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Give thanks for freedom of no walls



By Ken Newton News-Press Now Nov 20, 2018

The student ambassador at our table kept her smile against all reason. Of course, this analysis on whether she should smile comes from an American, with a birthright to bellyache about even the slightest loss of freedom.

Ghadeer, in her fourth year at Bethlehem University, knew only the life she knew. And life contained joy (she savored her mother’s cooking, especially the Arabic meat and rice dish known as maqluba) despite being increasingly unwelcome in a walled city.

A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I and some other Americans found ourselves in a dining hall of the university, less than a mile from the Church of the Nativity and the birthplace of Jesus.

Though going through checkpoints and being eyed by men and women carrying serious firearms, our group moved with little hassle from one side of the wall to the other.

Ghadeer, native to this land, had been to Jerusalem just one time in her life. She could see the city stretched out on the nearby hills. For a Palestinian Muslim, though, the travel permit proved hard to attain.

The fundamental unfairness of this, the lunacy, really, landed on us pilgrims like a hammer blow. The table went quiet, each person perhaps calculating their own feelings if authorities back home impeded their mobility.

This most holy of lands at the intersection of Abrahamic religions (Christianity, Judaism and Islam) professes peace but comes by it grudgingly.

Even vehicle license plates generate friction. In the West Bank, that broad swath of disputed land west of the Jordan River, Israelis get yellow car tags, those easily spotted at checkpoints and waved through. Christians and Muslims have green and white tags, a signal for stops, searches and delays on roadways.

In July, the Israeli parliament passed a measure, effectively a constitutional amendment, that defined the country as the national home of the Jewish people.

It did this while saying Jews alone have the right of self-determination in Israel (despite the presence of 1.8 million Arabs) and elevating Hebrew as the sole official language.

Opponents decried the law as apartheid.

Lawmakers in the Knesset also considered a bill that would have allowed Israel to confiscate land sold by churches, a proposal so oppressive to Christian denominations that an American congressional caucus got involved in opposing it.

All of this comes with the territory in Israel, though the current government seems more strident than usual, and the basic argument escapes argument: This relatively small dot of land sits amid numerous other states wanting its occupants not to exist in a feud that dates to the deep forever.

That’s an enormous incentive to play hardball. But the tactics play out to real human impacts, few of which promote understanding, co-existence or peace.

The name Ghadeer translates from Arabic to mean “small stream.” Smart and ambitious, this student has no small dreams.

Her Bethlehem University degree will be conferred next year, and she hopes to get an advanced degree in the United States. Many in her homeland have fled, tired of the injustices and those who say to them “good riddance.”

But Ghadeer wants to return to her home, there to hopefully be an agent of change for future generations. Bless the young and their idealism.

Americans celebrate Thanksgiving this week, a day set aside for feasting and counting blessings. The nation finds itself divided, but at least the walls remain metaphorical.

Part of our thanks should be this inheritance of freedom. Not everyone has it so good.

Bethlehem University Foundation
Phone: +1-240-241-4381
Fax: +1-240-553-7691
Beltsville, MD USA
Bethlehem University in the Holy Land
Phone: +972-2-274-1241
Fax: +972-2-274-4440
Bethlehem, Palestine