Mother Teresa once said, “I am not sure exactly what heaven will be like, but I know that when we die and it comes time for God to judge us, he will not ask, 'How many good things have you done in your life?' rather he will ask, 'How much love did you put into what you did?”
The Palestinian people truly know the meaning of that quote. From the moment we arrived in the country we have been welcomed by all, from the taxi driver who picked us up at the airport, to the man who sells bread in the market, and the wonderful leaders of the organizations we are partnering with who so fervently work for peace.
Each of us have also been welcomed into the homes of Palestinian families. My host mother, Selma, is one of the sweetest, most welcoming woman I have ever meet. She has two children, Martin and Nora who are both a few years younger than me. Her husband, David, is often not home due to his job. He does textile but since so few jobs are available in Palestine he often has to travel to Israel for work. Often he is gone for four weeks at a time. David is very interested in talking politics and Kelsey (the other girl who is staying in the house with me) and I have already had some wonderful talks with him. Many years ago he was arrested for refusing to pay taxes. He, along with 100 others from his town were in jail for 75 days. They were also given the chance to be released from jail for merely one shekel, but each person refused. It is stories like that that give me hope. Looking at the situation here at times it seems as if no one is doing anything to stop the human rights violations that are occurring. The annexation and expansion wall that cuts through much of the West Bank is illegal under international law, the UN passed a resolution stating that Palestinian refugees have the right to return to their land and the homes they were forced to abandon and receive compensation, along with that resolution, there are 65 others that were passed, none of which Israel has acknowledged. I don't think we should give up hope on the political peacemaking process, but it is the Palestinian people themselves that will truly bring the peace.
I know that from the wonderful people I have encountered here and from the stories I have heard. The first intifada (uprising) was completely peaceful, although the second was not, a very small percentage of Palestinians participated. Yes, there have been Palestinians who have committed acts of violence, just as their have been Israelis who have committed acts of violence, but I am here to tell you about the story you won't get at home.
I have been so amazed by all of the individuals we have meet from all over the world who are so dedicated to promoting peace in Palestine. For the past week we have been volunteering with Holy Land Trust, an amazing organization started by a Palestinian, that works on reconciling Israelis and Palestinians. We just started volunteering at Tent of Nations, which is another incredible organization started by Palestinians that promotes peace and "refuses to hate." But what has been most touching are the people we come in contact with everyday.
On the fourth night we were here our host family had another guest. His name was Ned and he was also from the States. As we were all siting outside and sipping tea, David's parents and his uncle arrived, just as we were about to eat too. Selma grappled some chairs, whipped up several bowls of snacks and made sure everyone had something to drink. As we were all enjoying each other's company, a van drove down our street. Selma turned to Kelsey and I, "that is Dave, Munir's brother. We will invite him in on the way back. He did not see us this time. Munir's is my Arabic professor back at school. He is from the town we are staying in and his brother and parents still live here. When Munir's brother drove down our street on the way home, Selma ran out and flagged them down. She insisted they come and sit down. Suddenly what had turned into three people sipping tea on their porch was 10 people surrounded by bottles of coke and mango juice and fresh apples hearing each other's stories and enjoying one another's company.
When Dave and his family left, we sat down to eat and after dinner David's family left. "Hurry hurry", Selma said as she rushed to put away the dishes. The reason we were hurrying was because Kelsey and I had been volunteering at the Bethlehem Live Festival all week and our host mom and her daughter wanted to come tonight and we did not want to miss anything. At home, it is considered to rude to show up at someone's home announced, but here it is routine. Many families love close by and they enjoying being able to pop by and see how everyone is doing. Although Selma is often tired of her husband's family constantly visiting, she was the best hostess I have ever seen.
After enjoying the festival we returned home thinking we would head straight to bed. However, we ended up talking to Ned for hours. He is Mormon and Kelsey and I had many questions to ask him. Selma made us tea and sat with us for a while. Although I'm not sure she understood everything we talked about, and we stayed up very late she sat with us the whole time.
We have continued to have wonderful encounters with Palestinians. Dave, my Arabic professor's brother, is a pastor in a nearby town and he invited us to come to his church. So last Sunday Kelsey, Kimberly and I all attended a beautiful service. Although the service was in Arabic, someone was translating for us so we were not completely lost. There was also a singer from the UK there who is friends with Dave. He sang many beautiful songs about peace and justice. My favorite was one where the refrain was, "no injustice will last forever, one day the wall will fall". It was very powerful.
After the service we were invited to a lunch provided by the church. There were also several other internationals there as well so we chatted with them as we ate. We were the last people there and ended up talking with Munir's family for quite some time and they even invited us to their home for dinner one night. Since Selma had to leave early since she needed to take her mother to the doctor's office, Dave drove us home. It was such a great way to spend a Sunday morning. I truly felt like I belonged.