On the death of Hussain Saeed Alnahdi at UW-Stout

wallIt’s always hard to be away from home, but this is the sort of news that makes me feel isolated and stranded, wishing to be back amid my own hurting people even if it doesn’t fix anything but only means a chance to hurt together instead of apart. That’s part of the reason for these words.

Yet it’s also because this is exactly a moment to be in Palestine. Even without knowing motives, we have to believe the Saudi Arabian student’s death had something to do with how he was perceived. In precisely that way, our host for touring the Diyar Consortium مجموعة ديار this morning was a young Christian woman named Angie who was born in Bethlehem, came to college in the Twin Cities, and returned to Bethlehem. Unlike Hussain, she survived. Still, she introduced herself by speaking of encounters where a classmate said, “I hope you’re not going to blow us up” and with only slightly more poor humor being asked in the dorms if her schools had taught bomb-making. This to a woman, and without a head scarf.

Not that that should matter.

We’re too apt to make the blanket condemnations (“THEY are terrorists”). We’re too slow to allow individuals like Angie–or too late, in the case of Hussain–to prove themselves, though that’s not something that should be asked in the first place. In labeling a tragedy as “Menomonie’s turn” (or any other town’s), we’re too forgetful that this is systemic. Together, those mean we’re too persistent in erecting walls that only foster divisiveness and threaten to cut us off from sharing good.

Today we visited the separation wall, a militarized apartheid structure that strives more and more to close off and ignore Palestinians. The base of the wall is founded on some presumption that Palestinians will blow you up, are destructive, terrorists, could not also want peace, so it’s best just to take their land and shove them far to the side. In our evening reflections and devotions, a group member wiser and more eloquent than I said that, from our experiences, that gets it exactly backward–the Palestinians are delightful, overflowing in hospitality, kindness, joy, generosity, creativity. And by erecting a wall, the Israelis are closing off for themselves the possibility of sharing in that and receiving from it.

We received from and delighted in Angie today and what she showed of the Dar al Kalima University College’s cultural and arts work (historical pottery, a photo competition, sound recording, cooking, and women’s soccer were some of those delightful points). We’ve squandered the chance to receive from and delight in young Hussain. Sometimes we drive each other beyond points where sharing delight even seems possible.

As with the group tonight, though, I invite you to notice transformations and glimpses of hope. See where walls need to come down and are even crumbling. Celebrate this re-formation of togetherness. Rally against the separations. We need it, for each other and also from each other. Palestinians and Israelis. Americans and Middle Easterners. Muslims and Christians (or secularists). College classmates of different skin colors. Of course, political parties. And on and on.

It takes work, but in one way that’s why I spent a year planning a trip to the other side of the world: it’s worth the work.

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