Sunday, January 27, 2013

we walked to Jerusalem

This time last week I was on a walk with a friend.  While the most immediately eye-catching detail of this walk would be the route we were taking (walking from Bethlehem to Jerusalem), the fact that we were able to take this walk together at all was the most humbling and pertinent of details.  I'll give you some quick background to explain...

I was walking with my friend Shadia, a Palestinian Christian who lives with her family (immediate, extended, and very extended family) in the town of Beit Sahour, Palestine, located in the West Bank.  When I was a volunteer in the Jerusalem/West Bank program of Young Adults in Global Mission (a global mission program of the ELCA), Shadia took me and my YAGM roommate in as if we were members of the family.  This J-term I went back to visit as part of an independent study, reconnected with Shadia, and was welcomed back as if I had never left.  

Her hometown, Beit Sahour, is known as the town of the Shepherds' Fields, located just a stones throw down the hill from Bethlehem and just a few kilometers from Jerusalem.  And yet, almost all residents of Beit Sahour are not allowed to go to Jerusalem.  This is not a phenomenon that only applies to Beit Sahour.  Unless Palestinians from the West Bank apply for special permits or have residency in Jerusalem, they are restricted access to the city that, for many, lies within walking distance.  During the holidays (Christmas and Easter), Christians are allowed to apply for permits in order to access the holy sites.  And so last Sunday, with my US passport and her Christmas holiday permit in hand, Shadia and I crossed the Bethlehem pedestrian checkpoint together... and we walked.

We're on our way!  Photo taken just outside of the
Bethlehem checkpoint
Though I had lived alongside Shadia for a year, this was the first time I had ever entered Jerusalem with her.  During our walk she pointed out everything she remembered and knew about this route to Jerusalem, including gardens she and her husband George would take their four children to play before they would enter  the Old City.  Having walked this route to and through the Old City alone many times during my previous year there, I was finally looking at it through the eyes of a friend who remembered and had lived life before the Wall separated her from it; a friend who knew each nook and cranny though it had been a year since she had last been through the city; a friend who wasn't bothered by the tourists and sat in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre with me to pray; a friend who knew many people we ran into in the streets of the Old City, others who had permits in hand.  The Old City felt different when I walked with Shadia.

Shadia looking toward the Old City of Jerusalem
We eventually walked to the other side of the Old City and caught the bus back to the Bethlehem checkpoint.  We crossed the Wall and meandered our way walking back down to Beit Sahour to relax for the evening and rest our legs.  But when I woke up Monday morning, all I could think about was how if I wanted to make the trek again, Shadia would not have been able to join me; her permit had expired.  

Walking an unavoidable stretch of the Wall on our way back to Beit Sahour.
On the last day she would be able to go anywhere in Jerusalem, or Israel for that matter, for quite some time, she chose to walk with me.  It was a simple walk, an ordinary activity for the two of us to do together, but this walk was surrounded by extraordinary circumstances.  It was a blessing.  I am blessed to have been able to visit her this J-term; I am blessed to have been able to experience Jerusalem through her eyes; I am blessed to have had an eye-opening year through YAGM that led me into a beautiful and complex relationship with the people of the Holy Land.  But most of all, I am blessed to know Shadia, to call her my friend, and to know we walk together on life's journey.

Micah 6:8 -- He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.  And what does the Lord require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

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