Although I was born several years before the end of the Second World War, I don’t remember any of its hardships such as rationing, shortages of commodities, or the tragic loss of family, friends or neighbors.
Although I was born several years before the end of the Second World War, I don’t remember any of its hardships such as rationing, shortages of commodities, or the tragic loss of family, friends or neighbors. My only actual memory-as distinguished from those that I heard so many times from others that they seemed real to me-was of our efforts to re-cycle “tin” cans. Every time my mother would open a can of corn, peas, applesauce, whatever, she would empty it, carefully wash it, use the can opener to remove the bottom, and then hand it over to my sister or to me-“Whose turn is it?”-and we would crush the can as flat as we could get it. The reason, as I later learned, was that we were saving the metal to be re-used in the war effort. However, I can guarantee you that this “war effort” had absolutely no meaning for me. My meaning was confined to that small act of flattening a tin can, and I never tired of it. In fact it became a part of my understanding of what “normal life” was, and perhaps is, for me. To this day, when I open a metal can, I have a slight urge to empty it and cut the bottom out of it, too. What happened to that multitude of flattened cans that I presume were collected from all over the country? I have no clue. Perhaps they were heaped in huge mounds where they rusted away. Another good idea failing for lack of follow through. Perhaps not. My point is that those things which are done repeatedly by us and to us soon become part of the reality we refer to as “normal.”
A normal life here in Jerusalem is one that is so twisted by hatred, greed, and fear, but so accepted by everyone living here, that it is almost a shock to people when they travel away from this land to places where the population actually shares a life which transcends their differences. This does not mean by any stretch of the imagination that those who live here approve, condone, ignore, or justify the conditions under which we live. It does seem to me, however, that the core of existence here has for so long been circumscribed by the domination of one people over another that it is increasingly accepted as “the way things are.” So many people lead lives that focus simply on ways to cope with the oppression atop them.
Last year a purple trash receptacle appeared outside the back entrance to our church property. It was an ugly, unneeded, and unwanted intrusion on the scene which quickly became a smelly, filthy, overflowing garbage dump. When we asked the municipality to remove it, we were told that it was impossible. It had been requested by the rabbi of the nearby settler yeshiva. There was nothing the city could do. A yeshiva is a type of school, and this one is about 50 meters from the back wall of the church. It is in the Muslim Quarter. How it got there I don’t know, but the city’s response made it very clear that their demands far outranked ours. There was no complaint about the receptacle itself; we simply felt that it should be placed on yeshiva grounds, not on church property. A few months ago a friend and I rolled the bin down the way behind the church. It was still on the same walkway, just out of the way of most foot traffic and out from under our office windows. Hours later it was back in the original location. Several more exchanges followed until I happened to meet two students wheeling the garbage back toward the church entry. I stopped them, found that one of them understood English very well, and asked if he would deliver an invitation to dialogue to his rabbi. The next morning I received his reply. The bin was in its original spot, surrounded by at least 100 filled blue trash bags. The message was clear: no talk, no compromise, we will do what we please. The perception of such power is rapidly coming to be accepted as normal.
There is a Muslim man I know. He is one of my favorite people-cheerful, helpful, friendly, gentle. He was absent for a little more than a week from the job he has held for years in Jerusalem. He lives in a village about twelve miles from his work. The authorities refused to give him the permit he needs to travel those few miles. No reason-they just didn’t get to it. When he was finally granted permission to return to work, it was for three months only. His sole offense is being Palestinian. Where I get angry in the face of such pettiness and wrong, people who live here usually just shrug. It has become normal.
The bus route which runs through the Old City is # 38. Probably three out of every four times while walking from the parking lot to the church I am passed by a # 38 bus, filled almost entirely with Israelis. I must confess that, more often than not, I breathe a little more easily when the bus is out of sight. Bombs explode sometimes in such buses elsewhere, never in the Old City, but I still recognize the possibility. It has become normal.
Then, in quite the opposite direction, I met with a group of Ecumenical Accompaniers who are leaving after spending two months living with Israelis and Palestinians in an effort both to stand with those under oppression and to seek pathways to peace, justice, and understanding. They are determined to do what they can to bring a perception of “normal” to life here which includes a hope that people can live together, share the land, and respect each other’s faiths and their cultures.
And, each Sunday as we gather for worship, I look out at a gathering of folks who spend most of their days seeking ways to provide health care, humanitarian assistance, development support, and education where it is most sorely needed. They are not here because of worldly power or fear or pretensions of religious, cultural, or ethnic superiority. They are here because their common Christian faith and identity moves them to live out the hope they are given through the Christ. That is their norm.
Support them, pray for them, come here to see what they are doing. Come and see what it is like when people of faith, courage, and conviction resolve to reject any idea of “normal” which omits justice for all.
Jerusalem, Old City