Living on the Wrong Side of the Wall

by Maria C. Khoury

The other side of a 27-foot wall is not a place I imagined I would be when I started my middle class family in Boston. In those days, we were going to hockey games to make sure we were keeping up with the Americans and Greek School to keep up with the Greeks – all the politically correct activities to fit into a society never meant for me. Having been married to a Palestinian Orthodox Christian, fate had a different life awaiting me.

When, in 1993, the Oslo Peace Agreement brought hope to Israelis and Palestinians, we were one of the first families living in the US to arrive, invest and live in Palestine. We wanted to help boost the economy.

After seven years of severe and awful conditions and the total failure of the Oslo Peace Agreement to deliver a just peace for all people, we were one of the few families willing and able to survive the harsh conditions that had developed. We refused to leave.

Even what we had considered “normal life” under the military occupation of the Palestinian Territories stopped September 28, 2000. Normal life ceased to exist.

September 28 was the day Ariel Sharon, accompanied by a small army of soldiers, visited the area surrounding the Dome of the Rock, the principal Islamic holy site in Jerusalem. Sharon’s message was “Jerusalem is Jewish.”

In fact, Jerusalem is a city holy to the people of three great religions – not only to Jews, but to Muslims and Christians.

Muslims comprise 98 percent of the Palestinian population of the West Bank and Gaza. Many of them responded to Sharon’s provocative action with protest. Young Palestinians were willing to protest at checkpoints and risk injury or even death in order to bear witness to their faith, to defend its holy sites, and to uphold the idea that Jerusalem is sacred to three religions, not just one.

In the terrible conflict which began with the creation of Israel in 1948, so many have perished. For those displaced by the event, the establishment of the State of Israel meant the Catastrophe of Palestine, with over five hundred Palestinians villages and towns destroyed and over four million Palestinians made refugees, pushed into a stateless limbo where they remain to this day. Just in the past seven years, more than 30,000 people have been injured and 6,800 have lost their lives – 5,600 Palestinians and 1,200 Israelis. Christ, have mercy!

Those of us who believe in nonviolent methods of struggle were stunned when Palestinians began to blow themselves and others up in the middle of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and other places. The “Apartheid Wall” was the Israeli response to such extreme actions. The Wall not only isolates Palestinians and Israelis from each other, but it also makes life on the Palestinian side even harder than it was.

Among the many problems with the Wall (paid for by American taxpayers) was that it did not follow any recognized, internationally accepted border or even the 1967 Green Line referred to in UN Security Council Resolution 242; rather, it enlarged Israeli territory still farther and suffocated an entire population in retaliation for the violent actions of a small minority. Truly, it is making us lose our minds.

The Wall, erected entirely at the discretion of Israel, was a prison wall for the Palestinian people. Impeding or altogether stopping everything that makes life normal, it cut them off from their schools, work, hospitals, and grandparents. Even contacts with relatives in another town became difficult or impossible.

Some may joke that being cut off from your mother-in-law might not be such a bad idea, but in reality such intra-family barriers are a tragedy.

The simple things made possible by freedom of movement – the easy access that other people take for granted – are things that Palestinians now need military permits to accomplish. To go to Jerusalem, to the airport, to a seaport – all such simple, ordinary tasks require hard-to-obtain permits.

The actions of the Israeli army seem to be designed to clear the land of any remaining Palestinians and, in the process, to prevent the ever-shrinking Christian community from existing in the land where Christianity began 2,000 years ago.

Since the building of the Wall, life on the ground is pure misery. The conditions of our enclosure are dreadful and devastating. We find ourselves captives within an open prison.

Over the past fourteen years of living in the Holy Land, I have often felt I was psychologically and emotionally incarcerated; but in the last few years, the Israeli army has created an actual physical prison, complete with its towering concrete wall. The Wall is 450 miles (720 kilometers) long.

The result is psychological torture.

Hoping someone might want to boost the Palestinian economy by buying some of my books, I traveled to an Israeli post office to send four boxes in time for Christmas delivery. (Palestinian mail delivery takes three months.) After dropping them off at the post office, I tried to enter Ramallah for a World Vision gathering only to discover the gate I had used in the past has now been locked.

Looking for the next entrance to get to the other side, I began driving along the Wall. How frustrating a search it was to drive mile after mile and get lost in a maze of small zigzag roads! I felt I was in a labyrinth without an exit.

It’s a day-to-day torment just to move around for the most simple, everyday things. Each day I am faced by every panel of the Wall with its seeming message: “Wouldn’t you be happier in some other part of the world? Why stay here? We Jews will make good use of your land, your homes, your olive trees. The sooner you leave, the better.”

In a time and age where we should be building bridges of greater understanding and celebrating and appreciating our diversity, the Israeli government has succeeded in locking us up and imposing still greater suffering on all of us who live on the “other side” of the Wall; in destroying what is left of our fragile existence and reducing us to abject despair.

Even so, we Christians in Palestine continue to place our hope in Christ our Savior. We try to continue our witness.

We continue to hope and pray for walls to fall and bridges to appear.

May the light of Christ shine through us in a land of so much darkness.

“I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

May Christians, Jews and Muslims together share in the work of reconnection and healing.

Maria Khoury is Greek American married to a Palestinian Orthodox Christian who now serves as mayor of the town where they live, Taybeh, near Ramallah, in the West Bank. She is the author of Witness in the Holy Land and eight children’s books, including Christina Goes to the Holy Land and Coloring with Christina, a new coloring book about the holy sites in Palestine.

Note: Steve Leicester has produced a timely video on the Wall, especially the section that encloses Bethlehem. Here is a YouTube link www.youtube.com/profile?user=SteveLeicesterUK. A link can also be found on Steve’s website: www.amostrust.org.

From the Winter 2008 issue of In Communion / IC 48