Facing Challenges Finding Hope

Facing Challenges Finding Hope

Krista Johnson – Israel/Palestine
I traveled with our Sabeel Young Adult conference in July. It was a young adult conference planned by young adults for young adults- with some serious cultural differences thrown into the mix.

I traveled with our Sabeel Young Adult conference in July. It was a young adult conference planned by young adults for young adults- with some serious cultural differences thrown into the mix.

We had young adults from Sweden, Denmark, China, the UK, the US, India, and of course Palestine. We traveled together through Jerusalem, Bethlehem , Beit Sahour, Hebron, Jifna, Taybeh, Ramallah, Aboud, and Jericho. We visited a refugee camp, a settlement, a beach at the Dead Sea, slums in the old city, holy sites, and ordinary homes. In most places that we traveled we had a chance for dialogue with the young adults in those areas. We would have loved to have them on the trip with us but, unfortunately, young adults living in the West Bank usually can’t get permits to travel within Israel. We learned some traditional Palestinian dancing, ate some incredible food, learned about the reality of checkpoints, engaged in community service, met with government officials, struggled with the realities facing Palestinian Christians in particular, and took part in honest cross-cultural dialogue. It was 12 days full of extremes: joy, sorrow, frustration, laughter, cultural misunderstandings, and dialogue.

Something rather obvious that has struck me recently is the fact that Palestinians don’t just deal with the occupation, but all the other issues that consume the daily life of individuals all over the world. From facing disease to falling in love, from procrastination to participation, from spontaneity to establishing a daily routine. All the small issues of everyday life are affected by the occupation. One speaker the other day said: the occupation has taken away our spontaneity. Another young adult said: our situation teaches us how to find alternative routes.

One reason that Palestinians need to find alternative routes is because of the hundreds of checkpoints throughout the country that they are required to pass though. It is important to keep in mind that Israel is one of the most militarized countries in the world. All boys are required to serve in the military for three years and women for two years. After that they serve a month a year, until they are 45 years old. Some people choose not to enter the military, but if so they are not given certain rights afforded to other Israeli citizens. This is part of the way in which the Arab-Israeli population (those who would identify as Palestinians but live in Israel and have Israeli passports) are treated unequally from Israeli Jews. This leads to an incredibly militarized society, in which the vast majority of Israeli citizens have military training. We had a chance to meet with an Israeli peace group called Breaking the Silence. It is made up of former soldiers who had served in Hebron, come to believe that what they did was wrong, and now speak out about it within Israeli society. He described how as a rite of passage eighteen year old youth are given guns and trained for war, and then placed at civilian checkpoints where they have a great deal of license to treat the Palestinians as they choose. That could mean detaining them, making them walk far out of their way to another checkpoint, or even beating them. Before coming here I had largely assumed that checkpoints only existed between Israel and Palestine- the reality is that traveling through the West Bank there are Israeli checkpoints between cities and villages… It is an OCCUPATION. Hearing about this in theory is one thing, but seeing it with your own eyes is different… This past week my friend and fellow Sabeel staffer was taken off our bus while we were going through the checkpoint. Soldiers surrounded him, humiliated him, and made the bus drive off without him. It’s just not fair. Where is the hope?

One of the things that we did during our conference was to visit a place that is very near to where I live and work. The Sabeel office is located in Shua’fat, and so is the Shua’fat refugee camp and a large Israeli settlement. A settlement is an Israeli community that is built inside Palestine , according to the 1967 borders, or what is typically referred to as the “green line.” Most Palestinians view them as illegal attempts to take away land and water resources. There are basically two kinds of settlements, ideological settlements and economic settlements. An Israeli might move into a settlement because of economic incentives that are attractive to new families or there are ideologues who want to secure land around Jewish holy sights or important resources that they want to eventually fall under Israeli control. These issues are so much more complex than I can attempt to explain in a short letter, but I just want to provide a little bit of background of the situation as I understand it! We visited a boy’s school that is right on the edge of the refugee camp and the settlement, with the wall running between the two. It was heartbreaking. The wall is literally built through the middle of their playground. The teachers haven’t been paid for over five months. The small classrooms were so full of desks that there was no room in front for the teacher to stand and teach. Many of the windows in the classroom were broken, where Israeli soldiers have shot through the windows. Posters of tear-gas cans are plastered on the wall, to discourage students from touching them when they are found within the school. Soldiers wait for students outside the bathrooms to harass them, and the kids sometimes throw their sandwiches over the wall at them… Is this the environment where the next generation of Palestinians will learn? What if some of these children have learning disabilities or broken homes or any other the other difficult issues that children everywhere face? What will this next generation be like? Where is the hope?

The theme for our conference was Together: Facing Challenges Finding Hope. It ended up being a very appropriate theme. It is so easy to feel like there is such little hope for the Palestinians. Sometimes I feel as if I am witnessing a people on the endangered species list slowly fade away. Everyday life is made so difficult…many of my Palestinian friends will not come back after college. Some scholars that we have met with even doubt that a viable Palestinian state is possible the direction that policies are moving: between the settlements, the checkpoints, the Israel-only access road that divides the West bank, and the wall. There are definitely challenges, and sometimes it feels hopeless. But there is hope. Hope in the celebration of Palestinian culture, in the resolve of young people who refuse to leave their homeland, in NGOs made up of individuals who walk with Palestinians, in former soldiers willing to speak out, in simple acts of defiance. So while I can not say that I am optimistic…I can still have hope.

On a personal note, I am doing very well. I’m exhausted, but happy. I really love it here. It honestly feels very distant from the conflict in the north… I have started Arabic lessons, mastered public transportation, learned to love Arab coffee, learned to drink Arab coffee in small quantities, made some great friends, and finally learned how to light burners on my stove without scorching myself. Sabeel is a great organization and I enjoy the combination of playful banter and hard work in the office atmosphere. I still feel like there is SO MUCH to learn, but I don’t feel like I have to try to take it all in at once. I have time. I am truly looking forward to the next two years!

Thank you for reading my ramblings and thank you again for all your support!



Krista Johnson is a Global Mission Intern with the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem She serves as a Program Assistant Her ministry is possible because of funds provided by the Week of Compassion of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).