It was meant to be a beautiful sunny day. “This is the day that the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalms 116:24). This was the first sunny Sunday we have seen this spring. By Dr. Maria C. Khoury By Dr. Maria C. Khoury It was meant to be a beautiful sunny day. “This is the day that the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalms 116:24). This was the first sunny Sunday we have seen this spring. Many people leave the villages to travel to the city of Ramallah and shop for their basic needs or visit close relatives. Seven teachers from the Aboud Latin School traveled into Ramallah separately with their families to enjoy this glorious Sunday including the headmaster Mr. Ibrahim Hemed with his four children and wife to see their grandmother they had not spent time with in three months due to the Israeli siege. One of our best English teachers Mr. Boutros Fawadlah also came to Ramallah with many family members to attend the First Communion Service for his cousin at the Ramallah Latin Church where Fr. Ibrahim Hijajin conducted the mass. It was a joyous family gathering and a beautiful service where everyone prayed for peace and after church they went home to celebrate this special occasion with a delicious lunch. The close family unit is what we appreciate most on this side of the world. The news of the day spread quickly that an Israeli settler was shot dead near Birzeit and the roads would surely close because when anything happens to one Israeli the entire Palestinian population has to pay a price for it. Collective punishment continues to exist under Israel’s so called “democracy.” As soon as Boutros (meaning Peter in Arabic) and the other twelve members of his family arrived at the Taxi station there were hundreds of people waiting to ride the only two cars that were going to his village. They waited from 3 p.m. until 6:30 p.m. in the hope of returning home but along with hundreds of people got stuck at the taxi stand while others got stuck between checkpoints. All were “obliged” says Boutros to stay in Ramallah because they were not allowed to return to their homes. It sounds kind of inhuman to me but Palestinians seem to have accepted these hardships and daily sufferings they encounter under Israeli occupation. For our small Latin Patriarchate School in Aboud this literally meant that about 50% of the school staff would be absent on Monday because they just could not return home on Sunday. What type of quality education can we have on this particular day? Students came to school as usual of course, but it was not a regular day since most of their teachers and headmaster were stuck in the city. Boutros insists that most of the people from the village just wanted “basic needs. A basic right to buy something and go back home safe. What is happening is strange. You don’t want to be violent, even ordinary people who don’t think about violence, such measures from the Israelis push you to think about it or to just leave the people, leave the land, settlers, occupation, the army, collective punishment, you can’t have a normal life. How can you live a normal life in an abnormal situation? This effects you psychologically. and we will go on seeking our freedom and our rights.” Boutros made an effort to explain his feelings during this very frustrating situation of not being able to be with his students in his classroom after such a beautiful family occasion on Sunday. He said: “To go from a village to a city, it’s such an ordinary thing to do, something that expresses freedom of movement. But when you can’t go back home, you wonder. What is our fault? What is our mistake? Collective punishment is not good.” The headmaster Mr. Ibrahim listening to this monologue agreed with this young and impressionable English teacher: “If a settler got shot. They should go and find the one that did it but to punish all the people for one person or one accident. A whole people equal one man? Where is justice? This is unjust,” insisted Mr. Ibrahim on Monday morning in the education office prior to taking an irregular two-hour ride back to Aboud via mountain dirt roads and valleys with rocks that is not necessarily safe. Furthermore, what is frustrating in addition to the bad road conditions is once you managed to get to your destination and damage your car, you might encounter another checkpoint that does not let you pass. Mr. Ibrahim rushed out of the office with these last words: “These days the worst days I have faced. They want to pressure us to make us transfer, shift, any movement in our area is controlled by America. If they want to solve our problems they can, easily and quickly.” It is these awful and depressing daily conditions that make wonderful Christian people like Boutros say, “my own personal future is unclear, sometimes I am afraid because you think you have no future here. When I think that’s what they want us to do, to leave the land. I just decide to stay. You love life, we do not wish death.” My heart poured out to these two very dedicated hard working men that just could not make it to their jobs this day. Such a beautiful Sunday ended up being the tip of an iceberg because following this particular closure; Ramallah experienced a severe siege that left thousands of people from about 30 villages desperate to cross huge deep trenches to get to their schools and work. These deep holes have completely destroyed the streets. Furthermore, if you make an effort to use any other roads, you encounter hundreds of cars, bumper to bumper passing barricades where the Israeli army and boarder police patrols are firing rubber coated bullets and live ammunition which by the way make New York traffic look like paradise. Tamer Abdallah who also works in our Education Office was hurt by one of these rubber bullets on his way home to Birzeit last week. All bandaged up, he still had a smile on his face but at eighteen years of age besides girls, he only thinks about running away to America like the rest of the young people in this country. If ethnic cleansing is not the agenda of the Israeli government than why are we all experiencing such hardships and torture here in this sacred land where Christ established our roots. Thinking of running away myself, I found great comfort in the words Fr. Rick from the Jifna Latin Church shared with me today: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will direct your paths.” (Proverbs 5:6) May a miracle happen so that we may continue to have a Christian presence in the Holy Land.