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Reflection

  April 8th, 2009

Now home, I know that what I have most taken from this trip is the realization that for all of our attempts to be informed, to understand from afar the Arab-Israeli conflict and the potential for peace in the Middle East, the true complexity is only apparent upon witnessing it.  To reduce the interaction of people, land, water, and history that occurs there to a conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, or Israelis and Arabs, is to simplify by a thousand times.  Within this tiny country, one tenth the size of Oregon, there are hundreds of variations on religion, hundreds of perspectives on politics, on resources, on ownership and responsibility, and hundreds of eye-witness interpretations of a history that can be traced back more than 50 times longer than the history of the U.S.
Even the geography of the region is shaped by thousands of years of human history, and the country is rippled with hills that are not natural geographic features, but rather hills made by the building of one civilization upon the ruins of another, in turn built on the ruins of another, and so on for 10 thousand years.
Suddenly we are so small, at the foot of human history that has truly made mountains.  And the only action that seems to have the potential for any impact at all, is to put aside everything that we have ever known, and simply listen.

Our trip was full, but these are the activities that are most present in my memory as I tell stories about it now:

Sitting cross-legged on the colorful mats of a Bedouin household, speaking with a Bedouin woman, Salima, and her husband, Juma, as he served us tea, and each spoke of being inside and outside of their community, inside and outside of the Israel and Palestine.

Standing beside the border between Israel and Lebanon at sunset on our second day in country; watching the red sky behind the barbed wire and the swept dirt road that seems always vigilant of Israel’s safety.  How tiny this country is!

The headwaters of the Jordan river; in this small and contested area, water in abundance.

Riding the bus across the West Bank with students from Al Quds University – them, singing and clapping, telling us what they’d like to do when they graduate.  On the same bus ride, being turned around at the checkpoint as we travelled from one point in the West Bank to another, for no reason, simply to make us struggle to get to our destination.

Walking through wadis, canyons that only contain water for a few days a year, cut by water that gathers during flash floods.  In the lifetime of the earth, these canyons have held water only for seconds, but they are massive.  Their depth seems a testament to time and force.

Buying from the bakeries and marketplaces.  People everywhere are kind.
And, spending time with the others in our own group; we too are kind.

Steph

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