By Kristie Guerrero-Taylor (MPT Member currently in the West Bank and Isreal)
As we got off the bus in Hebron we were swarmed by little street kids with their green, red and black Palestinian bracelets smiling and pushing their merchandise with polite yet assertive insistence. They smiled and spoke through their dust covered faces and unkempt hair and looked curiously content given the circumstances they lived in. We eventually reached our destination where we were greeted with a gray haired bearded man with a Glock strapped to his side, David Wilder. He gave a subtle and somewhat cold greeting, a complete contrast to the neighborhood children, as he guided us into the building and then proceeded to describe the history of Hebron, the massacre of Jews in 1929, and the Jews’ return.
I mourned as he relayed the story of how these 67 Jews were murdered by their Arab neighbors in 1929 and it was obvious that he felt his traditions were desecrated and forgotten. He spoke of the betrayal of a people and a tradition of distrust and hate between the Arabs and the Jews. I recognized that his suffering and pain were legitimate and I cried as I reflected on the potentially destructive nature of religion and politics. I felt that there was a shared history, shared suffering and that maybe there could be some sort of bridge that would remedy this horrible conflict. This common thread of human suffering could be a starting point for trust. That maybe by recognizing and validating each other’s pain, progress towards peace could be made. Then he stated, “I’m for human rights, but if I had a choice between human rights and security, I choose security.”
This is where the problem lies. When we violate the rights of others and no longer see their humanity we begin to draw lines, create boundaries and follow narratives that feature each other as a threat rather than a co-habitors of the earth. We begin to feel threatened, defensive, broken, afraid and worse, we become enemies. By putting security over compassion, understanding, cooperation we create a world where the “other” will feel shame, powerlessness and fear. We create a world where we need fences and walls to secure our borders, guards stand outside homes and Glocks are strapped to our side. We, in our efforts to protect ourselves, create a world we need protecting from.
We left David Wilder and eventually joined a local Arab community leader as he walked us through Hebron and many of the locations were the Israeli guards or settlers had violated their human rights. The children that greeted as at the beginning of our visit would occasionally pop up and again offer us goods or just try to talk to us. We arrived at a site where Israeli settlers and the army had closed prospering local markets which now were a massive trash heap. At this spot is where I saw a young boy about 5 or 6 with dirty round wired rimmed glasses. He impressed me so much I had to take his picture and after he came up to me and asked my name. I responded, “Kristie” and he repeated it back in his tiny munchkin voice, “Kristie”. We had a momentary connection that I know I will never forget.
I pray someday a child will approach David Wilder and ask his name. Hopefully he will remember humanity. Not policy, history, facts or his own fears, but that he is looking at another human being.