It has been said that a picture is worth a thousand words. And at this point in our project, I am hoping that this old adage rings true—because there are few words that I can use right now to adequately describe all that my team has seen and heard these last few days. I hope that, once our film is finished, each person who views it will be able to feel the weight of the thousands of words that will still remain unsaid. But, for now, I will do my best to relay them to you.
Yesterday, we joined with a group from Holy Land Trust to take part in a peaceful demonstration/protest. These are fairly regular occurances, and the Israeli soldiers often anticipate them ahead of time. It was no surprise for them, then, when a group of about 50 of us marched toward their line, shouting, chanting, and drumming. The leaders of the protest went up to the soldiers and talked with them, explaining that they only wanted to go back to their former homes which they could see across the wall.
One might think that participating with a specific side in a protest would kindle more feelings of solidarity with that side. However, this was not the case for me. As I walked with the Palestinians, I observed both them and the Israelis face-off as they do every Friday, and I think it was then that I started to get a glimmer of a birds-eye view. The injustices both sides have faced at one time or another cannot be denied. And now both view the other as the culprit. I had sympathy for the Palestinians, being forced from their homes that they had owned for hundreds of years and forced to live in confined quarters and caged in by the Wall. I understood the Israeli soldiers obeying the government because they are citizens and ordered to serve in the IDF for at least two years. I know that their theology tells them the land was divinely ordained for them thousands of years ago, and that because of this they believe they have a right to forcibly remove it from its legal owners. So I looked at the Palestinians surrounding me, and the Israeli soldiers forming a line against us, and suddenly I didn’t want to be on this side or that. The words of Elias from a few days before echoed in my mind, “I don’t want you to be pro-Palestinian. I don’t want you to be pro-Israeli. If Jesus were here, he wouldn’t be either of these. He wants you to be pro-Peace.” At the time he said this, I had my own opinion of which side was right and which was wrong, based on politics and logic and interpretations of Scripture. I thought maybe I could pick a side and at the same time work for peace. But now I realize that my very mindset of choosing a side is no different than the dividing Wall between Israel and Palestine. The point is to tear down that wall which creates two sides and make it so that there are no sides at all—only peace.
I believe that I speak for each and every member of our team when I say that every facet of this trip has been an incredibly humbling experience. Perhaps the most startling realization of this occurred yesterday when Annie, Jake, Taylor and I went to Aida refugee camp in Palestine. We were lugging around cameras and film equipment through the alleyways, and one thing we have quickly learned is that cameras will attract a crowd. This happened, so much so that we couldn’t even film the shots that we wanted due to the mob of children surrounding the camera. A few teenage boys rescued us, seeking to help us with what little English that they spoke. We walked with them for awhile, filming B-roll and taking pictures of the reality of which few visitors to Israel are privy. Suddenly, one of the boys stopped in front of a door in the wall of endless buildings and motioned for us to come in. We climbed flights of stairs and stumbled into the small apartment that he shared with at least four other members of his family. His father immediately began quizzing us on who we were and what brought us to Palestine. When he discovered our intentions, he proceeded to share, as best he could in his broken English, his story of being imprisoned for twelve years, not having a job due to the economic issues that are rampant in most of Palestine, and showed us the nearly 100-year-old key that he still has which goes to his family’s house on the other side of the separation barrier. And then he asked us the question that I think has been scampering around in our minds and hearts since we have been here—why? Why can we, with an American passport, travel on a whim around the world, while he cannot even travel a few minutes away from his house without waiting for hours at a checkpoint? Why do some have a plentiful supply of water, health services, and education and yet still complain that it is not enough, while others like himself only get a supply of water once a month and have witnessed family and neighbors die from something simple just because they were not given access to proper health services? Why does his government, our government, the United Nations, make cyclical policies and peace treaties that only lead to the next spot in the circle?
And the only answer we could give is “I don’t know.” And it’s an amazing thing, admitting you don’t have the answer. When we looked this man straight in the eyes, in all his pain and rage, and said “I don’t know,” he told us that we couldn’t help him. That people come and look and talk and take pictures and leave, and things are just the way they were before they came, and that he is certain we will be the same. And I can honestly say that I don’t know if that will be the case. I certainly hope not. But, I would venture to say that many of those people would not admit that they don’t know. And hopefully in this we are set apart.
Maybe, instead of “changing the world” and “making a difference”, we should seek to change one small event, change one person’s day to make it a little bit better. And, perhaps, instead of “making a difference” in the world at large, we should realize the differences we must make in our own lives. Like admitting it’s okay to not know. Like pursuing love and forgiveness and justice in even our most personal relationships. Like being willing to be humbled, because in due time, God will lift you up and rock your world.
Following the man’s insistence that we could not help him or anyone else, he told us that he needed medical attention and asked if there was anyway that we could help him. While this unfortunately was not a possibility due to the nature of our trip and our tight budget, I had to smile at the irony of his request. Apparently there is something we can do to help after all. And hopefully, by making this documentary and telling the stories of the people here, we will have inspired yet more people to take up the torch and help in even more specific ways. This is my prayer for this project.