Once again the Golden Gate Hostel in Jerusalem provided a wonderful breakfast of nuts, pita bread, hummus, corn, cold cuts, fruits, hard-boiled eggs, and hot water for tea or coffee. The instant coffee I drink every morning makes me think of my Grandmother who thought Instant Sanka was the best ever. I shared many cups with her never realizing that years later I'd be drinking instant coffee again in Jerusalem. For my Avila friends, I'm sure you can appreciate that my bed, in a six-person bedroom reserved for women, has a full sized mural on the wall representing a well-known religious site in Rome. Consequently, believe it or not, each night I sleep under the dome of St. Peter's!
Yesterday, our delegation left for the Negev Desert. We picked up our Israeli guide, Amos, and headed to "unrecognized" Bedouin communities. The Arab Bedouins are officially Israeli citizens but have few of the rights of citizenship. "Unrecognized" community means that they receive little or no services. They survive and thrive on generators for electricity and only water they can find or bring in. They've built schools and homes under very difficult conditions. They have few legal options for redress and cannot even count on the police to provide them security. Amos, a conscientious objector from military service, has been working tirelessly over many years to help the Bedouins and keep them from being displaced, forced into cities, and having their villages destroyed to make room for Israeli settlements and military restricted areas. They are a people of the land who have thrived for centuries in the rural areas. They are approximately 17% of the population but own barely 2% of the land.
We met up with Aziz, a leader in the first village. He welcomed us after we bounced our way through horrendous back roads to a Muslim cemetery that has served the village for almost 100 years. Because of Israeli policies and the Bedouins refusal to sell their land to Israeli developers (in some cases turning down millions!), their village has been bulldozed, wheat and barley fields burned, cisterns destroyed along with sheep and horses. The bevy of 75-year-old olives trees were also destroyed. What remains is the cemetery and assorted tents or tin sheds with roofs. We were warmly greeted by Aziz and a few other men, with small and large children playing about. If we were in the U.S. we would say that we were in the "middle of nowhere." But this land, through Aziz's eyes was alive and life affirming. We gathered under a large tent where a small fire was being tended by one of the men. A young girl, the only female other than in our delegation, resided on pillows next to her father. The tent was incredible. Covered with rugs and large pillows the tent floor was beautifully decorated. We sat on the floor pillows in a large rectangle and were immediately served espresso and later tea in very small porcelain cups. I rarely drink espresso or tea but these were delicious and had been made from the heat of the fire and carried to us in ornate brass pots. This was an incredible culture clash with centuries-old hospitality, traditions, and customs existing alongside a modern generator that provided electricity for their one laptop and assorted cell phones. Even the poorest people have cell phones and use them extensively to communicate. This is how they network with each other. We were treated with great respect. After Aziz told his story of the multiple destructions of his village and home, he wanted us to walk the land with him. His son galloped over on a gorgeous Arabian horse and demonstrated some tricks for our benefit - having the horse bow to us. It was clear that Aziz was proud of his son and the beautiful horse. "Animals grow with us," he said, "we love them." Finally, it was very important to him that we see the cistern he has replaced 5 times; but, what he was most proud of were his olive trees. After being bulldozed and burned some of the trees refused to die. There, below the surface, roots revived and sent sprouts out of the ground again to start over. Delighted that the trees refused to succumb to destruction, he gently touched each one, smiling broadly telling us the trees refuse to leave - like the people.