Two Empty Chairs

Fatally wounded dove.One of many stand-out moments at the Kairos Palestine conference came during the second panel discussion. The first panel featured Bishops from two churches in the Holy Land. Each was a signer of the historic Kairos Palestine document, where Palestinian church leaders make a theological case against the Israeli occupation of the land, the oppression of the people. One of them (we will just say one of them) appealed to the audience to lower the ceiling of expectations for the churches. He reasoned their efforts were modest in order to avoid being counterproductive.

 

I nodded gently as the translation reached my ears. While I was in Jordan, I lost my temper when I learned an Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem had spoken against Boycott, Divest, and Sanction actions (BDS), condemning them as ultimately harmful to Palestinians and calling for positive investment. I firmly believe in BDS as a practice, that ‘positive investments’ is empty rhetoric, and that most Palestinians support BDS even if it means self-sacrifice. Yet, I came to learn that the Anglican Bishop’s Jerusalem permit was in question. I decided to redirect my angst at those the talking heads which used his statement as an excuse to avoid the prickly divestment issue: churches invested in companies profiting from this occupation. When the bishop mentioned ‘moderate stances’, I was skeptical but receptive. During the first coffee break I saw them by the door with their coats on and wondered if they were going out to smoke.

 

During the second panel, a lady read a letter from a church-leader in Gaza who was, obviously, unable to attend the Kairos conference. There are only 2500 Christians in Gaza, among a population of 1.6 million. The Gazan’s message rang with a lonely timbre and, just as his words called for solidarity from West Bank Christians, the reader looked up from the paper and scanned the audience. She said, ‘I wish that Bishop [ ] and Bishop [ ] were here to hear this but, look, their chairs are empty.’

 

They had left. ‘For other engagements?’ I mused, though I could not imagine anything more pressing than Kairos Palestine. By then it did not matter: those two empty chairs chanted louder than the microphone. Kairos (in Greek) means ‘right timing’ or ‘God’s timing’, the wrong time to leave a chair empty.

 

The Bishops’ position is not easy but the ceiling of expectations belongs where it is. These men may have the right training to rise above the ceiling of expectations but not by operating on a part-time basis. They can operate below that ceiling, with Israel’s implicit approval, or they can be the difference that Christians in Gaza and the West Bank – Muslims too—need them to be.

 

As is often the case in the Holy Land, ‘moderate stance’ has become a cloak for compassion fatigue (temporary, we hope) or balking at opportunities for change. This kind of systematic soldiering – of lowering expectations– is the affliction of those afraid to embrace their grassroots power for fear they will lose their official powers.

 

It seems as if the ‘wrong’ people can find the ‘right’ thrust, regardless. People like you and me, readers.

Banksey dove in bullet-proof gear.

Hope has wings… and Kevlar, baby.

 

Always Burning: 2

Prayer Vigil

Watch for the Smoke…

Always watching...

Always watching…

The evacuation began when the crack of the first stone hitting concrete sent shock-waves through our coffee cups. We were all sitting

down-stairs, together. Wa’el ran up the stairs to street-level in a flash, to check, and burst into the foyer again within seconds saying  “yulla, yulla… let’s go before the gas…”. We re-stuffed our bags and scrambled up the stairs and through the gate, showing our kefiahs to the protestors but hiding our faces from the tower guards. Wa’el, Drew, and I stopped

several times to glance over our shoulders—I felt like Lot’s wife: a pillar of

salt, transfixed. Any moment, noxious projectiles would rain down on the masked youths. Wa’el offered to give us something to drink, which in the spirit of Palestinian hospitality meant we were going to his house to hang-out indefinitely. He asked if we wanted to light the hookah, too…

* * *

I do not look for physical signs from God often. Some read extra amounts of Divine intention into happenings, especially around Jerusalem. I went to القدس الشرقي to show my solidarity with Gaza at the Dominican Church by the Garden Tomb. We lit candles and held vigil on International Children’s Day. The service was attended by Christian leaders from across the city, faces to match the names on the Kairos Palestine document. The atmosphere carried the unmistakable essence of reverence and urgency comingling, for God and humanity respectively. When the Lutheran minister prayed in English for the children in Gaza, my swelling emotions cascaded in droplets down my face tears. How had the world over-looked the source of this suffering? Hot droplets began to fall on my hand, jolting my eyes open. I tried to remain stoic but I could not resist glancing around the room at all the melting candles, to see if anyone else had flinched. Who can resist a funny moment in such difficult times? I searched nervously for another fast melting candle. Each person’s candle produced a neat trail of excess, except for one: mine. My candle was no brighter but it seemed to burn hotter, erupting with blobs of molten wax that stung my shaking hand.

* * *

We smoked. Every time I passed the hose away to Wa’el, laying sideways on an easy-chair, or Drew, looking pensively into space next to me, the heaviness slowly rose and engulfed me. The viscous sense of resignation stuck to my joints, immobilizing my body.  So, I breathed in the fire again. My rage quenched, I consecrated my lungs with every breath until the hollow spaces hummed with the sense of swimming, running, lifting, and punching but I never moved – fire never moves, it only spreads…

* * *

This summer, a new friend was staying in the second-floor apartment across the court-yard, above a capable young woman who has worked here for over two years. My friend commented that her downstairs neighbor seemed to be consistently annoyed with her. Why? I told her we are cruel to ourselves, sometimes, in our self-centeredness: it was not her fault nor about her. Our neighbor’s job in the difficult West Bank context, staying present with people, puts a heavy weight on one’s chest. Four months later, I know that I was right in ways I did not understand. I had never stayed for more than three months at a time, myself. When our new Wi’am volunteer arrived, I noticed myself becoming irritable with him, employing smoldering passive-aggressive tactics to put distance between us. I believe I am much more moody and much less capable than my experienced neighbor, too, yet when I finally became close enough with my ‘victim’ to confess he asked me:

“what makes you believe you are bad at your job?”

“I do everything I am asked; you’re right,” I replied, “Of course, the occupation remains…” Two possibilities dawned on me. One, that I finally feel part of what keeps my neighbor burning and, two, that people could see me like I see her: intense and dedicated.

* * *

The anxiety floated out of me on clouds, in jets of fragrant smoke cascading in reverse. The nicotine built upon the foundation we had poured in cups of pitch-tint Arabic coffee. This colloid of stimulants buoyed me; it retrieved my sense of reality from the tar-toned depths of my affected reservoirs. We also drank tea. Substances carry a shock as powerful as moving a thousand miles or can keep us moving at a snail’s pace for so long that we forget we are moving, can hardly sleep when their medicine is removed…

* * *

More than a week before, at Dar Eneidwa, the Swede and I saw a film about the Hungarian Revolution. It had a Hollywood-quality storyline and love-story that made me miss romance in my life, yet so many resonant snapshots of Soviet occupation. In one scene, Hungarians take the streets in Budapest and light torches when the authorities cut the electricity; I felt the upwelling of a burgeoning nation, just as I had in Manger Square a year before. I felt the surge of excitement when the students revolt and cut the hammer and sickle from the middle of their flag, just as I felt in March during Land Day when a young man scaled  the apartheid wall and planted the Palestinian on top. Yet I know I was oblivious to the shelling of Budapest, when the Soviets retaliate unexpectedly and place their iron fist of occupation back on the Hungarian people. I didn’t feel, deeply enough, what that meant. Gazans do – doubly. At the end of the film, the Olympic water polo player is separated from his lover by the conflict, he going to Australia to win Gold and she to a prison interrogation room. I drank too much at the reception and indulged in loneliness the rest of the night.

* * *

Addictions threaten to ensnare me as surely as they promise to free me, like a net that saves me from falling but tangles around my limbs. I have not had my moment of final triumph against them, neither substance nor behavior nor, worst of all, the attitudes of my heart. Following Gaza coverage late into the night, riding high on a magic carpet of outrage, I felt as if I had finally lost myself completely, by the next morning, until that burst of stimulants reanimated me on Wa’el’s back patio. A dozen pieces of quick-light coal later, my co-worker offered to reload the pipe.

“No; I really want to but ‘no’ because I will stay here all day and smoke.”
We have to leave and continue with our lives, after a while, nursing our fading buzz as the smoke clears…

A message at the tower's bottom.

Last week’s coat of paint is this week’s canvas for resistance.

Torn to Pieces

I was walking up the street with my new colleague from Sweden (Dawwid) and I noticed all the little ones from the nearby girls’ elementary school scampering down the hill in their matching dresses. It bubbled to mind how I miss writing about the intimate details of peoples’ lives in Palestine. Last fall at this time, I wanted to use my stories to tackle big abstracts. I quickly became an essayist and analyst, less of a poet. The tiny girls slowed, by their presence, the chaos at the intersection half-way up the hill, as the young men who run the bakery there puffed their Saturday cigarettes and brought out bags of bread—four shekels each. Less than twelve hours earlier, the same intersection was ablaze –literally—with an ominous pile of trash, branches, and tires. Teenagers ran into dark alleys to grab more junk, greedily, laughing and saying “nahr! b’shoof, nahr!” Fire! Look, fire! I mumbled my disinterested recognition and hurried back down the same hill, now strewn with litter.

It is no small thing that these ‘demonstrations’ are happening. The water went off, undoubtedly because Bethlehem exceeded the unrealistic quota set by Israel, while fountains spewed the contents of the West Bank aquifer onto the lawns of illegal settlements. The municipality, the Palestinian Authority, and the water company (with its now smashed front windows) are targets of proximity. Yet,  truly microscopic details bother me, like when I was talking to a group visiting Wi’am from California and I made a comment about how it’s better to get visas at the border, bypassing Israeli bureaucracy and using an apathetic foot-soldier. Dawwid pulled me aside and warned me one of the people at the table said he studied in Jerusalem. The guy left shortly after that. No one we asked seemed to know who he was and a terrible feeling struck me. I felt stupid. At the same time, I wish someone had known him so I could say to them, “ask your friend why he left before Zoughbi told his story – ask him if he was afraid to even listen, like so many Israelis I hear about…”

Yesterday I had plenty of dishes to wash, first thing in the morning. Big dish-piles are my historical place to brew–to ferment; my ‘call to ministry’ precipitated out of soapy water one December night. Yesterday’s group left a prodigious gob of dishes in our tiny office kitchen. A friend of Wi’am from Belgium, Ruben, arrived just then and me with the dishes since Zoughbi was too tired from his morning commitments to socialize. Gradually, we built enough trust to swap secrets…
“I told them I would stay in Jerusalem…”
“Me?” chimed-in a Palestinian American, “I’m ‘in’ Yafa…”
We have a partner in Haifa; it is the same. You know,” I said with a faded playfulness, “soldiers have tried to warn me about how dangerous Bethlehem is.”
“Really?”
“Yes; I feel safer here than I do in Jerusalem.”
“Yes yes, me too” Ruben said, drying a dish vigorously, “so it is still safe to be out at night?”
“Very much,” I said confidently, but then appended, “…except for the burning demonstrations. It is better to walk around those.”

I am fond of Dawwid the Swede. Among his redeeming characteristics is the fact that he studied briefly in Syria, so his Arabic is good and he will not be easily shaken. I think we both are people more bold in our presence than our speech: it’s a quiet invincibility. A few times we have gone, calmly, to the fig tree behind the office and spoke sparsely about important things. If you have ever spoken lightly of heavy things, painted serious pictures with gentle brush-strokes, you know what I mean. He told me his hotmail had been hacked shortly after he started a picture blog about the Annexation Wall. I furrowed my brow and found a fig to offer him. We chatted about the possibilities; Zoughbi said to us, on the car-ride to Cremisan, it was undoubtedly Israeli intelligence. I don’t dare disagree; never, after we have fielded suspicious ‘Germans’ together – ‘Germans’ that seem to speak excellent English until a word like “Justice” or “Restitution“ enters conversation and they want Zoughbi to define it ~ to say something contentious? Usama, perceptively, directed one of them to an ‘actually-German’ partner of ours.
“You know,” said Zoughbi, “we like to be welcoming but also to be careful…”

I was walking across my grandparents’ front yard with my colleague – they both died before I met her. She pointed-up to the sky. There was a tornado coming directly at us, though there seemed to be no wind, rain, or even chill in the air. We ran to a low-spot near the lake and I threw myself over her and held her tight. I want to ruminate on that for a moment: she wanted to be held while the storm passed. I welcome your silent speculation regarding how I might feel about her because, as of right now, I am sensing some ambiguity*. When we looked up to the sky again, we saw the dark funnel curl like a pig’s tail and rise into outer space. Then she kissed me and started to reach for a button on her shirt. I said “wait a minute!” She asked me to quit drinking; I have not drank alcohol since my tattoo. Then the Palestinian American laughed from behind a nearby fence, offering us some chips. I realized I was dreaming and I needed to go to the post-office. A cell-phone alarm sounded.

I went to Jerusalem. The Jaffa-gate post-office is disconcerting to me because the workers speak Arabic but they are rushed and do not exchange pleasantries. I always feel like I am doing something wrong. My mother had sent me a massive package that contained, God bless her heart, a pair of shoes that I left behind intentionally. I walked from one jebel to the other, to the Scottish Presbyterian church to hear a friend preach on James 2 and Mark 7. Afterwards, I climbed on the bus with my package and the driver sped-away from the curb as soon as I boarded. A gentleman in the front held my package steady while I paid. By the time we arrived at the check-point, he rose quickly and left the bus before I could tell him “God be with you”. I carried the package all the way across Bethlehem under my arm. Along with the shoes, Mom sent a water-filter, a new watch, new socks that I desperately needed, other things, and old mail. Amongst the mail were the real treasures: pictures of my sister, my mother, and the farm but also an Easter card from a friend in the Ukraine. I mounted them on my refrigerator door with electric tape and now I cannot help smiling.

At Cremisan I transformed myself into a flag-pole. Not every demonstration is a march or protest. The young photographer, Nicola, smiled at me from across the crowd and snapped a shot. We’re facebook friends. Every Friday the priests hold a demonstration called “mass” where a group of Jesus followers will gather in the olive grove that is slated for violation by the apartheid regime and take communion. No burning tires or projectile stones ~ it must be so much more frightening, for Israel, to see EAPPI, CPT, MCC, and even little-old-me standing behind their so-called terrorists: a collection of Palestinian Catholics with their eyes closed and their palms turned up to heaven. Most people on the other side of the wall never see this beautiful demonstration. I wondered if I deserved to hold the Palestinian flag but then I realized I had some right to feel proud because it represents many things I believe in. I resisted writing an essay in my head about flags, knowing we are so close to “Patriot Day”: a piece of dystopian propaganda that belongs to my passport country—the United States. The Empire lends legitimacy to the rebels** but who says we want either of them running our world? I love the people eating the bread and wine.

I sat on the sofa yesterday night with an uncanny sense of emotional constriction, even asphyxiation. Smashed between my restlessness and a really eerie sense of inertia, I was paralyzed. I wanted to write but at the same time I wanted to do nothing. So many times, while I lived in Grand Rapids, I felt this depression, this pain I mislabeled intentionally, but I believed it was my responsibility to conquer it, lest I repel employers, potential mates, or even friends. I pickled myself in self-blame. My friend from college speculated via Skype that I could be beginning a battle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, since stress can be absorbed vicariously. Living with a community conflict mediator, I wonder if there is some metaphysical diffusion of strife happening. I confess that I would rather admit to PTSD than just being lonely and broken-hearted. Would I rather be aborted by something real than just failing of my own volition, as I felt I did during my months of unemployment? Why?!? Of course, I think what my friend wants me to see is that it is not ‘all my fault’ and that is why she continues to be my friend. All of the spare-time and coffee in the world may not have ever been enough anyway: I had to be shaken to be stirred. Mercifully, I have a less stigmatized reason to turn and face the darkness. From here, my thoughts are diverging and I think my train of thought will skip away: to home, to my boss, to his family living in Northern Indiana, to mine in Southern Michigan, and the fact that at some point in time we were only a few counties away from each other on the other side of the world.

I was hanging my laundry, wringing each wet piece of clothing onto the rose-garden three stories below, and I drifted into a day-dream. My thoughts go many places, often in no particular order. This time, I wondered what it would be like to speak at a church, or bowl with friends… or go on a date. She might be a mistake just as easily as a nice person. It reminds me of the day that Zoughbi looked me in the eye and said “you will find someone; you are too good not to find someone. Let me tell you,” then he paused, “nothing replaces having a wife and family.” I nodded but my gut reaction was to think ‘you are wishing for me what you want for yourself – for your kids to have opportunities and your wife to have a visa so you can all live together, in the West Bank, for the rest of your lives.’ He is, among many things, my best example of the golden rule. Yet, I could  hardly stop myself from wondering what it would be like to make a lady smile again –the difference is that this time I must learn to smile alone, first.

 

* I welcome your vocal speculations about how I feel about myself; that is what dreams really tell us.

** Yes, I just said that the US worked to legitimate Al-Qaeda. They funded them versus the Soviets, then posed as their scapegoat in the middle-East. The Empire has strange bed-fellows in interesting positions. Picture that a moment.

Playing John Cena: Taybeh & Ramallah

My first encounter with the Cenation phenomena was at the Steil Boys & Girls Club in Grand Rapids, Michigan. At that time I was their half-competent volunteer coordinator, loitering in the games-room.  One of the other staff introduced me as “Mr. John” and some junior high geniuses quipped “John Cena?” An nine-year-old’s war cry rang out as he rose from the bean-bags and knocked my knees from under me. Not wanting to spoil my blessed ignorance of professional wrestling, I never researched John Cena.

Wrestling is popular across Arab nations, including Jordan and Egypt. I could not trip over my shoelaces in Amman without either meeting an Egyptian waiter or seeing a John Cena T-shirt. Perhaps the handsome wait-staff are key vectors of this acquired taste. Some of them are not much older than Wi’am Center kids. I emerged from exile just in time for Wi’am’s yearly summer camp. Drafted as a photographer, I had the privilege of making funny faces at the small children while they did their crafts and, thanks to ocular technology, taking sniper snap-shots of self-conscious teenagers. The middle-school boys learned my name was John and henceforth greeted me with seismic slaps on the back and exuberant exultations of “John Cena! John Cena, حبيبي*!” If I had a pro-wrestler’s body it would all be cool but three ‘shabaab’ at a time was too much. The staff finally intervened when boys started grabbing me by my shirt and yelling “you can’t see me!” in my ear.

The camera’s memory went bad the day before the field-trip to Taybeh and Ramallah. Zoughbi knew I was digesting a funk so he coaxed me into simply going anyway. Taybe is famous for being all-Christian and home to Palestine’s most excellent brewery. I boarded the bus to crows of “John Cena!” and “صورنا!, bicture!” Bristling a little, I wormed into a seat in the middle of the bus near one of the chaperones and her young son. The little boy peered several times from behind his mother and whispered in her ear. She looked at me and smiled, then winked and said, “He thinks you are really John Cena. He says ‘he has changed a lot!’” I hesitated five seconds to let her clarify for him that I was another John but she just patted him on the shoulder and smiled at me again. I felt like an unbearded mall Santa Clause doing his first Christmas.

Camp is for the camper. I can deepen my misery or transcend self-centeredness and let the kids give me some of their energy. The juxtapositions I saw working with these kids were more than enough reason to disregard my ineptitudes and just stay present with them for a day. It is a special treat. For example, the image of a sugar-charged mob, dressed in all kinds of graphic t-shirts, swarming heedlessly into Taybeh’s historic Roman Catholic Church for an art lecture from a sweating nun (the portrait of St. Khader slaying the dragon came to life through several grotesque-sounding reenactments– thanks boys). The kids seemed even more out of place at the Taybeh home for the elderly, where I saw nothing resembling a program to hold their attention. They are so funny. I did not dream we would visit the brewery but, indeed, there we were: guiding them between vats and trying to keep them hushed during the beer-making video which was, interestingly, in English. The good folks at Taybeh Brewery sold the kids some of their nonalcoholic brew. One of the mothers was putting driblets on her finger and feeding it to her infant; he relished it, testifying the excellent character of Taybeh beer.

The crusader chapel on the hill was the highlight of the morning. We scrambled up the ancient stone steps to look upon…
…a huge blood-spot. Someone had hung a carcass from the hook in the disembuildinged doorway and slaughtered it right there, I concluded; alternatively, there was a blood sacrifice in an all-Christian village. Kids filtered into every nook of the ruins, scaling the remains of walls. Feeling spry and game, I jumped to a perch of my own in the sun. For a minute I gazed over the valley below I pondered being faux-John Cena and tried to come fully to grips with the fact that, whether by lies or faith, I was in the West Bank again. Being alone so much had made such reveries second-nature, which is why it was for the best that a familiar word jarred my attention Earthward:

“Motherfucker!”

The boy clasped his hands to his mouth, shocked, when he realized I spoke English. He knew what he had done. I met his eyes and said “”شو حكيَت, حبيبي؟ (what did you say, my lovey?)
He shook his head. I laughed and told him, basically, not to worry. I stopped worrying, too.**

The summer camp field trips have several goals. Exposing the kids to their heritage and building a sense of collective responsibility is certainly a priority. Yet under no circumstances should the value of cutting-loose and having fun be under-estimated. That kid’s day should not be ruined because he said ‘fuck’ once, considering the glance I threw at him was enough edification. The Wi’am camp stresses fun, which is as it should be for youth who live in a tense political situation. We want to give them a piece of their childhood before it is all blown-away. There was no question: I needed to swallow my pride and get onboard with the John Cena gimic.

The final stop in the day was the amusement park in Ramallah. The staff held that over their heads to keep them to a low boil until the afternoon, when they could explode all over that park. The rides were mostly carnival cast-offs (except for the 4-D theater, which was amazin

Me, looking crazy happy!

Sometimes, it takes a voluntary attitude adjustment!

g!) but these kids were undeterred. I’ll keep details to a minimum; what matters is that I learned John Cena’s hook-line. He does some thing where he waves four fingers in front of his face and says “you can’t see me!” That explained the ringing in my ears; it was only a matter of putting it to good use when my ‘friendly backslappers’ boarded the roller-coaster. Just as they came around the first bend I popped-out from behind a concession stand, waving my four-fingers in front of my face and yelling “YOU CAN’T SEE ME!”

*boys & girls alike waved  back in kind* “JOHN CENA! YOU CAN’T SEE ME!  YOU CAN’T SEE ME!”

*An Arabic term of endearment meaning “my lovey”, often used between same-sex friends.

** On a previous day, I heard two young ladies chatting openly with each other in English. I forget what one of them said but I looked in their direction and wrinkled my nose. The other girl’s eyes went wide as she said, “Oh my God, that guy speaks English…”. Apparently, they were using English as their private language to critique the camp in front of less fluent staff-members. I hated to rain on their parade…

Bulldozer Blues

 

Rhinoceros crushes annexation wall

Sometimes I wish I were just a little bit bigger…

I spent my 25th Birthday on the floor of an annual church conference, across the world from the Philippine restaurant where I spent my 26th.  Armed with notes scribbled in a pocket notebook, I prepared to speak about the holiness of two people, a pair of any gender or sex composition, who would commit in fidelity to each other before the eyes of society and The Divine. As the lay-delegate for my tiny church, I spent some hours parked next to the river in my Pontiac Sunfire, reviewing materials. I did not spend much time discerning about divesting funds from Caterpillar: they profit from the Israeli house-demolitions in Palestine, which is self-evidently heinous. Church money should not touch ethically questionable investments, let alone blatantly colonialist ones.

I took the microphone on June 3rd 2011, incredulous to the marrow. Several delegates had conflated the conflicts in Gaza and the Golan Heights with the issue at hand. The floor of annual conference sounded like a tabloid newsroom from the nineteen eighties—some delegates’ perceptions were twenty-years dated and flavored with prejudicial fear. Someone suggested that there might be a Caterpillar plant in Michigan, somewhere (no one knew) and threatened that jobs would be hurt. That seemed like a moot point to me when Arab families could/would be uprooted in less than twenty minutes or else die in the rubble beneath a gigantic, armor-plated bulldozer. The divestment motion was inexplicably defeated and I prayed a fateful prayer. I asked God to send me to the Holy Land to either edify or vindicate me.

Regrettably, I was vindicated 100-fold. Ironically, it is Hewlett-Packard I have learned to despise in daily life. The Jerusalem checkpoints are dehumanizing, blatantly racist chutes from the West Bank into… …what is still technically the West Bank, since the Annexation Wall is illegal and built on Palestinian Land. Look closely and the machines bear the emblematic “hp™”. Hewlett-Packard makes a fortune on normalized apartheid.

I will never buy a piece of hp equipment again but I understand why that evil is not salient. Overt racism is difficult to fathom without brushing against it. If a person has never had to leave their Arab co-worker behind at a checkpoint while white people pass freely, it is difficult to understand why I am adamant about divesting from Hewlett-Packard (and Motorola…). Caterpillar bulldozers destroy homes and water-tanks at the whim of bureaucrats, expenses charged to the owners’, sometimes regardless of who will be hurt or killed. This evil ought to be plain to see.

My role in Palestine before my long exile (13 weeks) was not as heroic as Rachel Corrie’s – I do some editing for “Wi’am Conflict Transformation Center” next to the Annexation Wall. Our idea of protest is to build a play-ground to fill the air with the sound of laughing children. My drive to create a ‘ministry of information’ has only increased. In February I worked on what I hoped would be my most educational newsletter yet: a roster of topics with links to organizations’ websites.

Meanwhile, I started having trouble digesting the tragic nature of the Occupation concurrently with the missing fervor of my general audience. A terrible history of discrimination and land-theft is being perpetrated in the most talked about and, yet, most insufficiently understood region in the world. I wove together many explanations. I questioned why I could not instill the sense of urgency that my predecessor had placed in me. People fail to see how this injustice is so much like what took place in the Americas when indigenous peoples were driven onto smaller and smaller reservations; their homes were destroyed and they were baited into armed conflicts they could not possibly win or else went compliantly into their cells and withered. Now, people are sorry. Now, people don’t have to do a damn thing but be sorry.

Is it my fault? I was still trying to be momentous this February. My Palestinian coworkers accepted me but I felt like I had failed to be pivotal for their sake. Additionally, I am a human being. The rains started and it was dark too much. I was lonely. I saw how pathetic my efforts were when levied against the occupation or even my own star-crossed history. That was when I caught the “bulldozer blues” and started entertaining thoughts of sinking Caterpillar myself. My life could have more impact, I reasoned, in an act of martyrdom than continuing to so ineffectually struggle. I could stand-up t

o the bulldozer and buy some family another day or else become a new headline.

I had fallen into darkness before I realized how over-extended my young heart was. I decided to confess all of my feelings to my boss. He said, with some warmth in his voice, “We like to celebrate life; I want to celebrate your life with you alive, with us.”

I awoke from my dark-narcissism and realized that fumbling-along together was what made solidarity special and that, really, this was some kind of love: to be dedicated to continuing and not insist on resolution.

Resolution is exactly what I do not have. The first week of May I watched coverage of the global Methodist conference. I was moved when my predecessor came before the assembly and spoke passionately of the truth we both know. Unfortunately, the general assembly was gun-shy and preferred to leave the decision about divestment to a financial board. I wonder if anyone on that board fathoms the occupation beyond trite headlines and the undulations of line-graphs labeled “Caterpillar”, “Motorola”, and “Hewlett Packard”. Could they fathom me, shaving my beard and putting on a suit in order to clarify to them why being morally bankrupt is more serious than losing investments?

I am far from bothering anyone right now. Caterpillar is already starting to lose support from other church denominations and socially conscious investors, which is unsurprising. Caterpillar counters that they cannot control how their products are used but they will need to go further out of their way to preserve their dying brand–sorry. Even though Caterpillar is the most obvious target for Boycott, Divest, & Sanction actions, it remains the most easily redeemed of all Occupation-related companies. When the time comes to destroy the abominable Annexation Wall, it should be a Caterpillar machine (specially designed for the job) that takes the first crunchy bite out of that cement monster. They have a concrete opportunity to be pivotal. Concrete. Get it?

 

Meanwhile, I have seen some‘reclaimed’ Caterpillar back-hoes sporting the Palestinian flag – which, unlike seeing an hp copier printing leaflets, actually brings a smile to my face.