Pilgrimage of Penitence

Greetings of peace from Mary and Howard Wideman from Waters Mennonite Church. We are now staying in Jerusalem at the Ecco Homo Convent on the Via Dolorosa in the Muslim Quarter. We are situated right next to the local mosque, so the call to prayer is clear and commanding. The food is great, but more varied than the mid-eastern focus found in Nazareth and Beit Sahour. I especially miss my morning hummus–food for the mid-eastern soul!

On our bus route to Canada Park (Would you believe?), we saw Jewish children on route to school, even kindergarten boys wearing kipas, or in Yiddish, yarlmukas. Adults were going to work in varying Jewish garb, wide-brimmed hats and long beards, some with long sionims (sidelocks), following the teaching of the Torah “to not round off the hair on the edges of your head.” We passed a Palestinian village that was depopulated, but the buildings were still intact–a rarity.

We finally arrived at Ayalon Canada Park, funded by the Jewish National Fund. There we met Umar Al-Ghubari from Zochrot, an Israeli organization which means “remembering”, a Palestinian resistance activist who introduced us to the Palestinian layer beneath the Jewish Park. He explained that the Jewish settlements already started in the 1920’s, 30’s and 40’s when land was bought from a rich landowner who employed and rented homes to Palestinians. The seller did not realize that his tenants and labourers would be evicted as a result of the Zionist convictions of the purchaser. He explained that the Israelis do not acknowledge the Nakba, or catastrophe of 1948, when Israel expelled 3/4 of a million Palestinians. Zochrot wants Israelis to take responsibility for what happened in 1948, relating to Israeli Jews in Hebrew, so that they might be more shocked and challenged by hearing of these evictions in their own language, accompanied by videos and maps that vividly demonstrate these events on Zochrot’s website.

The purpose of our tour was to “see what is unseen”, to tell the story of the demolished Palestinian villages.  Hidden in plain sight are the beautiful cut stones lining the walking paths throughout the park, stones that once shaped Palestinian homes in three villages which once stood in this West Bank park, located ten kilometres inside Palestine: Emmaus, Yalu and Bayt Nuba.  The Israelis claim that the ruins are Roman baths; however, the baths predate the Palestinian mosque which was situated over the baths and were revealed by archeological digs which attempted to obliterate the Palestinian presence. These bath ruins are surrounded by stones marking the Palestinian cemetery surrounding the mosque. The niche that indicates the Muslim direction for prayer is still clearly evident. Two dessicrated  graves and markers in particular were very visible.

The Jewish purpose for the park is to fulfill the Biblical prophesy of Isaiah 35, to make the thirsty desert bloom and to develop and shape Jewish identity to the land. However, the park was never a desert, but three established Palestinian villages. Pieces of their houses repeatedly emerge whenever archeological digging occurs. The “Prickly Pear Proof” also dominates the land.  Palestinians used this cactus as a hedge to delineate boundaries between plots and to produce a sweet fruit within arm’s reach. It is especially resilient and cannot be eradicated, despite Israeli attempts to remove it.

CactusUnfortunately, the Zionists’ effort to make the desert bloom has included planting colonial pines from Europe for two purposes: to make the European settlers feel at home and to provide year round evergreen camouflage of any Palestinian ruins. Ironically, these pines are very dry and frequent forest fires result. Catastrophically, the pines acidify the land, so that native almond, olive, date, apricot and fig trees can no longer grow, ensuring that Palestinians could not thrive if they ever did achieve a “right of return” to their villages.

In 1958, a Kibbutz’ farmer was looking for stray cattle. Instead, he found Israeli soldiers evicting Palestinian villagers from their homes and herding them towards Jordan. Some escaped to the Latrun monastery, but they were rounded up a few days later, and their homes were bulldozed. The Jewish farmer took several pictures which, fearing for his safety, he kept hidden for 18 years. In the 1980’s, he published them in East Jerusalem, thinking he would be starting a revolution. Nothing happened. These photos are available on the Zochrot website. The unseen lives of the evicted Palestinians can surely be seen in the layers beneath the surface of Ayalon Canada Park. “He who has ears, let him hear. He who has eyes, let him see.”

Our day took us from the eviction of the Palestinians by the Jews to the eviction of the Jews by the Nazis.  We experienced the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem in the afternoon. Evidence of raw suffering and death, both of which are being repeated today in Gaza in The Great March of Return, permeated our senses and overwhelmed our beings. Unacknowledged Jewish culpability of the Palestinian Nakba (The Great Catastrophe) aligns itself with European and Western culpability for ignoring the plight of the Jews in the 30’s and 40’s, following centuries of severe anti-semitism throughout Christian countries.

May all of us walk a pilgrimage of penitence together.

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