I have been home now for 12 days and as I reflect on my experience I am trying to make sense of everything. This is probably a foolish attempt since all of us left with informational overload and physical and emotional fatigue, even as we valued our two weeks in a life-changing experience. I have a new understanding of the meaning of "witness" - it has been excessively overused as a term for "religious proselytizing" or conversion but it has other meanings as well. In no way did we (as a Christian Peacemaker Delegation) preach or attempt to convert anyone in our two weeks in Palestine. However, we did witness! Part of the success of CPT has been their consistent presence on the ground in and around the West Bank areas. Serving not only as observers but also as a constant support system, a proponent and model for non-violent resistance, and on-the-ground presence to the daily life - or what is "normal" - for the Palestinian people of the West Bank, Jerusalem, Bethlehem and other sites. Over and over again as we wore our red ball caps with the CPT logo and we were greeted with overwhelming kindness and thanks for our presence, particularly in Hebron. I heard many times, "CPT - good people." For many Palestinians we were a reminder that someone cares, is listening to their stories, supporting their many struggles, and hopefully will return home sharing our experiences to many parts of the world - particularly in North American and Western European countries that have more resources and geo-political power to facilitate change.
During our last full day in the rural areas of Palestine, we visited the "Tent of Nations." Completely unknown to most of the world, it is a beautiful piece of land located on a hillside in one of the more fertile areas of the West Bank. Daewood has kept the legacy of his family who have inhabited the land since 1916. He has been offered millions to sell it as it is now completely surrounded by very plush Jewish settlements (many houses with swimming pools). Even as he has battled through 12 years of legal wrangling and spent over $150,000 in court fees, he continues to protect his legal deed dating back a century. Ultimately, he has decided to create a "Peace Retreat" for any and all visitors to his family's land. In the summer he runs camps for Palestinian children to provide a safe place for them to be "children" and paint, draw, and create - to own their space, if only temporarily. The children's murals and large mosaics provide images from Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. His wife runs an educational project for Palestinian women and he continues to plant olive trees - "a symbol of hope" for Palestine. Attacked by Jewish settlers he has won the hearts of many and most recently a Jewish group from the United Kingdom sent money to replace the 450 olive trees destroyed by his "neighbors" from the Jewish settlements that surround the hillsides. Cognizant of global politics and wary of his own Palestinian leaders who he says he "doesn't trust," he hopes to "inspire people" and his motto is "Come and See." Five thousand people visited in 2011 and he hopes to continue to bring in young international volunteers who stay for weeks or months at a time, and have helped him rebuild amid destruction and at times disillusionment. His hope is to establish vocational training for alternative environments - he wants to go green! Amid that kind of hope, how I can I indulge myself in anger or despair? If Daewood can go forward under these circumstances, I owe it to him and all the many Palestinians I met, to take my "witness" and continue to teach and work for social justice whenever and wherever I can.
Finally, the graffiti on the monstrous walls surrounding and caging many Palestinians may be the best storyteller of all. The images and the messages are from the common people - not governments or leaders in Palestine. Violent messages of anger, resentment, and struggle are present yes, but overwhelmingly of the hundreds of images and messages that I viewed, I was astonished by the images of hope and survival. Images of doves, hearts, olive trees, children, peace signs, religious symbols (representing Islam, Christianity and Judaism) abound. In Bethlehem, a stairway was painted from the bottom of the 26 foot wall to the top with people moving up and over the top symbolizing freedom. Likewise, I saw quotes such as "We Have a Dream," "Palestine 4 Ever," "Love Wins," "Brotherhood, Equality, and Liberty," "We will Return," and "When Ignorance Reigns Lives are Lost." The most arresting image I saw was a large colorful butterfly with the words, "Here only butterflies and birds are free." It reminded me of a conversation days ago with a Palestinian man and I would like to end this journal with his quoted words. He said, "When you are one with God, you are one with the butterflies." Who wouldn't want to be one with the butterflies?