"There is no place on earth that compares to the Middle East for experiencing the fascinating and volatile mix of religions, cultures and historical movements that have shaped the world." That is the beginning of the description of the program taken by Emi, the daughter of one of the women in my international women's group in Hokkaido. She is attending Eastern Mennonite University. The Cross-Cultural Program includes extensive travel in Egypt, Jordan, Greece, and Rome, where participants are "immersed in the ancient/modern world of Jews, Christians and Muslims."
For two hours, we were entranced by the photographs and stories told by this young woman, who turned 20 in Nazareth, the same place where Mary, who by then had given birth to Jesus, turned 20. Hers was not the usual tour of the Middle East, particularly since it included living in with a Christian Palestinian family in The West Bank and working on an Israeli kibbutz.
I can't do justice to all that Emi shared with us, but want to give a few of my impressions. Her view of the West Bank was particularly distressing. It was difficult to hear about the huge concrete wall separating the West Bank from Israel. The barrier, covered with graffiti in many places, cuts off survival for so many Palestinians and is a constant reminder of their plight. The number of checkpoints Palestinians must go through makes travel next to impossible; they're not allowed to take their cars through, have to survive long waits, and may end up getting turned back at any point.
Water is rationed for the Palestinians who look up to the tops of hills and see those living in the Jewish settlements are splashing around in their swimming pools. The family Emi stayed with had its hotel destroyed by bombing, and their business has not been good in the rebuilt hotel, even though Emi witnessed a wedding held there with some 600 guests. For two years, the family went to live in Detroit, Michigan, where a large number of Palestinian emigrants choose to live. While there, they saw their home being shelled on TV. Even so, they chose to return to Palestine. It is their home.
For some startling statistics on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, see If Americans Knew. The latest news on the conflict is at the International Middle East Center.
Because of Emi's talk, I will be looking at the news from that area of the Middle East through new eyes.
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