by Latishia James, MDiv Student
Latishia is currently traveling with the Holy Places and Displacements immersion to Jordan, Palestine, and Israel.
It is now Friday morning in this part of the world; it is a little after 5:00AM to be exact. And though I had my very comfortable, super efficient gel earplugs in I heard the call to prayer. I heard it in my spirit and felt compelled to get up. I was being called to be a witness to the movement of Spirit.
On Thursday evening we crossed the Border from Jordan (the country-East Bank of the Jordan River) into Nazareth (West Bank of the Jordan). I wish that the spoken word were adequate enough to capture the degradation and humiliation that I witnessed last night. However, I do not think it is something you can truly understand unless you experience it yourself. The culture of fear and desperation that has been cultivated by the Israelis in the hearts and minds of Palestinian people is deplorable. My classmates and I were pushed, shoved, stepped on. We were perhaps seen as not only foreigners but also ignorant travelers not familiar with the brutality of the process. While I do not blame these people for their actions it was hard to be conscious that their behavior is a more product of the environment that has been created than it is a reflection of their own morality. And while I know this to be true I had to succumb to this culture along with the rest of the group in order to succeed in completing the first step in this dehumanizing process. The East Flatbush girl in me revealed herself very quickly and while it now brings me shame to admit I had no issue with accessing her in that moment; the moment where the desperation that permeated the air took hold of me.
I do not have a picture to show you. I think everyone in the group was so entrenched in attempting to process what had just happened that it didn’t even occur to us. But also I am glad I do not have a picture to show and did not think to take one, because the humiliation that Palestinian people endure going through that process is enough without some foreigner, who is presumed to be Christian, documenting it for her own consumption. I do not need some gruesome memento to remember this night, and I refuse to turn what I bore witness to into no more than entertainment, as has been done with Black Pain through the sharing of videos of our slaughter.
The contradictions that were experienced in the span of our 15-hour day are vast and yet not really contradictions at all. Rather they reflect the complexity that is the human experience quite accurately. My morning and afternoon found me immersed in some of the most sacred and spiritually rooted sites in the world. My group and I had the privilege of visiting the site that is thought to be where Jesus was baptized and then we walked down into the Jordan River; we walked through the wilderness that archaeologists and historians say John Baptist and Jesus traversed to get there. I stood in the Jordan River and felt the presence of all things holy there, I wept for the injustices and atrocities committed in this holy land in the name of man’s religion. I wept for Jesus as I thought about him willingly going to his death in the name of Justice over Empire. I wept for every agent of social transformation who dared to do the same, before and since Jesus, who were also executed by those in power. I wept for the generations of people uprooted from the land on which I was accessing through my American and presumed Christian privilege. And then when the tears stopped I renewed my promise to justice and my commitment to the vocation I am being formed for.
It took everything in me when we initially got to the checkpoint to resist intervening where I saw injustice occurring. I battled between operating under the savior complex and the (a)pathetic neo-liberalism of “this is not my responsibility.” As I stood in the lines I remembered the prayer we the group had been led to pray earlier that day:
“…May I grow in understanding of my own motives,
knowing that people often act out of their own fears.
May I be a force for replacing fear with insight…”
I know that part of my reason for being on this trip is to be a witness and share what I witness with others who may be ignorant of what is happening on this side of the world. Our fear of the “other” fuels the continuation of the decimation of a people, a fear evident in my home country of the United States. May you gain insight from my experience, may you replace it with any fear you may possess.