As my seventeen year old son, Canaan, sat on the passenger seat of our vehicle, I asked the Israeli soldier not to point the gun directly touching my son’s forehead at 7:15 a.m. on the way to school. We had not yet gotten out of our beautiful all-Christian village, so why do we have to face over twenty soldiers fully armed so early in the morning?
As my seventeen year old son, Canaan, sat on the passenger seat of our vehicle, I asked the Israeli soldier not to point the gun directly touching my son’s forehead at 7:15 a.m. on the way to school. We had not yet gotten out of our beautiful all-Christian village, so why do we have to face over twenty soldiers fully armed so early in the morning? Not to mention the several checkpoints coming up later as we exit the village.
The soldier seemed frightened himself, although, it was simple to see, one mother driving and three boys in the car cleanly dressed in school uniforms. But with more women joining the resistance movement and believing in armed struggle by blowing themselves up, everyone becomes a suspect, not to mention the collective punishment we experience. The soldier was not only terrified by us, but also angry as he replied: “Shut up, I can point the gun to your head too.” It is always a struggle to be on the roads following a martyrdom bombing (suicide bomber) in Israel.
For a moment, I thought what a crazy way to go to school every day, holding the passports to identify yourself, raising your arms up constantly to indicate you are an unarmed civilian and still the only way to get to school is by daily humiliation, harassment and aggravation. The day before I had begged the Israeli soldier at another checkpoint to simply let me pass early because I had been detained a little longer than usually at the previous checkpoint and my children would be late for school. I kept saying, “Please I need to take the children to school.” “Please let me pass because my son has a test at 8 am and if you let me pass now, I can make it on time.”
The soldier kept insisting that I wait. I kept insisting that he had the authority to help me and let me pass. So I continued to plead, beg and say “please let me pass” more than 20 times until I angered him with my kindness to the maximum degree that he suggested I would not pass at all and go to a different checkpoint. It almost become a game for the soldiers shouting at each other and laughing in Hebrew “Let her go to Qalandia” which is simply the other name of the checkpoint half an hour away, out of the way for school.
I kept trying to beg the soldier to understand I was going from the Arabic village of Taybeh and I was now at the entrance of Ramallah which is an Arabic city, why does he have to be so strict about letting me enter. I was not going anywhere near Israeli citizens to threaten their lives. Furthermore, I was unarmed and can identify myself with documents. All the begging in the world and as many times as I said “please” did not help me get to school on time that day.
When he finally allowed us to pass, I looked at this cruel soldier straight in the eyes and said: “Please, when you speak to your mother today, tell her how you are helping get the “terrorists” by keeping children from going to their school every day. I thought you were really out to get the “terrorists” not keep mothers and children from going to school?” It seemed no matter what I said, I could not find a little human feeling in this particular soldier.
It is not possible to understand the violence in the Middle East because it is so intertwined with the identity, the land and the inner spirit of the person. I have seen that Palestinians are violated each and every day. How can these people that are so violated against every moment and for so long react with something other than violence? I was deeply hurt that another young Palestinian woman blew herself up yesterday trying to kill innocent people. She was eighteen years old, worked at a television station on a program for children. Does anyone wonder what agony must have caused her to blow herself up before they brand her a terrorist? In the same evening the Israeli army demolished her family home and the other two neighboring homes leaving more people homeless and devastated.
The problem is that the rest of the world might think that this was a normal woman as we might think in any other country. However, here in Palestine, most women has seen their brothers or husbands killed by the Israeli army, their sons humiliated and beaten by soldiers, their homes demolished or their homes invaded and damaged, their farmlands stolen by illegal Israeli settlers, their future stolen by the Zionist ideology. These life experiences of total loss, total despair, hurt and anguish can only bring about revenge, hate and anger.
This new phenomenon of women martyrs (suicide bombers) is troublesome to me. I always viewed women as having more patience, more wisdom, a different biological makeup and having some emotional and psychological qualities that come from the gift of being able to bear children. As a human being, I want to see men and women acting in peaceful ways but the root of the problem lies in how we are treated on the ground. If the Israeli army can stop violating our human rights every day, if the occupation can end, then possibly the violent reactions to the occupation will stop. God did not create us with hate and rage. This has been developed by our life experiences. We must pray for God’s healing grace and mercy. < TT>
I am further saddened when women feel that the armed struggle is the only way to gain liberty. I just finished a conversation with a women born an Orthodox Christian, having done six military operations, jailed five years and her reason for participating in the resistance: “so the world can hear the Palestinian voice of struggle… my mother came walking barefoot from Ramleh (now inside Israel but in 1948 Palestine) to Ramallah (50 kilometers) in l948 when the Israeli soldiers kicked them out of their homes and they left without anything and lived as refugees under tents” She tried to explain that she did not initiate the violence, she is reacting to the violence initiated by the creation of the Zionist state on Palestinian land where Palestinians were displaced a! nd made refugees and the internation al community did not solve their problem for over 56 years. Can you imagine right now being forced to leave your home and take nothing with you?
My message from this experience of going to school with guns is that each and every one of us should seek salvation. Our hope is in Christ our Lord. Our life on earth is very limited and our good works can help us enter God’s Heavenly Kingdom. What have we done today to save our soul? What have we done recently to show our love for God? Are we following the greatest commandment to love one another as God loves us?
The other day Fr. Samuel, the new priest at Christ’s Holy Tomb made me feel better about suffering. He gave me the example of how people come to Christ’s Holy Tomb and pray that they get rid of their cancer or ask God why them. Fr. Samuel said when we are in that position we should be thanking the Lord because it is only through suffering that we know Christ our Lord and through prayer we come closer to knowing His grace and mercy.
Fr. Samuel mentioned that when the Israeli soldiers came and told about twenty-five pilgrims to get out of the church because they had a wa! rning of a bomb, Fr. Samuel refused to go anywhere. He entered Christ’s Ho ly Tomb and stayed there because our physical life on earth is limited but the eternal life that the Lord offers is the greatest gift to man and the reason Christ our Lord died on the cross to save our sins.
Share the message of salvation from the very land where Christ was born, crucified and resurrected so that we may have eternal life. Share the witness of Christ’s love and peace by supporting a Christian presence in the Holy Land.
“I am the door, by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved…” (John 10:9)
Note: Maria Khoury is the author of Witness in the Holy Land and the new colorful children’s book Christina Goes to the Holy Land.