If asked a year ago for the first word that came to mind when I heard the word Palestinian… I might have said “terrorist.” Today I would answer something quite different. As I prepare to leave Bethlehem tomorrow, I want to introduce you to some of the Palestinians I have come to know, who have been part of my life just about everyday. Palestinians, I now call “friends.”
The first Palestinian I met was Majdi, the shop owner at our corner. Our first day here, Niina and I were walking down the street in search of a bread shop and he came running out of his shop, insisted we get into his car, and he drove us to the best bakery shop in town! Since then I’ve learned Majdi adopts the EAs and always has a cup of coffee or tea ready to refresh us on our journeys past his corner shop.
Then there’s Clemence, whose home is directly next to the wall near the car gate. She was a teacher in the Beit Sahour Lutheran School and she did her best to teach me Arabic, poor woman! But more than that, she taught me about the culture and the ways of the people here, so I would not look foolish even if I couldn’t hold a conversation. She took care of me like a good mom!
Elias was our main taxi driver, and our relationship became one of the nicest surprises of all. Driving us home one night he invited Dirk and me to come with him to have a beer and meet his friends. His friends became our friends as we had many dinners together - at their homes, and out for pizza. They shared their lives, their hopes and dreams, and their struggles with us – teaching us much about the lives or ordinary Palestinians. Since that night, Eli has not only taken us all around the area, he’s taken me many places that he, as a Palestinian, was nervous about going.
Cafe Sima is our favorite coffee shop – Sima was trained at the Cordon Bleu in Paris as a pastry chef and her cafe is filled with delicious treats, as well as wonderful salads, soups, crepes, and quiche – and all kinds of coffees. What a blessing this little get-away has been! Plus Sima’s mother, who works in the shop is a highly educated business woman who is a delightful lunch companion!
Finally, I must include the man who runs the small grocery shop just downthe block, Abu Amil. Although we didn’t shop there all that often, (in these shops there are no fresh foods, just staples) every time we walked past – sometimes three or four times/day – he or his son or wife, would wave and call out to us, so we would stop and check in to let them know what was happening. Day or night I felt safer, knowing they were watching for me as I walked their street.
Everyone of these folks (and many more I don’t have time to introduce you to) knew I would only be here for three months. And they knew I was an American, which means I was somewhat of a culprit in the on-going Occupation. Yet they opened their hearts with warm hospitality and genuine friendship to this stranger in their midst. They watched over me, listened to me, laughed and cried with me. They shared their struggles and they taught me what I needed to understand. They were gentle and kind as they expressed their impatience with American/Israeli policies.
They became a part of my life as they helped me do my job, encouragingme to take risks,listening to the stories of my adventures, welcoming me home from scary places, and then they shed tears as we said our goodbyes. As I leave tomorrow, I do so with sorrow that I am leaving some good friends to deal with the difficulties here without me – and I am grateful we had a chance to introduce them to Team 29 who will continue to join the struggle with them. And I pray that God’s Holy Spirit bind them together in the same love we now share.
peace/salaam – Pastor Pat
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