Sort of Homecoming...
July 18, 2001
After nine months in Palestine, it was time to go home for a visit. We headed back to the States in June to see our families and friends, and to talk with our supporting churches. It was a whirlwind tour - six cities, seven churches, and 400 people at the various talks we gave. We also got a little chance to rest, see a Cubs' game, and eat the finest American food - Krispy Kreme doughnuts and Atlantaís famous Varsity chili dogs. Surprisingly, culture shock was minimal (probably because we never did escape the grasp of American culture - even Saudi television replays American shows). Despite the joy of being back, we had the distinct feeling that this wasnít quite home anymore. An itch to go home to Palestine was strengthened by e-mails from our friends, who shared news and concerns about the deteriorating situation in and around Zababdeh.
We returned at the beginning of July, and set up temporary camp in the village of Birzeit, home to the university where we are taking a crash course in intermediate Arabic. The Latin Church here has been kind enough to give us a place to lay our heads (and to wash our clothes and to study, study, study). Word got to Zababdeh that we were back in the country, and friends called, longing to see us. We have very much enjoyed our new town and new neighbors, but Birzeit isn't quite home either. We needed to get back home to Zababdeh.
Last weekend we finally caught the taxi for the long ride back north. The others making the journey with us brought us up on recent news: the electricity in Zababdeh had gotten down to twelve hours a day before a new motor could finally be brought in; two Israeli settlers were shot - one killed, one wounded - on the bypass road around Jenin; the same road is now closed, even to the other Americans in Zababdeh, meaning the 30-minute trip to Nazareth now takes three hours; two Palestinian policemen accused of terrorism were shot and killed by Israeli soldiers near our neighboring village Qabatiya; three other Palestinians were assassinated by an Israeli helicopter one mile outside of Zababdeh - everyone heard the noise, some saw the rockets being fired, and one neighbor had gone to help pull bodies out of the charred remains of their car. Meanwhile, Palestinian attacks on settlers continue, settler attacks on Palestinians continue, the Israeli cabinet has gathered an additional twenty-six names of Palestinians they plan to assassinate, and the US government claims we've reached a cease-fire. Although we longed to be here, it's hard to feel at home in a climate that's so chaotic.
And so, we find that even Zababdeh isnít quite like home either. We share with so many of our neighbors a sense of homelessness, whether literal or emotional. Where is home? Our teacher calls Nazareth home. In 1947, one year after completing a new house on the family land in Nazareth, his father was sent Ramallah to teach. After the war, he and his family were not allowed to return to their new home, and so our teacher was born and raised in Ramallah. Where is home? One of our good friends in Zababdeh was eight when her family was evicted from their home in Haifa in 1948. She clearly recalls their flight (and fright), as well as her subsequent homes in Burqin, Amman, and Zababdeh. Where is home? Jews, often uprooted by violence themselves, have been coming for over a century seeking a homeland, but few have found rest in a land so fraught with conflict. Where is home? Recently, military demolition of Palestinian homes has accelerated; even those who live in refugee camps have had their meager dwellings leveled. Where is home?
There is a vision of healing for such a place, offered by the Apostle Paul. Speaking to the uprooted in Ephesus, he says that belonging to the church means that we are no longer strangers or aliens, but members and citizens of the household of God. Such a vision is hope - that the homeless would find rest, those who have been marginalized and oppressed would find their place, and all of us would be gathered under one Divine roof, no longer doomed to wander seeking the shelter and comfort we so desire. Such a vision gives us hope - but it sure makes us homesick.
Elizabeth and Marthame
PS We have included a recent article from the Israeli news magazine Ha'aretz about Palestinian home-demolitions in the particularly embattled region of Hebron.