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Friday, October 21, 2016
Holy Land Diary 6 - House of Peace by Rachel's Tomb
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Prayers by the wall

November 6th cont....

Our Bedouin visit over we returned to Bethlehem to  call on the  Pax Christi partner group there, the Arab Educational Institute.  We met at their SUMUD Peace House situated near the checkpoint and the wall where it encircles Rachel's Tomb.  They deliberately chose this place for the Peace House to support the few Christian families who have stayed living in the shadow of the wall.  SUMUD is the Arab word for steadfast.  The families who stay there are determined to 'stay put' , not to be moved or intimidated by the horrific wall that surrounds then.

The AEI works with Christians and Muslims and runs a student group, teacher groups and women's groups.  They aim to encourage meetings, especially of their women's groups, at the Peace House  to bring some life and support to the area.  We heard from Rania of some of their ventures over the past year which included joint Christian / Muslim retreats and times of reflection on topics that are found in both their holy scriptures; practical sessions on using the computer; craft sessions, helping to keep traditional skills alive; music sessions with two choirs that have developed over the past year.  A number of the women told us something of their life.  One related how her house had been ruined as the separation wall had been built beside the house and it was unbearable to live there anymore.  She also related a story of her daughter who works in Jerusalem.

Years ago she had no problem passing from Bethlehem to Jerusalem to work.  Now she has to go through the humiliation of the checkpoint.

She cried as she related that one day her daughter had been pulled aside and forced to a strip search on her way through.  Others related the sadness of letting their children leave to seek education and work outside of Palestine. In spite of all this sadness, they agreed to sing for us, offering two two traditional songs sung with great vigour and joy.  How important it is for people to build friendship and community in such an environment... to keep their dignity and sanity as human beings through friendship and common projects!

Before saying out goodbyes we all went out onto the road in front of the wall.   Years ago everything here was open and thriving.... a busy thoroughfare  linking Bethlehem and Jerusalem with shops and restaurants for locals and tourists.  Now it is a dead end.  We gathered in a circle and offered prayers and readings for peace - led first by the women and then by members of our own group. Another little act of resistance... an honouring of their courage,  their steadfastness, their SUMUD.

Pat Gaffney, General Secretary of Pax Christi, took part in a delegation to the Holy Land.

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Tags: Holy Land, Pat Gaffney, Pax Christ, Rachel's Tomb

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