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August 15, 2005

Marthame chats with one of our former students in Zababdeh
Recently, we have mostly kept in touch with our friends in the northern West Bank via dardash.  Dardash means “chat,” and, like the English word, it has taken on new significance with advances in internet technology.  With a free email account and a few shekels at one of Zababdeh’s internet cafes, our friends can “meet” and “chat” with us online.  We mix Arabic and English as we dardash, just as we would if talking together.  Typing Arabic phonetically calls for some creativity, but chatting has become so popular that there are standards.  Letters that don’t exist in English are represented by numbers: the throaty “Ayin” is “3”, the hard “H” sound is “7”.  As a result, the “chat window” on the computer screen looks more like formulae for a moon landing than a conversation.

Most of the folks with whom we dardash are young Christian men, both because of the nature of our work in Zababdeh and because Marthame does most of the chatting.  They tell us news from the village – who got married, who has had children, whose parents want to say hi to us – as well as their opinions about the political situation.  There is an old joke that if you have four Palestinians you have five opinions.  Here are five opinions from four of our friends, as they consider the Gaza pullout, the viability of a Palestinian state, and other issues.  Their names and identifying details have been changed.

Samer is a recent college graduate.  He is unemployed with no prospects for work in the near future.  He is extremely bright, with exquisite English.  He spends most of his time on the internet these days, and chatting with him is usually a mixture of politics, religion, and software suggestions.  “I’m ready for the Palestinian elections,” he says.  “The only reason Abu Mazen is delaying is because he knows that Hamas will win.”  Should they win?  “Isn’t that how democracy is supposed to work?  The majority rules.  Look: everyone knows that the PLO is corrupt.  Hamas has no corruption on their hands.  They will clean up the Authority’s messes, and that’s the best thing for the future of Palestine right now.  Abu Mazen does nothing but wait.  Israel will never make peace with the Palestinians if we wait for good will gestures.  Look at Gaza: the Israelis aren’t pulling out, they’re laying siege to Gaza  They’re surrounding it by land, air, and sea.  This is a direct result of Abu Mazen’s passivity.”  What about Hamas’ militancy?  Their violence during the recent Intifada?  “It was a complete failure.  You cannot get your way just by using force.  But neither can you get your way just by negotiating.”  Don’t you worry about being a Christian under a Hamas government?  “Not at all.  Hamas respects Christians.  I have never found anything but respect from Hamas activists.”

Haitham is in college.  He’s attending university, majoring in medicine.  He hopes to be a doctor.  His father died when he was young, and this tragedy drives Haitham’s vocation: “No one should have to face what I faced.”  He has been very active in peace activities, recently attending a conference in Europe, which the Israeli contingent boycotted.  “President Abbas is a very smart man.  He is wise to turn his back on violence and to push for the cease-fire.  The violence of the Intifada was a disaster for us.”  What about Hamas?  Do you think they will win the upcoming election?  “There is no way they can win.  Everyone now sees what their tactics deliver.  Palestinian TV shows the result of their efforts: every time they fire rockets into Israeli settlements, they kill Israeli children.  And the response kills Palestinian children.  Everyone now sees the truth of their ways.  The Gaza redeployment is the first step.  It sets the precedent that Israel can and will give us our land back.  Once we get the West Bank back, there will be peace and stability in the region.”  What if Hamas wins the election?  “As a Christian, I would choose to leave rather than live under Hamas.  Their approach is strictly fundamentalist.  I’m not interested in Palestine becoming Iran.”

Boutros is a young professional, working for the Palestinian telephone utility in nearby Jenin.  He is recently married, and his wife is expecting their first child.  “The Palestinian Authority is completely useless.  We’ve given them twelve years of unconditional support, and what have they produced?  The Palestinian issue is once again on the international back burner.  We’re surrounded by a Wall.  There’s no peace process on the table.  It’s hopeless.  Our leadership has no vision.”  So what’s the option?  “The Authority likes the idea of statehood – diplomatic visits, postage stamps, an ‘Independence’ Day – while their people are still living under the whims of the Israeli Occupation.  Dissolve the Authority.  Get rid of it.  Then the world can see clearly that we are still under the daily humiliation of this Occupation.”  But what about Palestinian statehood?  “Have you seen those settlements?  Ariel?  Ma’ale Adumim?  The Israelis have no intention of giving them up.  They never have.  Look how difficult it has been for them to remove a handful of illegal settlers from Gaza.  Do you think they’re going to take on the other 400,000 of them?  We should call their bluff.  We should say to them: ‘You’ve won.  It’s all yours.  Now what are you going to do with us?’”  You mean a single state?  “The chance for two states has passed with the settlements’ entrenchment.  Our only options are equal rights as Israeli citizens, Israeli-style Hafrada (Apartheid), or our annihilation.  Anything is better than the status quo.”

Faris finished high school a few years ago.  His family owns their own business, a garage on the edge of town.  He is the oldest of his brothers and sisters.  Though he is quite bright, there wasn’t enough money for him to go to college.  He entered the family business, though there has always been regret in that decision.  How are things?  “The same.  There’s no work, our family is having a tough time.  Unemployment is skyrocketing.  Thank God we have the little work that we do.”  What about the situation?  “I don’t pay any attention.  My whole life has been under Occupation.  I don’t expect that to change until the day I die.”  Doesn’t the Gaza withdrawal give you hope?  “Haki fadhi – it’s just empty talk.  The Israelis will never end the Occupation, so why should I get my hopes up?  That’s why I like the summer – lots of weddings, lots of chances to just hang out with my friends, drink, smoke the argile, and just forget about it all.”  So where’s the hope?  “I’ve been chatting with this woman from Australia.  She promised to come and visit me.  I hope she does!”  Do you know she’s a woman?  “Of course!  She has a webcam.”

Since we left Zababdeh, we write less frequently. We no longer have the on-the-ground vantage point to gather stories and experiences that we can share with you.  We have to make an effort to keep in touch with the people in Zababdeh and with the situations they are facing. One way we do this is by chatting.  We hope this dardash window gives us all a glimpse into the lives of our brothers and sisters in that land.  We’ve invited you into our chat room, into that moment with us of listening and discernment.  We do not take our Christian brothers’ words as gospel, but rather hear them through the lens of the gospel.  If we do so, we will hear wisdom – wisdom that is “better than weapons of war.”  Even as they contradict themselves and each other, Samer, Haitham, Boutros, and Faris, hold onto the same hope.  They are groaning for a future in which they can find dignity, respect, opportunity.  They yearn for us to help make that happen.

Let anyone with ears to hear, listen.