In It Together
Early one morning last month, I was sitting at breakfast with Israeli and Palestinian women…as one does in Washington D.C. I was jetlagged and struggling to be alert; we all were for that matter. Somehow the topic of visiting all of them in Israel/Palestine came up. They knew I had been banned by Israel, which means I cannot enter Palestine, but they were formulating a plan. Both of the Israelis at the table told me to give their names as contacts, and said that I could stay with them. And a Palestinian chimed in, “and once you’re in…you’ll be with us.” Gesturing, “come on.” Meaning, you’ll be well taken care of by us Palestinians, but she knew I knew that.
I’m not sure they know how healing this 2-minute conversation was for me. Partly because they were trying to rectify a wrong done to me. Partly because they saw me. Partly because these are the very people caught in the everyday ins and outs of the Israel/Palestine conflict. The occupation of the West Bank directly affects their lives, and peacemaking has a real cost for them. But in that moment, they were thinking about how to get me, an American, in so we could be together.
There is something about being in it “together” that seems to comfort me; it makes me feel safe and secure. It makes me feel like I can do hard things because there are other people in it with me. Even the day before, we were all up and ready to go by 6am, thanks to jetlag. So, we went for a walk. While my Palestinian and Israeli friends’ motives were getting fresh air and moving their bodies before the DC heat settled in, mine was finding the biggest, boldest American coffee I could find to shock my system back to Eastern Standard Time.
And we stumbled right smack into a Starbucks, praise the heavens above! While it did amuse me that the first place I took my new friends in America was to Starbucks, it actually had a deeper meaning for me. Every morning in Beirut, I walk to get coffee -- by myself. I have a few (ok, more than 4) coffee shops in the area that know me by name, so I am known and I do have friends in Beirut. But, I am aware that I do everything by myself for the most part — travel, eat, hail taxis, struggle to speak Arabic, and walk into camps. And for the past month, it’s been me, myself, and I. Walking back with my Venti American coffee in my hands that morning, I realized that I wasn’t alone.
There is safety in numbers, right? And maybe that’s something I long for, especially in my work -- to know that I’m not alone. This doesn’t negate all of those who support my work and who are with me in spirit. I know I am supported. It doesn’t negate the Palestinians I work with; I know they appreciate my presence and my work. But, I am the only native English speaker, ya3nni, “American” walking into a camp and seeing what I am seeing, hearing stories, and knowing ins and outs of life in exile. I carry the weight of that. I am the only one who has to communicate “all of it” to people in my country in a way that makes sense to Americans and in a way that honors Palestinians. I carry the weight of that as well.
But, the interesting thing about being surrounded by competent, capable women who are in it up to their eyeballs -- not only do you get inspired, but you realize others are fighting and struggling and sacrificing for peace and justice in their own corners of the world. It may be different aspects of the conflicts but, nonetheless, they are out there getting shit done. So, I am responsible for my little corner of this conflict: Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and Jordan. The greatest discouragement I have in this work is that I feel alone, and the injustice I witness (and I’m only a witness) is picking up speed. It feels bleak -- like this is the darkest time facing Palestinians.
I am grateful for Churches For Middle East Peace, and for all the work they did to pull all of us together and to highlight women — all women delegates, all women speakers, all women panelists for their annual advocacy summit. What women excel at is connection, and it was evident. We connected, we were for each other, and we did our own little parts in the summit with great encouragement from others. We saw each other, and our work was respected; for me, that is huge. Just by bringing us out of the Middle East, I was able to connect to other women I would never have the option to meet in Beirut.
As I sit here and think about it, I envision delicate threads connecting us despite borders, different countries and cultures. The threads are carefully woven together, over and over again, multiple colors, multiple textures to create a beautiful tapestry. A tapestry so stunning that others would join their threads to create a more diverse and larger tapestry. And, that maybe at some point, this tapestry (our connections) could be used to cover and soothe all in this conflict who are in pain, who are alone, who suffer injustice, like a warm blanket.
So maybe I am not alone, we are not alone. Maybe, in the darkest hour, hope shines through.
One last thing: during our debrief, a Palestinian Christian said, “I am very sorry Suzann, I don’t mean to offend you. But, really, you are Palestinian.”
I think that made my soul smile. And, if that’s the case, I have a huge extended family. I’ll never be alone.