North Africa, West Asia

The meaning of patience: a narrative from Bethlehem

An excerpt from an interview with a Palestinian Christian in Bethlehem, who isn't a politician or a militant, just a normal man trying to live his life under occupation, introduced by the interviewer.

Quinn Coffey
23 July 2014

What does it mean if this conflict continues? For your average Israeli if the conflict continues they can continue to make an average of $32,567 per year. They can continue to go to the beach in Tel Aviv, enjoy a night out, raise a family – really all of the things that most of us take for granted.

One thing that most people who aren’t directly observing the conflict will miss however, is what patiently waiting out the conflict means to a Palestinian. For them it means a per capita income of $1,209, the ongoing expansion of settlements, severe limits on freedom of movement, collective punishment, contaminated water, burned or uprooted olive trees, and worst of all, a general sense of hopelessness in a context in which they feel that the world has forgotten them. 

And we forget that this is happening within an extremely small area. This is the difference between the living standards of the so-called developed world on one side of the Wall, and living standards barely reaching above that of the developing world on the other. 

What this means is that when another round of peace talks fails, one state continues living quite comfortably and the other state continues to suffer a military occupation. And this is another crucial point that I think people in the west are somehow missing.  Palestine is under military occupation – it has been since 1967.  Imagine if the US occupied Iraq for 47 years. 47 years is two generations of people – at the very least. That means that two generations of people have never known life without military occupation. I don’t think most of us can even conceive of that. The Germans occupied France for four years during the Second World War and that was a horrific tragedy. 47 years though, I don’t even think I know a word for that. 

The point being that you would expect a climate of hatred to prevail in Palestine. Why wouldn’t it after 47 years? And yes, it certainly does exist. But what people hate isn’t the Israeli people or the Jewish people. What they hate is the fact that every single day they are reminded that they cannot live normal lives. It has nothing, or at least very little, to do with religion. It has everything to do with the Occupation. It has everything to do with the fact that normal everyday Israelis and Palestinians are not given a chance to interact with one another in a context other than high level political meetings or military engagements -- at all really.

And if you are permanently fixed in a state of us versus them reinforced by the reality of a massive physical barrier literally separating your two people, how can this possibly be resolved?

The following is a short exchange from my recent interview with a Palestinian Christian in Bethlehem. He isn’t a politician or a militant or even particularly political – he is just a normal guy trying to live his life. But the striking thing about his comments is the sincere hope and patience he shows. This is a man who has lived under occupation for his entire life. A man who lives four miles from Jerusalem and yet hasn’t been able to visit in nearly a decade. Yet he is a man who lives and breathes the doctrines of non-violence and love. He is someone who is just waiting for the world to give him a chance. 

"Interviewee (I): I would like to emphasize two things here. I am for unity in diversity. And I am looking forward to a time when people don’t look at me based on my religious identity, but as a human being. I am a global citizen too. But at this moment I am focusing on Palestine – like my son who is my teacher too -- because I am deprived as a human being of my rights. But once I have rights, then I can grow as a global citizen.

Quinn Coffey (QC): So maybe you would emphasize your humanity first?

I: Yes. I am a part of humanity first. Then Arab, then Palestinian. I am human because I believe in humanity; I believe that we are part of the global village. John Donne said it wonderfully:

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend's
Or of thine own were:
Any man's death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; 
It tolls for thee.

But at this moment I am focusing on Palestinian issues and this reminds me of what Martin Luther King said as a Christian, ‘injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere’. And also I love when you ask about identity. And I love what Bishop Câmara of Brazil said ‘When I feed the poor, they call me a saint.  When I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist’. You know this is very important regarding identity. I liked how Mother Teresa helped people without any kind of differentiation. So you know as a Christian I want to be incarnated in my society – to be contextualized. After all this is in the core of my faith. 

It is not by chance that we are living here, we belong to the land and we need to continue to be here despite all of the difficulties. We don’t want to emigrate despite the fact that there might not be enough jobs or money – or because of the Occupation. And I want to emphasize that I have no problem with Jews – I am against the Occupation.

I am not against the Americans or Europeans or Qatar or Saudi Arabia. I am against the systems that support occupation and evil and those that consider others infidels. For me every human being is created in the image of God. Any human loss is a loss of humanity. And we need the western world to wake up and to stop – not to continue supporting Israel without any question.

QC: Do you think the Christians here can have a role in reconciliation with Israel?

I: We are the victims of the occupation -- and I don’t want to dwell on victimhood too much. But we [Palestinian Christians] are an essential part of the liberation of our people against the Occupation. After the Occupation is over we can serve as a bridge – with anyone. But at this moment our land is taken, our young people are in prison, many people are killed or maimed, our people are deported or emigrating, and there continues to be a refugee crisis. After liberation the Palestinians who believe in coexistence – and they are the vast majority – can be a bridge to the world, not just to Israel. And we can be a bridge between the East and the West. But I am proud of being a Christian in this part of the world."

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