Marston was horrified by the Wall/Fence. “Although the fence is not as ugly as the Wall, it is almost as awful, because it takes up so much of the Palestinians' land, and they can't do anything about it. The settlements are growing constantly. When Obama tried to get a freeze on new construction, he was virtually ignored by the Israeli government. The theft of the Palestinians' water (it all comes from underground aquifers, which Palestinians are not allowed to drill deeply enough to reach) goes on apace. Palestinians' houses get bulldozed for any pretext, and in parts of East Jerusalem families are forced out of their homes and have to watch while Israeli families move in.” [Coming from South Africa, this sounds eerily familiar. LH]
“What are the Palestinians doing to resist?” Marston asks rhetorically. “They are putting primary focus on their people, especially the younger generation: education, and cultural pride; preservation of Palestinian culture and accurate awareness of Palestinian history. Keeping going: that is the main form their resistance takes. But people talk worriedly about the possibility of another intifada ("uprising," literally "throwing off"). Conditions are indisputably getting worse all the time, and the refusal of the US government—both administration and Congress—to hold Israel accountable is, in my view, a dreadful sign. I'm speaking specifically about the rude rejection of the Goldstone Report on Israel's war on the people of the Gaza strip, which started just a year ago.” Marston came back more pessimistic about the chances of a peaceful resolution—with justice and security for all—than she has ever been before.
After the tour, Marston spent five busy days in Ramallah, speaking to students and teachers at two universities, plus other groups of educators and writers. She even spoke to kids at a refugee camp. Most of the talks focused on her collection of short stories Santa Claus in Baghdad and Other Stories about Teens in the Arab World.
By arrangement of the Siraj Center, Marston’s group stayed with a family in a remote village, helping with their olive harvest. Marston describes herself as being “of a certain age,” which I happen to know is older than I am. Nevertheless, she slept on a thin mattress on the floor and took baths by sloshing water from a bucket of cold water mixed with a kettle of hot water heated on a gas burner on the kitchen counter.
“On the other hand,” Marston writes, “just about every family in Palestine has a computer—however old and creaky—and internet access, an essential for keeping in touch with the world outside the virtual prison they live in.”
Marston came away with an enormously positive impression of the Palestinians. She saw no evidence of the Muslim/Christian tensions some of my friends have reported. “Living under appalling restrictions, they are a remarkably patient, civil, good-humored, courteous, and—the word kept coming to my mind—gentle people . . . the exact opposite of the stereotypes by which their adversaries describe them.”
Marston plans to write a picture book based on her experiences.
My husband has several Arab Christian colleagues for whom he has utmost respect as they attempt to be “salt and light” in such a difficult situation. At this Christmas season, I urge you to keep the people of modern Bethlehem in your prayers.