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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Aren’t They Sons of Abraham Too?

I frequently wear a keffiyeh – the scarf worn by Jordanians (red and white checkerboard pattern) and Palestinians (black and white wavy lines pattern).  Mine is of the Palestinian variety.  I wear it in part because it’s a great multipurpose garment.  In the winter it’s a great scarf.  In the summer it keeps the sun off my neck and head.  But I also wear it because I support the Palestinian people and their quest for an independent state of their own.  This is not to say that I am opposed to the existence of the state of Israel or the Jewish people. Nor is it to say that I endorse the violent actions used by some Palestinian groups. 

I have been wearing my keffiyeh during our trip through Israel these last several days.  And for the most part it has not caused any difficulty.  As we toured through Galilee in the north I received no comments or suspicious glances.  When we went into Bethlehem (which is under the Palestinian authority) I was complimented and hailed by the occasional vendor as “hey, Mr. Arafat…”

But the other day at Masada I provoked a small confrontation.

Our group had gone up to that mountain fortress that was at one time a stronghold of King Herod, and later was the last stand of the zealots during the Jewish revolt against the Romans in AD 72.  Masada today is almost a religious site for the Jewish people and a symbol of Israel’s national identity.  While we were there we saw a family celebrating their son’s Bar Mitzvah in the remains of the synagogue used by the zealots before their mass suicide.

As our group was preparing to leave the mountain I stepped aside to take a few last pictures.  As I approached the vantage point that I wanted to photograph I realized that my path would take me right in front of two women who were taking pictures in the same area. Not wanting to photo-bomb their pictures, I waited as the one gave instructions (in Hebrew) to her friend on how to use the camera.  When they were finished I said, “Shalom” and made to pass on by.  The woman with the camera then rattled off a string of Hebrew to me in return.  I apologized (in English) and said that I’d just about exhausted my knowledge of Hebrew.  She in return said, “That’s okay, I’m Canadian.” 

Then she picked at my shirt and vest and my keffiyeh and said, “Why do you wear this Arab scarf?”  Not wanting to engage in a confrontational debate right there and then – and also because our group was starting to leave – I made my excuses and continued on my way.

Most of our group rode the cable car down from the top, but some of us (brave or foolhardy – you decide) took the long and rugged “snake path” down from the top.  When we arrived, hot and sweaty, at the bottom of the mountain, we ate our lunch at the visitors’ center there and after the obligatory few minutes at the gift shop we went out front to wait for our bus.

And there I saw her again – or rather – she saw me.  “There is my Arab American friend” she called out.  And she asked me again, “Do you know what this” (and here she picked at me again) “means?  Do you know what this is?”  I explained that, yes.  I do understand the implications of the scarf, that I have some understanding of the history of the conflict between the two peoples.  And we engaged in a short conversation there in front of the visitors’ center. 

When she learned that I’m a Christian pastor she said to me, “As follower of Jesus, you should support the sons of Abraham.”  To which I replied, “But aren’t the Palestinians, aren’t the Arabs, sons of Abraham too, through Ishmael.” My new Canadian Jewish friend waved her hand and dismissed my question, “pfft.” 

Our bus arrived shortly after that.  I shook hands with my new Canadian Jewish friend and we both said, “Shalom.”  But still I think that the question is valid: “Aren’t they sons of Abraham, too?”

In this photo is me and my friend N. He and I came down the mountain together.

1 comment:

  1. In case you don't know, you are in good company regarding the Palestinian issue.


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