Their names give these two Palestinian women away. Their names are not Palestinian Muslim names like Khadija or Laila, their names show that they are Palestinian Christians. They know anger and hate, but despite their situations, they have not given into those natural emotions.
Claire is in her mid-40’s and has her husband John and six children. Although I’m not sure how many of the children still live in their home, they live 20 feet from the Wall dividing Israeli and Palestinian zones. She lives in Zone A, the Palestinian Authority controlled zone, formally created by Oslo II in 1995, but probably not built until the Second Intifada between 2000-2003. Claire told me fragments of her story in her “Holy Land Souvenirs” shop.
During the Second Intifada, the Israelis decided that her home was at a strategic location, between Bethlehem, Palestinian Beit Jaila, and Israeli Gilo, and also next to the biblical Rachel’s Tomb. After the fighting, the Israelis decided to build the Wall. When they began bulldozing the land for the Wall’s footings, Claire realized that the wall would cut her off from her in-laws. She, her husband, and children would be in the Palestinian Zone A; her father-in-law would be in the Israeli Zone C. Even though they lived only hundreds of meters apart, they would not be able to see each other for months at a time. After the Wall was built, they learned that to visit Zone C, they not only had to pay to get Israeli letters of permission, but also had to hope that the soldiers at the checkpoint would not tear the permission letter in two.
During the period of constructing the Wall, she encountered more Israeli indignities. She realized that the Wall was so close to their home’s front door that they would not be able to get her mother, who was in a wheelchair, through the doorway. When she asked an Israeli official if the Wall could be moved simply a couple of feet so that her mother could enter their home, the official laughed. Fortunately, when the Israeli contractor began to dig the footings for the wall, the contractor discovered water and sewage pipes. He moved the Wall twenty feet. She declared: “God was taking care of my mother and me.”
At one point during the Second Intifada, the Israelis engaged in the “Siege of Bethlehem.” Claire, her family, and everybody in Bethlehem were imprisoned, were “locked down,” in their house for forty days. After a while, she said “I didn’t care if I lived or died.” During this period, Claire still had to do laundry. To do the laundry, her practice was to hang the laundry outside to dry on a porch. The problem was that the outdoor porch faced the Wall. She said: “I learned when the guards in the tower climbed down for a break or lunch. During those times, I would hang my laundry on the balcony. Several times, though, a soldier reentered the tower before I was finished.” She continued: “One time, the Israeli soldier from the tower put his red infrared sighting light on me and shouted, ‘I’ll kill you. Go back inside.’” In a moment of courage, Claire simply said: “Are you crazy? I’m only doing my laundry.” She hurriedly gathered her laundry and safely reentered her home.
Her family continues to suffer. As a mechanic, her husband learned that the Israelis might confiscate his tools because he might be aiding “terrorists.” As a precaution, John moved half of his shop tools to another location. The rumor proved true. The Israelis came and took tools, not only those that belonged to him but also those belonging to six other mens’ shops tools. Even though Claire has her souvenir shop, they also rely upon John’s income to support a large family. Because of John losing business, their situation has gotten more and more desperate.
Claire has all the reasons to give up or to try to fight the Israelis. Yet, she perseveres without wanting revenge. When Sarah, one of our group members, visited her last week and bought gifts, Claire said: “You are my first customer in two weeks.” Sarah bought small wood doves made by village women; she also bought a nativity set, but a nativity set with a removable wall. Claire says: “Jesus was born to remove walls. He is the light of the whole world. This place is meant to be holy. Even if there is a wall, Jesus will come to us.” Claire has experienced the humiliation from Israeli soldiers, the threat of death, and the insecurity of poverty. During all these experiences that could lead to despair, she speaks words of hope.
Lucy is in her early 40’s and also lives in Palestinian Zone A. I met her at Wi’an only a few blocks from Claire’s souvenir shop. Wi’an is a Palestinian Conflict Resolution Center whose property is next to the Wall. Like Claire, Lucy also has felt the hatred of the Israeli Defense Force. Before she was born, her grandparents were among the first Palestinians killed by a stray Israeli mortar. As a result, her father taught her and her brothers “Never forget who you are!” In other words, although Palestinian nationalism may be a nationalism without a state and without a government that has any true authority, she has been taught to know that she is a Palestinian and to be proud of that identity. Many years later, the IDF entered her families’ house to arrest her two brothers for allegedly being terrorists. As they were being handcuffed, her father tried to stop the arrest. An Israeli soldier hit him so severely with his rifle butt that her father died of a head injury several weeks later. Despite the intervention of the International Red Cross which asked Israeli authorities to temporarily release her brothers so that they could attend their father’s funeral, the Israelis refused. She bluntly said: “I hated the Israelis.”
That hatred did not last. Her family’s priest kept asking her to get involved in an interfaith camp in Galilee. Her constant response was: “No, the Israelis are my enemies. I don’t want to get to know them.” Eventually, she made a deal with the priest that she would agree to go one time if he, then, would stop asking her to go to such events. At the camp, she got to know other young people, both Palestinians and Israelis. After meeting these Israeli young people, she learned that she didn’t hate all Israelis. If was a life-changing realization for her. Eventually, after working many jobs, she obtained a college degree and began to work for Wi ‘An. Although Wi’An is a conflict resolution center primarily for Palestinians arguing and fighting other Palestinians, the staff at Wi’An will also try to resolve conflicts between Israelis and Palestinians.
Both Claire and Lucy are surrounded by violence, by conflict, and by death. Rather than giving into despair, they have adopted other ways of coping with the world around them. In my presence, they didn’t talk about Fatah, Hamas, or the Palestinian Authority. They are angry, but their anger doesn’t seem to turn to hate or despair. Their anger leads them to struggle for survival for themselves and for other Palestinians. In so doing, they are those quiet, ordinary saints who show that there is another way of life, a life that contributes to others’ lives, in this crazy, crazy world of Palestinian Zone A.