Easter. I need to write about resurrection. About the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, built where Jesus died, was entombed and rose on the third day, The anointing stone, where they laid and wound him in cloth and spices, found the deepest part of me.
Kneeling among women and men rubbing cloth and cross and candle across a surface polished smooth by hundreds and thousands before us. Bringing them home to church and village. To friends and family. I have my rosary, my cross in hand.
‘This touched the place that was touched by him. Where he was wrapped in love.’
In that simple, open, space, more than Golgotha or the tomb, ornate and hallowed in other ways, I was found and caught and held. Sustained in the moments of resurrection I encountered elsewhere in that holy land.
There were so many.
Ramzi Qaisyeh built his home and restaurant on family property overlooking the slopes of the Al Makhrour Valley with care and attention to detail. Every bit speaking to his craftsmanship, his love for the land, the vista, those who would share in its bounty. A place of welcome and hospitality, well built, four times over.
The Valley is in a part of Palestine known as Area C. A Palestinian seeking to build in Area C must have permission from the government of Israel. The only building permitted in the valley since Israel took it in 1967 is an outpost for Israeli settlers, constructed last year on land neighbours say is illegally occupied.
Outposts are settlements in seedling form. In violation of international law Israel plants colonies in Occupied Palestine with purpose and goal. Over 600,000 settler/colonizers have been given free land in Palestine. Colonies are carefully planned, wrapping around major Palestinian centres, taking control of key transportation routes, commanding resources, especially water and farmland. The Al Makhrour Valley is all of the above. It, and many villages and farms around Bethlehem, are key parts of Israel’s strategy to turn Palestine into Israel.
Resistance is, seemingly, futile. Settlers take Palestinian land with impunity. Villagers are harassed, dogs are set on shepherds, olive groves are razed to the ground, harvests are prevented, springs are taken or polluted with septic outfalls. The campaign is relentless and Palestinians who resist are immediately labelled ‘terrorist’. Resisters are targeted by the forces of the Occupation. The military’s primary role in Occupied Palestine is the enforcement of colonization.
In area C Palestinians building a road, a chicken coop, a cistern or a cave, planting trees or plowing land are seen as engaged in resistance. As are those constructing health care centres, schools, car washes, homes and restaurants.
Restaurants. Brings me back to Ramzi. His dream of sharing family land and vista with folk who’d come and dine on the food of his kitchen. All going relatively well until the Outpost Occupied the ground above. House and restaurant built, guests enjoying his dream. Then the soldiers and equipment turned up.
The first two times they were lenient. Just tore down the restaurant. But he would resist, wouldn’t he? The next time they took his house as well.
When I first met him he was living in a tent on the property. The common language we shared wasn’t spoken. But I heard him, clearly. There was something in the way he stood, when I took his picture at the tent. Something of forlorn resistance. Insistent determination.
A month or so later we were called by one of his neighbours, a man we’d been trying to help with the incursions of the Outpost Colonizers. The military was back, with two pieces of equipment. Tearing up everything in sight. We took photos, went to interview him afterwards. Made the reports we were supposed to make. The efficient, bureaucratized, brutality of the Occupation, churning through another dream.
When we arrived he was on the phone. I could hear his anguish, another language understood without the need of words.
As we were leaving he was sitting down to a meal, surveying the valley beneath from the wreckage above and I wondered. There was something about the set of his shoulders, the way he took that meal in…
With his permission, I picked up a piece of tile, shattered from his home. Rubbing the dirt clear I placed it in my vest. A momento of resistance and resurrection. It has come home with me, to share with friends and neighbours.
‘This comes from where love was denied, destroyed, demolished and rose again. This from living stones, cries out…’