Sister Mary writes: could women bring peace to the Holy Land?

 Earlier this month I received an invitation to a dinner from an Arabic woman. The dinner was to be in Ain Karem at the home of an Israeli friend. I already had my own history in that village in 1973 when I was invited there to a coffee house and met an Israeli couple. At that time I knew some of the history of this one-time Arab village. I had already visited the churches there and felt they were structures without a living community, because during the Israeli War of Independence the Arab community fled their homes in fear of the advancing Israeli army. The Israeli government then took over the town and sold the magnificent stone structures, repopulating the town with Israelis. By 1973 Ain Karem was an Israeli artist colony and many of the beautiful limestone Arab homes had been turned into art galleries or art studios. I sat on the floor of that coffee house with a cushion under me and spoke with the Israeli woman seated next to me, a nursery school teacher. I remember complimenting her by telling her that she "must be very good at what she did". I will never forget her response: "Of course I am!" Having been the administrator of a large academy for girls, I was accustomed to teachers and could imagine a faculty member responding with something like: "I really try to be," "I just love what I'm doing", I'm working at it" or even, "The children are such a delight to work with". I chalked up that evening to a LESSON IN SELF CONFIDENCE -- that was about the kindest way I could think about it. So when I was once again invited to Ain Karem, I wasn't really excited about spending the evening there. I kept telling myself to be open; yet I truthfully felt depressed. When we arrived, my Palestinian friend introduced me to the widow who owned this lovely house and to another Israeli woman who was also invited to the dinner. My hostess was most gracious as we sat in front of the old fireplace enjoying some nuts and a glass of wine before the meal. The conversation flowed easily and I quickly sensed that I was among friends and watched the interchange among the women, entering into it with ease. I couldn't help but reflect on the goodness of these women as they listened to each other. Already I was glad that I came. As in all conversations in this country, the present "situation" became a topic. It was brought up by one of the Israeli women who spoke of how "Sharon doesn't want peace" and how his policies have deliberately led to the incarceration of Palestinians in their own towns, helpless as their olive groves, orchards and vineyards are bulldozed, their crops burnt, homes demolished and towns besieged by tanks and the Israeli army. It seemed strange to hear these two articulate Israeli women in this Arab stone house in the village of Ain Karem speak so passionately about the "situation" to a Palestinian woman and a nun - about how the Israeli Prime Minister could not abide calm, but had to constantly pressure the Palestinians with terror and violence. Palestinian suffering was a sorrow to these women and both of them were protesting in their own way against the Israeli government policies. Without realizing it, I spent four hours with these women and we parted with plans to meet next month here in Jerusalem. I don't know what direction this friendship will take, but I do know: One woman awake Awakens another, The second awakens her next-door neighbour And three awake can rouse the town, And turn the whole place upside down. And many awake Can raise such a fuss That it finally awakens the rest of us. One woman up, With dawn in her eyes, Multiplies. Author unknown Sr Mary is an Ursuline nun working in Jerusalem

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