Letter from Hebron: Planting prayers for peace

 On Saturday, 29 July, as one of six participants in the Christian Peacemaker Team (CPT) delegation, I joined in a public witness against the construction of an additional 200 homes beside the Israeli settlement of Harsina in the Baqa'a valley east of Hebron. Since it was the Jewish holy day of Shabbat, the site was deserted. Though we were visible from the road into Harsina, our act of resistance and prayer continued with no confrontation from Israeli soldiers or settlers. We started our witness by hanging a banner from a retaining wall facing the settlement road. Written in English, Arabic and Hebrew, it read: 'Settlement expansion demolishes the road to peace'. With stones taken from a Palestinian home demolished in the Baqa'a valley in 1996, we built a circular terrace where we planted a small plum tree. On the stones we had written prayers and symbols of peace and justice. Visiting the land of Palestine for the first time, my Ohio farm-girl's eyes automatically turned for relief to the few oases of green scattered across the dry, rocky hills. In this environment, every tree and every patch of green reflects the love and attention its Palestinian residents give to the land. Our CPT witness today gave us the chance to honour that deep sense of rootedness. Moreover, it was a cry against the systematic expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which leaves in its path demolished Palestinian homes, confiscated land, and hearts hardened by injustice. We began the morning's activities with hot mint tea offered by a Palestinian family whose home and lands are threatened by the expansion of Harsina settlement. The coolness of their kitchen, a cave that has given shelter to the family since the days of the Ottoman Empire, was relief from the 100-degree heat outside. Already, the settlement's expansion has claimed the family's terraced garden, a source of food, which took 12 years of the father's full-time effort to build. Directly behind the home, a towering stone wall marks the new boundaries of the settlement and reminds them of their loss. Later that afternoon, the injustices of the situation here in the West Bank were further clarified for me when our delegation walked the shady streets of Kiryat Arba, the other Israeli settlement in the Baqa'a valley. The lush lawns, willow and elm trees and flower-lined streets were beautiful. Yet their beauty was tainted with the knowledge that they are built on land confiscated from Palestinian families. Furthermore, Kiryat Arba uses water from a West Bank aquifer for its irrigation, while neighbouring Palestinians face water shortages. The greenness of the settlements is a false fertility. In this setting, crying out to God seems a natural response. Earlier, someone had suggested that we consider the planting of the tree to be an act of prayer. I thought of lines that the Persian poet Rumi wrote, "Let the beauty you love be what you do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground." CPT's daily presence in Hebron is a way to symbolically kiss the ground and our act this morning was a small way of participating in this struggle to restore the sacred to a desecrated land.

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