There is tension in the air here in East Jerusalem tonight on the eve of tomorrow’s vote at the United Nations Security Council regarding the Palestinian request for statehood, and mere days before Friday’s UN General Assembly vote on the issue. That same tension was palpable over the last week in the South Hebron Hills. While the politicians in New York carry out their high pressured negotiations, people on the ground here wonder what will happen, how will this unfold. What will the coming days and weeks bring? While no one knows the answers to these questions, it is clear that history is in the making.
Amidst this tension, my heart and mind goes back to a visit last week with a Palestinian villager. His village, typical of many we saw, consists of a few houses, many of them tents, with a few corrals for sheep and goats, and chickens roaming freely. Water shortages are the norm. Life here, at the best of times, is difficult.
The village’s closest neighbours are an illegal Israeli settlement whose inhabitants have a history of harassing the villagers. Looking across the road, signs of prosperity abound at the settlement, and it is evident that for them water is readily available.
Slightly more than a week ago, the Israeli army arrived and demolished two of the village homes, as well as a communal toilet. Demolition orders remain for most of the other buildings in the village. The army maintains that these buildings are illegal because the villagers do not own the land, even though they hold title to this land that was purchased in the 1950’s.
According to the ways of the world, this man has every reason to be full of anger. But his quiet demeanor spoke another message. Never have I met a stronger witness to peace. His voice carried a sense of remorse as he spoke of his sadness about the relationship of the settlement and his village. In spite of the hardships that have happened, “there are lots of good people in the world” he said.
It is well known that the settlements in the West Bank have received extra arms and tear gas to prepare for violence in response to the UN votes. But yet, as this gentle man spoke of this week’s votes at the United Nations and the potential for violent repercussions towards the Palestinian people, he was very clear. “We Palestinians must not respond with violence. Violence only leads to more violence.”
As we were preparing to leave the village, we stood overlooking both his village and the settlement. “We live a simple life here. We only want to be left alone to live in peace.”
May this be so.
May peace be our prayer.