For the past several mornings, each of the participant groups in this exchange have given a country presentation. Yesterday morning, the group from Jaffa spoke of hospitality in Islamic cultures. Though I have lived in the southern United States and experienced much warm hospitality there, I have a feeling a few weeks in a Moslem country might top the capabilities of people in Georgia and South Carolina. These are people with a deep-seated understanding of how to be hosts and consider it a mark of honour to welcome and care for guests. Last evening was a Palestinian meal; afterwards was dancing (very proper, men danced with men and the women with women) and some smoking from the hookah (not me). I’m sincerely struck with the contrast between how these kind joyful people express themselves so generously while living under such bleak circumstances. When asked about this today, they said some of their gladness for the moment comes from the respite they are experiencing here in the Netherlands. “Why are there only a few police in the streets?” “Where are the checkpoints?” “What documentation must we carry?” “How is it that these people live so freely?” These are questions asked in all sincerity. When you are from a place where one can be detained for hours for not having the right stamp or a policeman can pat down any woman in the street, I’d imagine coming to a country as open as the Netherlands would be almost shocking. We have to explain that, if there is a problem, you should go to a policeman; they here to help and you’ve nothing to fear from them.
Today was a presentation from the Jerusalem YMCA group. It was a punch in the gut. We caught some small glimpse into the dark. I’m not going to list all the everyday indignities they face. I’m not going to go off on some tirade against Israel or the United States, because this is not what they did. In fact, at the end of their presentation they asked us all not to just listen to one perspective on the whole situation. It is not a matter of Jews against Moslems of Arabs against Israelis; it is far more complex than that. To sum up the whole conflict in a paragraph does no justice to the truth of it all; the simple paraphrase or outline will communicate little substance. It would more likely only extend stereotypes or allow us to continue along the line of easy understanding. Oh it’s just a religious conflict. No, not at all, the group speaking today were almost entirely Christians and stand as brothers with Moslems in all this. This is an issue that has been building up slowly over the past two millennia; no amount of reading or watching the news will help an outsider grasp the whole scope of it. I think the only hope of breaking down these religious, political, and physical walls is to come face to face with people and come to know them as fellow humans. I know that there are evil people in this world and some of them may be Moslems, some of them may be Christians or Jews and some of them may be the godless people who profit from ongoing conflict. . .but I know that these few people I have met are not destroyers of the world. If we can all just meet a few of them and become convinced of their humanity it would be impossible to classify all of them as evil. They would no longer be them; they become Souleiman and Hazel and Ali and Farid and Hiba and Ihab and Manal and Sara and Maram. If I know that some part of them are real people there is hope for the world. It may only be a little hope in the face of an oncoming storm, but humanity has often survived with only the smallest strand of hope to grasp.