I have just returned from a shorter than normal visit to the West Bank and Jerusalem. My purpose was twofold: to visit with Wi'am, a Christian Reconciliation Center in Bethlehem, and perhaps to assist them with some funding; secondly to attend Christ at the Checkpoint in Bethlehem. Of course, reconnecting with friends is always part of the reason to return.
Now home, I am reflective about the two weeks. I have a right in this country to have running water in my home, and I can use it without restriction except during periods of drought. I have a right to health care. I have the ability to flush toilet paper down the toilet instead of having to wrap it up and place it into a bin which then is to be emptied periodically. At home I can get into a hot shower and stay there as long as I want to (although in order to save water I don't). When I want to read in the middle of the night I know there will be electricity. I can turn up the heat in the winter and turn on the air conditioning in the summer. I can be reasonably certain that when I drive down the road my car will not be torn apart by pot-holes. (That one part of American life is deteriorating somewhat, but not nearly to the extent as it is in the West Bank and Gaza.) I have reason to believe that my grandchildren will get home from school without encountering armed soldiers pointing guns at them. I can be fairly certain my grandchildren will not be frisked as they enter the shopping mall. I can be certain that my home will not be invaded at 2:00AM with the possible arrest of one of my children. I know that if one of my children or grandchildren are arrested they will be read their rights, I will be allowed to be present if one of them is a minor, and I will be able to help them retain an attorney, or they will be able to do so on their own. I know that I can cross the border into Canada, or travel to any country in the world with my American passport and perhaps a visa. I can travel back and forth between Jerusalem and Bethlehem without any concern, except to perhaps show my ID. Except during the 60's in Berkeley, I have never lived with the possibility of being tear gassed (which we were on Friday afternoon in Bethlehem.)
None of the above are possible for a Palestinian. Most are possible for an Israeli.
The statistics bear some revealing: The ratio of water available for an Israeli to a Palestinian is 9:1. The current standard is about a bathtub full of water per day per Palestinian for washing, drinking, watering plants, flushing toilets, laundry, dishes, cooking, etc. The standard for an Israeli is 9 bathtubs full. The Illegal Israeli Settlements (so designated because they have been built inside the 1967 border between Israel and the West Bank, and thus named illegal under international law) have lush landscaping, lawns, swimming pools, water features, etc.
In the West Bank, Palestinians are confined to drive on roads that are inferior in quality, and not direct from one point to another. Israelis drive on Israeli-only roads (enforced by license plates of a differing color.) These Israeli only roads make direct passage from the illegal settlements directly into Jerusalem, providing the illusion that this settlement is really in Israel, and not located on Palestinian designated land. These roads have been constructed in such a manner to visually eliminate the Palestinian village from the drivers and passengers thus giving the illusion that no one lives on the land being passed. While Palestinians may ride public buses from the West Bank into Jerusalem and beyond, they are subject to either walking through the checkpoint, or being stopped, getting off of the bus for inspection of ID and visual profiling, and then re-boarding if they pass the test. We Internationals can just remain on the bus and the soldiers may come and check our ID. They normally board the bus, but only glance cursorily at our passport for country of origin.
In order to receive medical care in the West Bank and Gaza, a patient must pay in advance. Of the locals I spoke with, many are not being treated for routine ailments due to the cost. They cannot afford to pay for immunizations, antibiotics, pain medication, physical therapy. Or they ration their own care by decreasing the frequency of treatments.
We take so many things for granted. It is helpful for me to be reminded how fortunate we are to live in a country that while not perfect, provides opportunities for me to live comfortably, to move freely, and to be able to express myself without fear of censorship. I return grateful, humbled, reflective, and stronger for having experienced tear gas. The situation is worse--far worse-- than ever before. I fear the lack of hope will continue to feed the violence. Pray for the peace of everyone in the Middle East! That means Jew, Arab, Palestinian, Christian, Moslem. We all come from the same lineage beginning with Abraham. Let us honor our entire family.