Our EAPPI South Hebron Hills Team 41 arrived at our new home in Yatta on Friday morning. As we eagerly unpacked our belongings, happy to FINALLY put our suitcases aside, the doorbell rang and we discovered that our neighbour and driver, Abed, had come for a visit. We invited him in. “Welcome, welcome, welcome new team” he repeated with a broad smile over and over again as we sipped our tea. Although we had met him when we were here for training, we once again introduced ourselves so that he could get us straight. Christine from the USA, Bosse from Sweden, Matti from Finland and myself from Canada. As he was leaving he invited us for coffee that evening to the home he shares with his parents. It wasn’t long until the doorbell rang again. It was Abed, back to explain that according to Palestinian culture new neighbours are invited to share the evening meal on the day they move in and so we were to come for dinner, not coffee.
That evening the four of us went to their home where we were treated to a delicious meal of makluba, a chicken and rice dish served in traditional Palestinian style. The men and the guests sat on cushions on the floor around a square mat. On the mat was placed a heaping platter of rice with chicken pieces on top, and on each side of the mat were bowls of a yogurt soup that we were encouraged to spoon onto the rice, and bowls of a cucumber/tomato/lime salad. As we ate, we were taught that Palestinian culture dictates that we be silent until the meal is over and then we would visit.
This happened to be Friday, Sept 23….the date that the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas presented, on behalf of the Palestinian people, the Palestinian Authority’s request to be recognized as a full member state at the United Nations. With the 8 hour time change, President Abbas gave his UN speech just as we were completing our meal. (for a transcript of the speech see http://gadebate.un.org/sites/default/files/gastatements/66/PS_en.pdf ) Together we sat around the television and listened to his speech (given in Arabic). Before and after the speech, the screen showed scenes of huge crowds gathered in Bethlehem, Ramallah and Jenin to celebrate this profound moment in Palestinian history.
Words cannot express how important an event this was for the Palestinian people, and for the family we were visiting that evening. Through a painful history dating back to the Nakba (catastrophe) of 1948 when they were displaced from much of their land, through the war of 1967 when the Israeli occupation began, and then through numerous unsuccessful attempts and negotiations for peace until the present, their people have suffered through the loss of land, loss of opportunity and personal as well as national humiliation. Today, many live in poverty clinging to their remaining land, struggling daily to survive against the passive and aggressive violence of the Israeli army and the Israeli settlers. This bid for statehood represents an opportunity to be recognized as a people, an opportunity to stand together and have the world acknowledge their right to exist as a state and their right to determine their own future. Should they be recognized as a state, they could then stand as equals on the international stage and at the negotiations table in the search for peace with Israel.
Our hosts listened intently to President Abbas’ speech, but as they did so they also recognized the reality of their situation. A new member state can only be admitted to the UN on the recommendation of the Security Council. The 5 permanent members of the Security Council (China, France, The Russian Federation, Great Britain and the United States) all must agree before a motion moves forward (see http://www.un.org/sc/members.asp) If this happens, the General Assembly will then vote to determine whether they will ratify the Security Council’s decision. A majority of the UN member nations have indicated that they would vote in favour of the Palestinian motion at the General Assembly level. Unfortunately for the Palestinians, the United States has clearly stated that it will veto the request at the Security Council level, effectively halting this latest ongoing attempt by the Palestinian people to achieve peace and international respect through nonviolent means.
Knowing all of this…. knowing the importance of this motion to the hopes, the aspirations and the desire of the Palestinian people for peace and for their desire for the end of the Israeli occupation… and knowing the US government’s stated intention to veto this motion…..our hosts welcomed each one of us wholeheartedly, including our American team member Chris. In a night of such profound importance for the Palestinian people, she was as welcome in their home as the rest of us were. They showed absolutely no animosity towards her, no anger, and no resentment. Only warmth, good food, and laughter….lots of laughter, accompanied by a strong sense of goodwill that readily overcame our arabic/english language barrier.
I thought back to the numerous news reports I have heard over time portraying the Palestinian people as terrorists, as a people who pose a high level security risk to all around. How terribly we have been misled. We have allowed the actions of a desperate few to taint our perceptions of many. In so doing, we have become the violent one, perpetrating a huge injustice towards this country and it’s citizens. How sad for them…..How sad for us….
Peace, Salaam, Shalom,