Sunday, July 8, 2012

2012.07. 08 West of Eden

When we left St. George’s College in Jerusalem the departure briefing was, well, complete.  We were told how to behave exactly and what to say  when and if we were questioned getting through security at Tel Aviv. For example, if asked where the college was located we were NOT to say East Jerusalem but rather near the AMERICAN Colony Hotel, or on Salah Hadin Street, or across from the Israeli District Court. And please no attempts at cuteness or humor.

We ditched our nail and mustache scissors and put our course certificates of graduation and the St. George’s ceramic tile (sharp-edged weapon?)  we’d all received in one envelope. Opting for transparency. We had nothing to hide except our nerves.

At the airport we were shuffled into a long line to go through security. We and one other man were pulled out of line. We didn’t know why. The young man security guard was very courteous and asked us where we had been, stayed, how long and were we alone, etc? Who directed this course? Dick said Kamal Farah. I was thinking the name of the American Dean of the college might have been less provocative than a Palestinian name, Christian Episcopal priest or no.  But truth will out, and Dick brilliantly added a detail—that Kamal had taught at HEBREW University. 

The man behind us said these interrogations used to be much worse.  I took that as a good sign. Proceedings continued with careful inspections of the infamous tile. The supervisor was called in on the case.  The tile passed.

Dick’s passport took more time.  Several times he was asked to take off his glasses while someone looked from his face back to the passport and back again. He gave his most endearing smile. They at last established he was who he is, just 10 years older. Thank God for age, not a usual recipient of thanksgiving.   A couple of light jokes about age passed between us and the inspector.  We were your age once, etc. etc.  It eased the mood.

My passport was questioned as to my name. Not same as husband’s?  Which was in question, the name, the husband, or my seemingly unattached status?   It took two tries but I finally identified my first husband's name and said my maiden name was my middle name.

The good part was that we were now free of the still lengthy slow line and proceeded to the Xray process ahead of others still in line. Dick’s bag was opened. What was his Rx mouthwash? For gums. I half expected the woman inspector to ask him if it worked.  

All carry-ons and luggage stamped and approved we left, casually sauntering to Executive Lounge. We wanted to run.  

Theories about being singled out: we looked older and shouldn’t have to wait in a long line?  Arbitrary/random tactics?  We looked innocent enough to be suspicious? 

What I take away however is the respect we were showed by the young man and the smile on his face most of the time.  More friendliness than we were led to expect we’d receive,  and a grace we returned. 


On the plane I met a beautiful woman who gave me a gift—what a grace-incidence.

We struck up a conversation and shared laughter when the young woman’s opposing seat-mate immediately raised the screen between the seats.   “I smiled at her but now she can’t see me. So I’ll smile at you,” the woman said to me.  I, sitting across the  aisle, returned the smile.

(The seats in business class are arranged in a way that one person sits facing forward and the other facing rear. They form a unit almost like a lovers’ curved S-shaped couch.  But an opaque barrier can be raised between the two, for privacy. You don’t have to look at your seat-mate. )

I spotted the title I Shall Not Hate on the book the woman pulled out to read. I’d seen it in a bookshop in Jerusalem and the title felt magnetic. “It’s a great book,”she said. “I’m almost finished with it. I cried a lot reading though. When I’m done I’ll give it to you. We all need this book.” 

I told her no need I’d get it…... but by the time the food started arriving she handed it to me in a generous way I neither could nor would refuse.  I began to read it. The author Izzeldin Abuelaish is a  Palestinian physician who began his life in a refugee camp in Gaza, not unlike one we’d visited on our pilgrimage. This is his memoir. His wife died young of cancer, and he lost three daughters to Israeli military shells on his home. He has treated patients on both sides of the conflict, has worked with Israeili medical people, and received help from them in his time of greatest need.  Abuelaish now lives and teaches in Toronto—and never forgets his beloved family home in Gaza.

An Israeli Jewish physician, Dr. Marek Glezerman, chairman of the Hospital for Women and deputy director of Rabin Medical Center, wrote a Foreward proclaiming Abuelaish as one who could and would promote relationships between Palestinians and Jewish girls. It is his memory and dream. He has started a foundation to support the long hard work of building relationships based on truth not ideology. 

I haven’t finished the book but I must relate one incident Abuelaish recounts. Going back and forth to work weekly between Jerusalem where he worked and Gaza where he lived in the mid 90s was fraught with frustration for the good doctor. Initially the hassle came from both sides, Palestinian harassment from Hamas and grief from Israel border patrol on the other side.  The guards were rude and gruff.  He stayed patient. After a time they got to know Abuelaish, to “accept my existence,” he writes.  Enough to ask him for prescriptions for birth control pills for their girlfriends, because he specialized in infertility medicine.  

Once a security agent stopped him, not to dispute his papers but to ask a personal question. She was getting married and her menstrual period was due two days before the wedding. Did he have any advice for delaying her period? He did and took time to give her the information she needed.

As we prepared to de-board in London I thanked my new friend again for the book and asked, prompted by some of the themes of the book, her dark skin, and the specialized meal she received, if she were a Muslim. She is Hindu and works as a clinical psychologist who lives and practices in London but goes to Gaza for two week stints about five times a year to help with the treatment of victims of trauma who suffer from chronic post-traumatic stress syndrome.

“It’s such a little time to give really, but the stories I hear.  I Skype my friends every day for my own trauma.  And I watch dumb movies on TV.” 

I thanked this woman of faith for her ministry and thanked God, by whatever name, whose healing knows no bounds and no barriers, even opaque ones.