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Thursday, December 16, 2010
Peace on Earth -- at the Mall
I went to the mall with my daughter on Sunday before Christmas. We like to eat cheap Chinese food in the Food Court, buy a pastry and green tea at the Barnes & Noble Cafe, and sit and read books together. On this particular Sunday the bathrooms at Barnes & Noble were shut down for maintenance so I walked down the mall to the anchor store, Nordstrom’s. Then I walked back to Barnes & Noble on the second floor of the mall and passed by a kiosk I had not seen before --a kiosk named “Holy Lands Crafts” selling Christmas decorations and Christian items made from olive wood from Bethlehem.
The kiosk hit a soft place in my heart. I traveled to the Holy Land twice in my life -- once in 1980 and again in 1991. The first time I went with a Christian group from my stepmother’s church. The second time I went with Mid - East Citizen Diplomacy, the group that later became The Compassionate Listening Project ( from whom I learned Compassionate Listening).
I am aware of the sensitivity of the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis. Ten times as many Palestinians have lost their lives from Israeli violence as have Israelis from Palestinian violence, but every Israeli has a friend or family member who has been killed by a bomb or some other act of violence by a Palestinian. Israelis often view their own violent acts as justifiable and reasonable military responses to Palestinian violence. Just so, Palestinians see themselves losing their land house by house and block by block. Some Palestinians feel that they have their backs to the wall and have no choice but to engage in violence because Israel never changes. Many others don’t engage in any violence at all, but still end up suffering from Israeli military actions. Sometimes Israel suspends settlement building on Palestinian lands; sometimes they slow it down, but they have never stopped building new settlements. Israeli settlers drill wells deep into the ground and cause older, pre-existing Palestinian wells to run dry. And during the time all the of the West Bank and Gaza were occupied, Israel banned Palestinians from drilling wells while Israeli settlers were free to drill wells. During my 1991 trip with Mid - East Citizen Diplomacy, we visited a Palestinian village where the wells had run dry. The homes I visited did not have indoor plumbing, and the villagers' crops withered in the fields while at a nearby settlement that we also visited, there were irrigated green lawns, a swimming pool, and houses you’d find in very nice American suburbs. You really can’t expect the Palestinians to be happy about this situation or even to take it and do nothing. At the same time for Jews there is deep pain and fear stemming from having Hitler try to exterminate them 70 years ago and having so few other countries be willing to give them refuge. The desire to have a home country of their own runs deep among Israelis, and Palestine is the land their ancestors came from.
You can go round and round in this fight: who did what to who first, and who is more at fault, and who is more justified for engaging in violence. And you never settle anything. Probably someone better informed that I am will be able to pick apart my facts and correct my details. I can’t settle the conflict between the Palestinians and Israelis, but I know that people on all sides are suffering, and I can reach out with compassion.
I didn’t know anything about this man standing at the Holy Lands Crafts kiosk. He was relatively light skinned, and I thought he might be Jewish. I asked him first where he was from. He was from Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus. Then I asked if he was Christian. He said he was Muslim. I visited Bethlehem on a vacation with my parents just after Christmas 1980, and I visited a nearby Christian village, Beit Zahor, with the peace group, Mid-East Citizen Diplomacy in 1991. Since then, the Israelis have built a 30 foot wall around Bethlehem to restrict movement of terrorists in and out of Israel. But this wall has also heavily restricted the number of tourists visiting Bethlehem and has badly damaged the economy of of the town -- which is why this man from Bethlehem was managing a kiosk in an American mall instead of managing store in Bethlehem.
“You are Palestinian?” I asked the man.
This issue is so tricky and difficult, I have to know the sympathies of the person I am speaking to so I won’t offend him by saying the wrong thing.
“Yes,” he said.
“I’ve been there twice,” I said. “I know what is going on. Palestinians are losing their land house by house, field by field. Most Americans don’t know.”
I added, “There are Israelis who want peace, but not enough to change things.”
“I know,” the man said, “I have Israeli friends.”
I went on to say, “I know about Islam. Mary, the Mother of Jesus is one of the five most blessed women in Islam. Muslims think of Jesus as a great prophet. I know about the Haj. Everyone wears the same clothing -- a simple white cloth -- because all are equal in the eyes of God, and Muslims pray five times a day. The pastor of my Catholic parish despairs because he can’t get us Catholics to pray once a day. We are all one people, one God, we just have different traditions that help up connect to God.”
The man nodded enthusiastically, “Yes, yes...” he said, “You understand. Thank you so much.”
I paused to examine his wares. My budget is limited so I asked the price of a small bag of wooden Christmas tree ornaments.
“How much is this?”
“Ten dollars,” the man said, “But it is a gift to you because you are so kind.”
“I don’t want a gift,” I said. “I want to support the Palestinians living in Bethlehem. I know what your situation is.”
“No,” the man said, “It is a gift for you because you are so kind and caring.”
“No,” I insisted, “I must pay for it. I can’t take a gift from people in need.”
I circled the little kiosk so I could see all the wares for sale and found that all I wanted was a simple olive wood cross that could be held in the palm of your hand and more Christmas decorations.
“How much is this cross?” I asked.
“Five dollars,” the man said, “but free for you.”
I ignored the offer of a free cross. “I’ll take three bags of the Christmas tree decorations and the cross. That will be 35 dollars,” I said.
“It’s all free for you because your kind words have made me feel so happy,” the man said.
“I can’t take $35 worth of goods for free from people in need,” I said.
Then I added, “If everyone in the world was like you and me, we’d have peace. I’ll take one bag of Christmas decorations for free. I work with survivors of abuse, and I’ll give them away as Christmas gifts to my survivors. The rest I will pay for. that will be 25 dollars.”
He reluctantly accepted my money, still insisting he’d like to give me everything as a gift because I was so kind.
Accepting gifts and asking for money is hard for me. I guess that saying, “It is more blessed to give than to receive" really got drilled into my head when I was young, but now I am reaching the point where I have to ask for money in order for Compassionate Gathering to grow. I have way more work than I can possibly handle alone. I need to find more volunteers to help me, and as soon as possible, a paid Administrative Director. And I need to pay myself a salary for a change, as I have two kids to support and bills to pay. I have never written a fundraising letter before. Compassionate Gathering received not-for-profit status with the IRS this summer so donations to us are now tax deductible. And if you send me money, I promise to use it to give support to survivors -- just as I am giving away the bag of olive wood ornaments the Palestinian man gave to me.
Below you will find my first fund raising letter so you will know how exactly we at Compassionate Gathering will use money you donate to us. Thank you for reading this blog and Peace Be With You, Salaam Alekyam, Shalom Aleicheim, Meer e Droozhba, and Dona Nobis Pacem. All of us. No exceptions.
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Copyright 2010 Virginia Jones
Posted by Virginia Jones at 9:44 AM