Yes to Palestine; Yes to Peace
I knew I wanted to be here this week. It promised to be a historic time in the life of the Palestinian people. From the time I arrived in East Jerusalem last weekend until tonight’s speech by President Abbas before the General Assembly of the United Nations, I have been drawn into the expectation, the energy, the hope of the establishment of a Palestinian state. But I was also hearing a lack of hope, especially in East Jerusalem, that any substantial change would ever occur.
My first experience was last Saturday evening in Ramallah. Everywhere I looked, I saw flags flying: the red, black, white and green Palestinian flag and the new UN flag, white with the number 194 boldly displayed in the bottom corner. Ramallah is always chaotic, but that night there seemed to be a new energy. You could feel it in the street as people from the West Bank looked forward to the coming speech at the UN.
Then on Wednesday, I was invited to join students and faculty from the Bethlehem Bible College at a demonstration in Manger Square in Bethlehem. We walked the mile or so to the Square, again with flags waving, being joined by Palestinians and internationals along the way. Manger Square was filled with more flag waving, mostly young people. Speeches were made, slogans were chanted. No violence anywhere, but rather a determination to remain non-violent in their approach to gain legitimacy in their pursuit of statehood.
Wednesday evening I was back in Ramallah. This time the atmosphere was more tense. As we drove through Qalandia checkpoint, we encountered the main road crowded with young men, standing on rooftops, sitting on barriers and dividers along the side of the road. Some were wearing black masks, with only the eyes and mouths showing. Ambulances were poised just in case violence broke out. The checkpoint was closed shortly after we entered; Israeli armed police blocked the road inside the checkpoint. Reports later came of rock throwing by some of the youth, but for the most part, violence was contained.
And then tonight. I was in East Jerusalem with Muslim friends, having tea and watching President Abbas on the coffee house TV. Since it was in Arabic, I couldn’t understand anything that was said, but occasionally my friend would translate Abbas’ words. I could tell from the applause in response to these words, that the speech was well received. He delivered it with courage and dignity, the same dignity that I have come to see in the Palestinian people as they have struggled these many years.
We left the coffee shop and walked toward the Damascus Gate. We could hear chanting and clapping and so walked down the steps to see what was taking place. TV cameras were filming as Palestinians celebrated the evening. I recognized the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and my friend walked over to him, greeted him, and pointing to me, said “not all Americans are against us.” I felt proud to be there.
A few moments later, a caravan of vehicles, horns blaring, young men hanging out of car windows waving Palestinian flags, wove through East Jerusalem. There is hope in the air. This was a night of celebration as the world focused on Palestine.
It is long past time for peace in this troubled area of the world. As President Abbas challenged, it is time for the General Assembly to recognize the legitimacy of a Palestine state. Such recognition will be a victory for truth, freedom, justice, law and international legitimacy. Recognition of a Palestinian state will be a major step in bringing peace not just to the region but to the world.
September 23, 2011