Saturday, January 19, 2008

Being a Palestinian… a curse or a blessing?

Being a Palestinian… a curse or a blessing?

I used to think that we Palestinian are not popular in Israeli areas or check point, or in American Airports. This week I discovered, and a very difficult way, that the same applies in some Arab countries as well.

Saturday night I received an email telling me that I have a permission (visa) to enter Egypt to attend a conference for Theological Education in the Middle East. The Seminary in Egypt and the Palestinian Embassy worked all week to make that possible!

So next day I went to Jordan (since we Palestinian are not allowed to use the Airport in Tel Aviv – we are too dangerous!) and from there I took the plane to Cairo Airport. In the Airport in Jordan they doubled checked and said that all is well and that I can go to Egypt. A visa will be given to me upon my arrival.

Egypt: Cairo Airport. 9 pm: They took my passport and asked me to wait. Traveling with me was another Palestinian man, Rev. Khader El-Yateem, who is attending the same conference. He has a Palestinian Passport like me, and he also has an American Passport. He is from one of the two chosen peoples, and I am not. It took him 15 minutes and no interrogation to get to Egypt. He is an American Passport. I had only a Palestinian Passport. I did not belong to any of God’s chosen peoples.

10 pm, and am still waiting. So I called the Palestinian Embassy. They said that I should not worry and that in 30 minutes I should be in my hotel. Great. 11 pm, and 10 phone calls to the Embassy later, am still waiting. Finally the Egyptian security decided they want to talk to me. I go in and they asked few typical questions. Then they tell me I should wait again.

12 pm, and 10 more phone calls to the Embassy later, the Egyptian guy tells me I have no permission to enter!

12:30 I enter prison, and they take my phone from me, and ask those waiting with me to leave. I made one final call to the embassy, and they told me that the problem is not only that I am a Palestinian, but also the nature of the conference I am attending!

1:00 am: they take me to another room. The room: the least I can say about it is that it was nasty. It smelled bad. I mean bad. It had some beds… no thank you! In the room with me were two families from Sudan and Iraq who seemed like illegal immigrants. No one wanted to talk to the other. I asked the officer: Can someone please explain to me what is happening?!?! After begging for explanation they told me that they will try to put me on the next plane leaving to Amman at 6 am.

This was one of the most difficult nights in my life. Never had I felt so humiliated. Humans had no value or worth for these people. I was simply treated like garbage the whole time. No one cared to explain to me what was happening. And the room (prison) I was detained in… I mean I do not think it is even good for animals to live in.

Well what do I pray for?!?! What do I tell God in such a situation? Why do we humans treat each other in such a way? I mean I am used to such a horrible inhuman treatment from the Israelis, but from fellow Arabs!?!? Rules are rules I understand. But can you please just treat me as a human.

My problem is who I am. A Palestinian! And a Christian Palestinian! Are we really a threat?! Sitting in that room I prayed: Lord I’ll carry that Cross with honor and pride. Your will be done. While it was tempting from all that happened to view being a Palestinian as a curse, I continue to consider it a blessing and honor. I am who I am and where I am because God has intended this for me. We serve a worthy God.

Later I prayed: Lord get me out of here! I can’t wait 4 more hours for my plane! I was done! At 2 am: the seminary called some important dude, who called the airport, and I was out. It was one of the longest 5 hours in my life. I was allowed to enter Egypt. Half an hour later I was in a 5 star hotel and was being treated like a king (because they want my money). I was a “sir” or “basha” again! What an irony, what a contradiction.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Watching Football with the enemy … and learning about Grace

This Christmas the Israelis were generous enough to give me permission to go to the other side of my country. So I figured the best thing I could do with the permission is… watch sports on the other side of the wall.

First I went with my fiends to a Basketball game in Tel Aviv. Never mind that we got there in the middle of the game soaked with water after Boaz (Rachel’s car – long story) broke down in the middle of the highway to Tel Aviv and me and Jason tried to fix it in the middle of the rain! The game itself was awesome. I found myself watching a basketball game for an Israeli team with 10000 crazy Tel Aviv fans dressed in yellow in the Middle of Tel Aviv. You think this is awkward? Wait till the next part.

Last week we decided that rather than watching NFL playoffs in my house, we would go to a sports bar in Jerusalem! So we did! The place was packed! I mean packed! We got there early so we found a relatively good table. You see, the game was for the New York Giants, and we discovered that there are actually lots of NY fans in Jerusalem. I found myself watching Football in a very small and crowded room in an American Sports bar in Jerusalem – with at least 50 conservative young Jews who spoke only English, and cheered really loud for the Giants. I say conservative because they all dressed like conservative Jews and wore the Kippah. Yet the irony is that most of these “conservative” young people were drinking beer (a lot), smoking, and cussing bad! Awkward?

Which brings me to my question: What is a conservative? What makes a person religiously conservative? This country is crazy! The Jews seemed conservative from the outside. For the guys I found myself watching the game with, “conservatism” is how you dress and look from the outside. Never mind the smoking, heavy drinking, and bad language. I went to that sports bar. Did I act “conservatively”? I actually took with me some Westminster students who are in Jerusalem for a month to the bar to watch the game and we had some really nice conversations! After the game me and my friend talked a bit about what makes a person conservative! We compared the different religions of the world and how they looked to the issue! You know for some you can beat up your wife and still be considered a conservative!

My point is: Thank God for grace! Thank God that He paid all for us. Legalism is everywhere. It comes by nature in us humans. Funny thing is that we define it as it pleases us and we end up with different sorts and shapes of conservatisms!! Saved by Grace I am, and Praise Him for His grace.