israeli athletes hostage. How did I get from there to the South Hebron Hills with other internationals (as we're called here) including over a hundred Jewish Americans, to help reclaim land where the Palestinian village of Sarura had been so the families can safely return to tend their sheep, plant their olive trees, and raise their children?
Others in our delegation have told their stories of how they have moved in their thoughts about Israel and Palestine. Movement is ongoing and within our delegation, people are at different places and we have all come from our unique positions. The differences sometimes cause friction, so we are having to work among ourselves to listen to one another's experiences and to be open to being moved by new understandings of others and ourselves.
We have heard from some Jewish Israelis who have come to counter the narrative which they heard when they were growing up and to which they subscribed. Amitai Ben-Abba refused to serve in the Israeli military, known as the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) by Israel and much of the world, but called the Israeli Occupation Force (IOF) by those who experience the reality of the occupation. His sister, associated with the organization Mersavot, is returning to prison on Monday for her refusal.
Earlier in the trip, I identified with a woman in the Coalition of Women for Peace who described her experience of coming to a different understanding of the situation as the removal of layers, as an onion. When she described that removal of layers, I thought about the removal of oppressive jackets that weighs one down. Yes, those who are always having to maintain a narrative that results in the oppression of others are in a kind of bondage themselves. The removal of layers is precisely what the word 'revelation' means, pealing back the veils.
Our schedule was so busy over the ten days, I didn't have much time to read, much less write reflections on what we'd experienced. On the plane leaving Israel, I opened the 'Transformation' volume that I had set aside for much of the trip and found article after article relevant to this revelatory trip.
The first article opened with the author speaking of her trip to Israel, recognizing it as a nation "dealing with deep-rooted paradoxes." The next article referred to the forced relocation of native peoples to Oklahoma, reminding me of Palestinian refugees.
The next questioned whether, despite the many changes that came with the 1998 Peace Agreement in Northern Ireland, any transformation of attitudes had occurred. This author, Ruth Patterson, using the book "Where the Wild Things Are" for her imagery about transformation, states "Our best 'happily ever after' scenario is a silencing or destruction of the wild thing that is always the other and never, ever us. It does not enter what appears to be, at times, our demonic imagination that there could be another conclusion, one that sees a taming or a disarming that has as much to do with us as it has with the other."
As I return to the United States, I know that I have developed a greater understanding of how the present situation between Israel and Palestine and my personal experiences have given me a new lens with a sharper focus to view the conflict.
For now, I do feel a sense of responsibility and urgency to amplify the voices I heard. Whether I have had a truly transformational experience is yet to be seen.
I suspect that when I recall the young Palestinians who spoke with hope of having basic freedom of movement and fair and equal treatment, I will be reminded of the complicity of my country with an Israeli military structure that enables the economic strangling of Palestinians. I will be reminded of my involvement in other structures of power and privilege that oppress others.
If my life starts to become more directed and actively committed to dismantling those structures, this trip to Palestine will have been an important step on that journey of transformation.