How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? ... How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? – Psalm 13: 1-2
This year marked 70 years since the Nakba, or “catastrophe,” occurred in the Holy Land. Last year marked 50 years of Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories. I recently visited Israel/Palestine to attend a conference put on by one of our partners, the YWCA of Palestine, called “Youth Participate, Youth Decide: Towards Freedom and Justice.”
The mood I felt while there was one of depressed hopes, which brought to mind Psalm 13 and the book of Habakkuk. Both the psalmist and the prophet Habakkuk cried to God asking for deliverance from oppression. Palestinians have struggled under Israeli control and oppression now for as long as the youth participants (and even most of the adult participants) have been alive. Occupation and injustice is all they’ve known and they are exhausted. One Palestinian in Hebron said to our witness visit group, “We just want to live in peace, but they [Israeli soldiers and settlers in Hebron] don’t let us.”
Many issues that were talked about during the conference reminded me so much of what is happening in the United States and in other countries around the world. The Black Lives Matter movement, the Standing Rock and indigenous rights movements, and the Occupy Wall Street protests all have commonalities with the Palestinian rights movement. These commonalities are threads connecting us across continents and around the world; creating one web of solidarity and struggle.
Yet, while I was feeling the hopelessness of the participants, there were also creative and innovative solutions that were highlighted as ways of surviving and resisting occupation. One presenter spoke about the grocery cooperative he helped establish in a refugee camp in the Occupied West Bank. This co-op provides much-needed jobs to refugees in the camps and the profit the store makes goes to buy medicine and support the camp’s health care system.
Hope has not yet been stamped out completely. As one participant put it, “Our existence is resistance.” The mere fact that Palestinians still live their lives every day despite a half century of occupation and attempted erasure is, frankly, a miracle. Palestinians in the West Bank still plant and pick their olives despite harassment from Israeli soldiers and settlers. Youth attend university in hopes of a better future despite very high rates of unemployment. Weddings and funerals and worship services are still held despite travel restrictions.
While we see US policy now shifting further away from upholding Palestinian human rights, there are more and more people around the world who have started to support Palestinian human rights and who stand in solidarity with Palestinians through various ways, including participating in the BDS movement. We, as Americans, have a greater responsibility now to lift up the Palestinian struggle and work to convince our government to respect Palestinian human rights.
We must not forget that both Psalm 13 and Habakkuk start with cries of lamentation and despair, but then continue on to cries of praise and thanksgiving. The psalmist and Habakkuk’s trust and faith in God and others are rewarded. In these times of hopelessness among Palestinians and those who stand in solidarity with them, we must put our faith in God and in each other and work together to fight for human rights, dignity, and freedom for all.